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ANTIQUITIES
Ant. Jud., Bk 1
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Ant. Jud., Bk 3
Ant. Jud., Bk 4
Ant. Jud., Bk 5
Ant. Jud., Bk 6
Ant. Jud., Bk 7
Ant. Jud., Bk 8
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Ant. Jud., Bk 10
Ant. Jud., Bk 11
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The Sundays of Lent

1st Sunday of Lent

2nd Sunday of Lent

3rd Sunday of Lent

4th Sunday of Lent

5th Sunday of Lent

Palm Sunday

Holy Thursday

1st Sunday of Lent

2nd Sunday of Lent

3rd Sunday of Lent

4th Sunday of Lent

5th Sunday of Lent

Palm Sunday

Holy Thursday

1st Sunday of Lent

2nd Sunday of Lent

3rd Sunday of Lent

4th Sunday of Lent

5th Sunday of Lent

Palm Sunday

Holy Thursday

The Bible readings for Mass, following the Irish Liturgical Calendar. Texts from the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) are marked by consistently inclusive language. Homily notes, from a wide variety of sources, have already appeared in the ACP website, in the section edited by Fr. Patrick Rogers, Dublin, Ireland.


 

Ash Wednesday, Year A

1st Reading: Joel 2:12-18

Return to me with all your heart. Spare your people, Lord

"Now, now," says the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments."

Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil. Who knows whether he will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, a cereal offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God?

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants.

Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep and say, "Spare your people, O LORD, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, `Where is their God?'" Then the LORD became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people.

2nd Reading:2 Corinthians 5:20 — 6:2

Do not receive the grace of God in vain

We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, "At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you." See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Your Father who sees in secret will reward you

Jesus said to his disciples, "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Bible


A time of cleansing and holy desire

As we receive the ashes on our foreheads, we remember the purpose of Lent: it is an exercise in cleansing and holy desire, helped by some penitential practices: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We begin this season by receiving ashes on our foreheads, as a cross. Lent lasts forty days in imitation of the time Jesus spent in the desert before starting his public ministry. What is the purpose of Lent? It is to prepare us for a more effective involvement in our vocation as Christians.

"The entire Christian life," said St Augustine, "is an exercise of holy desire." He does not say that we should annihilate our normal, human desires, but we should raise and purify them. Our desires are far too small if we look for fulfilment only in what this world offers by way of transient satisfactions, but God wants us to have so much more–his very Self. During Lent we seek to tune in to higher desires–our longing for God. In today's Gospel Jesus shows the way: prayer, fasting and almsgiving, the classic Lenten practices.

Of these, prayer has first place. Our eternity will be an eternal relationship with the living God in the Communion of Saints. That relationship begins in this life–or it does not begin at all. Our main prayer is by sharing in the Mass, the loving sacrifice of Christ which opens heaven to us. Prayer is the foundation of our friendship with God, and it opens the way to eternal life.

Fasting is somewhat more tricky for us today. While we should certainly enjoy food and the conviviality that often accompanies a good meal, we should also find a place for fasting. The goal of Lenten fasting is not to have a sleek body one can be proud of. Some saints were quite corpulent, others were virtual skeletons, but they had this in common: They practiced voluntary self-denial in order to sharpen their appetite for God.

All of us resonate in some way to the ideal of almsgiving. Lent is good time to rid ourselves of some of the clutter in our life. With a bit more vision, could we perhaps do more to serve the needy, not so that people will consider us generous, but to imitate God's generosity to us?

Finally, St Augustine speaks of cleansing as a necessary condition for the exercise of holy desire: "This will be effective only to the extent that we free ourselves from infatuation with this world. Like the example I have used already, of filling an empty container. God means to fill each of you with what is good; so cast out what is bad! If he wishes to fill you with honey and you are full of sour wine, where is the honey to go? The vessel must be emptied of its contents and then be cleansed."


1st Sunday of Lent

During Lent we may reflect on our Baptism as a sharing in the life of Jesus. Our growing in the image of God has an aspect of dying to self and another aspect of rising to God's new life of love. The seed of this movement or growth was planted in us when we were first reconciled to God in the grace and sacrament of our rebirth.

First Reading: Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7

The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God say, "You shall not eat from any tree in the garden"?" The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, "You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die."

But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

2nd Reading: Romans 5:12-19

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned — sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.

And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man's trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.""

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you," and "On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me."

Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him."" Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Bible


Shun not the Struggle

A reflective way of looking at life is to see it as a struggle between sin and grace, selfishness and holiness. Our time on earth will be successful in the measure that we put aside sin and try to live by the grace of God. Today's Scriptures show two contrasting reactions to temptation. The first humans, Adam and Eve, are imagined as preferring their own inclinations to the will of God. Jesus, the Saviour, on the contrary resisted temptation, remaining faithful to what God the Father required of him. St Paul reflects on how these choices affect ourselves: Adam's sin brought trouble on all, but we are saved and offered new life because of the fidelity of Christ.

An old priest who was blind for many years before his death, liked to urge his penitents to renew their efforts with these inspirational lines:

"We are not here to play,
to dream, to drift.
We have good work to do,
and loads to lift.
Shun not the struggle.
Face it. ˜Tis God's gift."

Temptation in one form or another is an unavoidable part of life. If we honestly examine our daily experience, we can find many aspects of temptation: impulses or tendencies counter to the right way of doing things. To rationalise away these temptations, so that they become socially acceptable and politically correct–is itself an insidious temptation. We want to dictate for ourselves what is right and wrong, to draw for ourselves the boundaries of "acceptable" behaviour, unencumbered by any notional commandments of God. This is rather like Adam demanding to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Our real growth to Christian maturity comes by acknowledging and accepting the vocation of struggling against temptation, to achieve the kind of behaviour and attitudes Jesus expects. We must submit our behaviour to his gospel. Christ and Adam show the two opposite reactions in face of temptation: Adam, archetype of sinful, evasive, self-seeking humanity, finds plausible reasons to yield to it, and rebels against God's will. Jesus, archetype of the new God-seeking man, resists temptation even repeatedly. It can only be conquered by this blend of patience and loyalty, supported by trust that what God requires of us is what is best for us.

2nd Sunday of Lent, Year A

First Reading: Genesis 12:1-4

Abraham shows complete obedience to God, prepared even to sacrifice Isaac

Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Second Reading: 2 Timothy 1:8-10

Suffering for the gospel will be repaid by our Saviour Jesus Christ

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9

Jesus transfigured on Mount Tabor prepares his apostles for his passion

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.

Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid." And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."

Bible


Pilgrim's Progress: Life as Journey

The years of our life pass smoothly by, each one seeming shorter than the last. We are on a journey from youth to age, from the cradle to the grave. In his dream-like poem, The Lotus Eaters, Alfred Tennyson describes a sense of weary resignation, one option we might take, in face of the passing years:

"Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast,
And in a little while our lips are dumb.
Let us alone. What is it that will last?
All things are taken from us, and become
Portions and parcels of the dreadful past."

Through eyes of faith, the passing of the years looks somewhat different. We believe our journey is going somewhere: instead of simply terminating with death (full stop, finis), we will emerge into the life of heaven (welcome, transition into God's presence.) We are pilgrims, like Abraham, moving toward the land of promise. Like St Paul, we try to deal with the problems and setbacks along the way, with the help of the Lord. And in the end, if we are faithful, we will share the total joy of joining Christ in glory, as the reward of life's pilgrimage.

Pilgrim's Progress: In our many journeys today (the age of mobility) we tend to move around a lot, without showing much signs of spiritual progress; indeed, in that respect we often appear to be going backwards. Our goals and desires are short-term, narrow, superficial. Moved by a restless urge for money, for celebrity, novelty, success and pleasure, we go round in rapid circles. But the pilgrims' sights are set on a higher destination, and like Martin Luther King they can say: "I have a dream…" However far-off and hard to reach this dream may be, it is worth more than all the short-term desires we follow. Each step on the journey takes on meaning in light of the goal God sets before us.

A personal, inward journey: Our whole life can be made a pilgrimage towards God. Just as he called Abraham, so he calls each of us to be his own. His call to us is quiet but insistent. Not exactly in the form of: "leave your country and your father's house," but "leave your old ways, the pride and selfishness, the hardness of heart, the angry temper, the envy and the falsehood. And go to the land I shall show…" The direction of our pilgrimage is not geographical but moral: "Go towards charity, purity, sharing in truth and prayer and good-will. Go in the way of the gospel. Go to heaven.'

Meaningful Living: Having God's command, and submitting entirely to it, made Abraham the first great pilgrim. Henceforth all his activity took on the value of obedience to God; he was on the high road towards Yahweh, the living God. The same spirit would give the deepest meaning to our lives too. Far from being absurd or useless, the pilgrim's efforts to follow the gospel of his Master are full of meaning. Progress along this way is the real formula for peace of mind. Augustine said it profoundly: "You have made us for Yourself, 0 Lord; and our hearts can never be at rest, until they rest in You."


3rd Sunday of Lent, Year A

1st Reading: Exodus 17:3-7

God provides refreshes his people in the wilderness

But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?" So Moses cried out to the Lord, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me."

The Lord said to Moses, "Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink." Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?"

2nd Reading: Romans 5:1-2, 5-8

God has reconciled us through the life of Christ

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

And hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

Gospel: John 4:5-42

Jesus offers living water, the gift of the Holy Spirit

Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, "Give me a drink," you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him, "Sir, you have no bucket, an the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?" Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."

Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back." The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, "I have no husband"; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!" The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jeusalem."

Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us." Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, "What do you want?" or, "Why are you speaking with her?" Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He canno be the Messiah, can he?" They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, "Rabbi, eat something." But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." So the disciples said to one another, "Surely no one has brought him something to eat?" Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, "Four months more, then comes the harvest"? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, "One sows and another reaps." I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I have ever done." So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world."

Bible


Slaking our thirst at the fountain of life

The thirsting soul: Our need to drink regularly is obvious; without water we would quickly die. Not so easily recognized is the soul's thirst for meaning, for vision and purpose in life. We can be fully preoccupied with the surface of things, and quite neglect our spirit's obscure longing for eternal life. Like the Israelites, we worry constantly about physical needs, but are often unmindful of God who supplies them. Today, Jesus offers us the refreshing water of eternal life, a power of faith and union-with-God which is our deepest need, and can satisfy the thirst of our soul. How the desert blossoms, when water is brought to it. (We may cite dramatic examples of successful irrigation in Israel, Egypt, California.) The same miracle of growth can take place in the parched soul, if God lets his Spirit flow over me. All the ravages of doubt, fear and sin will yield to the new life of grace.

A sacramental washing: Already in baptism, the sacramental washing with water by the Christian Church was a first contact with the grace of Christ. I was given a good start, planted well in the garden of God, with room to put down roots, and draw vital nourishment from the living spring of the Saviour. Yet, I need continuing help, to keep my spirit alive and pleasing to God as life goes on. Like the desert-wandering Jews, I suffer from thirst; I grow weary in confronting problems and temptations (sketch examples–) Jesus guarantees me the "living water" I need. His own Spirit is always at hand, as a force of encouragement and fidelity.

"To dwell in the house of the Lord": Our deep desire remains, something not confined to Christians but shared by the mystic tradition in other religions: namely, the yearning to come into the presence of God, and be welcomed by God. All of us are called by him to drink of that "fountain of water, springing up to everlasting life." In times of widespread religious scepticism, the hope of heaven as eternal life after death is often cast in doubt as wishful thinking. But we cling to this hope, relying on the word of Jesus. For Paul and the early Christians, the hope of eternal life breathed joy into all their efforts and sacrifices. Fidelity until death seemed well worthwhile, "for the weight of glory that will be revealed in us." Our part to play is turning aside from sin, and trying to live by the gospel. God can be absolutely relied on to fulfil his promise, and will in time satisfy the deep thirst of our spirit.


4th Sunday of Lent, Year A

First Reading: 1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13

Samuel selects and anoints young David as future king of Israel

The Lord said to Samuel, "How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons." Samuel said, "How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me." And the Lord said, "Take a heifer with you, and say, "I have come to sacrifice to the Lord." Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you."

Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, "Do you come peaceably?" He said, "Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice." And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed is now before the Lord." But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, "The Lord has not chosen any of these."

Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all your sons here?" And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here." He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, "Rise and anoint him; for this is the one." Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

2nd Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14

Once you were in darkness, but now live as children of light

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light, for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."

Gospel: John 9:1-41

Jesus, Light of the World, cures the man who was born blind

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes, saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?" Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man." But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, "Go to Siloam and wash." Then I went and washed and received my sight." They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know."

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, "He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see." Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?" And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, "What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened." He said, "He is a prophet."

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself." His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, "He is of age; ask himself."

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, "Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner." He answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" He answered them, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?" Then they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." The man answered, "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." They answered him, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?" And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him." Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him. Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind." Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, "We see," your sin remains.

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Open the eyes of my soul, Lord

It's hard to know why Jesus went through the ritual of the spittle, the mud, and the water, in order to heal the man. He healed other blind people with a touch, or simply a word. It might well have been a test of faith. He sent the ten lepers on their way, and they were healed as they journeyed along. He sent the centurion home and, before he reached home he got word that his servant was healed. I often think that this is how Jesus heals many of us. We ask for his healing, and nothing seems to happen immediately. Maybe, after asking for his healing, we should go on our way, and expect to notice the healing taking place gradually as time goes by.

As the story unfolds, we notice that the man's eyes were really opened, and that includes the eyes of his soul. Clearly Jesus was intent on healing the total person, or not at all. We don't imagine him healing someone, and then having that person going away still filled with resentment against another. Such a person was not really healed at all. The man in today's gospel was totally healed, and he ended up on his knees, worshipping Jesus.

A practical and simple prayer is "Lord, that I may see." It is a short prayer, but when it comes from the depths of my heart, it is a powerful prayer. Remember that other blind man named Bartimeus? He was told that Jesus was passing by, and he was determined to get his attention. Those around him tried to silence him, but he shouted all the louder. And he also was cured. To another man Jesus asked the pointed question, "Do you want to be healed?'

The greatest good we can do for others is not by giving them money, though that can also be needed at times, but in revealing their own riches to them. It is good to affirm others and make them feel both loved and worthwhile. Many people have grown up with a poor self-image, and they just cannot see the good in themselves. This is another form of blindness, and it is a blindness in others that any one of us can heal. The most certain proof that the Spirit of God lives in you is your willingness and ability to affirm and bring a blessing to other people.


5th Sunday of Lent, Year A

First Reading: Ezekiel 37:12-14

During the exile, God's people were like a pile of dried bones

Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act," says the Lord.

2nd Reading: Epistle to the Romans 8:8-11

In baptism we have died to sin, to rise to new life

Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Gospel: John 11:1-45

Jesus's raising of Lazarus shows his divine power

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, "Lord, he whom you love is ill."

But when Jesus heard it, he said, "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again."

The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?" Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is ot in them." After saying this, he told them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him."

The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right." Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Buteven now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day."

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you." And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to wep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

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Living life to the full

It seems a bit strange to have this gospel on the Fifth Sunday of Lent. It seems to be clearly about the resurrection and yet we are still plodding through Lent and have to get through Good Friday before we get to Easter. What's going on; have the Church's liturgical engineers got it all wrong? Can I suggest that this text is more about death than resurrection? After all, Lazarus isn't walking around today; he had to undergo another death. This text is more about our life and death here and now rather than about the resurrection. We will have time enough to consider the resurrection when we get to Easter Sunday and the weeks of celebration afterwards.

In his Spiritual Exercises St Ignatius Loyola suggests that when reading a particular Gospel passage we should put ourselves in the place of each character in turn and use our imagination to see how we would feel in those circumstances. This can be a most revealing exercise. How about putting myself in the place of Lazarus? I am dead to everything and then I hear a voice: 'Come out, Lazarus.' There I am, lying in a tomb swathed in bandages and surrounded by darkness. If we wonder how we would feel in this situation, the answer would be different for everyone but I think many might say: Thanks Lord, but I'd prefer to stay where I am.

While attempting to put ourselves imaginatively in Lazarus's place we might become aware of how tomb-like our present way of life is, and rekindle a longing for freedom which has perhaps been buried for years. Putting ourselves into the place of a character from scripture can awake all kinds of thoughts within us and lead us to turn to God in prayer with new words on our lips. Yet it is something so simple that we are surprised that we never thought about it ourselves. This Gospel features here in Lent to help us come to live life to the full; for often it is only in the face of death that we are shocked into this realisation. This can happen to us in all sorts of ways on the occasion of a loss or bereavement. It is amazing how often it takes overcoming a negative experience to make us realise afresh how much there is that is truly positive and makes life worth living.


Palm Sunday, (Passion Sunday) Year A

First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-7

Words of the Suffering Servant: "I shall not be put to shame!"

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens — wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

Second Reading: Philippians 2:5-11

The self-emptying of God's Servant, dying to save his people

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Gospel: Matthew 26:14–27:66

A sober Passion Narrative, focussed on the fulfilment of Scripture

Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What will you give me if I betray him to you?" They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, "The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'" So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me." And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, "Surely not I, Lord?" He answered, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born." Judas, who betrayed him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" He replied, "You have said so."

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Then Jesus said to them, "You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, "I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered." But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee." Peter said to him, "Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you." Jesus said to him, "Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." Peter said to him, "Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you." And so said all the disciples.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me." And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want." Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, "So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Again he went away for the second time and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand."

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him." At once he came up to Jesus and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him. Jesus said to him, "Friend, do what you are here to do." Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?"

At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled." Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered. But Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, "This fellow said, "I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'" The high priest stood up and said, "Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?" But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, "I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God." Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven." Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?" They answered, "He deserves death."

Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, saying, "Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?"

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, "You also were with Jesus the Galilean." But he denied it before all of them, saying, "I do not know what you are talking about." When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, "This man was with Jesus of Nazareth." Again he denied it with an oath, "I do not know the man." After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, "Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you." Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, "I do not know the man!" At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: "Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly.

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." But they said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money." After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter's field as a place to bury foreigners. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, "And they took the thirty pieces of ilver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me."

Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus said, "You say so." But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, "Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?" But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?" For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over.

While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, "Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him."

Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas." Pilate said to them, "Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?" All of them said, "Let him be crucified!" Then he asked, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Let him be crucified!" So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves." Then the people as a whole answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!" So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews."

Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, "I am God's Son.'" The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o"clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "This man is calling for Elijah." At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him." Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, "Truly this man was God's Son!"

Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and ha provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, "After three days I will rise again." Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, "He has been raised from the dead," and the last deception would be worse than the first." Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can." So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

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Prayer on Palm Sunday

The account of the Passion is a vivid story with a variety of characters and much action. To enter into the passage we can read the story slowly and see if we can identify with different characters in the story. Also any one scene within the story can provide us with much food for reflection and prayer. Keep in mind that one of the aims in reflecting on the passage is to discover the GOOD NEWS the story has for us. Here are just a few general pointers for prayer. Kieran O'Mahony OSA

1. The identity of Jesus is revealed as the Messiah and the Son of God, not with a display of human power, but as one who was prepared to suffer unto death to show us how our God loves us. How does the Passion story speak to you as a revelation of how God loves you?

2. Jesus gives us an example of patient endurance and faithfulness in suffering. Suffering is something we all encounter. It is not something that anyone likes but sometimes we cope with it better than others. What have you found helps you to cope better with suffering?

3. As you read through the narrative of the Passion where do you find yourself resonating with a character in the action? Is there any message there for you that is lifegiving?

It was our sorrows he bore

"He was oppressed and was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth" (Is 53:7). For the followers of Christ, this Isaiah text evokes a response deep down within us, seeing how they apply to God's only beloved Son, and how he died for all of us. In the words of St Peter, "without having seen him you have come to believe in him, and so you are filled already with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described" (1 Pet 1:8). Without this sincere love of Christ, we are no true followers of his. We cannot say we fully love him, until we appreciate what he suffered for us.

Today, having heard the Passion narrative there is no real necessity to retrace in great detail the events there described. But it is well to bear in mind that Christ was no stranger to hardship, privation and suffering, long before that final day of his life. "Being in the form of God," as St Paul says, from the moment he came on earth, Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are (Phil 2:6f). He, the most high God, suffered the hardships of the poor, at times not even having a place to lay his head. He endured hunger and thirst, and after long days surrounded by crowds seeking a cure, he often spent whole nights at prayer in the hills. Despite his compassion for all who came to him, he met with hatred and rejection, in particular from Pharisees and priests, who planned to have him killed. How this rejection and hatred must have grieved him. King Lear knew "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is, to have a thankless child;" and how must Jesus have felt at being rejected by the people he had chosen, above all others.

So terrible was the inner struggle of Jesus as he faced his death, that in the garden his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground. Another bitter pill was the knowledge that one of his own circle of twelve would betray him, that most of the others would leave him, and that even the loyal St Peter would repeatedly swear he had never met him. But most terrible of all was his feeling of being abandoned by God, his inner spirit shrouded in a darkness that reflected the murky darkness that enveloped Calvary as the end drew near. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

The features of that face so cruelly disfigured were those of the Son of God. The forehead streaming with blood, the hands and feet nailed to the Cross, the body lacerated with scourges, the side pierced with a lance, these were the forehead, the hands and feet, the sacred body, the side of the eternal Word, made visible in Jesus. Why such suffering? We can only say with Isaiah, "It was for our transgressions he was smitten, for our sins he was brought low. On him lay the punishment that brings us healing, through his wounds we are made whole" (53:5ff). God, our Father, grant that your Son's suffering for us may not be in vain.


Holy Thursday, Year A

First Reading: Exodus 12:1-2, 11-14

Israel's departure from Egypt -- to be celebrated for all time

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, "Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?" He answered, "Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and thought, "Surely the thing is known."

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Paul's understanding of the Lord's Supper: proclaiming Christ's saving death in this sacred meal

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Gospel: John 13:1-15

The example of Jesus washing his followers' feet

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples" feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean." After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord-and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

Bible


How to share in the Last Supper

When Jesus says, "Do this in memory of me!" clearly he means us to understand what "This" was and is. What exactly had he in mind through the symbols of the broken bread and the shared cup of wine? We need to get behind the formal Catechism answer about the "holy sacrifice of the Mass", and think anew about the meaning of that paschal meal. The Last Supper was celebrated in the context of the Jewish Passover meal and tonight's first reading explains the meaning of this feast. In words and symbols it recalled the greatest saving act of God in the Old Testament, the exodus from Egypt, setting God's people free from slavery. It opens us up to the idea that God enters our lives to save us and set us free from whatever oppresses us. So "opened up," we are prepared for the good news that the definitive saving work of God is done in and by Jesus Christ.

We reflect this evening on what St John calls the "hour" of Jesus, the high point of his saving work, the new exodus, his passing from this world to the Father through which he brought into being a new relationship between God and us human beings. Sharing in this new exodus is our ultimate liberation, freeing us from enslavement to material things and petty self-interest and setting us free to love generously — the very purpose for which we were originally created in the image of God.

Through his love-without-limit, in his own utterly unselfish heart Jesus overcame all human selfishness and with it, human sin. Precisely this love, which the Father wants us all to have and to share, is the very heart of Jesus' exodus. It is just this self-giving kind of love which Jesus wishes to be kept alive among us. With his disciples in the Last Supper he anticipated his death for us on the cross, giving himself in the sacramental symbols of bread and wine. From then on the celebration of our Eucharist is the living memorial through which we are joined to Our Lord's saving act of love. It is our way to share in the new exodus, to be freed from the isolation of self-concern so that they become fully human as God wants us to be.

St John teaches this in his own unique way. We are united with Jesus by letting him wash our feet, doing for us his great act of loving service. Having accepted the gift we must embrace it as a value to be effective in our lives. What Jesus does for us is an example of how we are to live: in some real sense, like Jesus, we must live "for" service of God and others. Jesus sees a close link between him washing their feet and them going on to wash the feet of others in the future. If the Eucharist is the place where the Lord washes our feet, daily life is the place where we ought to wash the feet of others. Eucharist leads to life leads to Eucharist. True Eucharist piety must lead to service of others. Jesus who broke the bread of the Eucharist also washed the feet of his disciples. We must follow his example both at the altar of the Eucharist and at the altar of life.


Lent, 1st Sunday, Year B

1st Reading: Genesis 9:8-15

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth."

God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

2nd Reading: First Letter of Peter 3:18-22

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you — not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Gospel: Mark 1:12-15

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the desert. He was in the desert forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

Bible


Children Of The Desert

Some years ago on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a group of others to follow in the footsteps of Christ. We visited Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem; climbed the Mount of the Beatitudes and swam in the Sea of Galilee and even in the Dead Sea (not a pleasant experience!). We walked from Jerusalem to Jericho, looked into Jacob's Well, stood on the place in Cana where Jesus changed the water into wine and even knelt at the place where he was crucified. Everywhere we went, we took our gospel with us and read the appropriate passage. It was a moving experience all the way. But the strongest impression I have retained is that of the desert where Christ spent forty days before starting his public life. During our pilgrimage, we spent a day and a night in the desert.

It is not surprising that the three great world religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, were all born in the desert. It was through the desert that Moses led the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. It was from that desert that John the Baptist came to herald the Messiah and soon after Jesus followed to proclaim himself Messiah. After my visit there, I came to realise the significance of the desert. The desert is a purgatory man must pass through to reach paradise. What is impressive about the desert is its sheer aridness. There is no vegetation, no bird life and, apart from the odd tiny lizard, almost no animals.

The silence is almost total. In that bleak landscape, nothing comes between man and his God. One either discovers God or succumbs to despair. It is no wonder that those Bedouins who ply the salt trade following their caravans across the desert are deeply religious. No life thrives here except the inner life. It is not surprising that it was the Desert Fathers who created that great institution dedicated to fostering the inner life, Western monasticism. It has so profoundly marked Christianity that we are all now, in a sense, children of the desert.

Living now as many of us do, in built-up areas, piled high on top of each other in high-rise apartments, bombarded day and night with the roar of city traffic and the blare of electronic music, we are in danger of losing our desert roots. And with that our inner life. We need to create a time and a space to nurture our spiritual lives. Lent is such a time. The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert and he remained there for forty days. Like Jesus, we should let the Holy Spirit lead us out into the desert this Lent where we can confront the devils that haunt our lives, and like him too, triumph over them. That is the freedom, dignity, and gift that is offered in today's gospel.


Shun not the Struggle

A reflective way of looking at life is to see it as a struggle between sin and grace, selfishness and holiness. Our time on earth will be successful in the measure that we put aside sin and try to live by the grace of God. Today's Scriptures show two contrasting reactions to temptation. The first humans, Adam and Eve, are imagined as preferring their own inclinations to the will of God. Jesus, the Saviour, on the contrary resisted temptation, remaining faithful to what God the Father required of him. St Paul reflects on how these choices affect ourselves: Adam's sin brought trouble on all, but we are saved and offered new life because of the fidelity of Christ.

An old priest who was blind for many years before his death, liked to urge his penitents to renew their efforts with these inspirational lines:

"We are not here to play,
to dream, to drift. We have good work to do,
and loads to lift. Shun not the struggle.
Face it. 'Tis God's gift."

Temptation in one form or another is an unavoidable part of life. If we honestly examine our daily experience, we can find many aspects of temptation: impulses or tendencies counter to the right way of doing things. To rationalise away these temptations, so that they become socially acceptable and politically correct–is itself an insidious temptation. We want to dictate for ourselves what is right and wrong, to draw for ourselves the boundaries of "acceptable" behaviour, unencumbered by any notional commandments of God. This is rather like Adam demanding to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Our real growth to Christian maturity comes by acknowledging and accepting the vocation of struggling against temptation, to achieve the kind of behaviour and attitudes Jesus expects. We must submit our behaviour to his gospel. Christ and Adam show the two opposite reactions in face of temptation: Adam, archetype of sinful, evasive, self-seeking humanity, finds plausible reasons to yield to it, and rebels against God's will. Jesus, archetype of the new God-seeking man, resists temptation even repeatedly. It can only be conquered by this blend of patience and loyalty, supported by trust that what God requires of us is what is best for us.

Opposing forces

Last Wednesday we began the season of Lent. We have five weeks of Lent now until Easter. Lent does not have quite the impact it used to have. It doesn't seem to have as much of an impact on the lives of Christians as Ramadan has on the lives of Muslims. Yet, it is worth reminding ourselves that Lent is beginning. As a church we have set out on a journey which will end at the Easter Triduum, those three great days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent is always the gospel reading of the temptation of Jesus. Mark's account of the temptation of Jesus is the shortest by far. We are given no dialogue between Jesus and Satan; the temptations are not spelled out in any way. Instead we have that enigmatic statement that Jesus 'was with the wild beasts and the angels ministered to him'.

We could think of wild beasts and angels as two opposing forces. The wild beasts could be understood as servants of Satan, putting Jesus' relationship with God to the test, enticing him to put himself rather than God at the centre of his life. The angels, in contrast, are servants of God, supporting Jesus in his time of struggle, giving him the strength to stand firm in the test, to withstand the onslaught. There is some parallel between where Jesus found himself in that wilderness at the very beginning of his ministry and our own lives. We too can find ourselves caught between wild beast and angels. We too can find our best convictions, our deepest values, being put to the test. The values of the gospel are not always at home in the world in which we live. The pressure to compromise with those values can be very strong. We can find ourselves in something of a moral and spiritual wilderness where there is very little appreciation for or understanding of the gospel message. Indeed, we can feel very alone as Jesus must have felt very alone in the wilderness.

At such times we have to remind ourselves that we are not alone, no more than Jesus was really alone in the wilderness. The angels are ministering to us. The Lord's ministering, empowering and comforting presence is always at hand. That was the opening message of Jesus as soon as he stepped out of the wilderness, 'the time has come; the kingdom of God is close at hand'. Jesus had come up against the kingdom of Satan during his forty days in the wilderness. However he emerged from that testing time knowing that the kingdom of God was stronger than the kingdom of Satan, proclaiming that the reign of God was present for all. In his letter to the Romans Saint Paul would put that conviction in a very succinct fashion, 'where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more'. That is why Paul could say to the members of the church in Corinth, 'God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it'. There may indeed be wild beast out there, forces that seek to undermine our faith in the Lord and the way of life that flows from that. However, today's gospel reading assures us that there is an even more fundamental reality, and that is the reality of the Lord's empowering presence. The angels will minister to us; the Lord will stand by us. He has given us and will continue to give us an abundance of resources. God is constantly at work among us and within us. Like Saint Paul we can say, 'I can do all things in him who strengthens me'.

One way of understanding Lent is to see it as the time when we try to give in to the many ways that God may be trying to touch our lives. We often think of Lent as a time when we try to give up things. There can be a real value in that. However, more fundamentally and more positively we might think of Lent as a time when we give in to the Lord who is always present to us and calling out to us. The church sets aside this season of Lent in the springtime of the year as a reminder that we may need to awaken spiritually. Although the Lord is present to us, we are not always present to him. Although the reign of God is at hand, we don't always entrust ourselves to that good news. As we awaken spiritually, as we give in to the Lord, as we become more aware of the Lord who is around me, above me, below me, at my right hand and at my light hand, then we may experience a new desire to give up whatever is not serving our relationship with the Lord. We enter this season of Lent not just as individuals but as a community of faith. It is as a community that we are called to turn more fully towards the Lord and to walk together in his company towards Holy Week. 'We will get to our destination if we join hands' (Aung San Sui Kyi of Burma).


Lent, 2nd Sunday, Year B

1st Reading: Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18

The "Binding of Isaac" shows Abraham's complete obedience to God

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you."

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, "By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice."

2nd Reading: Romans 8:31-34

The Father's love for us is shown by letting his Son die for our sake.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.

Gospel: Mark 9:2-10

The apostles glimpse Christ's glory, to sustain them through his imminent passion.

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.

Bible


What must be cast aside?

"If your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better to enter into life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into the hell of fire!" Matthew (18:9). This condemnation of anything which may prove a moral stumbling-block for us was deliberately extreme to make it stick in people's minds, and it does. But "hell fire" is not precisely what Matthew wrote, but rather the "fiery Gehenna." The Hebrew word Gehenna meant the "Valley of Hinnom," a gorge just south of the Jerusalem Temple. It was a place under a curse, for it was there that the pagan Canaanites used to sacrifice children to their god Moloch, by throwing them into a fire.

Some breakaway Jews followed that savage custom until the idol of Moloch was finally destroyed in the 7th century B.C. The horror of the place survived, and it became the refuse dump of Jerusalem, a place of continual smoke from burning rubbish. In the public mind it became synonymous with hell, a visible image of what that place must be. But there was no place for child-sacrifice in true worship of God, and devout Jews would claim there never was. They saw the confirmation of this in the actions of Abraham, their father in faith, how God stayed his hand as he was about to sacrifice his son Isaac.

The story of Abraham and Isaac is full of high drama. The demand that Isaac be sacrificed seemed to utterly contradict God's promise that the boy would pass on Abraham's line into the distant future. It was a radical trial of faith, and no greater test of obedience could be set. Abraham's heart was pierced by the boy's innocent question, "Where is the lamb for the burnt offering? Finding it impossible to tell his son that he was the intended victim, Abraham stammered, "God will provide." St. John may well have this episode in mind when he wrote, "God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son" (3:16).

This story raises several acute questions. Why did God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son? Why did Abraham intend to obey? Indeed why did God allow his own divine Son to be sacrificed? The connection between Isaac and Jesus is obvious. Isaac prefigured Our Lord in that he was to be sacrificed on a hill, and he carried on his shoulder the wood for the intended sacrifice. But there the likeness ends. Isaac was the least notable of the patriarchs, a bridge of transition between Abraham and Jacob. In contrast, Jesus at the Transfiguration was shown to his three Apostles, as a figure of miraculous glory, truly God's Son and messenger to the world. Despite their enthusiasm, the of the Apostles' faith would be tested later on, as Abraham's was. The shining revelation of the divine person of Christ was in sharp contrast to watching him in Gethsemane sweating blood before his Passion. The God who spared the son of Abraham and showered him with blessings, did not spare his own Son, but left him in the hands of his enemies for our redemption.

Unlike Isaac, Jesus was aware of what lay ahead. "The Son of Man must suffer," he had said. Shortly before the Transfiguration, when he first told the disciples what he was to suffer, Peter prayed that God would not allow such a thing to happen. The Lord's response was instant and severe, "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as humans do" (Mk 8:33). In dealing with God we must have faith and trust. On the cellar wall of a bombed-out house in Cologne an unknown fugitive, obviously Jewish, left a testimony of trust that only came to light when the rubble was being cleared away after World War II. It read: "I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I do not feel it. I believe in God even when he is silent." That is the faith of Abraham, and is the kind of faith we should seek as well.

Freedom to let go

I came across a sentence in a book I was reading recently which struck me very forcibly: 'all love relationships flourish only when there is freedom to let go of what is precious, so as to receive it back as a gift'. It is not easy to let go of what is precious. The more precious someone is to us, the harder it is to let go of that person. The more attractive someone is to us, the more we feel inclined to possess that person. Yet, in the effort to possess someone we can easily lose them. At the heart of all loving relationships is the freedom to let go of the other, and in letting go to receive the other back as a gift. Parents know that there comes a time when they have to let go of their sons or daughters, even though they are more precious to them than anything else. They may have to let them go to another country or to the person whom they have chosen as their future spouse. Yet, in letting go of their children, parents invariably discover that they receive them back as a gift. Single people too have to learn the freedom of letting go what is precious so as to receive it back as a gift. In any good and healthy friendship, people need to give each other plenty of space.

In this morning's first reading Abraham is portrayed as being willing to let go of what was most precious to him, the only son of his old age. In being willing to let his son go to God, he went on to receive him back as a gift. Many people find it a very disturbing story, because it portrays God as asking Abraham to sacrifice his only beloved son as a burnt offering to God. We are rightly shocked by the image of God asking a father to sacrifice his son in this way. Abraham lived about a thousand years before Christ. In the religious culture of that time it was not uncommon for people to sacrifice their children to various gods. The point of the story seems to be that the God of Israel is not like the pagan gods. If Abraham thought that God was asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac like the people who worshipped other gods, he was wrong. God was not asking this of Abraham. Yet, the willingness of Abraham to let go of what was most precious to him if that was what God was asking remained an inspiration to the people of Israel. He had already shown a willingness to let go of his family and his homeland as he set out towards an unknown land in response to God's call.

The early church came to understand the relationship between Abraham and Isaac as pointing ahead to the relationship between God the Father and Jesus. Like Abraham, God was prepared to let go of what was most precious to him, his one and only Son, out of love for humanity. God was prepared to let his Son go to humanity, with all the dangers that entailed for his Son. Saint Paul was very struck by this extraordinary generosity of God on our behalf, as he says in this morning's second reading, 'God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all'. God let his precious Son go to humanity even though the consequences of that were the rejection of his Son and, ultimately, his crucifixion. Even after Jesus was crucified, God continued to give him to us as risen Lord. When Paul contemplates this self-emptying love of God for us, he asks aloud, in the opening line of that second reading, 'With God on our side who can be against us?' Paul is declaring that if God's love for us is this complete, then we have nothing to fear from anyone. Here is a love that has no trace of possessiveness, a love that makes us lovable.

In this morning's gospel reading, Peter, James and John are taken up a high mountain by Jesus, and there they have an experience of Jesus which took their breath away. It was an experience that was so precious that Peter could not let it go. He wanted to prolong it indefinitely and so he says to Jesus, 'Rabbi, it is wonderful for us to be here, so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah'. He and the other two disciples had a fleeting glimpse of the heavenly beauty of Christ, and did not want to let go of it. Beauty always attracts; it calls out to us. Yet, Peter and the others had to let go of this precious experience; it was only ever intended to be momentary. They would receive it back in the next life as a gift. For now, their task was to listen to Jesus, 'This is my beloved Son. Listen to him'. That is our task too. We spend our lives listening to the Lord as he speaks to us in his word and in and through the circumstances of our lives; we listen to him as a preparation for that wonderful moment when we see him face to face in eternity and we can finally say, 'it is wonderful to be here'


Lent, 3rd Sunday, Year B

1st Reading: Exodus 20:1-17

The Ten Commandments, given to Moses on Mount Sinai.

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. You shall not covet your neighbour's house; you shall not covet your neighbour's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:22-25

Christ crucified is our focus, drawing us together â€" beyond all factions and disputes.

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Gospel: John 2:13-25

Jesus purifies the Temple of commercial defilement; then proclaims himself the New Temple

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me."

The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six Years, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.

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Moving House

Psychologists tell us that, apart from the death of a loved one, perhaps the most traumatic experience a person can have is that of moving house. Those of us who have gone through all that is involved in this particular trauma can attest to the truth contained in these words. One of the benefits derived from the exercise, however, is that we get rid of all the junk we have accumulated since our last move. It could perhaps be argued that people's dread of moving is directly proportionate to the amount of stuff" they have gathered. The Israelites, having come out of Egypt, had been through the experience, and were inclined to avoid too much clutter. (One of the psalms laughs at the pagans who "carry around their idols made of wood.") Today we find Jesus clearing all the accumulated junk out of the Temple. But what is happening here is not merely the removal of unwanted items; by this symbolic act, Jesus is calling all the peoples of the earth to worship God "in spirit and in truth." True worshippers, he will tell us later in the gospel, are those who worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

Worship is not a word which figures largely in our religious vocabulary today. Like "adoration," it is a particularly God-centred word, ill-suited to be our self-centred age where religiousness is more often expressed in terms of self-actualization. There is a sense in which it is true to say that people today have forgotten how to worship, so that often even our liturgical acts become simply gatherings or experiences. To worship means to acknowledge the transcendence of God, and his claim on us as our creator, and to respond appropriately. Rather than being just a relic of primitive religion, worship is an integral part of the Judeo-Christian religious sense. From deep within our self springs the desire to worship and adore God. Getting in tune with that desire, and expressing it through word and gesture is at the heart of prayer.

In order to worship in spirit and in truth, we must prepare our hearts and minds by being faithful to the covenant relationship (keeping the commandments) and seeking the wisdom of God, which is the wisdom of the cross. We have to let Jesus cleanse us, as he cleansed the Temple, leave our sins behind, and simplify our lives, getting rid of any needless clutter. Then we are able to enter into the new Temple, which is Jesus himself, praying in and through him.

When the side of Jesus was pierced on Calvary, the veil of the Temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom. The place of worship is no longer the Temple in Jerusalem; now, it is through the pierced side of Christ that we have "access to the Father in the one Spirit." So it is that, after the resurrection, Thomas will place his hand in Jesus's side and worship, saying, "My Lord and my God," as today's gospel tells us: "When Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples remembered… and believed. If we are to properly worship God, we must leave behind everything that gets in the way, then enter into that secret chamber which is the side of Christ, and there worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

Built to last

Compared to earlier generations, one of the features that characterizes this generation is speed. We can communicate with one another at a speed that would have been unthinkable a couple of generations ago. An email reaches its destination on the other side of the world in a matter of seconds. Journeys that took days or even weeks in the time of my grandparents now take hours. Builders build much faster than they built in the past. We need only think of the changes in our own city resulting from the building boom at the start of this century. Many of us probably think that much of what has been built quickly may not endure; it won't stand the test of time. In the ancient world, the world of Jesus, the world of the early church, buildings, especially significant political or religious buildings, were built to last. If you go to Rome today, you can still see the remains of the significant political and religious buildings of the Roman Empire. In Jerusalem, in the time of Jesus, the most significant public building by far was a religious building, the temple. In the gospel reading this morning, the Jewish authorities remind Jesus that it had taken forty six years to build the temple. Indeed, in the time of Jesus, the temple begun by Herod the Great was not yet complete. It would take another fourteen years, sixty years in all, for it to be finally finished. If a building firm gave a timescale of sixty years to complete a building today, it is fair to say that they would be unlikely to get the contract.

Jesus was aware of the huge religious and political significance of the temple in his day, and yet he challenged it, and he challenged those responsible for it, because he recognized that the temple was not in fact serving God's purposes. As Jesus says in this morning's gospel reading, 'Stop turning my Father's house into a market'. There is a big difference between a house and a market. A house has the potential at least to be a home. A market could never really be a home; people go to markets to buy and sell. Buying and selling are not activities you associate with home. The temple was to be God's house, God's home, a place where all people could feel at home in God's presence. The activities associated with the market were preventing the temple from being the home that God wanted it to be, a spiritual home for all the nations. Jesus saw that here was an institution in need of reform.

Every institution, including every religious institution, is always in need of reform. The church, in so far as it is a human institution, is in need of ongoing reform. The church exists to serve the purposes of God, the purposes of God's Son, in the world. However, inevitably, because the church is composed of human beings, it can also serve as a block to God's purposes. The church is called to be the sacrament of Christ, to reveal the powerful and life-giving presence of Christ to the world. However, invariably, it will often hide Christ or revealed a distorted image of Christ to the world, one that is not fully in keeping with the gospels. In the second reading, Paul sets God's wisdom over against human wisdom, God's power over against human strength. The church can sometimes substitute God's wisdom with human wisdom, God's power with human strength. Just as in the gospel reading Jesus wanted to purify the temple, the risen Lord is constantly working to purify the church. All of us who make up the church need to be open to his purifying presence. In the works of the book of Revelation, we need to be listening to what the Spirit, the Spirit of the risen Lord, is saying to us the church. Those in positions of leadership in the church have a special responsibility to listen to what the Spirit may be saying to the church, so as to bring it more into line with what God intends. However, we are all called to listen to the challenging word of the Spirit and to be open to the purifying presence of the risen Lord. We are all the church, and we all have our part to play in ensuring that the church is what the Lord intends it to be. Lent in particular is a time when we try to listen to what the Spirit may be saying to us about our lives; it is a time when as individuals and as a community we are called to allow the Spirit to renew our lives so that we conform more fully to the image and likeness of Christ.

The fiery Jesus of the gospel reading who is passionate about what God wants remains alive and active at the heart of the church today. The relationship between the Lord and the church, between the Lord and each one of us, will always be marked by a certain tension, because the Lord will always be working to purify and renew us. In the light of the gospel reading we might ask ourselves in what ways we have allowed the values of the market place to override the values of the gospel in our own lives, in the life of our society, in the life of our church.


Lent, 4th Sunday, Year B

1st Reading: 2 Chronicles 36:14-23

For their sins the people were exiled to Babylon. But God's mercy will bring them back

All the leading priests and the people also were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abomination of the nations; and they polluted the house of the Lord that he had consecrated in Jerusalem. The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place; but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord against his people became so great that there was no remedy.

They burned the house of God, broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its precious vessels. He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfil the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had made up for its sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfil seventy years.

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom and also declared in a written edict: "Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him! Let him go up."

2nd Reading: Ephesians 2:4-10

We are saved not through our own efforts but through the mercy of God.

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God- not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Gospel: John 3:14-21

God sent his only Son, not to condemn but to save us.

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."

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Love Lifted Up

Have you noticed the types of phrases we use when describing something wonderful? I catch myself saying things like being 'over the moon' or 'on cloud-nine.' A friend talks about being in the 'seventh heaven!' Now, that admission may say a lot both of us, but I can't help thinking that our deepest experiences are those that have a power to lift us up. Such experiences take us out of ourselves. They uplift us and we perceive things differently.

Jesus is always inviting us to see things differently. When Nicodemus sought out Jesus, he was in the dark â€" both really and symbolically. He couldn't see clearly. In the years that followed this late night conversation, Nicodemus became a follower of Jesus and, step by step, was drawn to see things differently. At last he finally did see. When at the end, Jesus was really and truly lifted up, Nicodemus was not too far away.

When we meditate on the crucifix and participate in the Eucharist we also see Jesus lifted up. Perhaps today as I lift my eyes to see him, I might ponder on the mystery of suffering and exaltation and wonder at the love that is lifted up and draws us ever closer, uplifting us as well. (Kathryn Williams)

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God's Work Of Art

A grimy painting hung for many years on the wall of a dining room in a Jesuit house in Dublin. No one paid much attention to it until one day someone realized that this could be a work of great value. Under investigation by art experts, it turned out that this painting was the work of no less than the great Caravaggio of Rome. His painting of the arrest of Jesus in the garden now hangs in our National Art Gallery, and is one of the Gallery's great treasures. All that time it had hung in the dining room, it was no less a treasure, but its real value went unrecognized. It hung there waiting for someone to recognize its true worth, its value as a work of art.

In the second reading Paul states that "we are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life." Like that painting, we can go unnoticed as a work of art, especially to ourselves. We don't tend to think of ourselves as a work of art. Yet, as Paul reminds us in our second reading, God sees us as works of art. Like the person who spotted the Caravaggio painting, God knows our true worth, our true value, and through the prophet Isaiah says, "You are precious in my sight, and I love you." We are as God's works of art, precious in his sight.

We can think of other people as works of art also. These are people we value greatly, people we treasure, whose worth to us is beyond price. When someone is a treasure to us, we don't count the cost in their regard. We will do anything we can for them. We will travel long distances to see them; we will stay up half the night to be with them if they are ill; we will defend and protect them with all our passion when necessary. We keep faith in them, be faithful to them, even when that makes great demands on us. We value them, simply, for who they are.

Our experience of how we relate to those we value gives us a glimpse of how the Lord relates to us. God loves us in a way that does not count the cost. The gospel reading today expresses that truth simply: "God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son." God sent us his Son out of love for us and that sending became a giving when his Son was put to death on a cross. As Paul says in the second reading, "God loved us so much that he was generous with his mercy." We are of such value in God's eyes that God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all. It is therefore not surprising that the cross has become the dominant symbol of Christianity. It is not because we glorify suffering, but because in the cross we recognise the extent to which God is prepared to go for love of us.


The brightening light

We have become very aware in recent weeks of how the days are getting longer. We are half way through the month of March and already it is bright up until after six o'clock. We have even brighter days to look forward to, especially as the clock goes forward next weekend. The brighter evenings brings everybody out. With the increase in light, there is also an increase in growth. The first blossoms of spring have already come out. Nature is coming to life after a time of hibernation.

The gospel reading this morning is in keeping with what is happening in nature. It declares that 'light has come into the world'. The light there is a reference to the light of God that has come into the world through Jesus. Both the second reading and the gospel reading make clear that the light of God is the light of love. The second reading declares that God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy; it speaks of God's goodness towards us in Christ, the infiniteness richness of God's grace in Christ. The gospel reading declares that God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son. In the light that Jesus brings from God we find mercy, compassion, great love, kindness, infinite grace. Sometimes we don't like too much light. There is a certain kind of light that can expose us mercilessly, like the light of the interrogator's lamp. However, Jesus brings a light that need hold no fear for us; it is a divine light that lifts us up, just as the Son of Man was lifted up, in the words of the gospel reading. Here is a light that assures us of our worth and that helps us to see the goodness that is within us and the good that we are capable of doing. It is a light that, in the words of the second reading, allows us to recognize that 'we are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live a good life'. It is the light of a love that shines upon us regardless of what we have done or failed to do. As the first reading reminds us, God's grace, God's love, comes to us not on the basis of anything we have done. It is not something we earn by our efforts; it comes to us as a pure gift. When God gave his Son to the world, did not ask whether the world was worthy of his Son or whether the world was ready for his Son. Even when the world crucified God's Son, God did not take back his Son from the world. Rather, God continued to give his Son to the world, raising him from the dead and sending him back into the world through the Holy Spirit, through the church. Here is a light that shines in the darkness and that the darkness cannot overcome, in the words of the gospel of John.

We all long for that kind of light, a light that is strong and enduring, a light that can be found at the heart of darkness and that is more resilient than darkness. We have all experienced darkness in one shape or form. It may be the darkness of sickness, or of the death of a loved one or the darkness of failure; we may struggle from time to time with the darkness of depression, with those dark demons that tell us that we are worthless and that life is not worth living. Something of that darkness of spirit finds expression in today's responsorial psalm. It was composed from the darkness of exile in Babylon. 'By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept, remembering Zion'. We may have known our own experiences of exile in its various forms, times when we felt cut off from what gives meaning and purpose to our lives. The readings this morning assure us that in all those forms of darkness, a light shines â€" the light of God's enduring love that is constantly at work in our lives so that we may have life and have it to the full. In the words of the gospel reading again, 'God gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him… may have eternal life'.

Even though this wonderful light has come into the world and wants to shine upon us all, we can be reluctant to step into that light, and allow it to shine upon us. In the words of the gospel reading, 'though the light has come into the world, people have shown that they prefer darkness to the light'. This is the mysterious capacity of human freedom to reject the light, to turn away from a faultless love and a boundless mercy. Yet, our coming to the light is often a gradual process; it can happen slowly, at our own pace. The Lord is always prepared to wait on us; he waits for our free response. We are not used to a love that is as generous, as merciful, as rich in grace and goodness as God's love; it takes us time to receive it, to believe in it, to embrace it. Receiving God's love and then living out of that gift is the calling and task of a life time


Lent, 5th Sunday, Year B

1st Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34

The new covenant, written on the human heart

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt â€" a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

2nd Reading: Hebrews 5:7-10

The anguish of Jesus, faced with his passion

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Gospel: John 12:20-30

By losing their life, the followers of Jesus will find it in a new way

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

"Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say â€" ' Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this our. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine."

Bible


For Others' Sake

Martin Luther King once wrote about a time when he knelt in prayer in the kitchen of his home in Alabama. Stones had been thrown through the window because of his call for civil rights for black people. His wife and children were in danger. He was already a respected academic and a promising career lay ahead. In prayer he found himself asking if it was right to put himself and them in danger? It was in that moment he decided to put the will of God and the welfare of his people before his own security and that of his family. He chose to serve God by working for those who were most oppressed. In a sense, he chose to die so that others could more fully live. It was a striking echo of what Jesus says in the gospel reading, that the grain of wheat must falls into the ground to yield a rich harvest.

Jesus himself was the supreme expression of this principle. He is the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, and in dying yields a harvest of life. He describes that harvest in prophetic words: "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself."

If God worked powerfully through the life of Jesus, He worked even more powerfully through the death of Jesus, a death that reveals the power of God's love, even more fully than his life of healing and ministry, for the amazing love revealed in his death on the cross drew people to God, and continues to do so. Over the centuries, millions of people, by looking upon the crucifix, have experienced God's personal love and compassion and found themselves drawn to God in return. In accepting the loss of so much that was dear to him, in particular, his vibrant life and warm companionship with others, Jesus drew people of all nations to himself and, thereby, to sharing in God's life.

It was when some Greeks (i.e. foreigners) came to hear him speak that Jesus made this declaration; and then he asked: "What shall I say? Save me from this hour. No, it was for this reason I have come to this hour." In these lovely spring days we may find ourselves sowing some seeds in the garden. The seed that dies in order to yield a new form of life is as familiar to us today as it was in the day of Jesus. This phenomenon of nature can speak to our own experience as much as it did to the experience of Jesus. Each of us in different ways has to accept some significant loss if we are to remain true to our deepest and best self, true to what God is asking of us.

Then there are other losses in life that we do not choose, but that are forced upon us. These are losses we have no choice but to accept. We may have to accept the loss of people we love and care about because of choices they make themselves. Parents may not wish to see a son or daughter go far away to live and work, but they accept this necessary loss out of respect for the one they love. In accepting the losses that life imposes, in letting go of those we love, we often find something fuller and richer, just as Jesus' disciples received him again in a new and fuller way through his resurrection from the dead and the sending of the Spirit.

At the end, for each of us, there is the final, unavoidable struggle to let go of our very life, with all the loss that is entailed in that. As we face of all these inevitable losses that are integral to life, we are strengthened by the words of Jesus in today's gospel, "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself." We trust and believe that, at the end of the day, after we have struggled through all our losses, the Lord will draw us to himself, and, when that happens, we will lack nothing.

Into the Valley of Death

One focus during Lent is to to reflect on our own death and to see our way through it. We all must die, as much as we don't like the fact. We try to hide it, dodge it, deny it. Yet we can't in fact escape it. Jesus came into the world, not so much to do away with death (not immediately) but to teach us how to die by his example and then to assure us that death does not say the last word about life. When we walk into the valley of death we do not walk alone. Jesus is with us because he's been there before and knows what it is like. Moreover he promises us that just as he rose from the dead so will we. We will all be young again. We will all laugh again.

Once upon a time there was a young grandmother who totally adored her oldest grandson (like most grandmothers do). He was a good young man too. Handsome, friendly, courteous, more mature than you could reasonably expect any teenager to be. He was also an excellent athlete and was to be valedictorian of his class. Then, just a week before graduation, another teen (quite drunk) plowed into the car in which the young man was returning from a baseball game. He died three hours later in the hospital. Everyone in the family was, devastated, as you can well imagine. The grandmother was furious. "Why do such terrible things happen?" she demanded. "Why did it have to happen to my grandson? What kind of God would permit this to happen to me? He must be a cruel and vicious God. Why should I believe in him? I don't believe in him. My grandson was so young, he had the rest of his life ahead of him. It's all right for old people to die, but not for someone who had a right to a long and happy life. I don't believe in heaven. I don't believe in anything." She carried on like this for months, making the tragedy even harder for her family. She stopped going to Church and refused to talk to the priest who dropped by her house to talk to her. "I just hate God," she insisted. Then one night, maybe she was dreaming, maybe she was half away, her grandson, in his baseball uniform, came to visit it her. "Cool it, Grams." he told her. "I'm happy. Life is much better where I am. You're not acting like my grams any more. We all have to die sometime, young or old, but here we're all young and we're all laughing." So the grandmother began to let go of her grief and rage.

Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday), Year B

 Procession of Palms: Mark 11:1-10

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'" They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt?" They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"

1st Reading: Isaiah 50:4-7

Words of the Suffering Servant: "I know I shall not be put to shame!"

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakensâ€"wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

2nd Reading: Ph 2:5-11

The self-emptying of God's loving servant, to save his people.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of deathâ€"even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Gospel: Mark 14:1â€"15:47

Matthew's sober Passion Narrative, with his repeated noting of the fulfilment of Scripture in the events of the Passion of Jesus.

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, "Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people."

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, "Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." And they scolded her. But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for it burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her."

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, "Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there." So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me." They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, "Surely, not I?" He said to them, "It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born."

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."

When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, "You will all become deserters; for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.' But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." Peter said to him, "Even though all become deserters, I will not." Jesus said to him, "Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times." But he said vehemently, "Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you." And all of them said the same.Gethsemane

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake." And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want." He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand."

Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard." So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, "Rabbi!" and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to them, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled." All of them deserted him and fled.

A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.

They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.'" But even on this point their testimony did not agree.

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, "Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?" But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?" Jesus said, "I am; and 'you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,' and 'coming with the clouds of heaven.'" Then the high priest tore his clothes and sid, "Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?" All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, "Prophesy!" The guards also took him over and beat him.

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, "You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth." But he denied it, saying, "I do not know or understand what you are talking about." And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, "This man is one of them." But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, "Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean." But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, "I do not know this man you are talking about." At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, "Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times." And he broke down and wept.

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" He answered him, "You say so." Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, "Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you." But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, "Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?" They shouted back, "Crucify him!" Pilate asked them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him!" So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews." And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!" In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "Listen, he is calling for Elijah." And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down." Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was God's Son!"

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.

Bible


It was our sorrows he bore

"He was oppressed and was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth" (Is 53:7). For the followers of Christ, this Isaiah text evokes a response deep down within us, seeing how they apply to God's only beloved Son, and how he died for all of us. In the words of St Peter, "without having seen him you have come to believe in him, and so you are filled already with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described" (1 Pet 1:8). Without this sincere love of Christ, we are no true followers of his. We cannot say we fully love him, until we appreciate what he suffered for us.

Today, having heard the Passion narrative there is no real necessity to retrace in great detail the events there described. But it is well to bear in mind that Christ was no stranger to hardship, privation and suffering, long before that final day of his life. "Being in the form of God," as St Paul says, from the moment he came on earth, Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are (Phil 2:6f). He, the most high God, suffered the hardships of the poor, at times not even having a place to lay his head. He endured hunger and thirst, and after long days surrounded by crowds seeking a cure, he often spent whole nights at prayer in the hills. Despite his compassion for all who came to him, he met with hatred and rejection, in particular from Pharisees and priests, who planned to have him killed. How this rejection and hatred must have grieved him. King Lear knew "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is, to have a thankless child;" and how must Jesus have felt at being rejected by the people he had chosen, above all others.

So terrible was the inner struggle of Jesus as he faced his death, that in the garden his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground. Another bitter pill was the knowledge that one of his own circle of twelve would betray him, that most of the others would leave him, and that even the loyal St Peter would repeatedly swear he had never met him. But most terrible of all was his feeling of being abandoned by God, his inner spirit shrouded in a darkness that reflected the murky darkness that enveloped Calvary as the end drew near. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

The features of that face so cruelly disfigured were those of the Son of God. The forehead streaming with blood, the hands and feet nailed to the Cross, the body lacerated with scourges, the side pierced with a lance, these were the forehead, the hands and feet, the sacred body, the side of the eternal Word, made visible in Jesus. Why such suffering? We can only say with Isaiah, "It was for our transgressions he was smitten, for our sins he was brought low. On him lay the punishment that brings us healing, through his wounds we are made whole" (53:5ff). God, our Father, grant that your Son's suffering for us may not be in vain.


Mark's Account

Each of the four Evangelists give an account of the Passion, but each tells the story with his own particular style and emphasis. The account read this year is written by Mark, Saint Peter's helper and companion in Rome, and it shows the stark human abandonment of Jesus. The behaviour of the disciples is portrayed negatively. In the garden they fall asleep three times while Jesus prayed. Judas betrayed him, while Peter with a curse denied any knowledge of him. All flee. Jesus' only words from the cross were: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." Even these plaintive words were met with derision. Yet, as Jesus breathes his last, God acts to confirm his Son. The veil of the temple was rent in two, and a Roman Centurion confesses: "Truly this was God's son."

There are moments in the lives of most Christians when they need desperately to cry out with Jesus: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me", only to find, as Jesus did, that God is listening, and can reverse tragedy. It is above all a comfort to those who find it hard to bear the cross to know that it wasn't easy for God's own son, either.

In Luke's account, Jesus is less anguished by his own fate than by his concern for others. He heals the slave's ear at the time of the arrest; on the road to Calvary he worries about the fate of the women; he forgives those who crucified him; and he promises paradise to the penitent thief. The crucifixion becomes the occasion of divine forgiveness and care, and Jesus dies tranquilly praying: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." St. John, on the other hand, describes the passion of Jesus as his calm, almost royal return into the presence of his Father.

It is important that some see our Lord's head bowed in dejection, while others observe his arms outstretched in forgiveness, and still others perceive, in the title on the cross, the proclamation of a reigning king. All these accounts combine together to give us food for thought and prayer.


Looking on from a distance

There is great hostility in the story we have just heard, all of it directed against Jesus. There is the hostility of the chief priests, of the Roman soldiers, of those who passed by and jeered as he hung from the cross. Alongside the hostility of those who rejected Jesus, there is the failure of those who had been closest to him. His disciples all deserted him and fled; Judas betrayed him and Peter denied him publicly. Yet, there were a few people who responded to Jesus in that dark hour faithfully and nobly. There was the anonymous woman who in an extravagant gesture of love and respect anointed the head of Jesus. Then there was the Roman centurion, who looked on as Jesus died and exclaimed, 'this man was son of God'. Joseph of Arimathea took the bold step of going to Pilate to ensure Jesus had a dignified burial. The women disciples who looked on from a distance noted where Jesus was buried and went away to prepare spices to anoint his body at the earliest opportunity. All of these people men and women saw Jesus with eyes of faith and love.

The story we have just heard invites us to identify with those who saw Jesus with the eyes of faith and love, who recognized the light of God in the darkness of Jesus' passion and death. When we look upon the passion and death of Jesus with such eyes, we see a divine love that is stronger than sin, a divine light that shines in all our darknesses, a divine power that brings new life out of all our deaths, a divine poverty that enriches us at the deepest level of our being. We have heard the story of Jesus' last journey told in the space of ten minutes. This Holy Week, the church invites us to travel that journey at a much slower pace, day by day as it were. We are invited to enter into that journey with the eyes of the anointing woman, the centurion, Joseph of Arimathea and the group of faithful women. We look beneath the surface of what is happening, we listen deeply to all that is taking place, so as to recognize the good Shepherd who laid down his life for us all, so that we might have life and have it to the full.

Holy Thursday, Year B

1st Reading: Exodus 12:1-2, 11-14

Israel's departure from Egyptâ€"and how this is to be celebrated for all time.

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, "Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?" He answered, "Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and thought, "Surely the thing is known."

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

When we proclaim Christ's saving death in this sacred meal, it makes Jesus ever present with us.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Gospel: John 13:1-15

The example of Jesus washing his followers' feet shows us how Christians should live.

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples" feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean." After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord-and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

Bible


How to share in the Last Supper

When Jesus says, "Do this in memory of me!" clearly he means us to understand what "This" was and is. What exactly had he in mind through the symbols of the broken bread and the shared cup of wine? We need to get behind the formal Catechism answer about the "holy sacrifice of the Mass", and think anew about the meaning of that paschal meal. The Last Supper was celebrated in the context of the Jewish Passover meal and tonight's first reading explains the meaning of this feast. In words and symbols it recalled the greatest saving act of God in the Old Testament, the exodus from Egypt, setting God's people free from slavery. It opens us up to the idea that God enters our lives to save us and set us free from whatever oppresses us. So "opened up," we are prepared for the good news that the definitive saving work of God is done in and by Jesus Christ.

We reflect this evening on what St John calls the "hour" of Jesus, the high point of his saving work, the new exodus, his passing from this world to the Father through which he brought into being a new relationship between God and us human beings. Sharing in this new exodus is our ultimate liberation, freeing us from enslavement to material things and petty self-interest and setting us free to love generously â€" the very purpose for which we were originally created in the image of God. Through his love-without-limit, in his own utterly unselfish heart Jesus overcame all human selfishness and with it, human sin. Precisely this love, which the Father wants us all to have and to share, is the very heart of Jesus' exodus. It is just this self-giving kind of love which Jesus wishes to be kept alive among us. With his disciples in the Last Supper he anticipated his death for us on the cross, giving himself in the sacramental symbols of bread and wine. From then on the celebration of our Eucharist is the living memorial through which we are joined to Our Lord's saving act of love. It is our way to share in the new exodus, to be freed from the isolation of self-concern so that they become fully human as God wants us to be.

St John implies that we are united with Jesus by letting him wash our feet, accepting his great act of loving service. Having accepted the gift we must embrace it as a value to practice in our lives. What Jesus does for us in his Passion shows us how to live. In some real sense, we must live like Jesus, "for" God and others. There is a close link between Jesus washing their feet and then their going on to wash the feet of others in the future. If the Eucharist is the place where the Lord washes our feet, daily life is the place where we can wash the feet of others. Eucharist leads to life leads to Eucharist. True Eucharist piety must lead to service of others. Jesus who broke the bread of the Eucharist also washed the feet of his disciples. We must follow his example both at the altar of the Eucharist and at the altar of life.


Ash Wednesday, Year C

1st Reading: Joel 2:12-18

"Return to me with all your heart"â€" "Spare your people, Lord"

"Now, now," says the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.
Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil.
Who knows whether he will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, a cereal offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God?

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants.
Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.
Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep and say,
"Spare your people, O LORD, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples, `Where is their God?'"

Then the LORD became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people.

2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20 â€" 6:2

Do not receive the grace of God in vain

We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, "At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you." See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Your Father who sees in secret will reward you

Jesus said to his disciples, "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Bible


A time for cleansing the heart

As we receive the ashes on our foreheads, we want to live Lent as a time of cleansing and holy desire, helped by some Gospel practices: prayer, fasting and alms-giving. We begin this season by receiving ashes on our foreheads, often in the form of a cross. The forty days of Lent echo the time Jesus spent in the desert before his public ministry. Lent is meant to help us to a more effective Christian lifestyle.

The Christian life, said St Augustine, "is an exercise of holy desire." It does not ask that we suppress our normal desires, but to raise and purify them. Our desires are too small if our ultimate values are those of this world; for God wants us to have so much more, no less than his very Self. During Lent we tune in to higher desires, to deep-down longing for God. And Jesus shows us the way of prayer, fasting and alms-giving, the classic Lenten practices. Of these, prayer has first place. Our eternity will be our relationship with the living God, a relationship that begins in this life, or it does not begin at all. Our most shared prayer is during the Mass, the loving sacrifice of Christ which opens heaven to us. Prayer is the daily practice of our friendship with God, and it opens the way to eternal life.

Fasting is more tricky for us today and is perhaps practice more by Muslims than by Catholics. But while we appreciate our food and the conviviality that often accompanies a good meal, we should also find a place for fasting. The main goal of Lenten fasting is not a well-toned body to be proud of. Some saints were quite corpulent, others were virtual skeletons, but they had this in common: they practiced voluntary self-denial, to sharpen their appetite for God. All of us resonate in some way to the ideal of alms-giving as compassionate sharing. Lent is good time to rid ourselves of some clutter in our life. With a bit more vision, could we perhaps do more to serve the needy, not to be praised as generous, but to imitate God's generosity to us?

Augustine sees cleansing as preparing us to practice holy desire, which is possible only to the extent that we free ourselves from infatuation with this world. It is like filling an empty container. "God means to fill us with what is good â€" so cast out what is bad! If God wishes to fill us with honey and we are full of sour wine, where is the honey to go? The vessel must first be emptied and cleansed."


The transience of life

Ash Wednesday could hardly make more tangible the transience of things and our own mortality. We start Lent humbly, close to the ground, close to our earthiness: "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." But the ashes are not just to commemorate the transience of creation. These ashes used this Wednesday are the residue of the palms of last year's Passion-Sunday. Jesus died and was buried in a tomb, the place of decay and the place of dust. Yet he rose from the dead to new life. Our ultimate destiny is not dust and ashes but a sharing in the Lord's risen life, becoming conformed to the image of Christ. As we journey towards that destiny we hear the call to grow more fully into the image of God's Son, which is a call to turn away from sin, to repent. The ashes are a sign of our desire to do just that. The traditional practices of Lent that we heard about in the gospel put before us the essentials for growth into the image of God's Son " a greater love of God (prayer), a more generous love of neighbour (alms giving), and a truer love of ourselves (fasting). We recommit ourselves on Ash Wednesday to build our lives on those three loves, so that we may more fully become all that God is calling us to be.


Lenten Projects

The more active women in a certain parish once decided that their Lenten project should be something to benefit the whole parish. They met several time to discuss what each of them thought would be most beneficial project they could sponsor. One woman suggested they have a children's Easter fashion show. She knew her daughter would love to do something like that. Another woman suggested a "house walk" where some of the owners of the newest and biggest houses in the community could let the rest of the community see how they decorated their houses for Easter.

Several similar ideas were put forth but support for each idea was rather evenly split. Finally, one woman who had been silent during the whole discussion suggested that a Lenten project that would benefit the entire parish might best be one in which everyone in the parish could participate as they lived out the season of preparation for Easter. The other women were a bit surprised at her suggestion. No one had stopped to think "outside the box" of spring fashion shows and hose walks. As they thought about it & discussed what they might do, they came to realize that they had gotten caught up in ideas that didn't really reflect the spirit of Easter. This shared insight helped them focus on ways in which their project would be one that would help the whole community appreciate the spirit of resurrection.


First Sunday of Lent

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 26:4-10

Offering the firsts fruits of harvest, they give thanks to God

When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: "A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me." You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God.

Second Reading: Epistle to the Romans 10:8-13

The core of our credo is that Jesus is our Saviour and Lord

Now what does Scripture say? "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with he heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."

Gospel: Luke 4:1-13

Jesus was tempted like we are, but he did not sin

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'"

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

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Ideas for homilies on the ACP website

As mentioned before, readers are welcome to send us homily ideas and outlines for use on our ACP website. Generally we tend to edit them down, to fit in with our sober house style. We will acknowledge any homiletic contributions received, whether or not we can fit them in on the website. The Readings for Masses throughout this year are on our monthly lists.

Fr. Pat Rogers (Homily Ideas sent here will be forwarded to me.)


Fundamental Options

The temptation narrative is the most mysterious and symbolic of stories, because since he was alone throughout his days in the wilderness, no one other than Jesus himself could have known what went on in his heart. The implication of the temptations is how he struggled within himself to find the most effective way to live his life for God. We ordinary mortals will hardly try turning stones into bread, for such a thing is impossible for us. It could only be a temptation for someone of unique power. In the first temptation Jesus seems to toy with the possibility of providing a limitless supply of bread for people, like the free dole by which the Roman emperor kept popular with the crowds. But Jesus saw how a focus on food and drink can lead to forgetting spiritual values. "Man lives not on bread alone."

Next, being taken up mountain and being shown all the kingdoms of the world â€" suggests a temptation to become a secular messiah, dominating the world's politics to have power to impose religion on people, like it or not. He dismisses this, since people will enter into a true union with God, if, and only if, they are drawn to it in spirit. The third and final temptation was to be a messiah of a sensational kind, focused entirely on miracles â€" since throughout his public life they kept asking for signs. What if he were to throw himself from off the pinnacle of the Temple and rise unscathed. But Jesus saw quite clearly that this had no genuine value, so he said, "You must not put the Lord your God to the test!" as a warning to himself not to be rash and superficial.

Jesus realised that his final and fullest way of service to mankind, the effective one that would endure, would be through suffering and the Cross, after which would come the crown. Without his crucifixion he would long since be forgotten. In every event of Christ's earthly life, God is saying something to us too. The story of the Temptations is surely a warning to us not to allow pure selfishness to govern our lives. We must let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, who continues to prompt our conscience throughout our days. Imitate Our Lord by taking up the challenge of every day, not with an air of gloomy resignation, but with a cheerful acceptance of what it may bring. Let Jesus be a major influence in our lives, reflect upon his words and actions with reverence and affection, so as to bring about an inner purification of our minds and wills.


The greatest temptation

The scene of Jesus' temptations is an account not to be taken lightly. The temptations it describes are not properly of the moral order. The account is warning us that we can ruin our lives if we stray from the path that Jesus follows.

We focus on the first temptation, as the decisively important one, which can debase and corrupt our life at its root. Apparently Jesus is being offered something innocent and good: put God at the service of his hunger. "If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread."

Jesus reacts quickly and surprisingly: "One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God." One's bread shall not make one's bread into into an absolute. One shall not place God at the service of one's own interest, forgetting the Father's project. You shall always seek God's kingdom first and his justice. At every moment one shall listen to God's Word.

Our needs do not get satisfied only with our having bread assured us. Human beings need and yearn for much more. In order to rescue from hunger and misery those who do not have bread, we also need to listen to God our Father, and awaken in our conscience hunger for justice, compassion, solidarity.

Our great temptation today is to change everything into bread. To reduce more and more the horizon of our ambition to mere satisfaction of our desires; to turn our obsession for a greater well-being, or our indiscriminate and unfettered consumerism, into our one and only ideal.

We fool ourselves if we think that this is the path to follow toward progress and liberation. Do we not see that a society that drags people into a consumerism without limits and into self-complacency does nothing but give rise to emptiness and meaninglessness in people and to selfishness, alienation and irresponsibility in the community?

Why do we cringe that the number of people who commit suicide tragically keeps growing? Why do we respond by shutting ourselves up in our false well-being, erecting barriers that are increasingly more inhuman lest the hungry enter our countries, get into our neighborhoods or knock on our door?

Jesus' call can help us to be more aware that human beings do not live on well-being alone. Human beings also need to nurture the spirit, know love and friendship, develop solidarity with those who suffer, listen responsibly to their conscience, to be open to the ultimate Mystery of a life with hope. (J. A. Pagola)


Saying "NO" to temptations

A Catholic family, one that adhered strictly to fasting and abstinence during Lent, moved into a new neighborhood. They had a problem with a Hindu neighbor, whose window closely overlooked their home. The man had a chicken roasted every lunch and dinner. The smell of chicken roast became so tempting that they decided to talk him into becoming Catholic so that he would practice abstinence. When he agreed after much convincing, they took him to the parish priest. The parish priest then told him "Look, you were born a Hindu, your name is Ganesh". Then the priest took water for Baptism and pouring it on his head and said "By these waters of Baptism, you are now baptized a Christian and your name will be Peter".

On the first day of Lent, as the Catholic neighbors peeped from their window, they saw Peter say and do something strange. He placed a plucked and dressed chicken on the table and poured water on it saying "Look, you chicken, you are born to be non-vegetarian. From today by these waters, you will be a vegetarian dish, vegetarian I say, vegetarian". With that he began to roast it for his meal.
When we want to give in to any temptation, we will always find reasons, arguments and logic to support our desires. But when we need wisdom from God to challenge, question and walk over our temptations. Every year on the First Sunday of Lent we read the gospel story of Jesus being tempted by Satan. The message of the Gospel is not just about saying "NO" to temptation but about challenging the temptation or the tempter.

The first temptation was to turn stone into bread. Stones were in plenty around Jesus. If all the stones changed to bread, there would be enough food for a lifetime. The problem of poverty in the world is because so many people want to stack up and store money and material for a life-time. It is the feeling of insecurity. Jesus spoke of a parable of a man who wanted to pull down his barns and build larger ones but the Lord asked him 'you fool. If your life would be demanded of you tonight, whose will all this be?' Giving in to the first kind of temptation is like trying to accumulate for a life time when God wants us to live one day at a time. Giving in to this temptation will lead us to pillage, plunder, cheat, grab and snatch from others as much as we can.

The second temptation was that Satan would give all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will worship him. This temptation is all too evident from the growing power struggles seen in the world today and increase in violence and bloodshed; one religion trying to dominate another, nations trying to out-do another in economy and weaponry to become world-superpowers; cultures, communities and ethnic groups claiming superiority over another. This temptation for power begins at the individual level when we forget Jesus teaching 'those who wish to be first must be the servant of all' leading us to clamor for power, position and fame even at the cost and dignity of another.

The third temptation was for Jesus to perform a spectacular act of falling from the pinnacle and not getting hurt. This temptation reveals itself in certain dangerously advancing technologies where man is trying to play God. Technology is good if it improves the quality of life, but dangerous when the creature wants to become creator. When we rely only on our own strengths and intelligence we will discount God. All our intelligence put together still cannot stop a tsunami, an earthquake or the raging waters of our flood. Paradoxically, it is our intelligence itself that has breached nature's course and aggravated natural calamities.

So when any temptation faces you, don't just say "No". Instead, question it like Jesus does. Liken your temptation to any of the three temptations of Jesus and seek the wisdom of God to handle and walk over it.

Sent in by Fr. Adolf Washington, from Bangalore (India)


Jesus and Temptation

Three temptations are listed: to change stone into bread, to fall down and worship the devil, and to jump down from the pinnacle of the Temple. In each of these what the devil is saying to Jesus is, "Use what you have to get what you want." And in each case Jesus overcomes the temptation by replying, "No, we can only use the proper means to satisfy our needs and seek our goals in life."

In the first temptation, Jesus had fasted for forty days in the wilderness and at the end of it he was hungry. The devil puts an idea into his head: "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread" (Luke 4:3). The first thing the devil does is sow a doubt in his mind: "if you are the Son of God." "Are you really sure God is with you?" The same thing happened in the garden of Eden. The first thing the Tempter said to Eve was, "Did God really say you should not eat of any fruit of the garden" (Genesis 3:1). Temptation always begins with a doubting thought. Did God really say this or is it just a fairy tale? Jesus overcame the temptations by refusing to entertain such doubts and by standing on the word of God.

His temptations and ours

The threat of rising interest rates, more taxes and less welfare, huge amounts of foreign debt putting a strain on health and education spending, are a lot of what we've been hearing about lately in our media. All this talk about money, understandable as it is, leaves us wondering: 'Is this all there is? Is it really money that makes the world go round? Whatever happened media to human interest stories, to human relationships? Are our only values economic ones?' Thank God we still have the living memory of Jesus, and the stories of his teaching and example to remind us that there's a lot more to life than money!

Today we remember how Jesus understood and obeyed God's highest commandment: 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.' 'With all your heart' â€" i.e. with total determination! 'With all your soul' â€" i.e. loving and serving God our whole life long! 'With all your strength' â€" i.e. putting all our personal possessions, qualities and gifts, at God's disposal and for the service of others!

The love of Jesus for God and God's people was total; but this does not mean that it was any easier for him to practice than it is for us. It is clear that he had to struggle to choose between God and self. The tension and agony of it all is spelled out in Luke's dramatic story of the temptations Jesus faced during that time when the Holy Spirit led him into the desert. There he spent forty days working out the meaning of his life, trying to discover just what God wanted him to do with his life. In the process he came face to face with certain alternatives, which he came to judge as subtle temptations.

First, the tempter suggests to Jesus, extremely hungry after forty days of fasting: 'If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.' In other words, use your power and influence, not for others but for your own satisfaction, comfort and convenience. But though Jesus is desperate for something to eat, he will not dally with this desire, even for a moment. Instead he seeks nourishment of a different kind, relying on God's clear message: 'One does not live on bread alone.'

That was one kind of temptation, but the idea that next comes to Jesus is even more subtle and appealing. This is to use his intelligence and his charisma to gather round him the rich and powerful from every nation, and, eventually, to become a great political leader. It was the temptation to seek world attention and become a political messiah, a temptation to fame and fortune and empire-building. This attraction is the very opposite of what God has said in Scripture about his chosen servant, the saviour of the world's poor and marginalised. God clearly means his Messiah to be a humble servant, a suffering servant, one who sacrifices his life in love. Jesus remembers this, realizes this, and takes it to heart. And so he blitzes the temptation with another clear and definite command of God in Scripture: 'You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.'

The third temptation of Jesus (according to Luke) is to go to the very top of the temple in Jerusalem and take a flying leap from there. A stunt like this will surely attract a horde of followers, and prove to Jesus personally whether God cares about him or not. The very thought of it is fascinating. Jesus, however, promptly puts the idea completely out of his mind as he remembers and relishes God's word: 'You must not put the Lord your God to the test.'

His replies are more remarkable if we remember that Jesus was feeling very weak, fragile and vulnerable. He hadn't eaten anything for forty days. And yet his fidelity and love towards God hardly wavered for a moment. What is his secret? Clearly, it is his reliance on God's word in the Scriptures. He just keeps nourishing his mind, heart, attitudes and his very life, by remembering the word of God.

What the three temptations have in common is the lure of selfishness, for taking the soft options of security, power and prestige. We ourselves are often exposed to temptations to selfishness of one kind or another â€" in the form of pride, anger, lust, gluttony, envy, sloth, etc. Like Jesus we turn to God for guidance and strength, relying especially on the power of the holy Eucharist to remain faithful.

For better results when we are tempted, we would do well to do as Jesus did â€" read the scriptures, reflect on them and pray them. Our Church encourages the practice of reading, thinking about, and praying the scriptures each day of Lent. Whatever ways we choose to help us take God's word to heart, our Lent is meant to be a time for correcting our faults and raising our minds to God, a time of personal and community renewal, a time for coming face-to-face with God in his all-powerful word.


2nd Sunday of Lent, Year C

1st Reading: Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18

The covenant with Abraham, basis of Israel's religion of trust

He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. Then he said to him, "I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess." But he said, "O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?" He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.

Second Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Paul teaches the way of faithfulness

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

Gospel: Luke 9:28-36

Peter, James and John glimpsed the hidden glory of Jesus

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" â€" not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came an overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

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Listen to Jesus only

The scene is traditionally considered as Jesus' transfiguration. It's not possible to reconstruct with certainty the experience that led to this surprising story: we only know that the Gospel writers give it great importance, since it is told as an experience that gives a glimpse of Jesus' true identity.

At the beginning, it notes the transformation of his face, and though Moses and Elijah come to speak with him â€"representatives of the law and prophets respectivelyâ€" only Jesus' face remains transfigured and shining at the center of the scene.

It seems that the disciples haven't grasped the reality of what's going on around them, since Peter says to Jesus: "Master, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three booths, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah". He puts Jesus on the same plane and at the same level as the two great biblical figures. Each one is to have his booth. Jesus doesn't yet occupy a central and absolute place in his heart.

God's voice will correct him, revealing Jesus' true identity: "This is my Son, the Chosen One", the one who has his face transfigured. He mustn't be confused with Moses or Elijah, whose faces are darkened. "Listen to him". To no one else. His Word is the only decisive one. The rest should take us to him.

We need to recover in today's Church the decisive importance of this Gospel story about Jesus as told in the bosom of the Christian communities from the beginning. These four writings constitute for Christians a uniquely basic source that we mustn't equate with the rest of the biblical writings.

The Gospels aren't teaching books that set out academic doctrines about Jesus. Nor are they biographies redacted to give detailed information about his historical trajectory. There is something that we can only encounter in them: the impact caused by Jesus on the first ones who felt themselves drawn by him and following him. They are "stories of conversion" that call for a change, for a following of Jesus and for an identification with his project.

That's why they need to be listened to with an attitude of conversion. And it's in that spirit that they should be read, preached, meditated on and kept in the heart of each believer and in every community. A Christian community that knows how to listen each Sunday to the Gospel story about Jesus in an attitude of conversion, that community begins to change. The Church doesn't have any power for renewal more vigorous than that contained in these four small books. (J A Pagola)

Transformed by Prayer

For older Catholics, our experience of the Church has straddled two worlds, what things were like before and after the Second Vatican Council. We can rummage in the storehouse of our mind and compare things old and new. Can you remember how important private prayer was in that pre-Conciliar world, when people were more used to devotional practices than they are today. In the town where I grew up, called in to the church every day for a quick visit to the Blessed Sacrament. Of course, that was before television came and changed the shape of our evenings. Probably we weren't any more virtuous than the people of today. Maybe we had nothing much to do in the evenings and we wanted to get out of the house and meet our friends.

All those habits of private prayer seemed to quickly disappear after the Council, though the modern means of entertainment had much to do with it. Change always demands its price, and even the liturgical changes after Vatican II somehow seemed to sideline private prayer. Here and there we can find signs of prayer making a comeback, as indeed it should. Inside each one of us is a need for prayer, trying to reach out to God. We feel that need to get away from distractions, to be alone for a while, to help make more sense of our lives. What else is that but an urge to pray.

Today's gospel gives a remarkable insight into the nature of prayer. Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray. We too have to find the high ground, remote enough to give us an overall view of our petty world with all its preoccupations. A mountain can give us that perspective, as indeed can a lake or a desert, places where Jesus also liked to pray.

Lent is a time for us to try and create a space for prayer somewhere in our lives. Only by prayer can we be transfigured and then try to transfigure our world. By reflecting deep inside ourselves we will transfigure our many and often complicated relationships. Prayer can transfigure our marriages, our homes, our work and our communities. The American writer, Thurber, at the end of one of his fables, penned this couplet: "All men should learn before they die,/Where they are going, from where and why." Only in prayer will we find the answer to these questions.

Where we encounter God

The splendid vision in our Gospel today comes after Jesus had said that "The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised" (Lk 9:22). This was no good news to the disciples who expected Jesus, as the Messiah, to drive out the Roman army of occupation and restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Many of them would have begun to have second thoughts: Is Jesus really the expected Messiah? So a few days after, Jesus invites the three leaders of his group, Peter, James and John, to go with him up a mountain, to show them another angle on reality.

For many, mountains are a place of encounter with God. Moses encountered God on a mountaintop, and so did Elijah, and it was a favourite place of prayer for Jesus too. It was where the eyes of the apostles, their spiritual eyes, were opened and they caught a glimpse of a Jesus that their physical eyes could never see. Then they saw that the heavens were on the side of Jesus, and they heard the voice of the invisible God, "This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him" (Lk 9:35). This was all the confirmation they needed, that Jesus was indeed the expected one, for heaven itself bore witness. Now they would listen to him and follow him all the way to his suffering and death in Jerusalem. No matter what happens they are now sure of one thing: God is with Jesus; final victory will therefore be his.

How often we experience absurdities in life, leaving us filled with doubt and with the question: Where is God in all this? Think of people who have experienced abuse, deep-rooted individualism and insensitivity from church officials, and they ask, "How can God be in this place?" and many of them give up the faith. Others are traumatized by their experience of social injustice and discrimination. They apply for a job but see people less qualified than they get the job because of having the right connections or the right accent. They see forceful people advancing in society through unfair means and they ask: Where is God when this is going on? Or you may know someone undergoing personal and family crisis like terminal illness, breakdown of relationship between husband and wife, between parent and child, between friends.

At times like these we need to climb the mountain of prayer and ask God to open our eyes that we may see. When God grants us a glimpse of eternity then we realize that all our troubles in this life are short-lived. Then we have the courage to accept the suffering of this life, knowing that through it all God is on our side. All it takes is a glimpse of heaven to empower us to take up our daily crosses and follow Jesus, knowing that the cross of Lent is followed by the victory of Easter.


God on the mountain, God in the valley

Our lives are a mixture of a 'mountain-top experience' and a 'valley experience.' Jesus' prediction of his suffering and death followed by the transfiguration experience reveals this truth in no unclear terms. You can see thorns in a bush full of roses or roses in a bush full of thorns, no matter how you look at it you can't change the truth that both, thorns and roses are before you. Life's journey is through thorns and roses, mountains and valleys.

In the verses preceding today's passage, Jesus already predicted his passion, suffering and death (the valley experience). He spoke about carrying one's cross as a pre-requisite for discipleship.

Interpreted in our own life-context, the mountain-top experience is that of peace, happiness, prosperity, fame, success, physical well-being, stable relationships and a general feeling of fulfillment and contentment. The valley experience is that when things don't seem going right in our lives, when failures and loses befall us, when we are fallen and forsaken, misunderstood and betrayed by others, when relationships threaten to break, when 'tomorrow' scares us in the face, when loneliness stalks us, when grief overwhelms us and life seems at its edge.

When you know that suffering is going to come upon you, it is but natural that your face will look gloomy and pale and people can notice it. But here at the Transfiguration Jesus is looking radiant in glory (the mountain-top experience). This scene suggests that when we take up our cross in God's name we receive strength and grace from the Lord to carry it. The voice of God "This my beloved son in whom I'm well pleased, listen to Him" is not just an endorsement of the Jesus-mission of redemption but an affirmation that God is always "well pleased" when we are willing to carry our cross and follow Him. When you are busy carrying your cross become also sure God is busy weaving a crown for you. Your crown is not somewhere beyond the grave, but in this life itself.

In our human experience, we are tempted just like Peter, James and John to desire the mountaintop experience and avoid the valley experience. But we really must live the valley experience if we want to see the glory of God in our lives. It is in the valley valley experience that we discover our frailties and the follies of our intelligence, when inflated egos are punctured and we discover our great need for God.

When we find it hard to trust God in the valley experience of your life, we could think of little chickens under the wings of a hen. There is darkness under its wings, the little chicks cannot see anything, yet they feel the warm, reassuring protection of their mother. As the Psalmist puts it, "The Lord will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings we will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and your rampart." (Ps 91:4).

Whether in the valley or on the mountain-top, we need the affirmation of God, for the God in the valley is the same God on the mountains.


3rd Sunday of Lent, Year C

1st Reading: Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15

God pities his people in Egypt and will free them, through Moses

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up." When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." He said further, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."

And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord said, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

But Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" God also said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you': This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12

We must persevere, in order to be saved

I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness. nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

Gospel: Luke 13:1-9

The Lord of the vineyard offers us ample chance to bear fruit

At that very time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them-do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did." Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next ear, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"

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Audio Commentary on today's Gospel

"Give it one more year."Â Â With his online notes (http://www.tarsus.ie/resources/2016/Lent3C16.pdf) Fr Kieran O'Mahony has provided an audio file of today's Gospel on SoundCloud. Just click the link to play the file:https://soundcloud.com/user-679942596/lent3c16.


A waste of space

The 19th century German chancellor, Bismarck, once compared the Irish unfavourably to the Dutch: "If Ireland were settled by the Dutch," he said, "it would be the bread-basket of Europe, while if Holland was settled by the Irish, it would be drowned in the sea." We can certainly reply that the Irish have other gifts which enhance the quality of life, like sociability and humour, that are perhaps not as prominent among the Dutch (or indeed among Bismarck's compatriots.) But when it comes to industry, we have sometimes tended to lag behind. When travelling in Europe, one sees the countryside intensively cultivated. Apart from the high mountains there is hardly an inch of ground left fallow; everywhere you see the land growing maize, wheat, corn and other crops. It's the same in places like the Ruhr valley, where factory towers stand out among large fields of corn, like ships in the ocean. So much of our countryside is wild and uncultivated, large tracts of which seem untouched by human hand. It seems ironic that a people who fought so passionately for the land should neglect so much of it. Such thoughts can make the parable of the barren fig tree into a parable of our lives. All of us have been given a patch of ground in the Lord's vineyard, where we are expected to produce fruit. Each one's patch is different, often yielding different fruit. Many choose to rear families. Some also run businesses or contribute to the running of them or work at different levels in institutions. Nowadays a large percentage is engaged in what are called the "caring professions," working in education, medicine, the social services, religion, as teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, priests and in similar fields. And if we are to bear fruit in our lives, the crop has to come largely from those fields.

It is a salutary thing to take stock of our personal plot, to see what our returns are like. A farmer likes to take a stroll through his land on a summer's evening, after the day's work is done. And there, leaning up against a farmyard gate, he casts his eye over the growing crops and the grazing animals, thinking about what he has done and what remains to be done to ensure a good harvest. So it should be with us. We may take stock of the quality of our family life, of our involvement or lack of it in our community, of our commitment to our jobs and our colleagues, over and above the statutory requirement. We all find a niche for our selves in this world where we become entrenched. We feel we've earned our place. But we have to go on earning our place.

Otherwise, like the barren fig-tree, there's a danger that we are only "taking up the ground." There are few of us who would not admit, if we are humbly honest, that maybe someone else could do a better job than us. None of us is indispensable. Not even Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor, with his enormous contribution to the creation of modern, industrial Germany. The power of Germany would have come into being without him and possibly without such horrendous consequences to the Germans and the rest of the world. Like the barren fig tree, we are all given many chances to bear fruit. Let today's gospel be one of them.


Jesus invites us to think

Some unknown people communicate to Jesus the news about the horrible slaughter of some Galileans in the holy precincts of the Temple. The perpetrator has been Pilate once again. What's most horrifying is that those men's blood has been mixed with the blood of the animals that were being offered to God.

We don't know why they approach Jesus. Do they want him to express solidarity with the victims? Do they want him to explain what horrible sin they could have committed to merit such a shameful death? And if they haven't sinned, why has God permitted such a sacrilegious death in God's own temple?

Jesus responds by remembering another dramatic event that took place in Jerusalem: the death of eighteen people crushed by the fall of a tower in the wall near the pool of Siloam. Now then, Jesus makes the same affirmation about both events: the victims weren't any more sinners than anyone else. And he finishes his intervention with the same warning: "Unless you repent you will all perish as they did".

Jesus' answer makes us stop and think. More than anything, he rejects the traditional belief that misfortunes are God's punishment. Jesus doesn't think in terms of a "judicial" God who goes about punishing God's sons and daughters, meting out here and there sickness, accidents, misfortunes, as a response to their sins.

Later on, he changes the perspective of the question. He doesn't settle on theoretical elaborations about the ultimate cause of the misfortunes, talking about the victims' guilt or God's will. He turns their attention toward those who are around them and he confronts them with their own selves: they must hear in these happenings God's call to conversion and to a change of life.

We still find ourselves stunned by the tragic earthquake in Haiti. How to read this tragedy from Jesus' attitude? Certainly what's most important isn't asking ourselves where God is, but where are we? The question that can help us move forward toward conversion isn't "why does God permit this horrible misfortune", but "how is it that we allow so many human beings to live in misery, so defenseless in the face of nature's power".

We won't find our crucified God by settling accounts with a faraway divinity, but by identifying ourselves with the victims. We won't find such a God by protesting God's indifference or negating his existence, but by working together in hundreds of ways to mitigate the suffering in Haiti and in the whole world. Then, maybe, we will sense among the lights and the shadows that God is in the victims, defending God's eternal dignity, and in those who fight against evil, encouraging God's battle. (J A Pagola)


Our kind of spirituality

If we browse through the magazines in any doctor's or dentist's waiting-room, we will probably come across an article on spirituality. Lately too, the lists of best-sellers often include works related to the human spirit or soul. People are no longer satisfied with material things only. Spirituality has become quite a big thing in our time. In their search for satisfaction and self-fulfilment people look for meaning and value beyond the material and the physical.

So far, so good! But not all agree on what is meaningful and valuable in life. For some, being spiritual is focussed on a sense of harmony with all living things, and openness to the great power upholding our intricate universe. For others it includes meditation and stretching exercises, for the sake of inner peace and relaxation, and for the sake of greater physical and mental energy. For some it is mixed up with trances or alleged messages from outer space or from dead friends and relatives; it can involve crystal balls and tarot cards.
In some searches for the spiritual there is a concentration on the 'self ' rather than on the 'Other' or 'the others'. They have little or no awareness at all of such people in need as the poor and the suffering. In other searches for the spiritual there is little sense of the reality of evil. Everything in the garden is rosy. Everything is viewed through rose-coloured glasses. Such spiritualities seem either selfish and inward-looking, or an escape from reality and a flight into fantasy.

But there's another kind of spirituality, Christian spirituality, which you and I have been trying to live. It is based on the conviction that a meaningful life is all about relationships. In relation to ourselves we know that God doesn't make junk. So we value ourselves and respect our own dignity, we work on becoming better persons, knowing that God is patient with us, and hasn't finished with us yet. In relation to other people, we look for the good in them, and deal with them with acceptance, trust, affection and care. In relation to God we treat God as our origin, the ultimate source of our existence. We treat God too as the one who sustains us through all the ups and downs of life. And we treat God as our final destiny, the one who is waiting to take us into his embrace at the end of our lives on earth.

For us life is both personal and interpersonal. God is much more than the great Architect, who designed this amazing universe, and much more than the great Clockmaker, who keeps it ticking over. No! God is Father, Mother, Friend, and Love Itself with a capital 'L'. We hear God speaking to us, and we speak back to God. Thoughts and words of praise and thanksgiving! Thoughts and words of love and self-offering! We converse with God as familiarly as friends talk with one another, as intimately as a wife speaks with her husband, or as children chat with their parents.

So today we hear God say (directly to Moses, and indirectly to us): I am the God of your ancestors, the God of your fathers and mothers. 'I have seen the miserable state of my people in Egypt. I have heard their appeal to be free of their slave-drivers. Â . . . I am well aware of their sufferings. I mean to deliver them up out of that land to a land rich and broad, a land where milk and honey flow.' In response to this powerful assurance that God cares when people suffer, we are invited to answer, The Lord is kind and merciful.

Our conversation with God goes on in this Mass we are celebrating together. In a few moments we will be declaring in the Creed all God has done for us and for our people down through the ages. In our Prayer of the Faithful, we will speak words of trust and petition. In our Eucharistic Prayer, we will start with words of joyful praise and thanksgiving, and go on to words of petition for a variety of people both living and dead.
In short, our spirituality as Christians is intensely personal and interpersonal. We sense that our God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. We cannot stop ourselves from reaching out to the love and goodness which is God. In fact we cannot even understand ourselves or describe ourselves, except in relation to God. So much so, that we are convinced that God enters into the very definition of who we are as human beings. We find deep meaning and value in a personal and community relationship with a personal God, a God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the God we meet in our readings from scripture. This is our kind of spirituality. (Brian Gleeson cp)


Fertilize your faith

Death stares us in the face almost every hour. Somewhere in the world apart from natural deaths, there's either death by natural calamity, terrorist attack, ethnic brutalities, murder for gain, disease, epidemic, famine or accidents. Death keeps no calendar, but death is certain for us. People who you think would live long die suddenly and those you think wouldn't live long, stretch life to a century.

Our reactions to someone's death can be either 'he/they deserved to die' or a sympathetic 'it should not have happened.' Some judgmental people told Jesus how some Galileans died, victims of Pilate's anger; but instead of explaining this, Jesus quips about victims of the collapse of the tower of Siloam. Jesus actually questions their attitude of being judgmental of others and less judgmental of themselves. He asks "do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?" He goes on to speak of repentance with the parable of the fruitless tree.

When you hear the word 'repentance' the word 'sin' comes to mind almost instantly. Real repentance is actually a reflection over an unfruitful living. Jesus' words "Repent or you will perish" meshes with what the philosopher Socrates [supposedly] said at his trial after he chose death rather than exile: "The un-examined life is not worth living."

To the Christian, the parable of the fruitless fig tree should imply being Christian only by name but not bearing witness to Jesus' teaching. The lesson is not so much about doing wrong but more about not doing what right and expected of us. It is about being actively his disciple. The fig tree that lived three full years and bore no fruit is like a Christian just going on living and bearing no fruit. It is like a dead man walking. We are dead when we don't witness.

Saint Francis of Assisi once invited a young friar to go with him into town to preach. Francis and the young friar spent all day walking through marketplaces, side streets and fields. When the day's journey was done, on their return, the young friar looked very disappointed and said "I thought we were going to preach today?" Francis replied, "Son, we have preached. We were preaching while we were walking. We were seen by many and our behavior was closely watched. It is of no use to walk anywhere to preach unless we preach everywhere as we walk!" Saint Francis' idea of witnessing can be understood in his words "Preach the Gospel everywhere, and if necessary, use words." To him witnessing wasn't merely a person who said some words out of the Bible from time to time but one who lives out the words of the Bible each day.

Last Sunday's Gospel was about the Transfiguration. Being Christian doesn't imply camping on the mountain-top; you've got to come down to ground level and there manifest the glory of God. A man once testified in one of Evangelist Dwight Moody's (1837-1899) prayer meetings that he had lived "on the Mount of Transfiguration" for five years. Moody bluntly asked him "How many souls did you lead to Christ last year?." The man replied with much hesitation "I don't know." Moody persisted "Have you saved any?" Quite uneasy, the man said "I don't think I have." "Well," said Moody, "we don't want that kind of mountaintop experience. When a man gets so high that he can't reach down to poor sinners, there is something wrong."

The man in the Gospel asking "Sir, leave it alone (the fig tree) for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it" is a call to fertilize our faith and ensure we live up to our Christian calling. Have we examined our lives sufficiently? Are we fertilizing our faith enough to bear fruit?


4th Sunday of Lent, Year C

1st Reading: Book of Joshua 5:9-12

The Israelites, free at last from slavery and humiliation in Egypt, enter the land of promise

The Lord said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt." And so that place is called Gilgal to this day. While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

Second Reading: Second Letter to the Corinthians 5:17-21

Christ's aim and mission was to reconcile us with God

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Gospel: Luke 15:1-2, 11-32

The vivid parable of the Prodigal Son, on the Father's patient love

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable:

"There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.

When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."' So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe â€" the best one-and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.

"Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"

Bible


Today's readings

Kieran O'Mahony notes a remarkable confluence in the readings for this Sunday . Schematically:

• Joshua, Psalm and Luke: home coming and celebration; God's protection and God's (implicit) compassion
• Paul and Luke: forgiveness and reconciliation.
• Psalm and Luke: our compassionate and constant God hears our cry and is attentive to our needs

The richness of the parable is impressive. We could notice the following issues, both implicit and explicit:
• Relationships: Father, sons, brothers, foreigners, servants, and, in an unsettling way, women.
• Biblical: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Ephraim and Manasseh.
• Feelings: desire, autonomy, rivalry, dependence, shame, jealousy, resentment.
• Issues: inheritance, property, authority, rights
• Theology: Jesus as prophetic actor and speaker; the Father as God; compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation.
• Church: Mirrored here too: divided into two groups, absence of women, rigorists v. realists. •
• Find space for the collateral damage inflicted upon the wholly innocent fatted calf!

For his audio commentary, click https://soundcloud.com/user-679942596/lent4c16


Is there a deeper fairness?

When reading this parable of the Prodigal Son many are left with a vague dissatisfaction. Rather than being delighted with the mercy of God as shown to the Prodigal, they feel irked by the partiality, even unfairness, with which the father treats the elder son. And yes, some parents do indeed show favouritism. If they hear a complaint about the apple of their eye, they just shake their heads in disbelief. "You don't know him (or her). No, they couldn't do a thing like that. It's just not in their nature." At other times the concerned teacher, priest or kindly neighbour will hear the lament, "I don't know what to do with him, Father. He has my heart broken. I can't understand him at all." Could it be that this prodigal offspring was the favourite?

Is it that we know the elder sons and daughters all too well .. children who have stayed at home, single, to care for ageing parents? And by the time the parents die, they have buried with them the best years of their lives. Theirs was a hard life and if they had grudges one must be slow to blame them. There is a photo over the fireplace in many a country home, showing them standing outside the old place, surrounded by a prosperous sibling and family back on a trip from the States. It's a telling picture. There is the bachelor farmer in his peaked cap and collarless shirt, with a lined, weather-beaten face, looking more like the father than the brother of the returned Yank.

Yes, we can and should feel for the elder son. Sometimes the dutiful quality of our lives make us envy the Prodigal's wild escapade into limitless freedom. We might grudge the sinner his good times. It is probably why we so readily accept the notion of ultimate retribution. We cherish the thought that our good times are ahead of us and hope that the playboys of this world will pay for their pleasures in due time. So the elder son is the patron of all the solid citizens, "the salt of the earth', while behind the banner of the Prodigal huddle all the rakes and misfits, drop-outs, lame-ducks and the rest of the world's rejects.

The puzzling thing about this parable is this epilogue on the elder son's attitude? Surely if the parable is about the boundless mercy of God to the sinner, then by the time the festivities for the returned wanderer are in full swing, we've got the message. Why divert some of our sympathy towards the resentful elder son? Of one thing we can be sure, the storyteller was a master of his craft. Look again at it, but this time through the eyes of one of the world's rejects, a dropout, a misfit, in some way handicapped. Perhaps this is our Lord's answer to their protest: "Why me? Why was I singled out for to be an outsider?" What the grudging elder son failed to see was how the needy have most claims on God's love and forgiveness. Not just during the Year of Mercy, but always.


The ideal short story

They say that's the best short story that was ever written. Some of its phrases are so powerful that they have become proverbial. Prodigal Son, fatted calf. . . lost and found. A story that has enriched the vocabulary of the world. And not just the world's vocabulary â€" the world's mentality as well. Its way of looking at things. No story tells us more about God or makes us feel better about ourselves. It's a short story with enormous scope, with the widest possible diameter, in that it embraces our sinfulness at one end and God's forgiveness at the other. The best part of it, of course, is that it brings both extremities to the centre. What provoked it? What led Our Lord to tell it? The fact that the Pharisees objected to the company he kept, to his eating with sinners. So he tells the story to give an insight into his own mind and the mind of God.

The story falls into three parts. The first is about the younger son, an impatient lad who wanted his inheritance now. Couldn't wait for the father to die. Greedy fingers, itchy feet, a sensual nature; wanting to live it up, and to hell with the commandments. A life based on doing whatever he feel like doing â€" not an unfamiliar story in any generation, including our own. "Sure you might as well, life is that short. Anyway. as long as you're enjoying yourself, as long as you're happy." But the happiness ran out, and he came to his senses. And that's the big point about him. He came to his senses. He really was repentant. Repentance is to be sorry to be in one place, to want to be in another, and to have the will and determination to get there. To be sorry for our sins, to want a different kind of life, and to have the motivation and determination to change. Well, he had that. He was graced with that. "I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired men" (Lk 17:19). As I say, the big thing about him is that he acknowledged his sins and wanted to be rid of them. He was really repentant.

The second part of the story is about the father. And when you think about it, it's truly extraordinary. The Gospel says: "While he was still a long way off, his father saw him" (Lk 15-20). Still a long way off, a dot on the horizon. Doesn't that mean he was on the look.out for him, from the day he left, watching and waiting and praying, like many a father or mother? Doesn't it illustrate how God the Father feels about each one of us, how much every one of us matters to him, how anxious he is that we'd come back? And he didn't just wait for the son; he ran out to meet him â€" met him half-way. Some people feel we should call this story "the Prodigal Father." To be prodigal is to be wasteful or lavish in your use of things. Well, the father threw his forgiveness around. Not in any grudging or reproving way, but in an explosion of sheer generosity and joy: Kill the calf, we're having a feast, the son is alive again. The two big points about the father were the prodigality of his forgiveness and the intensity of his joy: "There will be more rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner repenting than over ninety-nine upright people who have no need of repentance" (Lk 15:7). Remember that?

The third part of the story concerns the elder son, so angry that he couldn't enter into the mood of the party to celebrate his brother's return. He's indignant at his father's easy pardon of the returned prodigal, and refuses even to go in. Of course his anger is quite understandable and he's treated with some sympathy by his father, but the elder son's attitude helps to illustrate how much more forgiving God is than we are, and how inclusive, all-embracing, is the Father's embrace. It includes the two of them â€" the rock and the rover. "My son you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right that we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found." What a lesson for the Year of Mercy in which pope Francis has invited us to join.

The story of the Prodigal Son really needs no elaboration and maybe it's presumption to be commenting on it at all. The most respectful response to it is personal reflection. Just think about it; savour it and let it sink in. We'll all be touched by different pieces of it, because that's the way with everything we hear. I doubt if any of us can ignore its central message, that there is no limit to God's forgiveness and that our repentance brings joy to the Father's heart. You think God doesn't want us to turn away from sin? You think God doesn't love you? Then you haven't been listening to the story of the Prodigal Son.


That other son

Without doubt, the parable of Jesus that's most captivating is the one about the "good father", wrongly called "the parable of the prodigal son". It's precisely this "younger son" who has always attracted the attention of commentators and preachers. His return home and the unbelievable welcome he received from his father have moved Christians of all generations.

However the parable also speaks about the "older son", a man who stays home with his father, without imitating the licentious life of his brother, far from home. When they inform him of the party organized by his father to welcome the lost son, he remains upset. His brother's return doesn't make him happy, like his father, but mad: "He was angry then and refused to go in" to the party. He never left home, but now he feels like a stranger among his own family.

The father goes out to invite him with the same tenderness with which he has welcomed his brother. He doesn't shout or order. With humble love "he tries to persuade him" to come into the welcome home party. It's then that the son explodes, making his resentment known. He's spent his whole life fulfilling his father's orders, but he hasn't learned to love as his father loves. Now all he knows how to do is demand his rights and put his brother down.

This is the tragedy of the older son. He's never left home, but his heart has always been far away. He knows how to fulfill commandments but he doesn't know how to love. He doesn't understand his father's love for that lost son. He doesn't welcome or forgive him, he doesn't want to know anything about his brother. Jesus ends his parable without satisfying our curiosity: does he enter the party or does he stay outside?

Caught up in the religious crisis of modern society, we've gotten used to talking about believers and non-believers, about practicing Christians and fallen-aways, about marriages blessed by the Church and couples living together… While we keep classifying God's children, God keeps waiting for us all, since God isn't property of good people or of practicing Christians. God is Father of all.

The "older son" challenges those of us who think we live near the Father. What are we doing, we who haven't abandoned the Church? Are we keeping up our religious existence by observing what's commanded the best we can, or are we witnesses of God's great love for all God's sons and daughters? Are we building open communities who know how to understand, welcome and accompany those who seek God in the midst of doubts and questions? Do we raise barriers or do we build bridges? Do we offer friendship or do we look on others with suspicion? Â J A Pagola


5th Sunday of Lent, Year C

1st Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21

The prophet promises the exiles a new Exodus

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:

"Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise."

Second Reading: Philippians 3:8-14

Holiness is a gift, a sharing in Christ, in utter trust

I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Gospel: John 8:1-11

Instead of judging, the accusers must examine themselves

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.

When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, sir." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again."

Bible

Click here, for an audio commentary on today's Readings.


An Ignored Revolution

They bring to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. They all know her fate: be stoned to death according to what's written in the law. No one talks about the adulterous man involved. As always happens in a sexist society, the woman gets condemned and the man walks free. Their challenge to Jesus is head-on: "In the law, Moses has ordered us to stone women of this kind. What have you got to say?".

Jesus doesn't support such social hypocrisy fed by male arrogance. Such sentencing to death doesn't come from God. With admirable audacity, he brings in truth, justice and compassion all together in the judgment of the adulterous woman: "Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her".

The accusers go away shamefaced. They know that they are the ones most responsible for the adulteries committed in that society. Then Jesus directs himself to the woman who has just escaped execution and with great tenderness and respect, tells her: "Neither do I condemn you". He encourages her to make her gift of forgiveness the starting point for a new life: "Go away, and from this moment on, sin no more".

That's how Jesus is. Finally there is in the world someone who hasn't let himself be conditioned by any oppressive law or power; a free and magnanimous one who never hated or condemned, never returned evil for evil. In his defense and his forgiveness of this adulterous woman there is more truth and justice than in our resentful demands and condemnations.

We Christians haven't yet managed to unpack all the consequences in Jesus' liberating action in the face of this woman's oppression. Working in a Church that is directed and inspired mostly by men, we often fail to be aware of all the injustices that women keep suffering in all areas of life. One theologian spoke a few years ago about the revolution ignored by Christianity.

Clearly, twenty centuries later, in countries with supposedly Christian roots, we still live in a society where women often cannot move about freely without fear of men. Rape, physical abuse, humiliation aren't imaginary things. On the contrary, they form perhaps the most deeply rooted violence and the one that causes the most suffering.

Doesn't the suffering of women need to echo more strongly and more concretely in our church celebrations, and have a more important place in our work of social conscience-raising? But, above all, don't we need to be closer to each oppressed woman in order to denounce abuses, offer intelligent defense and effective protection? [J A Pagola]


The flaw in Pharisaic judgment

What do we make of the Pharisees in today's gospel story? They caught a woman in the act of adultery and brought her into the Temple precincts, thronged with all kinds of people, making her stand before everyone to shame her as publicly as possible. Then they insisted that her execution should follow the full rigour of the Law of Moses, namely death by stoning. The Gospel sees their motive not as zeal for the Law, but to use the woman as a pawn to discredit Jesus. "What have you to say?" they demand of him. If his response was simply, "Leave the woman along; let her go free," they could accuse him of ignoring the Law and condoning adultery. If, however, he were to say, "Let her be stoned to death," then he would be seen as lacking in mercy, and as rejecting the legal restrictions set by Roman authority, which reserved the right to impose the death penalty. Jesus saw through their plotting and made them withdraw in confusion.

The intriguing question is what did Jesus write with his finger on the ground. The Gospel account gives us a possible clue. It does not use the normal Greek word for "write" (graphein), but rather one (katagraphein) which means to draw up a condemnation. Possibly Christ may have listed on the ground the sins of each of the woman?s accusers, and so his challenge that the one without sin should cast the first stone met with no response. Although Jesus did not condemn the woman, neither did he condone what she had done. "Don't sin any more," was his invitation and warning to her.)

In the case of the Pharisees, as we see, and indeed in the case of most of us, there is the subtle danger of creating God in our own image and likeness, imagining him to be a stern and demanding God, who takes revenge, who loves to punish, who can be persuaded to forgive only after we have made a great show of repentance. Such of course is a mere caricature of God. At best this kind of religion can be cold and loveless. At worst, as St Paul says in the 2nd Reading, trying to form a right relationship with God by mere adherence to the Law and all its ways can be as worthless as the rubbish one throws away. It is only when we allow the love of God, as seen in Christ, to encompass our lives, to change our inner being, that we begin to understand Christianity.

Contrary to the thinking of the Pharisees, we must fight the tendency to regard ourselves as better than others, no matter what commandments we keep; nor must we judge and condemn others. Rather should we be generous, forgiving and loving towards others. From the gospel story we see that the worst of the seven deadly sins is not lust as so many think. Indeed, Christ's harshest condemnation was reserved for those who, like the Pharisees, in their pride and self-righteousness shut themselves off from God, who felt no need to ask God for help and grace. We cannot be true followers of Christ unless we acknowledge our frailty, our sinfulness, our need for his help which alone can save us. When we do fall we gain a deeper understanding of the extraordinary mercy God is prepared to extend to the sinner. For our sins make no difference to God?s enduring love for us.

St Paul says that all things work together for the good of those who love God (Rom 8:28). St Augustine adds, "Yes, even sin!" for from bitter personal experience, he more than most knew all about the false allure of sin, how difficult it is often to break away from it, and how God?s love alone can help us conquer it.


Palm Sunday, Year C

1st Reading: Isaiah 50:4-7

The Suffering Servant will not be put to shame

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens â€" wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

Second Reading: Philippians 2:6-11

The self-emptying (kenosis) of God's loving servant, to save his people

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death â€" even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Gospel: Luke 22:14-23:56

or, shorter version: Luke 23:1-49

Luke's edifying narrative, underlining the mercy and prayer of Jesus

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!"

Then they began to ask one another, which one of them it could be who would do this. A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. "You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. "Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." And he said to him, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!" Jesus said, "I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me."

He said to them, "When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?" They said, "No, not a thing." He said to them, "But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, 'And he was counted among the lawless'; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled." They said, "Lord, look, here are two swords." He replied, "It is enough. He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, "Pray that you may not come into the time of trial." Then he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, knelt down, and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done." Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.

When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, "Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial." While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, "Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?" When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, "Lord, should we strike with the sword?" Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, "No more of this!" And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, "Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!"

Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, "This man also was with him." But he denied it, saying, "Woman, I do not know him." A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, "You also are one of them." But Peter said, "Man, I am not!" Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, "Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean." But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are talking about!" At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly.

Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, "Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?" They kept heaping many other insults on him. When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. They said, "If you are the Messiah, tell us." He replied, "If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God." All of them asked, "Are you, then, the Son of God?" He said to them, "You say that I am." Then they said, "What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!"

Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, "We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king." Then Pilate asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" He answered, "You say so." Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, "I find no basis for an accusation against this man." But they were insistent and said, "He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place." When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer.

The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies. Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, "You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him." Then they all shouted out together, "Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!" (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, "Crucify, crucify him!" A third time he said to them, "Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him." But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed.

So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished. As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.-

A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the ays are surely coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us'; and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?" Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews." One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, "Certainly this man was innocent." And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

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Success, after apparent disaster

Later this week is the anniversary of the martyrdom (March 24, 1980) of archbishop Oscar Romero. It reminds us that our Lord Jesus was not the first man to die for a cause, nor the last. He was not the first or the last innocent man to be put to death. He was not the only one ever crucified. There were on that same day two others. Even as regards physical pain it is at least possible that others have suffered as much. What then makes the passion so different? And it is undeniably different.

The gospel account is roughly about two newspaper columns long, and even though I've read it, or heard it read hundreds of times, it still affects me. I wonder why? I think the answer lies in the details â€" the completely human and utterly shabby circumstances in which Christ died.

Take for example the behaviour of his friends. Was there ever such a complete let-down? Judas, one of the specially chosen twelve. One can feel the hurt, almost the unbelief in Christ's gentle words, "Friend, why are you here? Judas would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?' One could almost stomach the betrayal of Judas had the other eleven remained faithful. But one short line tells their story "And they all forsook him and fled." And Peter â€" surely not Peter. Think of all those miracles Christ worked while Peter was by his side. He raised the dead child to life, set him walking on water, was transfigured before him. Only a few short hours be fore, Peter had boasted, "Even though all abandon you, I will follow you to prison and to death." â€" but at a distance, a safe distance. And when he was cornered a jibe or two from a servant girl looking for notice, Peter the Rock disintegrated. "He began to curse and to swear that he knew not the man." That must really have hurt Jesus. "And Jesus turning looked at Peter and Peter went out and wept bitterly." And these were his friends, his only friends. The people he lived with and loved. The people he showered his miracles on and shared his secrets with. And not one of them lifted a finger for him.

What has the Passion story to do with us? It is the story of our salvation. But it is more, much more. It is the story of our lives. There isn't a part in the whole sordid script that we, you and I, wouldn't play to perfection. Peter in his pride and Peter in his fall and, hopefully, Peter in his repentance too. We'd fit in perfectly with the disciples who fled at the first sign of danger, or with Caiaphas and the high priests, with their self-righteousness and eagerness to reform others while ignoring themselves, or with Pilate in his abuse of authority, or with the mob with its thirst for excitement and blood. And Judas? Let's face it â€" there's a Judas in all of us. There are times and situations in all our lives when Jesus could easily say to us as he said to Judas, "Friend, why are you here?" The truth is, it was only his friends who could really have crucified him so.


Like us in all things but sin

"He was oppressed and was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth" (Is 53:7). For the followers of Christ, this Isaiah text evokes a response deep down within us, seeing how they apply to God's only beloved Son, and how he died for all of us. In the words of St Peter, "without having seen him you have come to believe in him, and so you are filled already with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described" (1 Pet 1:8). Without this sincere love of Christ, we are no true followers of his. We cannot say we fully love him, until we appreciate what he suffered for us.

Having just heard the Passion narrative there is no need to retrace in great detail the events there described. But we might reflect how Christ was no stranger to hardship, privation and suffering, long before that final day of his life. "Being in the form of God," as St Paul says, from the moment he came on earth, Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are (Phil 2:6f). He, the most high God, suffered the hardships of the poor, at times not even having a place to lay his head. He endured hunger and thirst, and after long days surrounded by crowds seeking a cure, he often spent whole nights at prayer in the hills. Despite his compassion for all who came to him, he met with hatred and rejection, in particular from Pharisees and priests, who planned to have him killed. How this rejection and hatred must have grieved him. King Lear knew "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is, to have a thankless child;" and how must Jesus have felt at being rejected by the people he had chosen, above all others.

The cruelly disfigured face was the face of the Son of God. The forehead streaming with blood, the hands and feet nailed to the Cross, the body lacerated with scourges, the side pierced with a lance, these were the forehead, the hands and feet, the sacred body, the side of the eternal Word, made visible in Jesus. Why such suffering? We can only say with Isaiah, "It was for our transgressions he was smitten, for our sins he was brought low. On him lay the punishment that brings us healing, through his wounds we are made whole" (Is 53:5ff). God, our Father, grant that your Son's suffering for us may not be in vain.


The Greatest Week

Today we are beginning the best week in the whole liturgical year. Centuries ago it was called the 'Great Week'. Nowadays we Catholics call it 'Holy Week'. We follow Jesus every step of the way. We start with his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, where he is welcomed, applauded and acclaimed, by a big crowd of followers. On Thursday we will join him at table and receive the gift of himself in bread and wine. After dining with him we will walk with him along the path that leads from the Upper Room to the Garden of Olives. There we will see him falling to the ground in fear and anxiety about the cruel death that awaits him. Friday will find us standing beside his mother at the foot of the cross, and feeling compassion for him in both his physical agony and his mental torment.

We will be feeling especially some of his sense of being alone and abandoned, betrayed and deserted, not only by friends and followers, but even by God. On Saturday we will be quiet and silent around his tomb, as we remember the injustice, hostility and cruelty, of all those evil men who murdered him. Then, late on Saturday, we will move from the darkness of our journey to the place of the brightly burning fire. There we will join the procession of the great Easter Candle, representing the risen Christ, as he lights up the darkness of our church and lives.

There and then, the pain and sadness of our journey with Jesus to Calvary, will give way to the hope and joy that comes with our awareness. Jesus Christ is not dead and gone. No, he is alive, strong and powerful, alive in himself, and alive in us. And so we will be hearing in our hearts those assuring words that Juliana of Norwich in her vision of Christ Crucified heard from his own lips: 'All will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well.'


Holy Thursday, Year C

1st Reading: Exodus 12:1-2, 11-14

Israel's departure from Egypt, and how this is to be celebrated for all time

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, "Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?" He answered, "Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and thought, "Surely the thing is known."

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

When we proclaim Christ's saving death in bread and wine, it makes him ever present with us

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Gospel: John 13:1-15

The example of Jesus washing their feet shows us how to live

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples" feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean." After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord-and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

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How to share in the Last Supper

When Jesus says, "Do this in memory of me!" clearly he means us to understand what "This" was and is. What exactly had he in mind through the symbols of the broken bread and the shared cup of wine? We need to get behind the formal Catechism answer about the "holy sacrifice of the Mass," and think anew about the meaning of that paschal meal. The Last Supper was celebrated in the context of the Jewish Passover meal and tonight's first reading explains the meaning of this feast. In words and symbols it recalled the greatest saving act of God in the Old Testament, the exodus from Egypt, setting God's people free from slavery. It opens us up to the idea that God enters our lives to save us and set us free from whatever oppresses us. So "opened up," we are prepared for the good news that the definitive saving work of God is done in and by Jesus Christ.

We reflect this evening on what St John calls the "hour" of Jesus, the high point of his saving work, the new exodus, his passing from this world to the Father through which he brought into being a new relationship between God and us human beings. Sharing in this new exodus is our ultimate liberation, freeing us from enslavement to material things and petty self-interest and setting us free to love generously, the very purpose for which we were originally created in the image of God. Through his love-without-limit, in his own utterly unselfish heart Jesus overcame all human selfishness and with it, human sin. Precisely this love, which the Father wants us all to have and to share, is the very heart of Jesus' exodus. It is just this self-giving kind of love which Jesus wishes to be kept alive among us. With his disciples in the Last Supper he anticipated his death for us on the cross, giving himself in the sacramental symbols of bread and wine. From then on the celebration of our Eucharist is the living memorial through which we are joined to Our Lord's saving act of love. It is our way to share in the new exodus, to be freed from the isolation of self-concern so that they become fully human as God wants us to be.

St John implies that we are united with Jesus by letting him wash our feet, accepting his great act of loving service. Having accepted the gift we must embrace it as a value to practice in our lives. What Jesus does for us in his Passion shows us how to live. In some real sense, we must live like Jesus, "for" God and others. There is a close link between Jesus washing their feet and then their going on to wash the feet of others in the future. If the Eucharist is the place where the Lord washes our feet, daily life is the place where we can wash the feet of others. Eucharist leads to life leads to Eucharist. True Eucharist piety must lead to service of others. Jesus who broke the bread of the Eucharist also washed the feet of his disciples. We must follow his example both at the altar of the Eucharist and at the altar of life.