After Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, after the Last Supper, after his arrest, after being sentenced to death, in the very moment that he died on the cross, two significant things happen in Mark's Gospel. First, "the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom" (Mark 15:38). What is this veil and what is its significance? The veil of the sanctuary separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. The Holy of Holies was regarded as the closest approximation of God's presence here on earth. Out of respect no one was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies except for the high priest, and even he could only enter once a year, on the feast of Yom Kippur. Now the veil was gone.READ MORE
What does it mean when we “take something to heart”? When we take something to heart we recognize its significance and take it seriously. We make it a part of our lives, our very selves. We change the way we act. The covenant that has been featured in the readings from the Old Testament over the last few weeks enters a new dimension in Jeremiah. No longer is the covenant written on stone or paper; it is now written “upon their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). In writing it upon their hearts, God has given the people the power to be faithful to the covenant. Before this, God had to take people by the hand to lead them. But now God’s people have this power within them. This power is God’s grace. This is the new covenant. Jesus, who proclaimed the new and eternal covenant at the Last Supper, provided an example of how this power can be exercised. Though troubled, he remained obedient to his Father’s will even unto death. God’s Chosen People had not been able to remain steadfast on their own. But now God gives us the grace we need to take our baptismal promises to heart and to remain faithful to the covenant.
What have you taken to heart that has changed the way you act?READ MORE
Nothing can contain the love God bears for humanity. We see this in today’s readings, from the time of the restoration of Jerusalem to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. In Second Chronicles, God repeatedly showed compassion to the Chosen People but Judah rejected all attempts at reconciliation. Eventually Jerusalem fell to foreign powers. But seventy years after the destruction of the temple, Cyrus, another foreign ruler, directed its rebuilding. In the eyes of the faithful, God had relented and forgiven them. God’s graciousness had won out over punishment. In the Gospel, John writes that God’s love for “the world” is so strong that God’s own Son was given to us so that all would have the opportunity for eternal life. In his Angelus address of March 15, 2015, Pope Francis called this passage the summary of the whole Gospel, God’s free and boundless love expressing the whole of faith and theology. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians glories in this generosity and in fact is written as if the ultimate gift has already been given, saying God “raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). Love unbounded, indeed.
How can you extend that love of God to others?READ MORE
Our ways are not God’s ways. Our perspective is not God’s perspective. In the Gospel, Jesus drives the money changers and animal dealers out of the temple. It would appear that he was upset about all this commerce in this most holy place. But there was a legitimacy to the practice. The faithful who came to the temple needed to pay the temple tax and make sacrifices in accordance with the law. They needed to exchange their Roman money for coins without Caesar's image. They often needed to obtain animals to sacrifice when it was impractical to bring their own. But this is human logic. Jesus hints at His perspective when he says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). The time of fulfillment is now. The temple in Jerusalem pales in importance to the temple of Christ’s body. The temple building—the paramount sign of God’s presence—is replaced by Jesus himself. There is no need for animal sacrifice when Jesus will make the ultimate sacrifice. But this was lost on the authorities. Paul echoes this when he points out that worshiping one who suffers and dies makes no sense from a human perspective. But from God’s perspective, this sacrifice, freely made, will save the world.
What does your life look like from God’s perspective?READ MORE
The story of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his only child is a troubling one. What kind of God asks someone to do this? And what kind of father would be willing to obey such a monstrous command? But to concentrate on this aspect of the story would be to miss the point: to hold Abraham up as the ultimate example of obedience and faith. And what better way to prove his faith than to take it to an extreme? So "God put Abraham to the test" (Genesis 22:1). Abraham had been told that he would be blessed with innumerable descendants, but he cannot fathom now how this is going to all work out. He doesn't know how and he doesn't know why. But he trusts in God and he obeys. It is no accident that this passage is read during Lent, for it is echoed in God's own Son being allowed to die. Jesus will agonize in the hours before he is arrested, asking to be spared, but eventually trusting in God and obeying his Father's will. It enables Paul (and us) to trust the promise of salvation, for "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31-32).
When have you needed to have faith without knowing the plan?READ MORE
The covenant God makes with humanity is a major theme throughout Lent this year, especially in the readings from the Old Testament. In today's Old Testament reading, God establishes a covenant with Noah, his descendants, and in fact with every living creature on the ark. The covenant is a solemn promise. God promises that the devastating waters of a flood will never again cover the earth. God cares for humanity too much. Despite the fact that the people turn away from God again and again throughout the rest of the Old Testament, no second flood ever covers the earth. Many centuries later, Jesus offers himself as the new covenant. In the Gospel, the same Spirit that had just descended upon Jesus at his baptism now drives him out into the desert to be tempted by the devil. The forty days of rain for Noah are paralleled with forty days in the desert for Jesus. The writer of First Peter puts it all together. Noah and his family "were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now" (1 Peter 3:20-21). By baptism we are baptized into the whole package: the covenant with God, the suffering and death of Jesus, and the promise of eternal life.
What can you do to honor the covenant that God has made with you?READ MORE
“If you wish, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40). The leper in today’s Gospel challenges Jesus to heal him. But he phrases his request in such a way that implies that he wants more than just to be cured. He wants to be “made clean.” The first reading from Leviticus shines a light on the association of leprosy with uncleanliness. Lepers needed to stay out of town and warn everyone of their condition, calling out : “Unclean, unclean!” (Leviticus 13:45). Disease was linked to sin and so the afflicted were banished from the community, not only for fear contagion but also because they were thought to be imperfect, morally as well as physically. So this leper wanted Jesus not only to heal him but also to accept him back into the community. Jesus accepts the leper’s challenge. He reaches out and touches him, willing to become unclean himself. He heals him and he makes him clean, directing him to show himself to the priests for reacceptance. Just as disease was linked to sin, health was linked to holiness. By his touch, Jesus made the leper healthy, whole, and holy.
Are you willing to show the compassion of Jesus and reach out to those considered unclean?READ MORE
Job lost hope. In the portion of the story preceding today's first reading, Job's children die, everything he owns is lost, and he is stricken with a horrible disease. He despairs because his suffering never ends. He is reduced to wailing about his misery: "My days. . come to an end without hope" (Job 7:6). He cannot understand why God seems to have abandoned him. In Mark, on the other hand, the people of Capernaum are filled with hope. Indeed, "the whole town was gathered at the door" where Jesus stayed, hoping to be cured of diseases or demonic possession (Mark 1:33). Whatever miseries they had had to endure up until this point were overshadowed by the news of this healer. Jesus made the people free of illness, free of demons, free of despair. Paul speaks of freedom in his letter to the Corinthians. He has been called to preach the gospel and he is compelled to do this, but he is free in how to offer it. He has decided to bring the Good News to as many as possible: Gentiles and Jews, slaves and free, the strong, the weak, those who can offer recompense, and those who cannot. He will bring hope to those who despair.
What gives you hope in the midst of suffering?READ MORE
There is power in a name. The unclean spirit in Mark's Gospel tries to use that power. In that time, people believed that demonic forces could try to gain power over an enemy by uttering their name. In Mark, the unclean spirit calls out "Jesus of Nazareth...I know who you are—The Holy One of God!" (Mark 1:24). Normally the one attempting to drive out the demonic spirit would respond with the name of one more powerful. But Jesus has no need to do this. He speaks, literally, in the name of God. In fact, the people already recognized him as speaking with authority when he taught in the synagogue. So he can command unclean spirits with his own authority and they obey him. The Lord tells Moses in the first reading, "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth" (Deuteronomy 18:18). Jesus has this authority that Moses prophesied, the authority the unclean spirit obeyed, the authority the people of Capernaum recognized in his words. Jesus' word, the "good news," still has that power today—the power to heal people of the unclean spirits that afflict them.
What "unclean spirits" do we encounter today? Has the word of God given you guidance, hope, or healing?READ MORE
"Repent and Believe" could be the headline for the scripture readings today. In the first reading, Jonah journeys to Nineveh with this warning and the people comply immediately. It is important to note that Nineveh had been the chief enemy of Israel but that the book of Jonah was written centuries later. But even then, Nineveh was still regarded as one of the most hateful and cruel oppressors of Israel. In reality, they never repented. But this story is not told to teach history; it is told to show how willing God is to forgive. God could forgive even Nineveh despite all the horrible things they had done if they would only repent and believe. In Mark, Jesus proclaims, "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15). But Jesus asks for more than just belief. Conversion is more than just a change of heart. It must lead to a change in conduct. Jesus then goes on to call his first four disciples: "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Mark 1:17). This is the essence of discipleship—following Jesus ("come after me") and sharing the good news ("fishing" for others).
Are you ready to be a disciple of Jesus?READ MORE
Today we hear the stories of people being called unexpectedly by the Lord. In the first reading, it takes a few times before Samuel realizes that God is calling him; he believes it is his mentor, Eli, who calls out to him as he sleeps. It is only after Eli instructs him to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” that Samuel responds appropriately (1 Samuel 3:19). In the Gospel, Andrew also needs the testimony of a more knowledgeable person, in this case, John the Baptist. When John points out the stranger—“Behold the Lamb of God”—Andrew and another disciple hear him and immediately follow Jesus (John 1:36). Andrew in turn tells his brother, Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41). The church year has moved into Ordinary Time now and it is appropriate that these invitations come on otherwise ordinary days. We are no longer at the manger, nor are we at the empty tomb. Neither Samuel nor Andrew witnessed a historic event. But their ordinary day (or night) turned momentous because of their encounter with the Lord.
Are you ready to be called by the Lord? What will be your response?READ MORE
The focus of today's readings is on outsiders, for on Epiphany we celebrate the manifestation of the Lord to all people. In Isaiah, the Chosen People themselves are outsiders, for they are returning from fifty years of exile to a desolate Jerusalem. The city and the temple needed to be rebuilt. Looking outward, they had faith that Jerusalem would soon shine forth as a beacon to foreign lands. In the Gospel, the magi traveled to Bethlehem from afar to seek the child. They were foreigners, and they are the first in Matthew's Gospel to pay Jesus homage. The passage ends with the magi spurning Herod as they returned home, but Matthew goes on to tell how the Holy Family fled to Egypt in order to avoid the homicidal king. The infant Jesus and his parents become refugees in a foreign country, a country which had been a sworn enemy centuries before. Exiles, foreigners, and refugees; they play the main roles in today's readings. They play the main role in the formation and the mission of the Church. Truly, we are all "members of the same body" (Ephesians 3:6). There are no foreigners in Christ.
Do you welcome those looking for a home—in your parish, your community, your country?READ MORE