Friday, March 28, 2014

Meditating on Mary at the Cross

“So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them

But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:17-18, 25-27)

It is only John’s gospel that tells us that Mary was at the cross. Only John who recorded the dying words of Jesus addressed to his mother. It was only John because he was there too.

It seems odd, even a bit cold, that Jesus would call his mother “woman”. But this one word carries so much weight.

Eve was the first woman and it is by “woman” that she is addressed in Genesis 3: “The serpent said to the woman”.

Eve stood at the foot of the tree in the garden. Eve chose to believe the lie of the devil. She looked up at the fruit hanging on the tree with purely physical eyes, considering its beauty. Eve lost faith, and disobeyed. She did this because she was promised greater understanding and knowledge.

Mary, whom the Fathers of the Church called the new Eve, stood at the foot of the cross. Mary believed in the promises of God, that her son was the Messiah and Savior of the word, the King of an everlasting kingdom. She looked at Jesus hanging on the cross with spiritual eyes that looked beyond the pain, suffering, and humiliation. Mary kept her faith and obeyed when everyone and everything around her had lost hope. She did it without fully understanding God’s plan, but trusting in him nonetheless.

Imagine Mary at the cross looking upon the cruel execution of her son. They say that losing a child is one of the most traumatic experiences a person can deal with—and I hope I never do. She had to have been thinking about the words of the Angel so many years before,

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall call his name Jesus.
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;
and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever;
and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  (Luke 1:30-33)

St. Augustine said that “Mary first conceived in her heart by faith and then in her womb” And now at the cross as she looks at her son she receives a second annunciation of sorts. She is asked once again to become a mother, the mother of the Church born from the blood and water flowing from the side of Christ. She becomes my mother, your mother, the mother of all believers at the cross.

There’s a scene in the movie Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince where Dumbledore says to Harry, “Once again I must ask too much of you.” Once again, so much is asked of Mary. To take on the burden of being the mother of all the faithful, is also asking her to take on the heartbreak of all who lose faith, all who reject Jesus, and even those who would accept her son, but reject her.  But once again she says yes.

This brings me back again to that word: woman. Jesus calls his mother “woman” one other time in John’s gospel, at the wedding at Cana. The bridal party has run out of wine. This was much more of a big deal in that time and culture than we really appreciate now. It was a crisis. Mary’s response was to intercede with Jesus on behalf of the bride and groom. She brought the troubled servants to Jesus and told them “Do whatever he tells you.”

John ran, just like all the other apostles. He followed Jesus at a distance during the trials. But only John came to the cross. Is it a coincidence that he was there with Mary? I suspect that John went to Mary and it was she that brought him with her to Calvary. Once again Mary was leading a troubled servant, in a crisis, to her son. And John did as Jesus told him; he took Mary into his home.

As the “beloved disciple” John is supposed to represent all who would follow Jesus. When reading the gospel of John we should be putting ourselves in the place of the “disciple whom Jesus loved”. We should allow Mary to lead us to Jesus, to the cross, to learn from her how to fully and completely surrender everything to God. To come to Jesus and learn from him what he would have us do. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Samaritan Woman: Drinking Deep

I want to continue to break down the Gospel reading from the 3rd Sunday of Lent. Yesterday I examined the lessons Jesus taught us about evangelization. Today the focus is on the promise of finding true satisfaction and peace--Jesus' promise of life-giving water.

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again;
but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst”

Reflecting on his life of searching for meaning, St. Augustine wrote, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." This statement is true for everyone, but the problem is our lives are so overwhelmed by distractions that we are rarely still or quiet long enough to listen to our hearts. Our modern culture is consumed with improving “quality of life” but our understanding of the meaning of life is so shallow that the things we chase ultimately lead to greater dissatisfaction.

Here in this passage from John’s Gospel we see Jesus offering real meaning and purpose. He is the only satisfaction for our souls. Christ alone is our source of life, meaning, joy and fulfillment. He calls us to turn from the world and rely on him alone.

Isn’t this the purpose of Lent? The whole idea of “giving something up for Lent” is to help us realize that the things we use to fill our hearts can’t really do the job. What is our well that we keep going back to looking for satisfaction? Do you use chocolate or ice cream to feel better when you’re down? Are you like me and escape into television when you just don’t want to deal with stress or life? Jesus is calling us to leave those wells behind and rely on him to fill us with what we need.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Samaritan Woman: Evangelism 101

In the story of Jesus and the woman at the well we are given a “how to” lesson on evangelization by Jesus.


Jesus didn’t go out of his way to find the Samaritan woman. By all appearances, he wasn’t really even looking to do much in the way of ministry before she came to draw water. Jesus was simply waiting at the well while the apostles went into town on a lunch break.  They were traveling from Jerusalem (Jn 2) and Judea on their way back to Galilee (Jn 4). The village of Sychar in Samaria, where this story takes place, was about the halfway point of what would have been several days of walking. 

So, here is Jesus sitting and resting, minding his own business, when this Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water. This was an encounter of opportunity, not planning. Jesus engages the woman in what seems to be benign small talk. He is able to take something as simple as drawing water from a well--something this woman has likely done hundreds of times with little thought--and challenges her to think on a different level. Then he connects that deeper reality to a relationship with him. How often do we coast along in our daily life staying on the surface? Do we look at how the things we do can be reinterpreted with deeper, eternal meanings? 

I work in an office, a cubicle farm, but when I stop to think about it there is some deep water all around me. The weary and mundane routines of office work beg the question that there must be more to life than this.  The cubicles themselves are miniaturized versions of the fenced off, gated communities so many of us live in. Closed off from each other, they can impart feelings of isolation and at the same time of a loss of the uniqueness of being. Conversations among coworkers invariably lead to sharing about family and the frustrations and fears of life. All of these create little opportunities for meeting others at the well in the middle of their daily routines. 


What really got the attention of the Samaritan woman wasn’t necessarily Jesus’ reference to life-giving water, but that “he told me everything I ever did.” He was able to reveal to her something that he could not have known on her own. That was the ah-ha moment when she realized she was speaking to someone who had a connection to God and not just someone who had been sitting in the sun too long. It was Jesus’ ability to pierce through her facade that made her go and bring others to him. 

We have access to this same kind of spiritual power through the Holy Spirit. Our God is alive and he is always speaking to us if we have the ears to hear. Have you ever had the experience of talking to someone, or praying for someone, and a thought pops into your head about that person, something that you wouldn’t necessarily know on your own? Maybe you shrugged it off or blamed it on indigestion? Maybe it was the Holy Spirit trying to reveal something to you so that you could reveal it to that individual and give them that moment like the Samaritan woman had? Remember, if you've been baptized and confirmed you've received the same power/presence of the Holy Spirit that worked through Jesus and the apostles. You just need to put it to use--like gasoline in a car, if you don't start the engine & step on the gas pedal all that power just sits there.

I can recall a time when I was in college. I was clocking in at my job in the cafeteria and there was a girl ahead of me. Suddenly this thought popped into my mind, “Tell her that I’m proud of her.” So that’s what I did. I said, “Um, this might sound odd, but I think God wants you to know that he’s proud of you.” She immediately began to cry. She shared that she had just gotten back after being arrested for protesting at an abortion clinic. Her parents had posted bail and really laid into her and told her that they were disappointed in her because she would now have a criminal record. She was struggling with doubt, thinking that she had let her family down, and by extension let God down too. I didn’t know any of that, but I took a chance and followed through on that little prompting in my spirit. I know it happens all the time, but I’m usually too busy or noisy or intimidated to act on it. I also know that if I did act on it more often I would see even greater works of the Holy Spirit in my life touching those around me. 


The final point about evangelism learned in this gospel story is the message of mercy. Jesus didn’t dwell on the woman’s sin. He didn’t ignore or excuse it, but he also didn’t beat her up over it. He knows full well that it is God’s kindness and mercy that lead to repentance (Rm 2:4). He extended the message of forgiveness and eternal life first, and then called her to repent. Too often today it seems that too many Christians are more preoccupied with sin than with the love and mercy of God. Our message is “Love Wins”. Love is stronger than death. Only when someone has encountered and realized the love of God for them will they be concerned with repentance or conversion. Our job is to join Jesus in going out, finding the lost sheep and bringing them back. Only when they have been brought back in from the wilderness should we worry about getting them cleaned up.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Samaritan Woman

The Gospel reading for today, the 3rd Week of Lent, was John 4:5-42, the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. There are so many different themes and lessons to pull from this Gospel passage. So, I've decided to blog about a different aspect of this passage each day this week (starting tomorrow 'cuz it's too late to start tonight).

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Trust Me

The LORD said to Abram: 
“Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.
“I will make of you a great nation,and I will bless you; 
I will make your name great,so that you will be a blessing. 
I will bless those who bless youand curse those who curse you. 
All the communities of the earthshall find blessing in you.”
Abram went as the LORD directed him. (Genesis 12:1-4)
Trust me. That is what God asked of Abram. Trust me that I will show you the way, that I will lead you, that my promises are sure. God’s call didn’t come with many details. Abram would have to trust that God would fill in the blanks along the way.

It’s so easy to get hung up on the details; to lose the forest for the trees. How often do we wish God would be more specific with us?  How many hear that initial calling from God but fail to follow because they want more details? But, just like using the GPS in your car, God usually doesn’t tell you what Step 2 is before you’ve completed Step 1. The role of faith is trusting that God will be there to guide you along the way when you cannot see what is ahead.

I can think of times in my life when I’ve taken the plunge, trusted God, and witnessed his provision. When I was working as a youth minister at a parish in Maryland I had decision to renew my contract for another year. There were issues with the staff that made working there an uphill battle and undermined much of the work I was doing with the youth. My wife and I prayed and had peace that God was telling us not to stay there, but he wasn’t telling us where to go or what to do. When the time came I told the pastor that I would not return for the next year. I had no job prospects, an expiring apartment lease and a wife & new baby. We were preparing to move in with Lisa’s grandmother in Missouri when I was invited for an interview at a Catholic high school in Michigan. I was offered a position as a religion teacher one month before we had to move from our apartment. It was a step in faith to turn down the offer to renew my contract. It was only after I made that decision that I even became aware of the teaching position in Michigan through a chance encounter with a friend who knew a guy that worked for the diocese there.

I’d like to say I’ve always been so faithful, but I know there have been other times when I was too hesitant to take that first step in following God’s lead because I wanted more information and details.

What is God calling you to do? What is that first step that he’s asking you to take? Will you be like Abram and go, or will or stay and insist on more details being worked out first?

Friday, March 14, 2014


This Sunday we hear the gospel story of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9). Here are a few random reflections and different meanings that can be taken from this passage.


At our parish’s young adult faith formation gathering we were doing visio divina (meditating on various artistic renderings of the gospel story). After mentioning that Moses and Elijah represented the Law and the Prophets, one of the guys observed that this event was like a passing of the torch from them to the Church represented by Christ and the apostles. In Christ both the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled, particularly in his obedience “unto death” on the cross. Preparing for his final journey to Jerusalem, Jesus meets with Elijah and Moses as if to take on from them the burdens they carried so that he could bring them to the cross and perfect them.

Present with Christ on the mountain were Peter, James and John. These apostles represent the Church in very unique ways. Peter represents the authority of the Church, the magisterium and governance of the Body of Christ. John has always been seen (especially in his gospel) as representative of the mystical element of the Church. He represents the heart, prayer, contemplation. James, the brother of John, was the first apostle to be martyred. He represents those who give witness to the gospel through suffering and shedding their blood. Present in the apostles are representatives of all the members of the Body of Christ and they witness this passing on from the Old Covenant (Law & Prophets) to the New Covenant (Jesus).


Have you noticed the presence of the Trinity in the story of the transfiguration? The clue is in Matthew 17:5, which says, “While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” We obviously have the presence of the Father in the voice, and Jesus is the Son, so where is the Holy Spirit? In the cloud. The phrase “a bright cloud cast a shadow over them” is phrased as “overshadowed” in other translations. In the Greek it is the same word (episkiazo) that is used to describe how Christ was conceived, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Luke 1:35) The presence of God is often associated with a cloud, and the Catechism even lists this imagery as a symbol of the Holy Spirit (CCC #697). So, here in this passage, just like the story of the baptism of Jesus and the instructions of the Great Commission, we can find biblical evidence for the Trinity.


Finally, the transfiguration of Christ foreshadows two other significant transformations and gives a glimpse or foretaste of what is to come for the apostles. Seeing Christ in this glorified form was a prophetic sign of the resurrection. The story of the transfiguration itself is set within the context of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Right before this event (in Matt. 16) Jesus was with the apostles at Caesarea Philippi asking them who the people, and who they thought he was. Simon gives his famous confession and Jesus changes his name to Peter and promises him authority over his Church. Then Jesus gives his first prophecy about his death and resurrection. The transfiguration is the next event to take place in Matthew’s gospel and immediately after it Jesus tells the apostles not to speak of it “until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” What Peter, James and John unknowingly witnessed was Christ pulling back the veil and providing a glimpse of his glorified body, radiant as the sun. This vision should have been one of those memory markers for them to understand what was happening during the passion and immediately give them a context for understanding Mary’s testimony on Easter morning.

We should also recognize in the transfiguration the reality of the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ. Jesus’ body was transformed before the eyes of Peter, James and John into some otherworldly form. At every mass, by the power of the same Holy Spirit present at the Incarnation and Transfiguration, simple bread and wine undergo a similar otherworldly change. If only we could see with our physical eyes the spiritual realities taking place and present in the Blessed Sacrament, we would see the same glorified body of Christ shining forth from the tabernacle or monstrance that Peter, James and John saw on that mountain. They came away transformed from that encounter. We too ought to be transformed when we encounter Jesus in the Eucharist.