Tag Archives: Lent

25 March 2018: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Procession Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Mk 11:1-10 or
Jn 12:12-16
  Is 50:4-7   Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24 Phil 2:6-11   Mk 14:1-15:47 or
Mk 15:1-39 (short)
Lectionary note: Reading options
On Palm Sunday, the Lectionary offers optional readings for the procession with palms: either Mark’s account or John’s account. This reflection uses Mark’s account.

Palm Sunday’s songs and stories

Red_banner_sm At the start of Holy Week, the believing community follows Jesus from triumph; through an intimate meal with friends; and into betrayal, suffering, and his saving and transformative death. RCIA participants experience the Triduum feasts, concluding with the Easter Vigil’s sacraments of initiation. In story and song, today’s readings trace Jesus’ arc of triumph, suffering, and death.

In the processional reading from Mark, Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph. Jesus’ entry is prophecy-in-action: Jesus, who has downplayed his messiahship to this point, now reveals his identity through a full range of Hebrew scripture prophetic references. The colt (Zech 9:9), the cloaks (2 Kgs 9:13), and the leafy branches (1 Mac 13:51) all echo kings’ and warriors’ victorious entrances into Jerusalem. The pilgrim crowds welcome Jesus with joyful songs: Hosanna (“Save! Now!”)! Blessed the one coming in the Lord’s name! (Ps 118: 26).

The first reading is Isaiah’s third “servant song.” Scripture scholars identify four servant songs in Isaiah: 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9, and 53:1-11. The early ekklesia read Isaiah’s songs as proof-texts for Jesus as messiah, and included these passages in their liturgies. The suffering servant type or model informs both the second reading and gospel: “I gave my back to the ones who beat me,” “I did not shield my face from buffets and spitting,” “God is my help; I am not disgraced.”

The second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, also includes a song. Scholars believe Paul quotes a liturgical hymn he taught the Philippian ekklesia in AD 50. This hymn, called Carmen Christi or Christ-song describes Christ’s humility (“emptied himself,” “took on a slave’s form”), obedience (“obedient to God to death”), and ultimate vindication (“God has super-exalted him”). Paul cites Christ’s humility and obedience as a model for how the Philippians should live.

The gospel tells Mark’s version of Jesus’ passion and death. While we understand Jesus’ suffering and death as an historical event (something that actually happened), Mark’s account is influenced by both scriptural and liturgical elements:

  • Scriptural elements. Mark is careful to show how Jesus’ words and actions, as well as the words and actions of the Jewish leaders and Pilate, fulfill Hebrew scripture. For example:
    • Jesus is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah: Jesus is silent before Pilate; the Servant “did not open his mouth” (Is 53:7). Pilate says Jesus has done nothing wrong; the Servant had “done no violence, there was no deceit in his mouth” (Is 53:9). The soldiers spit on and insult Jesus; the Servant “did not hide his face from insult and spitting” (Is 50:6).
    • Jesus is the king of the Jews: The Jewish leaders tell Pilate that Jesus claims to be “king of the Jews,” a gentile-ready translation of the Jewish religious term “messiah.” The “king” title forces Pilate to treat Jesus as a seditionist or revolutionary. In Mark’s story, Jesus’ kingship is ironic. The soldiers mock Jesus’ kingship; they post “King of the Jews” on his cross; and the priests and scribes jeer at Jesus the king. Jesus’ resurrection will show that he is, in fact, the messiah and therefore “king of the Jews.”
  • Liturgical elements. Before Mark wrote his gospel, Mark’s community remembered and commemorated Jesus’ saving and transformative life, death, and resurrection in liturgical words and actions. On the cross, Jesus quotes Psalm 22 (v 2), a liturgical lamentation psalm. Mark incorporates elements of Ps 22 in his narrative: “My God, why have you abandoned me?”, “All who see me mock me, they shake their heads,” “If [the Lord] loves him, let him save him,” “They have pierced my hands and feet,” “They divide my garments among them.” Mark uses this psalm as a template within his passion story to frame Jesus’ suffering, despair, prayer, vindication, and deliverance.

The Palm Sunday readings inscribe the arc of Jesus’ life and mission. Jesus enters Jerusalem amid songs about the royal son of David. Isaiah sings about a suffering servant who is beaten and spit on but who believes in a God who will vindicate him. Paul sings of a divine son who chooses to become human, who accepts death, and whose death God transforms into life for all. Mark describes the last hours of Jesus earthly life. Palm Sunday previews the stories, songs, and mysteries of the Triduum. Our Lenten preparations should ready us to sing Easter alleluias. Are we ready to rejoice or are we still humming sad lamentations?

—Terence Sherlock

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18 March 2018: Fifth Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Jer 31:31-34   Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15   Heb 5:7-9   Jn 12:20-33

 

Lectionary note: Scrutinies
On the fifth Sunday of Lent, the Lectionary offers two sets of readings. Masses that include catechumens celebrating the Scrutinies use Year A readings; all other masses use Year B readings. This reflection uses Year B readings.

Knowing God by heart

Purple_banner_sm During Lent the believing community follows Jesus as he is tested and transfigured, and as he foretells his coming glory. For RCIA participants, Lent’s rites and prayers prepare them for the Easter Vigil sacraments. As we draw closer to Easter, today’s readings describe God’s promise of a new covenant.

In the first reading from Jeremiah, the prophet foretells God’s restoration of the chosen people. Despite the people’s unfaithfulness, God promises to restore the exiles to the promised land and establish a new covenant. This covenant will not be written on stone tablets, but in the hearts of all who know God. Christians understand that Jesus establishes this new covenant. The second reading describes Jesus accomplishing this new covenant with his death. In the gospel, Jesus announces that his hour of glorification (his crucifixion) has come.

In the second reading from the letter to the Hebrews, the author compares the Mosaic covenant with the new covenant established by Jesus. The new covenant, with Jesus as mediator and high priest, is able to justify or to “put humans right” with God. After Jesus accomplished his reconciling work, he became the source of eternal life to all who believe in him. Today’s gospel echoes this theme in Jesus’ lifting up and drawing everyone to himself.

John’s gospel has two parts: the sign of the gentiles’ request to see Jesus, and Jesus’ discourse on his death and glorification.

  • We want to see Jesus. John uses “the Greeks” to represent all gentiles (non-Jews). The Greeks, asking to see Jesus, use the Greek verb εἴδω (EYE-doh), which means both “to see” and “to know.” Today’s first reading uses the same verb to describe how, in the new covenant, all people will see/know God. The gentiles’ request to know him signals to Jesus that his ministry is complete, and the hour has arrived.
  • Now the hour has come. After announcing the time of his glorification has come, Jesus explains what the hour will mean to him, to his disciples, and to those who reject him:
    • For Jesus, his hour means that his death and resurrection will make eternal remaining-in-relationship with God possible for everyone. This is the meaning of the parable of the grain of wheat.
    • For disciples, his hour means that those who follow Jesus must imitate his service in their own lives. They must be willing to lose their lives to gain eternal remaining-in-relationship with God.
    • For those who oppose and reject Jesus, his hour means their time of judgement. They have aligned themselves with the ruler of this world. Jesus’ glorification will break the ruler’s hold on humans, and the ruler, along with his supporters, will be thrown out of God’s kingdom.

Today’s readings remind RCIA participants and the believing community that we are living in a new covenant or relationship with God. Jesus’ words and actions reveal God’s covenant of love, written in every human heart. At every moment, in every choice we make, our hour has come. Do we choose to serve one another or do we serve only ourselves? Do we choose to follow the ruler of this world, accepting only what this world can offer? Or do we follow the glorified one, letting go of this world’s empty promises to gain what is real and lasting?

—Terence Sherlock

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11 March 2018: Fourth Sunday of Lent (Lætare Sunday)

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23   Ps 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6   Eph 2:4-10   Jn 3:14-21
Liturgical note: Lætare Sunday
The fourth Sunday of Lent is called Lætare Sunday. The Latin verb lætare (lay-TAH-ray), which means “rejoice!” or “be joyful,” comes from the entrance antiphon for the day:

Lætare Ierusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam.
Rejoice, Jerusalem, and come together all who love her.

The liturgical color for Lent is purple, a color that reminds us of our need for metanoia–conversion and change. Lætare Sunday’s liturgical color is rose, a color that represents joy. This Sunday marks Lent’s approximate mid-point, a day to rejoice because Easter is now within sight. Traditionally this day was a day of relaxation from normal Lenten practices.

Rejoice! God cares for us!

Rose_banner_sm During Lent the believing community follows Jesus as he is tested and transfigured, and as he foretells his coming glory. For RCIA participants, Lent’s rites and prayers prepare them for the Easter Vigil sacraments. In the middle of Lent, today’s readings reflect Easter’s promise and how God restores us.

The first reading, from the book of Chronicles, retells and interprets Israel’s salvation history. God punishes the Jewish people and exiles them to Babylon because they have been unfaithful to God and the covenant. But God also forgives the people, returns the exiles, and restores them to their land. The Lectionary editors chose this reading of exile and return to match the gospel’s theme of God’s love and saving gift.

The second reading, from the letter to the Ephesians celebrates, Christ and the role of the ekklesia in God’s plan. Through God’s gift of grace, God saves us because of our faith, not because of our actions. Our actions are the result of our choice to accept or to reject God’s gift. The gospel repeats this teaching in slightly different words.

John’s gospel presents a portion of Nicodemus’ nighttime encounter with Jesus. This reading has many themes, but this reflection focuses on God’s gift and Jesus’ saving work:

  • Jesus must be lifted up. The Greek verb ὑψόω (hoop-SOH-oh) means both “to lift up” and “to exalt.” John intends both meanings. To fulfill God’s gift to us, Jesus must be “lifted up” on the cross. In being crucified, Jesus is also “exalted:” he completes his work and the Father raises him. Jesus’ heavenly exaltation presupposes his earthly crucifixion.
  • God gives the Son as a gift. God loves the world, even when we reject God. God gives the Son as God’s gift to the world. The Son’s gift to us is the cross, which enables those who believe in him to be saved.
  • We judge ourselves by our choices. We don’t have to wait for the end of the world and God’s final judgement to be judged. Each one judges himself or herself by accepting or rejecting God’s revelation in and through Jesus. Our own actions (good or bad) flow from our choice.

This week, while still deep in Lent, RCIA candidates and the believing community reflect on God’s love and restoration. Salvation history is the story of God’s love for us and God’s longing to be in relationship with us, no matter what we do. We judge ourselves, based on our acceptance or rejection of Jesus’ revelation. Our choice to accept or to reject is not limited to a single moment. The sum of all our actions–good, evil, and ambiguous–reveals who we truly are. Our daily choices–to hide in the dark or to move more and more into the light–judge us before God, one another, and ourselves. Do we want to remain in exile, or return home? Do we prefer the dark, or do we choose the light?

—Terence Sherlock

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4 March 2018: Third Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Ex 20:1-17   Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11   1 Cor 1:22-25   Jn 2:13-25

 

Lectionary note
On the third Sunday of Lent, the Lectionary offers two sets of readings. Masses that include catechumens celebrating the Scrutinies use Year A readings; all other masses use Year B readings. This reflection uses Year B readings.

Discipleship: faith and signs

Purple_banner_sm During Lent the believing community follows Jesus as he is tested and transfigured, and as he foretells his coming glory. For RCIA participants, Lent’s rites and prayers prepare them for the Easter Vigil sacraments. Today’s readings ask us to reconsider God’s signs and our response.

The first reading from Exodus describes God giving the commandments to the Israelites at Sinai. The Decalogue (Greek: “ten words”) is a sign of God’s covenant with God’s people. This sign reminds Jewish hearers of their relationship with and requirements to God and to others. For Christians, the Decalogue is the summary of moral obligations, expanded by Jesus’ teachings.

The second reading from Paul’s first letter to the ekklesia at Corinth critiques those whose faith relies on signs or wisdom. Paul preaches faith in Christ crucified: an incomprehensible sign to Jews who want a powerful messiah, and complete foolishness to Greek gentiles who want a brilliant philosopher-teacher. Yet, in the cross, believers will find that God’s foolishness is far wiser than human wisdom, and that God’s power is stronger than human strength.

John’s gospel recounts Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple. This reading has many themes, but this reflection focuses on Jesus’ signs and their meaning:

  • Jesus’ sign. Jesus’ opponents ask Jesus to give a sign to prove his authority for prophetic action of cleansing of the Temple. He answers this opponents with the sign of his resurrection: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus connects his prophecy-in-action in the Temple with a different temple: his body. In Johannine fashion, Jesus’ opponents misunderstand him, and they reject Jesus’ sign: “And you in three days, will you raise it up?” In John’s hands, Jesus’ opponents’ mockery becomes ironic. They don’t believe Jesus, so no sign he gives them will lead to faith or enable them to see beyond their limited understanding.
  • Relationship between faith and signs. Jesus expects reciprocity with believers. Jesus trusts and abides with someone only if that person believes in Jesus (Jn 1:12-13).
    • Jesus’ opponents demand a sign first, but reject the sign because it isn’t what they expect. They do not believe in the sign or in Jesus.
    • Jesus’ disciples believe first, because Jesus’ prophetic action fulfills Hebrew scripture. Their believing allows them to see the truth in Jesus’ sign of the resurrection.
    • The many who “begin to believe because of Jesus’ signs” may or may not become disciples. If their faith doesn’t move from believing in signs to believing in Jesus, Jesus will be unable to trust and abide in them.

This week RCIA candidates and the believing community reflect on signs and faith. In the readings God and Jesus offer signs that invite us into deeper relationship, and Paul warns about missing signs because they don’t match what we expect. Signs of covenant and community are always present, but we must see with faith to know their deeper meanings. Do we demand signs to guarantee our faith? Is our faith contingent on only signs we want or know? Does our faith let us see in and beyond the unexpected sign?

—Terence Sherlock

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25 February 2018: Second Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Gn 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18   Ps 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19   Rom 8:31b-34   Mk 9:2-10

Fathers and sons, sacrifice and service

Purple_banner_sm During Lent the believing community follows Jesus as he is tested and transfigured, and as he foretells his coming glory. For RCIA participants, Lent is a time of rites and prayers that prepare them for the sacraments they will experience at the Easter Vigil. Today’s readings, centering on the Transfiguration, ask us to consider discipleship’s service and sacrifice.

In the first reading from Genesis, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son. The literal reading emphasizes Abraham’s faithfulness to God’s word. Christian hearers recognize Isaac as a type of Christ (a son who is to be sacrificed). The Lectionary editors chose this story to match today’s second reading.

In the second reading, Paul reminds the Roman ekklesia that God’s love is an all-conquering power that overcomes every obstacle to a Christian’s salvation. God manifested that power fully when “God did not spare his own son, but handed him over for us all.” Paul presents Abraham and Isaac as a type or model for God and Jesus. Both fathers are willing to sacrifice their sons. Abraham offers a mortal son. God hands over God’s immortal son. God stops Isaac’s death, and through Isaac a new people of God (the Jews) arises. God allows Jesus’ transformative death, and through Jesus a new believing community (the ekklesia) arises.

Mark’s gospel recounts Jesus revealing his divine glory to Peter, James, and John. Jesus’ transfiguration confronts his disciples and Mark’s readers with the mystery of God’s kingdom and the place of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection within it. God the Father speaks only a few words in Christian scripture; when the Father speaks in today’s reading, we should listen:

  • My beloved son. The voice from the cloud identifies Jesus as God’s son. God first announces Jesus’ sonship at his baptism, the start of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (Mk 1:11). Today God reiterates Jesus’ sonship at the Transfiguration, the start of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem (Mk 9:7). At Jesus’ death on the cross, a Roman centurion witnesses again to Jesus’ sonship (Mk 15:39).
  • Listen to him. The Greek verb ἀκούω (ah-KOO-oh) means “to heed” or “to hear and understand.” God’s message to the disciples recalls Moses’ promise that God will raise up another prophet, and they must listen to him (Dt 18:15). Today God tells Peter, James, and John that Jesus is more than a prophet. The Son of God is the Word of God; Jesus’ teachings are God’s own teachings. Jesus teaches what kind of messiah he is (Mk 8:31) and how disciples should act (Mk 8:34).

This week RCIA candidates and the believing community hear about fathers and sons, and sacrifice and service. Abraham struggles with fatherhood and faithfulness. Paul envisions a Father who is so for us that he gives his Son to save us. The Father tells us to listen and understand the Son, whose words and actions teach discipleship. Are we like Peter, not knowing what to say at the thought of suffering? Are we like James and John, terrified of taking up our own crosses? Can we hear that the Father sent the Son to destroy every obstacle that we might ever face? Are we even listening?

—Terence Sherlock

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18 February 2018: First Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Gn 9:8-15   Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9   1 Pt 3:18-22   Mk 1:12-15

Preparing for Easter: baptism and testing

Purple_banner_sm During Lent the believing community follows Jesus as he is tested, transfigured, and foretells his coming glory to the temple leadership, Nicodemus, and his disciples. For RCIA participants, the Lenten season is a time of rites and prayers that prepare them for the sacraments they will experience at the Easter Vigil. The readings recall the meaning of our baptism and ask us to consider how our discipleship is tested.

The first reading from Genesis tells the story of God’s covenant with Noah, his family, and all living things. God will never again destroy the world by water. God seals this covenant with the rainbow as its sign. Early Christian writers understand the flood story as prefiguring baptism. The Lectionary editors chose this story to match today’s second reading.

The second reading is from the first letter of Peter. Today’s selection is part of a baptismal homily. The author draws on Jewish tradition about the “imprisoned spirits,” spirits of the wicked drowned by the flood of Noah’s time. Christ’s “proclamation” is the good news of salvation, and the wicked dead are now given a chance to repent. This interpretation sets up his typology of the flood water and baptism. Noah and his family are saved though water, which the ark sails on or through. Christians, also, are saved through baptismal water, which they float on or through. As part of baptism, the catechumen “appeals” or pledges to God a “clear conscience” or changed heart (metanoia). Jesus preaches this same metanoia in today’s gospel.

Mark’s gospel contains two related narratives: Jesus’ testing in the wilderness, and the start of his mission and message.

  • Testing in the wilderness. Immediately after Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:9-11), the Spirit drives him into the wilderness, traditionally a place of testing and revelation. Satan, God’s adversary, wants to find out what God’s words–“You are my beloved son”–really mean. Satan tests Jesus to see who he is, and to determine Jesus’ power and authority. Jesus has come to break Satan’s grasp on the world and on humanity. Mark connects Jesus’ baptism and testing to warn the newly baptized that baptism does not make them immune to ongoing testing.
  • Mission and message. Mark summarizes Jesus’ good news and the action required from those who hear his proclamation: “God’s kingdom is near. Change your hearts (metanoia) and believe in the good news.” For Mark, Hebrew scripture’s promises are the root of Christian faith, and Christian life and experience reflects those fulfilled promises. Their path to faith in the good news leads them through metanoia and baptism.

Today’s Lenten readings remind RCIA candidates and the believing community about the meaning and power of baptism. Discipleship requires that we live in the ambiguity of the wilderness: a place of both testing and revelation. Evil attacks us–pride, greed, addictions, institutional violence, and on and on. At the same time, through baptism, we share in the Spirit’s power to break evil’s grip and to live out salvation’s good news. What tests do we face every day? How do we respond? What is revealed?

—Terence Sherlock

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9 April 2017: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s passion

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 50:4-7 Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24 Phil 2:6-11 Mt 26:14–27:66 or
Mt 27:11-54 (short form)

Lent: songs and stories

Red_banner_sm As Lent draws to a close, the Lectionary readings for Palm Sunday give RCIA participants and the believing community many images to reflect on for Holy Week. Today’s readings include two songs and a story.

The two songs are Isaiah’s Suffering Servant song in the first reading (Is 50:4-7), and Paul’s Carmen Christi (L: “Song of the Christ”) in the second reading (Phil 2:6-11). I’ve written about these songs and their meanings in last year’s Palm Sunday reflection, found here.

The story is Matthew’s passion narrative. We can read other parts of the gospels as short stories that tell Jesus’ words or acts, but the passion narratives are one, continuous story. The passion narrative is rich and deep and deserves a full and careful reading. Throughout Matthew’s passion, Jesus’ accusers words and actions ironically reveal who Jesus really is:

  • The Sanhedrin. The chief priests ask Jesus under oath if Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of God” (Mt 26:63). Jesus responds “You have said so,” an affirmative answer. The Sanhedrin convicts Jesus of blasphemy for speaking the truth about his messiahship and divinity.
  • Pilate. The chief priests bring Jesus to Pilate for trial. Before Pilate, the chief priests and elders accuse Jesus of sedition, a Roman capital offense, rather than blasphemy, a religious offense. Pilate asks Jesus if he is “King of the Jews” (Mt 27:11). Jesus responds “You say so,” an affirmative answer. Pilate convicts Jesus for speaking the truth about his kingdom (but not a kingdom Pilate would understand).
  • Barabbas. Barabbas is a Hebrew word meaning “son (bar) of his father (abba).” Pilate tells the crowd they must choose Barabbas or Jesus (Mt 27:17)–two sons of very different fathers. The crowd’s selection (Mt 27:21) is tinged with irony: they choose Barabbas, a revolutionary, who gives violence and death; rather than Jesus, the Father’s Son, who gives peace and eternal life.
  • Soldiers. The soldiers dress Jesus in a red military cloak and crown him with a “victory crown” (usually a diadem or laurel wreath, but the soldiers use thorns) to mock his kingship (Mt 27:29). Their actions reveal Jesus as Isaiah’s suffering servant (see the first reading, Is 50:4-7).
  • The centurion. At Jesus’ death, the Roman centurion and his men, witnessing the darkness and earthquake, acknowledge Jesus “was the son of God” (Mt 27:54). Matthew uses the centurion’s statement ironically: Romans considered the Roman emperor divine, the son of a god.

Palm Sunday introduces the most important feasts in the liturgical year. For RCIA participants, the Triduum–and especially the Easter Vigil–is the culmination of their journey to become full sacramental participants in our Catholic believing community. Their desire to become true disciples, to witness to the suffering servant and crucified savior, and to share Jesus’ resurrected life should make all of us stop and think. What do we think of Jesus’ saving act? How do we react to Jesus’ death? How to we participate in Jesus work? Where do we fit in Jesus’ story?

—Terence Sherlock

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2 April 2017: Fifth Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Ez 37:12-14 Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 Rom 8:8-11 Jn 11:1-45

A matter of death and life

Purple_banner_sm This week, John’s gospel reading invites the believing community to think about physical death and eternal life, and asks those preparing for Easter initiation to meditate on baptism’s death-to-life transformation.

John’s gospel tells of Jesus raising his friend, Lazarus, from death. This story is rich with meanings, but this reflection focuses on the story’s contrasts of physical death and eternal life, and on its baptismal imagery.

  • Physical death vs eternal life. Through words and a sign (John’s name for a miracle), Jesus leads Martha to deeper faith. Like many first-century Jews, Martha already believes that God will raise up her brother on the last day. She also believes that Jesus is the messiah and the Son of God. In his dialogue with Martha, Jesus teaches that he is the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in him will never die. He gives believers an eternal life that is impervious to physical death. Those who believe Jesus is messiah and Son of God will experience a new,resurrected, transformed, eternal life, that Jesus’ own resurrection promises and demonstrates. As a sign to Martha, Jesus returns Lazarus to life..Jesus calls us “to turn away from sin and believe in the good news.” In today’s story Jesus faces the full impact of sin and its human consequences. As he stands before his friend’s tomb, we read that “Jesus wept.” The Greek text is better translated as “Jesus broke into tears.” Jesus experiences the human cost of Adam’s sin: physical death. A few lines later we hear Jesus is “deeply moved”–which is better rendered as “strongly insistent” or “strongly convinced and focused.” That is, Jesus resolves to change sin’s outcome and restore Lazarus to life. We should find consolation in Jesus’ determination and action: he strongly desires to give life to each of us.
  • The catechumen’s baptismal death-into-life transformation. Jesus reformulates the Jewish idea of future resurrection into something new: “I AM theresurrection and the life.Resurrection means the eternal life that Jesus gives to the one believing in him, even if that one physically dies. Life means the new spiritual life Jesus gives through baptism to the one believing in him. Being submerged in baptism’s living water is a sign of death: the one being baptized dies to a former life and is reborn to a new, eternal life in Christ. Jesus himself will raise all believers on the last day; but the life Jesus gives is a present reality as well as a future promise. Eternal life is a current and ongoing participation in Jesus’ own life, in sacramental encounters and in the believing community.

The sign of Lazarus is a challenge to our faith. Martha stands for believers who ask: If Jesus gives eternal life, why do my family and friends die? Martha represents believers whose faith is real but inadequate–“if only Jesus hadn’t left us after his resurrection, the ones who believe in him wouldn’t die.” Here is the paradox for the believing community: eternal life doesn’t abolish physical death, but transcends it. Eternal life is not only a pledge of resurrection on the last day, but an ongoing participation in the ever-living Jesus’ life now, moment-to-moment. Those who believe this never die, even though they face physical death. The same living Jesus present with us now in our physical existence continues to be with us for eternity. In him we remain alive forever.

—Terence Sherlock

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26 March 2017: Fourth Sunday of Lent (Lætare Sunday)

Lætare Sunday
The name Lætare Sunday comes from the Entrance antiphon for the day:

Lætare Ierusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam.
Rejoice, Jerusalem, and come together all who love her.

Lætare is the Latin word meaning “rejoice” or “be joyful.” This Sunday marks Lent’s approximate mid-point, a day to rejoice because Easter is now within sight. Traditionally this day was a day of relaxation from normal Lenten practices.

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Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a  Ps 23: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6  Eph 5:8-14  Jn 9:1-41

Despite the light, blind by choice

Rose_banner_sm This week, John’s gospel reading invites the believing community to think about our own blindnesses and asks those preparing for Easter initiation to meditate on the meaning of baptism.

John’s gospel tells of Jesus healing a man who was born blind. This story is rich with meanings, but this reflection focuses on the story’s irony about physical sight and spiritual blindness, and on its baptismal imagery.

  • Blindness to illumination to insight. As a sign Jesus gives physical sight to a sightless man. Through the rest of the story, the newly sighted man gains insight into those around him. He sees sighted people blind to Jesus’ healing sign. He watches religious leaders argue themselves into blindness over Jesus’ identity. When he tries to enlighten the learned men, they blindly throw him out. Jesus comes looking for the man. When he finally sees Jesus for the first time, the man is illuminated and recognizes Jesus as God’s son. Jesus judges the religious leaders, who observe the Law, sinful and unseeing. Despite Jesus’ enlightening sign, they choose to remain blind to his identity and saving gift.
  • The catechumen’s journey to Baptism. The early ekklesia used this healing story to teach about Baptism. The Greek word ἐπιχρίω (eh-pee-KREE-oh), translated in today’s gospel as “to smear” also means “to anoint.” The word ἐπιχρίω connects Jesus’ smearing the man’s eyes with mud to the bishop’s anointing the catechumen with oil as part of the sacrament of Baptism. In both cases, the material signs (mud and water, oil and water) transform the recipient. When the man washes with Siloam water, he sees; when the catechumen is washed in baptismal water, she or he becomes a member of God’s family. Becoming physically sighted restores the man to his community; becoming spiritually enlightened initiates the newly baptized into the ekklesia, the believing community.

As today’s gospel story progresses, a newly sighted man moves from physical sight to spiritual insight. His gradual enlightenment allows him to see Jesus first as simply “a man (v 11),” then as “a prophet (v 17),” then as “from God (v 33),” and finally as the divine “Son of Man (v 38).” His story traces every disciple’s coming-to-faith: hearing about Jesus, learning about Jesus, and finally personally encountering Jesus.

But discipleship has its price: scripture overflows with stories about those who suffer because of their faith. Courageous witnesses stand as shining beacons, especially in today’s rising hostility to religious beliefs. The sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation give us the strength and courage to witness to the one who is the light of the world. Do we choose to illuminate the darkening world with Jesus’ light? Or do we choose to turn a blind eye, finding safety in our own darkness? How will Jesus see us?

—Terence Sherlock

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19 March 2017: Third Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Ex 17:3-7 Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9 Rom 5:1-2, 5-8 Jn 4:5-42

Water and food: lessons in discipleship

Purple_banner_sm This week, John’s gospel reading asks RCIA candidates and the believing community to think about the personal encounters that create disciples.

John’s gospel tells the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. This story is rich with meanings, but this reflection focuses on the story’s confusion and irony about two of life’s basic needs: water and food:

  • Water. Jesus opens his dialogue with the Samaritan woman with a simple request: give me a drink of water. For RCIA participants, especially catechumens and the Elect, this story presents water as an image of baptism–the sacrament of initiation and entry into the believing community. Jesus teaches the Samaritan woman to look beyond water’s functional use. Jesus helps her to see and to know what she really thirsts for.In the sacrament of Baptism, ordinary water becomes living water, imbued with ritual and liturgical significance. The baptismal waters drown our former sinful selves, and resurrect us as new creations flooded with God’s own life. Just as Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman re-integrate her into her social community, Baptism incorporates us into the ekklesia, the believing community. Jesus’ living water restored the Samaritan woman to her social community; Jesus’ baptismal water restores us to God’s family.
  • Food. For the believing community, this story provides lessons in evangelization. To fulfill his mission of bringing everyone to the Father, Jesus “had to” evangelize Samaria. He engages the Samaritan woman in conversation, revealing to her who he is and the water he can provide. After she encounters Jesus’ living water, she goes to tell others about him–“could he be the messiah?” The Samaritan woman becomes an evangelist for Jesus.Returning with food, the Twelve tell Jesus: you need to eat. Jesus responds that he is fed by doing and finishing the Father’s will. He teaches the Twelve something else about evangelization. Jesus tells them that the harvest–those ready to accept Jesus’ teaching and to become his disciples–is ready now. The Twelve must act immediately to bring in the next crop of disciples. Jesus invites the Samaritan woman, the disciples, and us to offer living water to others. Jesus’ spiritual food–“to do the will of the One who sent me”–fuels his mission; our spiritual food–the Eucharist–fuels our mission to live as Jesus taught and to make disciples of all nations.

Today’s reading asks us to think about our own discipleship as well as the evangelization of others: How does someone come to faith? What are the obstacles that a disciple must overcome? We come to faith only through encountering Jesus, like the woman at the well. Our baptismal mission is to make disciples. Do others encounter Jesus then they encounter us? Do we remove obstacles to faith or create them? What fuels our evangelization?

—Terence Sherlock

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