We can gain Christ's peace by realizing that his love for us supplies us with motivation to give up desires for anything else.

When Jesus appeared to the disciples on Easter evening he said, “Peace be with you.”

So, just what is peace? One simple answer is that it is being free from every form of frustration. That is the way the Buddhists see it. Our great Catholic mystic St. John of the Cross, saw it the same way. Both said that the frustrations that deprive us of peace come from thwarted desires. So, both said that if we can rid ourselves of all desires, we will be at peace.

Still there was a major difference between them. The Buddhists and the Catholic saints had very different ways of motivating themselves to give up troublesome desiring.

When I was teaching Church History to eighth graders I made up a play for them to act out, showing the different ways by which the first Buddhist and St. Teresa of Avilla were able to stop desiring. 

The first Buddhist was an Indian prince who lived six hundred years before Christ. His name was Siddartha Guatamo, and he spent his whole life searching for peace, which he called “Enlightenment.” Siddartha became so saintly that he had many followers, but still he had no peace of mind.

One day, exasperated by his failure to find enlightenment, he squatted beneath a fig tree. He said,  “Though skin and bones dry up, I will sit here until I achieve enlightenment or die." So, he sat there for days, turning blue; then he remembered the saying of a saint he met in the high mountains. The saint had said that only God was real, the rest of us are just illusions. Accepting the old saint’s view, Siddartha  told himself, “Since I am just an illusion, it is silly for an illusion like me to want anything.” With that, he stopped all desiring, and immediately he felt enlightened, and he stood up.

In my little eighth grade play I had one of the onlookers ask St. Teresa of Avilla if she had found peace by accepting the notion that she was just an illusion. She said, “No.”With her it was quite the opposite.

The Lord had told her that she was so precious to him that he loved her dearly. Teresa, much more than satisfied with the love God gave her, went on to give up wanting everything else. With that the enlightenment of complete peace flooded her soul.

In the play I had St. Teresa sing a song to the tune of the hymn “Nearer My God to Thee.” In her version of it she sang:

   The nearer I come to Thee, my dearest Lord;
   The nearer I come to Thee, the more I am myself.
   No mere illusion, I: Thy loving daughter, dear.
   The nearer I come to Thee, the more I am myself.

We must remain supple to the movements of grace.

The leaders, elders and scribes did not know what to make of Peter, John, and the man lame from birth whom they cured. Those leaders had complete confidence in their laws and traditions, but those regulations just didn’t fit this case.

The leaders had declared that it was against the law to praise the man Jesus whom they had executed, but how could they call curing this cripple a crime? Using the name Jesus Peter and John had given full health to a man with limbs withered from birth, and the man was jumping around with all the people congratulating him. It was awful!

This story might be telling us to keep open minds about things. We shouldn’t let pre-conceived ideas or prejudices keep us from seeing God’s truth staring us in the face. Years ago I read a little lecture a mother superior with the Carmelites made to her young nuns. She told them that although keeping the rules was important, there could be more than that in doing the right thing. She then used a beautiful phrase.  She advised the nuns “to remain supple to the movements of grace.”

It was a beautiful morning by the lake.

What I like best about this Gospel is the morning itself. As well as its being the morning of that day, it was also the beautiful dawn of our church. We are all rocking about in Peter’s boat. With the rising mist and the silver light coming off the water we are all shading our eyes. We strain to see who had the clout to call us little children.

There may be some spiritual significance in Peter tucking his garments then plunging into the water. I don’t know what it is.

There were one hundred and fifty-three large fish in the net. For all these centuries scholars have been theorizing about what symbolic numbers could add up to 153. They haven’t come up with anything they can agree on. Neither can they tell us where Jesus either bought or produced the bread and fish he had on the charcoal. Do you think Jesus built the little fire, or did he just make it magically?

We should leave those questions alone. We should just enjoy that beautiful morning.

We share in Christ's Paschal Mystery by dying to sin with him, and rising to heaven on earth with him.

In the prayers in the Mass this week we thank God for giving us a part in the Paschal Mystery. I’d like to say something about what that means.

First I’d like to point out something that at first seems a different matter all together. It’s this. There is a major difference between John’s account of Holy Week and that of the other three Gospels. I wonder if you have noticed it. For the other three Jesus and the Apostles celebrated the Passover dinner on Thursday, the night before Jesus died; while John’s Gospel tells us the Passover evening was that Friday after Jesus was crucified.

Check it out. On that Friday morning the members of the Sanhedrin did not enter Pilate’s courtyard because they said it would be a stain keeping them from celebrating the Passover. Then, in the afternoon they asked that the dead bodies of Jesus and the thieves be taken down because their presence on the crosses would defile the Passover.

Was it John or the other three who were right about what was the right day for the Passover that year? We cannot fix the date. What we can know is John’s reason for seeing it as being on the day Jesus died.

In his letter to the Ephesians St. Paul told us that in his life Jesus summed up the whole history of the Jewish people. His baptism in the Jordan repeated their passing through the Red Sea. His forty days in the desert echoed their forty years in the desert. What is of more importance: his passing through death echoed their passing through the Jordan into the Promised Land.

While we customarily think of the Passover as being the meal the Israelites ate the night before leaving Egypt, actually the word refers to the whole of their passage out of Egypt, through the desert, and into the Promised Land, with that third leg being the important segment of the Passover.

 During the last few weeks in the Mass prayers and in preface of Passiontide we have asked to have a share in Christ’s Paschal Mystery. What we are asking for there is to be able to join him in passing through death to the Promised Land.

That does not necessarily mean we are asking to die here and now. We are asking instead to die to sin so that we might begin our heaven on earth.

The story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus must be read as a lesson.

The story of Jesus joining the disciples on the way to Emmaus is one of Luke’s great stories, but we must see it is as more. It is as much a lesson as any lesson in a catechism.  The Gospel uses stories rather than questions and answers to communicate the truths of our Religion.

The disciples were engaged in a discussion about the death of Jesus and about rumors that he was seen alive again. Why did Jesus join in their discussion?

Answer: He always takes part in our discussions of such matters. He silently nudges us to see the truth.

What did the disciples mean by saying, “We were hoping he would be the one to redeem Israel?”

Answer: The only happy ending for his ministry they could imagine was his conquering the Romans.

Why didn’t they jump at believing what the women said about the body being gone and angels there?

Answer: They were showing contempt for women and what they said. Naughty, naughty!

What sayings of the prophets should have led them to believe in the need for the Messiah to suffer?

Answer: The Songs of the Suffering Servant where the Savior was like a smashed worm, where he was like a lamb led to the slaughter, by whose lashes we are healed. 

What brought them around to the realization that he was Jesus?

Jesus welcomed Mary Magdalene into intimacy with him because she loved him.

The Gospel tells us that Mary Magdalene was the first person to whom Jesus revealed himself after his resurrection.

We should not confuse Mary Magdalene with Mary, the sister to Martha and Lazarus. They lived in Bethany a few miles outside of Jerusalem. The woman to whom Jesus showed himself that morning was called Magdalene because she came from the town of Magdala up in Galilee. Luke mentioned her earlier as one of the women who provided for the Apostles from their needs; and Luke said that seven demons had been driven from her. That would seem to mean that she had been a sinner.

We can’t tell what reason Jesus had for appearing first to Mary from Magdala, but he opened the way to one supposition. He let us think that love for him is all the credentials we need for being admitted into intimacy with him.

After his death Jesus received the power to gve the Holy Spirit to his followers.

People say that puns are the lowest form of humor, but clerical jokes are just as bad. Thirty-odd years ago, by changing the Mass readings for the day after Easter, the Church deprived us of one of our  chestnuts. For centuries the Gospel had been St. Luke’s account of the two disciples who had run away to Emmaus on Easter day. That provided us with our joke. As soon as our Easter Masses were over we priests would get lost, leaving word with the housekeeper to tell anyone looking for us that we had gone to Emmaus.

The Church replaced that story of going to Emmaus with the one of the risen Jesus appearing to the two Marys. That is a beautiful story, but there is nothing funny about it.

Today’s first reading is a Pentecost story, not an Easter story, but indirectly it has something wonderful to say about Easter. The reading has Peter making an explanation to the crowds on Pentecost day. He was telling them how it came about that the speech of the Apostles was easy for foreigners to understand. He said it was because the Holy Spirit was on them.

The wonderful thing was how it came about that the Spirit should be on them that day, when previously they had not been open to the Spirit.

If we go back to Chapter Seven of John’s Gospel we hear Jesus telling the crowd that he would provide “rivers of living water” to his believers. (St. John, who wrote that Gospel, interrupted the account of what Jesus was saying to make his own explanation. Let me quote what John said, “Jesus said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not been glorified”)

Our first reading today concludes with Peter’s explanation to the crowds at Pentecost. He said, “Exalted at the right hand of God, he pored forth the promised Holy Spirit that he received from the Father, as you both see and hear.”

For giving his life Jesus was rewarded by being exalted to the right hand of God where he received  the power to bestow the Spirit on his believers.

Easter marks the begining of our coming to life again.

We had an old pastor who mounted the pulpit every Christmas carrying the notebook pages on which he had written his first Christmas sermon forty years earlier. I find myself copying him. On Easter I keep telling the story of an Easter that followed a severe winter in Korea.

It was fifty years ago, midway through my eleven years in the town of Yang Yang. With the winter’s severity, the price of rice, fuel oil and fire wood all skyrocketed. Once, longing for company, I phoned another town, inviting Father Connors down. What he said was, “I’ll come, Sully, but only if you guarantee they’ll be tucks of heat.”

Our church was on top of a fifty foot high stump of a hill. Car engines often died trying to climb it. But there was a little boy who climbed up and over our hill every day on his way to school. Often after Mass I’d hang around our office, checking on the little fellow crossing the yard, then disappearing down the other side.

One morning in that endless winter the little boy did something different. He veered over to the edge of our yard, then squatted down. Doubled up with his back pack of books turned skyward he was a fine little bowl of humanity. I kept my eyes on him until he straightened up, and hurried down the hill to his classes. 

An hour later when I stepped to the window to catch the arrival of the mailman the puzzle repeated itself. That fellow too sank down at the spot where the little boy had squatted. Pulling a blanket around my shoulders, I went out to check on the attraction. What I saw was a little nub of green like the top of a shoot of asparagus. I asked the mailman what it was, and he said, “Paik hwa gott’chi da.”

Gott” is the word for a flower, but I had to go in and look up Paik hwa. It is the word for a lily.

What everyone saw in that green nub was the news that the long cold winter was past. A glorious springtime was about to burst out all over. What Easter celebrates is the beginning of our triumph over death.

On Holy Saturday we enter the tomb of Jesus by dying to sin with him.

In the Epistle for the Easter Vigil St. Paul wrote, “Are you unaware that we who are baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”

Three days ago I received a request to subscribe to a Catholic magazine that promised to free its readers from what it called the destructive liberalism that came into the Church after 196o.

I disagree with their assessment. As a server boy in the 1940’s and as a young priest in the 1950’s the two of us  were the only people in church on Holy Saturdays before the confessions started in the afternoons.  We had prayers over tubs of water, and we plowed through a long hodgepodge of readings and rituals introduced into the liturgy at different times through the centuries.

Vatican II did away with those meaningless rituals by reviving the Holy Saturday practices of the Apostles. We were led to dramatize what Paul meant by saying we die with Christ in order to rise with him.

Each year in the first centuries Christians reviewed the complete life of Jesus. They thought of him as being born again at Christmas, as going into the desert on Ash Wednesday. He died for them on Good Friday, and then he rose on Easter.

But, what about Holy Saturday? What was Jesus doing then? Well, his body was lying in the tomb cut from rock. Christians represented that tomb for themselves with a tank or pool filled with water.

The people to be baptized would gather around that pool, and they would listen to the priest quoting words of St. Paul.  Paul had said that the death by which Jesus saved us was not his physical death but his death to sin. The priest presiding at the ceremony would tell those people that Jesus was inviting them to share with him in that death to sin. They could do that symbolically by going down into the tomb-like baptismal pool. If they died to sin with him they would be prepared to rise to glory with him.

When they came up from the tank they would go one by one before the bishop. As he anointed each of them with oil consecrated to the Holy Spirit, he would say something like this: “To the extent that by dying to sin you have made room in your hearts for the Holy Spirit, he is now entering you.” That was Confirmation. Following on that, the newly baptized would go in to fully take part in the Easter Eucharist.

The Prophet said Jesus grew up like a sapling, but he was made to resemble a smashed worm.

Friday, 4/22/11
Our Good Friday service is blessed with two powerful Scripture passages.

The first is the final, and most explicit of the four Songs of the Suffering Servant. What first struck me in this reading is the line “He grew up like a sapling.” Oddly, for me it recalls the narrow branches of a fine young tree from the front of my church on Korea. Often, with nothing in the world to do, I’d sit on the church step, leaning to the side against a limb, and I’d marvel at its firm green strength under its thin tan bark. Jesus had that youthful vibrancy before he let the beatings and the spittle turn him into the semblance of a worm.

Our account of the Passion according to John runs through his Chapter 18, and most of 19. I am going to use it for fifteen decades of the Rosary, breaking it down like this:

Capture and High Priest Trial
 1.     (verse 18:4) Jesus knew everything that was going to happen to him.
 2.     (18:6) When Jesus said, “I am” they all turned and fell to the ground.
 3.     (18:11)  He said, “Shall I not drink the cup my Father gave me?
 4.     (18:14) It was Caiaphas the high priest who said, “It is better that one man should die, rather than that the whole people should perish.”
 5.     (18:27) Peter denied he was with Jesus “and immediately the cock crowed.”

Trial Before Pilate
1.     (18:28) To avoid defilement so they could eat the Passover, the High Priests did not enter the Praetorium. (John saw th real Passover to consist in Jesus passing through death to Heaven.)
2.       (18: 37) “You say that I am a king. For this was I born, to give testimony to the truth.”
3      (18:40) They cried out, “Not this one, but Barrabas.”
4.  (19:5)  Jesus came out wearing a crown of thorns, and Pilate said, “Behold the man
5.  (19:5)  Jesus came out wearing a crown of thorns, and Pilate said, “Behold the man

Crucifixion and Death

1.     (19:17) Carrying the cross himself he went out.  (This echoes Genesis 22 where Isaac carried the wood, and  Abraham said, “God himself will provide the sheep.)
2.     (19:20) It read, “Jesus the Nazorean, King of the Jews” in Hebrew, Latin and Greek.
3.     (19:23) They divided his clothes, then cast lots for his tunic. (Echoing Psalm 22.) 
4.     (19:26-27) “Woman, behold your son.” “Behold your mother.”
5.     (19: 33-36) They did not break his bones. They thrust a lance into his side, that the Scripture passage might be fulfilled: “Not a bone of the lamb will be broken.” 

The blood of the Lamb causes death to pass over us as we pass over from useless lving, setting our feet on the way to the Promised Land.

On the night of a full moon like the one we have this week, God’s people ate a ceremonial meal, and God told them to repeat this feast through all generations. It is in answer to that injunction that we meet for Mass this evening.

The meal is called a Passover, and Chapter Twelve of Exodus gave two reasons for that.

One reason was that when a house was marked with the blood of the Paschal Lamb death would pass over it. That reason holds true for us, because we are commemorating the shedding of Our Lord’s precious blood, and by being marked with his blood we are saved from destruction.

The other reason for its being called a pass-over meal was that they were to eat it dressed for the road. It was a departure ceremony by which, accompanying the Lord, they were to pass over from useless living, getting their feet onto the way to the Promised Land. That reason for calling it a Passover applies to us if we resolutely leave useless living behind, and pass over, planting our feet firmly on the road to the Promised land.

At the prospect of a terrible death Jesus fixed his face like flint. He did not rebel, he turned his back to the lashes.

My closest classmate through grade school and the early seminary years died last week. His was a slow, painful fight with emphysema and cancer. I talked with him on the phone three weeks back, and I was impressed by the courage Len drew from our suffering Lord. Like Jesus, he had set his face like flint. He did not rebel, did not turn back from painful lashes.

The Gospel too has echoes in my personal experiences. This is known as Spy Wednesday because like a spy Judas betrayed his master. I had a Spy Wednesday experience in 1956. At Easter of 1955 I baptized two Korean girls who could not afford to go to school. Their parents had promised me that they would not sell them as brides to men who already had wives, but Chun Jinny’s father broke his promise. Four days short of her second Easter she came to me saying her father had sealed the bargain, and she had to be off right away. Somehow it seemed even worse that it had to happen on Spy Wednesday.

Peter's terrible lapse reminds us that we must constntly pray for God's strength in carrying out our duties.

The first reading today is the second of the Songs of the Suffering Servant. Those prophesies concerning the Messiah were first sung by an unknown Jew during the Babylonian captivity. He Prophesied that the Messiah’s speech would be as effective as a two edged sword or a polished arrow. His redemptive powers, exceeding what was needed to rescue Israel, would supply light to the ends of the earth.

The Gospel is made up of selected verses from the Thirteenth Chapter of John’s Gospel, and they focus on Judas, then on Peter.

Of Judas John wrote that when he went out it was night. That would have been a useless comment, since the Passover feast could not be commenced until after nightfall.  But since John poetically saw goodness as light and evil as darkness, by saying it was night when Judas went out to betray the Lord he was saying it was night in the soul of Judas.

Peter’s saying he was willing to die with Jesus proved to be an empty boast, since he went on to three times deny he even knew Jesus. That story is there to remind us we need to constantly pray for the ability to carry out our duties. We cannot rely on our own strength to do what is needed.

Mary, sister to Martha and Lazarus was the only one to see death in the face of Jesus.

Our first reading today is the first of four songs about the Messiah composed five hundred years before the birth of Christ.  It is such a breakaway from prophesies which pictured the coming Messiah as a crowned prince with beautiful maidens in his train. This Savior agrees with the one who told us, “Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” He brings forth justice, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the streets.

I like seeing the Suffering Servant as a model of gentleness for teachers. The bruised reed he will not break could represent the poor student who cannot express himself in his writing. The smoldering reading lamp could represent the poor student who cannot get the lessons into her head no matter how late she studies.

The gentle Savior of the first reading comes to us again in the Gospel. Here, in the midst of partygoers at the home of Lazarus, he silently tries coming to terms with his impending execution by the Romans.

Mary, the sister to Lazarus and Martha, is the only one there who looked deep into the face of Jesus. She saw death there. With it breaking her heart, she spent all she had to prepare her doomed Savior for his burial.

Matthw's account of the Passion gives attention to Jesus fulfillng prophesies.

With the long Gospel we need a short homily for Palm Sunday. Since we have Luke one year, Mark another, and Matthew this year, it might be well to only mention what Matthew alone tells us.

He is the only one to recall that plaintive moan when Jesus said, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death.”

He alone remembers Jesus saying that if he wished he could command twelve legions of angels to protect him.

Matthew wrote his Gospel to make it clear that far from departing from the law and the prophets, Jesus fulfilled their promise. So, when the guards laid hands on Jesus Matthew remarked that this was done to fulfill what was written by the prophets.

When Jesus called out, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” he was fulfilling the promise of the 22nd Psalm. When he described the soldiers casting lots for his clothing he was again fulfilling the prophesy of Psalm 22.

Matthew gave special attention to the heavy guard the chief priests stationed at the tomb. That made it clear that the disciples would not be able to steal the body away.

When we speak of the Pachal Mystery we are referring to completing the Passover journey by passing into our Promised Land.

Towards the end of today’s Gospel St. John says, “The Passover of the Jews was near.” Please forgive me for giving you a little theory I have about that statement.

For us the word Passover is used to designate a meal eaten by Jewish people on the night of the first full moon in springtime. But in the directions Moses gave for eating that meal he made it clear that he did not mean for us to take the name Passover for the meal itself. Rather, he told the Israelites to eat the meal already dressed for the road, because they were about to join the Lord for a pass over. They were to pass over from slavery, putting their feet on the road to the Promised Land.

The word Passover refers to the three segments of a journey. The Israelites first passed out of Egypt through the Red Sea; secondly, they passed over the road-less Sinai Desert; and finally, they passed through the flooded Jordan, passing over into the Promised Land.

It appears to me that in writing his Gospel St. John purposely drew our attention to the three-stage-nature of the Passover story. He did that by introducing each stage with the phrase “The Passover of the Jews was near.”

(The word synoptic means seeing things the same way, and we give that name to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. They follow the same sequence of events in telling the story of Our Lord’s public life. In writing his Gospel St. John abided with their sequencing except when he could get his inspired message across by altering the sequence. We see him doing that by placing the Passover meal that year on Friday after the death of Jesus rather than on Thursday night where the others had it.)

While Matthew, Mark and Luke had Jesus cleansing the temple on Monday of Holy Week, John moved it back to the beginning of the public life of Jesus. In prefixing it by saying, “The Passover of the Jews was near,” I believe he wanted us to see it as equivalent to the first stage of the Passover when the Israelites put the sinfulness of Egypt behind.

John dropped the phrase again in Chapter Six when the people began gathering the manna to sustain them through the forty years.

He used it finally in today’s Gospel on the day before Jesus was to complete his Passover by passing through death to his own Promised Land.

The Jewish word for Passover is Pasch. The Paschal mystery that is often mentioned in Mass prayers toward the end of Lent refers to our joining Jesus in passing through death to the Promised Land. Lent has been preparing us to take our part in the Paschal Mystery.

We must accept the new wording for the Mass, because as followers of Jesus we can't always have our way.

With Lent drawing to a close we turn our thoughts to Our Lord’s efforts to submit himself to that cruel death. It would be well for us to remember his saying, “If you die with me, you will also rise with me.” If we have gone through Lent properly we have been preparing ourselves for submitting to God’s will, whatever form it might take.

The thought puts me in mind of Father Michael Ryan, pastor of Seattle’s Cathedral. He didn’t want to go along with the new wording for the Mass that we must start with next November. Using the internet he asked people to join a postponing movement he called, “What if We Just Wait?” Almost overnight he had 22,000 clergy and lay people sign up. But now, he has brought himself to see that it is God’s will that he submit, and he has asked his 22,000 signees to submit with him.

It isn’t necessary for Father Ryan to say that the new wording is better than the old. He only needs to say we can’t always have our way in our Church. I like seeing us as Our Lord’s flock of sheep. We have young sheep who want to sprint over the next hill, and we have old sheep who have trouble making it over the last one; and we have a shepherd whose objective is keeping his sheep together. In doing that he makes the  young sheep slow down and he helps the old sheep get over that last hill.

Let me touch on one sore point. Where the Creed used to have us saying the Son is “One in being with the Fatherwe will have to say “consubstantial with the Father.”
With difficulty I will switch to “consubstantial with the Father.” My difficulty is one I share with the bishops whom Emperor Constantine assembled for the Council of Nicaea in 325. The wording he ordered them to accept was “the Son who is of one substance with the Father.” They wanted to reject that, and their reason was that the word substance (ousia in Greek) is a Greek philosophical term, and as such is not part of the revealed truth they needed to believe. However, it was not a matter of life and death, and they couldn’t say “No” to the emperor. They went along with it. So, we must go along with the Holy Father, only hoping that sometime in the future we will be able to return to “one in being with the Father” which is fine English and fine Theology.     

We must accept the new Mass wording even if we dislke it. Hopefully, Lent had prepared us to accept the fact that we can't always have our way.

With Lent drawing to a close we turn our thoughts to Our Lord’s efforts to submit himself to that cruel death. It would be well for us to remember his saying, “If you die with me, you will also rise with me.” If we have gone through Lent properly we have been preparing ourselves for submitting to God’s will, whatever form it might take.

The thought puts me in mind of Father Michael Ryan, pastor of Seattle’s Cathedral. He didn’t want to go along with the new wording for the Mass that we must start with next November. Using the internet he asked people to join a postponing movement he called, “What if We Just Wait?” Almost overnight he had 22,000 clergy and lay people sign up. But now, he has brought himself to see that it is God’s will that he submit, and he has asked his 22,000 signees to submit with him.

It isn’t necessary for Father Ryan to say that the new wording is better than the old. He only needs to say we can’t always have our way in our Church. I like seeing us as Our Lord’s flock of sheep. We have young sheep who want to sprint over the next hill, and we have old sheep who have trouble making it over the last one; and we have a shepherd whose objective is keeping his sheep together. In doing that he makes the  young sheep slow down and he helps the old sheep get over that last hill.

Let me touch on one sore point. Where the Creed used to have us saying the Son is “One in being with the Fatherwe will have to say “consubstantial with the Father.”
With difficulty I will switch to “consubstantial with the Father.” My difficulty is one I share with the bishops whom Emperor Constantine assembled for the Council of Nicaea in 325. The wording he ordered them to accept was “the Son who is of one substance with the Father.” They wanted to reject that, and their reason was that the word substance (ousia in Greek) is a Greek philosophical term, and as such is not part of the revealed truth they needed to belief. However, it was not a matter of life and death, and they couldn’t say “No” to the emperor. They went along with it. So, we must go along with the Holy Father, only hoping that sometime in the future we will be able to return to “one in being with the Father” which is fine English and fine Theology.   

In calling himself I Am God was not only saying there is no change from past to future in him, he was also saying our pasts and futures are present to him.

In the Gospel Our Lord was confronted by the Jewish authorities. I don’t know what kind of schools they attended, but there was one thing they knew backwards and forwards, and that was the Torah. They could recite the Books of Genesis and Exodus.  

They knew the proper name for himself that God told Moses at the burning bush. It was Yahweh. They knew as well that the name Yahweh means He Who Is. So, they knew what Jesus was saying about himself when he said, “Before Abraham came to be I Am.” They knew he was saying he was God.  So, with no formal closing to their discussion, they picked up stones, meaning to stone him to death for the sin of blasphemy. But Jesus slipped out of their sight.

What do you think the name Yahweh really means? What did God mean by calling himself “I Am?”

Two answers pop into my mind. For one, the name is like a blank check on which you may write in anything you want. It could be “I Am all powerful.” or, “I Am all wise.”
The other answer to what God means by calling himself I Am would be that he is always present tense. There is no past or future with him. He is as he always was and will be. 

Another way of imagining there being no past or future with God is to say all of our human history is always present to him. In Catholic schools we used to be told that the passage of human years is like a parade moving slowly around the base of a mountain. We see only the minute we live in, but God on the top of that mountain sees all the years of our lives as present to him.

A year ago I said the Sunday Masses in the St. Louis parish where I grew up. The parishioners were sad because a drastic drop in enrollment was closing their school in June. I shared their sadness. I graduated from that school in 1942, and my brother and sisters had graduated from there going back to 1928.  We have wonderful memories.

I suggested to them that instead of viewing the school’s past as dead and gone, they should see it as God does as a glorious reality. I feel that way myself, and even though the parishioners might not agree, just a few days ago a nephew of mine who was there said on the phone that he bought my idea. He has come to take on God’s point of view, seeing the past as very real, our memories as substantial.

It’s like a poem of my dad where he was lamenting over people doing away with all the improvements he had built into our old house. He concluded with, “Nothing is left but the memories, but maybe it was memories we were building after all.”

The Book of Daniel was a successful work of fiction.

The first reading is from the Book of Daniel. I am not happy at seeing it in today’s Mass. Oh, it is a fine story, and I can enjoy its message of the way faith in God brings us through difficulties. What makes me unhappy is that while it was a work of fiction, people see it as God’s truth, and they take it as a direct message to them from God.

When the Book of the Prophet Daniel was written in the year 168 B.C. everyone saw it as a a story composed by pious Jews. Their grave troubles that inspired them to make it up. They had always used the temple as a bank where their savings were safe. Then, in 169 B.C. the king of Syria, desperate for money, took away every last penny.  

Afterwards all the rulers throughout the Middle East turned on that king, Antiochus IV. They were saying that a hundred and sixty years earlier Alexander the Great had laid down the rule that no monarch could touch Jerusalem’s temple.

To deflect the criticism Antiochus IV turned to saying he had only wanted to raise the Jews to the noble religion of the Greeks. To back that up, he put a golden statue of Zeus on the temple’s altar. He went on then to build a gymnasium where Jerusalem’s youth could exercise in the altogether, and he supplied them with luncheons of pork.

The pious Jews would have been put to death if they opposed the king, so they built a story around a fine man named Daniel who had lived at the time of the Babylonian captivity. In their story Daniel and his companions were great successes even though they did not eat his unclean food or bow down to his statue. The pious Jews composed the story of Daniel to inspire their young men not to eat unclean food, and not to bow down to the magnificent statue erected by the king.

Their historical fiction worked.  Soon after it had begun being told around Judas Maccabeus and his brothers staged a revolt that drove out the enemy soldiers, winning back the temple.

The Book of Daniel can clearly be seen as fiction. The so-called historical events are wrong, and most of the language in the book did not come into use until centuries after the events described in the book.

Through his life Jesus was hauntrd by his destiny to be lifted up on th cross.

In the story from the Book of Numbers all who looked upon the bonze serpent that Moses lifted up were saved. John, in his Gospel recalled three times when Jesus compared himself to that bronze serpent.

In Chapter Three John quoted Jesus saying that just as Moses lifted up the serpent, so too he must be lifted up so that all who believe might have eternal life.

In Chapter Eight we read how Jesus told his foes, “When you see me lifted up you will know that I Am.

In Chapter Twelve John quoted Jesus as saying, “When I am lifted up I will draw all men to me.”

What is common to those three occasions is that through his life Jesus was haunted by his dreadful fate of being nailed to a cross, then lifted up.

Jesus knelt down to write in the dust because he didn't want to be associated with the men accusing the lady.

When I was an eighteen-year-old boy closeted away in a novitiate these stories about adultery had me blushing so much I couldn’t read through them. Our novice master had told us that any giving away to sexual thoughts was a mortal sin. I have doubts about that now. When I listen to troubled people who feel the need for confession more than once a week I think those severe rules should not have been allowed to harm them.   

What Susanna and the woman in the Gospel were accused of was not immorality, but adultery, seen as a sin against justice. Susanna and the woman in the Gospel were considered to be the property of their husbands. With their partners in sin they were seen to be guilty of cooperating in thievery, stealing from their husbands the bodies belonging to them.

People put forward many theories about what Jesus was writing in the dust. I have heard it was the word “Love.” I have heard it was evidence against the accusers of the woman. The theory I like best has Jesus  scribbling nothing at all. He just didn’t want to be part of the circle of men who were condemning the lady.

Jesus ordered the dead man, "Lazarus, come out!"

There are many memorable moments in today’s Gospel. Let me go over a few. Earlier in the story, after the chief priests had sent guards to bring Jesus in for trial, Jesus and his disciples had stolen away across the Jordan. The disciples had been enjoying their safety there when a boy sought them out, bringing Jesus a message from Martha, the head of a house at Bethany near Jerusalem. The intimacy Jesus had built up with that family comes across in the brevity of Martha’s note about Lazarus, “Master, the one you love is ill.”

Some of the Church’s prayers are so flowery they turn you off, and you suspect they turn God off too. You know the kind, “Lord of heaven and earth, deign to give ear to our humble prayer, and vouchsafe to come to our aid.”

We have a hint at how well Jesus knew those people from St. Luke’s story about Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, leaving Martha to do all the cooking. That must have been just one instance out of dozens, because John here simply wrote, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”

At first Jesus didn’t do anything about Martha’s note, and the Apostles were glad about that, but two days later he said, “Let us go back to Judea.” That had the disciples saying, they mean to stone you over there. Jesus said, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to waken him.” The disciples’ knowledge of fevers had them saying, “If he is asleep, he is getting better.”  But Jesus clarified matters, saying, “Lazarus has died. Let us go to him.”

Being a Thomas myself, I have always liked Thomas’s bravery here. When the others said it would be death to go close to Jerusalem, Thomas said, “Let us go to die with him.”

They walked the twenty-five miles up the slope from Jericho, and when they were close to Bethany they met people who said Lazarus had died four days earlier. On hearing Jesus was out on the road Martha came to him, saying, “If you had been here my brother would not have died, but even now I know God will give you whatever you ask.”  Jesus told Martha that he was the Resurrection and the Life. When we hear her confidently say she believed he was the Christ we wish we had her certitude.

Martha ran, bringing out Mary who said the same things Martha had, but Mary was crying so hard it got everyone around them crying. Our translation of what John  wrote said that Jesus was deeply troubled, but scholars say that what Jesus experienced was anger at death for taking his friend.

We all know this story so well. I will not retell any more of it. We all like Martha saying, “Lord, there will be a stench. He has been dead four day.” But what we like the most is the confident authority of Jesus demanding, “Lazarus, come out!”

God gave us the Monestary at Cluny to rescue us from the Dark Ages.

Twenty-second Saturday

After Charlemagne, his son Louis the Pious reigned from 814 to 840. In 830 he divided the empire between three sons: Pippin in the west at Aquitaine, Lothar in the center at Aachen, and Ludwig on the German side. But then, proving to be not all that pious, Louis married again, giving birth to Charles the Bald. The emergence of that fourth heir set the four kings warring with each other, doing away with all that Charlemagne (and Alcuin) had achieved.

The death of Louis the Pious in 840 brought on a century of what can properly be called the Dark Ages. The Norsemen controlled the rivers flowing into the Baltic Sea and the Channel, while the Saracens moved up the rivers from the Mediterranean. Inland the positions of the sons and nephews of the four kings degenerated into the roles of barons employed in fighting each other. Where Charlemagne had deeded lands to bishops and pastors, the barons gave those holdings to their younger sons who could mouth enough Latin to get through the Mass. Some sons of barons given the roles and the lands of the bishops chose not to try offering the Mass. They turned the parishes and bishoprics into capitol holdings. Their buying and selling resulted in some individuals holding the title of pastor, abbot or bishop to several scattered benefices.

In these pages we set out to see how faithful our church has been to the ideals Christ and the Apostles set before her. The French bishops at Vatican II had taken up the word ressourcement, by which they prodded their fellow bishops into adopting the changes needed to bring our church back in line with its original ideals. In the Dark Ages we lost sight of the need to be true to the practices of Jesus and the Apostle. Unlearned priests mouthed Latin Mass prayers that they did not understand. Monks in their scriptoriums were the only Christians reading the Bible. Miserable serfs and warring barons had no room for anything like Our Lord’s social Gospel.

Nevertheless, Jesus had promised to be with us all days, even to the end of the world; and he gave evidence of his presence by inspiring two rulers to remember what Christians should be about.

First, unexpectedly, in 909 he moved William the Duke of Aquitaine in south western France to deed a sizable tract of land to Benedictine monks at Cluny. Duke William entrusted the monastery to a worthy man, to Abbot Berno. He stipulated that the monks should remain free from interference from local barons and bishops, and that they should faithfully follow St. Benedict’s rule. Berno, serving as first abbot of Cluny, was a father to his monks for seventeen years. He trained them in an exact following of the liturgy; and he set a fine example in private prayer and hard labor. From Berno’s installation as abbot in 909 through two hundred years, Cluny was to have just five abbots; and each of them had a well earned reputation for saintliness. By the end of those two hundred years two thousand more monasteries had been founded on the model of Cluny, with each of them restoring sanctity and learning to the surrounding countryside. A half million young men and ladies spent their lives praying in chapel, studying the Scriptures, and working in the fields.

The written histories from those centuries are full of wars and scandals, while they give small attention to so many wonderful people. 

Maybe in telling me to love my neightbor as myself Jesus was telling me to love my neighbor as though he or she were myself.

The first reading is from the Book of Wisdom. And although it was written two centuries before Jesus it records the same kind of hateful words the Jewish leaders would say against Jesus.

They said, “His life is not like that of others. Different are his ways.”

When you think about it, the feeling that people are different from us is behind all feelings of hatred. On the other hand, coming to see others the same as us, is what is behind turning to love them.

One afternoon in Korea maybe fifty years ago I was gathering thoughts for the next Sunday’s sermon. The Bible readings for the day quoted Jesus as saying, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Now, I had always presumed that by saying, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” Jesus meant I should love my neighbor as much as I love myself.  That afternoon it struck me that Jesus could have been telling me to love my neighbor as though he or she were myself.

Sympathy, they say, is feeling supportive of someone who is suffering. Maybe that was not what Jesus was calling for. Perhaps he was calling for empathy. That means getting inside another for a full share of their feelings. It is imagining you are that person. That afternoon it occurred to me that what they call method acting is the same thing. You look at a fat cop walking his beet, running his nightstick along a wrought iron fence. So you push out your belly, and you stroll like you own the street, clicking an imaginary club along an imaginary fence, and you come to feel what it is like being that cop.

The next Sunday, after an hour of confessions and two Sunday Masses and sermons without even a glass of water, I was standing outside church wishing the people would go away. When two pretty girls came up to chat I didn’t mind it.  But, then, an old woman came, tugging on my sleeve, and saying, “Look at my bad eye.”

I definitely did not want to look at her bad eye. But, suddenly I heard Jesus telling me to love the old woman as though she were myself. I like my fried eggs sunny side up, but the old woman’s eye was like an egg over hard, fried hard. I had always been fond of my Irish eyes, and I guess the old woman once had lovely sparkling eyes. How sad it was to see what has happened to my beautiful eye.

There was nothing I could do for the lady, but I noticed how she was bent over her walking stick, and it occurred to me that the night’s rain had made the path over the hill from her house very slippery. I told her, “It was very brave of you to come here over that dangerous path.”

Her face was suddenly young again as she said,  “Oh, Father, you understand.”

Moses showed us the way to plead with God to avert harm.

Our Gospel from Chapter Five of John’s Gospel is an account of bickering between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. I don’t enjoy John’s  argumentative chapters. So, please turn with me to the Old Testament reading.

It tells how when Moses was spending forty days up on Mount Sinai, conversing with God, the Israelites who were below in the desert, melted down their gold jewelry to form a golden calf which they began to worship. (Some scholars are of the opinion that they did not worship the calf, that they saw the calf as the thrown for an invisible deity.)

In our story from Exodus God interrupted his conversation with Moses to bring him a bulletin about the people’s sinful activity below the mountain. The story goes on to say that when God stated his intention of destroying this disloyal people the earnest pleading of Moses moved him to change his mind, sparing the people.

The story is recorded in the Bible to tell us that no situation is beyond remedy if we beg God for help.

Five centuries ago the great English poet George Herbert refered to that incident in a poem where he fantasized about how in ancient times people made God an ordinary part of their lives, while now we closet him up in a comer of our hearts where the devil and sin are always trying to push him out.  Herbert playfully wrote:

Sweet were the days when thou didst lodge with Lot, struggle with Jacob,
sit with Gideon, advise with Abraham, when thy power could not

Encounter Moses strong complaints and moan: Thy words were then Let me alone.

One might have sought and found thee presently at some fair oak, or bush, or cave, or well: Is my God this way? No, they would reply: He is to Sinai gone as we hear tell. List, ye may hear great Aaron’s bell.

But now thou dost thy self immure and close in some one corner of a feeble heart: where yet both sine and Satan, thy old foes do pinch and straighten thee and use
much art to gain thy thirds and little part.

I see the world grows old, when as the heat of thy great love, once spread, now as in an urn doth closet up itself, and still retreat, cold sinne still forcing it, till it return
                        and calling “Justice,” all things burn.

We should be willing to journey to the heavenly Jerusalem.

Our first reading is from Chapter Forty-Nine of Isaiah. Now, what we call the Book of the Prophet Isaiah is actually two books, with the first half concluding with Chapter Thirty-Nine when Jerusalem’s King Hezekiah foolishly showed Jerusalem’s treasury and armory to visitors from Babylon. That was back in 710 B.C.. An entirely different book starts in 535 B.C.

We give the name of Second Isaiah to the unknown writer of this second part of the Book of Isaiah. It was written when Emperor Cyrus II of Persia freed the Jewish slaves in Babylon, allowing them to return to the ruins of Jerusalem that their parents had left seventy years before.  Many of the Jews had put down roots in Babylon, and they were unwilling to make the difficult journey through wild places to get to the Jerusalem their grandparents had left seventy years before. 

The meaning of the reading for us is that instead of fearing death, we should know that if we have faith the Lord will make easy for us the journey to the heavenly Jerusalem.

We are the conduits thrugh which God's grace flows out into the needy world.

Let’s take another look at Ezekiel’s beautiful dream. He saw an ever-deepening stream of water flowing out from the east gate of the temple, making its way down to the deep valley south of the Dead Sea. Ezekiel noted all the trees bearing rich fruit along the banks of the stream. Then, after the stream emptied into the Gulf of Aquaba, he saw it visible as a distinct gulf stream, and Ezekiel witnessed  fresh water fish leaping in its stream.

The parable is clearly an advertisement for Mass attendance from which graces flow out into the world enriching and freshening as it goes. Of course the grace of the Mass doesn’t get anywhere on its own. It needs carriers. It needs you and me as Our Lord’s hands and lips, willing to do his kindnesses, and able to speak his cheering words.

The everlasting Holy City

Through Isaiah God says, “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.” He says, “I create Jerusalem to be a joy.” The Book of Revelation describes the Holy City of Jerusalem. We might make it real for us by singing the hymn “The Holy City.”

Last night I lay a sleeping, there came a dream so fair,
I stood in old Jerusalem beside the temple there.
I heard the children singing, and ever as they sang,
Methought the voice of angels from Heav’n in answer rang;

And then methought my dream was chang’d, the streets no longer rang,
Hush’d were the glad hosannas the little children sang.
The sun grew dark with mystery, the morn was cold and chill,
As the shadow of a cross arose upon a lonely hill,

And once again the scene was chang’d, new earth there seem’d to be,
I saw the Holy City beside the tideless sea;
The light of God was on its streets, the gates were open wide,
And all who would might enter, and no one was denied.

No need of moon or stars by night, or sun to shine by day,
It was the new Jerusalem, that would not pass away,
It was the new Jerusalem, that would not pass away.

“Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Sing, for the night is o’er!
Hosanna in the highest, Hosanna for evermore!
Hosanna in the highest, Hosanna for evermore!”

The Man Born Blind

We find this story of the Man Born Blind in Chapter Nine of John’s Gospel. Father Ray Brown, in the second volume of his wonderful commentary on John’s Gospel, tells us that the early Christians put on this story as a play. Going on that, fifty years ago when I was in Korea I wrote it as a play, and we performed it in the town theater for a thousand people.

Then, forty year ago when I was stationed at the university parish for the University of Iowa, the man the parish employed to run their youth programs suggested that with him supplying the music, we should do it as a play. So I scripted it, even writing lyrics for songs. Since then, I have put the play on several times at St. Paul’s.

The play opened in Jerusalem’s market, with folks selling pottery, grain, and vegetables.

                        In the southside of Jerusalem, within the city walls,
                        We people of the marketplace, we tend our market stalls.
The Pharisees enter, introducing themselves,
Make way! Make way, for Pharisees, for men who have no flaw.
                        We have a thing for holiness, and the letter of the law.

They proclaim that the man called Jesus had been violating the Sabbath by
curing people on the Lord’s Day. Anyone following him would be cast out of the market, and cast out of the synagogue.

They exit, and the man born wanders in, singing.

                        Our temple and our marketplace are the best you will find.
                        We have our very own beggar here. Me, the man born blind.

The people sing,

                        The synagogue becomes our home when the sun sinks out of sight
                        The last day of the weary week, Holy Sabbath, Friday night

They fold their tents, and they process into the synagogue, singing  the Sabbath song from Fiddler on the Roof.

May the Lord protect and defend us, may he always keep us from harm,
May we come to be in Israel a shining name.

The Man Born Blind joins them, but they push him off, saying. “How many times do we have to tell you that your blindness has made you unclean for life?”

He sits, and he holds out a hand when he hears Jesus and the disciples wander in. 

Peter asks, “Master, who sinned, this man or his parents that he should be born blind?”

Jesus said, “Neither this man or his parents did any particular harm. He is this way for the purpose of showing God’s glory through him.” With that, Jesus spat in the dust, making mud he smeared on the man’s eyes, sending him to wash in the Pool of Siloam.

When the people came out of the synagogue and found him seeing, they were saying, “No one born blind has ever been cured, so this man only looks like the Man Born Blind.”

But he assured them, “I am the man.”

From then on it became a comedy with the man, then his parents, being brought to testify before the Pharisees.  In the end, after the Pharisees drove the man out of the market, Jesus came, asking him if he believed in the Son of Man.

“Who is he, Lord, that I might believe in him?”

“The one speaking to you is he.”

The man said, “I do believe,” and he worshipped Jesus.

The point of the play is that being spiritually blind is worse than being physically blind.