Sunday, March 29, 2015

Reflection: Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion: Mark 14:1-15, 47

Today we hear Mark’s account of Jesus’ passion and death. On Good Friday, the Gospel we will hear is from John’s Gospel. The story is basically the same but each of the authors has a unique perspective of this horrific day. The Passion of Jesus is most likely etched in our hearts and minds!

Most of us will never have to experience what Jesus did. However, we each have had our own version of passion and death experiences. Our death experiences were not what our ultimate death experience will be. However, throughout our lives, there are times when we “die” a bit, and perhaps more than a bit. Perhaps you or a loved one is struggling with illness, divorce, loss of a job, financial problems or the death of a loved one. Or it might be a serious conflict in your family or in the workplace. If you are experiencing emotional pain, most likely loss is an integral part of your pain.

Take a moment and reflect on your life. Remember a time when you experienced a passion or a death? What was that like for you? When you reflect on that time do you re-experience the pain and loss again? What were the emotions that bombarded you? Who supported you? How long did it take for you to recover from that experience? Do you still experience the pain when you remember that time?

Hopefully, much of the pain and emotion of that time has subsided. With time, often there actually may be gifts that you have received from that horrendous experience. Ask yourself: what were the gifts or insights that you received from that time? Perhaps it was something you learned about yourself. Or it may have strengthened your bonds with your family, a friend or even a co-worker. We probably learn more from the painful and challenging situations in life than we do from the good events or situations. However, it can be an excruciating way of learning!

This week we walk with Jesus through the last days of his life. Jesus freely and lovingly gave his life for us. There truly is no greater love! As we journey through this Holy Week, may we ponder the many gifts that Jesus has given us and that he continues to bless us with. What do we give back to Jesus, not because we owe him but rather we give out of love for Jesus? There has never been a greater love!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Reflection: John 11:45-56

John 11:45-56 – Saturday of the 5th Week of Lent

As Holy Week unfolds, the tension and drama in the Gospels of Holy Week continues to mount. Today some of the Jews excitedly approach the Pharisees and tell them that Jesus had raised a man (Lazarus) from the dead. Rather than being amazed at this news, it appears that this news was the last straw for the Pharisees. They had had enough of Jesus. They needed to do something about this man, Jesus, who was creating havoc in their lives.

The chief priests and Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. These religious officials were extremely concerned about Jesus and his growing influence with the people. They were angry but also fearful. The Sanhedrin realized that they were losing some of their power with the people. This could not go on. Jesus not only was a threat to their power and control, but they also were worried that the Romans might come and take their land and be in control of their nation.

The chief priests and Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Temple. When they gathered, many of them spoke of their fear of Jesus. Daily, he was growing in popularity. More and more people were following him. The Sanhedrin realized that if they did not take immediate action, they would lose their power and influence with the people.

In the course of this discussion, Caiaphas, who was the high priest, voiced what many of them were thinking: Jesus had to die! There was no alternative: he was too much of a threat to their power. Caiaphas justified this course of action by saying that it was better for one man to die rather than have the nation torn apart. Thus the stage was set. The decision had been made. They began to plan how to kill Jesus.

Jesus was aware that the Pharisees were plotting against him and he stayed in the shadows of Jerusalem until he decided to go to Ephraim with his disciples. He stayed there until it was time for the Passover. Many of the people who traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover feast looked for Jesus. They had heard about him and they wanted to see him for themselves. They also hoped they would hear him preach. However, Jesus was nowhere to be seen.

Today’s Gospel sets the stage for Palm Sunday. We know what will happen in the next seven days. We have experienced Holy Week multiple times. Yet, even though we know how the drama unfolds, it still is gripping, compelling and painful. Yes, resurrection will come but the prelude to resurrection is horrific!

In the days ahead, we have a choice: to walk with Jesus through this week or to go on about our lives as if all is normal. Jesus gave his life for us! Will we take the time and walk with Jesus through this holiest of weeks? Or will we spend most of our time buying Easter candy, coloring Easter eggs, or traveling to visit family, and ignore the man who by his death gave us the promise of eternal life?

I invite you to enter into this holiest of weeks. Ponder the daily readings. Ponder the story. Ponder the love Jesus has for us. Walk with Jesus. Bring your own “passion” experience to Jesus! If we do this, who knows: we also may have a resurrection experience!

Jesus is waiting for us. He walks with us in our darkest hours. Will we walk with him?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Reflection: John 10:31-42

John 10:31-42 – Friday of the 5th Week of Lent

Today’s Gospel opens as several of the Jews were picking up stones to cast at Jesus. Jesus does not run or hide. Rather, he turns and confronts them. He asks them which of his good works they were going to stone him for? After all, he simply was doing these good works for his Father. The Jews told Jesus that it was not because of his works they were going to stone him. It was for blasphemy! Although Jesus clearly was human, Jesus was making himself God! They were shocked and angry at such a ridiculous claim!

Jesus again tried to explain what he was saying but they refused to listen to him. The Jews had closed their minds and hearts to Jesus. And clearly they were not open to changing their minds. Jesus already had been tried and convicted by them!

Was this confrontation truly about who Jesus was? Or did the Jews realize that they were losing their power and influence with the people? It was evident that Jesus was loved by the people. People traveled great distances to see Jesus and hear him preach. Or perhaps they hoped that they or a loved one would be healed by Jesus. These people wanted to see and experience Jesus for themselves.

Each day the Jews’ fear of Jesus kept escalating. They recognized that Jesus’ popularity and power with the people continued to grow. They were becoming frightened of Jesus and his influence with the people. No matter how the Jewish officials tried to discount Jesus with the people, they would not listen to them. Rather, the number of people who gathered to listen to Jesus increased every day. After hearing Jesus preach and experiencing who he was, many of these individuals decided that they also, wanted to follow Jesus!

Clearly the Jews were losing their power and influence with the people. They were becoming increasingly angry with Jesus and the people. However, they also were frightened. They could feel their power over the people slipping away. Some of the Jews were so outraged by Jesus and his teaching that they picked up stones to throw at him! When Jesus realized how intense their anger and fear were, he immediately left the temple.

At times, do we become jealous or angry when someone appears to have more power or influence than we have? Does our fear ever drive us to do something that we typically would not do? If we are unaware of our emotions, these negative and destructive emotions may begin to rule our lives and cause us to act in a way we normally would not do. Is this what happened to the Pharisees? Many of the Pharisees were good people. However, Jesus was a significant threat to them. Jesus’ influence and power with the people grew stronger every day. And with each day, the Pharisees became more threatened by Jesus.

Take a moment and imagine yourself in Jesus’ place. If we realized that within a short time, we would be arrested, tortured and probably put to death, how would we react? I assume, all of us would be frightened and panicked. Most likely, our time, energy and thoughts would be dedicated to trying to figure out a way to avoid this terrible ordeal. Surprisingly, Jesus appears to be somewhat at peace with what his future likely holds! He recognizes and accepts what lies ahead of him!

Above all, Jesus trusts that he is not alone. His Father sent him and his Father is with him. Jesus places complete trust in his Father. Ultimately, Jesus also believes that good will come from his suffering. Yet Jesus was human as well as God! As a human being Jesus must have experienced a flood of emotions: fear, anger and turmoil. True, Jesus completely trusted God. However, since he was fully human, he also must have experienced great anxiety and fear!

I assume that each of us can identify with Jesus in some way. We also have had our own trials, tribulations and our own “passion.” And I assume that we, like Jesus, struggled to understand and accept the realities of our situation. Did you turn to God for help? Did you ask God to work a miracle for you and make everything right again? Or were you angry with God? Did you distance yourself from God? Or was it a combination of “all of the above?”

At these times, we may know that God is not doing this to me or to you. It simply is how life is! However, I also realize that during these difficult and painful times, my tendency is to distance myself from God, precisely when I need God the most. Take a moment and ask yourself: how do your major struggles or challenges affect your relationship with God? Do these times strengthen your bond with God? Or do these difficulties threaten to weaken your relationship with God?

We know that Jesus was fully human and fully God. We know from the Gospels that Jesus did experience the full range of emotions: joy, sorrow, sadness, fear, pain, etc. Yet Jesus also knew that there was a purpose in what God was asking of him. He also trusted that God was there with him at all times.

Perhaps the question for us is: do we trust God? Do we trust that God loves us and desires only good things for us? When difficult times come to us, do we believe that God is making this happen? Or do we believe that our struggles are simply part of our human condition?

The bottom line for all of us is the question: Do you (and I) trust God? Do we believe that God only wants good things for us? Do we truly trust that God is with us on each step of our journey?

God is the only one who can carry us through! Today may we pray for ourselves and one another that we will strive to always place our trust in the God who loves us more than we can ask or imagine!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Reflection: John 8:51-59

Thursday of the 5th Week of Lent – John 8:51-59

Jesus is dialoguing with the Jews. Jesus tells them that if they truly keep his word, they will never see death. Imagine how astounded everyone must have been at Jesus’ words. Never see death? What was Jesus thinking? Everyone on earth understood that at some point in the future, they would die. This was the natural course of life!

Naturally, the Jews thought Jesus was crazy. Did he truly believe that he would not die? Did he actually think that he was greater than Abraham or the prophets? All of the prophets, great though they were, died. Why did Jesus think he was different? Did Jesus believe that he was greater than the prophets?

When Jesus responds to the Jews, he does not respond to their criticism of him. Rather Jesus talks about his Father. He tells them that His Father is the one who will glorify him. Jesus also says that even though the Jews think they know God, they actually do not know God. Jesus, however, has a deep relationship with God. Then Jesus goes too far. He tells the Jews that his father Abraham had rejoiced to see his day. His listeners were astounded and disbelieving. Jesus truly was crazy!

The Jews responded by telling Jesus that he wasn’t even 50 years old. How could he possibly have seen Abraham? Jesus simply responded to them: Before Abraham came to be, I AM! And the Jews began to gather stones to throw at Jesus! Jesus simply and quietly walked out of the temple!

Put yourself in the Jews’ shoes. If anyone said to you what Jesus said to the Jews, would you believe them? Or would you think they were delusional and perhaps had gone off their rocker? Most likely, we would think they were crazy or fanatical. After all, to the Jews, Jesus simply was another itinerant preacher. Why should they think that Jesus was above the norm of preachers? After all, he sounded pretty crazy when he said that he existed before Abraham. Talk about rubbish! That was impossible!

Clearly, the Jews’ hearts were closed to Jesus. True, they didn’t believe him. However, they were also frightened of the power and influence he had with many of the people. Jesus was greatly loved and admired. Jesus was undermining the Jews’ credibility with the people. Jesus was becoming a significant threat to the power and influence of the Jewish officials!

Today might be a good day for us to examine our hearts. Do we have places in our hearts and minds that we have closed to Jesus? We may have closed minds or hearts to Jesus because in some way life is painful and a struggle and we blame Jesus for this reality.

What do we believe about Jesus? Have we distanced from him? Or do we continue to believe and trust Jesus? Or do we simply take him for granted? Today I invite you to stop and reflect on who Jesus is to you at this time in your life. Are you satisfied with the relationship you have with Jesus? If not, how would you like it to change? Then, will you take some steps to reestablish a close relationship with Jesus? Jesus is right beside us, waiting for us!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Reflection: Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord

Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord

Today is a wonderful and uplifting feastday! On this feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, we hear the story of the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and announcing to her the wondrous and fantastic news that she would bear a child. Not only would she bear a child but this child would be conceived in a very unusual way: through God’s divine intervention! Truly, this child would be the Son of God!

In St. Luke’s Gospel account of the annunciation, Mary reacts in a way that any human being would. Initially she was troubled and very confused. She must have asked herself: was she hallucinating? Was this figure before her truly an angel? Was Mary so stunned by these happenings that she wanted to run away but was unable to?

Luke writes that “Mary was deeply troubled” and understandably so. Yet somehow, Mary was able to keep an open mind and an open heart. Though the angel’s appearance was unexpected as well as fantastic, Mary must have sensed the presence of the Holy One. Was it a deep sense of God being present to her through the angel that enabled Mary to remain open and to listen intently?

Mary’s relationship with God must have begun developing a young age. In this passage, it is clear that Mary knew God well and she placed her complete trust in God and she also placed her life in God’s hands. What a model Mary is for all of us!

Most likely, each of us also at times have received news that was unexpected, difficult or perhaps fantastic. Take a moment and remember one of those times. Did you initially experience God in this situation? If the news was good, you might say yes! If the news was painful and difficult, what was your experience of God in those circumstances? Were you upset or angry? Or did you remain open to God?

It is unlikely that God will come to us today by sending an angel to us. However, God will come to us and God will call us. Most likely, our call will not be as special as Mary’s was. (Thank goodness!) Yet at times, God does call us in strange and fantastic ways. Will we be able to have an open mind and heart as Mary did? I pray that we also will trust and place ourselves in God’s loving heart!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Reflection: John 8:21-30

Fifth Week of Lent – John 8:21-30

Today Jesus continues his interaction with the Pharisees by telling the Pharisees that he will be going away. Jesus must have stunned them when he tells them that they will die in their sin. Ask yourself: how would you react if someone told you that? Jesus follows that blunt statement by telling them that where he is going, they will not be able to go.

His listeners did not have any understanding of what Jesus meant. They were taking his words literally and thus they did not make any sense. Then Jesus continues by telling them that if they do not believe that he truly is “I AM,” they will die in their sinfulness. They must have been stunned by Jesus’ words. After all, they were the “holy ones.” They ran the Temple and ruled most of the people! Who did Jesus think he was?

When Jesus told them that he was “I AM,” did they have any understanding of what he was saying? Do we truly have any understanding of what Jesus was saying? Do we take time to ponder his words?

Do we truly and deeply believe that Jesus is the “I AM?” Or do we just nod our heads and say: “Of course I believe?” What does it mean to you that Jesus is the “I AM?” Does this title place Jesus on a pedestal and keep him at a distance? Or do we allow Jesus to the “I AM” in our lives? That is what Jesus longs for! What do we choose?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Reflection: John 8:1-11

Fifth Week of Lent: John 8:1-11

Today’s Gospel is Jesus’ encounter with the woman who had been caught in adultery. He was teaching in the temple area when the Pharisees come to him, bringing a woman who had been caught in adultery. They placed the woman right in the middle of the crowd. Imagine how this woman felt. What are the emotions you would experience if someone brought you to where there was a crowd of people and then they told these people about all the wrongs you had done? I assume most of us would be humiliated, angry and perhaps afraid!

The Pharisees begin by quoting the law to Jesus (as if Jesus did not know the law). They tell him that the law of Moses said that any woman should be stoned to death for her adultery. (Note: the stoning did not apply to the man who also had committed adultery.) The only person to be stoned would be the woman.

The Pharisees want to hear what Jesus thinks should be her punishment. Of course, they were only testing Jesus. They hoped to find cause in his response that then would give cause to arrest him. This was the sole purpose of their encounter with Jesus. However, Jesus realized that the Pharisees simply were trying to trap him. He knew that if he deviated from the Law of Moses, they would charge him and most likely arrest him.

Jesus chooses an unusual course of action. He simply bends over and begins to write in the dirt. His action took the Pharisees by surprise. This was no answer! So they continue to ask Jesus the same question. Finally, Jesus responds by simply telling the Pharisees that whoever was without sin, should throw the first stone at the woman. And one by one, the Pharisees slipped away! Did they experience any shame about what they had done to this woman? Or were they simply furious that Jesus had bested them?

Then Jesus quietly asks the woman where everyone had gone. Had anyone condemned her? This woman must have been astounded that someone, a man, had stood up for her. She knew she had sinned, yet this man, Jesus, had protected her from the Pharisees. Then the woman responded to Jesus’ question simply by saying: No one had ever done anything like this for her in her lifetime!

What a life-changing moment this must have been for this woman! Did she now have the sense that she was worth something after all?

Do we trust Jesus to be as deeply compassionate and forgiving with us, as he was with this woman? Our sins may not be quite as serious as this woman’s was. Or perhaps they are! Regardless, do we trust that Jesus loves us and will forgive us, no matter how greatly we have sinned? If not, I invite us to focus on the compassion and understanding that Jesus exemplifies in the Gospel reading. Jesus has deep compassion and love for us also----no matter what we have done or how we have sinned!

Do we truly trust Jesus and his word? If not, may we pray for the grace to open our hearts to Jesus and receive his love and forgiveness! He is waiting for us!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Reflection: John 12:20-33

5th Week of Lent – John 12:20-33

As Holy Week begins to draw near, the Gospels begin to prepare us for the unfolding drama of Holy Week. In the each Gospel this week, there are hints of the drama that will unfold in the days ahead.

Today’s Gospel begins as some of the Greeks who were in Jerusalem for Passover went to Philip and told him that they would like to see Jesus. The Greeks had recently arrived. How had they heard about Jesus? Had word of Jesus and his teaching and miracles spread to Greece? Or had these Greeks simply heard stories about Jesus since they arrived in Jerusalem?

Philip and Andrew told Jesus that these Greeks wished to see him and also hear him speak. However, Jesus did not focus on the Greeks’ desire to meet him. He doesn’t respond to what Philip and Andrew just told him. Rather, Jesus began to prepare his disciples for the events that would unfold in the next few days. Jesus tells them that the hour has come. He also tells them that he would be glorified. Jesus then uses the image of a grain of wheat that has to fall into the ground and ultimately die. Only after dying, would the wheat be able to produce fruit! Did his disciples understand what Jesus was saying? Or was he just confusing them?

Jesus then tells his disciples that he is deeply troubled. Jesus realized that pain, sorrow and death were in his future. Can you imagine the emotion, pain and fear that Jesus must have been experiencing? True, Jesus was God. However, he also was fully human. Yes, he was committed to this path. Did he also experience fear, sorrow and loss? And how would Mary, his mother, deal with his impending death? He was all she had.

Jesus had committed himself to this journey and to his people. Jesus is choosing to do this to glorify God’s name. Then Jesus hears a voice speaking to him from heaven, affirming him in his decision to glorify God’s name. What a comfort it must have been when Jesus heard God’s voice from heaven reassuring him. What a wonderful gift to receive. This experience must have strengthened Jesus for the path that he would walk!

In our lives, we also have moments like Jesus, when we know we need to take a path that will be difficult and painful. Are we willing to surrender ourselves into God’s hands? Do we trust God to be with us, to grace? Do we believe that God also will strengthen and console us? Do we trust that we will not be alone on this journey?

Jesus was human! He experienced many of the unpleasant realities of life that we all have to deal with. Yet, he completely trusted his Father, his God, to support and help him on every step of his journey. Today may we ask Jesus to give us a share of Jesus’ trust and faith in God! And may we say yes to what life is asking of us at this time in our lives! Truly God is and will be with us!