Monthly Archives: March, 2020

Commentary on the 3rd Scrutiny (John 11: 1-45)

Let us pray:

God of all creation,

We seek hope in your living Word.

In your Spirit we cling to the promise

that we are your children,

the first fruits of your Spirit.

Lift us out of our graves and restore us to life

as you raised Lazarus, our brother.

Allow your Word to penetrate our hearts and minds,

that we might, with Martha, be able to confess,

“Yes, Lord, I believe!” Amen

The Gospel According to John (11: 1-45)

Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill.

So the sisters sent word to him saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” When Jesus heard this he said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. Then after this he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” He said this, and then told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him. ”So the disciples said to him, “Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved.” But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep. So then Jesus said to them clearly, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.” So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away. And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her,

“Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, “The teacher is here and is asking for you.” As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him. For Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still where Martha had met him. So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her saw Mary get up quickly and go out, they followed her, presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept.
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?”

So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said,

“Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” And when he had said this, He cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them,
“Untie him and let him go.”

Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.

The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

Some thoughts to consider:

The cast of characters…

Martha and Mary are the voices of all faith-filled people who have suffered loss: “Where were you? If You had only been here . . .”

Lazarus– “the one whom Jesus loved” is a paradigm of every believer. Just as Jesus calls to Lazarus to “Come out!” so, too, he calls to each of us to come out from whatever entombs us and allow ourselves to be ‘untied’ by his grace and live to ‘go free’.

The disciples are the ones who pretend to be brave and wise, but are often clueless.

Jesus cries and is perturbed, also. (The Greek word is a strong one, ebrimaomai, meaning frustrated, angry, sometimes used to describe a horse snorting) Why? No easy answer.

If Jesus reveals to us the invisible God, what does Jesus show us here about God? Where do you see yourself in the story?

Jesus waited. Scripture uses the word remained, which gives the waiting an intentionality. Lazarus was dead for four, long days. All hope was lost. But everything is possible with God, right? As we heard in Paul’s letter to the Romans a couple weeks ago, “…hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts…” (5:5). It was for the glory of God. God’s time is not our time. What wonderful things may lie in wait for you if you hope in the glory of the Lord?

Martha is worried about the stench in the cave when Jesus approaches (as, of course, Martha would!). And don’t we sometimes get stuck in the details of life instead of the bigger picture? Jesus waves her off and focuses on why he is there, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” Jesus is not afraid to come to our stinky, dark places and breathe new life into us! And actually, Jesus does not go into the cave but calls Lazarus out. Jesus calls us OUT of ourselves. And he calls others IN to help Lazarus with the bandages. We need the support of our community to jump in and be there with us. Jesus is in the midst of it all. Do you see yourself in this? Our church?

From Exploring the Sunday Readings, March 2002:

John 11: 1-45 – “This illness is not to end in death . . .”

Jesus said the illness would not end in death, but it did. Lazarus died. And so have our friends and loved ones over the years, some of them great believers in the promises of Jesus. We’ve all known people who’ve prayed and prayed that the cancer would go away, or the doctors would find a cure for their condition in time. Sometimes it doesn’t, or they don’t. And it hurts terribly, for the ones who have to let go of the life they know, the ones who have to say goodbye too soon.

Lazarus dies, and his family grieves. Even Jesus weeps at the loss. But then, Lazarus is called out of death to life! And now we hear what Jesus really said: not that Lazarus wouldn’t die, but that death would not be the end of him. Death wins the battle, but love wins the war. So we believe. So we profess.

Human suffering is a mystery we must live with and in – it is a part of everyone’s life eventually. As we head toward Holy Week, it is important to think about how as Christians we view this. What does the cross of Christ tells us about suffering? The cross does not really tell us the why of suffering, but it offers us instead the where of God’s sharing in it. When we suffer, God is in the midst of our suffering. Emmanuel, God-with-us, is also Christ on the cross, God-who-suffers-with-us.

Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are our guarantee that when we reach the limits of our mortality in failure, loss, and pain, we find ourselves on the surprising road to resurrection.   (Today’s Parish, Lent 1996, p.22)

Let us pray…

Come out,” says Jesus,

from the tomb of self-sufficiency wherein you do not admit your need for God and for one another.

“Come out,” says Jesus,

from the tomb of preoccupation with yourself and open your eyes to the needs of others.

“Come out,” says Jesus,

from the tomb of excessive busyness; take time to think, to listen, to be quiet and to pray.

“Come out,” says Jesus,

from the tomb of self-imposed obligations; untie yourself from the unimportant, the fleeting and the material so as to be free to experience the essential, the eternal and the spiritual.

“Come out,” says Jesus,

from the tomb dug deep by apathy and ignorance and be newly awakened and sensitive to the plight of the poor, the oppressed.

“Come out,” says Jesus,

from the tomb of hopelessness and skepticism and be renewed in the knowledge that you are mine, I am yours and we are God’s.

“Come out,” says Jesus,

from the tomb of needless worry and undue anxiety. Know the love of a devoted God. Find courage and freedom here.

“Come out,” says Jesus,

from the tomb of sin and guilt and grief. Know the truth of forgiveness — received and given.

“Come out,” says Jesus,

from the tomb of death and share God’s eternal life and forever love. Amen.

Commentary on the 2nd Scrutiny (Gospel for this Sunday, cycle A)

4th Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

Let us pray:
Lord, there are none so blind as those who will not see.

Open our eyes to your wisdom and goodness.

We bring you our cowardice and fear; bring us your Spirit of service and care.

Shine your light, Lord, upon us – so it may shine out of us to others.

Anoint us, Jesus, with the ‘mud-paste’ of your love:

Let us not be blind to the beauty around and within all that is.

Light up every sorry place – and every wonderful face – with your grace.

With your help. Lord, we will not be hindered by the Christian message

from improving the world, but, on the contrary,

we are bound [and empowered] to do just that. AMEN

*from the Vatican II document, The Church in the Modern World, #34, translated by Bill Huebsch, Vatican II in Plain English: The Constitutions, p.150.

The Gospel — John 9: 1-41

In John’s gospel ‘miracle stories’ are never simple and are never called miracles. They are SIGNS that reveal Jesus. What do you make of this sign or teaching? What do you make of the mud/saliva paste?

e.e.cummings wrote a poem on spring; he called it ‘mud-luscious.’

Jesus spits – he mixes this part of himself with the clay of the earth. (Spit, saliva, in Jesus’ day was thought to have healing properties; it actually does.) He then smears (the Greek word used means anointing) the man’s eyes with this paste and tells him to go and wash. Ordinary, even crude, elements become ways for Jesus to work. This is the essence of our sacraments.

From Celebrations, March 10, 2002:

We are to be like this mud-paste; Jesus mixes into our ‘earthiness’ the healing substance of himself. We are to be people molded by Christ’s truth, transformed by his words. As this ‘mud-paste’ we are to be helping to ‘heal’ the world by being in it: we are ointment not pipelines. We help others to see Jesus more by how we are and how we live than by what we pass along.

The word Siloam means ‘Sent’ – so does the word apostle. Sacraments are ‘signs’ – rituals – that send us forth; every Mass also ends with a sending forth . . . What does it mean to you to be sent?

The story is about the struggle to see –what does this mean? Have you ever struggled to see?

At first, the blind man only knew Jesus as a man, then as a prophet; at the end he calls him, Lord – a beautiful growth in faith . . .What did knowing Jesus as Lord ‘cost’ the man? What does it cost you?

From Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu :

The original story in this gospel might have simply been about how a man was born blind and was healed by Jesus. This story was then later expanded due to the suffering and needs of the community for which John was writing. He was taking an experience of Jesus and applying it to the present situation. Isn’t that how the Spirit of the Risen Lord usually works? So John’s gospel has a trial and expulsion from the synagogue of Jewish converts to Christianity. This did not happen in Jesus’ day, but it did happen to those of John’s community. For this community to live through this very difficult time, Jesus must be seen and accepted as the true Light of the World that can help them overcome the darkness in which they were living. The washing in the pool of Siloam also suggests a further connection with baptism since the early Church often called baptism an ‘illumination” (photismos).(Also, from Celebration, March 10, 2002)

From John Foley, S.J. “Spirituality of the Readings,” http://liturgy.slu.edu :

Why is this reading presented during Lent? Because it is pointing to the even greater healing that Easter offers us. We need to prepare for this. Jesus himself will suffer from the blindness of the world and will die because of the blindness of evil. Jesus will descend into the unseeing darkness of mortality, death, and by doing this he will show that love – God’s love –is stronger than death. By his death the world can be healed of its hatred, fear, insecurity; it can finally, once and for all, be assured of God’s love and power to bring good out of even the worst of evils. For, it is the crucified One who is the Risen One. We need to admit that we are like this blind man; we cannot see very well. Our eyes need to be opened. Due to Jesus, we can begin to glimpse and trust God’s answer to blindness, suffering, and sin.

Martin Luther Kin Jr. says, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Helen Keller was blind and deaf. Her teacher Anne Sullivan signed the word ‘water’ as she pumped from the well. It was in that moment that Helen had comprehension that words stood for things. She says, “She (Sullivan) awakened in me a long forgotten memory…the realization of that word…the touch of the water called my soul to life…she brought me into the light again.”

Some thought from Henri Nouwen in Here and Now:

. “…pain can be embraced, not out of a desire to suffer, but in the knowledge that something new will be born in the pain, “ (p. 47)

“What really counts is our willingness to let the immense sufferings of our brothers and sisters free us from all arrogance and from all judgments and condemnations and give us a heart as gentle and humble as the heart of Jesus, “ (p. 78).

Let us pray:  

O Lord of life,

touch our hearts and minds

with the light to seek after Light.

We grow too use to the comfort

of our lies, our shadows and our masks.

Make us uncomfortable

with all that does not lead us to You.

Fill us with the grace of your courage

so that our very lives

will testify to the truth of your love. Amen.

1st Scrutiny: The Woman at the Well (John 4: 5-42)

“God thirsts for us so that we may thirst for God.”  ~St Augustine

Opening Prayer:

Lord, giver of living water,

Quench my thirst.

Open my heart and fill me with your presence.

Give me a bucket so I may draw from the well of You.

Help me share this water with others

just be being the person you made me to be.

Open my ears to what you are trying to teach me

through the Samaritan woman.  AMEN

A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to John ( 4: 5-42).

What does water mean to you?  Think about a time when you have been very thirsty . . .Jesus is the one who can give us the living water that can soften our hard hearts.  How can our experience of water speak to us about the life Jesus offers us?

+What do you make of the setting – a well at noon, and this well is not the local well, but one that is ½ mile away?

+Jesus is thirsty – he is human and in need.  Perhaps the human Jesus also speaks to us of God’s thirst as he begins an encounter with this woman.  For what or whom do you think the God-in-Jesus ‘thirsts’?

+This story was a very important one for early Christians – especially as they prepared people for baptism.

What does it say to you about faith and baptism?

This woman appears to be a moral outcast for she is not comfortable going to the well in her village of Sychar. She is even not comfortable going to this one except at noon, during the heat of the day when she thinks that no one else will be there. The conversation that John gives us must have been only a brief report of a much longer encounter with Jesus. But however it took place, it seems that here this woman (this outsider) has found someone with kindness in his eyes; to this one she could open her heart. In this story we see three characteristics of Jesus:

  • his humanity
  • his warmth and compassion
  • his ability and courage to breakdown barriers.

Jesus is weary and thirsty and exhausted – yet he does not mind reaching out to this woman – and even letting this woman help him. She seems to sense his compassion and care, for she finds it easy to talk with him once she overcomes the shock that he reaches out to her. But besides being a Samaritan, this one is also a woman. Most Rabbis’ in Jesus’ day would not even talk with their own wife or daughter in public, much less a stranger and one with a notorious character. (Pharisees were often called ‘the bruised and bleeding’ ones because when they saw a woman on the street they would close their eyes which often led them to bump into walls or trip over stones!) (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of John, vol.1, p. 147-164)

Although this is the year of Matthew, we will hear from John’s gospel for the next three weeks.  Matthew’s gospel was probably written by and for Jewish Christians who were trying to integrate their belief in Jesus with their Jewish traditions and beliefs. John’s gospel was written at the end of the first century when many Christians had faced intense persecution and were disappointed that Jesus had not returned in the Second Coming. In this faith crisis, they asked “Where is the Risen Christ?” John’s gospel tried to help them see that the Risen Christ is right in their midst – if they could but see! John uses a different type of writing from the other gospels. He wanted to encourage people to think allegorically – to see more than one level of meaning in what he is saying. So he often ‘plays’ on double meanings of words: being born again – water and thirst – light and darkness – food, bread and hunger – sight and blindness – life and death . .  .    (Share the Word, March, 1999)

The Samaritans were a people who, like the Jews, awaited a Messiah; they looked for a teacher rather than a ruler.  They had once been a part of the Jewish people, but now they were shunned. When they had been conquered, they chose to intermarry. They were seen as unclean. When after the Jewish Exile, they had offered to help the Jews rebuild the temple, they were rejected. Hatred grew on both sides. Sometimes the Samaritans worked with the enemies of the Jews. During their separation from the Jews, the Samaritans worshipped the idols of the pagans with whom they had intermarried.  The Samaritans had five false gods (the Samaritan woman had five husbands). They even built a rival temple on Mt. Gerizim. In 128 B.C. Jews had retaliated by destroying this temple. Both Jews and Samaritans had great hostility toward each other — their hearts were hardened. In this story Jesus challenges us to overcome such hardness.    (Celebration, Feb. 2005)

Notice that the Samaritan woman names Jesus the Messiah when she goes into the city.  Once the disciples caught up with Jesus, they call him Rabbi.  Perhaps they are not ready to see Jesus as the Savior like she is.  Think about people in your own life that you see all the time and yet may not really SEE them.  Yet the Samaritan woman does see.  She experiences conversion.  Hear what Jesus says.  Some people imagine eternal life as a future reality, too shadowy to have any real meaning.  Jesus is speaking of something quite different, something that is already beginning now.  He also calls the Samaritan woman to an authentic, personal encounter.  He asks her to believe HIM, not simply his words.  She most likely had plenty of relationships, but no true encounters up to this point in her life  (Gittins, A., Encountering Jesus, p. 110-113).

Here Jesus is also ‘breaking down ’gender barriers.’ This person not only comes ‘to know Jesus’ as a prophet and the Messiah, but she goes forth – leaving behind her water jug – to invite others to come and know Jesus.  She acts like an apostle. She illustrates what we are all called to do by our baptism. She is not even deterred by the ‘shameful parts’ of her life – nor is Jesus. It seems that John’s gospel is confirming women’s roles as important ones. (The Cultural World of Jesus Cycle A, John Pilch, 56)

Reflection Questions

Consider what the Woman at the Well might teach us about faith.

1. Define “faith” in a word or phrase that comes to mind.
2. Where are you today in your faith relationship with God?
3. What obstacles hold us back from responding to God’s gift of faith?

Wants, Needs and Love

Fr. Bob’s homily 1st Sunday Lent A

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1st Sunday of Lent A
Let’s talk about Monothelitism, everyone’s favorite ninth century heresy. Monotheletes believed that Jesus had one will while the Church believed and believes that he had both a human and divine will that co-existed. That might not seem like a big deal, but it is absolutely essential that we know that Jesus had a human will – that he indeed experienced the same emotions, desires and challenges we face. 0therwise, when we hear a story about temptation, we might think Jesus just “Godded” himself out of difficulties.
I have been thinking about this week when I asked myself what was the difference between Adam and Eve’s failure to resist temptation and Jesus’ success. I feel badly for Eve in the story of the fall because she is matching wits with the serpent, a master manipulator who already knows her vulnerabilities and uses every tool in the…

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Commentary on 2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

1st Readings: Genesis 12: 1-4

Abram was 75 when he heard God’s call to “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk.”  He gathered his family and things and ‘hit the road.’ Much would happen after this: the great famine, the sharing of bread and wine with Melchizedek, the birth of his son, Ishmael from his slave woman, his pleading on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the tragedy of Lot and his wife. It would take 25 years more for the promised covenant even to take shape. He would be 100 when his wife’s name would change and still later when he would finally hold his son, Isaac. It is sort of an epic story of the one called God’s friend who would listen and trust, bargain and plead with this God. This is the great hike of hope that should inspire all of us as we tread this earthly road. We, too, need to trust in the ‘slow work of God.’ There is no need to rush it all. God’s love is a forever thing. (John Kavanaugh, http://liturgy.slu.edu )

“All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.”  What a beautiful thing to say about a person.  What does that really mean?  Who in your life brings you blessing?  How do you bless others by what you do?

2nd Reading — 2 Timothy 1: 8b-10

This is one of the Pastoral Letters. It is concerned for the care of new communities and their leadership. They were probably written toward the end of the 1st century by a Pauline disciple who wished to ‘keep Paul alive’ by using Paul’s words and his life story. The reading is meant to encourage the reader to live and act in hope that comes from their faith in Jesus. Hope is not a passive thing. Augustine said that hope has two beautiful daughters: anger at things that are wrong and courage to make them right. Our hope does ultimately rely on God, but it also depends on our own honest efforts. Hope should draw us forward by its allure. Hope does not push us, it pulls.  Vaclav Havel, philosopher and leader in the Czech republic, says that hope “is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.” Let us listen to Jesus and find in that listening a faith and hope in the love of God that is forever with us.  (Celebration, 2/99, 05)

What are some ‘hardships’ that we are called to bear to bring the good news (the gospel) of God’s love to others?

The Gospel – Matthew 17: 1-9

Mountaintops have often been symbols for peak spiritual experiences. Moses, the freeing lawgiver, and Elijah, the wonder-working prophet, met God on Mt. Sinai or Mt. Horeb (two names for the same mountain). At Sinai the Hebrew people had been wanderers who lived in tents. A tent became the Ark of the Covenant, a symbol of God’s sheltering presence in the wilderness.  As they traveled, God went with them, a cloud by day and fire by night (Exodus 40).  The booths that Peter wants to build symbolize this sheltering presence of God.  (Sunday by Sunday, 2/28/99 from http://www.goodgroundpress.com )

Is your experience of God’s presence this Lent more like a mountaintop or a journey through a valley – or desert – a cloud?  What does it mean to you to have God’s favor rest on Jesus – on us?  After the ‘vision’ of Jesus shining like the sun, they heard these words:  “This is my beloved Son with who I am well pleased; listen to him.”  These words were also spoken at Jesus’ baptism.

After this awe-inspiring experience, Jesus comes to them, touches them and says:  “Rise, and do not be afraid.” Then they saw no one, “but Jesus alone.”  As soon as they come down the mountain with Jesus, they are faced with a young boy in need of healing. This follows with another mention of the coming suffering. What do you make of this?

All of Lent is about either preparing for baptism or learning to live our baptism more fully. We are called to listen to Jesus – to journey with our God – to grow in holiness. All of this will mean a share in God’s glory – God’s own life, but it will also mean an embrace of suffering. God’s presence can help us with real life, but it does not deny it.

Remember, Peter, James and John not only experience the mountain top with Jesus and the glory of God’s presence-in-him, but they are also the ones who were called to be close to him in the garden of Gethsemane. Both the glory and the suffering are necessary parts of Jesus’ message of love salvation. Both messages are meant to be ours as we heed the voice of God and listen to Jesus. (Celebration, Feb. 2005)

Have you ever experienced a transfiguration? Have you ever seen a plain girl become a radiant beauty when she is seen through the eyes of love? Have you ever seen a timid, ordinary person become a ‘lion’, a hero, when someone was in need of help?  Have you ever met someone who appeared to be rather ordinary only to discover how extraordinary they really are? Have you ever felt tired, discouraged, and alone only to quietly, but deeply begin to feel God’s presence and care? Afterwards, you can’t really doubt that it was from God, even though you may still not understand it. These experiences may help us to understand a little better the gospel experience, (J Foley, S.J.  http://liturgy.slu.edu ).