Friday, 26 May 2017
Before starting reflections on the above, the final verses of chapter 2:23-25:
While He was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in His name when they saw the signs He was doing. But Jesus would not trust Himself to them because He knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He Himself understood it well.
Once again St. John is pointing at the critical event towards which Jesus is heading, Passover, the final one Jesus will celebrate on earth and which will usher in His Passion, Death and Resurrection.
Pointedly as well the last line: He Himself understood it well, speaks volumes about the observational lived experience of Jesus’ some thirty years of hidden life among us.
Jesus’ understanding us well is exemplified by the intensity of His compassion.
Indeed, Jesus understands us so well that if we do not know Jesus we will remain incomprehensible to our very self.
The attraction of various self-help books, gurus, other religions, facial creams, gyms and the plethora of gizmos for sale promising the perfect body, cosmetic surgery, cults etc., even the plastering of tattoos on the body, all these ultimately are coming from a desperate need to find self.
Be since we have been created by love Himself, in His image and likeness, we cannot find the real, the true self, outside of intimate communion with Him.
The sooner we become exhausted by alternatives and turn towards Him our faces will be radiant with the recognition we seek for we shall see ourselves in the only mirror which does not invert the image, not distort – the mirror of His loving eyes gazing upon us!
3:1-2: Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night………..
In his novel THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, Dostoevsky has a chapter, entitled The Grand Inquisitor, which some commentators see as a mockery of the Roman Catholic Church, but given the unfortunate reality that all Christendom, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, has across the millennia produced numerous saints and martyrs, likewise, given it is human beings who make up the Body of Christ on earth, there have been, are, always will be those, both clergy and laity, within Christianity, who take advantage to feather their own nests with power, close mindedness, and all the other vices in opposition to authentic, Gospel rooted, imitation of Christ’s holiness: it is not a bad thing to have the sins, failures, compromises of Christians exposed. It should be occasion of re-conversion!
Ultimately the character Ivan seeks to explain his poem, The Grand Inquisitor, a poem which shows the Cardinal Inquisitor, having Christ, who has returned and once more is loving, healing, affirming people: arrested.
The Cardinal comes at night to visit Jesus in His cell.
The dialogue between the two is fascinating, a type of exegesis of the temptation of Jesus in the desert, which the Cardinal asserts throughout it is really all about Christ giving us choice, that is free will: and a big mistake.
The real power of the ‘poem’ comes at the end when, the Grand Inquisitor having finished not merely challenging but indicting Christ, Christ in silence approaches, and gently kisses the old man.
Instantly Christ is set free but is told never to return.
Nicodemus, being a Pharisee, may well have been of the ilk of the Inquisitor, certainly he too approaches Christ at night and he too will challenge, coming close to indicting Christ, but the outcome is very different indeed!
v. 1-2, cont.:…..and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.”
Like as not Nicodemus is not doing so here, but there are echoes in the way he speaks, of what many of the enemies of Jesus will do throughout His life, namely, make statements or ask questions which are, in essence, traps guised as sincere enquiry.
While addressing Jesus with the honorific ‘rabbi’ and declaring Jesus to be a teacher who ‘has come from God’, neither Nicodemus, nor St. John the evangelist, identify the ‘we’ in: ‘we know that’.
It may well be that Nicodemus has just come from some meeting of the leading Pharisees where the issue of Jesus has been discussed, perhaps in such a way that Nicodemus’ curiosity has been peeked.
v.3=Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
It is striking that Jesus at first glance does not appear to be telling Nicodemus directly by asserting, for example, that He, Jesus, has indeed come from God and that God is indeed with Him.
However, looked at more closely that is what Jesus is asserting for implied in His statement is indeed a pointing towards His Incarnation.
v. 4= Nicodemus replies immediately with a question that contains within it a challenge: Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot re-enter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?”
When people express to me a struggle with faith and prayer I remind them that God who is Love, precisely because He loves us, as Jesus does here, welcomes our need to question, to challenge, to express whatever we struggle with or pains us.
We have the example of Abraham in Genesis 18 arguing with God so that some from Sodom and Gomorrah might be spared, the tenderness of Jesus Risen walking with, listening to the painful confusion of the disciples on the road to Emmaus and taking the time to explain to them the truth of what has happened as St. Luke [24:13ff] tells us.
Here too in Nicodemus’ question we see something else which is very important, namely questioning which comes out of a search for faith, for truth, for the One we seek, for as St. Augustine reminds us every human being is restless until we have communion of love and rest within Love Himself.
It behooves us then as Christians to have attentive, patient, compassionate hearts and when someone expresses an opinion or asks a question about matters of faith NOT to be in a rush to convince or win some argument but to truly hear and reply with the same compassionate and gentle patience as shown by Jesus both to Nicodemus and the Emmaus disciples.
Vs. 5-8= Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Jesus is giving a teaching on Baptism.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that: Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit…..the door which gives access to the other sacraments……….it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which ‘ no one can enter the kingdom of God.’ 
v.9= Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can this happen?”
That this visit and conversation with Jesus occurs long before the post-Pentecost teaching of the Apostles Nicodemus’ question is quite reasonable. Yet Jesus challenges Nicodemus because after all Nicodemus is a learned man of faith:
v. 10= Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this?
Then, reminiscent of the encounter and conversation between Jesus risen, with the disciples on the road to Emmaus [cf. Lk. 24:13ff], immediately Jesus gives a fulsome teaching:
vs. 11/12=Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
It can be stated that in this dialogue Nicodemus is speaking as the voice of Judaism while Jesus, when He states, “we speak”; “we know”; “we testify”; “we have seen”; “our testimony” this reveals His intimate union with the Father and it can be added, since St. John is writing in the early years of the Church the ‘we’ is also the voice of Christianity.
The parables Jesus uses to teach are replete with stories which concern earthly things and are used to lead into the things of heaven, such as are found in the Synoptic Gospels but not in St. John, who focuses on the teachings of Jesus in a detail of words. Thus in meditating upon the Holy Gospel according to St. John it is critical to take time with the words because unlike in the synoptics there are not easy ‘stories’ to tell as gateway to the teaching.
vss. 13-15= No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.”
Being a man of faith and scholarship Nicodemus would realize immediately Jesus is revealing that He Himself is the cure for all that sickens humanity. While in the desert, all the Chosen People had to look upon a representation of the very snakes that were sickening them, so the healing promised by God might take place. That healing was only for those physically sickened by a snake bite and had no extension to the inner healing all human beings need.
Perhaps Nicodemus did not fully grasp things, yet maybe listening to Jesus, his heart, like the hearts of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, was already burning within him.
Saying He Himself must be lifted up Jesus is beginning to reveal what He further details: vs. 16-17= For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
As mentioned, in the desert the people were only healed from a snake bite.
Jesus heals the sickness of sin and the poison of death.
If we return to Nicodemus’ opening question how astonished he must have been by the depth and clarity of Jesus’ teaching. Perhaps Nicodemus was already rediscovering in his mind and heart everything contained in the Hebrew Scripture about the Messiah.
While intellectually we can understand love and giving as in “….God so loved the world that He gave…” only our hearts are able to open to the fullness of the immensity of the Father’s love for us in giving His only Son for us, a gift which contains within the life, passion, death, resurrection, ascension of Jesus and Jesus’ constant intercession for us at the right hand of the Father.
We have also here the profound teaching on mercy: “…God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
Divine Mercy is personified in the crucified and risen Jesus and more than two millennia after this conversation with Nicodemus, Pope St. John Paul II would declare the Second Sunday of Holy Easter Mercy Sunday.
Jesus continues teaching v.18= Whoever believes in Him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Over the centuries since Moses came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, a simple enough code for holiness, as our Jewish Brothers and Sisters became settled in the promised land and groups like the Pharisees, to which Nicodemus belonged, the Sadducees, and some Rabbi’s kept piling on every more burdensome regulation until achieving holiness of life either through daily living or religious practice became nigh impossible.
Christianity has faced, does face, the same temptation and struggle, namely to bury the simplicity and clarity of, for example how to follow the Great Commandment to love one another, under similar burdens, as Christ was constantly criticizing the religious leaders of His day for doing.
Certainly, the valid celebration of sacraments requires rubrics, but post the Council of Trent, particularly when Latin was no longer the common language, insistence on Latin as the ONLY liturgical language was burdensome and frankly dumb. It would take the Vatican Council, called by St. John XXIII, who was always a priest of the people, to open the richness and transcendence of liturgy to all people, whatever their language.
It may well have shocked Nicodemus that Jesus was asserting holiness of life has faith as its foundation and praxis, not following a bunch of rules!
True faith leads to fulfillment of the Gospel, lived without compromise, to communal participation in sacramental/liturgical life.
v.19= And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.
These words of Jesus echo the Prologue: And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. [Jn.1:5]
Much later Jesus would declare: “I am the light of the world…..” [Jn.8:12ff]
We speak these days of ‘dark’ money in politics and of the ‘dark’ web, indeed people of faith understand we live in a culture of darkness and death.
Paradoxically, given the number of major cities and towns across the globe we seem both addicted to dark places and fearful of them at the same time and so intensely illuminate our cities that we refer to such illumination as ‘light pollution!’
v.20= For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.
Even post-baptism we Christians can choose to reject the Light of Christ poured into us. We do this by choosing sin, by rejecting the gift of faith.
We can also choose to live and move, to act and love always within the divine gift of light.
Borrowing from the stories of the Fathers of the Desert, in his book, Circling the Sun, Robert Pelton teaches this, first re-telling a story about two fathers of the desert: One day Father Lot went to Fr. Joseph and told him, “As far as I can, I keep my rule. I eat little, I pray and am silent, I work with my hands and share my bread with the poor. As best I can, I strive to purify my heart. What else should I do?” Then Father Joseph stood up and stretched out his arms, and from his fingers shot tongues of fire. “If you want,” he said, “you can become a living flame.” [op. cit. p.122]
Pelton comments: To become a living flame: that is the Gospel proclaimed by Jesus the Master. That is what He Himself is, the blazing sun who lights the whole world. [ibid.]
v. 21= But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.
Friday, 17 February 2017
Strange what thoughts, images, can be triggered by sound – or perhaps not so strange given we human beings are gifted with hearing and with sight, touch, memory, imagination!
As I was about to begin this meditation on the rest of St. John’s account of the cleansing of the Temple, bells for the noon Angelus began ringing from the nearby parish. I was taken back to my childhood, long before Vatican II, when churches were open 24/7, the bells rang not just three times daily for the Angelus, but also to summon people to Holy Mass, during the elevations at the consecration, peeling joyously at Christmas and Easter, singing out the news of His birth, His resurrection, yes tolling mournfully at funerals but peeling with joy at weddings.
Churches were adorned with stained glass windows, statues of saints, bells were rung by altar boys at various points during the Canon of the Mass, beautiful were the vestments worn, Benediction, Forty Hours devotion, processions such as at Corpus Christi, communal praying of the Rosary, and yes incense was used reminding us that our prayer does indeed rise to heaven.
Bishops, priests, religious brothers and sisters were all visible in clerical dress and various coloured habits, thus making, to borrow from Pope Francis, the field hospital of the Church visible so all can find Her and have refuge in Her and be well served.
But after Vatican II the temple of the Church, in chanceries and rectories, in seminaries, convents, monasteries, religious houses, indeed within the sacred space of liturgy, a type of money changers and sellers of not just doves but worldly philosophies and panderers of ‘my rights’ trumping everyone else’s began to crowd in – so bells were silenced, often by suddenly hyper-sensitive neighbours or sometimes local politicians with their ordinances, pressure was put on priests to not use incense because someone was allergic, etc., etc., and little by little the transcendence of liturgy, indeed of the interior space of churches – for gutting occurred and statues disappeared, vestments became bland, clergy and religious abandoned their colourful habits for street clothes and the church, the Body of Christ among the human family became if not increasingly invisible, certainly a harder to find reality.
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. [Col. 2:8]
We have allowed ourselves to be taken captive and the unborn, the homeless, the elderly, the sick, the lonely, the stressed families, the seekers of Christ suffer mightily as a result.
There are many other ‘temples’ in our lives for we dwell within the temple of the cosmos on the sacred space of earth, itself a type of temple with its own moneychangers and sellers causing damage to the environment, exploiting the poor and workers, waging wars of terrorism with violence, or hatred, discrimination, and then there is all the chaos, and for some countries the corruption, of politics; there is the temple of our particular nation, city, village, family and primary among them all: the temple of our own personhood and body.
It is within the temple of self, the ‘I’ of our being, within which the, as it were ‘holy of holies’ is the garden enclosed within our soul: the point, the place of encounter and dialogue with Love Himself who has created us to be beloved.
Here, within the sacred space of our soul, our heart, our zeal for cleansing any temple must first begin, otherwise we will run off with a misguided self-righteousness disguised as zeal to cleanse other temples, when actually what we are doing is flight from self, from the truth or our own need for ever deeper cleansing of heart and soul.
This is part of responding to Jesus’ call that we become perfect as our Heavenly Father [cf. Mt.5:48] itself part of the great template for fullness of baptismal life found in the Sermon on the Mount.
Such cleansing/purification is offered by the Holy Spirit as the grace of metanoia/conversion of heart.
To repeat a pivotal verse: He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves He said, “Take these out of here, and stop making My Father’s house a marketplace.” [15/16]
Recalling the account of the Woman Caught in Adultery, and Jesus’ compassion and declaring to the self-righteously zealous mob that they might exercise their furious zeal once the one ‘without sin’ cast the first stone [ cf. Jn.8:1-11] until we too achieve such purity of heart our zeal to cleanse the temples of society, government, etc., etc., must be tempered with discernment and authentic charity.
v. 17 - His disciples recalled the words of scripture, “ Zeal for your house will consume me.”
For us this zeal must be the very fire Christ brings to us with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, for it is the very fire of the Great Commandment to love one another as Jesus loves us. [cf. Lk. 12:49 & Jn. 15:12]
There are deep levels contained in Jesus’ word “….stop making My Father’s house a marketplace.”, which apply to our own lives before we can apply them to the Church, society, anyone else.
Yesterday I saw a young woman on the bus whose arms were marked with scars familiar to anyone who knows someone who self-harms. Sometimes it is simply heartbreaking to see what emotional damage, or addiction, abuse, does to the ‘temple’, the personhood of a fellow human being.
Here we can cleanse the temple before us by love and prayer and likewise pray intently for those who skills and vocation it is to help those among us who suffer mental, emotional, addiction problems, are victims of any form of abuse, discrimination, rejection, homelessness.
At the same time we need to ask why so many fill the temple of our beings interiorly with the marketplace of ‘words’ of the world, the culture of death and darkness, rather than daily with the life-giving words of the Sacred Scriptures, especially the Holy Gospel; we must too stop making our Father’s house of our being a marketplace of overindulgence, materialism, tattoos of unholy images, etc.
V.17 - His disciples recalled the words of scripture, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Interiorizing this zeal will motivate greater charity towards self and others, confident prayer for our own and the conversion of the entire human family, recalling the confidence of the Psalmist: May my prayer be set before You like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. [ Ps. 141:2]
Vs. 18-23 - At this the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign can You show us for doing this?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and You will raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking about the temple of His body. Therefore, when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this, and they came to believe the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.
Here we have the crux of the matter, the point of the event in the external Temple of stone, for consistently St. John points both to the Cross, the crucifixion of Jesus and to Jesus’ Resurrection.
We can empathize with the disciples who followed Jesus throughout the three years of His public life, listened to His teachings, observed His power healing the sick, feeding the thousands, yet without fully understanding.
St. John himself, one of the very group of the disciples chosen indeed to be an apostle, here admits much remained as mystery until Jesus rose from the dead.
It is very important then that always when we meditate upon any passage of the Gospel we should always do so through the lens of Christ’s Resurrection.
Thursday, 26 January 2017
These past many months since I posted a new section of the commentary have been marked by a seeming unending series of deaths: of close priest friends, my mother, other friends, countless innocents murdered by Islamic extremists, and a certain profound experience of deja vue, circa the 1930’s as Western leaders seem as wimpy appeasers in the face of the blood-lust of ISIS and other extremists.
All the above weighed heavily upon my heart and occupied much of my time with intercessory prayer, especially Holy Mass.
All this in the Jubilee of Mercy, in the past year with renewed awareness of the Triduum, the days of redemption, mercy, triumph of life over death, love over hatred, mercy over vengeance.
[I had gotten only that far in the original notes when both for myself and accompanying others there were unexpected trips to emergency – my own health is okay now – and then where I had been living the place was becoming unliveable, the area increasingly dangerous for someone my age. My family found a place for me, helped with the move, and all that occurred just before Christmas and New Year’s. Only now, post all that am I settled in and able to resume these meditations and other writings.]
While continuing, helped by the Holy Spirit, taken by St. John, to seek to embrace ever more fully the Holy Gospel, I have been praying intently, daily for the conversion of all to Jesus, for we in the west, in Christianity, Judaism, other religions, have our own histories of hatred, violence, division.
We all need to repent, we all need in Christ to begin again, we all need to preach and live the Gospel of Life or there shall come crashing down upon us a catastrophe beyond imagining.
We need to learn in the very core of our beings, embrace and live out Christ’s own call to us to: “…learn from Me and become meek and humble of heart…” [cf. Mt. 11:29].
As the west, and so called Christendom in particular, goes ever more down the rabbit hole of abortion, euthanasia, gay ‘marriage’ and other contra-natural and divine law disorders, our prayer for an end to hatred, violence, chaos, is weakened.
Our baptized hearts must be quickened anew with the fullness of the light, truth, life of the Holy Gospel and as true imitators of and witnesses to Christ, even if the enemies of Christianity are not converted, we will be granted strength to be ‘white’ martyrs in our daily lives of courage and integrity unless or until called to be ‘red’ martyrs, such as the four nuns murdered by ISIS, the innocents slaughtered in Brussels and in other places, especially in the countries of the Middle East, for the majority of our Muslim brothers and sisters are among the innocents.
It is difficult not to hate an entire people or religion because of the evil mentality and actions of some who, claiming to be doing God’s will are in fact following satan and doing his bidding.
No matter our emotional reaction however we must choose in our hearts, like Christ, to forgive our enemies and do good to those who hate us. [cf. Mt. 5:44]
This is not an option for Christians.
It IS an imperative.
It seems appropriate then to be meditating upon the cleansing of the Temple within the context of my own, yours, every human heart needing to be cleansed of all that is not truly of God, of Jesus our Redeemer and His Holy Gospel.
St. Matthew in 21:12,13; St. Mark in 11:15-17; St. Luke in 19:45,46 all record the cleansing, purifying of the Temple in just two verses each.
St. John who of all the sacred writers records the words of Jesus at greatest length here describes the event in the Temple with ten verses.
While the Synoptic accounts record this event at the end of Christ’s teaching and performing miracles prior to His Passion, St. John places this at the beginning of Christ’s public ministry.
The import of both ‘placings’ point to the words of the Lord in Revelation 21:5 where He tells us to Behold, I make all things new.
Even though the physical temple in Jerusalem is purified, the ultimate temple is Christ’s own body. After His death and resurrection the place of worship will no longer be the temple in Jerusalem but the living, mystical body of Christ, the Church on earth. No longer will animals be offered in sacrifice as worship, intercession, for forgiveness of sins but Christ Himself, the true Lamb of God, will offer Himself in sacrifice on Calvary, a sacrifice renewed in every Holy Mass.
There is a continuation from Cana, which has preceded the Temple event, itself a symbol of the making new of Holy Marriage, of the relationship between trusting Jesus and doing whatever He tells us, between the mystery of Christ the Bridegroom, the Church, each baptized soul as His bride, the movement of the disciples to belief in Christ, a belief which will be tested especially at the time of Jesus’ arrest, execution, burial, but which will come to fullness when they encounter the risen Jesus.
v.13 – Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Passover is not only a most sacred event, sacred memorial for our elder brothers and sisters in the faith, but is central to the intervention of God in the life of the Chosen People, in salvation history. The lamb used in the feast is a pre-figuration of the Paschal Lamb Himself, Jesus our Lord, true God and true man, the real unblemished Lamb of God.
Like all faithful Jews, from childhood Jesus would have participated in the Passover and now He does so again and having gone up to Jerusalem enters the temple –v.14 – And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business.
Having participated as a priest at World Youth Day and other visits to this country of St. John Paul II, I am more understanding of the temple chaos!
I remember one event when while the crowds were awaiting the arrival of St. John Paul hawkers walked among the crowd selling snacks, soft drinks, balloons, souvenirs and down behind the elevated altar, in front of rows of portable toilets, doing a brisk business, were, literally, money changer booths where visitors could exchange their currency for dollars!
It is precisely because Jesus found the chaos and cacophony, the selling and money changing, with all the shouting and disrespect for the sacred space, and disturbance of liturgy and private prayer caused by the chaos - and surely we can see here something deeply emblematic of the chaos we choose within the sacred precincts of the temple of our own bodies and souls – that v.15- When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers money and overturned the tables.
Some scholars and pundits from the pulpit have tried to use the above to justify a type of so-called Christian righteous anger.
This is a deeply flawed understanding not only of the text but of Jesus Himself.
As Christians we must use love’s imagination when confronted with chaos, injustice, even hatred and violence without resorting to any form of verbal or actual destructive, violent action.
If we were as holy as Jesus, if our hearts were as pure as His, if we were indeed like Jesus complete masters of our emotions and our hearts……but we are not.
We are wounded, highly emotional sinners, called to love one another, turn the other cheek, do good to those who persecute us and pray for our enemies.
That is enough of a daily challenge, the cleansing of the temple of our own beings.
Perhaps, and I stress perhaps, when we have utterly accomplished that we may be holy enough to cleanse some other temple.
But for most of us that time is not yet!
v. 16 – And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise.”
I have yet to visit a shrine, place of pilgrimage, anywhere in the three nations which constitute North America where there are not hawkers and sellers, not only of religious items but often as well of snacks, candy, post cards and other items.
It is a persistent tension around sacred places, this tension between clearing as much of the space and the approaches of commercial activity and allowing people to make a living.
While we as pilgrims may not be able to resolve this tension we can at least, within our own choices, seek to avoid the commercial aspects as much as possible and remain fixed on the point of a shrine: a place to be a pilgrim seeking every deeper communion with the Holy Trinity, Our Blessed Mother, the particular Saint honoured in the shrine.
While we can accept within the sacred space of our parish church the necessity of the Sunday collection, I believe more care needs to be taken about pulpit announcements, given parishes have both print and online bulletins, extraneous collections, tickets sales, etc.
Within the cleansing of the Temple by Jesus, there is again a deep message, invitation even, regarding the temple of our own body, mind, will, heart, soul, remembering first and foremost the truth that as baptized disciples of Christ, persons confirmed by the Holy Spirit, nourished in Holy Communion by the glorious Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity of Christ Himself we are, and should always be aware we are: …. a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? [1 Cor. 6:19]
We should not fear, rather eagerly ask of Jesus and of the Holy Spirit to, both through frequent sacramental confession and a constant grace of metanoia [conversion of heart] to be ever more cleansed, purified, sanctified: not only ourselves but the entire Church, indeed to cry out always in prayer this grace be granted to all our brothers and sisters, the entire human family.
Saturday, 12 September 2015
v.6 – Now there were set there six water pots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece.
While Jesus does not specifically say of Himself: I am the living water, we would not be remiss to view Himself as such since when speaking with the Woman at the Well [4:14] He does say:…the water that I shall give…will become a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.
The stone jars containing water which will become the matter of Jesus’ first public miracle and manifestation of His glory are a reminder – remembering too all stone is simply a form of rock – the source of living water was Himself ‘contained’ in the ‘pot, the jar’ of the tomb made of rock: cf. Mt. 27:60; Mk. 15:46; Lk. 23:53, before the ultimate miracle and manifestation of His glory, His Holy Resurrection.
About 70% of the world’s surface is covered by water, however these are the oceans which within contain about 96% of all water on and under the earth, while at the poles and in the mountain glaciers much is frozen.
That means only about 2.5% of earth’s water supply is so-called fresh water, which however does not mean it is necessarily clean enough to drink!
By weight the average adult body is approximately 65% water and while a healthy human being may survive about three weeks without food we cannot last more than a week without water.
Genesis 1:2, speaks of the Holy Spirit ‘hovering over’, that is breathing over the waters of the earth, at the very dawn of creation; water was used by God in the great flood as a means of purification of humanity from its bondage to sin; to save His Chosen People God parted the waters of the sea and when Christ’s Heart was pierced on the Cross: Blood and Water gushed forth and in this the Church has always seen the outflow of sacramental life: Baptism, and the ultimate sanctifying food, the Holy Eucharist.
Thus the Roman Catholic Church in the blessing of water for baptism during the Easter Vigil prays: At the very dawn of creation Your Spirit breathed on the waters, making them the wellspring of all holiness. The waters of the great flood You made a sign of the waters of baptism, that make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness. Through the waters of the Red Sea You led Israel out of slavery, to be an image of God’s holy people, set free from sin by baptism. In the waters of the Jordan Your Son was baptized by John and anointed with the Spirit. Your Son willed that water and blood should flow from his side as he hung upon the cross.
The Orthodox Church, on the feast of the Theophany, called Epiphany in the Roman Church, blesses water praying: Today the nature of the waters is sanctified, the Jordan bursts forth and turns back the flood of its streams, seeing the Master wash Himself. To the voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, You came, O Lord, taking the form of a servant, asking for baptism though You have no sin. The waters saw You and were afraid. The Forerunner began to tremble and cried out, saying: How shall the lampstand illumine the Light? How shall the servant lay hands upon the Master? Sanctify both me and the waters, O Saviour, Who takes away the sins of the world.
There are sentences in the Holy Gospel, indeed in all of Sacred Scripture, which may at first glance appear rather simple: a statement of some fact or not that important a descriptive.
If however we take the time to sit still with the precise words, and listen to the Holy Spirit, we will discover how much is contained therein, how much is offered for contemplation and learning.
When we contemplate the night sky, stand upon a mountain top and gaze at the valley, forests, lakes, rivers below or towards the far distant horizon, or perhaps simply wander through a field of wildflowers what should astound, in the sense of both thrill and comfort us, is the lavishness of God’s creative love of all that is both for our needs or pure enjoyment.
So too with the huge amount of water St. John has pointed to – created matter about to be transformed in a gesture, lavish in itself, that will fulfill an urgent need.
v. 7- Jesus said to them, “Fill the water pots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.
In Jesus’ teachings about mercy, in St. Luke we find: Give, and it shall be given to you: good measure and pressed down and shaken together and running over shall they give into your bosom. For with the same measure that you shall use, it shall be measured to you again. [6:38]
God is never outdone in generosity.
With modern technology we can see/observe many things which for previous generations were almost unknowable: we can peer into the soil and watch a seed sprout; use other technology to find deposits of gas, oil, water not only deep beneath the surface of the earth but of the sea as well; we can gaze into the far reaches of space and detect light that has travelled for eons from point of origin, or see stars being born or die; indeed we can now even look into the womb at the earliest stages of a human life beginning and observe those stages right to the moment of birth.
However the price we pay for such ‘peering into’ ability is a decrease both in our capacity for wonder and our willingness to be peaceful about mysteries beyond our ken.
Such is the nature of authentic miracles.
We can see the external acts of sacramental baptism, but not the miracle which occurs in the soul; we can see the external acts of Holy Mass, but not the miracle of transubstantiation. Two examples of sacred mysteries which must and will always be: mystery.
Vs.8-9 - And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine…
True miracles are always experiential and always have a forward moving impact on the recipient.
We cannot see the mystery of what unfolds in the soul of a penitent when the miracle of Divine Mercy is lavished through the priest announcing the words of absolution, but the transformation of a burdened heart is visible on the face of the penitent and mostly unfolds forward in a renew commitment to a truly Christian life.
Vs. 9-10- …and he did not know where it came from [but the servants who had drawn the water knew], the master called the bridegroom. And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!”
Ordinary bread is good. Ordinary wine is good.
The consecrated bread and wine of Holy Eucharist, become the Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity of Christ is the best!
No wonder St. John boldly announces in verse 11: This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.
Then as happens frequently in each of the four Holy Gospel accounts of Jesus’ public life, miracle is followed by forward movement as in verse 12: After this He went down to Capernaum…..and they did not stay there many days.
Wednesday, 22 July 2015
The priest does not ‘marry’ the couple; however he does bless them and witness, along with those assembled.
The third preface for Masses for the celebration of Marriage sums up the core witness of marriage: …the Sacrament of holy Matrimony, as the abiding sign of Your own love, consecrates the love of a man and woman, through Christ our Lord.
We live in time when the whole truth and reality of personhood, of being male and female, of Holy Marriage, of family life, indeed of faith life, when children often are at risk of being murdered while still in the womb, of stealing childhood from children and pushing them towards growing up and becoming enmeshed in the culture of hedonism, nihilism, greed, death is an outrage that cries to heaven for justice.
So tainted by the surrounding culture have the baptized themselves become that priests, and indeed our Protectant counterparts as Ministers of the Gospel, often have serious battles to curtail attempts to desacralize what is most sacred by introduction of modes of dress, music and other things which diminish the reality of Christ as the centre of martial love and life.
As surely and as really present at the wedding in Cana, Christ is present to, within, the marriage of baptized persons, the man and the woman entering the covenant of communion of love and cooperation with God in the creation of new life and through Baptism new members of the Body of Christ.
Whoever the young couple were, relatives of one of the disciples, or of Jesus and Mary, St. John does not tell us. They are representative of all couples on their wedding day.
He does however point out in v. 1 – and the mother of Jesus was there. - Adding in v. 2 – Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding.
Except in very extreme circumstances the Church does not permit marriages in secret – it is essential witnesses be present, as was the custom in Jesus’ day.
Why?: respect for family and friends by inviting them to share in this joyous occasion – the great reality about the presence of witnesses is that this Sacrament of Marriage is precursor to enhancing the development and expansion of the Domestic Church and it is also a foundation stone of society.
The very woof and warp of a healthy, sane, caring society is rooted in family life. All attempts to disrupt family life through distortions of marriage and child-rearing weaken the very fabric of society and mount an assault on the Domestic and Universal Church.
At Cana, as we shall see, there was a material crisis of lack of wine.
In our day there is a greater lack that cries out to heaven for relief: the lack of common sense wisdom when it comes to the God intended reality of male and female/husband and wife/father and mother.
As Our Blessed Mother was so urgently needed at Cana, we need Her even more in this culture of darkness, death and confusion.
v.3 – And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”
One of the amusing things about inviting people, family and friends, to any function is never knowing how hungry or thirsty they may be, or perhaps what their capacity for food and drink are! No one should be surprised that ‘they ran out of wine’, it is a very human thing.
More than once in the soup kitchen where I volunteered before entering even more deeply the hermitical life I was blessed to be witness to how Our Blessed Mother still hears the cry ‘They have no – or – we have no…’ and tends to our needs.
Unexpected numbers of hungry men, women and children would show up for the meal and we would suddenly be running out of food when the back door buzzer would go and there would be someone with boxes of leftovers from some wedding or funeral, for example, and suddenly there were lots of sandwiches and cakes and cookies – often so much and that we would scramble to find bags and containers so the homeless to take the leftovers gathered up for them!
This intervention, this mother care and concern of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary remains active in the life of the human family, the Church, each of our lives if we reach out to Her with confident trust as in the ancient prayer: REMEMBER, O Most Gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to Your protection, implored Your help, or sought Your intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly unto You, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to You do I come; before You I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in Your mercy hear and answer me. Amen.
v. 4 – Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”
Jesus uses this term ‘woman’ also when He speaks with the ‘Woman at the Well’ [4:41]; when speaking with the “Woman caught in adultery” [8:10]; when confiding His Mother to St. John, and thus to all of us, [19:26]. This is also the term used by the Angels speaking to Mary Magdalene at the tomb and is the descriptive of Our Blessed Mother in Revelations chapter 12, the ‘woman clothed with the sun’.
The term ‘woman’ is used as an honourific. It is an expression of respect.
In our day we so overload words with unintended, so-called politically correct meanings not found in the original use of the word some might misread its use by Jesus.
Comes then the question from Jesus as to what His Mother’s concern has to do with Him!
Jesus is, as is obvious by His later action, not refusing His Mother, rather He is illuminating the extent of what is being asked and what will unfold from Her request.
In his book LIFE OF CHRIST, the Ven. Fulton Sheen gives as his title to the chapter reflecting on the wedding at Cana as: The Beginning of “The Hour”, stressing how use of “hour”, especially by St. John [cf. 7:30, 8:20, 12:23, 12:27, 16:32, 17:2] invariably refers to the Cross, to the passion, death and ultimately the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
Thus as Ven. Sheen also notes Our Lady would have perfectly understood Jesus was telling His Mother that should He agree to her request, should He perform a miracle, then His hour would immediately begin to unfold: When she took Him away from the temple as a boy of twelve, it was because she sensed that His Hour had not yet come; He obeyed her then and returned to Nazareth with her. Now, He told her that His Hour had not yet come, but she bade Him begin it, and He obeyed. At Cana she gave Him as a Saviour to sinners; on the Cross He gave her as a refuge to sinners. When He suggested that His first miracle would lead unerringly to His Cross and death, and that she would become henceforth a Mother of Sorrows, she turned at once to the winesteward and said: Do whatever He tells you. [v.-5]……She never speaks again in Scripture. [cf. op. cit. pp.77-79]
Not while at the foot of the Cross, where Mary ascents to becoming the Mother of every human being, and Mother of the Church, not in the Upper Room at Pentecost, does Our Lady Speak.
She becomes in many ways Our Lady of Silence, a silence so powerful and eloquent it terrorizes satan and his minions.
Yes She has been sent to us every since Her Assumption from the earliest days of the Church to our own era and in some of these visits from Her, such as at Fatima, She speaks and teaches, in others, such a Knock in Ireland, it is Her silence which speaks to us.
The core and essence whether She speaks or is silent, of what She has to say to the whole human family, to the whole Church, to each individual is forever Her essential word spoken at Cana: DO WHATEVER HE TELLS YOU.
This is truly Her mission, to point Jesus out to us, to direct us to Him, to urge with all a Mother’s urgency of love, each human being to follow Jesus and do whatever He tells us, asks of us.
In his 2002 Apostolic Letter on the Most Holy Rosary [ROSARIUM VIRGINIS MARIAE], St. John Paul II teaches: 21. Moving on from the infancy and the hidden life in Nazareth to the public life of Jesus, our contemplation brings us to those mysteries which may be called in a special way “mysteries of light”. Certainly the whole mystery of Christ is a mystery of light. He is the “light of the world” (Jn 8:12). Yet this truth emerges in a special way during the years of his public life, when he proclaims the Gospel of the Kingdom……………Each of these mysteries is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus. The Baptism in the Jordan is first of all a mystery of light…….. Another mystery of light is the first of the signs, given at Cana (cf. Jn 2:1- 12), when Christ changes water into wine and opens the hearts of the disciples to faith, thanks to the intervention of Mary, the first among believers………apart from the miracle at Cana, the presence of Mary remains in the background. The Gospels make only the briefest reference to her occasional presence at one moment or other during the preaching of Jesus (cf. Mk 3:31-5; Jn 2:12), and they give no indication that she was present at the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. Yet the role she assumed at Cana in some way accompanies Christ throughout his ministry. The revelation made directly by the Father at the Baptism in the Jordan and echoed by John the Baptist is placed upon Mary's lips at Cana, and it becomes the great maternal counsel which Mary addresses to the Church of every age: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). This counsel is a fitting introduction to the words and signs of Christ's public ministry and it forms the Marian foundation of all the “mysteries of light”.
Monday, 2 March 2015
Now the Evangelist tells us in the very first words of chapter 2 v.1 – On the third day…..
As mentioned before days, time, hour, place, Jesus’ relationship with the Father, His Father-Our Father, most especially and more so than in the Synoptic accounts, are critically emphasized by St. John, who also more than the Synoptics, gives us lengthy accounts of Jesus’ spoken words, as in this chapter.
The “third day”!
Rather than go through the entire Old Testament instances which show the importance of ‘three’ in the unfolding of salvation history and prophecies about the Christ and His redemptive mission, keeping in mind in the ancient world numbers were of great symbolic importance, I will here confine myself to examples from the New Testament, the Gospels in particular and one affirming quote from St. Paul.
In John 19, after being challenged by His disciples about His action in the cleansing of temple, Jesus declares: Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. [2:19]
A couple of verses further on the Evangelist notes: …He was in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover…[v. 23]
This is the first of three Passovers St. John notes Jesus’ presence at during His public life: Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near…..[6:4]…..Then, six days before the Passover….[12:1].
The last, the third, was indeed the ultimate Passover when Jesus, the true Lamb of God would be sacrificed and rise on the third day.
It is the Risen Christ who specifically teaches the reality of the Holy Trinity, Three Persons, One God: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. [Mt. 28:19]
As referred to earlier when Jesus spoke about restoring the Temple in three days, that is on the third day, St. John adds: …He was speaking of the temple of His body. [v.21]
More explicitly in the Synoptics Jesus teaches on several occasions about the three days and the third day:
St. Matthew: For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. [12.40]; From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised on the third day. [16;21]; ….and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up. [17:23]; And the third day He will rise again. [20:19]
St. Mark: …and after three days rise again. [8:31]; And after He is killed, He will rise the third day. [9:31]; And the third day He will rise again. [10:34]
St. Luke: …and be raised the third day. [9:22]; And the third day He will rise again. [18:33]
Before returning to the beginning of St. John chapter 2 and his reference to the third day, this from St. Paul 1 Corinthians 15:3-8: For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures……
V. 1 - …there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee….
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, [paras. 1601 ff] can be found a precise teaching on holy marriage from the origins of marital union in Genesis to the wedding feast of the Lamb described in Revelation 19: 7, 9.
While the Church Herself is the Bride of Christ, the Divine Bridegroom, the soul of every human being, male of female, is always spoken of as the ‘she’ beloved of the ‘Him”, that is of Christ the Divine Bridegroom.
Thus the mystics of the Church have always found in that most human of love sonnets, the Song of Songs of the Hebrew Scriptures an image of the passionate relationship between the soul and God, the love affair, the communion of love, for which we have been created.
On this side of the grave the highest and most intimate union possible with the Divine, Holy, Triune God is when He weds Himself to us in such perfect communion-of-love-fusion we loose none of our individuality, remain person, but, just as in human sacramental marriage where the two become one yet remain two, so the soul with the soul and the Trinity.
V. 1 - …..and the Mother of Jesus was there.
Here St. John reveals the apostolate of intercession of Our Blessed Mother, visibly from this moment in Cana until the end of time but noting at the very beginning of this event Her presence.
From the Evangelist’s notation of ‘third day’ to in v.11 referring to the first manifestation of His glory, this Cana event highlights the original martial vocation, affirms its sacredness and honour, its communal dimension, points both to the Resurrection and the reality of heavenly life, the eternal wedding feast!