Thursday, 14 November 2019

ST. JOHN 10: 1-6


One of the attributes of St. John is that of theologian, indeed he is sometimes referred to as ‘the’ theologian.

Theology is more than the study of the divine, or the words of the divine. At its core theology must be an encounter with, a communion of love with, a contemplating of, and seeking understanding, in relationship with the Most Holy Trinity and all the Holy Trinity reveals, gives to us. Foundationally theology begins with contemplation of the Incarnate One and attentiveness to every word He speaks, everything He teaches, living in relationship with Him and through Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

It is to follow Jesus, to live the Gospel with our lives without compromise.

Yes, some within the Church are called to study and become ‘theologians’, nonetheless all the Baptized are called to live theologically, that is in relationship with the Most Holy Trinity.

Without, as it were, skipping a beat, Jesus continues to reveal more of the truth, the reality of who He is, of His redemptive mission, as He continues to speak, to teach, in the presence of not only the people who witnessed, heard about, the healing of the man born blind, but in the presence too of those who have chosen to be His enemies, the Pharisees.

This is the extensiveness, or more accurately the limitlessness of His love. He loves and reaches out not just to those who follow Him, accept Him and His teaching, but those too who adamantly refuse to listen, accept, follow.

Such is the foundation of all human hope. Not some theory or philosophy but Someone: Jesus.

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.” [v.1]

 A sheepfold was an enclosure made with stone walls of a height to prevent the sheep from leaping over the enclosure. It was a place the flock would be kept during the night as protection from marauding predators such as wolves. The shepherd would close the gate to keep the sheep penned in for their own protection.

At the time many cities, like Jerusalem, were walled, with gates closed at night for the protection of the citizens.

In our day we close and lock the doors and windows at night for protection of our families; buildings have security systems; police patrol to keep us safe, the armed services likewise.

Every protective measure can be breached.

We are all vulnerable.

However, the sheepfold of our hearts and souls can only be breached if we choose to refuse the protective embrace of Jesus.

Satan cannot enter unless we open the door/gate to him.

He is the pan-ultimate thief and robber who can ‘climb over’ only with our cooperation.

“But he who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” [v.2]

Anyone who invades our space, be it home, ‘personal’ space, mind, heart, soul is never one capable of loving us, of self-giving themselves to us, of having holy intimacy with us, irrespective of what words they may use to the contrary.

The flock does not panic when the shepherd enters because he already has a relationship with them as provider, protector.

 “The gatekeeper opens for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” [v.3]

Not every shepherd necessarily had a large enough flock of his own to merit the cost of an enclosure, so often several shepherds would share the cost of a large enclosure and someone to watch over the flock: the ‘gatekeeper.’

Clearly Jesus our Good Shepherd is the one who watches over us, but since He is no paid employee we need not worry that He ever abandons His post, yet here again we are free to reject His loving protection, that is we can walk away from Him, He, however, remains as close to us as He was to Peter when Peter took his eyes off Jesus and began to drown: Mt. 14:29-31.

He numbers the multitude of the stars and calls them all by name. [Ps.147:4]

Unlike the sheep in this teaching we are not anonymous in anyway. Rather, even more so than the stars, each of us is unique and in our uniqueness, recognizes the sound of Jesus’ voice, recognizes Him when He calls to us for, He alone speaks our true name: God calls each one by name. Everyone's name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it. …The name one receives is a name for eternity. In the kingdom, the mysterious and unique character of each person marked with God's name will shine forth in splendor. "To him who conquers . . . I will give a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it."… "Then I looked, and Lo, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty- four thousand who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads." [Catechism of the Catholic Church #’s 2158/2159]

While we have the capacities of thought, imagination, free will to make choices/decisions, indeed with our minds can reason and discover, invent and make things, as human beings over the millennia, using our intellectual abilities we have become writers, poets, artists, musicians, developed philosophies, theologies. Admittedly, not all we put our minds too turns out to be of truth, of good, of beauty, hence the need for grace to properly exercise free will in ways that are holy and good.

One point on this human journey of discoveries and choice is accepting the limits inherent in our ability to comprehend the totality of the reality of the Most Holy Trinity, the one true God, so we attribute various things to each Person, such as creation to the Father, salvation to the Son, sanctification to the Holy Spirit, sometimes forgetting that while in truth the Three Persons are: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, their communion of divinity and love is such that being One God,  no Person of the Holy Trinity acts in isolation from the other, hence when we hear the voice of Jesus calling we simultaneously hear the Father and the Holy Spirit.

“When he brings out his own sheep, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will by no means follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” [vs. 4/5]

Ultimately the ‘enclosure’ we are in is the reality of living within created time, on this earth, often times penned in within ourselves because of the sinful choices we make, so Jesus in redeeming us is also calling us out of ourselves, from any sin or situation which has us penned in, into the wider reality for which we have been created: the life of grace and discipleship, of following Jesus towards holiness and finally through the gate/door of death into eternal life.

Sadly, we are not as wary of the strangers, satan and his minions and those human agents who cooperate with him to lead us astray, as we should be. How important for us to frequently avail ourselves of Divine Mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation/Confession.

Understandable as this may be, it is somewhat sad: Although Jesus used this figure of speech, they did not realize what He was trying to tell them. [v.6]

We cannot possibly understand anything Jesus teaches us, indeed anything in Sacred Scripture without invoking the help of the Most Holy Spirit. If we attempt to do so, by our own devices, then what we see in the words, hear in the words will be tainted with our own intellectual preconceptions.

© 2019 Fr. Arthur Joseph

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

ST. JOHN 9:35-40


When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, He found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” [v.35]

Powerful, tender, specific, what a profound, seemingly simple and direct verse!

St. John presents Jesus as the Divine Listener: Jesus heard; as the always seeking Good Shepherd: He found him; and as the One who invites and calls: Do you believe…..!

He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” [vs. 36]

In his own way the healed man is saying, like the father of the boy Jesus healed: “I do believe, help my unbelief!” [Mk.9:24]

The very next verse, Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and the one speaking with you is He.” [v.37] itself reminds us of: Jesus said to her, “I am He, the one who is speaking with you.” [Jn.4:26]

Then what immense joy surely exploded in the heart of the man as He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped Him. [v.38]

In these verses St. John, as it were, gives a mini-catechism about our need for healing and conversion, the tireless seeking for us until we have been found and opening ourselves to Divine Mercy, come to see, being no longer blind, and to confess, being no longer proud, that Jesus is our Lord and God, the whole confirmed in Jesus’ own words about why He is Incarnate among us, what His mission is: redemption, IF we accept the gift offered and become His disciples: Then Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” [v.39]

The not seeing is a matter of free will choice, an arrogant and consequential – divine judgement following our choice – blindness for which we are solely responsible.

Consistently throughout this chapter the Pharisees have remained deaf and blind in their arrogance, challenging Jesus, seeking to refute not only what Jesus clearly does, not only what He teaches, but rebuffing Divine Mercy Himself and His compassion towards them: Some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard this and said to Him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.” [vs. 40,41]

The Pharisees, throughout each of the Holy Gospel accounts by St. John and the other Evangelists, reveal they have an innate, obsessive capacity for springing traps, meant to ensnare Jesus, on themselves.

In St. Matthew Jesus is blunt:  Then His disciples approached and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what You said?”  He said in reply, “Every plant that My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. If a blind person leads a blind person, both will fall into a pit.” Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel! [Mt.15:12-14] and: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.” [Mt. 23:25,26]

To place ourselves, in simple questioning-dialogue with Jesus, for greater understanding of His teaching, for understanding too just exactly what Jesus is inviting us to do: follow Him, which is to be in open-hearted conversation with Jesus like the disciples on the road to Emmaus and like them to have the fire of His love burn within us.

However, if, rather like the Pharisees, we place ourselves in an arrogant, blind, rejection-challenge position while in Christ’s presence, this is to choose to divorce ourselves from the offered communion of Love with the Most Holy Trinity.

It is to choose to stand alone, be alone, isolated from the Holy Trinity, which means at the same time we are choosing to be severed from the rest of the human family, to be severed from, and end up walking beside our true selves.

Surely that is too much aloneness for anyone!

© 2019 Fr. Arthur Joseph

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

ST. JOHN 9: 18-34


A friend wrote today about their discouragement at seeing so many family members being lax in the practice of the faith, even more, challenging everything about Jesus as is revealed in Sacred Scripture, Tradition, the teaching of the Church.

These are the times in which we live. For faithful Catholics a painful challenge, but one we share with Christ whose Heart aches for all of us. He is the Good Shepherd tirelessly looking for the strays.

The reality of non-believers in God’s redeeming love for us is there throughout the Old Testament, all the Gospel accounts, in the Acts of the Apostles, in the Epistles, in Revelation, yet each generation confronted with unbelief reacts as if this were a new phenomena.

When we pray daily, asking the Holy Spirit to increase and purify our own faith, hope, love, rather than bemoaning – perhaps even judging – the lack of faith others have, we should be crying out that they be gifted by the Holy Spirit, be found by Jesus and not wait to be picked up by Him, rather that they will leap into His arms in the joy of being found.

But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind and received his sight until they called the parents of him who had received his sight. [v.18]

Some translations say ‘he gained his sight…..who had gained his sight’, which is misleading, for to ‘gain’ something implies one’s own effort, such as gaining a wage for working.

Received is more accurate as the man received the restoration of his sight by the miracle-gift Jesus gave him.

The refusal by those challenging Jesus to accept the testimony of the man himself and seeking out his parents is a blatant distortion of the instruction in Deut. 19:15 of seeking veracity through two or three witnesses: They asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How does he now see?” [v.19] There is an obvious assumption that the parents were present for the miracle, which is certainly unlikely given their reply: His parents answered and said, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. We do not know how he sees now, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him, he is of age; he can speak for himself.” [vs. 20,21]

The terror in the voices of the parents resounds throughout the millennia as a stark reminder, echo even as clear as when shouting in the mountains and our shout reverberates back to us, of how many of our brothers and sisters live under totalitarian regimes with secret police and neighbours who are government spies. Rather than judge these parents, or anyone living in powerlessness in countries without liberty, our hearts should hear clearly the parents words as a reminder to be grateful we live in free countries, to pray for the liberation of our brothers and sisters who do not, remembering too, in some countries, it is, as with the authorities challenging them here, ‘religious police’ who are most to be feared: His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone acknowledged Him as the Messiah, he would be expelled from the synagogue. For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; question him.” [vs. 22,23]

Particularly since the enlightenment, become more relentless across the centuries to our own day, many persist in finding ways to denigrate the person of Our Beloved Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by either attacking Him directly, or His teachings, miracles or His Church, just as relentlessly as the Pharisees do here, so at this juncture not having Jesus before them to attack directly they go, once more, after the man Jesus had cured of blindness, while they stubbornly refuse to admit theirs is a deeper, darker, blindness: So a second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner.” [v.24]

We all know the experience of having a small child ask a question and then rather than accept the answer reply with “Why?” and once told why they invariably ask again, “Why?”, which is precisely the infantile approach the Pharisees are taking, but lacking the purity and simplicity of little children they are – insanely frankly – expecting a different answer to their repeated inquiries: He replied, “Whether He is a sinner or not, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.” So they said to him, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” [vs.25, 26]

The man’s reply is replete with truth and, given their repeated questioning, a purity of logic as clear as: since B follows A then clearly C must follow B: He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too? [v27]

You can almost hear them spiting, sputtering their angry reply for this humble man has just sprung their trap upon themselves and they are furious: They ridiculed him and said, “You are His disciple; but we are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we do not know where He is from.” [v.28,29]

Now something wonderful, even courageous occurs, as the man speaks with clarity, passion and conviction in a teaching mode rabbinical in its cadence: The man answered and said to them, “Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from, yet He opened my eyes! Now we know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is a worshipper of God and does His will, He hears him. Since the world began it is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this Man were not from God, He would not be able to do anything.” [vs. 30-33]

This, as the saying goes, really put the cat among the pigeons, truly infuriated them, yet another indication their arrogance had them truly blind in heart and soul: They answered and said to him, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” Then they threw him out. [v.34] Excommunicated from the synagogue for simply speaking truth. The action of the Pharisees showing a spiteful immaturity like a kid whose buddies won’t let him win the game, so he takes his hockey puck and heads off home.

Who really has been cast asunder and by whom?

© 2019 Fr. Arthur Joseph

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

ST. JOHN 9:13-17


They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees. [V.13]

St. John does not specify why the man’s neighbours, who had been rejoicing with him, would suddenly take him to the Pharisees, the religious authorities. It may well have been fear, since it was the Sabbath and they might have been afraid of being punished, by association, for violating the Sabbath. Many Muslim countries have religious police, many nations have secret police, many people living in such places of terror will betray their neighbour to save their own skin.

It is only now that St. John specifies it was the Sabbath: Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a Sabbath. [v.14]

Making clay, healing the eyes, two acts of prohibited work on the Sabbath. We might wonder why repeatedly Jesus does things which clearly violate the Sabbath law, granted a law made dangerously complex by all the picayune additions made by generations of religious leaders.The answer is very clear: The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” [Mk.2:27,28]

If satan cannot tempt us to obvious evil acts then he will see to trick us by seducing us to overdue what appears to be good, hence likely all the add-ons to the Sabbath law of it being a day of rest may well have appeared as a good idea: in the end the religious leaders turned a holy day of rest into an exhausting day of endless avoidance of violating the minutiae of the almost innumerable sabbath prohibitions.

In each of His challenging words and actions Jesus is seeking to point out and separate what is from our loving Father and what originates in our own efforts to shape things in life, in our relationship with God, each other, self, creation, according to our own egos.

Then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see. He said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see.” [v.15] There is a clinical coldness, the coldness of hate, for hate is cold and dark, in the Pharisees questioning of the man, for their end goal is not humble openness to a miracle of healing, but to build a case against Jesus. The man who had been born blind does not name Jesus. He simple, concisely states the obvious facts.

So some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a sinful man do such signs?” And there was a division among them. [v.16]

Obsessed with their own interpretation of things in their arrogance they presume to know who is and who is not from God merely by external observation, an observation biased by their own blindness to the miracle, itself an example of Divine Love, of which they are also ignorant because they are intellectually stunted by pride.

It is paralleled, in our own day, by the rationalists, relativists, subjectivists, that is by those who, like the Pharisees, apply their own methodology to evaluating, in our day the Church and Her teaching, thus Christ Himself, in the Pharisees case the entire history of the Chosen People and the Scriptures, like the psalms and words of the prophets pointing to the Messiah. They refused and we have lost the humble wonder and truth of the psalmist: …..Where can I go from Your Spirit? From Your presence, where can I flee?..... I praise You, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works! My very self You know…….[cf. Ps. 139]

Humility is the key which opens our beings to the God of Love, otherwise our hearts are tight shut like some cemented over mouth of a cave where neither sound nor light can penetrate and to be in that place of loneliness is a living hell.

Their hatred of Jesus and determination to kill Him is there too in other Sabbath healings as noted by St. Matthew: 12:10-14 and St. Luke: 13:10-14.

Again, it is important to remember before Whom they were blind: The Incarnate One, the Messiah, the Redeemer, the Beloved of the Father, Jesus who loves us.

It can be as challenging for us as for the people, not just the Pharisees, who need to open their eyes of heart and soul to see the real Jesus and not just the carpenter’s son, for likewise to open with eyes of faith and heart of love for the Beloved, to see Jesus in what appears to be bread and wine, what appears to be a mere man at the altar, what appears to be an ordinary person, perhaps a person who is homeless, of a different race or religion, perhaps someone not a friend but an actual enemy. There too we encounter Jesus and what gifts, if we welcome the Jesus of many disguises, we will receive, when we come with our little gifts, more! He comes with lavishness.

We would do well to meditate again, to contemplate the Prologue of the Gospel, for the very One St. John, through the Holy Spirit, reveals to us there is the One we are blind before, with closed hearts, if we insist Jesus, and all Jesus reveals, teaches, be in accord with our preconceptions and prejudices.

In a sense Jesus, even though promised throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, still arrives among us, two millennia ago and in this very moment of encounter with Him, as the Divine-Surprise-Gift of the Father.

The joy of a gift is as much the expectation of what is hidden within the wrappings as the discovery of what is therein once unwrapped.

The wrapping of the Father’s gift, in a sense, is everything from Genesis to the fiat of Mary. Her fiat is the beginning of the Father’s gift being revealed. Hence the excitement of St. John the Baptist leaping in the womb of his mother, for the Holy Spirit opened his eyes, heart, soul and the entire leaping is his own yes to discipleship.

Relentlessly pursuing their determination, the Messiah should be neither surprise nor gift as God intended, but rather be their version, the challenge unfolds:  So they said to the blind man again, “What do you have to say about Him, since He opened your eyes?” [v.17]

How stunned they must have been by the answer: He said, “He is a prophet.” Another humble person, this time Jesus opening the eyes of her heart, restoring her dignity to her, also said of Jesus: “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.” [4:19]

A prophet is not a foreteller per se of the future, rather an authentic prophet illuminates the will of God in the moment and Jesus is the primary and last prophet sent by the Father. Jesus is Himself the Father’s Word-Gift, the Father’s complete Word, a word containing within His Very Person all we need and Jesus, through suffering, is the absolute fulfiller of the Will of the Father, the template, the path, for us to follow with Jesus the into the will of the Father, where we live, live out, the gift of love, for it is love which is the purpose and meaning of our existence: love between the Holy Trinity and us, between we and all others, with self, all the return of love we give to the Holy Trinity.

All this love, beauty, light, truth, hope, path of life and meaning, purpose of life, redemption, mercy, grace, joy is missed, if we insist with our puny brains, we are smarter than God.

© 2019 – Fr. Arthur Joseph

Thursday, 8 August 2019

ST. JOHN 9:1-12


What unfolds in this entire chapter, both through Christ’s love-healing action and His teaching is a type of mini-catechism on our baptismal vocation to live in imitation of Christ as servants, to be present and helpful to those who suffer, to be as well witnesses to the Gospel of life and hope,

Though commenting on another teaching of Jesus in St. Matthew, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis’ words are applicable here: Jesus is our responsible and tender Lord in a personal, intimate, exclusive and jealous manner. Not because He is also Lord of all the myriad angelic hosts, who serve His glory continually with magnificence, does He think any less of His fragile creature, man. Indeed, He would have come to earth, suffered, and died exactly as He did even for only one of us! [1]

As Jesus passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. [v. 1]

St. John’s final words in chapter 8 are of Jesus passing by as He escaped through the midst of the crowd trying to stone Him. Here, as if that passing motion was a continuous movement, indeed, all Christ’s movements on earth were salvificly purposeful, the passing by becomes a moment of recognition of another aspect of Christ’s love, for He who is Light, He who is all seeing, sees a man whom created light has never penetrated, who embodies in his from birth-blindness, that which is ours before baptism, the blindness we choose post-baptism when we sin; also this blind man is representative of that which Isaiah foresaw the Redeemer would come to accomplish: To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness. [Is.42:7]

Being Light Himself, Jesus also experiences in His humanity the gift of sight. Awareness of the blind man did not only pain His heart because the man could not physically see, experience light, but because Christ was in that moment once more profoundly aware of the blindness resulting from original sin, and the chosen blindness, post-baptism, of our actual sins.

His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” [v.2]

The whole mystery of sin and human suffering can be found throughout Sacred Scripture and in our own hearts. It is the paradox that not all sin results in suffering per se, nor is all suffering a direct result of our committing a sin, and yet!

It is the ‘and yet’ that also is found throughout Sacred Scripture, notably in the book of Job, and still the mystery remains! In Genesis 20:5 the Lord speaks of the generational punishment He inflicts, because He is a jealous God, upon those who hate Him, yet in Ezekiel 18:20 He says only the one who sins will die, and in Luke 13:2 Jesus challenges the notion that the Galileans who were killed were more sinful than those who were not.

St. John Paul II give us a powerful catecheses in his Apostolic Letter: On The Christian Meaning of Human Suffering [2], exploring this mystery of evil/sin and suffering.

Who among us when seeing someone we love suffer, or suffer ourselves, has not challenged God in words not that far removed from those of the disciples pondering the mystery before them of a man born blind, born suffering?

Had Adam and Eve not committed original sin then evil and suffering would not have entered our lives, nor would we ourselves chose to sin, inflict suffering upon ourselves or others, for neither we would be sinners, nor anyone else.

In the Roman Rite, in the great Exultet of the Easter Vigil the Church cries out Her joyful acceptance of this mystery of sin and suffering: O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ! O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!

Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him…….[v.3] As with the story of Job, as with, for example, those miraculous cures which occur at Lourdes and other shrines, or are investigated as part of the processes for the beatification and canonization of saints, yes and as too, if embraced, all forms of suffering, physical, emotional, spiritual – as best we can do so without falling into the trap of worrying about the ‘quality’ of our yes – enable us to become icons of the manifestation of the works of God, primary the work of redemption through our uniting our sufferings with those of Christ that we might make up….what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the church….[Col.1:24].

“I must work the works of the Him who sent Me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work…..” [v. 4] Doing, in union with Jesus, the works of the Father is constitutive of our baptismal vocation, and we do these works through active faith, living the Gospel with our lives without compromise before the night of persecution arrives to such an extent our final work is martyrdom, or the night of natural death arrives and our final work is to, as Jesus did, commit ourselves into the hands of the Father.

“While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” [v.5] To see and bask in, to dwell in the light of Christ, Himself our light, is to have the blindness of sin exorcised from our mind, will, heart, soul.

Now something is about to happen which, given the changing of water into wine, and later the use of water to wash the Apostle’s feet, the transubstantiation of bread and wine into His Body and Blood during the Last Supper, a gift given anew and immediately in every Holy Mass/Divine Liturgy, the embracing of the wood of the Cross, transforming the tree of death from the Garden into the tree, the altar, of life, and in His glorious Resurrection transforming mortality in the flesh to immortality for each of us, He who is the Lord of all that is created, takes the very dust/earth from which the human person has been created: When He had said this, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, [v. 6]

Some translations say Jesus smeared the clay, rather than anointed. Either way what Jesus does here is indeed a anointing for that which until now has been darkness, by the touch of Light Himself, is smeared away, pushed asunder, fractured like smoked glass that blocks light and as the dark shards crash to the ground, from the very body and being of the man, as the sun shatters night at dawn, light penetrates the eyes, the mind, the heart, the soul of the man.

This miracle occurs with Baptism, with absolution when we have sinned and confess, for the very act of going to confession is to own our blindness, it is to cry out: Lord, grant that I might see. [Lk.18:41]

and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see. [v.7]

In 2 Kings 5:10 we see Elisha tells Naaman to go and wash in the river if he wishes to be cured. We must be active participants whenever we ask for any miracle, that is to not simply utter words of faith but have faith that is active. The Gospels show us where Jesus could not do many miracles because of the lack of faith of the people, Mt. 13:55, and as well the humility of the father seeking the cure of his child who admitted that while he did have faith, he also needed help to fully believe, Mk. 9:24: thus the Blind Man, by going to do as Jesus told him makes an act of faith.

It is the journey of return wherein the man experiences the reality of sight, frankly of being enlightened, that is filled with light, natural light to be sure, but more importantly with the light of Christ our Light Himself.

His neighbours and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is,” but others said, “No, he just looks like him.” He said, “I am.” So they said to him, “So how were your eyes opened?” [vs. 8-10].

The fact the man had returned clearly without assistance, clearly walking with the assurance of a sighted person peaked the curiosity of those specially named by St. John as the man’s neighbours, a way of telling us these people can be trusted as witnesses to the miraculous healing of the man’s blindness to sight. It is also interesting St. John has the man use the phrase “I am.”, rather than the colloquial ‘its me’, for the “I am” is powerfully declarative of being.

He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed and was able to see.”  And they said to him, “Where is He?” He said, “I don’t know.” [vs. 11,12] There is a humble simplicity in the man’s unambiguous reply, and it is also clear from his words that Jesus had moved on once He sent the man to Siloam. Not unexpectedly the stage is set for another confrontation with Jesus by the Pharisees.

[1] FIRE of MERCY HEART of the WORLD, Volume II, page 69, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Ignatius Press, 2003


© 2019 Fr. Arthur Joseph

Saturday, 20 July 2019

St. John 8: 37-59


It is possible that contemplating the seemingly esoteric dialogue between Jesus and His interlocutors has little import for our living the Gospel, living lives of faith today. A patient opening to the text reveals much of today’s struggle of so many Christians and non-Christians alike.

Vs. 37,38= “I know that you are descendants of Abraham. But you are trying to kill Me, because My word has no room among you. I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence; then do what you have heard from the Father.”

Jesus is showing them respect by acknowledging that they are the Chosen People as descendants of Abraham, but also admonishes them because being close to Him, to what He brings them from the Father, they are in fact trapped in the pride of their own self-assurance.

v.39= They answered and said to Him, “Our father is Abraham.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works of Abraham.”

Again, this stubborn self assertion and again Jesus tries to break through to their hearts placing a simple challenge before them, namely, to do Abraham’s works.

Abraham’s works were his life of faith and obedience to all God asked of him, thus Abraham did not presume he was saved by the fact of being chosen, rather that his salvation depended upon his free-will choice to believe and to obey, in a word to live as a man of faith: By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise; for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God. By faith he received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age—and Sarah herself was sterile—for he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy. [Heb. 8: 8-11]

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day,  and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. [Js. 2:14-17]

Vs. 40,41= “But now you are trying to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God; Abraham did not do this. You are doing the works of your father!” So they said to Him, “We are not illegitimate. We have one Father, God.”

It is important to see again and again Jesus’ tirelessness, because His Sacred Heart burns with love for them, for us, Jesus is seeking to break through their/our stubborn arrogance that they/we might hear, and hearing see and seeing believe. Yet their response reveals constant resistance. Sometimes so is ours, which is why St. Paul gives us this word of the Lord: We all fell to the ground and I heard a voice saying to me in Hebrew, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goad.’ [Acts. 26:14]

Traditionally a goad is something, usually a long stick, used to prod oxen drawing ploughs, or other work animals. The goad St. Paul was kicking against was what the early Church he was persecuting was preaching, the truth about Jesus Christ.

When we feel goaded, we the Baptized, it is the merciful nudging of the Holy Spirit deep within our souls, our hearts, our consciences offering the grace of deeper metanoia, the grace to live more fully our baptismal vocation.

Here, in a sense, Jesus is goading His challengers with His words to wake up, to listen up, to open up.

Now Jesus responds with bluntness, a bluntness that conveys heartbreaking frustration at their stubbornness: vs. 42-47=Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I came from God and am here; I did not come on My own, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I am saying? Because you cannot bear to hear My word. You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. Can any of you charge Me with sin? If I am telling the truth, why do you not believe Me? Whoever belongs to God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not listen, because you do not belong to God.”

Jesus reveals once more He is the Father’s gift to them, to us. Warning them of their bondage to satan He shows them once more the path of freedom, the path to the Heart of the Father is Himself, the Son, and welcoming Jesus means belonging to God and hearing His word, and Jesus is the ultimate Word of God.

How frequently, perhaps even in conversation with people we know, certainly in public discourse on disputed questions, and not just in politics, do those with closed minds and hearts, to objective truth, respond as the Jewish leaders do here: The Jews answered and said to Him, “Are we not right in saying that You are a Samaritan and are possessed?” [v.48]

For a Jew to be called a Samaritan was, in its day, what in our day we would call a racist statement and adding that they accuse Jesus of being possessed only amplifies the arrogance of their closed minds and hearts.

Sadly, in our own day those who use personal insult against Christians who proclaim with word and witness, reveal a similar dangerous for their souls’ arrogance.

Jesus answered, “I am not possessed; I honour My Father, but you dishonour Me. I do not seek My own glory; there is one who seeks it and He is the one who judges. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps My word will never see death.” [vs. 49-51]

To dishonour Jesus is to dishonour the Father, for Jesus and the Father are one, and it is the Father who seeks His Son’s glory and indeed Jesus is glorified both by His death on the Cross and His Holy Resurrection. Here too, even though they are argue against Him, against His teaching, insulted Him, Jesus reaches out still assuring them if they keep His word they will have eternal life!

Then the Jews said to Him, “Now we are sure that You are possessed. Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet You say, ‘Whoever keeps My word will never taste death.’ Are You greater than our father Abraham, who died? Or the prophets, who died? Who do You make Yourself out to be?” [vs. 52, 53]

It is part of the twisted logic of those who pursue relentless argument simply to try and prove their own point that their very words of challenge actually are words which, inadvertently to be sure as that is not the speaker’s intent, open the door to more truth in the answer which will be given them.

Jesus answered, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is worth nothing; but it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’  You do not know Him, but I know Him. And if I should say that I do not know Him, I would be like you a liar. But I do know Him and I keep His word.  Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad. [vs.54-56]

It is almost as if the response comes from people on auto-pilot in their determination to best Jesus: So the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old and You have seen Abraham?” [v.57]

Jesus’ reply solemnly reaffirms His Divinity, therefore that He is indeed the long awaited Messiah: Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.” [v.58]

Enraged, as they tried to do with the Woman Jesus rescued and forgave at the start of chapter 8, so now they try to do to Jesus: So they picked up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them and so passed by. [v.59]

The tragedy is, so locked in their arrogance, Jesus walks away from them, undoubtedly with love’s-pain for them burning in His Heart, for had they been humble, perhaps He would have stayed with them and given praise and thanks to the Father for and about them as He did in another context:  At that time Jesus said in reply, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. [Mt. 11:25]

© 2019 Fr. Arthur Joseph

Friday, 28 June 2019

ST. JOHN 8:33-36


Lectio divina, that is, divine meaning, is to approach Sacred Scripture not as a text, like the words of some technical journal, work of history, or a novel, but as living words not to be read, studied, but to see them, hear them, take them in, allow them to penetrate, transform our mind, heart, soul.

This is the work of the Holy Spirit and requires our cooperation, hence before opening to any book, page, line of Sacred Scripture we should ask the Holy Spirit for His assistance, without which we can fall into various errors, such as literalism which reduces Sacred Scripture to some sort of human record and distorts the living word.

So-called creationists fall into this error and do enormous harm thereby for their literalist interpretation reduces the marvel of all that is, of all that we are, to a type of magic trick, whereas the reality of all that is and all that we are is because the Most Holy Trinity in a creative explosion of love and divine delicacy, ex nihilo, more than just ‘out of nothing’, but from the stupendous reality of there being no-thing created some-thing, and all that was not became!

It matters not a wit how long the process of creation did or did not take.

What matters is the truth that creation is, we are, no mere ‘one of’, rather all that has been created is being creatively sustained by the same love which created and creates – for each newborn human being is a new creation, for God Himself breathes Himself into the matter originally created as Adam and Eve and sustains this marvel of the human person so that each time the original matter becomes conjoined anew between a man and woman LIFE is breathed into the matter anew and a PERSON becomes in the Trinity’s own image and likeness.

Had those challenging Jesus not been scriptural literalists they would have understood, allowed with joy to penetrate their hearts His word assuring them they would come to know the truth, that is come to know Him and that this knowing would set them free.

Instead they rejected not only His words but Jesus Himself with their challenge: They answered Him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will become free’?” [v. 33]

Part of the willful arrogance here is not simply these are the people of the Exodus and Babylonian captivity, but they were currently living under Roman occupation!

Ever patient with such challenges Jesus seeks to help them understand, to help us all understand, our notion of what is meant by freedom is too narrow, in a sense too materialist. We assume it primarily is a matter of freedom from external oppression/slavery, when the reality is freedom was lost with original sin and each time we choose sin we choose real enslavement/imprisonment.

V.34=Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.”

Often in modern translations of passages where Jesus uses the double amen, we find the words ‘verily’ or ‘truly’, some use ‘most assuredly’ - accurate translations, however Jewish custom at the time was only to use amen after a blessing-prayer. Jesus’ use is not only to underscore the importance of His teaching, but also to remind us He is Himself ultimate prayer to the Father and that being in constant intimate dialogue with the Father every teaching is itself a blessing.

V.35= “A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains.”

There are two ways in which a human being becomes a slave. One is external and imposed by another, the other way we become slaves is through what we do to ourselves, enslave ourselves to sins, some mortal, some venial and as varied as addiction to pleasure, poisoned thinking about ourselves or others. Tragically the variety of sin of which we humans are capable is as varied as we are. 

Regarding the first form of enslavement, to assume that sin of the massive form of slavery prevalent in the 18th and 19th centuries, in particular with the kidnapping and selling of our brothers and sisters from Africa to various owners throughout the western hemisphere, ended when first Canada, then the rest of the British Empire, then the US outlawed slavery, is to be ignorant of ongoing human trafficking, where men, women and children become slaves to factory owners, wealthy families, prostitution rings, groups which use children as soldiers.

The Church reminds us in the Catechism: The seventh commandment forbids acts or enterprises that for any reason - selfish or ideological, commercial, or totalitarian - lead to the enslavement of human beings, to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity. It is a sin against the dignity of persons and their fundamental rights to reduce them by violence to their productive value or to a source of profit. St. Paul directed a Christian master to treat his Christian slave "no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, . . . both in the flesh and in the Lord."  [ cf. # 2414 ]

As Christians we have an explicit obligation under charity and justice, if we are aware, for example, of someone indentured in domestic service, to report this to the authorities. Charity and justice also demand we help as best we can those charitable organizations that work to end slavery and human trafficking.

When it comes to being enslaved ourselves in sin, freedom comes from asking for metanoia, true conversion of heart, for which we have access in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, prayer, fasting, and where the sin is some form of addiction groups like Alcoholic Anonymous, and similar groups for drug, sex, anger addicts, are excellent ways of working towards being freed some such slavery, especially if such effort is combined with the help of a priest-spiritual director.

When Jesus teaches us: a son always remains, He Himself is the living example of the freedom of being a child of God, dwelling forever in the house of our Father. Granted here on earth it is to dwell in the house of trust in Jesus’s promise: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in Me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to Myself, so that where I am you also may be.” [14: 1-3]

V: 36= “So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free.”

This is no mere amnesty such as that which Lincoln granted the slaves in the United States during the Civil War. Indeed, whatever a human authority grants such authority can rescind just as easily.

Again, when Jesus uses the word ‘son’ He speaks of Himself and we can hear in this, and many other passages, the intensity of His love, the very ‘sitio’ He has, to set us free. Freedom is a gift of the Holy Trinity through Jesus laying down His life for us to redeem us.

© 2018 Fr. Arthur Joseph