Tuesday, 30 June 2020

UPDATE

                                                                      

Not long after the last posting here, the evening of May 22, I became violently ill and the accompanying pain was so severe I called 911 and was taken by ambulance to the Community Hospital where I was put in ICU on oxygen and a morphine drip.

After a few days I was moved to the critical care wing, the drip was replaced with injections throughout the day and night for pain, and I was put on other IVs to deal with pneumonia, fluid on the lungs and another infection. CAT scans and x-rays, an ECG and blood tests, became part of the routine while I remained very weak and bed ridden. Also, I was only on fluids for nourishment. The team of 3 doctors said I was suffering severe pancreatitis, which had them baffled as I had none of the underlying conditions for such an illness.

While because of Covid-19 protocols, no visitors were permitted into the hospital I was able, as I had my cell phone from when I called the ambulance, to have my family drop off a charger so we were able to keep in touch. This was particularly helpful when – still in hospital, bed ridden, hooked up to oxygen and IVs, the doctors, on May 31, my 35th ordination anniversary, said no longer in my life could I consume even a teaspoon or less of wine for Holy Mass. This was stunning and heartbreaking, but I recalled something Pope Benedict had granted years ago for priests who cannot consume fermented wine, so called a friend who checked and verified that priests may use a non-fermented wine called Mustum, which my own doctor approved my using once I was back in the poustinia.

By June 1st I was off fluids and starting solid food, small amounts at first, off the oxygen, pneumonia and fluid on the lungs healed, though I remained on high doses of pain meds as the doctors said that aspect of healing would take a few weeks. The physiotherapists helped me start to walk after the long time in bed and by June 6th I was released and now in poustinia continue the long journey of recuperation.

Around the world in various ways people are saying thank-you to Frist Responders, Doctors, Nurses, and countless others caring for us during this pandemic.

Living in Canada where we are blessed with free universal medical care I did not have, as people in many countries do, the stress of wondering how things would be paid for and so I am grateful to those in government, politicians and civil servants, and to working men and women who pay taxes, for our system of medical care.

Deep gratitude to the doctors, nurses, and all the staff who took such care of myself and everyone in the hospital needing care.

Thank-you also to my family and friends whose phone calls, bringing me back from the hospital, getting prescriptions, groceries and lavishing love and prayer, helped me get through the long hospital stay and to continue this journey of recovery.

© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph

 


Friday, 22 May 2020

ST. JOHN 11: 45-54

                                                              

We were in the early weeks of this evil pandemic the last time I wrote any meditation on the Holy Gospel of St. John, oddly without particular awareness of how much time has gone by! Many people have written or phoned and said the thing about this ‘new normal’ is that time seems itself to have shifted. Perhaps that is because without having to be at work or school, or to catch a bus or train, we have been less attuned to the ‘what time is it?’, than we realize.

Time, in this section of the Holy Gospel we are pilgrimaging through with Jesus, our eyes and hearts focused on Him, His words and actions, moves inexorably to Jesus’ Passion and Death. Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what He had done began to believe in Him. [v.45]

From a series of retreats given before he became Pope: Although Christ is present in the Gospel as Word, He is also present as Event, Act and Reality. [1]

As St. John notes, many came to believe in Jesus. Clearly they were open hearted, while perhaps unable to articulate they were indeed in the Presence of the Messiah, the Incarnate Word, or grasp He was both the one who did the ‘event’ of restoring life to Lazarus while being also the Event, both acted and was the Act that before them was absolute Reality, namely that God is love and we are beloved, they were touched by Him in the longing of their hearts for hope, for love, for mercy. They responded to Jesus with ascent of the will and heart as belief.

While Christ brings us truth, reality, light, healing, mercy, and much, much more, He does not take away our freedom to believe or reject the gift of faith, to follow Him or go off in another direction, thus: But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.[v.46]

This should not surprise us, this negative reaction to being in the presence of Divine Person-Word, Event, Act, Reality. Who among us does not struggle with God when He gets too close for comfort? There is an aspect of Jacob and his wrestling with God within all of us [Gen.32:24-32]. Perhaps no more than ever this pandemic points to the way, as individuals and the human family, we so often choose to be so busy about running our own lives, because we don’t want God to get too close.

While we hunger for the reality of selfless love we are suspicious of it, for fear there is a hidden agenda. Christ has no hidden agenda, not in restoring life to Lazarus nor forgiving the Good Thief, nor in redeeming us. The Event, Act, Reality of the Presence of the Word Himself is here in the brightness of the light flowing from Him, illuminating us, if we open our hearts to being illuminated.

The Second Vatican Council, in telling us that:…….the whole human family along with the sum of those realities in the midst of which it lives; that world which is the theater of man's history, and the heir of his energies, his tragedies and his triumphs; that world which the Christian sees as created and sustained by its Maker's love, fallen indeed into the bondage of sin, yet emancipated now by Christ, Who was crucified and rose again to break the strangle hold of personified evil, so that the world might be fashioned anew according to God's design and reach its fulfillment. [2], reveals therein the immense need of the human family for the radiating of Christ by every Christian, so that every human being learns the truth, reality, Christ dwells with us, walks with us on the journey through life, listening to our struggles, revealing Himself to us as love, compassion, truth, life, light, hope, mercy.

So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave Him alone, all will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” [vs.47,48] This flows from the great satanic lie, first spoke to humanity in the Garden: “You certainly will not die! God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.” [Gn.3:4,5], which lie the vile creature continues to use to seduce us, namely  that if we let God get too close we will lose all that we most cling to, whatever that may be.

Christ the Incarnate Word, Event, Act, Reality, knocks at the door of our beings seeking entry to reveal out true selves to ourselves, that is, the person we have been created to be, beings in the image and likeness of God, the Beloved of the Holy Trinity, children of the Father, disciples of Christ, temples of the Holy Spirit. When we open the door to Christ, the Father and the Holy Spirit enter with Jesus to abide in us, that we, each moment of our lives, might dwell in communion of love with the Most Holy Trinity, now and for all eternity.

The Sanhedrin saw only danger of loss if they allowed Christ to be accepted as Messiah. Collective loss, personal loss: But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.” He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God. [vs. 49-52] Here…, from the human side, there was murder for political ends;  from the Divine side, Caiphas unconsciously affirmed that Christ was an offering for the Jewish people, and for all people. His death would be vicarious; His life would be a sacrifice for others…….Our Lord said that He came to give His life as a ransom for sinful humanity; Caiphas said it, too, without realizing what he said. [3]

In the end, not all that long after the same Sanhedrin assuring Christ’s death, problem solved, would indeed suffer loss when the Romans came and destroyed the Temple and everything else the Sanhedrin had sought to protect. This is the way of satan, the evil trickster. Whenever we listen to his lies, and do as he suggests, the very thing we fear most comes crashing down upon and around us.

Only Christ comes to us to rescue and redeem, to give life and mercy, to restore our radiant dignity as human beings in the image and likeness of God.

So from that day on they planned to kill Him. So Jesus no longer walked about in public among the Jews, but He left for the region near the desert, to a town called Ephraim, and there He remained with His disciples. [vs. 53,54]

 

[1] THE WAY TO CHRIST, Spiritual Exercises, Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II); p.71; Harper & Row, 1984

[2] http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_cons_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html  para.2

[3] LIFE OF CHRIST, Fulton Sheen, p. 256; Image Books,  1990

© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph

 

 

 


Wednesday, 11 March 2020

ST. JOHN 11: 38-44


                                                             

St. Mark tells us of Jesus restoring life to Jairus’s daughter [5:35-43] and St. Luke tells us of Jesus restoring life to the son of the Widow of Nain [7:11-17]. Only God, the Most Holy Trinity is the Lord and Giver of Life.

Jesus, being True God as well as the Incarnate One, has within Him the power to restore life,  uses that divine power to restore life to Lazarus, yet Jesus does not use that power to protect Himself, indeed He has told us that such is His power no one can take life from Him, rather by the authority given Him by the Father Jesus can, and will, lay down His life for us, Jn. 10:18.

Then Jesus, groaning again within Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. [v.38]

After all His 33 years on earth, beginning with the slaughter of the Innocents by Herod, to the death of His beloved foster father St. Joseph, other family members, to that of His friend Lazarus, with deaths by disease, old age, murder, execution, part of daily life, no wonder Jesus groans. The weight of human beings suffering death surely was crushing His Heart and, perhaps too since He was getting closer to Jerusalem, confronting His own looming death, standing before a tomb like the one in which He would be buried, surely was an additional pain.

There is always a danger that we ‘see’ Christ, likely unwittingly, if we contemplate a passage from the Holy Gospels, gaze upon a statue, icon or other sacred image of Jesus, as someone from the past, rather than as the Divine Bridegroom, of whom we are the beloved, truly present to us in the here and now. When we contemplate any passage from the Holy Gospels we should ask the Holy Spirit to make us no mere observer of, but present in the now of, what unfolds as we read and meditate.

As St. Paul affirms, Jesus is: …. the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in Him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He Himself might be preeminent. For in Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile all things for Him, making peace by the blood of His Cross through Him, whether those on earth or those in heaven. And you who once were alienated and hostile in mind because of evil deeds He has now reconciled in His fleshly body through His death, to present you holy, without blemish, and irreproachable before Him, provided that you persevere in the faith, firmly grounded, stable, and not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven…..[Col. 1:15-23]

The first restoration of life to a deceased by Jesus occurs almost immediately after the girl has died [cf. Mk.5:35ff], whereas the second of the widow’s son occurs after a longer period of death [cf. Lk.7:11ff], this time several days have passed: Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to Him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” [v.39]. Should anyone doubt, as the old saying goes that Lazarus is ‘as dead as a door nail’!, Martha’s giving us both the time and that decomposition is occurring, surely suffices to affirm Lazarus is indeed dead – not unconscious, not in a coma, dead!

When those claiming to be exegetes of Sacred Scripture, or anyone else, reduce Jesus’ miracles to ‘acts of power’, or some other weaker word, or try to ‘explain’ them by asserting, for example the real miracle of the loaves and fish was people in the crowd being moved to share what they had with them, we should recoil from such nonsense in horror at their arrogance and disassembly of revealed truth.

Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” [v.40]

After the miraculous changing of water into wine at Cana St. John revealed that it was thus Jesus: …..manifested His glory and His disciples believed in Him. [2:11]. This manifestation of Jesus’ glory, His divinity, is for St. John, and should be for us, the primary focal point of all the miracles Jesus does. True, for those who in the immediate benefit from healing or forgiveness, etc., it is understandable if that gift grabs attention, however, frankly, be it in their lives or our own, what really is the point of any miracle if we do not open our hearts to deeper faith?

Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. [41] In the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew, 28:1 ff., St. Mark 16:1 ff., St. Luke 24:1 ff., and St. John, 20:1 ff., in their accounts of Jesus’ Holy Resurrection, the stone blocking the entrance to the tomb in which Jesus was buried has been removed, none detail how, and it is the very openness of the tomb which presages what will be discovered, experienced, when entrance is made. The very use of the word ‘they’ in verse 41 indicates such stones would have been no mere lid, or door, rather a thing of substance and weight. Lazarus was truly locked in, not only in death, but in the tomb itself.

Verse 41 continues: And Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You for hearing Me. [v.42] I know that You always hear Me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.”

The raising of His eyes, as any child does when looking up towards the eyes and face of their mom or dad with a request, the expressing of gratitude, though no request has been articulated for us to hear, it is gratitude for what is soon to transpire, the expression of confidence, an example for us to always be grateful and confident, and the expression of why He is praying out loud, that the crowd – which includes all of us – may have faith, is profoundly moving. It is always the Father and Jesus together as a duo, or rather as Trinity: The Father as principle, Jesus as the Father’s instrument, and the Spirit as the Father’s driving force. All three are completely involved: the Father in taking the initiative, the Spirit in driving and leading Jesus according to the Father’s directive, and Jesus in accepting the Spirit’s guidance and so fulfilling the Father’s will. [1]

Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” [v.43]

Here death is not given a gentle option, to release Lazarus or not, rather He who with His own death will hobble death’s power forever, by His command reveals the truth He, God alone, has power over life and death.

The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.” [v.44] Lazarus, as his free will act of acceptance and cooperation with the grace being offered hobbles forth, however he cannot free himself from what binds him. Neither can we. Like the paralytic who needed his friends to let him down through the roof to Jesus, Mk. 2:4ff., we all need the help of others to be freed from that which has us in bondage, and we should willingly help others. Those who moved the stone, those who unbound Lazarus were doing so as true charity, as should we always.

One of Our Lady’s titles is Untirer of Knots, the image of which, and devotion to, is close to the heart of Pope Francis. Untying what has us in bondage frees us to run into the arms of Jesus for metanoia and all needed healing.



Holy Mary, full of the presence of God during your life you accepted with great humility the Holy Will of the Father and the legacy of your Son Our Lord Jesus Christ. Evil never dared to entangle you with its confusion. Since then you have interceded for all of our difficulties. With all simplicity and patience you have given us the example on how to untangle the knots in our complicated lives. By being our Mother forever, you arrange and make clear the path that unites us to Our Lord. Holy Mary, Mother of God and ours, with your maternal heart untie the knots that upset our lives. We ask you to receive in your hands ( mention who or prayer request) and deliver us from the chains and confusions that have us restrained. Blessed Virgin Mary, through your grace, your intercession and by your example, deliver us from evil and untie the knots that keep us from uniting with God, so that once free of every confusion and error, we may find Him in all things, have Him in our hearts and serve him always in our brothers and sisters. Mother of Good Counsel pray for us. Amen



[1] INTO YOUR HANDS, FATHER Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us; p. 94, Father Wilfrid Stinissen; Ignatius Press, 2011



© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph




Thursday, 20 February 2020

ST. JOHN 11: 17-37


                                                               

Translations rarely are extremely different from one another, however certain ways of phrasing, or translation of a word, do occur. This happens not only when it comes to translating Sacred Scripture but in the ordinariness of translating books, documents, news reports, debates in dual or multilingual parliaments.

Various scholars thus translate v. 17 on the USCCB Bible website: When Jesus arrived……; the Jerusalem Bible: On arriving, Jesus…..; the New American Bible also uses: When Jesus arrived…..; the Orthodox Study Bible: So when Jesus came: phrasing which William Barclay in his commentary uses as well.

These minors variations nonetheless all highlight St. John once again indicating we should be very attentive to the life and teachings of Jesus, as he does throughout with phrases such as: In the beginning [1:1]; On the third day [2:1]; After these things [6:1]Now as Jesus passed by [9:1], each is an announcement.

When Jesus arrived, He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. [v.17]

A gentle way of emphasizing that Lazarus was truly dead, dead enough to have been buried.

Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away. [v.18] While bringing us closer to the great teaching we are about to receive from Jesus, and the miracle we are about to witness, St. John is reminding us the whole purpose of Jesus moving from His place where He rested by the Jordan, is to get to Jerusalem and allow Himself to be arrested, tortured, executed for our salvation.

And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary to comfort them concerning their brother. [v.19] This particular apostolate, over the millennia in most cultures and religions, of women as the comforters in times of grief is, for believers and unbelievers alike, a blessing and a reminder, or should be, we are human beings, persons of one family on this earth and while the birth of a child is a gift to all, the death of a human being should rightly be experienced by each one of us as a loss.

From an Orthodox Prayer for the Dead: O God of spirits and of all flesh, Who hast trampled down death and overthrown the Devil, and given life to Thy world, do Thou, the same Lord, give rest to the souls of Thy departed servants in a place of brightness, a place of refreshment, a place of repose, where all sickness, sighing, and sorrow have fled away…..From a Roman Catholic Prayer for the Dead: Lord, those who die still live in Your presence, their lives change but do not end. I pray in hope for my family, relatives and friends, and for all the dead known to You alone. A Jewish Prayer for the Dead: God, full of mercy, who dwells in the heights, provide a sure rest upon the wings of the Divine Presence, within the range of the holy, pure and glorious, whose shining resemble the sky’s, to the soul of (Hebrew name of deceased)……., the Master of Mercy will protect him forever, from behind the hiding of His wings, and will tie his soul with the rope of life….. Sadly, for those without faith or hope at secular funerals, among other dirges often this from the poet Dylan Thomas is read instead of a prayer: "Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

How we must pray that all our brothers and sisters may come to know, believe in, follow Jesus.

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” [vs. 20-22]

Martha and Mary are icons of the active and contemplative life. If our actions are to be replete with the light of the Gospel then we must first through contemplation be deep in union with Christ and, since Christ Himself moves from prayer to the active love of service, if our contemplation is to be fruitful we must likewise actively love and serve our brothers and sisters.

Like others in the Gospel accounts asking something of Jesus, Who often asks the petitioner if they have faith – and who among us, like the father asking a miracle for his child, does not often have to respond with the sheer honesty of: “I do believe, help me unbelief.” [Mk.9:24] – Martha here does articulate faith in and trust in Jesus and the power of His prayer.

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” [v.23] Martha asking for her brother back, and her assertion to Jesus had He been there Lazarus would not have died, shows that for all her trust in Jesus she still does not grasp that He is God, so had no need to be there to have prevented the death of Lazarus.

Jesus in fact is seeking to teach, through His replies to Martha, a great truth.

Martha said to Him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” [v.24] It would appear Martha took to heart the teachings of the Pharisees, who believed in the resurrection of the dead, and not those of the Sadducees who denied it.

Now Jesus has the opening for His teaching, and Martha embraces it and finally completes her act of faith:  Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that You are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” [vs. 25-27]

Clearly Martha was not only being attentive to the words, teaching of Jesus, but to Jesus Himself and His love for her. Everyone who is simultaneously open to the love radiating into us from Jesus and to His words will also, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, be able to proclaim our act of faith.

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, “The teacher is here and is asking for you.” As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to Him. For Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still where Martha had met Him. So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her saw Mary get up quickly and go out, they followed her, presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there. [vs.28-31]

Faith in Jesus must open us to metanoia/conversion of heart, which deepens discipleship and discipleship must lead to proclamation, both by word and acts of charity, as we are reminded in the title of the 3rd Mystery of the Luminous Mysteries of the Holy Rosary: The Proclamation of the Kingdom and the Call to Repentance.

When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and said to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” [v.32]

Like her sister Martha before her Mary does not yet grasp that Jesus, true God and True man, need not be physically present as man to act as God.

When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was deeply troubled…….[v.33] Jerusalem Bible translation renders this line as: Jesus said in great distress and with a sign that came straight from the heart….Once again what we are witnessing here is the infinite compassionate love Jesus has for every human being in distress and part of what troubles, pains Jesus is obtuseness, deafness, blindness when it comes to seeing and hearing how beloved we are……and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept. [vs.34,35]

Precisely as the Incarnate One, Jesus, True God and True Man,  having emptied Himself of His Divinity [kenosis] had no, as it were, shield of protection from the elements, cold, thirst, hunger, fatigue, etc., and like us had an intellectual and emotional-psychological life.

As St. John Paul teaches us: ….the heart of Jesus’ psychological life. He experienced human feelings of joy, sadness, anger, wonder and love. For example, we read that “Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit [Lk.10:21]. He wept over Jerusalem. “He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If this day you only knew what makes for peace.’” [Lk.19:41-42]. He also wept after the death of His friend Lazarus. “When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, He became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Sir, come and see.’ And Jesus wept.” [Jn. 11:33-35] [1]

So the Jews said, “See how He loved Him.” But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” [vs. 36, 37]

How little did they know just what Jesus was about to do for His friend!



[1] From St. John Paul’s General Audience of February 3, 1988


© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph




Wednesday, 12 February 2020

ST. JOHN 10: 40-41-11:1-16


                                                    

Once more St. John presents Jesus to us on the move: He went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and there He remained. [v.40]

Jesus is heading inexorably towards Jerusalem, to His passion and death.

In terms of His public life, the constant seeking to convey to those He encounters His love-teachings – as He continues to do within every heart-soul - the battles with evil spirits and human enemies, the miracles, the healings, all have surely taken a toll.

Perhaps Jesus simply needed to rest a while in the place where the Father and the Holy Spirit had affirmed Him and His mission.

Clearly the rest was short lived for:  Many came to Him and said, “John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true.” And many there began to believe in Him. [vs.41,42]

The phrasing is somewhat odd since the speakers are noted as coming to Jesus, their statement appears to be spoken not to Jesus Himself, rather to each other, to whomever happened to be in what was a group, perhaps not a real crowd.

Since we know [Jn. 1:28] the place where John had been baptizing is that part of the Jordon river near Bethany, clearly word about Jesus being nearby the town would have spread easily.

There is an urgent immediacy to the opening of chapter 11: Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried His feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill. So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Master, the one You love is ill.” [1-3].

Throughout his Holy Gospel account St. John references love, usually in the teachings of Jesus, fifty-three times. Sometimes referencing, as in 17:26 the love relationship between the Father and Jesus. Perhaps mostly we are familiar of the use of the word ‘love’ in 21:15ff, where Jesus asks of Peter about his love. There is an increased intensity in each of the three questions, a palpable desire on Christ’s part for Peter to get it right. Finally when Peter does affirm his love with the passionate words: “Lord, You know everything; You know I love You.” [21:17],  the bond of intimacy and communion of love has become unbreakable, so much so that not even martyrdom could break it.

On receiving the message Jesus said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” [4]

This receptivity of Jesus should assure us that He also receives all our prayer-petitions and the words Jesus speaks should also assure us that ultimately all suffering we are permitted to endure, when taking up that aspect of our cross and following Jesus, will also be for the glory of God and because Jesus is within us glorification unfolds within us, that is the Light of Christ poured into us by the Holy Spirit at Baptism, intensifies and shines more brightly upon those around us, the whole world, the entire cosmos.

Commenting on the above verse William Barclay says beautifully, truthfully: The simple fact of human need brings Jesus to our side in the twinkling of an eye. [1]

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was ill, He remained for two days in the place where He was. [vs. 5,6]

Just as at the wedding feast at Cana the wine jugs had to be obviously devoid of wine, thus there was a delay then to fill them with water and bring them back to Jesus, another miracle manifesting His glory, so too here the delay is necessary so that when Jesus will approach Lazarus in the tomb Lazarus will be devoid of life and need to be filled up with new life.

Given the proximity of Bethany to Jerusalem, about 3kms, and Jerusalem being where Jesus was headed, while the disciples were surprised by what Jesus says next, we should hear the words for what they truly are, Jesus’ consistent obedience to, abandonment to, trust in the Holy Will of the Father: Then after this He said to His disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone You, and You want to go back there?” [vs. 7,8]

Of course He does!

From the moment of His Incarnation Jesus has had one destination on this earth, one purpose, and every night in prayer, every step He has taken, every pause to teach, to heal, to reveal Himself in the various miracles and expulsions of demons, all have been the warp and woof of the tapestry of His life, of our salvation, as seamless a life and act of redemption as the tunic His Mother Mary wove for Him.

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” [vs. 9,10]

Sometimes, as here, St. John seems to drop words of Jesus in the middle of a narrative that deliberately interrupt and require a standing still, as it were, putting aside the narrative to contemplate Jesus’ words, even when those very words seem disconnected from the event at hand.

This sense of disconnect is because we easily fail to keep before us the narrative is an unbroken trajectory from: In the beginning was the Word…..to: ….And there are also many other things that Jesus did……within which narrative Jesus wastes not a word, for each word He speaks illuminates for us why we are so beloved and how to respond to the love the Father, Jesus the Son, the Holy Spirit lavish upon us.

Thus in His teaching about time and seeing, walking and not stumbling – or choosing to walk ‘lightless’ in the dark - this is Jesus reminding us that HE is the light of the world and that the time allotted to us on this earth is offered as that ‘day’ of hours needed to fulfill our baptismal vocation as His disciples, something we can only do if we seek to dwell in Him in, the Light of this world.

Absenting ourselves, even for a moment from this communion of light and love, means to choose to dwell in loveless darkness, and there we shall stumble, perhaps, for our souls, fatally.

He said this, and then told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.” So the disciples said to Him, “Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved.” But Jesus was talking about His death, while they thought that He meant ordinary sleep. So then Jesus said to them clearly, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.” So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with Him.” [vs. 11-16]

One of the wonderful things about the disciples, including the Apostles, is their blatant humanity, which should never be confused with stupidity or intellectual denseness. While clearly they did not always understand what Jesus was teaching or doing, they had by now been with Him long enough to have bonded in love with Him, and while as yet they did not understand the purpose of Jesus’ determination to get to Jerusalem, they did well know the authorities we seeking to arrest and execute Jesus, so the courage expressed by Thomas is admirable.

Are we willing to follow Jesus to death, to martyrdom by blood or loss of reputation, that is being rejected by those around us with their disdain for Christianity, because we never hide the fact we are His disciples, we are Christian?



[1] The Gospel of John, volume 2, p.81; William Barclay, the Westminster Press, 1975



© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph








Thursday, 23 January 2020

ST. JOHN 10: 22-39


                                                            

Now it was the Feast of the Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. [v.22]

In the First Book of Maccabees unfolds before us the immense tragedy inflicted upon the Jewish People by King Epiphanes resulting in the destruction of the Temple and most of Jerusalem itself, with countless deaths among the people, leading eventually to the Maccabean led revolt.

The feast is sometimes referred to as Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, occurring for eight days each December.

When St. John notes simply “it was winter”, he is pointing to the reality of the time of year when days are short, days of less sunlight. It is a time of year when shepherds must be ever more vigilant over the flock because winter storms are fierce and can be deadly if the flock is left out in the open.

Jesus as Good Shepherd watches over us, never leaves us vulnerable. IF we are vulnerable it is because we have abandoned the safety of membership in the flock, the safety of Jesus’ overwatch.

The entire history of the first Chosen People, our Jewish Brothers and Sisters, is marked by persecution, the worst of which occurred last century in the genocide of the Shoah, the Holocaust. Yet to this day, some seventy-five years after the liberation of the camps towards the end of WWII, still anti-Semitism, as a deadly evil, is not yet purged from human hearts. If it resides in a Christian heart, even if not acted upon, it is doubly evil in that to hate anyone is a deadly sin and to hate a Jewish person is to hate the very people from whom Christ Himself took His Incarnation.

And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. [v.23] Some translations have ‘walked about’, others ‘walking up and down.’ Who has not, in common parlance, paced, that is moved about waiting perhaps for a child to be born, or for someone to arrive for a meeting, a movie, for perhaps a proposal of marriage to be accepted, or not. Such movement is anticipation of either joy or anxiety.

Suddenly the pacing ends, the waiting is over for: Then Jews gathered around Him and said to Him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” [v.24]

It appears this group may well have been pacing parallel to Jesus, perhaps urging one another to gather up the courage to walk over to Jesus and put the question! They had failed consistently in their attempts to best Jesus with trap-questions, so it is highly unlikely that – for most probably they were the same Pharisees who had been dogging Him since He first began His public ministry – they were seriously seeking an encounter with the Messiah.

Religiosity, while defined in dictionaries as the holding of a strong religious belief, actually is a form of pride, neo-gnosticism, and usually is accompanied by a rigorist and legalist interpretation of divine revelation, in particular when applied to others, thus those who embody such bondages tend also to be obstreperous, hard of heart.

Most teenagers, and lots of adults too, experience the incredible pain of unrequited love or love that is outright rejected.

Jesus Christ IS love Incarnate. He is the living Icon and Word of Trinitarian love, yet because He is also a true human being, the constant rejection of His love for them by the Pharisees, by anyone then or now, was a profound dagger into His Sacred Heart, a Heart which would be visibly torn open, shredded almost, by the soldier’s lance as He hung upon the Cross having given His life for us, His beloved.

In the conversation/teaching/challenge which follows, as Jesus reiterates the truth that He is indeed the Christ, the Messiah, revealing again He is the Good Shepherd, His oneness with the Father, we should be mindful of how His Heart pains with unrequited love for His interrogators.

Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in My Father’s name testify to Me. But you do not believe, because you are not among My sheep. My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” [vs.25-30]

Euphemisms are used by religious zealots and others as a means of hiding the truth: hate-filled violence is always a mortal sin, always a blasphemous act which usurps what is God’s alone: the gift of life.

Call it reproductive rights it is still abortion, the murder of pre-born human beings; call it honour killing, it is still the murder of women and girls; called it assisted dying it is still assisted self-murder and, as some do, hiding behind rigorist interpretations of certain texts in some religions used to justify abusing those of another religion, is still murder of the innocents.

Just as we can commit adultery in our hearts: Mt. 5: 27 ff, so too we can commit murder in our hearts: Mt. 5: 21ff.

The Jews again picked up rocks to stone Him. [v.31]

Though Jesus knew what was in their hearts, when He speaks it is not per se seeking a ‘because- why’ answer. Rather, if we listen with our hearts, we hear Love Himself giving an opportunity for reflection, pursuant to which, if accepted, the grace of conversion, softening, opening of hearts to Him is there if they accept it:  Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of these are you trying to stone me?” [v.32]

Hard heartedness is akin to having one’s heart encased in concrete and to free anything so encased takes the smashing of the concrete.

The only sledgehammer capable of doing so is that of the knock on the door of hearts by Jesus who loves us, seeks to free us, but once the concrete hardness is done away with, He honours our freedom and waits at the door of our being for us to open to Him, invite Him in – or not.

The Jews answered Him, “We are not stoning You for a good work but for blasphemy. You, a man, are making Yourself God.” [v.33]

Another aspect of hard heartedness is the stupidity of arrogance, of being smarter than God, revealed here in their answer which ignores not just what Jesus has clearly taught them, but the very Scriptures they pride themselves on knowing exposes their arrogant stupidity.

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’?  If He called them gods to whom the word of God came, and scripture cannot be set aside, can you say that the one whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world blasphemes because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe Me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may realize and understand that the Father is in Me and I am in the Father.” [vs.34-38]

In our own day there are those who to refuse to hear the truth of the Gospel of Life. They remain encased in the concrete prison of the culture of darkness and death, imitating the Pharisees in their arrogant hatred for Life Himself standing before them and speaking with them. These the haters of life, of Christians, therefore of the Lord and Giver of Life Himself, in their own way: Therefore they sought again to seize Him, but He escaped out of their hand. [v.39]. By various means they continue to seek to silence Christians. They may seek to silence the words of Christ spoken to their hearts, but they cannot silence the Redeeming Person of Christ nor can they overcome Christ who is the Light of the world and thus neither can they silence the resounding light of Christ every Christian radiates, through baptism.



© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph










Thursday, 9 January 2020

ST. JOHN 10:16-21


                                                             



I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear My voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. [v.16]

Because of the richness and immediacy of the Liturgical Year, while dwelling in the nitty-gritty of chronological time, we have the grace of living in the reality, the luminosity, the depths of kairos, the Lord’s time.

We celebrate the salvific reality of the above verse in the solemnity named in and with the western lung of the Church: Epiphany and in and with the eastern lung of the Church: Theophany. It is to live out the urgent call of St. John Paul II that we always be aware of breathing with both lungs of the Church, an apt metaphor for while a human being can survive with only one lung, capacity for fullness of life is reduced. Breathing with both lungs means a fullness.

With the antiphon before the Canticle of Zechariah in Morning Prayer the Western Church proclaims: Today the Bridegroom claims His bride, the Church, since Christ has washed Her sins away in Jordan’s waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding; and the wedding guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine.

Then with the antiphon before the Canticle of Mary in the evening, the Church rejoices again: Three mysteries mark this holy day: today the star leads the Magi to the infant Christ; today water is changed into wine for the wedding feast; today Christ wills to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation.

As St. John points out about the miracle at Cana: Jesus did this as the beginning of His signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed His glory, and His disciples began to believe in Him. [2:11] Each of the accounts in the Holy Gospels which, point to everything about Jesus, point most importantly to the revelation of His radiant glory, a glory which He offers to us, the glory of being children of the Father, disciples of Jesus, temples of the Holy Spirit.

Breathing at the same time with Her Eastern lung, the Church, at Vespers, proclaims with the Troparion: When You O Lord were baptized in the Jordan the worship of the Trinity was made manifest, for the voice of the Father bore witness to You and called You His Beloved Son. And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the truthfulness of His word. O Christ, our God, You have revealed Yourself and have enlightened the world, glory to You!

Then with the Kontakion the Church reiterates this incredible and dazzling truth: Today You have shown forth to the world, O Lord, and the light of Your countenance has been marked on us. Knowing You, we sing Your praises. You have come and revealed Yourself, O unapproachable Light.



The encounters with Christ, indeed with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in the Sacred Liturgy, is to experience in communion of love the words from Hebrews: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. [Heb. 13:8]

Thus when contemplating Christ in each event in the Holy Gospels, meditating upon His teachings, these should penetrate the ears of our hearts, even if we are ‘reading’ passages, as profoundly as they penetrate the ears of our hearts when we hear the Holy Gospel proclaimed during the liturgy as these sacred words first vibrate through our external ears and then, like a tuning fork wacked to vibrate, our hearts vibrate.

Mostly the Holy Spirit, metaphorically, wacks our hearts gently, however sometimes if we are being obtuse He may have to be somewhat more dramatic!

For there to be the one flock of which Jesus speaks a price must be paid, that is not only the Chosen People, the Jewish people, our Elder Brothers and Sisters in faith, must be ransomed, but the rest of us, the Gentiles to whom the fire-light of Epiphany/Theophany is granted, we too must be redeemed and the price is the sacrifice of the unblemished Lamb.

The true Lamb of God, however, is not pulled from the flock and necessarily-arbitrarily sacrificed.

Redemption is a self-gift by the true Lamb of God, and as well it is a manifestation of the internal Trinitarian love, and the love of the Holy Trinity for us: This is why the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from My Father.” [vs.17,18]

While it is true Jesus’ self-sacrifice, self-gift is for everyone without exception, it is not a gift imposed on us. We are free to accept or reject this gift, keeping in mind the tragedy of the rejection is that the Giver of the gift, who is the gift itself, are inseparable. If we, with intimate confidence in the Trinity’s love for us, see and hear Jesus the Good Shepherd as gathering us, laying down His life of us we should understand, with great joy that He so gives Himself not simply in the collective ‘us’, but in the deeply, intimate, personal: for me.

Again there was a division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said, “He is possessed and out of His mind; why listen to him?” Others said, “These are not the words of one possessed; surely a demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?” [vs. 19-21]

How heart breaking it must have been for Jesus to hear such contention over His teaching and how heart breaking it is when anyone refuses to listen, be attentive, to embrace both the teaching and the Teacher.



© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph