Friday, 4 August 2017

St. John + 4:1-6


It is high summer.

In North America and several countries in Europe the hot dry weather has spawned the usual rash of wildfires.

In parts of Africa drought and famine spread.

While heat does warm the earth, causing seeds to grow, too much heat kills: plants, animals, human beings.

We humans can only live three days without water.

St. John, knowing well the reality of life in a desert country, as he frequently does throughout the Gospel, paints a vivid picture of heat causing fatigue and thirst and within that reveals more of the real humanity of Christ.

St. Paul reminds us that: …Christ Jesus Who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. [Phil. 2:5-8]

4:1-3= Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, just His disciples), He left Judea and returned to Galilee.

Given that the Evangelist wrote down his Gospel account of Jesus’ life and teachings, post-Pentecost, it is indeed crucial that St. John points out that Jesus did not baptize because, he would totally understand that what John the Baptist, and some of the enthusiastic disciples of Jesus, at this early stage still lacking a clear understanding of Jesus’ person and mission, were ‘baptizing’ in a symbolic sense, not as the actual sacrament of baptism, instituted by and mandated by Jesus: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” [Mt.28:19]

In the above verses from St. John we are reminded again that Jesus’ life on earth, His public life was never static. Mostly He is on the move, as if trying to get to every place, especially where the Chosen People lived.

This is missionary movement.

This is why the Church Herself can never be static, nor any diocese or parish, nor any individual Christian.

We must always be on the move, seeking, reaching out, proclaiming the Gospel with our lives, without compromise.

The way in which we do so will vary according to our vocation, but even a smile offered to a stranger on a crowded bus is an act of evangelization.

Indeed, it is the witness of our authentically Christ-centered lives, for by baptism we are Christophers, that is Christ-bearers, and not words, which will bring people to Christ. Once people have embraced the witness then their hearts will be open to hear the teachings of Christ: Tertullian, writing around 200AD, shows how astonished the majority pagan community was about the smaller Christian community, whose love and care for one another, Tertullian asserts, caused the pagans to declare: “See how they love one another.”

Such an observation of love in action leads to curiosity, which leads to approach from which flows questioning that becomes dialogue and then an ask to be baptized.

Vs. 4-6=He had to pass through Samaria.  So He came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon.

Translated here as noon, the term ‘noon’ is more often translated as ‘the sixth hour’, we see this in the Synoptic accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus noting moments which occurred at the sixth to the ninth hour, that is from noon until three in the afternoon. [cf. Mt. 27:45; Mk. 15:33,34; Lk. 23:44]

In most countries of the world, at least in summer, the hours between noon and three are the hottest of the day, indeed in some countries the heat during those hours can be brutal, even dangerous.

Oddly enough when meditating on these verses – and one never knows where meditations might go, perhaps in this case because it is near three in the afternoon on a hot summer’s day – a Noel Coward ditty came to mind from my childhood when, after the more serious anthems and classics had been sung as we celebrated Empire Days, Coward’s song MAD DOGS AND ENGLISHMEN would be sung by all with much glee, the colonials making fun of the particular British approach to peoples of the Empire: “In tropical climes there are certain times of day when all citizens retire……because the sun is much too sultry…..But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.”

When we meditate upon the crucifixion of Jesus it is important to be aware He was crucified on the top of a hill during the hottest time of the day; to remember most people in countries of extreme heat do not have air conditioning, easy access to cool water; even in countries such as mine, where days above 25 Celsius/70 Fahrenheit, are rare, except in July.

Many countries with milder, even northerly climates, can still have days of brutal heat and the poor, the homeless, outside workers, the elderly, the sick, expectant mothers, small children, suffer much in the heat.

There is nothing in the life of Jesus, even if it seems to be mentioned almost in passing, that is outside of the experience of any human being.

Many of us live in cultures replete with elevators, escalators, moving sidewalks, air conditioning, and either public transportation systems or own our own cars replete with air conditioning, and cup holders for nicely chilled bottled water.

Not the case for millions of our brothers and sisters who must walk everywhere in the hundreds of countries that do not have such things, indeed even in countries with such things the homeless must walk everywhere to beg for food, for water, a place to sleep at night, and not to be gross about it but they and millions of the poor around the world even have to find a place to go to the bathroom.

So here Jesus, having walked for hours is hot, exhausted, thirsty.

He sits down at the well.

How very human!

Who among us has not experienced at some point being overheated, thirsty, worn out and sought a place of shade, rest, where we might slake our thirst?

Just as Jesus did.

But this is all prelude to the central event!

Friday, 30 June 2017

ST. JOHN=3:22-36

Vs.22-24= After this, Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea, where He spent some time with them baptizing. John was also baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was an abundance of water there, and people came to be baptized, for John had not yet been imprisoned.

As will become apparent in later verses St. John the Baptist will, in this instance, catechize as if he were aware of Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus.

There are two points to note, first in chapter 4:2 the Evangelist specifies that: Jesus Himself was not baptizing, just His disciples.

Second, while keeping in mind how much of the Holy Land, is mostly desert, arid land, where water is precious, St. John does not tell us if this abundance of water is a river or lake or from a well, yet in such an arid place any abundance of water would be notable.

When the Evangelist notes that St. John had ‘not yet been imprisoned’ it is as if he is preparing us for what is to come.

I have just finished reading a wonderful book A SONG FOR NAGASAKI, which is the life story of Takashi Nagai, a convert to the faith, doctor, husband, father, who suffered much being a citizen of Nagasaki when it was struck by the atomic bomb.

On page 105 the author notes: “Origen used to say that the Gospel according to St. John is the quintessence of the Bible and is understood only ‘if you lean on Jesus’ breast’, in other words, if you pray.”

I find, like Origen, meditation on the words of the Gospel leads to prayer and so it ends up taking a long time to move from verse to verse!

Vs. 25,26= Now a dispute arose between the disciples of John and a Jew about ceremonial washings. So they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here He is baptizing and everyone is coming to Him.”

How often critical catecheses in St. John’s Gospel are proceeded by some controversy!

With the above St. John introduces the powerful, and humble, words of the Baptist:

Vs. 27,28= John answered and said, “No one can receive anything except what has been given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said [that] I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him.

We have here incredible statements of faith and trust in Divine Providence.

It is very common for we human beings to presume what we have is as a direct result of our own labours, ingenuity, tenacity.

This simply is not true.

The origin of all we have comes from the creative, providential love of Divine Providence.

True, this laptop and its components come from human labour, but the origin of all the metals, for example, contained herein, is mineral resources, yes dug from the earth by human labour.

BUT no human being created the minerals, nor placed them in the earth to be found and exploited by human beings for use in this laptop.

In every Holy Mass, this same faith and trust in Divine Providence is expressed in the Offertory Prayers: Blessed are You, Lord God of all creation, for through Your goodness we have received the bread we offer You: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life. And: Blessed are You, Lord God of all creation, for through Your goodness we have received the wine we offer You: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink.

Jesus urges us to trust Divine Providence, to understand what truly is of value as noted by St. Luke 12: 22ff; St. Matthew 6:25ff.

Then the Baptist asks his questioners to themselves become witnesses of the great reality of the Messiah.

Vs. 29,30= “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens to him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.”

Two critical teachings flow from the Baptist’s reference to marriage: 1] while we all can rejoice during a wedding something more critical than what appears when we observe the bride and groom in their finery before the priest at the altar, namely, unlike the other sacraments, the minister of this sacrament is not the priest. He and those in attendance are witnesses to something very sacred indeed, as teaches the Catechism of the Church about the union of a baptized man and baptized woman: According to the Latin tradition, the spouses as ministers of Christ’s grace mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church…..In the epiclesis   of this sacrament the spouses receive the Holy Spirit as the communion of the love of Christ and the Church. The Holy Spirit is the seal of their covenant, the ever-available source of their love and the strength to renew their fidelity. [#’s 1623, 1624]

2] Christ Himself is the Bridegroom, the Church His Bride, and thus we as members of the Church share in this intimate communion of love: The Church is the spotless bride of the spotless Lamb. Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for Her, that He might sanctify Her. He has joined Her with Himself in an everlasting covenant, and never stops caring for Her as for His own body. [op.cit.#796]

There is a pointing to Jesus’ own expression of joy in St. John’s saying his joy has been made complete, when Jesus says in 16: vs. 20, 22, 23, 24= ….you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy…..I will see you again and your heart will rejoice and your joy no one will take from you….Ask, and you will receive that your joy may be complete.

No matter what we suffer, no matter the stress, no matter the turbulence of our emotions, the state of heart and soul of all the baptized is joy, the gift of the Holy Spirit.

When St. John teaches about Christ that He must increase and of himself that I must decrease he is preparing everyone for the reality that with himself, as the last prophet of the Old Law/Testament, and the precursor, preparer of the way for Christ, history – both chronological history as we experience, and salvation history which is the whole point of the former, will forever more be noted as the time before Christ and the time since Christ.

Here too we can hear the later teaching of Jesus about greater and lesser:  Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. [Mt. 18:3]; The greatest among you will be your servant. [Mt. 23:11].

Being true disciples, witnesses of Christ for others means in a real way we too should decrease so Christ increases within us.

As an aside noted by Byzantine liturgical scholars: the nativity of St. John the Baptist is celebrated on June 24th, when the sun has begun its decline towards the horizon, while the birth of Christ is celebrated December 25th, when the sun has begun to increase.

The Baptist continues his teaching, vs.31-36= The one who comes from above is above all. The one who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of earthly things. But the one who comes from heaven [is above all]. He testifies to what He has seen and heard, but no one accepts His testimony. Whoever does accept his testimony certifies that God is trustworthy. For the one whom God sent speaks the words of God. He does not ration his gift of the Spirit. The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to Him. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.

Was St. John the Baptist shown the Most Holy Trinity?

Certainly, we know that Holy Spirit formed him and sent him on his mission as precursor of Christ.

What the Baptist gives us here is a clear teaching that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the expected One, sent by God, that is by the Father, and that Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit.

This all, which is spoken here, flows from what the Baptist experienced and already witnessed to in John 1: 29-34.

All God’s self-revelation is fulfilled in Christ, who reveals to us that the name of God is Abba. [Hebrew which is translated in the formal sense of ‘father’, but the more accurate translation of this word, commonly spoken particularly in Israel is: Dad, Papa, Daddy].

This is the intimate relationship we have with the Father, that of beloved children, each of us is His Child.

Jesus is both our Redeemer and our brother.

Through Jesus as well we come to know the Holy Spirit and in baptism receive the Holy Spirit, becoming disciples of Christ, true children of the Father, thus enter communion of love with the Most Holy Trinity.

Indeed, when the Father sends His Word, Jesus Christ, He always sends His Breath, the Holy Spirit. [cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church #689].

Thus as St. Paul teaches: For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him……In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. [Rm.8:14-17 & 26]

Monday, 5 June 2017

new blog added

Friday, 26 May 2017

ST. JOHN 3: 1-21

Before starting reflections on the above, the final verses of chapter 2:23-25:
While He was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in His name when they saw the signs He was doing. But Jesus would not trust Himself to them because He knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He Himself understood it well.
Once again St. John is pointing at the critical event towards which Jesus is heading, Passover, the final one Jesus will celebrate on earth and which will usher in His Passion, Death and Resurrection.
Pointedly as well the last line: He Himself understood it well, speaks volumes about the observational lived experience of Jesus’ some thirty years of hidden life among us.
Jesus’ understanding us well is exemplified by the intensity of His compassion.
Indeed, Jesus understands us so well that if we do not know Jesus we will remain incomprehensible to our very self.
The attraction of various self-help books, gurus, other religions, facial creams, gyms and the plethora of gizmos for sale promising the perfect body, cosmetic surgery, cults etc., even the plastering of tattoos on the body, all these ultimately are coming from a desperate need to find self.
Be since we have been created by love Himself, in His image and likeness, we cannot find the real, the true self, outside of intimate communion with Him.
The sooner we become exhausted by alternatives and turn towards Him our faces will be radiant with the recognition we seek for we shall see ourselves in the only mirror which does not invert the image, not distort – the mirror of His loving eyes gazing upon us!
3:1-2: Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night………..
In his novel THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, Dostoevsky has a chapter, entitled The Grand Inquisitor, which some commentators see as a mockery of the Roman Catholic Church, but given the unfortunate reality that all Christendom, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, has across the millennia produced numerous saints and martyrs, likewise, given it is human beings who make up the Body of Christ on earth, there have been, are, always will be those, both clergy and laity, within Christianity, who take advantage to feather their own nests with power, close mindedness, and all the other vices in opposition to authentic, Gospel rooted, imitation of Christ’s holiness: it is not a bad thing to have the sins, failures, compromises of Christians exposed. It should be occasion of re-conversion!
Ultimately the character Ivan seeks to explain his poem, The Grand Inquisitor, a poem which shows the Cardinal Inquisitor, having Christ, who has returned and once more is loving, healing, affirming people: arrested.
The Cardinal comes at night to visit Jesus in His cell.
The dialogue between the two is fascinating, a type of exegesis of the temptation of Jesus in the desert, which the Cardinal asserts throughout it is really all about Christ giving us choice, that is free will: and a big mistake.
The real power of the ‘poem’ comes at the end when, the Grand Inquisitor having finished not merely challenging but indicting Christ, Christ in silence approaches, and gently kisses the old man.
Instantly Christ is set free but is told never to return.
Nicodemus, being a Pharisee, may well have been of the ilk of the Inquisitor, certainly he too approaches Christ at night and he too will challenge, coming close to indicting Christ, but the outcome is very different indeed!
v. 1-2, cont.:…..and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.”
Like as not Nicodemus is not doing so here, but there are echoes in the way he speaks, of what many of the enemies of Jesus will do throughout His life, namely, make statements or ask questions which are, in essence, traps guised as sincere enquiry.
While addressing Jesus with the honorific ‘rabbi’ and declaring Jesus to be a teacher who ‘has come from God’, neither Nicodemus, nor St. John the evangelist, identify the ‘we’ in: ‘we know that’.
It may well be that Nicodemus has just come from some meeting of the leading Pharisees where the issue of Jesus has been discussed, perhaps in such a way that Nicodemus’ curiosity has been peeked.
v.3=Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
It is striking that Jesus at first glance does not appear to be telling Nicodemus directly by asserting, for example, that He, Jesus, has indeed come from God and that God is indeed with Him.
However, looked at more closely that is what Jesus is asserting for implied in His statement is indeed a pointing towards His Incarnation.
v. 4= Nicodemus replies immediately with a question that contains within it a challenge: Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot re-enter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?”
When people express to me a struggle with faith and prayer I remind them that God who is Love, precisely because He loves us, as Jesus does here, welcomes our need to question, to challenge, to express whatever we struggle with or pains us.
We have the example of Abraham in Genesis 18 arguing with God so that some from Sodom and Gomorrah might be spared, the tenderness of Jesus Risen walking with, listening to the painful confusion of the disciples on the road to Emmaus and taking the time to explain to them the truth of what has happened as St. Luke [24:13ff] tells us.
Here too in Nicodemus’ question we see something else which is very important, namely questioning which comes out of a search for faith, for truth, for the One we seek, for as St. Augustine reminds us every human being is restless until we have communion of love and rest within Love Himself.
It behooves us then as Christians to have attentive, patient, compassionate hearts and when someone expresses an opinion or asks a question about matters of faith NOT to be in a rush to convince or win some argument but to truly hear and reply with the same compassionate and gentle patience as shown by Jesus both to Nicodemus and the Emmaus disciples.
Vs. 5-8= Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Jesus is giving a teaching on Baptism.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that: Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit…..the door which gives access to the other sacraments……[1213]….it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which ‘ no one can enter the kingdom of God.’ [1215]
v.9= Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can this happen?”
That this visit and conversation with Jesus occurs long before the post-Pentecost teaching of the Apostles Nicodemus’ question is quite reasonable. Yet Jesus challenges Nicodemus because after all Nicodemus is a learned man of faith:
v. 10= Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this?
Then, reminiscent of the encounter and conversation between Jesus risen, with the disciples on the road to Emmaus [cf. Lk. 24:13ff], immediately Jesus gives a fulsome teaching:
vs. 11/12=Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
It can be stated that in this dialogue Nicodemus is speaking as the voice of Judaism while Jesus, when He states, “we speak”; “we know”; “we testify”; “we have seen”; “our testimony” this reveals His intimate union with the Father and it can be added, since St. John is writing in the early years of the Church the ‘we’ is also the voice of Christianity.
The parables Jesus uses to teach are replete with stories which concern earthly things and are used to lead into the things of heaven, such as are found in the Synoptic Gospels but not in St. John, who focuses on the teachings of Jesus in a detail of words. Thus in meditating upon the Holy Gospel according to St. John it is critical to take time with the words because unlike in the synoptics there are not easy ‘stories’ to tell as gateway to the teaching.
vss. 13-15= No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.”
Being a man of faith and scholarship Nicodemus would realize immediately Jesus is revealing that He Himself is the cure for all that sickens humanity. While in the desert, all the Chosen People had to look upon a representation of the very snakes that were sickening them, so the healing promised by God might take place. That healing was only for those physically sickened by a snake bite and had no extension to the inner healing all human beings need.
Perhaps Nicodemus did not fully grasp things, yet maybe listening to Jesus, his heart, like the hearts of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, was already burning within him.
Saying He Himself must be lifted up Jesus is beginning to reveal what He further details: vs. 16-17= For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
As mentioned, in the desert the people were only healed from a snake bite.
Jesus heals the sickness of sin and the poison of death.
If we return to Nicodemus’ opening question how astonished he must have been by the depth and clarity of Jesus’ teaching. Perhaps Nicodemus was already rediscovering in his mind and heart everything contained in the Hebrew Scripture about the Messiah.
While intellectually we can understand love and giving as in “….God so loved the world that He gave…” only our hearts are able to open to the fullness of the immensity of the Father’s love for us in giving His only Son for us, a gift which contains within the life, passion, death, resurrection, ascension of Jesus and Jesus’ constant intercession for us at the right hand of the Father.
We have also here the profound teaching on mercy: “…God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
Divine Mercy is personified in the crucified and risen Jesus and more than two millennia after this conversation with Nicodemus, Pope St. John Paul II would declare the Second Sunday of Holy Easter Mercy Sunday.
Jesus continues teaching v.18= Whoever believes in Him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Over the centuries since Moses came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, a simple enough code for holiness, as our Jewish Brothers and Sisters became settled in the promised land and groups like the Pharisees, to which Nicodemus belonged, the Sadducees, and some Rabbi’s kept piling on every more burdensome regulation until achieving holiness of life either through daily living or religious practice became nigh impossible.
Christianity has faced, does face, the same temptation and struggle, namely to bury the simplicity and clarity of, for example how to follow the Great Commandment to love one another, under similar burdens, as Christ was constantly criticizing the religious leaders of His day for doing.
Certainly, the valid celebration of sacraments requires rubrics, but post the Council of Trent, particularly when Latin was no longer the common language, insistence on Latin as the ONLY liturgical language was burdensome and frankly dumb. It would take the Vatican Council, called by St. John XXIII, who was always a priest of the people, to open the richness and transcendence of liturgy to all people, whatever their language.
It may well have shocked Nicodemus that Jesus was asserting holiness of life has faith as its foundation and praxis, not following a bunch of rules!
True faith leads to fulfillment of the Gospel, lived without compromise, to communal participation in sacramental/liturgical life.
v.19= And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.
These words of Jesus echo the Prologue: And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. [Jn.1:5]
Much later Jesus would declare: “I am the light of the world…..” [Jn.8:12ff]
We speak these days of ‘dark’ money in politics and of the ‘dark’ web, indeed people of faith understand we live in a culture of darkness and death.
Paradoxically, given the number of major cities and towns across the globe we seem both addicted to dark places and fearful of them at the same time and so intensely illuminate our cities that we refer to such illumination as ‘light pollution!’
v.20= For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.
Even post-baptism we Christians can choose to reject the Light of Christ poured into us. We do this by choosing sin, by rejecting the gift of faith.
We can also choose to live and move, to act and love always within the divine gift of light.
Borrowing from the stories of the Fathers of the Desert, in his book, Circling the Sun, Robert Pelton teaches this, first re-telling a story about two fathers of the desert: One day Father Lot went to Fr. Joseph and told him, “As far as I can, I keep my rule. I eat little, I pray and am silent, I work with my hands and share my bread with the poor. As best I can, I strive to purify my heart. What else should I do?” Then Father Joseph stood up and stretched out his arms, and from his fingers shot tongues of fire. “If you want,” he said, “you can become a living flame.” [op. cit. p.122]
Pelton comments: To become a living flame: that is the Gospel proclaimed by Jesus the Master. That is what He Himself is, the blazing sun who lights the whole world. [ibid.]
v. 21= But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

Friday, 17 February 2017

St. John 2:13-22 - Part 2


Strange what thoughts, images, can be triggered by sound – or perhaps not so strange given we human beings are gifted with hearing and with sight, touch, memory, imagination!

As I was about to begin this meditation on the rest of St. John’s account of the cleansing of the Temple, bells for the noon Angelus began ringing from the nearby parish. I was taken back to my childhood, long before Vatican II, when churches were open 24/7, the bells rang not just three times daily for the Angelus, but also to summon people to Holy Mass, during the elevations at the consecration, peeling joyously at Christmas and Easter, singing out the news of His birth, His resurrection, yes tolling mournfully at funerals but peeling with joy at weddings.

Churches were adorned with stained glass windows, statues of saints, bells were rung by altar boys at various points during the Canon of the Mass, beautiful were the vestments worn, Benediction, Forty Hours devotion, processions such as at Corpus Christi, communal praying of the Rosary, and yes incense was used reminding us that our prayer does indeed rise to heaven.

Bishops, priests, religious brothers and sisters were all visible in clerical dress and various coloured habits, thus making, to borrow from Pope Francis, the field hospital of the Church visible so all can find Her and have refuge in Her and be well served.

But after Vatican II the temple of the Church, in chanceries and rectories, in seminaries, convents, monasteries, religious houses, indeed within the sacred space of liturgy, a type of money changers and sellers of not just doves but worldly philosophies and panderers of ‘my rights’ trumping everyone else’s began to crowd in – so bells were silenced, often by suddenly hyper-sensitive neighbours or sometimes local politicians with their ordinances, pressure was put on priests to not use incense because someone was allergic, etc., etc., and little by little the transcendence of liturgy, indeed of the interior space of churches – for gutting occurred and statues disappeared, vestments became bland, clergy and religious abandoned their colourful habits for street clothes and the church, the Body of Christ among the human family became if not increasingly invisible, certainly a harder to find reality.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. [Col. 2:8]

We have allowed ourselves to be taken captive and the unborn, the homeless, the elderly, the sick, the lonely, the stressed families, the seekers of Christ suffer mightily as a result.

There are many other ‘temples’ in our lives for we dwell within the temple of the cosmos on the sacred space of earth, itself a type of temple with its own moneychangers and sellers causing damage to the environment, exploiting the poor and workers, waging wars of terrorism with violence, or hatred, discrimination, and then there is all the chaos, and for some countries the corruption, of politics; there is the temple of our particular nation, city, village, family and primary among them all: the temple of our own personhood and body.

It is within the temple of self, the ‘I’ of our being, within which the, as it were ‘holy of holies’ is the garden enclosed within our soul: the point, the place of encounter and dialogue with Love Himself who has created us to be beloved.

Here, within the sacred space of our soul, our heart, our zeal for cleansing any temple must first begin, otherwise we will run off with a misguided self-righteousness disguised as zeal to cleanse other temples, when actually what we are doing is flight from self, from the truth or our own need for ever deeper cleansing of heart and soul.

This is part of responding to Jesus’ call that we become perfect as our Heavenly Father [cf. Mt.5:48] itself part of the great template for fullness of baptismal life found in the Sermon on the Mount.

Such cleansing/purification is offered by the Holy Spirit as the grace of metanoia/conversion of heart.

To repeat a pivotal verse:  He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves He said, “Take these out of here, and stop making My Father’s house a marketplace.” [15/16]

Recalling the account of the Woman Caught in Adultery, and Jesus’ compassion and declaring to the self-righteously zealous mob that they might exercise their furious zeal once the one ‘without sin’ cast the first stone [ cf. Jn.8:1-11] until we too achieve such purity of heart our zeal to cleanse the temples of society, government, etc., etc., must be tempered with discernment and authentic charity.

v. 17 - His disciples recalled the words of scripture, “ Zeal for your house will consume me.”

For us this zeal must be the very fire Christ brings to us with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, for it is the very fire of the Great Commandment to love one another as Jesus loves us. [cf. Lk. 12:49 & Jn. 15:12]

There are deep levels contained in Jesus’ word “….stop making My Father’s house a marketplace.”, which apply to our own lives before we can apply them to the Church, society, anyone else.

Yesterday I saw a young woman on the bus whose arms were marked with scars familiar to anyone who knows someone who self-harms. Sometimes it is simply heartbreaking to see what emotional damage, or addiction, abuse, does to the ‘temple’, the personhood of a fellow human being.

Here we can cleanse the temple before us by love and prayer and likewise pray intently for those who skills and vocation it is to help those among us who suffer mental, emotional, addiction problems, are victims of any form of abuse, discrimination, rejection, homelessness.

At the same time we need to ask why so many fill the temple of our beings interiorly with the marketplace of ‘words’ of the world, the culture of death and darkness, rather than daily with the life-giving words of the Sacred Scriptures, especially the Holy Gospel; we must too stop making our Father’s house of our being a marketplace of overindulgence, materialism, tattoos of unholy images, etc.

V.17 -  His disciples recalled the words of scripture, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

Interiorizing this zeal will motivate greater charity towards self and others, confident prayer for our own and the conversion of the entire human family, recalling the confidence of the Psalmist: May my prayer be set before You like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. [ Ps. 141:2]

Vs. 18-23 - At this the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign can You show us for doing this?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and You will raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking about the temple of His body. Therefore, when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this, and they came to believe the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.

Here we have the crux of the matter, the point of the event in the external Temple of stone, for consistently St. John points both to the Cross, the crucifixion of Jesus and to Jesus’ Resurrection.

We can empathize with the disciples who followed Jesus throughout the three years of His public life, listened to His teachings, observed His power healing the sick, feeding the thousands, yet without fully understanding.

St. John himself, one of the very group of the disciples chosen indeed to be an apostle, here admits much remained as mystery until Jesus rose from the dead.

It is very important then that always when we meditate upon any passage of the Gospel we should always do so through the lens of Christ’s Resurrection.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

St. John 2:13-22 - Part 1


These past many months since I posted a new section of the commentary have been marked by a seeming unending series of deaths: of close priest friends, my mother, other friends, countless innocents murdered by Islamic extremists, and a certain profound experience of deja vue, circa the 1930’s as Western leaders seem as wimpy appeasers in the face of the blood-lust of ISIS and other extremists.

 All the above weighed heavily upon my heart and occupied much of my time with intercessory prayer, especially Holy Mass.

All this in the Jubilee of Mercy, in the past year with renewed awareness of the Triduum, the days of redemption, mercy, triumph of life over death, love over hatred, mercy over vengeance.

[I had gotten only that far in the original notes when both for myself and accompanying others there were unexpected trips to emergency – my own health is okay now – and then where I had been living the place was becoming unliveable, the area increasingly dangerous for someone my age. My family found a place for me, helped with the move, and all that occurred just before Christmas and New Year’s. Only now, post all that am I settled in and able to resume these meditations and other writings.]

While continuing, helped by the Holy Spirit, taken by St. John, to seek to embrace ever more fully the Holy Gospel, I have been praying intently, daily for the conversion of all to Jesus, for we in the west, in Christianity, Judaism, other religions, have our own histories of hatred, violence, division.

We all need to repent, we all need in Christ to begin again, we all need to preach and live the Gospel of Life or there shall come crashing down upon us a catastrophe beyond imagining.

We need to learn in the very core of our beings, embrace and live out Christ’s own call to us to: “…learn from Me and become meek and humble of heart…” [cf. Mt. 11:29].

As the west, and so called Christendom in particular, goes ever more down the rabbit hole of abortion, euthanasia, gay ‘marriage’ and other contra-natural and divine law disorders, our prayer for an end to hatred, violence, chaos, is weakened.

Our baptized hearts must be quickened anew with the fullness of the light, truth, life of the Holy Gospel and as true imitators of and witnesses to Christ, even if the enemies of Christianity are not converted, we will be granted strength to be ‘white’ martyrs in our daily lives of courage and integrity unless or until called to be ‘red’ martyrs, such as the four nuns murdered by ISIS, the innocents slaughtered in Brussels and in other places, especially in the countries of the Middle East, for the majority of our Muslim brothers and sisters are among the innocents.

It is difficult not to hate an entire people or religion because of the evil mentality and actions of some who, claiming to be doing God’s will are in fact following satan and doing his bidding.

No matter our emotional reaction however we must choose in our hearts, like Christ, to forgive our enemies and do good to those who hate us. [cf. Mt. 5:44]

This is not an option for Christians.

 It IS an imperative.

It seems appropriate then to be meditating upon the cleansing of the Temple within the context of my own, yours, every human heart needing to be cleansed of all that is not truly of God, of Jesus our Redeemer and His Holy Gospel.

St. Matthew in 21:12,13; St. Mark in 11:15-17; St. Luke in 19:45,46 all record the cleansing, purifying of the Temple in just two verses each.

St. John who of all the sacred writers records the words of Jesus at greatest length here describes the event in the Temple with ten verses.

While the Synoptic accounts record this event at the end of Christ’s teaching and performing miracles prior to His Passion, St. John places this at the beginning of Christ’s public ministry.

The import of both ‘placings’ point to the words of the Lord in Revelation 21:5 where He tells us to Behold, I make all things new.

Even though the physical temple in Jerusalem is purified, the ultimate temple is Christ’s own body. After His death and resurrection the place of worship will no longer be the temple in Jerusalem but the living, mystical body of Christ, the Church on earth. No longer will animals be offered in sacrifice as worship, intercession, for forgiveness of sins but Christ Himself, the true Lamb of God, will offer Himself in sacrifice on Calvary, a sacrifice renewed in every Holy Mass.

There is a continuation from Cana, which has preceded the Temple event, itself a symbol of the making new of Holy Marriage, of the relationship between trusting Jesus and doing whatever He tells us, between the mystery of Christ the Bridegroom, the Church, each baptized soul as His bride, the movement of the disciples to belief in Christ, a belief which will be tested especially at the time of Jesus’ arrest, execution, burial, but which will come to fullness when they encounter the risen Jesus.

v.13 – Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Passover is not only a most sacred event, sacred memorial for our elder brothers and sisters in the faith, but is central to the intervention of God in the life of the Chosen People, in salvation history. The lamb used in the feast is a pre-figuration of the Paschal Lamb Himself, Jesus our Lord, true God and true man, the real unblemished Lamb of God.

Like all faithful Jews, from childhood Jesus would have participated in the Passover and now He does so again and having gone up to Jerusalem enters the temple –v.14 – And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business.

Having participated as a priest at World Youth Day and other visits to this country of St. John Paul II, I am more understanding of the temple chaos!

I remember one event when while the crowds were awaiting the arrival of St. John Paul hawkers walked among the crowd selling snacks, soft drinks, balloons, souvenirs and down behind the elevated altar, in front of rows of portable toilets, doing a brisk business, were, literally, money changer booths where visitors could exchange their currency for dollars!

It is precisely because Jesus found the chaos and cacophony, the selling and money changing, with all the shouting and disrespect for the sacred space, and disturbance of liturgy and private prayer caused by the chaos  - and surely we can see here something deeply emblematic of the chaos we choose within the sacred precincts of the temple of our own bodies and souls – that v.15- When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers money and overturned the tables.

Some scholars and pundits from the pulpit have tried to use the above to justify a type of so-called Christian righteous anger.

This is a deeply flawed understanding not only of the text but of Jesus Himself.

As Christians we must use love’s imagination when confronted with chaos, injustice, even hatred and violence without resorting to any form of verbal or actual destructive, violent action.

If we were as holy as Jesus, if our hearts were as pure as His, if we were indeed like Jesus complete masters of our emotions and our hearts……but we are not.

We are wounded, highly emotional sinners, called to love one another, turn the other cheek, do good to those who persecute us and pray for our enemies.

That is enough of a daily challenge, the cleansing of the temple of our own beings.

Perhaps, and I stress perhaps, when we have utterly accomplished that we may be holy enough to cleanse some other temple.

But for most of us that time is not yet!

v. 16 – And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise.”

I have yet to visit a shrine, place of pilgrimage, anywhere in the three nations which constitute North America where there are not hawkers and sellers, not only of religious items but often as well of snacks, candy, post cards and other items.

It is a persistent tension around sacred places, this tension between clearing as much of the space and the approaches of commercial activity and allowing people to make a living.

While we as pilgrims may not be able to resolve this tension we can at least, within our own choices, seek to avoid the commercial aspects as much as possible and remain fixed on the point of a shrine: a place to be a pilgrim seeking every deeper communion with the Holy Trinity, Our Blessed Mother, the particular Saint honoured in the shrine.

While we can accept within the sacred space of our parish church the necessity of the Sunday collection, I believe more care needs to be taken about pulpit announcements, given parishes have both print and online bulletins, extraneous collections, tickets sales, etc.

Within the cleansing of the Temple by Jesus, there is again a deep message, invitation even, regarding the temple of our own body, mind, will, heart, soul, remembering first and foremost the truth that as baptized disciples of Christ, persons confirmed by the Holy Spirit, nourished in Holy Communion by the glorious Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity of Christ Himself we are, and should always be aware we are:  …. a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? [1 Cor. 6:19]

We should not fear, rather eagerly ask of Jesus and of the Holy Spirit to, both through frequent sacramental confession and a constant grace of metanoia [conversion of heart] to be ever more cleansed, purified, sanctified:  not only ourselves but the entire Church, indeed to cry out always in prayer this grace be granted to all our brothers and sisters, the entire human family.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

ST. JOHN 2: 6-12

                                                                  v.6 – Now there were set there six water pots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece.

While Jesus does not specifically say of Himself: I am the living water, we would not be remiss to view Himself as such since when speaking with the Woman at the Well [4:14] He does say:…the water that I shall give…will become a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.

The stone jars containing water which will become the matter of Jesus’ first public miracle and manifestation of His glory are a reminder – remembering too all stone is simply a form of rock – the source of living water was Himself ‘contained’ in the ‘pot, the jar’ of the tomb made of rock: cf. Mt. 27:60; Mk. 15:46; Lk. 23:53, before the ultimate miracle and manifestation of His glory, His Holy Resurrection.

About 70% of the world’s surface is covered by water, however these are the oceans which within contain about 96% of all water on and under the earth, while at the poles and in the mountain glaciers much is frozen.

That means only about 2.5% of earth’s water supply is so-called fresh water, which however does not mean it is necessarily clean enough to drink!

By weight the average adult body is approximately 65% water and while a healthy human being may survive about three weeks without food we cannot last more than a week without water.

Genesis 1:2, speaks of the Holy Spirit ‘hovering over’, that is breathing over the waters of the earth, at the very dawn of creation; water was used by God in the great flood as a means of purification of humanity from its bondage to sin; to save His Chosen People God parted the waters of the sea and when Christ’s Heart was pierced on the Cross: Blood and Water gushed forth and in this the Church has always seen the outflow of sacramental life: Baptism, and the ultimate sanctifying food, the Holy Eucharist.

Thus the Roman Catholic Church in the blessing of water for baptism during the Easter Vigil prays:  At the very dawn of creation Your Spirit breathed on the waters, making them the wellspring of all holiness. The waters of the great flood You made a sign of the waters of baptism, that make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness. Through the waters of the Red Sea You led Israel out of slavery, to be an image of God’s holy people, set free from sin by baptism. In the waters of the Jordan Your Son was baptized by John and anointed with the Spirit. Your Son willed that water and blood should flow from his side as he hung upon the cross.

The Orthodox Church, on the feast of the Theophany, called Epiphany in the Roman Church, blesses water praying:  Today the nature of the waters is sanctified, the Jordan bursts forth and turns back the flood of its streams, seeing the Master wash Himself. To the voice of one crying in the wilderness,  prepare ye the way of the Lord,  You came, O Lord, taking the form of a servant,  asking for baptism though You have no sin.  The waters saw You and were afraid.  The Forerunner began to tremble and cried out, saying:  How shall the lampstand illumine the Light?  How shall the servant lay hands upon the Master?  Sanctify both me and the waters, O Saviour, Who takes away the sins of the world.

There are sentences in the Holy Gospel, indeed in all of Sacred Scripture, which may at first glance appear rather simple: a statement of some fact or not that important a descriptive.

If however we take the time to sit still with the precise words, and listen to the Holy Spirit, we will discover how much is contained therein, how much is offered for contemplation and learning.

When we contemplate the night sky, stand upon a mountain top and gaze at the valley, forests, lakes, rivers below or towards the far distant horizon, or perhaps simply wander through a field of wildflowers what should astound, in the sense of both thrill and comfort us, is the lavishness of God’s creative love of all that is both for our needs or pure enjoyment.

So too with the huge amount of water St. John has pointed to – created matter about to be transformed in a gesture, lavish in itself, that will fulfill an urgent need.

v. 7- Jesus said to them, “Fill the water pots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.

In Jesus’ teachings about mercy, in St. Luke we find: Give, and it shall be given to you: good measure and pressed down and shaken together and running over shall they give into your bosom. For with the same measure that you shall use, it shall be measured to you again. [6:38]

God is never outdone in generosity.

With modern technology we can see/observe many things which for previous generations were almost unknowable: we can peer into the soil and watch a seed sprout; use other technology to find deposits of gas, oil, water not only deep beneath the surface of the earth but of the sea as well; we can gaze into the far reaches of space and detect light that has travelled for eons from point of origin, or see stars being born or die; indeed we can now even look into the womb at the earliest stages of a human life beginning and observe those stages right to the moment of birth.

However the price we pay for such ‘peering into’ ability is a decrease both in our capacity for wonder and our willingness to be peaceful about mysteries beyond our ken.

Such is the nature of authentic miracles.

We can see the external acts of sacramental baptism, but not the miracle which occurs in the soul; we can see the external acts of Holy Mass, but not the miracle of transubstantiation. Two examples of sacred mysteries which must and will always be: mystery.

Vs.8-9 - And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine…

True miracles are always experiential and always have a forward moving impact on the recipient.

We cannot see the mystery of what unfolds in the soul of a penitent when the miracle of Divine Mercy is lavished through the priest announcing the words of absolution, but the transformation of a burdened heart is visible on the face of the penitent and mostly unfolds forward in a renew commitment to a truly Christian life.

Vs. 9-10- …and he did not know where it came from [but the servants who had drawn the water knew], the master called the bridegroom. And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!”

Ordinary bread is good. Ordinary wine is good.

The consecrated bread and wine of Holy Eucharist, become the Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity of Christ is the best!

No wonder St. John boldly announces in verse 11: This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.

Then as happens frequently in each of the four Holy Gospel accounts of Jesus’ public life, miracle is followed by forward movement as in verse 12: After this He went down to Capernaum…..and they did not stay there many days.