Thursday, 29 July 2021

ST. JOHN 13:31-35

 

                                                         When he had left, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.” [v.31]

Judas now gone it is as if the darkness left as well and Jesus is free to pour out a flow of words as a living stream of His love for His Apostles – and all of us. Now Jesus is among friends, yes friends with all their neediness and foibles, the difficulty in taking into to their own hearts the fullness of His love and teachings, a difficulty which will be burned away by the fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

…….. only he can be a friend of God who knows God, and this is possible only through Christ His Son. [1]

It was said of St. Abba Anthony that he was such a friend of God that: “Where Anthony is, God is.”

If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him immediately. [v.32]

We should stand before these words as awestruck as Moses before the burning bush; hear them with the exhilarated hearts of the Shepherds and Magi kneeling, bending to look into the manger and see glory Himself in the flesh; being as attentive as the Emmaus Disciples to every syllable and feel the fire of glory as our hearts burn within us.

Jesus is teaching us here both the reality of what transpires on the Cross, what shines and shimmers to the furthest reaches of the cosmos, penetrating ever human heart.

We tend to use the word glory within the constraints of the limits of human experience, thus when surprised we might mutter a glory be to God!; react to a splendid dawn or sunset naming as glorious, even perhaps experience a tremor of joy at such a sight. Every human enunciation of the word, and all its many synonyms, pales before the incredible reality Jesus speaks here to us.

The son ineffably glorified the Father by the humility of his passion, and the Father also ineffably glorified his Son by lifting him to his right hand. The glorification flowed down to the whole human race. [2]

If we wish to glimpse the glory of which Jesus speaks, if we wish to understand the dynamic movement between the Father and the Son, we need to encounter Jesus, true God, and true man, indeed go walking until we meet Him who is always coming towards us:  A man came walking out of Galilee, and his eyes were so clear that if anyone let his look in, it healed the heart and showed forth the glory of the Kingdom shining, within and without, even more simply than the everyday sun. So much clarity, too much for some, and they tried to stuff his light back into the black hole of death. But might as well pour the Milky Way into a bag: on the third day the Master came forth from the darkness as calmly as he had from Galilee, changing the darkness itself into the brightness of the day without end. Now his eyes could reach to the end of time and space to lift the veil from every heart and to give to all creatures the glorious revelation of the children of God. I look toward him, toward Jesus, my Master, and I behold his glory, and I see all my days pass into his eyes so that I too may “be changed into his likeness from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18) [3]

My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. You will look for Me, and as I told the Jews, ‘Where I go you cannot come,’ so now I say it to you. [v.33]

Jesus is revealing His profound love for His Apostles by referring to them as His children revealing how intimate His love for them is. Further there are echoes in those words of the pain in His Heart, for love and pain are inseparable. In the unfolding of the Last Supper, they still are clueless about what is to happen to Jesus or rather what Jesus is about to surrender Himself to.

Later, after His Holy Resurrection He will be with them anew and then, after His Ascension, with them, with us, always as by the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit we will live lives in imitation of Christ, for some to martyrdom, for everyone to the tomb until He raises us to be with Him, the Father, the Holy Spirit for ever in an eternity of communion of love.

I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. [vs. 34,35]

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of Being and ideal Grace. I love thee to the level of everyday's Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. I love thee freely, as men strive for Right; I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise. ~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning

If only living out the Great Commandment was as romantic as Elizabeth’s love for her husband, granted a relationship which, like many marriages, had its struggles. In a word if only the Great Commandment could be lived out by loving those we like, or who like us.

Such is not the case. Indeed, it could be argued of all the God-given Ten Commandments in the Old Testament, and all Jesus’ exhortations for us to forgive our enemies, care for Him in the hungry, the stranger etc., this is the no wiggle room, no exceptions commandment because of the four key words: As I have loved you……

St. Paul gives the authentic Trinitarian love-poem: For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that He may grant you in accord with the riches of His glory to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. [Ep. 3:14-19] Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit, love us infinitely unconditionally precisely in this and every moment of our lives, be we entangled in negative emotions, doubts, struggles, sins, sickness, loneliness, heartache: whatever state we are in we are beloved, irrespective also of any of the judgemental criteria of others which burden us with a lack of self love.

The Commandment to love one another as Christ loves us is so overflowing with the fire of His love for us we are bathed in the light and strength to live it out. Such love has nothing to do with emotion, everything to do with choice; nothing to do with how I feel, what kind of day I am having, what space I occupy – even people in labour camps, concentration camps, refugee camps, criminals in prison, etc., etc., each of us can choose to love or not.

This is the very choice Jesus made as He became a person like us in all things but sin, while heading directly from the womb of His Mother to the Cross and the Tomb, because Divine Love does such things. We are also called to love, love, love, without counting the cost.

Is our divine worship not a matter of loving people in our daily life?.......Can there be any other holy time than the time for practicing love of neighbour, whenever and wherever the circumstances of our life demand it?.......Christ’s Sacrifice was accepted long ago. True, but in the form of representation it has not come to an end……..This Sacrifice is complete only when the world has become a place of love……Only then…..is worship perfected and what happened on Golgotha completed.  [4]

 

[1] THE LORD, Romano Guardini; p. 356; Henry Regnery Company, 1954 [italics are mine]

[2] ROBERT BELLARMINE Spiritual Writings; The Mind’s Ascent To God; p.193; Paulist Press, 1989 [italics are mine]

[3] CIRCLING THE SUN, MEDITATIONS ON CHRIST IN LITURGY AND TIME, Robert D. Pelton, p.189; The Pastoral Press, 1986 [out of print/italics are mine]

[4] JOSEPH RATZINGER COLLECTED WORKS THEOLOGY OF THE LITURGY; pp. 31 & 34,35; Ignatius Press, 2014 [italics are mine]

© 2021 Fr. Arthur Joseph

 

Thursday, 24 June 2021

ST. JOHN 13:18-30

 

                                                          The wonder of chapters 13 and 14 to 17 is not merely are they the longest of Jesus’ speaking with us, in the Holy Gospels. Each chapter also contains a treasure house of His teaching with each word revealing the depth and passion of His love for us.

I am not speaking of all of you. I know those whom I have chosen. But so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘The one who ate my food has raised his heel against Me.’ [v.18]

Obviously if we are raising our heel towards someone, which means our entire foot and leg, it is a pre-strike gesture and here points directly at Judas the betrayer. To betray someone is always an act of sin, to do so towards someone with whom we are sharing a meal is a whole other depth of evil.

Let’s not arrogantly assume we are unlike Judas, unless between Holy Communions we never, ever, sin.

From now on I am telling you before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe that I AM. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives the one who sent Me. [vs. 19,20]

Every time Jesus has tried to prepare the Apostles for His suffering and death they either do not understand or choose denial, yet here again, so close to His agony in the garden, Jesus is teaching them, teaching us, to believe that He is indeed both – as Son of God – second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, true God from true God, and our Incarnate Redeemer. This intimacy of love, expressed in the tripartite word of receiving.

When He had said this, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” [v.21]

Other than what can be gleaned from the Holy Gospels, and that is sparse, we know nothing biographical, in the modern sense, about the Apostles. The little we can glean from the Holy Gospels is that they were not of the elite, neither highly educated nor wealthy, with perhaps the exception of St. Matthew when it comes to wealth. We do know they were of the working poor, and, based on what is written about their choice to respond to Christ’s call to follow Him, through thick and thin, of course sometime arguing with Jesus, for three years they steadfastly stuck with Jesus, a clear indicator of their love for Him.

While it may seem Jesus, with different words than in verse 18 repeats that one of them will betray Him, irrespective of Juda’s affection or lack thereof for Jesus what echoes from the above verse is the beating Heart of Christ who never – and if only Judas had heard that beating – stopped loving or rejected Judas.

The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom He meant. [v.22]

This is very telling since St. John does not add any qualifier such as “except Judas”. It is very

human in a group setting as adults to return to the childish reaction with our siblings when we have broken something and are questioned by our parents, for example, to vociferously declare “not me!”

While not articulated by word, rather by the gesture of furtive glances, clearly the Twelve were frightened, even the eleven who were innocent. Again, a very human reaction.

One of His disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining on Jesus’ side. So Simon Peter nodded to him to find out whom He meant. He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to Him, “Master, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.” So He dipped the morsel and took it and handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. [vs. 23-26]

It is interesting, and certainly lacking in humility, that St. John self-identifies as the disciple whom Jesus loves. Another very human reaction, for who does not want to be first in line to be beloved? It also appears, as close as St. John is physically to Jesus because he loves Jesus, he obviously takes advantage of Peter’s request to move even closer, more intimately.

Jesus’ answer to the who is it question, and His gesture towards Judas, sharing food also an intimacy of love for other, must surely have eased the tension of the Eleven, even if: After he took the morsel, Satan entered him. So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now none of those reclining at table realized why He said this to him. Some thought that since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus had told him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or to give something to the poor. [vs. 27-29]

Satan can only enter a human being if by our free will we give the evil one leave to enter. By taking the morsel Judas was effectively assuring Jesus his betrayal was rock solid, at this juncture. Judas was turning his back on Jesus’ love and handing himself over to satan.

So he took the morsel and left at once. And it was night. [v.30]

Judas went out, “and it was night” – a fitting description for a deed of darkness. It was perhaps a relief to be away from the Light of the World. Nature is sometimes in sympathy and sometimes in discord with our joys and sorrows. The sky is gloomy with clouds when there is melancholy within. Nature was suiting itself to the evil deeds of Judas, for as he went out he found not the face of God’s smiling sun but the Stygian blackness of night. It would also be night at midday when the Lord would be crucified. [1]

 

[1] LIFT OF CHRIST by Fulton J. Sheen; p.293; Image Books, 1977

© 2021 Fr. Arthur Joseph

 

 

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

ST. JOHN 13: 1-17

 

                                                              One of the affirming aspects of the Octave of Holy Easter is both in the First Preface of Easter and in the Roman Canon, also known as the First Eucharistic Prayer, we affirm “This is the day…”. The glorious Risen Christ is the light and fire of divine love and mercy, light more brilliant than ‘natural light’ from all the suns and stars of the universe, which light is as darkness beside Christ our Light, fire so intense the sun is as a block of ice in comparison. Thus, it is particularly apt and wonderful that our Orthodox brothers and sisters refer to the week as “Bright” week as the Risen Jesus shines upon us.

Christ Risen is Redeemer for everyone, and simultaneously intimately, always Divine Lover- Redeemer for each of us as individual persons.

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that His hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved His own in the world and He loved them to the end. [v. 1]

This is what all of Sacred Scripture is about, what our very existence is all about, the existence of the entire planet earth and the cosmos, the existence of the Angels, of the entire Heavenly Court, yes even of satan and his minions for while, by their own egotistical and stupid choice they have literally turned their backs on God, become the hateful enemies of every human being, of love and all virtues:  God who is Love, never takes back the gift of existence to any angel, fallen or not, to any human being who chooses hell over heaven, God’s love is never truncated or diminished in any way. Indeed, in Jesus Christ we see Divine Love is urgent and full of increased ardour for those most in need of His mercy, as St. John has just taught us, for it is Jesus’ ardent love which compels Him to embrace His Hour.

An ancient way in French to refer to God is the expression: le bon Dieu. It is melodic on the tongue because it comes from the heart. The English translation is: the good God. Thus, it is also a statement of profound faith witnessing there is one true God, all others are fakes.

It is this incarnate Good God, Jesus Christ, St. John places before us, prefacing the goodness which is about to be enacted, with the antithesis of goodness: The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand Him over. [v.2.]

So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into His power and that He had come from God and was returning to God, He rose from supper and took off His outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around His waist. [vs. 2-5]

Known by its Latin name of Mandatum, this tender, humble, good, loving gesture of Jesus is repeated by Popes, Bishops, Priests over the centuries, on Holy Thursday, as a profound reminder that with deep humility each of we Christians should be the tender, loving servants of all our brothers and sisters within the human family.

Jesus represents the whole of His saving ministry in one symbolic act. He divests Himself of His

divine splendour; He, as it were, kneels down before us; He washes and dries our soiled feet, in order to make us fit to sit at the table for God’s wedding feast. When we read in the Book of Revelation the paradoxical statement that the redeemed have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev.7:14), the meaning is that Jesus’ love “to the end” is what cleanses us, washes us. The gesture of washing feet expresses precisely this: it is the servant-love of Jesus that draws us out of our pride and makes us fit for God, makes us clean. [1]

We know the Sacred Heart of Jesus, on fire with love for His Beloved Apostles, has told them and us we must learn from and imitate His Most Sacred Heart and here He demonstrates for us the essence of loving as He Himself does: self-gifting to other, to all others, as humble servants.

In our egotistical ‘me first’, relativistic, materialist, hedonistic-seeking time in history, more so than at anytime, the damage done by such an approach to life eviscerates from heart and soul the foundational Great Commandment from Christian life, from society in general.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” Peter said to Him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with Me.” [vs.6-8]

The largest external organ of the human body is the skin. This is the external organ which first experiences the sense of the sun’s warmth, the coolness of a breeze, the experience of touching and being touched with the touch of love first and foremost as a gift of joy.

Ever impetuous Peter, such impetuosity rooted in his love for Jesus, resists being touched through his feet because it is incomprehensible to him that Jesus whom He loves should lower Himself to the status of a slave. Jesus’ reply should touch our hearts in three ways in particular: 1] we are redeemed by Christ who pours out His blood for us, and thus we are washed clean, rejuvenated, in the waters of Baptism. 2] every time we receive absolution for sin the very sacrament is itself a type of washing, a cleaning of sin. 3] Every time we receive Jesus in Holy Communion we are touched by His Risen Divine-Lover kiss.

From a treasured sixty year old book of meditations called I COVER GOD: …..The other day I kissed a little tree, a sapling red pine, praying to You….tiny globules of…sap had gathered here and there….I touched a finger tip to one….then put it on my tongue…..You had kissed me, through the shining drop, with the kiss of all Your forests!...”I have kissed you with the kiss of all My forests,” You said – or seemed to say – “but I have been much more intimate than that. I have also kissed you with the kiss of My mouth! My Son! My word!.....”My Son, My Word, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, is placed daily on your tongue……I am I. I am God. Out of My mouth comes the Word. The Word I utter is I. I am the Father of the Word……I am the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost….I am the Crucified. I am the Resurrection and the Life….The Word I uttered is a kiss. The kiss of My mouth. The kiss of peace. The kiss of pity. The kiss of boundless mercy. The kiss of consolation. The kiss of love. The kiss spurned. The kiss betrayed by a kiss, and sold and slain. The kiss of redemption. The kiss triumphant over death. the eternal kiss of God….I come to you gladly. I stoop to you. I visit you. I kiss you with the kiss of My mouth. I give you the kiss of eternal life!” [2]

Simon Peter said to Him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” Jesus said to him, “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all.” [vs. 9, 10]

Now Peter, never a minimalist, wants more of himself to be washed and Jesus in reply shows tenderness extending beyond Peter to the others the profound statement that they are clean, ritually clean for the Passover and adds, which truth undoubtedly pained His Sacred Heart that not all the Twelve are clean. For He knew who would betray Him; for this reason, He said, “Not all of you are clean.” [v.11]

In St. Luke, with the institution of the Holy Eucharist Jesus instructs us to “….do this in remembrance of Me.” [Lk.22.19] Now Jesus will give a parallel instruction: So when He had washed their feet and put His garments back on and reclined at table again, He said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call Me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. [vs. 12-15]

He is exemplary because in Him Christian life begins. He is its foundation, demonstrates what it stands for, and supplies the necessary strength to participate in it. “Imitation of Christ” does not suggest that He be literally copied……but that the Christian live in Christ, and learn from His spirit to do hour by hour what is right. [3]

Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it. [vs. 16,17]

We may see this word as the 9th Beatitude!

 

[1] JESUS OF NAZARETH; HOLY WEEK: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection; Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI; p. 57; Ignatius Press 2011.  Italics are mine.

[2] I COVER GOD, by Eddie Doherty; pp. 65-67;The Bruce Publishing Company 1962; out of print, Italics are mine.

[3] THE LORD; Romano Guardini; p.363; Henry Regnery Company; 1957   Italics are mine

© 2021 Fr. Arthur Joseph

 

Sunday, 28 March 2021

ST. JOHN 12:29~36

 

                                                        We have entered the season of Holy Lent, the second such during the pandemic, which in itself provides opportunities for sacrifice: adhering to public health guidelines as an act of charity towards others, and appropriate love of self in doing what we can to protect ourselves from being infected. It is a strain, which we can unite with the extreme stress Jesus endured as He moved ever closer to His Passion and Death.

St. John, in noting the reaction of the crowd who heard the voice of the Father speaking to Jesus and through Jesus to the people, reveals two examples of how human beings witnessing an event can experience the event dramatically differently: Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.” [v.29]

Some commentators see the first group as lacking faith, the other group has having a little faith. Perhaps. It is Jesus Himself who makes things clear: Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come for My sake but for yours.” [v.30] Whenever we hear the voice of the Father here or in the Synoptics it is the voice of Love Himself for us, the very voice which speaks in Genesis and throughout the Old Testament, and always when we hear the voice of the Father, the voice of Jesus we also hear the voice of the Holy Spirit for all love, all grace, all mercy lavished upon us, spoken to us, is Trinitarian.

The voice of the Father had come to Him on two other occasions when His mission to the Cross was foremost: at His baptism, when He appeared as the Lamb of God to be sacrificed for sin; at His Transfiguration, when He spoke of his death to Moses and Elijah while bathed in radiant glory……In each of the three manifestations of the Father, Our Lord was in prayer to His Father, and His sufferings were predominantly before Him. On this occasion, it was the effects of His ransoming death that were proclaimed. [1]

This close to His Passion we hear in His words, as Jesus continues to teach, an urgency, the urgency of Love for those to whom He speaks in this moment for each of us, such is the inexhaustible fire of His love for us: “Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to Myself.” He said this indicating the kind of death He would die.” [vs. 31-33]

How is it then that satan, driven out of the world is still active? How is it that Jesus having drawn everyone across the millennia, this very day, and until the end of time, so many still refuse to believe, or have abandoned the faith they once had?

Simply because the Holy Trinity offers love, offers salvation, but never imposes, never takes away our free will, but always offers and offers the grace, as needed, for us to repent and begin again, for it is we humans, by our choices, who invite satan back into the world, we are the persons who, when we sin, turn our backs on Christ.

So the crowd answered Him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. Then how can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man? [v.34]

While Christians, who meditate upon the Holy Gospel, or at least are attentive to the Sacred Scriptures proclaimed during Sunday liturgies, know the answer to the questions posed by the crowd, they had only the Hebrew Scriptures, what we Christians call the Old Testament, to rely upon. Nonetheless it is both interesting and poignant the longing wrapped up in their questions.

Jesus said to them, “The light will be among you only a little while. Walk while you have the light, so that darkness may not overcome you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light.” [v.35,36]

People who live in modern cities, towns, villages have little experience of walking in the absence of light, unless perhaps camping in the bush, though even there total darkness is rarely experienced because of the light of the moon and the stars.

Enter a deep cave in a mountain side, turn off any manmade source of light and the darkness is total, so much so even holding our own hands so close to our eyes, perhaps even touching them, the thick darkness prevents our eyes ability to discern palm or fingers.

Jesus’ words point beyond our external experiences of light and darkness.

It is a matter of the heart, soul, mind.

It is therefore a matter of choice, choice to be people of faith or not.

The key is Jesus urging us to believe in the light – and He is LIGHT – or not, to choose to be, as He says, children of the light, not children of darkness.

Before St. John tells us the crowd’s reaction, he ends verse 36 with words that are stark in their brevity: These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.

Note it is not that Jesus goes into hiding, rather than He is hidden from the crowd.

No one can see Jesus, our Light, if we choose not to believe that is to choose a blindness of mind, heart and soul, a more devastating blindness than loss of physical sight.

 

 

 

[1] LIFE OF CHRIST; Fulton Sheen; pp. 268,269; Image Books, 1990 ~italics are mine.

 

© 2021 Fr. Arthur Joseph

 

Monday, 22 March 2021

ST. JOHN 12:37~50

 

There is something truly heartbreaking in the following words from St. John when we consider that for three years Jesus has been pouring Himself out teaching, healing, in a word loving, those to whom He has come to bring Good News of salvation and hope. Even in our own day, and if we be honest frequently in our own hearts, battered as they are by the world, the flesh and the devil, at times we too are, even if only momentarily, unbelievers even with the shining light of Christ easy to see, even with the loving words of Christ easy to hear, if we immerse  ourselves daily in the Holy Gospels: Although He had performed so many signs in their presence they did not believe in Him, in order that the word which Isaiah the prophet spoke might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed our preaching, to whom has the might of the Lord been revealed?” [vs.37,38]

Fulton Sheen teaches succinctly: No one can remain indifferent once he has met Him. He remains the perpetual element in the character of every hearer…..Whether one believes or disbelieves Him, one is never the same afterward. [1]

For this reason they could not believe, because again Isaiah said: “He blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they might not see with their eyes and understand with their heart and be converted, and I would heal them.” [vs. 39,40]

In words such as those from Isaiah, and some of Christ’s as well, we confront the fact that while it appears God’s action is contradictory to the call to conversion and faith, yet it is not that God deliberately blinds us or hardens our hearts, rather, because He lovingly creates us with free will, He does not interfere with the choice we have made to not see, not hear, to harden our hearts and not accept the truth right in front of us, someone who loves us and seeks to free, heal, redeem us: Jesus Christ.

Isaiah said this because He saw His glory and spoke about Him. [v.41] The book of Isaiah in the Old Testament points towards Christ in many passages, in particular in chapter 53 revealing the glory of Jesus the Suffering Servant.

Nevertheless, many, even among the authorities, believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not acknowledge it openly in order not to be expelled from the synagogue. For they preferred human praise to the glory of God. [42,43]

Among the numerous disruptions of daily life in this pandemic is the obvious acceleration and deepening of secularization and with that comes the increase of knee-jerk, rash, hateful judgement of others expressed around the world through violence against women, children, Christians.

When contemplating the Holy Gospel, it is critical we not allow satan to tempt us to rashly judge those who refuse, then or now, to accept Christ, His love, His teachings for such judging speaks to the state of our own hearts this very day towards others.

As St. John Paul II wrote before he became pope: When the devil says in the third chapter of Genesis: “your eyes would open and you would become like God”, these words express the full range of the temptation of mankind, from the intention to set man against God to the extreme form it takes today……Perhaps we are experiencing the highest level of tension between the Word and the anti-Word in the whole of human history.[2]

Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in Me believes not only in Me but also in the one who sent Me, and whoever sees Me sees the one who sent Me. I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in Me might not remain in darkness. And if anyone hears My words and does not observe them, I do not condemn him, for I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world. Whoever rejects Me and does not accept My words has something to judge him: the word that I spoke, it will condemn him on the last day, because I did not speak on My own, but the Father who sent Me commanded Me what to say and speak. And I know that His commandment is eternal life. So what I say, I say as the Father told Me.” [vs. 44-50]

Here just before He enters the fulfillment of His earthly life, laying down with love His life for us, Jesus has spoken iconic words encapsulating all His teaching, healing, in a word His passionate love for us fulfilled in His Passion, Death, Resurrection and gifting us with Himself in the Holy Eucharist.

 

[1] LIFE OF CHRIST; Fulton Sheen; p. 273; Image Books, 1990 ~ Italics are mine

[2] SIGN OF CONTRADICTION by Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II; p. 34; The Seabury Press, 1979; italics are mine

© 2021 Fr. Arthur Joseph

 

Friday, 9 October 2020

ST. JOHN 12:12-20

 

                                                           

In his Apostolic Letter on the sixteen hundredth anniversary of the death of St. Jerome Pope Francis writes:  Devotion to Scared Scripture, a “living and tender love” for the written word of God; this is the legacy that St. Jerome bequeathed to the Church by his life and labours……How can we not heed, in our day, the advice Jerome unceasingly gave his cotemporaries: “Read the divine Scriptures constantly; never let the sacred volume fall from your hand.” [1a]

Pope Francis concludes his letter with this invitation: Let us, then, entrust ourselves to Our Lady who, more than anyone, can teach us how to read, meditate, contemplate, and pray to God, who tirelessly makes Himself present in our lives. [1b]

Returning to our reflections on the Holy Gospel according to St. John the spontaneous exaltation of Jesus by the crowds, as St. John takes us into the holiest week of every liturgical year, brings to mind the words of Jesus uttered with love and sheer joy: “I give praise to You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although You have hidden these things from the wise and the learned You have revealed them to the childlike. [Mt. 11:25].

On the next day, when the great crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet Him, and cried out: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The king of Israel.” [vs.12,13]

Some commentaries equate this great crowd with the mob that would howl for Christ to be crucified.

Such an equation is suspect as in the latter case the mob was whipped up and virtually controlled by religious leaders. While perhaps a few people from among the crowd honouring Jesus may have gone the route of dishonour, this gathering of the people was spontaneous, so the greater probability is if they were present during Christ’s Passion it would have been with confused and broken hearts.

Jesus found a donkey and sat upon it, as is written: “Fear no more, O daughter Zion; see, your king comes, seated upon a donkey’s colt.” [vs. 14:15]

St. Matthew: 21:1-11; St. Mark: 11:1-10; St. Luke 19:29-40 all have longer and more detail of this extraordinary event, noting along with St. Matthew that the whole city of Jerusalem was shaken.

Writing about this event Pope Benedict XVI quotes from St. Matthew’s account about the impact on the city and how when people asked of the crowd who this was the people replied: This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee, the Holy Father says: The parallel with the story of the wise men from the East is unmistakable.” [2]

His disciples did not understand this at first, but when Jesus had been glorified they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done this for Him. [v.16]

On more than one occasion during their time with Jesus events occur, or Jesus teaches things, which remain mysterious until after His glorious Resurrection. It is part of the divine delicacy of Jesus’ love for His apostles that He patiently prepares them for the unexpected wonder of understanding of all He has done and taught when they encounter Him whom they love once He is Risen and they are gifted with the Holy Spirit.

So the crowd that was with Him when He called Lazarus from the tomb and raised Him from death continued to testify. This was also why the crowd went to meet Him, because they heard that He had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the whole world has gone after Him.” [vs.17-19]

First St. John refers  to an anonymous crowd come to Jerusalem for the great feast of Passover and now here he specifically states these were the people present when Jesus restored life to Lazarus and by implication even those who had only heard about the miracle also came to meet Jesus.

So we have before us those who spontaneously cried out recognition of Jesus as Saviour with all the gestures and Hosannas, those who perhaps not yet totally convinced Jesus is the Messiah at least recognize His power of miracles and finally, like living phantoms of some Jungian play about the shadow side of people, the lurking Pharisees who, with their hyperbole arrogance admit their failure because: the whole world has gone after Him.

Commenting on the entrance into Jerusalem, Archbishop Sheen notes that the only ones not sharing in the people’s acclaim of Jesus were the Pharisees who went to Jesus insisting He silence the crowd: It was unusual that they should have appealed to Our Lord, since they were disgusted with Him for having accepted homage from the crowds. With awful majesty Our Lord retorted: I tell you, if My disciples keep silence the stones will shout aloud. Luke 19:40. If men were silent, nature itself would cry out and proclaim His Divinity. Stones are hard, but if they would cry out, then how much harder must be the hearts of men who would not recognize God’s mercy before them. [3]

In the Office of Readings for the Sunday of the first week of Ordinary Time the Church takes up the great hymn of Daniel and his companions: Then these three in the furnace with one voice sang, glorifying and blessing God: “Blessed are You, O Lord, the God of our ancestors, praiseworthy and exalted above all forever…..” [Daniel 3:51-90] The three go on to call upon those in heaven and on earth, human beings as children of God, and all animate creatures and inanimate things from the sun and moon to frost and cold, rivers and seas, etc. to cry out to the Lord, the Holy Trinity with exaltation.

Closer to our time St. Francis of Assisi composed the poem CANTICLE OF THE SUN, which various composers over the centuries since, to our own day have set to music. We may not see the wind, but we can hear the wind singing in the trees; birds sing, all creation sings, shines, shimmers with the sheer exuberance of existence and gratitude to Love who creates and sustains us.

1a] SCRIPTURAE SACRAE AFFECTUS, opening

1b] ibid, conclusion

2] JESUS OF NAZARETH, Holy Week from the entrance into Jerusalem to the resurrection; Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict xvi; p.8; Ignatius Press, 2011 [italics are mine]

3] LIFE OF CHRIST, Fulton J. Sheen; p. 263; Image Classic, 1990

© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph

 

 

 

Monday, 7 September 2020

ST. JOHN 12: 1-11

 

                                                               

St. John begins this first of the last chapters of his Gospel account – his love letter really to us about his Beloved Jesus, with a simple and powerful word: Then…..[v.1]

It is as if, with use of the simple yet evocative word THEN, all to this point has been an extension of his opening Prologue and now, given the events and words which follow from chapter 12 to the end of chapter 21, which reveal in detail the entire grace of metanoia-redemption Jesus brings to us, offers us when encountering and being attentive to Him we follow, with obedient hearts of love for Him, the Father’s gift to humanity in need of redemption and healing: to those who did accept Him He gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God. And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we saw His glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. [1:12-14]

Then, six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for Him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with Him. [v.1,2]

A convivial scene revealing how complete Jesus dwelt among us and, given it is in the context of a family meal, reminds us that He still dwells among us in the Eucharistic meal where in fact intimacy with Him is even greater than that experienced by those with Him in Bethany for when we receive Jesus in Holy Communion we receive our glorified Beloved who comes to dwell within us.

Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. [v.3]

Perhaps a small but deeply significant mention here of St. John 11:2. In the lead up to Jesus restoring Lazarus to life St. John notes: It was that Mary who anointed the Lord…….This shows how all the events St. John witnessed in the life of Jesus remained very much top of mind, perhaps more accurately ‘top of heart’ as he teaches us all about Jesus, gives us Jesus’ words.

St. Matthew in 26: 6-13, St. Mark in 14:3-9, and St. Luke in 7:36-50, like St. John give us this event and words of Jesus.

Then Judas the Iscariot, one of His disciples, and the one who would betray Him, said, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions. So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of My burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.” [vs.4-8]

St. Matthew adds to the above: “Amen, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be spoken of, in memory of her.” [26:13] As does St. Mark: 14:9.

There was love in her boldness, repentance in her tears, sacrifice and surrender of self in her ointment. [1]

Now a great many of the Jews found out that He was there; and they came, not only because of Jesus, but also to see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too, because many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him. [vs.9-11]

How very human that people would come, not as an act of faith, rather out of curiosity. However, the Holy Spirit can even use curiosity about Christ to stimulate reflection and open-heart reflection often is the first step on the journey to conversion.

Contrast that with the collective megalomaniac hatred of the chief priests murderously choosing to kill Christ, whom they hate, but Lazarus as well whose only crime is being a living testimony to the power of Christ’s love restoring His friend to life.

No gang of thugs, no oppressive regime, no group of murderous zealots is made up of human beings born as a litter, like pups or piglets.

We are all born as individual persons who become either selfless loving of other adults, as exemplified by our parents, or emotionally deformed haters, if we have lived as children surrounded by haters.

Given the visceral reaction to Jesus by those who from His first public words, His first healing miracle, hated Him so much, what influenced them as children to the extent they never go beyond the disconnect between their self-righteous piety and their murderous hatred?

Perhaps, in these days of the pandemic and the extreme divisions and anger amongst people in numerous countries, we would all do well to reflect upon how exactly I see, react to, think about other: as Jesus does or like some latter day chief priest or Pharisee.

 

 

[1] LIFE OF CHRIST, Fulton J. Sheen; p.122; Image Books, 1990

 

 

© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph