The Gospel for Sunday, March 18th, 2018: Fifth Sunday of Lent

The Gospel for March 18th, 2018: The Coming of Jesus’ Hour

John 12: 20-33

Reflection: Discernment to Accept Suffering

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (23-24).

In John’s gospel today, Jesus tells his apostles the time is near for Him to die, so that sin and death may be defeated. That alone is worthy of deep meditation from Christian believers everywhere. However, I am interested in a detail that seems small, but significant as a part of this picture. Jesus is told two Greeks who have come to Jerusalem for Passover and request an audience with Him. Although we are not told why, I assume it is to hear him teach or, even more likely, that he may perform a healing, since this has been the thrust of His ministry for two or three years up to this point (20-21). When told about their request, Jesus makes the statement, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” indicating it is time for His Passion. It appears He does not meet with the Greek visitors. I ask myself, why?

I think John wants us to notice that when it is time for a mission, we must put aside all other plans, including previous missions. Jesus had been teaching and healing, but it was time for His Passion. He will not wait on His Father’s will. Furthermore, of the two options, meeting with the Greeks probably would have been far more appealing to His human nature. I am sure it was very satisfying to preach to audiences or heal the sick and receive their gratitude. Sometimes our work as Christians can be quite rewarding. Yet, the mission of the Passion was a call to suffering. Jesus did not look forward to it. He even admits, “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?” (27). And yet, he doesn’t delay in order to act like an earthly king and take an audience with his admirers. Instead, He knows he must act with haste for His mission, which demonstrates discernment.

As His followers, we must recognize there will be times God calls us to suffering. Like Jesus, we must put aside the more rewarding Christian tasks in order to fully embrace the less palatable parts of our mission. We must be willing to “die” to this life, so that we may participate in eternal life with Jesus. This fifth Sunday of Lent is good time to reflect on this unenviable truth of Christian discernment.





The Gospel for Sunday, March 11th, 2018: Fourth Sunday of Lent

The Gospel for March 11th, 2018: “Nicodemus”

John 3: 14-21

Reflection: Lent is a Penitential Season

Last week I was eating lunch with a group of my work colleagues. Since we are teachers, the conversation drifted to the need for students to have consequences for disruptive behavior, as it sometimes does in this line of work. A fellow teacher, for whom I have great respect, made this comment to illuminate the problem of a lack of consequences: “It’s like the Catholics who can do whatever they want and then go to confession and be forgiven.” I did not respond. I’m sure she would have been quite embarrassed if she had realized I was Catholic. Whether or not I should have defended the sacrament of reconciliation to this Protestant colleague is a discussion for another time. The fact is I was so taken back by the mischaracterization of confession that I was not ready to respond.

After some thought, I realized that I don’t know any Catholics who think this way—that we can just do any selfish, un-Christian act and not feel bad or worry because we can waltz into the confessional, have that sin forgiven, and then feel free to go out and sin again without consequences. I don’t think it is possible to be even nominally Catholic and live that kind of lie. I have not gone to confession in eleven months. Why? Not because I have been sin-free. On the contrary, it is because I am intensely reluctant to deal with my sinfulness. I have asked Jesus in prayer to forgive my sins and have expressed my contrition at mass, but the sacramental encounter in the confessional is so challenging. It’s facing Jesus directly, with the light of His good illuminating every shadow in my soul. Total and utter truth. The depth of my sins becomes so clear through the sacrament of reconciliation. I find it LOL laughable that such an encounter is some kind of easy pass on sins.

With regard to reconciliation, Matthew Kelly has described God as the divine psychologist. The Lord knows we need to make things right for our own peace. Otherwise, I think most Catholics would gladly skip the ordeal of having to humble ourselves so completely. But I think on some level we all know that we cannot be happy a part from Jesus and that our sinfulness separates us from Him. In today’s gospel, John has this great summary of God’s salvation plan through Jesus:

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.

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 (16-18).

Reconciliation is not a pass and it is not a punishment. It is a mechanism to address the hard truth that our sinfulness can only be overcome through the grace of Jesus. We desire to be happy, which is only possible through life with Jesus. God, our creator desires to bring home all His people; so He sent us His son to overcome sin as only He can. Everything in my faith points to this truth, especially reconciliation.

It’s Lent. It’s time for me to return to confession so I can be with Jesus fully. I long to go home.

The Gospel for Sunday, March 4th, 2018: Third Sunday of Lent

The Gospel for March 4th, 2018: “Cleansing of the Temple”

John 2: 13-25

Reflection: Rejecting the Insidious Power of Sin

Today’s gospel, the “Cleansing of the Temple,” is dramatic. Jesus walks into the temple in Jerusalem and completely disrupts the thriving marketplace by driving off the livestock and overturning the tables of commerce. He says to all the Jews present, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace” (16). They, of course, are incredulous and ask Him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” (18). His answer is mysterious and profound: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (19). Naturally, they misunderstand His meaning and wonder at how He might rebuild the temple in three days when it has been under construction for forty-six years (20). For clarification, John tells us, “[H]e was speaking about the temple of us his body” (21).

I read this passage and think, could I take such a radical and dangerous stand against corruption? The answer is no. As Bishop Robert Barron has pointed out, Jesus is being the Messiah in this moment, fulfilling His role in cleansing the temple where God’s creatures go to meet Him. I am not called to be the Messiah, but rather His servant. My role, the role of all Christians, is to participate in the building of the Kingdom of God by choosing to love God’s creation over the power of sin. We can only do that in the new temple, in the presence of Jesus himself. When Jesus comes again and His kingdom on Earth will be complete, sin will cease to exist because love of others will be chosen over self-love down to the last person. The salvation operation that began with Jesus’ death and resurrection will be complete. We will all live in Jesus as brothers and sisters as God made us to do.

Today’s gospel is so relevant to Lent not because it calls us to go out and make showy displays against sin and corruption like some greasy televangelist. Jesus has already cleansed the temple where we meet God and relocated it in His person. Rather, our calling is to reject those self-rationalized sins we allow to cozy up in ourselves, in the temples of the Holy Spirit. It is a quiet cleansing through penitence, alms-giving, fasting, and expanded devotion to Christ. We are kicking out those selfish attachments to make more room for Christ in our hearts.

Imagine if every person did that.

All the violence and fear that permeates our world would lose its driving motivation. In this last week, the United States saw two school shootings make the news, one in a Florida high school and one on a Michigan college campus. Imagine if the only thoughts and actions we allow into our hearts as a response is compassion for the suffering of the victims and forgiveness for the perpetrators, whose own pain must be crippling. Imagine if we all come together in prayer and ask Jesus to heal us, to cleanse our souls of the sin that remains, the sin that compels us to hurt others. I don’t think such a response is a fairytale. I think it is the gospel story and fulfillment of Christ’s kingdom.

So let our Lent be filled with deeper devotion to Christ and the way of His kingdom—of peace, unselfish love, and forgiveness–rather than with attempts to usurp His place by misguidedly trying to bring justice to the world that is only His to give.



The Gospel for Sunday, February 25th, 2018: The Second Sunday of Lent

The Gospel for February 25th, 2018: “The Transfiguration of Jesus”

Mark 9: 2-10

Reflection: In the End, It is Love

I have written about the Transfiguration in this blog before. It is moment in scripture that is at once terrifying and deeply moving. I have noticed the disciples fear in the revelation of Jesus’ divinity and the reassuring voice of God himself in this encounter.

For today, I would like to focus on the after-effects of the Transfiguration for Peter, James, and John. Mark tells us, “As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant” (9-10). Jesus does not want them to tell others what they have seen until after the Resurrection is complete.

This request is not unique in the gospels. Jesus was well aware of how His mission might be misunderstood by His disciples under the awe of divine power. The first century Jews expected the Messiah to be a powerful monarch in the mold of King David. Yet, such power would not save the world from the grip of sin, just as David’s reign could not. It is only in Christ’s coming to be sacrificed for the sins of humanity and His victory over the power of death and sin in His resurrection, does the true meaning of worship become clear. We are to love totally for the good of God’s creation to the end. His will, not our will, is the salvation of humanity and the joining of Heaven and Earth. Jesus came to inaugurate a kingdom where love and peace reign, not power and subordination at the hands of a few.

God the Father, our creator, loves us to the extent of sacrificing His only son, Jesus. He did not ask this of Abraham, though he was willing to sacrifice Isaac, a fact of which we reminded  in the first reading.  When Easter Sunday finally arrives and the salvation operation has begun, all Christians must testify to a gospel of love from then on. This is why we must all frequently question “what rising from the dead meant.” We must never forget that the power that saves is God’s love for His creation. This is the power that we must share with others to participate in the coming of the kingdom. The journey of every Christian to sainthood is marked by the movement toward letting go of all worldly attachments to love others completely and freely as God loves us. May our Lenten journeys reflect this aim and contribute to a more complete conversion to the way of God’s love.


The Gospel for Sunday, February 11th, 2018

The Gospel for February 11th, 2018: “The Cleansing of a Leper”

Mark 1: 40-45

Reflection: A Savior not a Genie

Today’s gospel is challenging on two levels. Jesus performs yet another miracle in healing the leper. On the one hand, lepers are the poor and sick who are hard to be around. Lepers were very likely physically repulsive as they were covered with skin sores. If we try to imitate Jesus’ healing of the deaf mute by helping someone who cannot speak for him or herself, we are not necessarily confronted with the problem of overcoming our own disgust to help this person. If we try to imitate Jesus’ healing of the leper, we are bound to confront an unsavory mission to say the least. We may balk in weakness. It reminds me of Dorothy Day’s comment that those who wish to help the poor need to know they are ungrateful and smelly. Jesus did not select only the convenient opportunities to help others and challenges us to do the same.

On another level, the details of what happens after the healing beg contemplation. Jesus sends the healed man to the priests so that he could be declared clean and rejoin the Jewish community. Furthermore, Jesus sternly commands him to tell no one of what happened. However, the cured leper did not listen; instead, “He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly” (45).

Why did Jesus want him to tell no one? He knows us because we are His creations. He knew that news of this miracle would attract those who selfishly were seeking quick-fixes and painless cures. Jesus is calling us to conversion–to live our lives as servants of others and participate in the building of the kingdom of God on Earth. There is nothing quick or painless about that. Yet, this is the salvation plan of the Messiah. His mission is for the conversion of all, not to grant the selfish desires of individuals to improve their temporary, worldly lives. So Jesus gives the healed man a mission to be a living testament to the people of Israel by going to the priests so they could declare him clean. He tells him to avoid publicity so that Jesus would not be obstructed in His missionary work by huge crowds seeking only a miracle worker. Instead, the man rejects Jesus’ plan for him. He sins. What is the consequence? Jesus could no longer enter a town openly. He must stay out in the desert. His work of kingdom-building was slowed.

As sinners, we often forget our rejection of Jesus has consequences that go beyond our own lives. We are part of a larger mission. We are members of a growing Christian community we call the Church whose work will not stop until all are converted to Christ. Our sin slows down that work. It delays the final realization of the kingdom. If our lives are truly about Christ, we need to serve that goal instead our desire for comfort and security.

I only say this because I’m not there yet. I am too often Christian only when it is convenient. But the recognition that I am that healed leper who ungratefully ignored Jesus’ commands challenges me to try harder. Lent is coming. It is a good time to try harder and ask for the Lord’s help to do so.



The Gospel for Sunday, February 4th, 2018

The Gospel for February 4th, 2018: “The Cure of Simon’s Mother-in-law,” “Other Healings, “ and  “Jesus Leaves Capernaum”

Mark 1: 29-39


In today’s gospel we find Jesus busy healing and preaching. He tells his disciples, “For this purpose I have come” (38). This is good news since Jesus is still with us in the Holy Spirit and sacraments to preach and heal us also. However, I think we read the gospels with a two-fold purpose. First, we read to know Jesus through his Word and story. Second, we read so that we may live His story as disciples who are called to participate in His mission. It with this second lens that I reflect on today’s gospel.

I wonder if Jesus gets tired of all those needy people wanting to be near Him? Indeed, he tries to get away to pray in a deserted place, leaving before the dawn to do so.  Alas, Simon Peter comes to find Him saying, “Everyone is looking for you” (37). His time of peace and solitude is over. And yet, Jesus does not complain or ignore this call. On He goes to the next village to preach and heal.

To me, this is a subtle reminder that life as His disciple will often demand much of me, with few breaks. Nevertheless, like Jesus, I must refresh myself with prayer and carry on. It is in His mission, His story, that I will find happiness and meaning, despite my weariness. Much has been written over the centuries about the danger of idleness or sloth. Yet we should not view this from a “works contract” perspective. Our active participation in Jesus’ mission simply is a more fulfilling state, one that keeps us awash in His light and grace. For this purpose, we have been created.

The Gospel for Sunday, January 28th, 2018

The Gospel for January 28th, 2018: “The Cure of a Demoniac”

Mark 1: 21-28

Reflection:  Jesus Will Cast out the Unclean Spirits

In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

–Mark 1: 23-24

I was four years old when The Exorcist came out. I have yet to see it. As a child growing up, I had a vague awareness of the movie because I did have some friends in elementary school who were allowed to watch a television airing and told me a few details. That was enough to make an impression on my young mind. So when I read Mark’s gospel in which Jesus casts an unclean spirit out of man in the synagogue, William Friedkin’s movie comes to mind as well as the fact that I have never seen an exorcism. My point is not to deny the truth of spirits, demons, or devils inhabiting humans, nor to contemplate the mechanics of how a priest or even Jesus might remove it. Instead, I just want to move past a literal reading of this gospel for my reflection. Possessions and exorcisms may happen in the world, but they do not speak to my day-to-day struggle with evil.

However, I recognize the unclean spirit as that part of me that is in the grip of sin. The part of me that wants to be selfish and get what I want, regardless of how it affects others or how my behavior may separate me from Jesus. If I see this spirit as symbolic of the sin within, then Mark’s gospel holds some really interesting insights into my daily struggles with sinfulness. I notice two interesting details:

  • The spirit is within the man, even at the synagogue, until Jesus arrives. This reminds me Jesus is at the heart of our worship and faith. Salvation—namely freedom from sin—cannot occur without Jesus’ grace.
  • Once Jesus arrives, the spirit (my sin) is unmasked and cannot tolerate his presence. As soon as we allow Jesus into our hearts, the sin there must leave because they cannot co-exist or ignore each other. Notice the spirit’s questions: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” (24). Once the light of Christ shines upon the spirit, he recognizes he cannot fight back. It just a matter of when Jesus will obliterate him.

There is no ensuing battle. No bloodshed on either side. It ends very simply. Jesus says, “Quiet. Come out of him” (25). And then it is over. This reveals the parasitic nature of sin and its utter ineffectiveness against the love of the Trinity. Sin exists and controls us only when we take our eyes off Jesus and close our hearts to Him. It is the dark side of the free will God has granted us to love Him and His creation perfectly. Sometimes we choose to possess all this good and beauty for ourselves. We are proud and selfish and turn to Jesus and say, “What do you have to do with us, Jesus…?” In those moments, we must return back to Jesus. We must repent and welcome Him back our hearts. Then He will do just as he does for the man in the synagogue.  He will save us from sin so that we may live in His presence. O, perfect love! My Lord and my God!



The Gospel for Sunday, January 21st, 2018

The Gospel for January 21st, 2018: “The Call of the First Disciples”

Mark 1: 14-20

Reflection: Complete Surrender to Christ

Mark’s version of the call of the first disciples in this Sunday’s gospel reveals the full extent of the surrender of their worldly lives to follow Jesus. First, Andrew and Simon leave behind their livelihoods. Mark tells us, “They abandoned their nets and followed him [Jesus]” (18). It is a clean break. Later in the passage Mark notes James and John leave behind their family by abandoning their father, Zebedee, along with their fisherman livelihood. Mark states this matter-of-factly, “So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him” (20). What must their father have thought or said? What a stunning act of surrender!

I know there are still times when I use my job and my family as excuses to reject the conditions of discipleship. Those excuses play well in the world and make me think it is acceptable to disguise activities that serve the ego like working on Sunday or trying to earn extra income ‘for the family’ as justifying ignoring time with the Lord in prayer or in helping others. These are not noble pursuits. They are ego attachments. Mark’s gospel makes it clear: We must give up our jobs and our family to Christ along with all our other attachments in order to truly serve Him and not ourselves. He will take care of our needs and family. We only need to have faith to accept this. Yet, I am not there. It is only through God’s grace that I can be so humble. My egoistic pride runs deep.

The Gospel for Sunday, January 14th, 2018

The Gospel for January 14th, 2018: “The First Disciples”

John 1: 35-42

Reflection: Hearing Christ’s Call in Silence

When Samuel went to sleep in his place, the LORD came and revealed his presence, calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

–Samuel 3: 9-10

He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where Jesus was staying, and they stayed with him that day.

–John 1: 39

As these respective quotes from the first reading and today’s gospel suggest, an important theme of the liturgy for today is the Lord calling His disciples. Samuel is called in his sleep and is advised by Eli so that he is ready to recognize and answer that call. In John’s gospel, “The First Disciples,” Jesus invites two brothers, Andrew and Simon Peter, to come and stay with Him, thus initiating their discipleship.

As God’s creatures, we are all called to discipleship and holiness as were Samuel, Andrew, and Peter. And like those three, our callings are unique so that we may play the role in the theo-drama God has suited us for with special gifts. I believe that whole-heartedly. Yet, as I reflect on my life and my efforts to discern my calling, I am struck by how difficult it can be to recognize Christ’s voice. It is a noisy world, filled with ideas, information, and images, all of which influence my sense of who I am and how I perceive my mission. Frequently, I am confused as to whether an idea that occurs to me comes to me as a genuine Christian calling or rather as a selfish reaction to a personal desire or fear. I often long for a clarion call from the Lord as with the disciples in today’s readings, and I fail to hear His words directed at me.

My mistake, I think, is expecting to hear my calling vocalized. Two books in particular by Catholic priest and theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar are helping me to rethink my expectation of a calling. Recently I finished his book Prayer, and currently I am reading his treatise called Christian Meditation. Taken together, there are two points from Balthasar I wish to share about the nature of discernment and mission. First, Balthasar emphasizes that Christ comes to as the Word and in the Word. So attempts to hear Christ should be grounded in scriptures.  He writes in Prayer: “The question “How can we hear God’s word?” is answered thus: we can, because we are in the Word. Because the Word who became flesh takes us into himself, giving his own self as our mode of existence” (Balthasar 58). While I do not want to put too fine a point on this, because clearly his insight extends to the liturgy of the Eucharist as well as the liturgy of the Word in this statement, we can hear Christ in the scriptures because He is the Word in every sense. By contemplating scripture, we begin to know Christ’s plan for us.

Likewise, Balthasar opens up my notion of “hearing” Christ in Christian Meditation as well. A major lesson of this book is that Christ comes to us in silence, which characterizes meditation on the Lord. To explore how that is possible, he reflects on moments in scripture where God is experienced in silence, in particular Christ’s many moments of silence during the Passion, and concludes, “[T]he Logos [Christ] can also manifest himself by means of silence. The mystery of Holy Saturday represents no exception. Not only Jesus’ entering into solidarity with us by his silence in death is a “loud cry”…but also his deliberately descending into the silence of that death” (Balthasar, Kindle version loc. 346).

While I am simplifying Balthasar’s full exploration of the mystery of both prayer and meditation in these books, the salient point with regards to hearing the Lord’s call is that it may be known in silent contemplation rather than heard or verbalized in the way that worldly knowledge comes to us. As Christians who feel lost and confused at times, we do well to contemplate scripture and then spend time with the Lord in the silence of prayer and meditation on Christ. This would be the place to “stay with” Jesus as Andrew and Peter do and discern his mission, perhaps wordlessly, for our lives.