Redwood Journal is a collection of writings authored by Harry Martin, including book and article publications and blog postings collected from earlier websites. It is, in a very real sense, a journal of the author reflecting his life and work, much among the Coast Redwood country of Northern California. But it is, even more, a journal of his tasks as a servant of the Cross, a douloscross. It is a journal of one who follows He who died upon the Cross, made red by His blood and arose from the tomb through His holy love.
Over the years these tasks have included firefighting, restaurant and camp cook, disaster medical planner, Protestant pastor, Permanent Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church, fire services chaplain, mental health advocate, Beeswax candle maker, writer and husband and father. All of these tasks, privileged assignments, for this simple servant of Christ have been sought to be done gloria Dei, for the glory of God.
2nd Sunday of Easter ~ Divine Mercy Sunday; 11 April 2021; Bible Readings for Mass: I: Acts 4: 32-35; Responsorial: Psalm 118; II: I John 5: 1-6; Gospel: John 20: 19-31
Our journey with the risen Christ continues this second week of Easter. This Sunday is also recognized, by the Church, as Divine Mercy Sunday.
The Devotion to the Divine Mercy of Christ was given to Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska in Poland from 1931 – 36. As is usually the course of our devotions there are questions and issues that could challenge some. However, the core message of faithfully seeking the Divine Mercy of Jesus is a message and value of great worth and brings us to the Scriptures of this day.
As is the norm during Easter all our Bible readings come from the New Testament (with the exceptions of the Responsorial, coming from the Psalms).
The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, gives us a dynamic picture of the early church in Jerusalem. The faith community, although persecuted, was growing in numbers, and the faithful were of “one heart and mind” as they shared all they had with each other, and for God’s Kingdom. It was a time of great power as the Apostles shared, in word and deed, the Gospel of the crucified and risen Christ. It was also an extraordinary testimony of the mercy of God. For these leaders of the early church had, just days earlier, fled their Savior and God in His passion. And for each of them, in real ways, their healing and forgiveness were found in His holy wounds.
The second reading from the First Epistle of John weaves for us the holy fabric of God’s mercy as a tapestry of faith, love, and obedience to Christ.
But it is in our Gospel, for this Easter Sunday, we see so clearly the mercy of Jesus shared with the disciples and particularly with Thomas who, without guile, and in honest doubt still sought Jesus whom he loved. The story of “Doubting Thomas” is familiar with most Christians. Perhaps it is because there are realities with which we can identify. Like Thomas most of us are, at times, encountering uncertainties, fears, and doubts. We long for clear tangible evidence of that which Jesus promises is….truth. This especially becomes an issue when confronted with the harsh realities of the world and the cruelty it can bring..the cruelty of the Cross.
It is vital to accept that Jesus did not reject Thomas for his imperfect faith. Christ did not condemn His struggling disciple trying to sort out the events, the teachings, the theologies and intense emotions with which he contended. Jesus came to Thomas as he was. It would have been so beautiful to have been in the rooms with the disciples as Jesus, again came in, past doors securely locked, and stood in their midst. And to see Thomas, with them, as he saw Jesus through his confused eyes of fear, and struggling faith. And then for Thomas to see the eyes of Jesus looking at him, with the holy gaze of mercy, peace, of welcome. And as Jesus saw Thomas he saw through the doubts, the fears, the worries to the disciple he had created and redeemed. And he saw a heart of longing faith hungering for…God. Jesus called Thomas to Himself and simply invited Thomas to see, to touch, to enter His wounds of holy love.
And it was as Thomas entered the wounds of His Savior he was healed. And it was as Jesus entered the woundsof Thomas he found the peace, the wholeness, the holiness, of love.
The story of Jesus and Thomas is one of the countless stories of God’s mercy. The greater the need, the conflicts, the sorrows the greater the opportunity for the mercy of Jesus to prevail. I believe it was no coincidence that the call to Divine Mercy was given to an uneducated nun in Poland as the horrors of World War II exploded. It is especially in lands and homes, minds and hearts, in conflict and fear that Jesus seeks to bring His mercy. The world, even the Church has souls lonely for peace, acceptance, and love. There is a famine of hope and mercy in so many lives. And if we deny God’s blessing and mercy to others it is to re-open the Wounds of Christ shared in the breaking of His Body and sharing of His Blood. The mercy, the blessings of God were shared by Jesus, not with the sinless or perfect. They, His holy wounds, were shared with…us.
There is a significant verse in the Epistle for today. It states: “And his commandments are not burdensome…”. As we seek the mercy of the Risen Jesus in our lives we need to remember that same mercy we need and seek is meant to be shared. It is also helpful to remember that about burdens… a burden is never heavy when it is made to be carried by someone else. We need to prayerfully look and understand that what we may impose, as essential upon others, if it is truly of God, would not be burdensome. May, what we share, help others know Christ and His mercy and the freedom of His grace.
The words of a Taize chorus (again, from Poland) can help us grow in the mercy, the forgiveness of our risen Lord and Savior:
God is forgiveness, God is forgiveness, God is forgiveness,
Dare to forgive and God will be with you.
God is forgiveness, God is forgiveness, God is forgiveness,
Easter Sunday is the greatest of the Christian holidays. It is a celebration of Jesus, Savior and Lord, rising from the dead. As the resurrection is celebrated it also is a time of joy for new life, of growth. Some critics complain that the Christians “stole” Easter from the Jews as it developed during Passover. Or, on an even broader scale, that it was taken from the pagan religions and many customs associated with the vernal equinox. In a very real sense… Yes! Joyfully Yes! The roots of both the Hebrew faith and pagan religions are a part of the tapestry of humanity that celebrates this holy, joyful feast. This historical, global scale is also what occurs in families and our personal journey with and to God. It isn’t a matter of theft. It is a reality that we grow from the faith, the practices we had and, hopefully, we grow unto the Truth who is Jesus. And this journey is not perfect or complete for any of us. None of us can claim to possess all the Truth or answers. That is only found in God. So Easter is a celebration that recognizes the journey of humanity and of all creation from our early beliefs and practices into the fullness of Truth found in the risen Savior and God, Jesus the Christ.
As the stone door of the tomb was rolled away Jesus stepped out into the glory of a new creation where sin and death are conquered. As Christ on earth welcomed and blessed Hebrews and Gentiles with the Gospel of conversion (change, growth, new life and direction) the Risen Jesus would both welcome and empower all who are seeking the Way of His Kingdom. The Risen Savior would seek those who were frightened, wounded, and struggling with doubts and lead them to grow in His mercy and forgiveness. Even Peter with his denials of his Lord was sought by God, who is forgiveness. And it is important to understand the Risen Lord, The Messiah, appeared first, not to the Apostles, not to the priests and leaders of the Hebrews. The great religious scholars sought not the tomb where he laid.
The first to experience and realize the miraculous joy of Easter were women who loved their Lord and came, hoping to complete the preparation of His Body for burial. They were, in the realities of that era, often seen as lesser humans than men. As evidenced by their burial task they were normally in the place and roles of servants. But they came in courageous love, however unsure their faith. And it was those hearts of love coming with their imperfect faith that Jesus chose to first reveal His risen Presence. It was the women who would first witness, to the Apostles and to the world Jesus had risen from the dead. It would be their message shared with Peter and John that would send the men racing to the tomb with tremulous disregard for their fears and doubts. And as they came and saw they knew in their hearts what had happened. Jesus was alive in the hope dawning in their hearts. It would be, from the empty tomb they would grow in the Truth, the grave was not where Jesus was meant to be. And neither were they.
Christ, victor over sin and death, conquerer of Satan, would visit His follower in their locked, fearful rooms and on their wanderings of sorrow and doubt. Jesus met His disciples where they were. He waited not for perfect faith, understanding or the fullest of pious love. He met them where they were… as he meets us. As we celebrate the holy joy of Christ risen we acclaim our Alleluias! That great word of faith and joy affirms: “Our God reigns!”
It is time we leave the tombs of our doubts and fears. It is time we place our faith in Christ Crucified and Risen from the Dead instead of placing our faith in our failings or our limited understanding of the sins and faults of others. Together we are invited by Christ to see, enter into His holy wounds, and realize anew our hope and healing, our holiness and joy is found, not in our practices or assumed perfections, but in His wounds of redeeming love.
And prayerfully may we understand it is not for us to judge and decide how God and His infinite graces, God’s boundless blessings are to be shared. We are all unworthy. We are all broken in sin. And it is for us all Jesus found His way to the cross and tomb. He knew it would be where He would find us. And it is from there He leads us. Sin, death, the devil are conquered. But some would say, why then is there so much suffering, hate, evil in the world? The Easter journey is the Way of the Cross. Evil, sin, death are conquered. And it is our calling, our privilege to, with and in Christ, manifest Christ’s victory into the world He leads us.
Easter Vigil is an ancient celebration in the Roman Catholic Church. While familiar to Catholics it is important to reflect on the many elements of this Mass. It concludes the Triduum [Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil]. It also completes Holy Week and the season of Lent. It is held, at dusk or later, on Saturday night and marks the dawn of the Easter celebration and season. The Easter Vigil is recognized as being, normally, the longest Mass of our Liturgy. It contains an immense treasure of Bible readings, Responsorial Psalms, and prayers. It is also an ancient traditional time where Catechumens are baptized, First Communion is given for adults, and Confirmation is sacramentally shared. All of these facets are shared in the joy and glory of the resurrected Christ.
The Easter Vigil also includes the lighting of the Paschal Candle. It will be lit at all the Easter season Masses, baptisms, and funerals throughout the coming year. Lit, from the holy fire at the start of the Vigil and carried into the darkened church it marks the end of our darkness and the coming of the Light of Christ. It is placed in the large candle stand next to the ambo. What follows is, again, a very ancient part of our worship, the proclaiming of the Exultet. This great prayer of praise shared by Christians in countless Easters is rich in both beauty and lessons for our faith. Because it is a long prayer it often is not fully appreciated. For this Easter Vigil, I share it. I encourage us all to reflect upon the Biblical beauty and holy love expressed in these words. May the Spirit and Truth of the Exultet to our Risen Christ be deeply rooted and grow in our hearts.
Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven, exult, let Angel ministers of God exult, let the trumpet of salvation sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph!
Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her, ablaze with light from her eternal King, let all corners of the earth be glad, knowing an end to gloom and darkness.
Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice, arrayed with the lightning of his glory, let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.
(Therefore, dearest friends, standing in the awesome glory of this holy light, invoke with me, I ask you, the mercy of God almighty, that he, who has been pleased to number me, though unworthy, among the Levites, may pour into me his light unshadowed, that I may sing this candle’s perfect praises.)
(V. The Lord be with you. R. And with your spirit.) V. Lift up your hearts. R. We lift them up to the Lord. V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. R. It is right and just.
It is truly right and just, with ardent love of mind and heart and with devoted service of our voice, to acclaim our God invisible, the almighty Father, and Jesus Christ, our Lord, his Son, his Only Begotten.
Who for our sake paid Adam’s debt to the eternal Father, and, pouring out his own dear Blood, wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness.
These, then, are the feasts of Passover, in which is slain the Lamb, the one true Lamb, whose Blood anoints the doorposts of believers.
This is the night, when once you led our forebears, Israel’s children, from slavery in Egypt and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.
This is the night that with a pillar of fire banished the darkness of sin.
This is the night that even now, throughout the world, sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices and from the gloom of sin, leading them to grace and joining them to his holy ones.
This is the night, when Christ broke the prison-bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld.
Our birth would have been no gain, had we not been redeemed.
O wonder of your humble care for us! O love, O charity beyond all telling, to ransom a slave you gave away your Son! O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ! O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
O truly blessed night, worthy alone to know the time and hour when Christ rose from the underworld!
This is the night of which it is written: The night shall be as bright as day, dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness.
The sanctifying power of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty. On this, your night of grace, O holy Father, accept this candle, a solemn offering, the work of bees and of your servants’ hands, an evening sacrifice of praise, this gift from your most holy Church.
But now we know the praises of this pillar, which glowing fire ignites for God’s honor, a fire into many flames divided, yet never dimmed by sharing of its light, for it is fed by melting wax, drawn out by mother bees to build a torch so precious.
O truly blessed night, when things of heaven are wed to those of earth, and divine to the human.
Therefore, O Lord, we pray you that this candle, hallowed to the honor of your name, may persevere undimmed, to overcome the darkness of this night.
Receive it as a pleasing fragrance, and let it mingle with the lights of heaven.
May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star: the one Morning Star who never sets, Christ your Son, who, coming back from death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity, and lives and reigns for ever and ever.
Good Friday, the most solemn and sorrowful day in the Christian year. There are no celebrations. For Catholics it is a day of fasting. Mass is not said, only Holy Communion will be shared. It is a day to be quiet, to still the tumult of our world and minds. It is a time to listen..for..and to God. It is no accident or seeming penance that the liturgy remembering our Lord’s Passion is so full with God’s Word. It is a time to listen, to think, prayerfully of all God has done for us.
Jesus faced the cruel mockery of a trial. He who came because He loves us found…hate. He who came to free us from self and sin found bondage, beatings, and humiliation.
Good Friday was a day of crushing disappointments. The followers and friends of Jesus had been convinced He was the Messiah, the Christ. They believed He would deliver them from the hated Romans. And we, much as His earlier followers, often believe He will deliver us from our disappointments and failures, of the world, in the Church, each other, ourselves. But the disappointment is so deep. Jesus died. And so, it seemed did their hopes, their faith. As we carry our disappointments, our failures (real or assumed) we must remember Mary, with her dead Son, and His friends carrying Jesus to the tomb.
But..they did not realize as they carried the broken Body of Jesus they carried holy love spilled out for us all. They did not yet realize that He who was crucified came not to free them from the hated Romans but to free them for the holy power of forgiveness and His love. And as we carry our disappointments, wounded lives we share the same holy path of the Cross, with The Crucified. This sorrowful day of disappointment is day of appointment to better know Jesus and the mercy-filled embrace of His Crucified Love.
We adore you O Christ and we bless you. For by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
Holy Thursday ~ 1 April 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper: I: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; Responsorial: Psalm 116; II: I Corinthians 11:23-26; Gospel: John 13:1-15
With the Holy Thursday liturgy we begin the Paschal Triduum, the three days preparing for and leading to the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection on Easter. Even if we are unable to fully attend or participate in the glorious liturgies we are invited by the Holy Spirit to enter in with our prayers, readings, reflections and service to God and each other. In so many ways the amount of anticipation and spiritual preparation we enter into will determine the degree of true celebration and realization of our risen Lord at Easter.
The Holy Thursday liturgy is very distinct from other Masses. It focuses upon and solemnly celebrates that sacred night when Jesus instituted the sharing of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. It is also, traditionally, the time when the Holy Oils of the Church are consecrated and blessed for the coming year at the Chrism Mass and when priests renewed their sacred vows. After the Mass, the Sanctuary and altar are all stripped of the liturgical linens, candles, and vessels. and the Real Presence, the consecrated Hosts, are placed in a separate Altar of Repose commemorating our Lord’s burial. And this sacred night also includes a rite practiced at no other time of the year, the Washing of Feet.
It is really quite extraordinary and vital that the Spirit of God led the Church, as the liturgy grew, to include this part of the Holy Thursday celebration.This distinction is also seen in the Gospel of John. The account of the washing of the disciple’s feet is not included in the three synoptic Gospels. It is only in the fourth Gospel written almost 90 years after our Lord’s Ascension that we see it. This brings us to wonder, Why? And why is this rite a part of the very significant Mass commemorating the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Why didn’t Matthew, Mark and Luke mention the event? And why did the Holy Spirit do so in John’s Gospel?
Much like the disciples that night in the Upper Room we gather at this time with many questions. It is a time of uncertainty with so much in life uncertain and seemingly in flux. And for many in the world there are real dangers of body, soul and spirit.
These difficult realities were being experienced by the disciples. They were being shared by the Hebrew people spoken of in our first reading at the institution of the Passover. They were shared by the young, struggling church St Paul wrote to in the second reading. Life is full of perils, uncertainties, and questions. The longing for normalcy, for control, stability is so very strong. And it also can be very elusive. Jesus on that first Holy Thursday night gave to his followers, then and now, the answers, the graces, we need to prevail and grow in His Kingdom.
We asked earlier why was the washing of the disciples feet only mentioned in John’s Gospel. Why is it a part of the Holy Thursday Liturgy? What does it have to do with the Eucharist?
With this Gospel coming decades after the others, it comes with the insights gained by those years of watching and ministering in the early church. The fact that this fourth Gospel has the most in-depth account of the actual thoughts and message of Jesus just before He goes out to the Garden of Gethsemane is significant. I believe that the Beloved Disciple, in caring for and watching the beloved church grow through those early decades brought the realization that there were some important aspects missing. John in leaning upon the breast of Jesus at that first Eucharist knew, very powerfully, the importance of the Body of Jesus. But he also knew the Words of Jesus were equally needed. There would be no Eucharist without the Living Word of God. It would have been just another Passover. But he who learned to listen to the heartbeat of God knew the necessity of LISTENING to the WORDS and ACTIONS of JESUS. The REAL PRESENCE of the EUCHARIST would not be without the Living REAL PROMISE of the Christ. And the Washing of the Feet of the followers of Jesus spoke in word and action of the Eucharist becoming the Body of Christ in the world. Holy Thursday is a solemn celebration of Jesus the Word, Jesus the Servant and Jesus the Savior. They cannot be separated one from another.
This Holy Thursday with the challenges of a pandemic and sickness still very present we are called to be followers of Jesus who seek to listen to the Word of God. We are called, like John to allow ourselves to learn to listen for the very heartbeat of Jesus. As we dismiss the hate and doubts of the world, the noise of fear, worry, and judgments we draw close to hear and heed the voice of Him who would promise to the sinful criminal, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” These Holy three days, let us each take time to listen to Christ.
As we seek God’s Word we realize that He would remind us we all have shared a very difficult year in passing. Our steps have known uncertainty, worry, major detours from our normal paths of work, family, and worship. We have encountered a nation that has had bitter battles of politics, race, and even of our faith among the believers. Our feet, our steps, like the disciples in the Upper Room have been wearied, bruised, and wounded. And often like those disciples, we want to forget or ignore some of those places and pains. But Jesus takes off His robes of privilege and welcomes the towel of a servant. He knowingly blesses and washes the feet of each disciple. All but one would flee at His arrest. One would betray Him. One would deny Him repeatedly. But Jesus blessed and washed them all. We are each reminded of Christ the King, that night, fully aware that His Father had given all power to Him, choose to rule…with a towel. And He calls us to do the same.
As we listen to and serve our crucified and risen King we are brought to share in the bread and sacred cup of our Savior. In the breaking of the bread, the breaking of His Body and in the sharing of the cup, His Holy Blood we share in the Real Presence, the Body of Christ. It is in the Holy Communion, in this Holy Common-Union we share in and become the hands, the feet, the eyes and ears of Jesus. And it is that sacred grace that calls us to reach out, to welcome, to bless those God brings us to encounter. It is also where we realize that Jesus truly Present in the Eucharist is also truly Present in our neighbor.
Palm Passion Sunday ~ 28 March 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: First Gospel: Mark 11:1-10; I: Isaiah 50:4-7; Responsorial: Psalm 22; II: Philippians 2:6-11; Second Gospel: Mark 14:1 – 15:47
Holy Week begins. This most solemn and holy time of the Christian year is with us already. The immense wealth of liturgy is particularly special this year as last year the sharing of our communities of faith in these sacred celebrations were mostly curtailed as together we journeyed the pandemic trails and trials. But this year we are able to start gathering again. God has graced the medical workers in the vaccine efforts and care for the sick. May God’s blessing rest upon them. This does not preclude our part in responding for the care and good of ourselves and each other. The very real and distinct cross of the Covid virus is still to be shared until full healing is ours from God. As we once again share in these feasts of our worship we are blessed with an abundance of Scriptures. Especially the Gospel readings today and Good Friday may cause some to simply endure the long readings as opposed to actively listening to the Living Word.
Instead of listening with dulled hearts and minds may we seek the Holy Spirit to awaken in each of us the power and promise of our Lord. Let us listen anticipating the power of God to enable our sharing with Jesus in this timeless Holiest of Weeks. May the beautiful and meaningful liturgies, symbols and actions we share be true beginnings in a closer walk with Jesus, crucified and risen.
And we begin this sacred week with Palm ~ Passion Sunday. The first Gospel recounts the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The long second Gospel witnesses His passion and death. It is a poignant summary of all that occurred in our Lord’s Passion and all that can that should be occurring in our lives as we follow Jesus. But let us focus upon that joyful entry of our Lord into Jerusalem as both introduction and preparation for all that will occur with Jesus this week.
As Jesus rode the young unbroken colt of an ass into the Holy City, as the people waved and spread their palm and olive branches and shouted out their “Hosanna’s” before the Messiah we see an exciting and profound witness of the coming of Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the King of Kings for the Jews. But also for the Gentiles and all of creation. Although the miracle was rather small the choice of Jesus to ride into the City of David on a donkey’s colt never before rode ,(as opposed to a great stallion befitting a mighty King) was profound and important. It spoke to the people of that day both of the humility of our Lord but also His power and His relationship with creation. Young colts are known for their energy and spunk. That this animal both allowed itself to be ridden and calmly carried Jesus through the singing, shouting crowds as they tossed branched and robes before them is truly extraordinary.
It also needs to be noted that the donkey is the only animal with the cross on its back. The tradition is that this is a sign and grace, given by God, to these animals for their part in the life and passion of their Creator as they carried Mary, the mother of our Lord to Bethlehem and Jesus Himself that solemn day into Jerusalem.
This humble animal of burden is a lesson and example for us all this holy week. But so are the branches of palms and olive trees waved and spread before God incarnate.
The Scriptures and the saints both recognize and bear witness that all of creation, fauna and flora, bless and praise God. Now, being honest, our science and techno-inebriated culture would dismiss any such concept as allegory or metaphor at the very most.
But I would invite the skeptics to humbly study both Scripture and the saints on this topic. Or even to sit in the garden for a quiet time and simply learn to listen to the witness of creation of our Creator. And for Holy Week it is a message of allowing ourselves the path of faith, the path of the Cross with Jesus. It is about recognizing what our eyes or understanding may not see that, we, in turn, may grow to see what is real.
That Palm Sunday the people of Jerusalem were caught up in what their understanding, their senses saw and heard. Their blessing of Jesus therefore was shallow and sadly temporal. When things did not go as they THOUGHT and expected, they turned against Him. Instead of blessing they cursed. Instead of love they chose hate.
So it is with with us. This Palm ~ Passion Sunday we need to look to creation and to our hearts as we seek to welcome the King of Kings into our hearts and homes. Will we wave the palms and olive branches with all our…understanding and reason? Or will be seek His coming anew into our lives with hearts of faith and blessings of faith? Will we welcome and bless Jesus into the life of our faith community and Church or, as some, with a focus upon problems, divisions and differences? Or upon He who wore the crown of thorns? Will the headlines in our mind speak of politics and schism or Jesus who is SAVIOR and LORD? And will we welcome and bless Jesus into the lives of others per rigid understanding and interpretations of religious teachings or with the living Gospel who came into His Passion upon the back of a young donkey.
This week of very profound and real opportunities of holy joy and redeeming love may we welcome Jesus into our hearts, our Church, and each other as He welcomes us. For is there a better standard?
“Jesus remember us when you come into your Kingdom.”
5th Sunday of Lent – 21 March 2021 – Bible readings for Mass: I: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Responsorial: Psalm 51; II: Hebrews 5:7-9; Gospel: John 12:20-33
As we begin this fifth week of Lent we can sense the Holy Spirit drawing our souls ever closer to Christ and His holy loving passion. As we allow the light of Scripture to shine on this time and especially in our hearts we can see a message of great hope and challenge. Regardless of where we may be in the journey of our faith (novice or seasoned pilgrim), we can see the message of Jesus, His witness and welcome and His call to share this same message with others. There is a call from God to grow beyond our religious knowledge and practice rooted in the Law to an even greater relationship with the Living Word at home in our hearts.
In our Old Testament reading from the Prophet Jeremiah, we come upon the beautiful message of healing hope. The words come about midway in the book of prophecy. Jeremiah has been sharing with stern clarity the need of repentance and conversion for the people of Israel. The Hebrews had fallen into the idolatry and rebelliousness of the world and their walk with God had mostly fallen to faithless futility. Yet in the warnings of coming judgment God shows us this bright hope of something better. He promised the hope that all would know the Lord, that His living Word would be alive in their hearts and the freedom of forgiveness would grow in their lives. God promised His WELCOME to hearts that sought His blessing and mercy and the WITNESS of His grace and love. He spoke of true holiness alive in the lives of His people.
This message of our hearts cleansed and welcoming for God is at the very core of The Responsorial Psalm. This great prayer of contrition and repentance was shared by David, King of Judah, at what was perhaps the lowest point of his life. He, a man after God’s own heart, had committed adultery and murder. While the evidence of his sin and guilt was undeniable the Holy Spirit inspired David giving this fallen man, this great Psalm of the penitent. David, like all humanity, had failed, horribly. But God’s welcome and witness of grace would prevail. From his brokenness God’s wholeness and holiness would be witnessed by His blessings.
This brings us to the Gospel for today. It is from the Gospel of John’s account of Holy Week. It includes this seemingly parenthetical yet significant episode in the events that were unfolding. A group of Greeks (Gentiles) had come to worship for the Jewish Passover. They could have been converts to Judaism or inquirers. But they were not Jews. They come to the disciples saying they want to see Jesus. The apostles, Phillip and Andrew, are unsure if this is alright. After all…. they were Gentiles. For a faithful Hebrew to conceive of and allow a Gentile into the blessings of their faith was very difficult. To allow them to see Jesus, to be blessed by their Messiah was problematic more than we realize. But it seems the Holy Spirit reminded the followers of Jesus of His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. And the healing of the Roman Centurion’s beloved servant and other prejudice quenching experiences they had witnessed. They went and told Jesus. It was as they, in essence, prayed our Lord spoke to their hearts of His Welcome and Witness. There is no mention of what happened with this group of Gentiles. But the Gospel offers a far broader answer from God.
The scope of this welcome and witness of God was not realized by the disciples during Holy Week. Sadly it seems it is often not realized to this day. But there was one particular event that should open the hearts of the faithful to the infinite dimensions of this miracle of grace. The Feast of the Lord’s Supper that we celebrate on Holy Thursday is a treasure mine of the graces of God. The sacred meal establishes the pinnacle of the seven sacraments, that of the Eucharist. It sets before all would-be followers of Christ the path of faith-filled service and love. And it gives us a lesson of the Welcome and Witness in the mercy of Jesus. As we think of those gathered around that first Eucharist, as we think of those gathered for the Eucharist today we don’t see a gathering of pious, holy, perfect Christians. We see a gathering of Christ’s followers who are uncertain, frightened and struggling with their faith. None of those present at that first sharing of Holy Communion had it all figured out. Their knowledge, their understanding of doctrinal matters, of the complex theories of natural law, of the profound wealth of religious teachings and philosophy that would evolve over the millennia was barely awakened. But they knew Jesus. They had sought to follow Him. All the chosen Apostles but one would run and hide at His Passion. One would betray Him. One would deny Him. But Jesus Welcomed and Witnessed to them all. And He gave to them and to all who would seek to follow him the mandate to go and do likewise. He gave to each of us the Truth that where He is also are His servants. He showed us we are the Body of Christ. He gave us each the call to Welcome and Witness of Him.
In this final week of Lent our hearts would be drawn ever closer to the welcoming Presence and graces of our Lord. We would be called to witness His mercy and forgiveness as we seek His blessings of grace, forgiveness and love. But we as individuals and as the Church the Body of Christ should hear the call the Holy Spirit bring us to be a people of Welcome and Witness for Christ. We will be privileged, like the early disciples, to encounter those who are seeking Christ, hungering for the blessings of God and His holy kingdom. And it will be difficult because we may well encounter those who might sin differently than us. We may see and hear of those whose faith journey and lives covered a far different path than what we might think as best. But we must remember the living words of our Lord, our Savior, Jesus: “And when I am lifted up from this earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” It brings us to hopefully realize that our task is to welcome and bring others into the witness of His mercy. And it is for God to choose to bless.
Holy Jesus, may our words, our actions, our choices lift You up, that you may draw everyone to your saving Presence.Jesus, Love, help us share Your Welcome and Witness, Your Blessings.
4th Sunday of Lent – 14 March 2021 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: II Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23; Responsorial: Psalm 137; II: Ephesians 2:4-10; Gospel: John 3:14-21
At the close of our second Scripture reading from St. Paul we read that we are the handiwork of God. As we recall other words from the Bible we are reminded that all creation proclaims His glory. All creations bears witness to the Truth, the majesty, the Presence of God. As we begin this fourth week of Lent Jesus, our Creator and Savior, would remind us of this eternal truth that we share with all creation. We are His handiwork. And in our Lenten journey, our steps as Christians, when we take that truth to heart, we are both liberated and challenged to grow, to ongoing conversion to allow the hands of God to lead and make us according to His designs.
The Old Testament reading from the book of II Chronicles shares the sad decline and failure of the Hebrew people to follow and live for God, to live according to His plans and design. In response to their failure God does something extraordinary. The Lord had sent His prophets, His messengers to try to bring them to grow in their truth. They had not responded. So God goes to a land of their origins, Persia, Ur of the Chaldees, modern day Iran. It was last week our Pope Francis made the first journey of any pope to this ancient land and he visited Ur considered to be the birthplace of Abraham, the father of the Faithful., Jews, Christians, Moslems. But at the time of our story the Persians were considered enemies of Israel. (Somethings are very slow to change). It was there God gave to their Emperor Cyrus the idea, the call, to restore the people of Israel to their promised land. This account of the handiwork of God is drenched in the eternal love and mercy of God. But it amazed and consternated the Hebrews. God could NEVER call someone like that to serve His will! God would not, could not, should not do something like that…Ever! For God to use an idolatrous, pagan, sinful ruler to exercise His plan defied all that was understood to be holy and right. But Cyrus was the handiwork of God. As we all are. But IF this is true why is it so hard to remember and realize this lesson for ourselves and especially for others?
It is on Holy Thursday we are given the answer. We, as the disciples were that holy night, are called to be seated with Christ, in heavenly places, [Second Reading from Ephesians]. These few short words are, again, drenched in Truth and lessons. They speak of our being (present tense) seated, with the Communion of the Saints, as Jesus raises us up to heavenly places to be seated with Him. It is with and in His Presence we live and proclaim His mercy that saves us by the gifts of His grace. But these words are also a lesson about eternal, spiritual geography. For they also describe the heavenly places where we are called to be …seated with and in Christ, at His Eucharistic table. And in this lesson we see that the closer we are with God the better we hear His Words of Truth and Life, as He spoke to John the Beloved laying on His breast. For it is as we journey from this holy meal we are called to abide in God’s Presence and where His hands can fulfill His handiwork.
Let us each take a firmer grip of He who hands were pierced for us. And with Jesus let us then take a more grace-filled grip of those in our lives and those to whom He would lead us, that, together, we could grow, as His handiwork.
3rd Sunday of Lent ~ 7 March 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Exodus 20:1-17; Responsorial: Psalm 19; II: I Corinthians 1:22-25; Gospel: John 2:13-25
An ancient olive tree in the mideast, considered by arborists to be well over 2000 years old, illustrates what is a lesson from the seemingly diverse readings for our Mass this Sunday. As we consider the storms and blessings of life this tree has persevered in the purpose for which it was created by God and by the people that first planted and cared for it who are now long gone. But the fruit of their labors continue. Our lives are created for the same dynamics of life. We are created, intended to be planted, deeply rooted in God’s Words of life and then to persevere through good and bad, to be fruitful for God.
The Old Testament reading from the Book of Exodus focuses upon the Ten Commandments. The Gospel reading from John shares the account of Jesus cleansing the temple and His promise to restore the temple in three days. What, if any, is the connection between these two readings?
In thinking of the Ten Commandments it is not unusual to have images of a Charlton Heston-type Moses sternly receiving and giving these commandments to the people of God. Further tradition and concepts often frame these precious Words from God in rigid negatives and distinctly pious affirmations of holiness. It has long been the intent of the enemy of our souls and of God to rob us of the paramount truth and power of these words. For they are words of life written by the by the same hand that would one day be crucified for the forgiveness and mercy needed for their fulfillment. This brings us to the Gospel account of the Temple in Jerusalem being cleansed by Jesus.
It is interesting to note that the account of this cleansing occurs very early in John’s Gospel while in the three synoptic Gospels it occurs late, before our Lord’s Passion. Is this an indication of error in Scripture? Did Jesus cleanse the temple more than once? It is, I believe, rich evidence that all of God’s Word (from Genesis through Revelation) is…God’s Word, inspired by the Holy Spirit. It also reminds us that Scripture is NOT an historical text in a purely literal, chronological sense. It contains history, indeed, of God’s working with humanity butas a spiritual history. I sense John, being inspired by the Holy Spirit some 90 years after our Lord’s Ascension, chose to insert this event early in this Gospel as an emphasis of this spiritual work of cleansing he had come to share. The use of this Gospel also illustrates a vital truth from our New Testament, second, reading. The Jews seek signs (of power) and the Greeks seek wisdom, or understanding. St. Paul goes on to emphasize Jesus is all power and wisdom. This brings us to the correlation of these two gems of Scripture.
When we look to the Ten Commandments we need to see more than “do’s and don’ts”. It is a message of God, our Creator seeking to show us the ways of LIFE in our RELATIONSHIP with God and with His creation. As the hand of God wrote on the tablets of stone so our Lord would seek to touch and write in our hearts and lives His ways of truth and life. As the ancient olive tree teaches it shows us the need to be deeply rooted in the Truth, not of words and passing understanding, but the Truth who is God. We need to be deeply rooted AND GROWING in God.
As we look more closely at the cleansing of the Temple it is a message of our holy God, in fervent love longing to cleanse us of all the junk we may allow to clutter His holy temple, our bodies, our souls, our lives. Where there should be prayer and a simple close holding of His holy hand there is often found greed, pride and worldly lusts. And it is that same hand that made the scourge and routed the false commerce of worldly power and wisdom that would cleanse us as well. For the same hands that wrote on the stone, that would be pierced by the nails longs only to hold us close to His healing holy heart. This is a season to seek and allow our RELATIONSHIP with God and each other to grow beyond our fears, judgmental understandings, doubts, and wounds. It is a season to allow our Lord to draw us close and to bring us to realize in ways we may have never expected the living truth from our responsorial psalm: “Lord, you have the words of everlasting life. The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul…They are more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold.”