Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Prestigious Position in God's Kingdom

At Mass yesterday, Wednesday, May 25, we heard the Gospel story (Mk 10:32-45) in which James and John, the sons of Zebedee, asked Jesus to grant that in his glory each may sit one on his right and one on his left.  It was an example of the expectation that that when the messiah came, he would establish a great kingdom on earth that would rule the world.  In this view of things, one can imagine that Jesus would be king and his friends would be his cohorts, his governing board, or cabinet, if you will.  And the two members of this governing board that would sit on his left and on his right in the board room, or when Jesus sat on his throne as king, would be the most powerful of the group.

It is surprising to me that this was the expectation apparently held by James and John, of all people.  It would seem that both had a lot to learn in the short time ahead.  This would be true especially of John, the apostle who became the one whom Jesus loved, and the evangelist who not only wrote the fourth gospel, but also two important letters in the New Testament scripture.  He also became the man who humbly accepted the role of Mary’s caretaker while standing at the foot of the cross ("Behold your mother, - Jn 19:27), a humble job and a seemingly far cry from sitting in that chair next to the throne of God.

John did learn a lot, of course, beginning with Jesus’ response on this particular occasion when the request to sit in that awesome chair next to him was made.  This response was a firm lesson in humility, one of many lessons in humility that Jesus would give during his earthly ministry.  He told them that earthly rulers “lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority felt.”  He goes on to say that “it shall not be so among you.  Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”  And he himself, the man many assumed to be the man on that throne “did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Giving his life in this manner would be the ultimate act of humility.

The message for us seems very clear.  If you would seek a position of power, seek it primarily as a position to serve others as a slave and not to “lord it over all.”  Do not come into this position to be served by the people but to serve them as a humble slave, to be their servant and not the one who is served.  Do not seek this position because you think of it as a prestigious position at the right hand of the king, but to help others become faithful members of the kingdom.  The ones who are the slaves of all will be the ones who are truly great in the kingdom of God.   

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Rosary: A Beautiful Meditation Prayer

The congregation at the weekday Masses at my new parish in Rochester prays the rosary before Mass.  Many people think that the rosary is an example of repetitious prayer that is condemned in Scripture.  Others think it is a boring prayer that, due to the repetition, causes the mind to wander beyond the norm.  How wrong they are!  The rosary is a beautiful meditation prayer that uses Scriptural scenes and stories called mysteries to enhance our devotion.  Today, I’m thinking especially of the sorrowful mysteries that are the source of the meditation on Tuesdays and Fridays each week.  I would like to share my personal meditations for these mysteries.

The first sorrowful mystery is the Agony in the Garden.  My thoughts here are on the humanity of Jesus so evident in this scene.  You would think that Jesus, who is God, could just turn off the suffer switch and coast through the next few days of his life.  But no, he asks God the Father to “let this cup pass from me” as any mere human being would do in these circumstances.  Imagine what you would say to God knowing that you would die from crucifixion in three days.  No, Jesus became man and there is no turning off the suffer switch.  He is stressed to the point of “his sweat becomes as drops of blood.”

The second sorrowful mystery is the Scourging at the Pillar.  Here we imagine Jesus tied to a pillar as those assigned to the task whip him mercilessly, ripping open the skin on his back while his blood pours out onto the ground.  His blood!  Where else do we hear about his blood in Scripture?  It is when he asks us to memorialize him by turning wine into his blood and then drinking it.  On the surface, it may sound unimaginable, but let’s go deeper than the surface.  Catholics know that the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is a wonderfully intimate encounter with the Lord … a gift that Jesus himself has said we must experience in order to be raised up on the last day.

The third sorrowful mystery is the Crowning with Thorns.  Scripture tells us that the soldiers fashioned a crown of thorns and placed it on his head.  Knowing that he “claimed” that he was a king, the soldiers evidently conceived of this cruel action as a joke, thinking that Jesus’ claim was itself was a joke.  But Jesus’ thought, known to be uttered on the cross, was:  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  The message is that when someone plays a cruel joke on us because of our faith or laughs at us because of our devotion to the Lord, we should forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.

The fourth sorrowful mystery is the Carrying of the Cross.  There is so much to meditate on here.  Jesus, weak, hurting, and humiliated beyond belief, being forced to trudge through the streets of Jerusalem to Calvary while, halfway there, Simon of Cyrene carries the cross.  He encounters the women of Jerusalem; he encounters his mother; and according to tradition, falls three times.  What agony for Jesus and all who are watching, including us as we utter the rosary prayers.

The fifth sorrowful mystery is the Crucifixion.  Jesus, is now nailed to the cross and slowly dying.  But he has the strength to forgive the repentant sinner on the cross next to him in a lesson of forgiveness for all of us.  He has the strength to tell St. John and all of us to “Behold thy mother,” referring to the Blessed Mother.  And he dies, at which time a great earthquake occurs; the temple curtain is torn in two; and a soldier, piercing his side with a lance, experiences conversion seeing the blood and water gush forth from the wound.

Yes, the rosary is a meditation prayer based solidly on Scripture.  What a gift!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Prayers of Jesus

There are many instances in the Gospels where Jesus prayed, often going off on his own (Luke 5:16).  At least once, the disciples were curious about his penchant for prayer, asking him to teach them to pray as he does (Luke 11:1).  The result in that instance was that beautiful prayer we call “The Lord’s Prayer.”  He also instructed them as to what to do and what not to do when they pray:  do not “stand on the street corner so that others may see you” and “go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.”  (Matthew 6:5-8).

My thoughts today came from the Scripture passages that the Church has chosen for the Gospels messages at Mass for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday this week (see John 17).  Jesus was not off on his own this time.  These were very public prayers in the presence of his disciples.  I’m sure glad John was listening so intently, because there is some good stuff here. 

As if he were speaking face-to-face to God the Father about his disciples (and us), he said “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.”  He also said “I pray for them.  I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them.”  And also:  “I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.  Consecrate them in truth.”  And finally, he said this:  “And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.  Father, they are your gift to me.”

I used to think that this Chapter 17 of John’s gospel was little more than gibberish and was difficult to understand.  But no more.  What beautiful thoughts I now have about Jesus and God the Father as they relate to us.  Jesus prays for us.  We belong to God.  Jesus has been glorified through us.  We do not belong to the world, just as Jesus does not belong to the world.  Jesus asked God the Father to consecrate us.  We have the same glory that God gave to Jesus.  Jesus prayed that we be brought to perfection as one with God the Father.  God loves us just as he loves Jesus, and we are God’s gift to Jesus.  

Wow!  Powerful stuff!  Jesus is God's begotten son.  We are his adopted sons and daughters.  God loves us as much as he loves Jesus.  I've never had better thoughts.  Amen.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Promise of Guidance to All Truth

Traditionally, the Church celebrates the Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven today, Thursday of the sixth week of Easter.  I was fully preparing to do just that when I became concerned that my new parish in Rochester, MN, didn’t mention it at all, neither from the pulpit last Sunday nor in the parish bulletin.  After an internet search, I learned that only a handful of dioceses in the U.S. (including my former diocese, the Diocese of Lincoln, NE), actually celebrate it on the traditional day, deferring instead to the following Sunday.  The reason given for this change was disheartening – Mass attendance on that day was down, despite the Church precept that says that all Catholics must attend Mass that day under pain of mortal sin.

But whatever the timing, the solemnity of the Ascension has a beautiful liturgy, including the ascension story as recorded in the opening chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.  The story includes the promise of being baptized with the Holy Spirit “in a few days.”  The Church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit (recorded in ACTS, Chapter 2) on Pentecost Sunday the very next weekend.  Jesus had made the promise that the Holy Spirit would guide his Church to all truth (John 16:13).  The Holy Spirit has indeed guided the Catholic Church to all truth since that time.  What wonderful thoughts to be on our minds today!

But also on my mind is the political situation in our country, and it is not so wonderful.  Donald Trump has awakened a sleeping giant – the segment of our society characterized by anger, prejudice, cruelty, intolerance, lack of education, and lack of moral focus.  It is a segment that mostly includes people who rarely vote in an election.  But now they have a hero, and it is not pretty. 

Similarly, the opposing party is on track to nominate Hilary Clinton, who represents virtually every other evil out there, including the height of disrespect for life and other moral values.  What are we to do?  What can we do?  Well, please do not forget that the Holy Spirit is our advocate.  Go to Holy Mass daily for the next ten days and pray with diligence.  We've been promised his guidance to all truth.  We need it now more now than ever before in our lifetimes.   

The photo accompanying this post is the representation of the Ascension of Our Lord found on the grounds of the Shrine of the Passion in northwest Indiana.