Painting of Jesus the Good Shepherd, Catacombs of St. Priscilla, Rome, 2nd-3rd century.

Painting of Jesus the Good Shepherd, Catacombs of St. Priscilla, Rome, 2nd-3rd century.

 

How Is the Risen Jesus Present?
The most frequent depiction of Jesus in the first three centuries is that of the Good Shepherd. Frescoes, mosaics and statues of the Good Shepherd are found not only in the Roman catacombs but in all regions of the Mediterranean World where there were Christian communities.

The early Christians were intensely aware that Jesus, raised from the dead, continued to be alive and active among them. If the art of the early Church is any indication, they did not not concentrate much on the sufferings of the crucifixion or even on the glory of the resurrection.

Our Gospel readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter invite us to recognize Jesus as the Good Shepherd, the one who gives his life for us and whose voice we recognize.

How do we hear his voice? Scripture, especially the Gospels, and the faith tradition of the Church are the usual answers. But we have to be a little careful here. So often the “word of God” is presented as unreachable ideals or commands that we know we can’t live up to. Then we’re inclined to ignore or reject them, and we’re left with nothing.

I don’t think God wants us to do the impossible or walk in darkness when he freely gives his light. The first thing we need to do is to pray – daily and without ceasing – that God will give us the grace to hear his voice in all the events, good and bad, in our daily lives. If we genuinely ask for this, we have his assurance that he will give it. Then, we can go to Scripture and the faith tradition of the Church to shed light on our daily lives.

We start with the lessons of our experience. There we discover God alive and active. Then, prayerfully, we discover new dimensions of God love, and Scripture will become a dialogue with our lives.

 

 


The Second Sunday of Easter
Why are the wounds of Jesus still important? When the Risen Jesus appeared to his disciples he still displayed the wounds of his painful, shameful death. Why? We don’t like those wounds; they make us uncomfortable. Yet Jesus calls attention to them. In this Sunday’s Gospel (John 20:19-31), he even invites Thomas to probe them with his hands.

 

Christian imagination has taken this even a step further. Look close at The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by the great 16th-century Italian artist, Caravaggio. Jesus’ hand is gently but firmly guiding Thomas’ hand into the wound in his side. The wound itself opens almost invitingly and Thomas’ finger is hesitantly poised to enter the cavernous darkness of the wound. Not by accident does the opening look like the Gate of Heaven in the background of the Byzantine icon of the Resurrection in last week’s meditation. Mysteriously, the open wound is the gateway to Divinity.

 

In taking on human flesh, Christ embraces the depths of suffering humanity. In the crucifixion and resurrection, as one continuous act, God goes into the heart of our human suffering. The Risen Christ continues to be present in his wounded body, the Church, to become one with and to transform the woundedness of humanity.

 

Where do you find the Risen Jesus Christ today? Find ways to embrace the suffering people you encounter. They are on your doorstep. Become one with them in their need. He will find you there.

 



Reflections for Easter
“Alleluia!” is back. Did you miss it? All through Lent we never sang nor said Alleluia in church.  On Easter we sing it multiple times during the Mass. We can’t get enough of it. This leads us to the question, does the Rising of Jesus from the dead really grab us with gut-felt joy?
We gave it up for Lent. Alleluia is a beautiful poetic-sounding Hebrew word which is more delightful to sing than “Praise God,” which means the same thing, and which we sing in its place during Lent.

It was the forbidden “A-word.” Some Catholic traditions in parts Europe even had a ritual on the day before Ash Wednesday of ceremoniously burying a board with “Alleluia” printed on it. At the Easter Vigil it’s dug up and enthroned in a place of honor.

Lent is a time to sober and somber. It’s a time to reflect on the “hard truths” of human life lived n discipleship of Christ. Now we rejoice that Jesus has redeemed us from ultimate death and in him we live in the promise of new, risen life like his. Now, “Alleluia” is our song.

Eastern Christians greet one another at Easter by saying, “Jesus is Risen!” and responding, “He is Truly Risen!” Can we say that, and live with the joy of a people with new hope?

 

Alleluia


 

 

Lenten banner in purple and black with a cross and text: Lent a season of reflection

 

Reflections for Palm Sunday:  March 22, 2018
On Palm Sunday we begin Mass by uniting our voices with the crowds who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with shouts and songs of praise: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord!” Only a few minutes later, in the Passion-Gospel, we again join the crowds, this time shouting, “Crucify him!” What’s happening here? To be human is to be fickle.

How is Jesus’ cross the Divine remedy for this all-too-human dividedness of heart? In embracing the cross, his obedience to God the Father isn’t merely a blind act of submission, it’s a fully willing act of fidelity. Jesus, in his human nature, was faithful to what it means to be human, even though the result was rejection, torture, and death.

Sinful human nature wants to “have it my way,” even if that means silencing and putting to death the Voice (Jesus as God’s Word) insisting that the way of self is the way of ultimate death, and that true life is found only in intentionally imitating God’s self-emptying Love.

This Holy Week let’s invite Jesus to show us where work still needs to be done in our own lives to overcome the gravitational pull of self-centeredness – in small ways as well as big – and learn from his fidelity in emptying himself for us. That’s the lesson of the cross.

 


Reflections for the Fifth Sunday of Lent:  March 18, 2018
Christianity is sometimes accused of being morbid, focusing on death when we should concentrate on living. Jesus, however, assures us that death is not an end but a beginning. In becoming human, the eternal Word of God embraced our mortality — our death — in order to reveal the Resurrection, God’s design for us to live eternally on union with God in an eternal embrace of love.“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.” It’s very human to fear death and try to prolong life at all costs. Embracing death does not mean throwing away this life by suicide or lack of care for ourselves. Instead, we are challenged to trust, even though humanly the outlook seems bleak.

Trust isn’t blind. It is, however, affirming that Light is there, even when we experience only darkness. Jesus is our model. In his agony on the garden, the night before he was betrayed, tortured, and put to death in the most inhuman way possible, Trust in God wasn’t cheap or easy for him. “Father, please take this cross away from me.” But, through sheer willpower, he brought himself to acceptance, allowing God to be God, trusting His Father will not permit death to have the last word. “Not my will, but yours be done.”


Reflections for the Fourth Sunday of Lent: March 11, 2018
God so loved the world that he sent His only Son . . . not to condemn but to save. There is a hidden question here: What are we saved from? And do we really want to be saved? Don’t be too quick to answer. Pray first. “God show me what salvation means for me?”

First, we may not feel that we need to be saved from anything. Perhaps we’ve got it pretty good and are satisfied. God becomes something of a background presence.

Or perhaps we may be in need, but feel that God isn’t answering our prayer to be saved from that need. It takes faith believe in God’s love, even when we don’t feel it. Faith gives rise to hope, that God will fulfill his promises in ways that are better than we could humanly expect.

God may not be delivering us from some difficulty because he seeks to deliver us through that difficulty for something greater — ultimately, eternal and infinitely loving union with him.

 


Reflections for the Third Sunday of Lent: March 4, 2018
In John’s Gospel, Jesus begins his work by purifying the Temple, God’s house. Lent is the time we undertake the task of purifying ourselves too, because we too are God’s House. Does that sound a little strange?

God lives in us for one reason only: the Lover wants to be intimately united with His beloved. As God’s beloved, we need not purify ourselves by doing violence to ourselves, as Jesus did in driving the money changers and merchants from the Temple of old.

Jesus is the only one who can purify us. In fact, he has already done so by his cross and resurrection. All we have to do is turn to him with trust that he wants to remove everything that stands in the way of God’s love for us.

When you pray, don’t run away from your sins and unworthiness. Instead, put the things you are sorrow for and embarrassed about into his hands. He will forgive and heal you, because he loves you.