There is a lot going on in the readings of Holy Week. Today is “Spy Wednesday” with Judas busy about his treachery and betrayal. As we move farther into the week, the story line seems to narrow from Jesus in the public square of Jerusalem to gathering with his disciples for a last supper, a Passover meal. As the story continues it narrows, it leaves accounts of individuals all moving into isolation. Peter falls into the slumber of a long night while Jesus prays. Jesus is arrested and Peter waits, far removed, in a courtyard. When asked if he is with Jesus, he withdraws through his denial, and then he is alone. The sum of all these individual stories leaves Jesus isolated alone. It is a brand of social distancing to another end, but social distancing nonetheless. Jesus is the contagion people wish to avoid. And so they separate themselves from being in contact with Him and, in the end, each other. The community of disciples is no longer together. Continue reading
Here is the midst of Holy Week, we will watch as Jesus, our Lord and Savior, God of All, experiences weakness and powerlessness, submitting to his arrest, trial, scourging and crucifixion. We have all felt some measure of powerlessness, moments of isolation and hardship. Consider the story of Hannah, mother of Samuel.
1 There was a certain man from Rama-thaim, Elkanah by name, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim. He was the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephraimite.2 He had two wives, one named Hannah, the other Peninnah; Peninnah had children, but Hannah was childless.3 This man regularly went on pilgrimage from his city to worship the LORD of hosts and to sacrifice to him at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were ministering as priests of the LORD.4 When the day came for Elkanah to offer sacrifice, he used to give a portion each to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters,5 but a double portion to Hannah because he loved her, though the LORD had made her barren.6 Her rival, to upset her, turned it into a constant reproach to her that the LORD had left her barren. (1 Samuel 1:1-6)
As we move closer to the events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, a cloud of darkness this way comes. For the past week of so we have been hearing about members of civic and religious leadership plotting to kill Jesus. The dark clouds have been on the horizon for some time. In today’s gospel, a scene from the Last Supper, the betrayal is becoming more personal. Continue reading
Today’s gospel for the Monday of Holy Week is the well-known story of Mary of Bethany, anointing the feet of Jesus with “a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard.” In Jesus’ time, the washing on someone’s feet carried with it meaning. While a host would offer water to a visitor for the visitor to wash their own feet, otherwise, only a servant or slave would wash someone’s feet. The same applied to anointing of the feet, considered a soothing treatment after a long day or journey. Because of these connotations, those who voluntarily washed someone else’s feet showed they were devoted enough to act as that person’s slave. The act of anointing Jesus’ feet, when taken in its literary and cultural context, displays Mary’s utter devotion to Jesus. Continue reading
From the good folks at Merriam Webster – the “Word of the Day” – diffident. Probably not a word that is part of my everyday usage, but one that curiously arrived on the Monday of Holy Week. In modern usage, the word “diffident” means: (1) hesitant in acting or speaking through lack of self-confidence or (2) reserved, unassertive. But it is the now-archaic meaning of the word that also interests me: distrustful. Continue reading
Back in the day, two friends and I started a business. We were a good mix of skills, dispositions, and work ethic. One of the partners, Jack, was the best project manager I ever encountered. His staff loved him, and the clients always wanted to know if Jack was managing their particular project. We had one client in the Midwest that made a very large contract contingent on Jack being the manager. That was fine. Jack had a demand of his own – and it was non-negotiable. The client insisted, but Jack held firm. He was clear, convicted, and certain: no matter what, he would be attending the Summer Olympics and the World Track and Field championships. That was his non-negotiable: his vacation. Continue reading
Words, catch phrases, and other strings of words, in the right context, can tell entire stories. In the United States, say the words “Oh say can you see….” and a whole story of this country’s struggle for freedom from European powers comes to mind. Such are the power of words and stories. If the title of this post made sense to you, then you are clearly a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – and especially of the movies Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Not to worry, I won’t attempt to explain the MCU, all its characters, and the many threads and storylines. But if you are interested in an overview, start here and then “click” your way to more than you ever wanted to know…but don’t blame me for going down that rabbit hole (an expression brought to us by Lewis Carroll who introduced the term in 1865 in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland). Continue reading
Francis and Lady Poverty
Many people have a very romantic idea of Franciscan life and the vow of poverty. What I can tell you is that the meaning and the manner of living poverty has vexed Franciscans since the beginning with very little about it being terribly romantic. Most of the descriptions and stories of the life of early poverty were written years after St. Francis’ death, when the manner of living the vow – in conjunction with the vow obedience – was a divisive issue among the brothers. In one of the more notable descriptions from the Sacrum Commercium, an anonymous text from a latter period, the author tries to give his or her insight into St Francis: “While they were hastening to the heights with easy steps, behold Lady Poverty, standing on the top of the mountain. Seeing them climb with such strength, almost flying, she was quite astonished. ‘It is a long time since I saw and watched people so free of all burdens.’ And so Lady Poverty greeted them with rich blessings. ‘Tell me brothers, what is the reason for your coming here and why do you come so quickly from the valley of sorrows to the mountain of light?’ They answered: ‘We wish to become servants of the Lord of hosts because He is the King of glory. So, kneeling at your feet, we humbly beg you to agree to live with us and be our way to the King of glory, as you were the way when the dawn from on high came to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.'” Continue reading
The gospel reading for today has a rather odd phrase: Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, I said, ‘You are gods’”? I think there is a tendency to be mystified and at the same simply think, “OK, Jesus said it…. That’s enough for me.” And then move on. But there is a lot going on in John 10, of which this gospel selection is just a portion.
The context for this chapter of the fourth gospel is the feast of Hanukkah (sometimes known as the feast of Dedication), a commemoration of the recovery of Jerusalem and subsequent rededication of the Second Temple at the beginning of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd century BCE. This feast celebrated the reconsecration of the temple by Judas the Maccabean (164 B.C.) after its profanation three years earlier by the Syrian Antiochus IV Epiphanes (1 Macc 4:36–59; 2 Macc 10:1–8; who had sacrificed a sow to Jupiter on the altar of the Temple). This yearly celebration lasted nine days, was a “lights” ceremony like the feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2), and was celebrated in mid-December Continue reading
At first blush it does seem odd that the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord falls in the midst of Lent. It is an event in the life of Christ that we associate with Advent. That scene in which the Angel Gabriele comes to Mary to announce she will be the mother of Emmanuel, “God with us.”
My friend, Fr. Bill McConville OFM, notes that part of the church’s art tradition is that the scene of the Annunciation often portrays Mary, not empty-handed, but holding a book or a scroll, her reading and reflecting on Scripture being interrupted by the angel’s pronouncement. The tradition is that she is meditating on Isaiah 7 (today’s first reading) in which there is the promise that a virgin will bear a child. Continue reading