Image by Aaron Burden

DAILY SCRIPTURE REFLECTION (Mon - Fri only)

Pondering the word with Our Lady

May 6 2022

(For older reflections, please scroll down the page)

For today's Scripture readings, go here (If you happen to be in a different time zone than us, just choose the correct readings by going forward a day, or back).

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is often pointed out that today's passage from John's Gospel leaves us in no doubt as to the physical reality of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The Jews become agitated and ask how Jesus can give them his flesh to eat. This is a golden opportunity for Jesus to resolve all disputes for centuries to come by saying: "Are you crazy? I'm just speaking symbolically! The bread is not really my flesh!"

Instead, Jesus does the very opposite. He says, REPEATEDLY, that his flesh is our food and that we must eat this flesh if we are to have life.

This is one of the hardest of all Christ's teachings. Indeed (as we read in tomorrow's Gospel) it is the ONLY place in scripture where we are told that many of his disciples left him on account of a teaching that they could not accept. What are we to make of such a strange teaching?

 

The key to understanding comes at the centre of today's passage: "Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me". Jesus is the Son of God and shares in this intimate life of the Father. He wishes to draw us into this life, not just in an airy-fairy moral or spiritual sense. God wants us to be filled with the divine life, to have the Holy Spirit coursing through our veins, to mix metaphors. God wants this utter union with us, and in fact became incarnate so that we would become divine. In the Eucharist, we unite ourselves to Christ physically and spiritually, body and soul. The union is real because his presence is real.

He is certainly present to us in the Eucharist, not in a static way, but in a self-sacrificing way, for the Eucharist is the culmination of Christ's self-giving on calvary. If he is present to us, let us be present to him, by recollecting ourselves, not receiving him distractedly, but lifting our hearts and minds to him, conforming our lives to the pattern of his life.

May 5 2022

Continuing the Bread of Life discourse in Chapter 6 of John's Gospel, Jesus really emphasizes that everything depends on his relationship with the Father! It is the Father who sends him to the world as bread from heaven. It is the Father's will that everyone one of us, you and me included, should have eternal life. Jesus wants us to know that we have a loving Father in heaven who is doing everything possible (without forcing us) to nourish us and draw us into his life.

You know, if you think about it, what happened in the Garden of Eden was that humanity rejected the fatherhood of God. We believed the serpent who told us to be disobedient to the Lord so that we would become "like gods". What a lie this was! Our society continues to delude itself in thinking that we are gods, we can decide what is right and wrong, we can decide our gender, we can decide if an unborn child lives or dies, we can decide our future and what is meaningful.

The truth is that we are creatures. There is a right and wrong that transcends us and that we must seek to respect and follow. The good news, though, is that we are creatures of a loving Creator who wishes to nourish us to eternal life. So much so that he sent his only Son to be our food. Today, may our hearts be fixed on our loving Father. He is drawing us to himself, but we can choose to ignore him and go our own way. Let us open ourselves to his word and follow his voice. If we do so, then our lives will finally become fruitful and blessed.

May 4 2022

There are two broad ways of understanding the Eucharistic discourse of Jesus in today's Gospel. Most protestants believe that Christ does not really nourish us physically with his body and blood. Rather, the whole discourse is spiritual in meaning. We are to receive Jesus by approaching him and accepting him in faith.

 

Of course, today's passage does seem to support such a spiritual interpretation, but only if we ignore the other sayings of Jesus in the same discourse. In today's text, Jesus says, "He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst". The Catholic view, however, is more comprehensive. It is true to the ancient belief in the real presence that is attested by the earliest Christian writers such as Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr and others. The Catholic view is also more faithful to the entirety of the text in Chapter 6 of John's Gospel. On repeated occasions during this discourse, Jesus speaks graphically of the need to "chew" on his body. Jesus uses this explicit language for one reason only: to make it clear that he nourishes us REALLY with his body and blood; it is not just a spiritual communion with him, but a union in body and spirit.

This is not the place to engage in a diatribe with our protestant brethren. What is important, though, is not to further offend Christ with our indifference to the gift of the Eucharist in which he descends from Heaven, forgives our unworthiness, cleanses us, lifts us up and unites himself with us, body and soul. Recent surveys indicate that a majority of Catholics in Western society do not believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The Lord gives us one of his greatest gifts and we ignore and denigrate it - what a scandal! If we are unable to receive Christ because of some impediment, then let us still adore him in the tabernacle, glorify him for his self-giving nourishment of our souls, and begin already to prepare ourselves for our eventual reception of him.

May 3 2022 - Saints Philip and James

On this feast of the two apostles, a couple of things about today's Gospel are striking. First, Jesus tells us that he is the way, the truth and the life. Our culture would like to reduce Jesus to a cuddly moral preacher who says "respect everyone, tolerate everything, love whoever you want so long as you love". But Jesus is speaking in the context of the Last Supper in which he lays himself down for his disciples and invites them (and us) to follow him in his way of self-sacrificial love.

 

For our culture, truth is not transcendent. Everyone's "truth" is just as valid as anyone else's. But Jesus shows us a truth that utterly transcends the shallow "truths" of our culture. God is love. If we wish to be in communion with him, then we need to submit to his truth, forget our projects and our prejudices, and follow him in the way of self-forgetting love.

Secondly, Jesus says something that might be a little strange to our modern "rational" ears. He encourages us to believe in him so that we will perform even greater works than he himself performed. Sometimes, we get a bit snobby about miracles and assert that we have faith even without consideration of supernatural occurrences. We would like to think we are blessed even if we have not seen. That is all very fine, but the Lord helps our wavering faith with these signs. Not only that, the signs themselves are often a revelation of the nature of God, his power, his providential care.

 

The signs did not just occur in biblical times. The Catholic Church has compiled the largest, most comprehensive and most scientifically-attested catalogue of miracles in the world. Many of these are happening in our own times. The catalogue is that contained in the archive of the Congregation for Saints in the Vatican, the body that examines the causes for candidates for sainthood. To find out about these miracles, and the scientific rigour with which they have been evaluated, just go to any search engine and look for the miracles used for the canonisations of John Paul II, Padre Pio, Sister Faustina, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Pope Paul VI, or countless others.

 

These miracles show the truth of the words of Jesus in this Gospel. By means of his Church and his saints, the Lord works even greater miracles (certainly in number!)  than he himself had time to do during the three years of his ministry. Let us look upon the great signs the Lord has done among us. May our faith be strengthened and our hearts lifted as we seek to follow him more closely, He who is the way the truth and the life.

 

April 28 2022

In these sublime passages from John's Gospel, we are challenged to reflect on the holiness of Christ and on the fact that his entire identity is grounded in his relationship with a Father who loves him. If we desire to have the life of God in us, then we too must centre our lives completely on heavenly things, on our relationship with the Father.

The Acts of the Apostles these days is recounting to us the deeds of the apostles. They have been filled with the Spirit and are putting into word and deed the utter dedication to heavenly things that is extolled in John's Gospel! If you want to prayerfully contemplate these readings, have a look at the beautiful psalm for today:

I will bless the Lord at all times,
his praise always on my lips.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
He is happy who seeks refuge in him.           

2. The Lord turns his eyes to the just
and his ears to their appeal.
They call and the Lord hears
and rescues them in all their distress.           

3. The Lord is close to the broken-hearted;
those whose spirit is crushed he will save.
Many are the trials of the just man
but from them all the Lord will rescue him.

All of us are crushed and broken-hearted in various ways. How do we best respond? By trusting in the Lord, seeking our refuge in him, calling to the Lord in our distress. And one more thing is needed, this psalm tells us. The Lord listen to the just. We too must live lives that are just, obedient to the Lord, open to his word, free from sin. Once we live this kind of pure life centred on him, focussed on heavenly things, then we can be confident that the Lord will be with us and rescue us.

 

April 27 2022

We have in today's passage perhaps the most famous line from the Gospel. But it is worth reading it in the context of the entire passage:

 

Jesus said to Nicodemus:
‘God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be condemned;
but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already,
because he has refused to believe
in the name of God’s only Son.

On these grounds is sentence pronounced:
that though the light has come into the world
men have shown they prefer darkness to the light because their deeds were evil.

God's mercy is so deep that he sent his only Son to become one of us, taking on our flesh and the consequences of our sin upon himself. God does not condemn the world, the very opposite in fact, but it would be a mistake to think that this great mercy  of God means that we have to do nothing. We bring condemnation on ourselves if we continue to choose darkness, to do evil deeds, ignoring what the Lord has done for us.

There has always been this tension in Christianity. There is what God does for us, and then there is the response that we are invited to make. What he does is primary, but our response is essential as well. Today, with Mary, let us contemplate the great love of God shown by the incarnation, passion death and resurrection of the Second Person of the Trinity. Then, rooted in that contemplation, let our lives be transformed as we choose the light over darkness in our thoughts and actions.

 

April 26 2022

We continue reading the dialogue with Nicodemus. Jesus is speaking sublime truths that baffle the Pharisee standing in front of him:

"If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe,
how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."

We are saved because the one who sacrifices himself for us is the one who has come down from heaven, the spotless lamb who takes on his shoulders the sins of all of us.

But how can looking at a bronze serpent be a sign of the salvation to come? God sent the serpents to bite the Israelites because of their disobedience. By looking at the serpent, the Israelites were acknowledging their sin and their need for mercy. When we look at Christ on the cross, we too are acknowledging our sin and our need of mercy because it is our sins that crucify Jesus.

 

Looking at the cross is both an acknowledgement of our need for mercy and a contemplation of the one who bestows mercy. The blood and water which flowed from Jesus on the cross is the sign and promise of the washing away of our sins and our being filled with the abundance of his grace.

 

April 25 2022

In this famous dialogue with Nicodemus, Jesus asserts that we must be born from above if we are to see the Kingdom of God. He also states that "unless one is born of water and Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit".

 

Because of original sin, we all have the tendency to become attached to material things, to possessions, to earthly power, to the passing pleasures of this world. Jesus is calling us to the life of the Spirit, the life of self-effacing love, the live we were created for in the first place when we were made in the image and likeness of the all-perfect and all-loving God.

The things of this world have a hold on us because of original sin and because of our own egoistic tendencies. Jesus has won the victory over sin and cancelled out our guilt with his heroic sacrifice. However, the consequences of sin - both original and personal - are still with us. In this dialogue with Nicodemus, Jesus is encouraging us to renounce the things of the flesh and open ourselves to the activity of the Spirit within us, to live out our baptismal promises and to embrace our baptismal dignity as regenerated children of the Father.

 

The Spirit comes to us through the sacraments - the water and the blood - but he also blows where he wills and is whispering to us in our consciences, through the spiritual reading that we engage in, in our relationships with those around us. Come Holy Spirit, fill our hearts and enkindle in us the fire of your love!

 

April 22 2022

Throughout the history of the Church, there have been those who have tried to spiritualize the resurrection of Christ, including theologians who claim that there is no true resurrection of the body. Rather, they say, the resurrection is a spiritual reality that refers simply to a new life of the spirit without sin.

 

Gospel passages like the one we read today stand as a bulwark against these errant understandings. Christ eats bread and fish with the disciples. He has no need of sustenance of this sort because his body has been transformed and glorified in the resurrection, but he nevertheless eats with them to show that he is no ghost or mere illusion.

How do passages like this speak to our daily lives? Christ has entered fully into our human condition. He has taken on our flesh and blood and joined himself to us bodily so that he can speak directly to us, heart to heart. He wishes to transform us entirely, body and soul. By his sacrifice and his obedience in the flesh, he purifies and exalts our humanity. He makes our lives incredibly fruitful, as the miraculous catch of fish in today's narrative shows. We just need to be open to his presence among us, listen to his instruction and cast our nets at his word. How fruitful our actions will then become!

 

April 21 2022

The Gospel passage continues the narrative of the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection. He has just appeared to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and now he appears among them again in Jerusalem. What is striking about this passage is the fact that Christ asks for something to eat. We might think that a person who has risen from the dead and passed over to eternal life has no need of food, so why does Christ eat with them?

 

First of all, it is correct to say that he no longer needs food to survive. He eats with them to show that he is not a ghost. In fact, this passage is one of the clearest testimonies in all of scripture to the resurrection of the body and it refutes those who try to spiritualize the meaning of the resurrection. Secondly, Christ's eating with his disciples is also a deep event of fellowship. Christ offered his body and blood for us on Calvary, and in the Last Supper he mysteriously bound this sacrifice to the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine transformed into his body and blood. Now in today's passage, Christ eats a piece of fish with the disciples, so it is not a Eucharistic meal like the Last Supper. Nevertheless, Christ's desire to share food with his disciples always points to the meaning of the Eucharist.

In these days, as we read the beautiful accounts of the resurrection appearances, we are invited to allow the risen Christ to enter into our lives, through the closed doors of our fears and phobias, to come into true fellowship with us, to transform our lives and cause us to rejoice. The risen Christ does not make our crosses disappear, but he can transform them into instruments of transformation and growth.

April 20 2022

Today we read the story of the disciples who encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus. As has often been noted, this passage is incredibly rich. It gives us deep insights on prayer, on discipleship, as well as the nature of the Eucharist. The disciples recount to the stranger that they have met all that has happened in recent days. Their account is exactly the same as the one we read elsewhere in Scripture: the advent of Jesus, his mighty deeds and words, his passion and death, and then the empty tomb. They actually know everything that we know, but they lack faith in the resurrection. Jesus then walks them through Scripture and shows them how this apparently disastrous situation is all part of God's providential plan to redeem us.

In a beautiful statement, the disciples later recount how "their hearts burned within them" as the stranger spoke to them on the road. Of course, we are not surprised to learn this, since we expect that any conversation with the Son of God will illuminate our minds and lift our spirits. Surely, this is our great goal every time we read the scriptures or spend time in prayer, to be touched by Christ, to be enlightened by his words, to burn with desire for his presence so that we want him to stay longer "for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over".

In a striking allusion to the Eucharist, the passage ends with the assertion that they recognized him only in the breaking of the bread. The same Evangelist, Luke, when he goes on to write the Acts of the Apostles, continually refers to the Eucharistic gatherings of the early Church as "the breaking of bread". Lord, that this day we may open our hearts to perceive you in your word and in the sacraments, and that our hearts may begin to be enflamed with burning love for you.

April 19 2022

The beautiful Gospel reading gives us some insight into the distinction between the resurrection of Christ and his ascension:

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” 
which means Teacher.
Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me,
for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
But go to my brothers and tell them,
‘I am going to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.’”
Mary went and announced to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord,”
and then reported what he had told her.

In the resurrection, Jesus' dead body is restored to new life by the Holy Spirit, but the ascension to the Father is another step that is not undertaken right away. Our Lord tells Mary not to cling onto him. She must learn that the life that he is now living is different to the life that he lived while he was still among them. He asks her not to cling to this attachment to things as they were before. Sooner or later, we must all become detached from the familiar things of this life that give us comfort. Our ultimate destination is union with God.

Giving up the things of this world might seem difficult, but detachment becomes easier when we focus on where we are heading. Our final goal is not union with a cold and heartless God, but to a tender and loving Father: "I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God". This is the same Father who sent his only Son so that we might not perish but have eternal life. The life-giving fatherhood of God is a beautiful thing. It is our ultimate goal. When Jesus rose and defeated sin and death, it might have seemed that he done all that anyone could be expected to have done. But the last and glorious part of the journey was still awaiting him: ascension to intimate union with his beloved Father. Let us all keep our eyes on the same ultimate goal of all our existence. May it permeate everything we do and transform all of our actions.

April 18 Easter Monday

In today's Gospel we read another of the resurrection narratives, this time from Matthew's Gospel. It is important to keep in mind that the resurrection is not some abstract victory over sin and death. It is something that the Lord wants to have an impact in your life and mine right now, today. Does faith in the resurrection mean that the Lord will eliminate all my problems and sort out my difficulties with a snap of his fingers? No! The Lord does not simply take away our problems, but by bringing those problems to the risen Christ I can be redeemed by means of those very problems, difficulties and sufferings.

 

The resurrection is not the denial, abandonment or elimination of the cross: rather, it is the arrival at new life by the transformation of those problems and sufferings in Christ. The cross does not go away. It is always the road to life in which the cross is eventually overcome.

That is why today's psalm is the perfect reflection on the resurrection. 

1. Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
I say to the Lord: ‘You are my God.
O Lord, it is you who are my portion and cup;
it is you yourself who are my prize.’                        

 

2. I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel,
who even at night directs my heart.
I keep the Lord ever in my sight:
since he is at my right hand, I shall stand firm.    

3. And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad;
even my body shall rest in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead,
nor let your beloved know decay.         

                   

4. You will show me the path of life,
the fullness of joy in your presence,
at your right hand happiness for ever.  

How do I allow the risen Lord to penetrate into my life? By begging him to take my crosses away? No! Rather, I am called to trust in him. He will not abandon me or let me know decay. He will not leave me among the dead. I must keep him ever in my sight. If I keep faith, he will show me the path of life and give me the fullness of joy in his presence.

April 15 Good Friday

Today we have the reading of the Passion from St John's Gospel. The first reading is the powerful and remarkably accurate prophecy from Isaiah of the Suffering Servant. It is a quite stunning foretelling of the redemptive suffering and death of the Messiah. If you ever have doubts about the claim that the Holy Spirit is the author of Sacred Scripture, then have a look at this passage! 

 

First we hear the paradoxical claim that this servant will be exalted and lifted high, even though he was marred and his appearance disfigured. Then we hear a detailed description of his sufferings, his rejection, his piercing, the fact that he was crushed under a great weight, that he was scourged ("stripes"), that he died among the wicked but was given a tomb among the rich.

 

We also read of the manner in which this servant responded to the ill-treatment - with silence, humility, meekness, and self-offering. Indeed, the passage asserts time and again that the unjust suffering borne by this servant will redeem us, take away our sins, win pardon for us, and bring healing to us. It is one of the most profound and startlingly prophetic passages in the entire Old Testament and was quickly recognized by the early Church as referring to Christ. It is the perfect preparation fro reading today's account of the Passion in John's Gospel.

 

April 14 Thursday of Holy Week

In St John's account of the Last Supper, Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. When Jesus comes to Peter, the apostle cries out, "Lord, you will never wash my feet!" Jesus replies that unless he washes the apostle's feet, Peter can have no part in him. It is part of the fallen human condition to want to be completely self-sufficient, to stand alone, to depend solely on oneself, not to need anyone else. But only God can wipe our sins away and reunite us to him. Peter is shocked that his sublime Master intends to wash his grubby feet, but the fact is that Peter needs to be cleansed by Jesus if they are to have true communion.

The Last Supper and the Eucharist are all about Christ nourishing us with his body and blood, entering into communion with him. But communion cannot be achieved unless he cleanses us of sin, and this cleansing involves Christ laying down his life for us and being crucified. The Last Supper and the self-offering of Christ on Calvary are two faces of the same event (for a beautiful short video on this subject, go here).

It is an amazing thing, the very ingenuity of God, the manner in which the Last Supper, though apparently "only" a ritual meal, becomes the means by which all Christians until the end of time can participate bodily in the sacrificial offering of Christ. Jesus could have just died for us on Calvary without instituting the Last Supper, and our redemption would have been complete. The Church could have preached that redemption, baptised its members, and led people to heaven. But the Lord knows how weak we are, how short are our memories, how changeable are our moods, how quick we are to revert to our material gods. So he instituted the Eucharist, the participation in and continuation of his self-giving in a ritual but real manner until the end of time.

Read again today's second reading, and enter joyfully into the Mass, knowing that it is a real reception and owning of Christ's cleansing and sacrificial love, a cleansing that we must accept if we wish to have communion with the Lord.

This is what I received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you: that on the same night that he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and thanked God for it and broke it, and he said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this as a memorial of me’. In the same way he took the cup after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.’ Until the Lord comes, therefore, every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death.

April 13 Wednesday of Holy Week

Judas betrays Jesus in today's Gospel. The betrayal happens in the middle of the very sacrificial meal in which Jesus lays down his life for us and gives us his body and blood as nourishment of our souls. All of the disciples deny in turn that they would betray Jesus. In the end, of course, they do betray him in the sense of running away to save their own skins. The betrayal of Judas is premeditated and different, but the Catechism of the Church states that we all share in the guilt of the crucifixion of Jesus. Judas is not alone in that sense.

This contrast is visible in the Bible from start to finish: the God who never stops loving us, cleansing us and redeeming us; and humanity that is weak and struggling to be faithful.

In the first reading, we hear of someone who is falsely accused, betrayed, spat upon, struck and insulted. But what is remarkable is that he does not respond to defend himself, for he knows that he has a Vindicator who is close at hand. Jesus bore unimaginable suffering because he never let go of his dependency on his Father.

My Lord, I betray you often. I am distracted by worldliness and my own narrow concerns. But you lay your life down for me regardless, just as you laid your life down for Judas. You have loved us to the end, washed us with your blood and invited us to life as children of God. Thank you Jesus for your faithfulness! May I walk with you this Holy Week in fidelity and recollection.

 

April 12 Tuesday of Holy Week

Just read this amazing prophecy from Isaiah in today's first reading:

You are my servant, he said to me,
   Israel, through whom I show my glory.

Though I thought I had toiled in vain,
   and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength,
Yet my reward is with the LORD,
   my recompense is with my God.
For now the LORD has spoken
   who formed me as his servant from the womb,
That Jacob may be brought back to him
   and Israel gathered to him;
And I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD,
   and my God is now my strength!
It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,
   to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
   and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
   that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.

This passage foretells that the chosen people of the Lord will produce a Messiah, but not just a redeemer for Israel, but someone who will be a light to the nations, bringing salvation to the ends of the earth.

In the Gospel, we have a great a paradox. Judas leaves the Last Supper and is on his way to sell Jesus to an ignominious death. At this dark moment, Jesus says the beautiful words, "Now is the Son of Man glorified". The promised Messiah who will be a light to the nations does not accomplish salvation by bringing death to his enemies, but by submitting himself to his enemies, even onto death. The Messiah saves by sacrificing himself. Why is that? Because love is self-sacrificial! When humanity rejected God in Eden, it rejected the way of self-sacrificial love and followed the path of self-interested "love". Jesus' faithful submission to the most horrific of deaths was, from start to finish, an act of self-emptying love so that the filial relationship of obedience to the Father would be restored for us.

Mary joined Jesus in this act of humble and loving obedience to the Father. We are asked to join them both in the simple everyday actions of kindness to others, forgiveness of the faults of our family members, overcoming of our habits of irritability and impatience. This Holy Week is an opportune time to unite ourselves with small sacrifices to Christ. He will accept our offering and make it perfect before the Father!

 

April 11 Monday of Holy Week

In the Gospel, a dramatic scene unfolds. Mary anoints Jesus' feet with very costly ointment and dries his feet with her hair. Judas objects because he thinks that this is a terrible waste of something that could have been sold for a large sum of money. What is happening here is something that occurs in a different way in our society quite regularly. We calculate the cost of bringing children into the world; we calculate the expense, in money and effort, of looking after the elderly. We ask ourselves if a life that is short and full of suffering is a life worth living at all. Our society is constantly making these Judas-esque calculations about the value of precious life.

 

The fact is that we have all been made in the image and likeness of Christ. Our value cannot be calculated in economic terms. When Mary anoints Christ, she is anointing him for his death, a death that will redeem humanity from its sins and restore us to divine sonship. By anointing Christ, Mary also anoints all of those "little ones" - the bruised reeds and smouldering wicks - that are redeemed by him but despised by the world.

 

April 8 2022

Imagine the scene: a king has a set of very rebellious and ungrateful subjects, even though he has always be generous and fair to them. They refuse to listen to the envoys he sends to them who plea for them to behave uprightly. Finally, he sends his own son, not merely as a messenger, but to be their servant, to be a healer, a leader and a teacher for them. When he arrives, they pick up stones to kill him. They refuse to believe that he is son of the king and they eventually kill him. That is the very scene that is described in today's Gospel. After the Jews pick up stones to kill him, Jesus says:

 

Yet you say to someone the Father has consecrated and sent into the world,
“You are blaspheming”,
because he says, “I am the son of God.’
If I am not doing my Father’s work,
there is no need to believe me;
but if I am doing it,
then even if you refuse to believe in me,
at least believe in the work I do;
then you will know for sure
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.’

We might sympathize with the people. It is hard to believe, after all, that someone is really the Son of God. But Jesus has done incredible works that have been witnessed by the multitudes. In this passage he tells us explicitly that these works give us reason enough to believe, even if our faith is naturally weak.

All of us have beheld the works of God in various ways during our lives. We have heard well-documented testimonies of the many incredible miracles worked in our own time by canonised saints. The number of marvels and wonders are not lacking. Let us remember them and stand up confidently in the faith. God has sent his Son to save us. We implicitly reject him if we spend our days distracted by material things and our own self-directed projects.

 

April 7 2022

There is a sublime phrase from Jesus in today's Gospel:

I tell you most solemnly, whoever keeps my word will never see death.

Where do we seek life? Pope John Paul II described elements of modern Western culture as the "culture of death". We think that a focus on myself, on my image, on my self-realisation, on advancing my projects, will lead to deeper fulfilment and happiness, but, as John Paul said, it is only by looking to Christ that humanity can understand what it means to be human.

When Jesus says, "I tell you most solemnly, whoever keeps my word will never see death" he is encouraging us to immerse ourselves in the word of God, for he himself is the Word made flesh. We are invited to contemplate the person of Jesus in the scriptures, but the process cannot end there. We must also "keep" his word, and that involves humble submission to his will. The Blessed Virgin is our great model in this: "I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done onto me according to your word".

Mary certainly kept the word of God in the fullest sense, submitting herself to that word, immersing herself in it and being faithful to it. Today, let us keep his word by avoiding sin and opening our hearts to him in prayer. Then we will have life.

 

April 6 2022

Today's Gospel contains the line that was said to be the favourite piece of Scripture of Pope St John Paul II. “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” When Jesus says this, the Jews react because they claim to be already free. Jesus makes clear that it is sin that is the source of their captivity and that only he can free them: “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains.  So if the Son frees you, then you will truly be free".

Just contemplate the truth of these words. The greatest form of slavery is slavery to sin, obsession with oneself, the pursuit of one's own pleasure or advancement. A prisoner on death row who lives for the Lord can have greater inner freedom that a wealthy man who lives in the world and lacks no material thing.

Only the Son can free us. And once we are freed, then we too live and act like beloved children of God. Jesus gives us a clue as to how we can allow ourselves to experience his freedom. “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples..." Remaining in his word requires giving time every day to prayer and spiritual reading. It requires being open to the ways that the Lord is speaking to me in the events of this day. Effectively, it is the perfect attitude of the Blessed Virgin Mary whose fundamental attitude in every moment of her life was openness to God's word: "I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done onto me according to your word".

 

April 5 2022

St Augustine said that the New Testament is hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New. We really see that in today's readings. In the first reading, the people are complaining, so God sends serpents among them. Moses is instructed to raise up a bronze serpent, and the people are healed of their bites when they gaze on the serpent. That was a difficult episode for the people of Israel to understand. How could looking upon an image of the source of your affliction heal you from that affliction?

In the Gospel, the events of the Old Testament are brought to their fulfilment. Jesus tells the people that he must be raised up before his mission will be accomplished. Suddenly the mystery of the serpents in the desert begins to make more sense. Humanity disobeyed God and followed its own way, bringing suffering and death into the world. Jesus, though God, becomes human and offers to the Father the perfect obedience that was lacking in the rest of humanity. He is humbly obedient even onto death. By his radical obedience, he says "yes" to the Father for all of humanity. His great "yes" drowns out our "no". Thus Jesus, by being raised in obedience on the cross, raises all of us towards the Father.

The cross is the symbol of the consequences of sin, which include the murder of God. But it is also the concrete sign of reconciliation because, on the cross, a man (who also happened to be God), makes a sacrifice of perfect obedience. By gazing on the cross, we gaze on the event of salvation, and, like the Israelites in the desert, we open ourselves to salvation. Does looking at the cross really save me? "Looking" does not mean a hurried or distracted glance. It involves contemplation of the God who so loved the world that he sent his only Son. It involves consideration of the fact that Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not cling to his divinity but emptied himself so that we would be filled. Truly, the episode of the serpents in the desert is fulfilled in the utter self-immolation of Christ who becomes sin for our sake that we might be saved from sin.

April 1 2022

The passage from John's Gospel explores the identity of Jesus. The people are complaining and saying that he cannot be the Christ, because they know exactly where he came from, whereas the Christ will appear as if from heaven. Jesus, by contrast, is emphasizing that his real identity is rooted in his Father in heaven, the one who sent him and who is unknown to the Jews.

Jesus has these two essential aspects to his identity. On the one hand, he is the divine only begotten Son of a loving Father. On the other hand, he has taken on our flesh and has a very definite and apparently mundane history in the backwater of Nazareth. This is the aspect that the Jews consider scandalous. How can he be the Christ if he grew up in Nazareth?

Today, Jesus continues to scandalize us. He makes himself concretely present to us under the appearances of bread and wine but we lack faith. How can the Christ be present in such humble circumstance, we ask? He is present in the poor, the elderly, the lonely, but we tend to see these people as problems or burdens, not true instances of the presence of Our Lord.

This Lent, the challenge is to open our eyes to the presence of the only begotten Son of the Father in the humble elements of the sacraments, in the vestiges of the elderly and the poor around us.

 

March 31 2022

In the first reading, God is furious with Israel because they are worshipping a golden calf. He had shown them his power and his concern for them by liberating them from Egypt with signs and wonders, but they had quickly forgotten these past blessings and put their faith in something more immediately concrete.

In the Gospel, the situation repeats itself. Jesus has done incredible healings, multiplication of food, exorcisms and other wonders, but the people harden their hearts and refuse to follow him. Let us focus on just one aspect of Jesus' reply:

I have come in the name of my Father
and you refuse to accept me;
if someone else comes in his own name
you will accept him.

‘How can you believe,
since you look to one another for approval
and are not concerned
with the approval that comes from the one God?

Moses had come in God's name to liberate the people, but the people preferred to put their trust in what they could see and touch, even a calf made of metal! We too are fixated by what we can see and hear. People are idolised for their looks, for their performances on social media. In general, the world follows things that are very superficial and that one day will have no meaning whatsoever.

Jesus invites to us to seek the approval that comes from God, not the useless approval of likes, follows or thumbs-up on social media. How do we seek the approval of God? By keeping his commandments, by abandoning ourselves to the providence of God, by trusting in his mercy and love, by spending time in prayer contemplating his word.

 

March 30 2022

The Gospel contains a very rich discourse on the relation between the Father and the Son and how all of us are being invited to enter into this same relationship with the Father. To keep things simple, we will focus on just one short passage:

I tell you most solemnly,
the hour will come – in fact it is here already –
when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God,
and all who hear it will live.
For the Father, who is the source of life,
has made the Son the source of life;

As a result of original sin, we were separated from the life of God. Death entered the world and humanity was spiritually dead. But the Father loves us with the same love that he has for his Son. He sends the Son, in fact, to speak the words of life to us. If we listen to these words, we will live, for the Son is the source of life. Through him we were created, and through his passion, death and resurrection we were recreated, restored to the likeness of God.

It might sound complicated, but it is really quite simple. If we open ourselves to God's word, the voice of the Son, then our supernatural lives will be regenerated. Today, let us spend some time in silent contemplation of this Gospel. Let us draw life from Jesus. The Father has loved us so much that he has sent his only-begotten Son to awaken us from death.

 

March 29 2022

The first reading from Ezekiel has a stunning description of a temple, but it is completely unlike any temple made by human hands. What really stands out is the volume of water that issues from the sanctuary and the amazing life-giving properties of these waters:

‘This water flows east down to the Arabah and to the sea; and flowing into the sea it makes its waters wholesome. Wherever the river flows, all living creatures teeming in it will live. Fish will be very plentiful, for wherever the water goes it brings health, and life teems wherever the river flows.  Along the river, on either bank, will grow every kind of fruit tree with leaves that never wither and fruit that never fails; they will bear new fruit every month, because this water comes from the sanctuary. And their fruit will be good to eat and the leaves medicinal.’

 

In John's Gospel, the Evangelist describes the scene that unfolds after the death of Jesus. His side is pierced and out flows blood and water. St John solemnly vows that he has witnessed this event. It is something of the utmost importance for him. Why is that? Because Jesus replaces the old Temple and in his body he now becomes the place of the presence of God among creatures of flesh. Not only that, he also replaces the sacrifices done in the old Temple with the new and perfect sacrifice of the utter pouring out of himself for us.

In today's Gospel, we get a glimpse of this future fulfilment of the words of Ezekiel. The paralysed man is seeking healing in waters that have very dubious and perhaps occult properties. Jesus, the living water, comes and heals him, but also admonishes him not to sin in case something worse happens to him. The healing brought by Jesus is not some sort of purely material wellbeing: it involves moral transformation of the person.

The waters in Ezekiel's vision are life-giving and fruitful. Jesus is the true source of living water. He not only heals our bodies but much more importantly heals our spirits. Today, let us open our hearts to him, spending some time in silent contemplation of his life-giving word. Then might our lives become fruitful.

 

March 28 2022

There is a very interesting relationship between miracles and faith. Can signs and wonders really increase our faith? Is it possible to have faith without seeing any signs at all? John's Gospel explores this theme, from the first sign at Cana to the incredulity of Thomas after the resurrection - in fact, Thomas refuses to believe unless he sees. In today's Gospel, Jesus returns to Cana. A man comes to him and asks him to come and cure his son. Jesus' reply seems harsh: "So you will not believe unless you see signs and portents!" This reply is a little shocking. The man, after all, was not seeking to increase his own faith, but had the much more pressing issue of the health of his son. How are we to understand Jesus' harshness here?

As always, Jesus has a definite strategy when he replies in this way. It was the same when he gave the apparently rude reply to the Syro-Phoenician woman ("It is not right to take the food of the children and feed it to the dogs"). Jesus is actually nurturing faith when he challenges people in this way. He is saying, "Will you believe in me, even if it is difficult? Can you entrust yourself to me, abandon yourself to me?" We see, in fact, that the man in the Gospel responds admirably:

The man believed what Jesus had said and started on his way; and while he was still on the journey back his servants met him with the news that his boy was alive. He asked them when the boy had begun to recover. ‘The fever left him yesterday’ they said ‘at the seventh hour.’ The father realised that this was exactly the time when Jesus had said, ‘Your son will live’;
and he and all his household believed.

The man rises to the challenge and believes in Jesus even before he hears the news of the miracle. Then, however, the Gospel makes it very clear to us that the miracle happened at the word of Jesus, at exactly the time that Jesus said, "Your son will live". The passage ends with the line, "This was the second sign given by Jesus, on his return from Judaea to Galilee". What this shows us is that Jesus has no problem giving us signs to aid our faith, but he does ask that we respond with faith.

Perhaps another aspect of Jesus' original reply ("So you will not believe unless you see signs and portents!") refers back to the fact that Jesus had already done a great sign at Cana and he may have been disappointed with the relative lack of faith still on display in his home territory of Galilee. Be that as it may, the challenge for us today as we read this Gospel is to immerse ourselves in God's word. He has already given us sufficient signs. What is called from us now is a response of faith. That we might entrust our lives to Jesus today! That we might abandon ourselves into his hands, renouncing sin, keeping our hearts and minds pure, consecrating ourselves to the Trinity through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

 

March 25 - Solemnity of the Annunciation

In the Old Testament, David had a noble plan to build God a house. But God told him that it is he who will build David a house! And the Lord says the same thing to each one of us: it is he who begins and brings to fruition all the various projects in our lives. No matter how good or noble our ideas might be, they remain our ideas. It is essential that we seek to discern the initiatives that the Lord is making in our lives. Our task is to welcome the action of God in our existence today, not make our own confused plans and ask God then to bless them!

 

The Gospel is the story of the Annunciation, and here we see that it is a virgin who conceives the life of God. The life of God is always conceived virginally! Only God can bring salvation. Only he can cross the chasm between the divinity and our flesh, and he does it at Christmas in the person of Jesus. When a young couple are trying to discern if they should get married, they need to reflect on whether their relationship had its beginning in some initiative of the Lord, some gift of God in their common story. When a young man is trying to discern if he should become a priest, he ought to reflect on whether it is the Lord who is the origin of his desire. If the plan originates in some need of his own, then it will be an initiative with solely human DNA from the beginning. Let all of us seek to discern the initiative of God in our lives and welcome it virginally. Virginity is not simply an ethical or physical category. It concerns the existential state of our relationship with God, of allowing him to be the origin of everything and having an attitude of openness and welcome towards what he is doing.  The life of God can only come from him. It cannot be produced by us.

March 24 2022

Jesus tells us in this Gospel that we cannot make compromises with evil. If we wish to be liberated from sin, then it is only Christ that can liberate us authentically. Any other means of “liberation” will not be genuine. It is only Christ that can bind up the “strong man” of evil and free us from sin.

 

In Mark's version of this event, there is immediately afterwards a reference to Jesus' mother. This fits in very well because Jesus has just said that a household divided against itself is heading for ruin. But now Jesus tells us that  real family ties in God's view are not according to the flesh but according to those who do the will of God. This might seem like a rebuke to blood relatives but is actually a hymn of praise to his mother! The Church Fathers tell us that she is even more his mother according to faith than according to the flesh, because she is the one who believed and submitted to the will of God in such a perfect manner. 

 

The overall message of the Gospel is this: we must be freed from all dependencies on sin, on flesh, on familial ties, and our freedom allows us to follow the will of God. Only Jesus can liberate us from these dependencies. Once we are free, then, like Mary, we are enabled to enter into full communion with others. Then, like Mary, we will be brothers, sisters and mother of Jesus. While we remain in sin, we are not in communion even with those who are right next to us!

March 23 2022

In this passage, Jesus tells us that Old Testament law still applies. In the passage immediately following, he deepens and radicalises its meaning, presenting us with the Gospel in its most striking form. The Old Testament Law had prohibitions on adultery, murder, deceitfulness, etc. Jesus tells us that he has come not to do away with this law but to fulfil it. And this fulfilment entails that not only is murder illicit, but so is anger towards my brother; not only is adultery illicit, but so is looking at another person with desire - every precept of the old law is transformed by Jesus into a purer and more radical form!

 

But how am I expected to meet such rigorous obligations? There’s the rub! The Gospel that Jesus is presenting is not a list of moral demands or ethical precepts. The capacity to live this type of radical life is not a question of gritting my teeth and getting my act together. If my moral behaviour depended entirely on me, then I would be faithful for as long as it suited my purposes; I would be truthful insofar as the truth didn’t reflect badly on me; I would be kind to others to the extent that it brought benefits for me. If I continue to view the “demands” of Christianity as a code of ethics, then I will never understand what Jesus means in this Gospel, nor in any part of the Gospel!

 

This Gospel can only be understood in the context of that which we celebrate at the Eucharist – the death and resurrection of Jesus who submitted to the Father on behalf of us all and calls us into communion with him. Woe to us if we continue to think of Christianity as a moral doctrine to be understood and put into practice! If that were the case, there would be no need for Jesus to die on the cross for us. The Gospel is not simply ethical action but communion with Christ. What is needed is that we place our hands in the hands of Jesus, allow ourselves to be guided by him, unite ourselves daily with his death and resurrection. When we start living life in this way, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, then we begin to live the kind of life outlined in the Gospel