5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle B

We’re a week away from Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week, and in today’s Gospel you can feel the tension in the air, both on Heaven and on earth. The Gospel starts with a simple request to see Jesus, but, by the end, Heaven and earth are crying out about what’s about to happen, something that we will remember in the liturgy in a special way next week: the Passion of the Lord, and our Redemption.

Heaven and earth are exulting today because the Lord’s wish expressed in today’s First Reading is about to become a reality. The Lord wants to go beyond just being a legislator in our lives of a Law. It is for our good, but that Law seems to too strict, too hard, too impersonal to keep. The Law is how the Lord tried to stay in the lives of his people Israel for thousands of years, and, as he laments, they broke it over and over in the wilderness. Nevertheless, as a good Father he had to be strict with them so that they’d keep trying, since the Law was the way they could be re-united with him.

The Lord wants to write that Law on our hearts because once written there it cannot be erased: when we go against our conscience, that Law in our hearts keeps reminding us that we should have done something different in our lives. When we break that Law it not only puts distances and barriers between God and us, but all of humanity is kept away from him due to our lack of love. Jesus taught us that we should build our lives on two fundamental commandments from which all others flow: to love God above all else, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. All God really asks for is love, and that doesn’t seem unreasonable, considering all the love he has shown us, but, despite all that love he’s shown us, we still treat him many times like a cold-hearted legislator bogging us down with rules and regulations. In our lives we know there’s no substitute for God’s love. We can’t even find it just by loving ourselves. His Law, written in our hearts, shows us how incomplete we are when we don’t have his love and don’t share his love with others.

By the time we come to the moment in Jesus’ life that is recalled in the Gospel today, there’s a big void of love that everyone is feeling, but that no one can fill. It’s a void that’s begun and grown since the Fall of Adam and Eve. It’s caused by our sins, which put distance between us, God, and others. Our Lord was sent to bridge the gap, fill the void, and enable us to love the Father again and be re-united with him, but that comes with a price, a price about which Jesus today is “troubled.” In a few weeks, in the garden of Gethsemane, we’ll see him tremble: in his heart, he knows he can fill that void of love by obeying his Father and suffering and dying on the cross to re-unite us with him.

The Second Reading today reminds us that the work of Redemption was not just turning a blind eye to what had happened between us and God: “he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears.” Our Lord becomes the grain of wheat that can only bear fruit by dying so that wheat can grow and be made into bread that gives life. He becomes the way for us to return to the Father again, and he stays at our side so that we remain united with him, in good times and bad, until one day we’re re-united with the Father forever.

Jesus’ love for his Father never failed, so, as he finishes his mission on earth, and is drawn back to his Father in Heaven, we must unite ourselves to his love for his Father so that we too can be drawn to Heaven. When we love Jesus, we unite our love to his love for God the Father. It fills us and draws us deeper and deeper into God’s love. When we stay close to Christ, we go where he goes. He takes us with him. Today he reminds us in the Gospel that we stay close to him by serving him and following him, just as he teaches us by his example of serving his Father until death on the cross.

Our Lord shows us in today’s Gospel that there’s a temptation to just focus on our personal salvation alone and put a big limit on our love. He says in the Gospel today, “where I am, there also will my servant be.” If everyone needs to draw nearer to Christ, so that Christ can lead them and draw them into the love of God, he counts on us, by serving him, to make him seen by others who are not so close to him. The Greeks wanted to see Jesus, but they didn’t, and couldn’t, go to him on their own. They went to people they knew were closer to him: Phillip and Andrew. Jesus founded a Church that serves him and follows him and makes him present in the world, even today, so that people can draw closer to him, and be re-united with the Father by remaining united among themselves. We stay close to Christ by staying close to him together as a family through the Church, prayer, the sacraments, and giving good Christian witness. That shines out to others and becomes a force of attraction so that they can start drawing close to Christ through us, drawing closer to the Father in the process. Examine yourself this week and consider whether the limits of your love might be putting limits on Our Lord’s. He wants us to help him.

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31–34; Psalm 51:3–4, 12–15; Hebrews 5:7–9; John 12:20–33.

4th Sunday in Lent, Cycle B

This Sunday is Laetare Sunday. Laetare comes from the entrance antiphon for today’s liturgy and means “rejoice.” The mourning of Lent is not far away from the joy of Easter. We rejoice because Christ is the Light of the World and soon that light will shine. We need to not only head toward that light but continue to let the Light of Christ illumine our actions, attitudes, and expectations.

Today’s First Reading, the last lines of the second book of Chronicles, explains why the Lord sent the Israelites into the Babylonian exile and why he ended it. The wickedness of Israel had blinded it so much to God and his Law that he turned them over to the Babylonians as punishment. They thought that building and maintaining the Temple meant they could do whatever they wanted, since it meant God was always with them. The Lord sent Jeremiah to warn them not to idolatrize the Temple; the Lord would remain with them if they were just and faithful (see Jeremiah 7:1-15). Sadly, they weren’t.

The Lord warned them through Jeremiah, but they didn’t listen, so when Babylon came the Lord delivered them into the Babylonians hands and Israel was led captive into exile. The duration of this exile was prophesied by Jeremiah to be seventy years (Jeremiah 25:9–12). Exile was the punishment proscribed in Leviticus (Leviticus 26:33-35) if the Israelites did not observe a Sabbath of the land every seventh year: during this Sabbath they were not to cultivate the land (Leviticus 25:1–7). Nobody greedy would skip a whole year of agriculture, so Israel didn’t observe this Sabbath and the Lord imposed exile as a way to allow the land to rest. Now the Lord was making them do it. Israel cannot claim they didn’t know the Lord’s will for them, but they didn’t believe Jeremiah and they didn’t listen. Despite this, the Lord also promised that the exile would end: through Cyrus and the Persians they would be able to return home. This punishment was not forever.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us how much God loved us in sending his son (see John 3:16 in today’s Gospel). If Israel received salvation from the Babylonians by way of the Persians (all arranged by the Lord) we receive salvation through the grace that Our Lord earned for us on the Cross. Paul reminds us today that no one deserves the grace of salvation or mercy: it is an unmerited gift from a generous God. Paul speaks of us being raised up with the Lord, and we can understand this in two senses: being raised up on the Cross with Christ and being raised up with Christ in the Resurrection. In both cases the Lord shows the goodness and generosity of God.

Today’s Gospel we are taught by Our Lord that the bronze serpent in Moses’ time was a foreshadowing of him being raised up on the Cross so that everyone who looked upon him in faith would be saved. The sign of Moses lifting up the serpent in the desert (Numbers 21:4-9) is a story of God asking his people to show their faith in him by believing that looking upon a lifeless bronze serpent would result in something that obviously a bronze image cannot do: save them from death.

This story from Numbers was only a foreshadowing of looking up at Jesus crucified upon the Cross and believing that instead of a simple execution he is giving witness to the depth of God’s love and mercy as well as the true horror of sin. Our Lord doesn’t just want to come into the world; he wants to come into our hearts and put a spotlight on what we’d rather not see: the evil of sin. Turning from him is turning from the truth.

We all have that fear from time to time of being exposed for what we are–not as virtuous or holy as we could be or should be–yet Our Lord doesn’t come to expose us in order to condemn us; he comes to lead us back into the light, his light, the light of truth, and to save us from all the evil destructive things contained in the darkness of ignorance and falsehood. Just as we feel safer in a well-lit place at night we must live in the light of Christ, knowing he will guard us from evil and reveal it clearly so that we can avoid it.

Two weeks from today, during the narration of the Lord’s Passion, we’ll kneel for a moment when Our Lord dies on the Cross. We’ll do the same on Good Friday afternoon. Lent is a pilgrimage toward the foot of the Cross. No one likes being at the foot of the Cross. Mary and John certainly didn’t, despite their holiness, but Our Lord teaches us today that when he is raised up he’ll draw everyone to himself. The Cross is a waypoint on the path to eternal life for all of us. If we run from his Cross or from ours we know we’re headed in the wrong direction. I challenge you this week to not only head toward his Cross, but to spend some time at the foot of it. It will shed light on so many things in your life.

Readings: 2 Chronicles 36:14–16, 19–23; Psalm 137:1–6; Ephesians 2:4–10; John 3:14–21.


3rd Sunday in Lent, Cycle B

Spring is only a few weeks away, and with spring comes the tradition of spring cleaning. This Sunday the liturgy recalls Our Lord clearing the Temple. It’s a good occasion to remind us of the importance of Lenten cleaning so we can get started. We still have three weeks before Holy Week, so there’s still time to examine your heart and clear your temple too.

When you live in filth it’s easy to forget what is filthy and what is not. Today’s First Reading reminds us how we should do a good Lenten cleaning: by examining how we’ve lived the Ten Commandments. They present a simple question: is the world in which we live happier when they’re lived or not?

  • Is a world that doesn’t put God first a happier world? Not the caricature of God that people paint of an overbearing and cruel being, but a loving Father.
  • Is the world happier when the only time you hear God’s name is as a swear word, not as an invocation and acknowledgment of someone who loves you?
  • Is the world happier when we work 24/7 instead of taking out time for God and family once a week?
  • Is the world happier when we ignore or just tolerate our parents instead of cherishing them and their role in giving us life?
  • Is the world happier when we hate, harm, or kill others out of payback?
  • Is the world happier when we cheapen “love” and make it egotistical by avoiding or abandoning commitment?
  • Is the world happier when we don’t give others their due, or respect their property?
  • Is the world happier when we get back at someone by lying about them, or dishonestly get out of trouble at their expense?
  • Is the world happier when all we can think of is what our neighbors have and what we don’t?

As much as we might try to convince ourselves otherwise, we all know the answer.

In today’s Second Reading Paul points to the best response to those who take issue with God or what he expects of us: Christ Crucified. The Jews demanded signs proving someone was from God or favored by him. Suffering and misfortune for them was a sign of punishment from God. So how does that logic fit with God crucified on a Cross for us? The Greeks sought to cultivate a refined view of the world and man and to live life in the most satisfying way possible through philosophy. When Paul preached to them about the Resurrection, they laughed at him (see Acts 17:28–34). This life was all there was, according to their “philosophy”; live it to the full.

Christ crucified challenged their philosophy: what seemed folly to them, a failed life, was actually the path to an eternal life that would make them see their earthly life in a new light. The destruction of Christ’s Temple, his Passion and death, would pave the way not only for his eternal life, but for ours. It’s worth noting that not all the Greeks laughed at Paul about the Resurrection. We have to always be open to the greater truth of life’s meaning and fulfillment.

Today’s Gospel is a good opportunity to remind us of the importance of Lenten cleaning. Our Lord not only clears out the Temple; he associates it with himself. He goes from denouncing those who commercialized his Father’s house to describing his own body as a Temple. Paul would later teach that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and 6:19-20). If Our Lord established a parallelism between a Temple of stone and us, the temples of his Spirit, it’s an opportunity to see whether we need to clear out our temple from all the wheeling and dealing that makes us simply want to profit from God and others and not love them with all our heart.

Our Lord is kind, compassionate, merciful, and ready to lay down his life, but in the case of those vendors and money changers he was firm and unyielding: his Father, our Father, came first. He didn’t ask them to leave; he drove them out. We need to have the same firmness when casting out anything in our heart that would come between us and God. Our Lord foretold that the temple of his own body would be destroyed, but also rebuilt. Sin destroyed Our Lord’s body, a sin for which he was blameless, but sin did not have the last word. If we clean house this Lent we should not fear that the only thing that would be left is a ravaged temple. It is sin that ravages our temple. Our Lord will rebuild us, no matter how much we’ve wrecked our temple, if we try to be holy.

You are a Temple of the Holy Spirit. The Most Holy Trinity came into your heart the moment of your Baptism, and the only one who can evict God is you (through grave sin). The innermost, most sacred part of the Israelite’s Temple’s was called the Holy of Holies, and your heart is the same thing for your “temple.” Your heart is meant to be a place where you can be with your Lord alone, free of distractions and worries, speaking heart to heart. If there’s anyone or anything else in there coming between you and the Lord, or if you feel your time with the Lord is more wheeling and dealing than family time, it’s time to clear out your heart.

Readings: Exodus 20:1–17; Psalm 19:8–11; 1 Corinthians 1:22–25; John 2:13–25.

2nd Sunday in Lent, Cycle B

In the Transfiguration Jesus gives his most beloved disciples (Peter, James and John) a glimpse of the life they will live one day in glory. Not just a transfigured life, but a life with their beloved forever, free from all distraction. It is an encouragement for our own desire for silence and prayer that enables us to encounter Our Lord in the depths of our heart.

Today’s First Reading recalls another mountain, but also a momentous decision in the life of Abraham, a life or death decision that showed who came first in his life. Isaac was the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father to a great nation. The Lord had promised Abraham for years that he would bless him with a son who’d show the promise being fulfilled. He and his wife Sarah were so old that Isaac’s birth was nothing short of miraculous. At one point Abraham had another son, Ishmael, through the slave Hagar, but the Lord revealed that Ishmael was not the way he intended to fulfill the promise.

When the Lord tells Abraham to offer up Isaac as a holocaust it seems that he is asking Abraham to kill a promise fulfilled. The Old Testament does not say that Abraham went ballistic, engaged in long and bitter discourses a la the Book of Job, or denounced God as cruel and evil. He simply took his son and headed for Moriah. Abraham was put to the test, and he passed. He was ready to go through with something horrible because he believed it was God’s will. His attitude was enough to show that the Lord came first for him. As the Lord said, “I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that the Lord spared Abraham’s son, but did not hesitate to sacrifice his own. When Abraham was heading up the mountain with Isaac, Isaac asked him, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham replied, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:7-8). The sacrifice of Isaac was a prefiguration of the Lord sacrificing his Son, Jesus, on Calvary. When we call Jesus the “Lamb of God” we are referring to the fact that he willingly laid down his life, like a lamb led to the slaughter, to take away the sins of the world. When John the Baptist first identified him to the disciples who would soon become Our Lord’s Apostles he said, “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). He saw him as a sacrifice for the sins of the world from the beginning. Just as Abraham showed how the Lord had first place in his life through his willingness to sacrifice his son, the Lord shows us that we are first place in his. Sacrificing his only-begotten son shows that there’s nothing he is not willing to do for us.

In today’s Gospel the Lord takes his closest disciples up the mountain, alone, to give them an insight into who he is and prepare them for the trials to come. If the Lord subjected Abraham to a trial, Our Lord takes his closest disciples up the mountain to prepare them for an upcoming trial: his Passion and death. Our Lord gives his disciples a glimpse of his divinity. They’ve followed him and had faith in him, and now he gives them a deeper insight into who he truly and to strengthen their faith.

Elijah and Moses, through their appearance, show the disciples that Our Lord is the fulfillment of the Law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah). That’s enough for Peter to suggest building a shrine in remembrance of the revelation he’d just received, but the Lord is not done. The disciples witness a theophany: God the Father (the voice) identifies Jesus as his beloved Son, and the cloud that overshadows them is the Holy Spirit. It’s important to remember that this was not the first opportunity for the disciples to show their faith, but, rather, like Abraham with Isaac, it was a culminating moment of the faith they’d already shown. Neither the disciples not Abraham understood completely after the “mountain” what had happened. The disciples still didn’t understand what Our Lord meant when he said he would be raised from the dead, but they soon would.

It’s not easy getting to a mountaintop, and today’s Gospel says Our Lord took his disciples up a high mountain. Prayer is one of the pillars of Lenten observance. The battle for quality prayer is often a battle for silence. Everyone acknowledges the utility of “quiet time,” but, for prayer, this is just the first step. Exterior silence must foster interior silence. We have to quiet down on the inside too. Find a quiet place this week (a chapel, a monastery, a convent, a shrine) and set aside some real quiet time so that Our Lord can reveal himself to you more profoundly. Consider doing a retreat or a daily mediation for Lent.

Readings: Genesis 22:1–2, 9a, 10–13, 15–18; Psalm 116:10, 15–19; Romans 8:31b–34; Mark 9:2–10. See also Transfiguration of the Lord, Cycle BTransfiguration of the Lord, Cycle CTransfiguration of the Lord, Cycle A2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle C, and 2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A.

2nd Sunday in Lent, Cycle B (2)

Lent is a time of prayer to re-assess Our Lord’s place in our lives. He does not just tell us his place; he shows us. Today’s readings all give us insight into what the Lord’s place is in our life and what it should be. The key, in prayer, is to make both those things coincide.

In Richard Harris’ portrayal of Abraham the sacrifice of his son Isaac was due to him focusing so much on having his long-desired son and heir that he started to neglect his duties as patriarch. His willingness to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah showed that no matter how precious his son was, the Lord came first. However, Isaac also represents a promise fulfilled by the Lord: if we focus on the Lord fulfilling his promises and not on him we are not putting him in first place, just what he can do for us.

As Abraham and his son are going up the mountain Isaac asks him, innocently, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7-8). Abraham’s response may seem to avoid the painful answer, but it also has the marks of a profound act of faith: “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” In the end the Lord did provide a lamb for a burnt offering, and Abraham’s faith was shown to always put the Lord first. In the Second Reading today St. Paul reminds us how the Father showed us our place: he loved us enough to sacrifice his only son. He provided the Lamb for the sacrifice–his Son–that Abraham in the end was not required to sacrifice. What place does he have in our lives if he is willing to spare us nothing?

Our Lord in today’s Gospel shows his place in the grand scheme of things in order to prepare his disciples for the trials to come. When he comes down from the mountain he will take up the march to Jerusalem and to his Passion and death. Mark reminds us that those disciples didn’t understand the Resurrection, so it is no surprise that they wouldn’t understand the Passion either. Peter is described as “terrified,” but he could also be considered awestruck. Seeing Our Lord flanked by Moses and Elijah showed his place with regard to the Law and the prophets. That was enough to show Our Lord was the Messiah, but the voice from Heaven and the cloud also revealed Our Lord’s place in the Most Holy Trinity: the Son of God. He does not reveal himself in order to lord it over us; he reveals his place in the grand scheme of things and in our lives in order to encourage us when trials come.

Spend some time this week seeing, with Our Lord, whether there is an “Isaac” in your life toward whom (or which) your attitude needs to change. If that someone or something is irremediably coming between you and Our Lord it may be time for a sacrifice. The Lord always comes first. Let’s put him there.

Readings: Genesis 22:1–2, 9a, 10–13, 15–18; Psalm 116:10, 15–19; Romans 8:31b–34; Mark 9:2–10. See also Transfiguration of the Lord, Cycle BTransfiguration of the Lord, Cycle CTransfiguration of the Lord, Cycle A2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle C, and 2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A.

Connaissez vous Abraham ? L'homme de foi en Dieu