When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home (Jn 19:26-27).
In the summer of 1991, I entered the Franciscans of Holy Name Province as a pre-novitiate and was stationed at Holy Cross Friary in the Bronx. My ministry for that year was working in the friary and the adjoining parish of Holy Cross. Shortly after entering, one of the friars, Br. Paul Goldie, passed away. He had been serving at the friary since 1953 and had been a friar for 54 years. A practice among the friars was to pass on personal items to those in the community when one of their own passed away. I was honored to have been given a picture of St. Francis, that hangs in my classroom and Br. Paul’s rosary.
I noticed that the rosary was different from others. Instead of a crucifix it had a Miraculous Medal, instead of five beads there were three beads leading to the decades of beads, and instead of five decades of beads, there were seven groupings of seven beads. In between each of the series of seven beads there was a small medal. On one side was a picture of Mary pierced in the heart seven times, and on the back of each medal was a different scene.
I would find out some time later that this was a Rosary of Our Lady of Sorrows. The depictions on the back of the seven medals represented Mary’s seven sorrows: Simeon announces the suffering destiny of Jesus, Mary escapes into Egypt with Jesus and Joseph, Mary seeks Jesus lost in Jerusalem, Mary meets Jesus as He carries his Cross to Calvary, Mary stands near the Cross of her Son Jesus, Mary receives into her arms the body of Jesus taken down from the Cross, and Mary helps place the body of Jesus in the tomb.
The fifth mystery, Mary stands near the Cross of her Son Jesus, is from our Gospel reading today. For Mary to witness her son dying such an agonizing death, it must have been the most sorrowful of the seven. Yet, Mary did not run from the pain, she embraced his and her own pain, the piercing of the lance, pierced her own heart, the depths of her own soul. Mary, though free of sin, was not free of the pain of a fallen world. In fact, Mary, like Jesus, felt it more deeply.
By being willing to love, we risk experiencing and entering into the pain of those we love. So many times we run from love, because we do not want to experience the pain relationships entail. We are finite and fragile beings, and so we will let each other down, we will make mistakes, say the wrong things, do hurtful things, we will get sick or deal with chronic illness and need care, we will lose patience, we will sin, and those we care about will die. Jesus though calls us, like Mary and John present at the Cross, to remain present to one another, to love, to will the good of the other, and so to experience the fruit of an authentic relationship which is grounded in the unimaginable love that God the Father has for us.
Love is the bond of communion that gives us the strength to move through the crossroads and upheavals of life. Love is the bond of commitment that draws us out from our selfishness so to learn from one another, to grow stronger together, and to be present to one another. Where there is an authentic relationship, there is love at its foundation. When we love one another we participate in the communion of the Holy Trinity, we participate in the very same divine communion of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Is there risk of rejection in inviting another? Yes. Is there pain in love? Yes. Is there conflict in relationship? Yes. Yet to be fulfilled, to be fully alive, for love to be real, we must be willing to take the risk to love and be rejected, just as God does with us. As we enter relationships or strive for better authenticity in our present relationships, we must be willing to love, to commit to one another, to be present to one another, to sacrificew and share our pain and experience another’s pain. We must be willing to accompany each other in our imperfections as well as be humble and willing to offer and seek forgiveness and reconciliation.
I do not know if we can ever come close to imagining what Mary and John experienced with Jesus at the climax of his crucifixion. Each of them embraced horrific pain and sorrow at the foot of the cross, yet they remained, and so they were able to mourn, heal, and experience the full joy of the Resurrection. At the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they also experienced the divine communion of love between the Father and the Son and shared that same love and commitment with the community of Jesus’ followers and those who had never met him.
Br. Paul’s Rosary, which I still pray with, was passed on to me. It is a reminder for me of the brotherhood I shared with the friars for the year and a half that I was with them. It is also a reminder that there will be pain and struggles in this life. Mourning JoAnn’s loss, recovering from pneumonia has been my most recent ways of joining with Mary’s sorrows. I am learning that instead of running from but being willing to embrace sorrow is to find Jesus waiting with his arms wide open to receive, hear, comfort, and assure us that he is with us. May we also remember to lean on, be present to, support, and love one another as Mary and John did. Peace and all God’s good be with you.
Photo: Br Paul’s Rosary of Our Lady of Sorrows
“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” (Jn 3:13-15).
The reference to Moses lifting up the serpent can be found in Numbers 21:4-9. The people, worn out by their journey in the desert began to complain instead of trusting in God’s deliverance. The people sought a return to their prior condition of slavery rather than forge ahead and endure the trials of gaining freedom. Venomous snakes came into the camp and began to bite many who then died. The people recognized their sin and implored Moses’ intercession. Moses prayed for the people and lifted up a bronze serpent on a pole and whoever looked upon the serpent was healed.
There is a difference between seeking understanding from God, seeking to understand why something is happening in our lives, and complaining from a posture of self-centeredness. The Israelites were looking at their present condition of suffering and missing the point that they were free from slavery. They were not trusting in God’s providential care and support present to them in the moment.
How often do we, with our ease of access and access to comfort, slip into the same complaining mode when something doesn’t go quite right. St Paul reminds us through his words to the Corinthians: “Let us not test Christ as some of them did, and suffered death by serpents” (1 Cor 10:9). From the first moment that JoAnn and I received the diagnosis that she had pancreatic cancer, we placed ourselves in the Garden of Gethsemane. We did not seek our will but the Father’s. We followed the lead of what the medical field had to offer but also recognized that healing in this life was not coming.
There is a gift of knowing your time is limited. In fact, all of our time here is limited. We live our lives better by acknowledging instead of denying that reality. We did not become bitter or angry, we accepted each stage of JoAnn’s decline as it came and appreciated the time we were given, our last seven months, our twenty-three years of marriage, is a blessing to cherish because we spent it growing closer to God and each other.
Nothing about the journey we may have experienced or are experiencing with the death of a loved one is easy. What all of us are given are precious moments to experience with each other. We need to resist taking them for granted. Paul reminds us that no matter what arises, no matter if the circumstances are inconvenient or dire, “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor 10:13).
Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. It is a good reminder that, when trials and tribulations arise, we are invited to look to the crucifix. The sacramental reminder that the Son of God came to be one with us, to experience the fullness of our human experience, even our pain and suffering, man’s inhumanity and deepest acts of inhumanity. He was willing to experience all of this to lead us to freedom through his death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven. JoAnn died but through the saving grace of Jesus the Christ, through the triumph of his Cross, she is now born from above and is participating in his new creation.
What used to be a symbol of oppression, torture, and capital punishment is no more. Let us embrace and “glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; in him is our salvation, life and resurrection. Through him we are saved and set free” (Gal 6:14). Is the life of the disciple easy? No. And there are times we will be angry with God and to share that genuine emotion with God is authentic prayer. Bringing our anger and grief to God is also the appropriate way to channel our emotions as long as we are willing to let them go and allow the love of the Holy Spirit to guide us through our pain to healing.
Photo: JoAnn and me at Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Center on a formation weekend. We did not know at that time that her experience of and participation in the triumph of the Cross would come as soon as it did.
This pericope, extract or section from, Luke 7:1-10, is called The Healing of the Centurion’s Slave. It represents a wonderful picture of collaboration and harmony. The centurion, a gentile – non-Jew, heard that Jesus was near and appealed to Jewish elders to seek out Jesus to invite him to his home to heal his slave. As Jesus was on the way, the centurion apparently had a change of heart, concerned about his sinfulness and did not want to trouble Jesus. He sent his friends to Jesus with the request to heal his slave with his word. Jesus was amazed: “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Lk 7:9). The slave was then healed.
Aside from the fact that no one seemed to have a problem with slavery, certainly not uncommon in the Ancient Near East, everyone involved, the centurion, his friends, Jewish elders, and Jesus were all working together to make this healing possible. The centurion actually showed concern, not indifference for his slave, Gentiles and Jews collaborated with one another, and Jesus did not hesitate to answer the request of the centurion, a representative of the Roman occupying army.
This Gospel scene is certainly worth meditating upon. The centurion gave voice, spoke on behalf of his slave. Jesus healed the slave with his Word. We need to use our words to speak up for those who do not have a voice. We need to help people to understand that the unborn are human beings, they are just smaller and more vulnerable than us. But we also need to be more than pro-birth advocates. We need to provide support systems for the parents to care for their children once they are born, and viable alternatives for those that may be contemplating an abortion.
We need to write our bishops and demand that there be accountability and transparency regarding past abuses of children and we need to learn strategies and teach parents and all who volunteer and work with our youth, children, and at-risk adults, how to be empowered so as to be clear with their boundaries and know the warning signs, to protect themselves from predators, within and without of the Church. Those who seek to molest, abuse, and/or lure our youth into human trafficking must no longer have access.
We need to speak up for migrants and immigrants, as well as their children, too many of whom are still separated from their parents. We need to write our congressional representatives to not only protect D.A.C.A – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – recipients, but provide the means and pathways provided such that they may become citizens. People who are fleeing their homes because of war, terrorism, natural disasters, and seeking a better life, need to be welcomed, provided care and support. We can effectively screen people who would seek to cause harm and provide hospitality for those needing refuge and a new life. Our legal system needs to be reformed such that it no longer disproportionally targets people of color, even to the point of innocent people losing their lives, whether on the street or through capital punishment.
As the centurion spoke up for his servant who was ill and in need of healing, we need to be aware of those in need, hear their stories, and speak up for those who have been abused within and without of the Church, those who have suffered the indignity of physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse. We need to hold those accountable who have misused their power, as well as those who have manipulated the gift of trust misplaced.
There are so many people that are not treated with dignity, the unborn as well as born. So many people who are treated less than human because of race, creed, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, and/or land of birth. We all fall woefully short of the harmony and collaboration witnessed in today’s Gospel account. Yet, we need not lose hope.
We need to resist despair, apathy, and indifference, and instead, keep our ears, eyes, and hearts open to hear the cry of the vulnerable among us. We must be willing to see each other as people created in the image and likeness of God, treat those we encounter with dignity and respect that each of us deserve and be willing to collaborate and work together for the good of all people in little ways with great love today as Jesus did, one person at a time.
Photo by Min An from Pexels
“But who do you say that I am” (Mk 8:29)?
This question is just as important to us today as it was when Jesus asked his disciples the same question some two thousand years ago. The disciples response all those many years ago, of John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets, has multiplied and become more varied as is recorded in the many books written about Jesus and the 30,000 plus denominations who claim to follow him. There is also a vast array of pictures, paintings, documentaries, and movies. Through each medium, we are given a view of the Jesus of history or the Christ of faith, some emphasizing more the humanity of Jesus and others more the divinity of Jesus, and some a balance of both the human and the divine. Debate has continued as to whether Jesus was God or only human, or even has come to question if he ever really existed at all.
When I taught fifth and sixth grade students at Rosarian Academy, each Easter Season, I assigned my students the task of drawing a picture of the Resurrected Jesus. I quickly noticed a common characteristic of their artistic renditions: Jesus consistently did not have a beard. At first, I started to hand back the pictures to say they needed to add a mustache and beard, but quickly stopped myself. I realized I had made a mistake. This is how they saw Jesus from their perspective at their age.
The way we talk about and express Jesus may actually say a lot more about us than Jesus. The portrait I posted above is the Warner Sallman painting he titled, “Head of Christ”. I chose it because this was the portrait of Jesus I grew up and identify most with.
How can we come to, not know so much about Jesus, but actually know him? We need to do the same as Peter and the disciples did. We need to spend time with him. How do we do that today in 2021? We need to spend time daily in meditation and prayer with Jesus. We also need to be aware of his presence in our daily experiences. Jesus is with us in all we do, we just need to be recognize hiim with us. Jesus is present in our encounters with each other, for what you do to the least of my brethren, you did it to me (cf. Mt 25:40). We come to know Jesus by reading and meditating on the Gospels, the primary sources of the life and teachings of Jesus. Go back and read today’s account from Mark, and imagine yourself in the scene. Allow your senses to come alive.
We also come to know Jesus by going to Mass. His Word is proclaimed and if we go with hearts and minds open to encountering him, he will speak to us beyond the written word on the page but in the Word proclaimed by the minister of the Word. The Holy Spirit will reveal to us that which is hidden within his word, as he did with Peter who proclaimed that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. Jesus is present in the assembly gathered, in our prayers of petition and in his real presence, Body, Soul, and Divinity, in the Eucharist that we receive. We have direct encounters with Jesus when we participate in the other sacraments as well. In our Baptism and Confirmation we have been conformed to the very being of Jesus such that we become an integral part of the Body of Christ. In Reconciliation, Jesus hears our confession, heals and absolves us of our sins through the priest. We also receive his healing touch in the Anointing of the Sick. Our acts of service are defined for those participating in Matrimony or Holy Orders.
We come to know Jesus in our service, in engaging ourselves in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We come to know Jesus through those who knew him by reading the lives of the saints and spiritual writings. Jesus is also present to us in our sorrows and joy, our defeats and our triumphs, and we experience him more deeply when we enter into, instead of running from, our conflict and pain, ask him for help and guidance, as well as, thank him for our triumphs. Our deepest encounter with Jesus is in our openness to receive and share his love.
Jesus is already with us, he loves us more than we can ever imagine. We just need to open the door in all experiences of our lives and let him in. As we do so we will come to develop a relationship with Jesus, know him, his will for our life, and experience joy and fulfillment in our life. For our relationship with Jesus will lead us to the relationship we have been created for, to be one with God and one another.
Place yourself in today’s Gospel. Feel the heat of the day, feel the rough material on your skin, allow your senses to come alive as you see the disciples gathered around you, and then turn your head as you hear the question, “But who do you say that I am?” You hear some say John, Elijah, or a prophet. Then Peter proclaims, “You are the Christ” (Mk 8:29). Do you agree with Peter? Who do you say that Jesus is? This is an important question to meditate upon this Lord’s Day and through the week.
Painting: “Head of Christ” by Warner Sallman, 1940
“A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks” (Lk 6:45).
We can experience hardships, trials, and suffering. We may have experienced traumas, and even come face to face with evil. Yet, we are not evil because of what happens to us, how we are tempted. Neither are we defined by any trauma, suffering, or abuse. We have been created good by a loving God.
Negativity, sin, hate, and evil, can be seductive, can lure us to rationalize and decide that what we may think of as good in the moment is just an apparent good. To encounter or experience a word or act of unkindness, negativity, or even violence, we may feel justified in retaliation, yet if we speak or act in this way, we perpetuate the negativity or evil we seek to stand up against. In The Strength to Love, a collection of Dr. Martin Luther King’s sermons he wrote:
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”
At the moment we have a thought in our mind, we want to be aware of it and decide what to do with that thought. Many thoughts come from ourselves, others come externally from our experiences, our observations, our concupiscence – our tendency to sin, and yes even some from demonic influences.
What we listen to, read, and/or watch on a regular basis matter. We need to discipline ourselves so as not to entertain every thought or influence that comes our way. We need to be discerning, otherwise once we allow ourselves to regularly consume negative, harmful, and unhealthy thoughts we will soon begin to speak and act on them.
May we instead meditate on the things from above (cf. Colossians 3:1) and aspire in our lives to bear the fruits of the Spirit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”(Galatians 5:22-23). We need to prune that which is deadening and nourish that which gives life. Examining our conscience with honesty daily will help the pruning process.
As we remember those who died on 9/11, twenty years ago today, may we see that seeking revenge and feeding hatred is not the way to honor them. Instead, with humility, we are invited to allow the light of God’s truth to shine within our own darkness so as to better be able to see clearly to root out any pride, prejudice, hatred, and/or tendencies to think and act in any dehumanizing way. With a heart that is filled with the love of the Holy Spirit we can better listen, think, speak, and act in ways that provide healing, understanding, empowerment, reconciliation, and love to make our corner of the world a little bit better than we found it.
Photo: Picking strawberries with Christy in San Diego some years ago now.
“Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit” (Lk 6:39)?
This phrase from today’s Gospel appears to be one of Jesus’ simple teachings. It seems to be straightforward, practical and makes sense. Yet, as with much of what Jesus teaches, there is a deeper level. There are many degrees of spiritual blindness that we can succumb to. We can follow others, thinking we are improving, yet allowing them to lead us to fall into a pit.
Succumbing to a cult of personality is very tempting. Who are our models, our heroes? Who is it that we seek to emulate? Are they people who are seeking all that is good, true, and beautiful? Are they people who are guiding us to our highest hope and good to actualize our potential, or do they constantly lead us astray?
We need people in our lives that are not afraid to tell us the truth, or who respect us enough to guide us in such a way that they do not manipulate and take advantage of our blind spots but instead, help reveal to us our shortsightedness and give us the light to see a clearer path to avoid the pitfalls along the way.
My wife, JoAnn, was a person who did just that. She spoke openly and freely about what was on her mind. She was open to hear about her own weaknesses and faults and was willing to help me see mine as well. Though at times I needed time to digest her insights, I agreed with her assessments more often than not. JoAnn helped me to move beyond my comfort zones as well as pull me back when I would overextend myself by helping me to learn to say, “No”.
As I shared a few days ago, my heart continues to be heavy with JoAnn no longer in my life, while at the same time, I still draw on her guidance and now ask for her intercession that I may daily understand God’s will and direction. I became a much better person with JoAnn in my life and I appreciate even more now our time together.
Photo: One of the earliest pictures from when JoAnn and I began dating.