Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Reflections on Today's Gospel: Tuesday, March 26

At the beginning of Lent, on the first Sunday, the Gospel reading told us of the Devil's temptations of Jesus: "Turn stones into bread", "Throw yourself off the parapet", and "Worship me and these Kingdoms are yours".  Jesus fought them all, and won, and the Devil went away "for a while".

Today, in the Gospel passage about the Last Supper, we can see that the Devil is back.  He is a cunning fighter, and this time, he's not going after Jesus, but rather those close to him: namely Judas and Peter.  It's the next step in the battle against Christ; if the Devil can't hurt Jesus, he can certainly hurt those around him.  And yet, Jesus is not defeated, because he sees beyond the battles to the whole war.

The word that ties both readings together is "glory".  Isaiah tells the story of the servant sent by God to restore glory to Israel.  Jesus is about to be beaten, humiliated, tortured, killed, and yet glorified.  Neither will be easy.  It's not easy to be a Catholic, if all we want is a good time.  But glory is found in the fight, even when popular opinion is against us.

Look at how Facebook is inundated with these equal signs, showing support for same-sex marriage.  Who can be mad at an equal sign?  It's the perfect symbol, though my inner math-geek says the congruent sign would be a more accurate logo.

To some extent, the gay community has a valid argument.  But not so much because the love of 2 men or 2 women can be exalted as a "marriage"; their argument has validity because more and more today, many marriages between a man and a woman have such lowered expectations and are so watered down, so superficial, and so non-committal that they may as well be civil unions.

The Scribes and Pharisees were the moral compasses of their time; their elite class claimed to show Judaism how one was to live in right relationship with God.  Then along comes Jesus, who challenges their authority and begins to poach at their flock with talk like, "You have heard it said..., but I say to you... ".  You can bet those who abandoned the Pharisees in favor of Jesus were called all sorts of names: "traitor", "hater", etc.

It's easy to be a Catholic when a new Pope is standing on a balcony and he's smiling and waving and seems like a nice guy.  It's easy to be a Catholic when you get, as it were, palms stuffed into your palms.  But it's hard to be a Catholic in standing for the truth even when the world will call you names like "bigot" and "homophobe" and accuse us of hate, all in an effort to get us to keep silent (or at least confused).

Feeling down because you're not willing to change your Facebook profile picture to an equal sign?  You're not alone.  Peter is the perfect patron saint of caving into the crowd's whim, just to get them off your back. Judas, though, he's got more to answer for.  He's not only doing what the crowd wants; on the inside, he has come to think that it's the right thing to do.  Only after the fact, when the deed is done and realizes both what he has done and how it cannot be changed, does he despair of his choices to the point of suicide.

Holy Week continues, and the time for Jesus' Passion is getting closer and closer.  Will we stay or will we run?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What was discussed?

Today's Vatican News Service blog reports about today's historic meeting between Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict.  In it can be found this blurb:
After a short time of prayer they went to the apartments' library where their private meeting began around 12:30pm. It is the library where the Pope normally receives important guests at Castel Gandolfo. Their meeting lasted around 45 minutes.
The world wonders what the two discussed, and I am proud to say I have a source at Castelgandolfo who has given me the highlights of the meeting:

  • The Holy Father and Pope Emeritus have promised to pray for each other and remember each other at their respective Masses.
  • The Holy Father and Pope Emeritus have agreed to continue speaking by telephone.  No one can counsel the Holy Father better than the man who held the job himself.
  • The Holy Father and Pope Emeritus have agreed on joint custody of Abp. Gänswein.  Each gets 2 weekends a month, plus their name days (both Baptismal and Papal).  Vacations will be discussed as the situation arises.  Since Pope Francis and the Archbishop share the same given name, he gets first shot at birthdays, though Benedict will certainly be invited.  The two promised not to fight in front of him.
  • The two decided that Dick York was the best Darren, Sean Connery was the best James Bond, and Cheers was never the same after Shelly Long left.
  • Pope emeritus Benedict let the Holy Father know which bathrooms in the Papal Apartments have drippy faucets, and presented him with a collection of menus from restaurants in the Borgo Pio neighborhood that deliver.  Pope Francis presented Pope emeritus Benedict with a carton of cat food for the Castelgandolfo kitties and boxes of piano sheet music.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Reflections on today's Gospel: Weds, March 20

The day after St. Joseph's Day, and we jump back into Lent.

The readings today revolve around freedom.  We all love the idea of being free.  It is engraved into our American thinking that we are a free people in a free society.  Just don't smoke a cigarette in public or pour yourself a Big Gulp in Manhattan.

The Scriptures present us with a contradiction.

Jesus is confronting the Pharisees about their supposed freedom.  They think their devotion to the law has given them a freedom.  Really, as Our Lord points out, their freedom is a slavery.  It's not new, really.  My desire for junk food could make me a slave to either the treadmill or to Insulin (the choice is mine).  I might choose to smoke or to drink or to waste hours on the Internet in search of pornography, all in order to claim, "I am free!"  But the reality is that, after a while, the thing takes hold of chooser and makes him/her a slave to it.  How many people swore they would give up smoking when the cost of a pack of cigarettes reached a certain level?  Those Scribes and Pharisees are so proud of their status and supposed intelligence, that they feel they'll spot the Messiah before everyone else (or, because they're so special, the Messiah will naturally come and seek them out first before revealing himself to the rest of the world).  Their ignorance is on display for us to see.  The Messiah is close enough that they can smell on his breath what He had for breakfast, and they don't get it.  Sad.  For so many Catholics, pride has them thinking they know better than the Church.  That's it: they are slaves to their pride.

Then there are the three slaves: Shedrach, Meshach, and Abednago (Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael). In the words of Phil Esposito, "no doot aboot it", they are slaves, the property of the King.  Their disobedience has earned the King's wrath.  Being burned alive.  When they do polls every so often about the way people would least like to die, burning to death is always in the top few.  Come to think of it, why does this King have a furnace big enough have a party in?  The three see this furnace in front of them.  I'm sure they can feel the heat from it, just being in the room with it.  Yet they consistently refuse to act like slaves.  They are free, no matter what society or the King or his guards think.

Jesus said, "Everyone who sins is a slave to sin".  Imagine sin as one of those leg irons with the lead ball at the end.  That's what sin does to us: weighs us down, keeps us from moving freely.  Some people have so many of those irons on, they can hardly walk.  Some have been walking with one of those things on their leg for so long they have forgotten it's there and come to believe that's as fast as they can walk!  How many have let pride stop them from coming to Confession to get the chain broken?  What was that song from the Eagles?  "So often times it happens / that we live our lives in chains / and we never even know we have the key."

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Reflections on today's Gospel: Sat., March 16.

We know we're getting close to the end of Lent because the tones of the Gospel readings have changed.  At the beginning of Lenten season, the readings' themes were things like prayer, mercy, forgiveness, humility, almsgiving, etc.  Now, especially in this past week, the Gospels are confrontational.  All this week we've read the confrontation between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees.  "Who do you think you are doing this healing on the Sabbath?"  Who is he?  He is the Son of God, only you can't see that.

Now, in today's Gospel, we see them continuing in their anger, trying to get the Temple Guards to do their dirty work.  They find something to hang on to: The Scriptures say the Messiah will come from David's family and from David's town of Bethlehem.  Now they feel justified in not becoming followers; now they feel good about themselves, all over that one fact.  Why didn't anyone in that crowd say, "Let's go ask him where he came from"?

Nicodemus diffuses their momentum by asking, "Do we always condemn someone without hearing from them first?" He is one of those great characters of Lent through whom we see a progressive conversion.  In the 3rd chapter of John, he sees Jesus at night, not wanting to be seen publicly with Him.  Here he is now willing to give him the benefit of a doubt, but still won't publicly support Him.  Finally, Nicodemus comes totally to Jesus in Passion account of Good Friday, how Nicodemus joins Joseph of Arimethea in caring for the Lord's body, bringing with him costly spices to anoint His body and helping lay Him in the tomb.

So, they don't want to know where he is from; they've hung their whole argument against Jesus on one fact, and do not want to know anything different.  How many people do that today?  How many people (including out own Catholics) continue to criticize the Church for one issue or event, which they justify their whole disinterest or lack of involvement?

When I was a child, our neighbor had an angry dog.  But there was a big chain link fence between my yard and the dog's yard, so I knew the only thing the dog could do to me was bark at me.  Some Catholics have decided to stay on the other side of the fence, far away and uninterested from the Church.  More than a few like to straddle the fence, close enough to jump in if they want something from the Church, but also positioned far enough that they can jump away if the Church asks something from them.  Lent is the time to jump inside the fence, because that means I'm forced to deal with the dog I've been avoiding for all this time.

Who knows?  Maybe the dog will lick your face.