28 March 2020

Lazarus


In one way or another it seems that we’re always remembering. It’s part of human nature to look back over the day, the week, the year. We savour experiences, we remember conversations, we go over old arguments. We take lots of pictures on our vacations so that we can, in some small way, relive the good times we had, and this remembering contributes a lot towards who we are.

We began our Lenten journey to Easter by “remembering.” The words, "Remember, O man, thou art but dust and unto dust thou shalt return" were spoken to us as we were marked with ashes. We were reminded of what we are: we are but dust; we will die.

The Ash Wednesday “remembering of death” actually draws us closer to Easter by reminding us of life at the same time as we remember death. The great Lenten Gospel readings which we hear from St. John are filled with life: Jesus, the source of the water of life, awakens and quenches the thirst of the woman of Samaria who is caught in sin and death; Jesus, the light of the world, enters into the darkness of the man born blind; Jesus, the Word of life, speaks, and Lazarus rises from the dead.

In the account of the raising of Lazarus we cannot help but remember the gift of life God gives to us in Jesus. The whole story speaks about life, even in a story about death. Here are the bare bones of what happened: the two sisters, Mary and Martha, have a brother named Lazarus. All of them are friends of Jesus. Lazarus becomes very ill, and his sisters send for Jesus to come and heal Lazarus before he dies. Jesus waits for two days before returning to Bethany to see Lazarus. Meanwhile Lazarus dies.

Throughout this story there is a tension between death and life. When Jesus arrived, the family and friends of Lazarus were filled with grief. Jesus met Martha who turned to Him for the gift of life. Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die."

Surrounded by weeping and grieving, Jesus looks up and thanks His heavenly Father for hearing Him and then He cries with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" As Lazarus came out, Jesus turned to those who had gathered and said, "Unbind him, and let him go."

And with those words we have a picture of how Jesus would work in the future, as He establishes His Church, and then ministers through it. With Christ’s call to Lazarus to come out, the power and the reality of God’s Kingdom was manifested very clearly to that little group standing outside of the mouth of the tomb. And then Jesus asked them to do something. He asked them to unbind Lazarus and let him go free. Jesus was linking, in an inextricable way, His work, and our role in that work.

St. Paul affirms this in his letter to the Romans. He wrote, "If the spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through the Spirit who dwells in you." And because of that, so the mission of the Church – our mission - becomes one of releasing others from death, from the things that kill the soul. The story of what happened at the raising of Lazarus helps us remember we are Children of the Resurrection. We are to give the gift of life to others through Jesus Christ who is present with us. Death and life, as St. John records these events, are so close together that one of them cannot be without the other. “Remember O Man, thou art but dust, and unto dust shalt thou return.” Those were the words with which we began Lent, and those words are the gateway to life.

This is the Good News of Easter. This is the good news of the Church founded by Jesus Christ to unbind people and set them free. The message is the same – that even though “we are but dust” God doesn’t leave us there. Even in this life, Jesus is constantly calling to people, “Come out…!” He wants people to “come out” from sin and from those things that kill. He wants people to “come out” from those things that stop them from being all that they could be. He has established His Church which has the job of “unbinding” people after they have been called – unbinding them by a clear preaching of the Gospel; unbinding them by bringing them into the sacramental life which He has given to us..

Jesus called out to Lazarus – He called him out of the tomb, out of the stench and darkness of death – and He commanded others to “unbind” him. It couldn’t be clearer: we belong to Christ and we are to live and speak and minister in ways which unbind those who were bound, and to bring them into that fellowship with Christ and His Church, which is a place of freedom, a place of holiness, a place of new life.

21 March 2020

Lent IV: Healing the blind man


Although He is God Incarnate, our Lord’s earthly ministry was pretty simple. With a touch, a word, Jesus made profound changes in people’s lives. Cutting to the heart of a matter, He would bring His divine power into the situation, and things would never be the same.

His ministry, demonstrated with such power during His time on earth, continues through the Catholic Church which He founded. And as He acted simply, so the same principle continues. With a little water, or some bread and wine, or with a trace of oil, or a touch of consecrated hands, His holy will is accomplished. Lives are changed, bodies and souls are made whole, and God’s presence is manifested in the world.

One day our Lord came across a man who had been born blind. His was a difficult life. He had been reduced to begging. His parents had lived with the guilt of wondering if the common opinion of the day was true, that perhaps his affliction was due to some sin they had committed. He had become so anonymous in his suffering that those who were accustomed to his begging rarely even looked at him any longer.

When Jesus saw him He had pity and stopped to heal him. Our Lord’s actions were simple, almost crude. He spat on the ground and He made a clay of the spittle and the dirt. He took the clay and put it on the blind man’s eyes and then told the man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, just a short distance away. So the man did as he was told. With spittle and dirt smearing his face, and still blind, he made his way through the streets to do as Jesus had told him, without questioning. Through these simple actions, his sight was restored. God acted; a man responded, and he was made whole. A man was touched by God and so was able to begin a new life, both with his physical sight, and more importantly, with a greater spiritual sight.

But then something ugly happened. Those who had little interest in the man when he was blind now had plenty to say. “Is this really the same man?” the Pharisees scoffed. Assured that he was, they demanded to know how he had received his sight. When they were told, the Pharisees declared, “It cannot be from God because it was done on the sabbath.” They even asked the man himself, and when he told them that the one who had healed him must be a prophet, the Pharisees became indignant. How could this beggar presume to teach them!

Jesus heard this, and He pointed out to them all that He gives spiritual sight to those who are blind, and He blinds those who, in their pride, think they can see. The Pharisees demand to know if He thinks they are blind. And Jesus gave them a simple answer: “If you really were blind then you would have no sin; but you claim to be able to see, and so you remain in sin.”

Here’s a case of there being “nothing new under the sun.” Has there ever been a time when God has presented His truth without it being questioned or made more complicated than it really is?

God, in revealing Himself to us, has acted in a way which certainly is astounding and deep, but which is at the same time simple and clear. He has taken upon Himself human flesh from the Virgin Mary. He has taken upon Himself our sin and has died on the cross for our salvation. He has conquered death by rising from the dead. He has given us access to the fruits of His death and resurrection through the sacramental ministry of the Catholic Church.

And what does He require of us? We are to acknowledge our own sinfulness and unworthiness of His gifts, and we are to make every effort, with His grace, to live our lives in conformity with His divine will. And He makes His will clear to us in the teaching of His Church. Living the Christian life certainly is demanding, and yet it really is quite simple and clear.

But we have Pharisees in our own day who attempt to complicate and confuse things. What God has done in Christ Jesus is called into doubt by some. The requirements of the Christian life as defined by the Church are made confusing and subjective by others. There are those who set themselves as teachers who claim that it’s only they who truly see. And yet, they are the very ones whom Jesus would call blind – blind to the real truth of what God has done, blind to the real demands of the Christian life.

Faced with the good news of Christ Jesus we should respond as the blind man did: “I was blind, but now I see.” We are children of the Light, and God has shone His light upon us in all its fullness.

The simple truth is this: once we were in darkness, but in Christ we can turn away from the darkness towards God’s Light. God has come to us so that we can come to Him. Christ died so that we can live. We’re to be slaves to God’s law so that we can be truly free.

Jesus said, “I come into the world to give sight to those who cannot see, and to make blind those who think they can see.” We’re called to live in that clarity of vision which comes from embracing the fullness of the Gospel in all its simplicity.

15 March 2020

A lesson from Naaman


When Jesus had come to Nazareth, he said to those in the synagogue, "Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. But passing through the midst of them he went away.

- St. Luke 4:24-30


In this passage from St. Luke’s Gospel Jesus refers to the healing of Naaman the Syrian. Naaman was a great military leader, but he had leprosy. Naaman's slave-girl was a young Jewish woman who had faith in God and compassion for Naaman her master. She urged him to seek out Elisha, the great prophet of Israel, and ask for healing.

When Naaman went to the land of Israel in hope for a cure for his leprosy, the prophet Elisha instructed him to bathe seven times in the Jordan river. At first, Naaman was indignant. He expected that there would be a whole lot more to being healed than just going into the Jordan River. After all, there were better rivers than that in Syria. But Naaman’s advisors pointed out to him that if he had been asked to do something really involved and more difficult, then he would have. Instead, Elisha had asked him to do something simple, and he felt insulted! Naaman got their point and followed the prophet's instructions. In doing so he was immediately restored to health.

There are lots of lessons we could learn from this, but an important one is for us to understand what God is asking of us, and then to do it. And in many ways, what God asks of us is fairly simple.

What does He lay out for us to do?

We need to be faithful in receiving the sacraments He has given us. When we sin, we need to repent and confess it. We need to stop and think carefully before we speak or act. We need to choose to be obedient to God’s commandments.

These things are simple. They may not be easy, but they are simple. And if we do them faithfully, we will have that wholeness – the spiritual health – God wants for us.

13 March 2020

Living Water


If you were to go about forty miles by road north of Jerusalem, you would come to the modern city of Nablus, which is the site of the ancient city of Shechem. There’s a practical reason why people have lived in this place for so many centuries, and that’s because of water – water which from the earliest days was drawn from what is known as Jacob’s Well.

To reach Jacob’s Well today you must enter a very beautiful Orthodox church. Near the front there are stone steps which descend below the altar. After making your way down, the well is there, just as it was on that day when Jesus came to it.

It was about noon. He was tired and thirsty from His travelling. As He rested at the edge of the well, a woman came to draw water. Now, that in itself was rather odd. Most women would have come to draw water in the cool early morning, before the sun rose too high in the sky. They would take their supply of water home with them so that they could get on with their day’s work, rather than waiting for the hottest part of the day to go to the well. But there was a reason for this particular woman to have come at noon, when she thought no one else would be around – and that reason was revealed in Christ’s conversation with her.

Jesus asks her for a drink. She’s amazed that He would ask her. In the culture of that day and time, no man would speak to an unaccompanied woman, much less would he ask her for something. And in addition to that, she was a Samaritan, and the Jews had nothing to do with the Samaritans because they considered them to be unclean half-breeds, unworthy of any contact whatsoever with God’s chosen people.

She asks Him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” And it’s then that Jesus begins to get to the divine nature of this encounter. He says to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water...” He spoke of a water which is more powerful, more satisfying than any natural water that could be drawn from this well, no matter how historic a well it might be.

She misses the point, probably because she has a mind which is more practical than it is curious. “Give me that water,” she says. She figures that if she didn’t get thirsty again, then she wouldn’t have to make the daily trek to the well. Our Lord, of course, sees that she hasn’t grasped what He’s talking about, so He goes immediately to the cause of her spiritual deafness. Getting right to the point, He brings up the reason why she has to come to the well at a time when others aren’t around. “Go call your husband,” He says. Then the truth about her life comes out. She has no husband, but she’s had five men whom she has called her husband, and the man she’s presently living with isn’t her husband. She didn’t need a road map to figure this out – there’s something unique about this Jew who had asked her for water, and it’s as though a light went on for her – she sees Him at last as He truly is; namely, the Christ. So she runs off to tell others about her discovery.

Those are the bare facts of the encounter, and it was a meeting unique to this Samaritan woman. And yet, there’s a kind of universality about it, because Christ’s encounter with every individual is an echo of this encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well.

As He asked her for a simple kindness, so He asks every one of us for a particular service through the specific vocation He gives to each of us. Each of us has been called by God to use what we have and what we are, to serve Him, to build up His Kingdom, to make Him better known to those around us.

And too often our response is as the Samaritan woman’s was. “Why would you ask me, Lord? Why would you single me out to do something for you? Why would you want me to tell others about my faith? Why would you want me to get involved in that charitable work?” Instead of being eager to respond, we act surprised, and we start excusing ourselves. “I couldn’t do that,” we tell ourselves. “I’m so busy.” “I’m too shy.” “There are others who would be better at it.” We’ve got all the excuses memorized. But remember what Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman? That if she knew who it was who was doing the asking, she would have responded immediately? We do know who’s doing the asking. And the Church tells us that God gives the necessary grace to those who respond to the vocation which is given. Remember, God never asks us to do something without giving us the means to do it.

At first the Samaritan woman was deaf to Christ’s words to her, and all too often, so are we. For her that day by Jacob’s Well, the most necessary thing was for her to see her own sinfulness before she could move on from there and tell others about Christ. And that’s an important part of our own encounter with Him. We need to acknowledge our sinfulness, and our complete dependence on God. That was the point of this conversation at Jacob’s Well, and that’s the point of Christ’s daily encounter with each of us: to help us see our need for Him, so that we can move on into the real life He has in store for us.

When we live for Christ, when we try to do His will in all things – that’s when we’ll have that well of water springing up in us – that water which is eternal life. We’re right in the middle of Lent. God has asked us to especially scrutinize our lives, to face up to our own sins and our own shortcomings, and with His grace, to do something about it. This is the time for us to confess our sins, to renew our devotion, to live in real humility, and to grasp hold of the life that God wants for us – a life which is infused with the Holy Spirit, a life which reflects the holiness to which we’re called, a life which is saturated with the living water of eternal life in Christ.

Because of what Jesus said to her at the well that day, the Samaritan woman came to know that He was, indeed, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And when she grasped the knowledge, she told the world about it. That’s our job, too – to tell the world about Christ, through our words and our actions and the holiness of our lives. That’s our vocation – it’s a holy calling which will lead us, and those around us, to eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.



08 March 2020

St. Frances of Rome

Lest we forget that God's plan for us is always best, just look at the life of St. Frances of Rome. She was a child born into privilege in the latter part of the 14th century, with parents who had the means to give her a very comfortable life. Young Frances was keenly aware of society's poor around her, and she had the good desire to give herself to the alleviation of their suffering by entering religious life and dedicating herself to this mission. Her parents had other ideas, and apparently so did God.

A young nobleman was selected by her family, and Frances was expected to marry him. She threw herself into prayer, asking God to deliver her from what she saw as a terrible fate. In fact, she was so persistent in this that her confessor asked her a difficult but important question: "Frances, are you really praying to do God's Will, or are you trying to make God bend to your will?"

That simple question brought about a profound change in Frances. With some reluctance, she married the young nobleman, and to her surprise the marriage turned out to be very happy. They had three children, and she found that her husband was perfectly willing for her to carry out an apostolate to the poor. In fact, she discovered that her sister-in-law had the same desire to serve, and the two were able to work together and pray together, eventually inspiring others to join in their good works. The group of women became a quasi-religious community, and when Frances was widowed she was able to go and live with them, sharing a common life of work and prayer.

St. Frances also had the great comfort of being able to see her Guardian Angel, and she was careful in following the angelic guidance she received.

Frances came to realize that God had given her far more than she had asked for. She had a happy marriage, and she was able to fulfill her desire for religious life, too. That's the way it is with God. He always gives in abundance, albeit in unexpected ways. All we need to do is follow Him in love, and pray as our Lord Himself did, "...not my will, but Thine be done."

O God, who amongst other gifts of thy grace, didst honour blessed Frances, thy handmaid, with the familiar converse of an Angel: grant, we beseech thee; that by the help of her intercession, we may be worthy to attain unto the fellowship of the Angels in thy heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

03 March 2020

St. Casimir, Confessor


St. Casimir known to the people of Poland as "The Peace-maker," was the third of the thirteen children of Casimir IV, King of Poland. Casimir was devout from the time he was a little child, and was known for his life dedicated to prayer and penance. Although he was part of the royal family, he often made his bed on the ground, and he would spend lots of the night in prayer and meditation, especially on the passion of Christ. He always wore very plain clothing, and under them he wore a hairshirt.

Because he lived constantly in the presence of God, Casimir always seemed serene and cheerful, and pleasant to everybody. He had a tremendous love of the poor, whom he saw as members of Christ's body, and he was known for giving his possessions away to relive the suffering of the poor.

Throughout his life he had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and he would often recite a long and beautiful hymn to the Virgin Mother – a hymn we know in English as "Daily, daily sing to Mary."

There came the time when the noblemen of neighboring Hungary became dissatisfied with their king.  In 1471 they went to King Casimir of Poland, the father of St. Casimir, to allow them to place young Casimir on the throne. At that time, Casimir hadn’t yet turned fifteen years old, and he really wanted no part of the plan, but in obedience to his father he set out towards Hungary at the head of an army.

As they got closer, Casimir’s soldiers heard that the King of Hungary had assembled a large and strong army, and so Casimir’s army began to desert and go back home. Casimir had been given no money by his father or the Hungarian noblemen, so he wasn’t able to pay his soldiers to stay. It became obvious that Casimir wasn’t going to be able to march into Hungary with any kind of an army at all, so on the advice of his officers, he decided to return home to Poland.

King Casimir was very angry with his son Casimir. He had wanted to see his son on the throne of Hungary, because that meant he could control that country, as well as be King of Poland. As young Casimir got closer to home, his father had troops meet him, and instead of allowing the young boy to go to his family in Cracow, instead his father imprisoned him in a dark, musty castle.

Young Casimir accepted that with great patience, and let his father know that he would stay in the castle dungeon forever, before he would ever take up arms again. His father finally released him, and Casimir returned to his life of study and prayer, but his life of penance and his time in the dungeon, meant that he developed a disease of the lungs, and he died when he was only twenty-six years old. He was buried at the Church of St. Stanislaus in Vilna. Many miracles were reported at his tomb, and he was canonized in 1521.

O God, who, amidst the pleasures of a temporal kingdom, didst endue thy blessed Saint Casimir with constancy to resist all temptations: grant, we beseech thee; that by his intercession, thy faithful people may learn to despise all things earthly, and to seek earnestly after all things heavenly; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

02 March 2020

St. Katharine Drexel


Katharine Drexel was born in Philadelphia in 1858, into a very wealthy and prominent family, which meant that she had an excellent education and traveled widely. As a rich girl, she had a grand debut into society. But her life was radically changed when she nursed her stepmother through a three-year terminal illness, and she saw that all the Drexel money could not buy safety from pain or death.

She had read a book about the plight of the American Indians, and how difficult their lives were. Once, when she was on a tour of Europe, she met Pope Leo XIII and she asked him to send more missionaries to Wyoming, where a family friend was the bishop. The pope said to her, "Why don't you become a missionary?" His answer shocked her into considering new possibilities.

When she returned to America, she visited the Dakota Indian tribe, met the Sioux leader Red Cloud and began her systematic aid to Native American missions.

She could easily have married. But after much discussion with Bishop O'Connor, she wrote in 1889, "The feast of Saint Joseph brought me the grace to give the remainder of my life to the Indians and the Colored." Newspaper headlines screamed "Heiress gives Up Her Millions!"

After three and a half years of training, she and her first band of nuns (Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament) opened a boarding school in Santa Fe. A string of foundations followed. By 1942 she had a system of African American Catholic schools in thirteen states, plus forty mission centers and twenty-three rural schools. Segregationists harassed her work, even burning a school in Pennsylvania. In all, she established fifty missions for Native Americans in sixteen states.

Two saints met when she was advised by Mother Cabrini about the "politics" of getting her order's rule approved in Rome. Her crowning achievement was the founding of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first university in the United States for African Americans.

At seventy-seven, she suffered a heart attack and was forced to retire. Apparently her life was over. But then came almost twenty years of quiet, intense prayer from a small room overlooking the sanctuary. Small notebooks and slips of paper record her various prayers, ceaseless aspirations and meditation. She died at ninety-six and was canonized in 2000.
- from various sources

O God of love, who didst call Saint Katharine Drexel to teach the message of the Gospel and to bring the life of the Eucharist to the Native American and African American peoples: by her prayers and example, enable us to work for justice among the poor and the oppressed; and keep us undivided in love in the Eucharistic family of thy Church; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.