Here are the rest of this week's reflections with I wrote for the Magis Institute.
May 19, 2010
Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter
A couple years ago a fifth grader asked me a question: “What was Jesus’ middle name?” Obviously he thought that “Christ” was His last name and so he wondered if Jesus also had a middle name. I explained to him and the class that “Christ” was not Jesus’ last name but a title that meant “the Christ” or “the Anointed One.”
Each of us who is baptized is “another Christ.” We too were anointed when, at Baptism, we received the Sacred Chrism on our heads. This is the holy oil that is used on four very special occasions: 1) at Baptism; 2) at Confirmation; 3) at ordinations when the hands of the newly ordained priests are anointed; and 4) at the consecration of a new church when the four walls and altar are anointed. Notice how the sacred chrism “consecrates” or sets apart for a holy purpose the space of the new church, the altar, the hands of the priest, and those who are baptized and confirmed.
In the first reading Paul prays for the leaders of the Church of Ephesus, commending them to God and asking that the word of God will build them up and give them “the inheritance among all who are consecrated.” And in the Gospel Jesus prays for the apostles at the Last Supper, asking that they may be “consecrated in the truth.”
We are anointed, consecrated, set apart for a holy purpose. You can renew that consecration every day with the simple prayer of the Morning Offering in which you thank God for the hours and minutes ahead of you and then make an offering of all your prayers, works, joys, and sufferings, every thought, word, and deed, every breath and heart beat. This is what it means to fulfill Paul’s words to the Romans: “I urge you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (12: 1). This is the way to live your consecration.
May 20, 2010
Optional Memorial of St. Bernardine of Siena
Today’s saint was a Franciscan who lived around the year 1400 and who was very devoted to the name of Jesus. This is the name of which St. Paul wrote to the Philippians: “the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2: 9-11). This is the name that all Christians hold dear and use in their prayers to the Father.
Yet, while Christians are one in honoring the name of Jesus and professing that He is Lord, we are divided. Our first reading today shows us how St. Paul, called before the Sanhedrin or religious leaders of Jerusalem, exploited the divisions between Sadducees and Pharisees to escape from harm. As the saying goes, “United we stand, divided we fall.” The Church today is being dismissed by the world partly because of the divisions among Christians. Jesus prayed, as we hear in the Gospel, that His followers would be one just as He and the Father were one. We are not answering Jesus’ prayer.
Some would take an easy road and say that deep down we are one because we are all baptized, and that we should be welcoming and offer the Eucharist to whomever wants. But this would be a lie. The world sees that we are not one and such sharing of Communion, while it might make some people feel better, won’t solve the problem of our divisions. We don’t like pain and so we are tempted to gloss over the painful divisions among Christians. Instead of treating the causes of our divisions we cover over the symptoms.
Let’s commit ourselves today to answering Jesus’ prayer that all be one. Let’s pray and fast and then do everything in our power to overcome the divisions that hinder the Church’s efforts to speak the truth with love to a world that desperately needs the truth.
May 21, 2010
Optional Memorial of St Christopher Magallanes and Companions
Today we honor 22 priests and 3 laymen who were martyred in Mexico less than a hundred years ago. They are a reminder to us that in every age Christians must be ready to hear the words that Jesus spoke to St. Peter in today’s Gospel when He predicted that in time someone would lead him where he did not want to go, thus “signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.”
At this point in Peter’s life, however, he wasn’t yet ready to follow Christ to such a death. Our Gospel repeats one that we heard during Easter Week. In contrast to Peter’s triple denial, Jesus asks three times: “Do you love me?” And Peter responds three times: “Yes, I love you.” The English translation of the Greek in which the Gospel of John was written misses an important distinction in these questions.
In the first two questions of Jesus the word for love that is used is “agape.” Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me in a total, self-sacrificing way?” And Peter, using a different word for love (“philia”), responds: “Yes, Lord, I love you as a friend.” The third time Jesus asks, He comes to Peter’s level and asks him if he loves Him as a friend, to which Peter responds: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you [as a friend].” It is before Pentecost. Peter is not yet ready to risk everything, including his life, to show his love for Jesus.
But this is OK. Jesus takes Peter where he is, knowing that with the gift of the Holy Spirit, he will have the courage to witness to Him and even lay down his life for love of Him. He isn’t ready now, but one day he will stretch out his hands and be led where he would prefer not to go and be martyred for the faith.
One dynamic of the Spiritual Exercises is to be grow in the awareness of where we are free and where we are not free. Peter wasn’t free at this point to say that he loved Jesus in a self-sacrificing way. In time he would. We may not be ready either, but we can pray for the grace to love that way and in our prayer we can be assured that the same Holy Spirit who empowered Peter to love totally will empower us as well.
May 22, 2010
Optional Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia
Tomorrow we will light the Easter candle one last time. For the rest of the year it will be used only at Baptisms and funerals. The Easter Season ends with Pentecost and today’s first reading, with the story of Paul’s arrival in Rome, the center of the known world, brings our Easter readings from the Acts of the Apostles to a conclusion.
Today’s Gospel is also a conclusion, the end of John’s Gospel. After Peter’s triple attestation of his love for Jesus and Jesus’ prediction of his martyrdom, he asks about John. What will happen to him? Jesus responds: “What concern is it of yours? You follow me.”
A common temptation is to wonder how we compare to others and what others think of us. Such comparison and competition is deadly. We either end up judging others harshly in order to build our own ego, or we end up with the short end of the stick, comparing how they look on the outside to how we feel on the inside. Jesus challenges Peter and us not to worry about others but to keep our focus on Him and to follow Him.
St. Rita must have known this. She is called “The Saint of the Impossible” because of the impossible odds she faced in life. As a child she wanted to be a nun but her parents opposed her desires and married her off to an abusive and unfaithful man. She prayed hard for his conversion and was rewarded when, after he got into a fight with some other men, he died in her arms begging forgiveness. Her two sons decided to avenge their father’s death and she prayed for their conversion. Before they could carry out their plan they took sick, forgave those who killed their father, and died. Now free to follow her dream, Rita applied to the Augustinian order of religious women only to be refused entry because she had been married. After much prayer and several attempts she was finally accepted.
In the midst of impossible situations and difficulties, Rita kept her eyes fixed on Jesus. May we always do the same.