Tag Archives: John’s Gospel

Lazarus is dead because Jesus wasn’t present.

Fifth Sunday of Lent.

Martha says to Jesus: “If you had been here my brother would not have died.”

Martha is deep into Jesus.

Being deep into him – sunk into him – she’s grasped his identity.

She knows that Jesus could have – would have – prevented her brother’s death if he’d been there.

Lazarus is dead because Jesus wasn’t there. Jesus was absent.

Now after he’d received word that Lazarus was ill, Jesus delayed in going to Lazarus, deliberately it seems.

Jesus is using the physical event of Lazarus’ death to teach Martha and Mary – and us – about the bigger life and death, about eternal life and eternal death, Heaven and hell!

Here’s the teaching: When death arrives, if Jesus is absent, we remain dead. Full stop! 🛑

We become the weeds that are thrown on the fire rather than the wheat that is gathered into the barn.

Do you get it?

It’s Jesus presence that transforms death and it’s personal presence, it is intimate presence. It is Jesus presence inside us… in our souls.

We need to be into him and he needs to be into us – just like Martha – if we are to live again… rise…

Take a little time to read and re-read, to ponder Jesus teaching and notice how personal it is…

“I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

“I am the resurrection” (note the ‘I’) and “whoever lives and believes in me (note ‘lives… in me’) will never die.”

Jesus offers the twelve their freedom to walk away from him and his teaching about the Eucharist – again, no change there then!

The peoples response to Jesus teaching is: “This is intolerable language.” But what provoked such a strong reaction?

Whatever way Jesus delivered this teaching – which is obviously about the Eucharist – he left the people in no doubt that he wasn’t speaking symbolically, and he wasn’t speaking about signs.

When he’d finished his teaching they clearly understood he meant actually eating his flesh and drinking his blood and they found it “intolerable language” and concluded, “How could anyone accept it?”

Remember the reaction wasn’t just words, they didn’t just talk the talk, they walked away. They were clearly shocked, possibly even disgusted!

And Jesus didn’t even try to stop 🛑 them!

He didn’t try to stop ✋ them because the teaching he’d shared was the truth. He was saying “this is how it is in Heaven and I can’t change it.”

This is my Fathers will, that you eat my flesh and drink my blood; that you celebrate Eucharist. But we must celebrate it in such a way that we’re actually eating and drinking him – and the bread and wine are not signs or symbols but his actual body and blood, his very self.

Jesus makes no effort to soften his teaching: “Does this upset you?” he says, and pushes on trying to open up the huge expanse that exists behind his earthly body, the spirit that’s behind the flesh. “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer” he says. Yet we spend so much time focused on the flesh – and money too.

Then Jesus states that we cannot come to him unless the Father allows it. Once again we’re told that there’s order to all this, that not all are admitted to the kingdom of God – qualifications are required – that there are some who will always be outside it because they remain “lost” in their own flesh which Jesus says “has nothing to offer” – it ends in dust! This is Peter’s point at the end: “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life.” Without you, we’re just dust!

In the end, having lost large numbers, Jesus turns to the twelve; “What about you, do you want to go away too?”

Jesus offers the twelve something beautiful, their freedom, their freedom to walk away from him and his teaching about the Eucharist. Is it a reflection of how Jesus offers people today the same freedom to walk away from Mass? Are the people who walk away from Mass today using their freedom in much the same way as the people who walked away from this teaching about the Eucharist?

Have we changed at all?

Fifth Sunday of Lent: Jesus answers the Greeks and Stephen Fry too!

"If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too." John 12:20-33 / Caviezel, Passion of Christ

“If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too.” John 12:20-33 / Caviezel, Passion of Christ

In the Gospel today (John 12:20-33) we find Jesus turning toward Calvary.

The position he’s faced with equates to something like a diagnosis of terminal cancer without a morphine pump – without any kind of pain relief, comfort or consolation, nothing but the reciprocal love of his Father!

He takes the tsunami of human suffering that’ll soon crush him, and he uses it to teach us. All that’ll happen to Jesus is not just about him, it’s equally about us, it also represents human suffering and ultimately the death of every single human being.

The first thing Jesus does is place death in a far reaching context. Jesus describes death in terms of the necessity of a wheat grain falling on the ground and dying before it can reach its full potential. Death is not final but the necessary door to fulfillment.

Next, he says that if we serve him we must follow him. It’s easy to miss the brutal quality of this command. Jesus issues it while speaking of his suffering and death; “wherever I am my servant will be there too.” It’s as good as saying; you’ll have your share of human suffering, you’ll have your agony in the garden, your scourging at the pillar, your crowning with thorns, your crucifixion, you’ll follow my path – and children will get bone cancer! Thus the Greeks who “should like to see Jesus” get their answer, as does Stephen Fry; you’ll see me but don’t expect that you’ll be spared suffering and death.

Next, he echoes the cry of every person facing suffering and death but he does so while adding the extra dimension that places death in a momentous context. He puts this human cry in the form of a question to God: “What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour?” After all, I’m only 33 and there’s much I still want to see and do. He answers his own question: “But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour.” He presents us with the inevitability of death, with the necessity of death if we’re to reach the fullness of our potential. Significantly he then adds, “Father, glorify your name!”

The Risen Christ. "If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too."

The Risen Christ. “If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too.”

This is a question we all face. What if we cure everything that brings death; what’ll we do then? Where will we go? How will we control the population of the earth? State controlled fertility and euthanasia? Most importantly how will we cope with living endlessly?

Imagine if time can’t reach fulfillment. We’ll go mad.

The message of Jesus is that time does reach fulfillment, for each one of us, through him, with him and in him, and the door to this fulfillment is death, death in him.

Lateran Basilica: Quenching our thirst for God.

The Pope's Cathedral, St. John Lateran, Rome, Apse Mosaics

The Pope’s Cathedral, St. John Lateran, Rome, Apse Mosaics

Every year on November 09th the Church celebrates the dedication of the pope’s cathedral.

It gives us the opportunity to reflect briefly on what the church is, or at least what it should be. What we should be. What we are, however dim our reflection might be!

Typical of the scriptures generally, the first reading, Ezekiel 47:1-2,8-9,12 uses an image we can all understand; the image of water and in this case the image of a river flowing from the Temple to the sea.

Enniscorthy is built on a river. Every town the length and breath of Ireland is built around a water supply.

Apply the image to the Church. The growing river symbolizes our growing relationship with God. If we don’t connect to God here (in this building) then we’ll die of thirst, this church will die out. We’ve nothing to pass on that the atheist can’t pass on! Much of the present crisis in the church is to be found here.

The river flows to the sea and fulfills itself there. The sea symbolizes the fullness of God (heaven). So too with us, we should be flowing towards God and if we are we’ll produce fruit

The River Tiber and St. Peter's Basilica, Rome

The River Tiber and St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome

symbolized by the fertility of the river bank; “along the river… will grow every kind of fruit tree with leaves that never wither and fruit that never fails… And their fruit will be good to eat and the leaves medicinal.”

The second reading, 1 Cor 3:9-11,16-17 tells us that the church is not about buildings but about people, a people, a people becoming the body of Christ.

In the Gospel, John 2:13-22 Jesus makes it very clear that the church is to be a house of prayer, the place of encounter with the Divine. In my twenty odd years of priesthood I think there’s been a growing tendency to turn it into everything but a house of prayer!

Finally, Jesus reference to the sanctuary of his body confirms the true meaning and destiny of the church.

In the end the Cross of Christ will save the global village.

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Numbers 21:4-9

John 3:13-17

To speak against God has repercussions both personally and communally. Remember that we speak loudest through our actions.

This is illustrated in the First Reading. The people “spoke against God” resulting in the arrival of serpents in their midst and the bite of the serpents “brought death to many in Israel”

This is a common theme throughout the scriptures but one which many, particularly the politburo, love to ridicule. I sinned and the sky didn’t fall down on top of me! Sorry, much too simple.

We should think of sin not so much in terms of breaking an abstract law but in terms of what kind of person it’s making me, the kind of person I’m becoming? More importantly, we should think of sin not just in terms of the individual but as contributing to the culture and to the kind of world we’re creating, a world moving nearer to God and its proper destiny or further from God. It’s sin that has become part of the culture that’s the most insidious and destructive, stealthily treacherous and deceitful.

The consequences of sin unfold only if we remain unrepentant over months and years, often over decades and sometimes over a century or more. It’s in this sense that we should interpret the biblical idea that the sins of the fathers (mothers) are ‘punished’ in the children.

The solution in the First Reading is to fashion a fiery serpent (the very thing that’s causing death), to raise it on a standard and all who look to it after being bitten will be cured. I know, it seems far-fetched, but stay with me.

Clearly this prefigures Christ on the Cross (in whom is crucified the very thing that causes our downfall) and he brings salvation to those who look to him.

Now what I find interesting about this is that Jesus doesn’t ridicule the basic premise of the First Reading – that sin leads to the certain death of the human community. Instead, while speaking to Nicodemus he uses the story and far from dismissing its central message he reinterprets it in light of his Cross without changing its basic message. But instead of a fiery serpent he presents himself as the one to save the global human community.

Thus he says: “For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that through him the world might be saved” – a vital distinction. God doesn’t need to condemn the world because the world commits itself to self-destruction by choosing sin and therefore condemns itself. God’s purpose in Jesus Christ is to save the human community.

So there we have it. There’s nothing more important than Jesus Christ and his Cross. The future well-being of the global village depends on it.

That makes the local Church kind of important too, doesn’t it? Much more important than we think!

And some people think we can remove Jesus Christ from public life!

Here’s a link to Scott Hahn’s reflection for the same readings in which he quotes extensively from Pope Benedict XVI


The Holy Trinity: Everything we need to know about the future of the world can be found in the figure of Christ crucified.

Holy Trinity Icon

“The three persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are pictured at a table with a space vacant at the front for the believer; for you and me.” Fr. Billy Swan

Today’s Gospel (John 3:16-18) moves from the personal and the private to the public… from the salvation of the person to the salvation of the world, and back again to the personal and the private.

In our day there is a determined effort to confine religion and therefore the person of Jesus Christ to the private.

The wisdom of the day suggests that there should be no place for religion and therefore no place for the person of Jesus Christ in education, in health systems… anywhere in public life.

It’s absolutely impossible to reconcile this privatization of religion and the message of today’s Gospel which clearly states that the person of Jesus Christ is the key to personal salvation but also to the salvation of the world.

Now, I need to explain the meaning of salvation precisely because when we think about salvation we’ve already privatized it and we never think of salvation as having anything to do with the future of the world – here and now.

So what does salvation mean? It means nothing more than human well-being individually and collectively. Happiness. It means the well-being of the world – the old missioners would have said the temporal and eternal well-being of humankind.

This means that we can have all the economic policies we want, all the education policies, all the health policies… but if they’re not founded on God they’ll eventually turn and bite us!

The world is set on a path that says we don’t need God; we’ll do it our way, yet “God sent his son into the world… so that through him the world might be saved.” I trust you can see the contradiction?

So what’ll happen? This is what I think will happen; the world will persist on this path, the world is not for turning (there are very good reasons for that; historical reasons) and only from a point of collapse will the world return to God.

That’s what a generation will see and experience; a collapse. But let’s go deeper; spiritually it’ll look like the Evil One has taken everything from God and when it looks like Evil has triumphed God will act.

Go deeper again; in other words it’ll look like the period of time between Christ’s death and resurrection when even the disciples thought everything was lost.

Go deeper still; in other words what happened to Christ (what we celebrate every Easter) is what’ll happen to humanity.

The rejection of God always leads to the figure of a crucified humanity, to the point where everything seems lost. But God will not abandon his creation.

The future of the world is there before us in the figure of Christ crucified. Everything we need to know about the future can be found there.

Pentecost: Without the Holy Spirit religion easily becomes a kind of tyranny!

IMG_1380Pentecost is important – and with good reason. it’s ranked as a Solemnity.

Indeed, much can be understood in terms of the Holy Spirit’s presence or absence, or perhaps more accurately to the degree that the Holy Spirit is present in a person’s life.

In the First Reading (Acts 2:1-11) the Holy Spirit is portrayed as fire (a heart on fire for the mission of the Church) and wind (a blustery wind for the mission of the Church).

In today’s Gospel (John 20:19-23) the Holy Spirit is portrayed as the breath of the risen Jesus. Think about the meaning of breath – it’s our life. So the breath of the risen Jesus is the very life of God and when he breathes on them he is giving them his own life, the life he shares with God.

The purpose of religion is to reach this point – the point where it’s possible for us to share the Divine Life, the point where God can breathe his supernatural life into our natural life, the Divine into the human. I use supernatural deliberately because we’ve almost lost the experience of grace as a supernatural reality – thus everything’s mundane! The early Church Fathers described this process as Divinization.

Some weeks ago I spotted a number of people towards the back of the Church… they had completely disengaged and were deep in conversation. There’s no great mystery as to why we disengage at Mass or why we’re bored at Mass. It’s because a spirit other than the Holy Spirit dominates our lives – often it’s nothing more than our own spirit.


Hearts on fire for the mission of the Church – Jesus Christ!

Where the Holy Spirit is absent (or just simply in short supply) religion is the most boring thing on earth!

Where the Holy Spirit is absent prayer is boring – worse, it’s sheer torture! A person in whom the Holy Spirit is absent finds prayer torturous, they resist, object; they want to run a mile! And with good reason; one spirit is fighting the other…

Finally, in our time religion is almost a bad word! Religion cut loose from the Holy Spirit causes huge problems (think of Ireland in the past). Religion without the Holy Spirit easily becomes tyranny. If you ask a person in whom the Holy Spirit is absent to practice religion they’ll experience it as a kind of tyranny!

Without the Holy Spirit religion easily becomes a kind of tyranny where there is little or no charity, little or no generosity, no joy, no gentleness, no peace, no faithfulness, no patience, no modesty, no kindness, no self-control, no goodness and no chastity!

The Holy Spirit changes everything. Come, Holy Spirit. Veni, Sancte Spiritus.

Sixth Sunday of Easter: How terribly discriminatory of Jesus!

Sixth Sunday of Easter Image“In a short time the world will no longer see me…”

The short time is his death (Good Friday), resurrection (Easter Sunday) and ascension (next Sunday).

After these events the “world” no longer sees him but Jesus makes a distinction – those who love him do “see” him.

How terribly discriminatory of Jesus!

So how is it that some “see” him and others don’t?

He promised to come back, to show himself, to enter into our lives and he achieves this through the gift of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost Sunday).

Have you ever noticed how it’s impossible to get inside another person’s life, how the other person is always totally other. This is not so with God, God is Spirit and thus able to enter our bodies and provided we co-operate the Spirit then draws us deeper and deeper into God. “On that day you will understand that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you.”

But we must co-operate. He says there are some, those whom he calls “the world” that can never receive him. Jesus, you’ll get yourself in trouble speaking about secular society like that!

In other words there are conditions attached to receiving Jesus Christ – shock, horror – that’ll send a few over the edge! It troubles me when I hear religious people speak of God’s unconditional love. It indicates they know little about the spiritual life. If by unconditional they mean God’s love is always offered, always available, that’s fine, no problem there. But God’s love is of little use to us if it’s always offered, always available but always out there and remote. We need him within. But if they mean by unconditional that there are no conditions to receiving Jesus Christ, that’s nonsense. Rubbish! Of course there are conditions, otherwise everybody would know Jesus Christ!

Jesus clearly states two such conditions in today’s Gospel. Indeed the whole teaching is prefaced by the conditions.

1. If you love me – for many that means a radical reorientation of life.
2. If you love me you will keep my commandments – the experience of receiving Jesus Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is simultaneously experienced as a call to a moral standard that simply cannot be detached from the person of Jesus Christ.

“If you love me you will keep my commandments, (and then) I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate…”

A word of caution: this is not instant, it requires spiritual growth over many years.

Fifth Sunday of Easter: Jesus Christ, the joy of Catholicism


"When we pray properly sorrows disappear like snow before the sun"

St. John Vianney: When we pray properly sorrows disappear like snow before the sun.

It’s sometime before his suffering, death, resurrection and ascension.

Thus when he says he’s going away he’s talking about a future event.

It’s most interesting though to observe the meaning he gives to his going away. His going away is not his death, but his death, resurrection and ascension, and in going away he’s not abandoning us.

Thus in the teaching of Jesus Christ death is not the final end event, but part of something much greater. We need to begin to think in this way. For the believer life opens upwardly to the splendour of God. For the unbeliever life (ultimately) must narrow downwardly to the grave!

He is going away (death, resurrection and ascension) “to prepare a place for you…” This is personal.

Have you ever noticed that you can’t really walk in another person’s shoes, that no matter how close you might be to another person, that person is always separate, uniquely other? There’s a sense in which in the end there’s only God and you in the universe!

Jesus promises that after he’s gone (death, resurrection and ascension) he’ll come back to take you with him. It’s so personal.

We tend to think of this returning as death but that misses so much of the picture – most of all it misses the joy at the heart of our religion.

The returning to take us with him is the gift of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) through whom God enters into our lives, not in the future, but now. We’re taken up into the Divine life. We’re given a “place” in the Divine life. This is what Jesus means when he speaks of “rooms in my Father’s house” – it’s a share in God’s life. Try to imagine what happens when the Divine life begins to enter our lives; a transformation begins. Thus we find the Saints saying things like; “When we pray properlysorrows disappear like snow before the sun.” St. John Vianney. The all powerful God mingles his life with ours – pure joy! 

This is what makes the Catholic. Without Him religion falls flat. In fact, I’ll go much further and say; this is the joy of life, never mind Catholicism!

We don’t inherit the kingdom because we’re good people. We inherit the kingdom because God has given us a place (or room) in his Divine life and God by his very nature can’t be held captive by death.

Fourth Sunday of Lent: The blind man; victim of God’s love and man’s unbelief.

Jesus came into the world to separate those whose blindness is curable from those whose blindness cannot be cured because they presume themselves to be healthy. Pope Benedict XVI 


John 9, The cure of the man born blind

Sometimes religion can be blind!

On the human level the man can see for the first time.

But the miraculous restoration of the mans sight has another layer of meaning. This healing is not just about restoring a man’s eye sight, it’s about recognizing the true identity of Jesus and as a result becoming a missionary. It’s impossible to discover the true identity of Jesus and keep it to yourself!

As events unfold it’s clear that the blind man’s healing is pushing the people involved to the point where they must make a decision about Jesus, about his identity. But they don’t want to go there even though they’re religious people and willing to argue about it. “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” Johnathan Swift. They’re like children kicking, screaming, resisting! The majority just refuse. No, we’re not moving. “Nobody who has been drinking old wine wants new” Luke 5:39. This is a real danger for religion and religious people – that we do not press on.

The blind man quickly begins to see beyond his physical healing and in this sense ‘to see’ means to come to faith in Jesus which is what happens. He pressed on. Through his encounter with JesusIMG_1113 the blind man comes to faith, step by step, it’s a gradual development, from describing Jesus as “the man” to “prophet” to “Lord”, and his journey to faith happens while he’s being questioned – interrogated – to the extent that he has to defend himself, and in fact he ends up defending Jesus! He’s even abandoned by his family. Once questioned his family quickly distance themselves from him. This hostile engagement on the front-line is such an important part of growing in faith. When did we engage in it last?

The blind man becomes something of a victim because Jesus restored his sight. He becomes a victim of God’s love and man’s unbelief. Spiritually, God’s love is a wound that never quite heals until it can reach fulfillment.

See, he becomes a missionary in sharp contrast to the people around him. There is a reversal of order at work here that’s classic Jesus shock! The blind man can see while those with sight can’t see at all! He who is last is now first, and the first are rapidly becoming last. As religious people we need to make sure it doesn’t happen to us!

As events unfold the blind man gets increasingly bold. He just gets fed up with their unbelief and becomes incredulous towards them, almost ridiculing them: “Now here is an astonishing thing! He has opened my eyes and you do not know where he comes from!” I’ll paraphrase that – he’s looking at them and thinking; what kind of fools have I got here that they can’t work this out?

Why couldn’t they see? What stopped them looking at the facts and reaching the obvious conclusion? Why couldn’t they reach the point where with the ‘blind’ man they too could say; Lord, I believe, and worship him?

John Henry Newman

Of course they could see, but they didn’t want to see, and thus refused to see, because seeing would mean having to change their lives. “Nobody puts new wine into old skins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins too. No! New wine, fresh skins!” Mark 2:22

Time to change our lives?