In the First Reading (2 Chronicles 36:14-16,19-23) we find the great themes of salvation history – themes that are always unfolding as humankind stumbles with ever more sophistication from one crisis to the next!
We’re told that the whole of society was busy adding “infidelity after infidelity” and that God sent messengers repeatedly “since he wished to spare his people” but the people wouldn’t listen, their responses varied from ridicule, to despising, to laughing at both the messenger and the message. Same old, same old, isn’t it? There’s a sense in which nothing changes at all. We know best, we’ll do it our way, and where does it end? We stumble with ever more sophistication from one crisis to another!
The Gospel makes it clear that Jesus of Nazareth is the Saviour of the world, and that his purpose is not to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:14-21). How will he save the world? He’ll draw the world to himself one heart at a time. This of course means that Christianity and Catholicism can’t be private.
But what happens if the world refuses to come to Jesus Christ? Is there a flip side? Absolutely. Initially nothing happens that’s immediately perceptible. In other words the claim that the sky doesn’t fall down holds true. There’s no sudden crash! Instead, cut off from God the human heart is slowly desensitized over a period of a century, more or less, one small step at a time, each step facilitating the next, which in turn facilitates individuals, sometimes groups of people, and sometimes even a particular nation to wreak havoc. Ultimately, the world can find itself facing horrors such as those that unfolded during World War II.
In the bible this is what’s known as God’s punishment. God’s punishment comes in the form of social, political and economic policies, policies that arise from hearts divorced from God. It’s what we’re doing. What I do matters, it might influence you to do the same, and you might influence somebody else – eventually everybody is doing it! Then the world is changed and the path is cleared for the next change. The world is changed one heart at a time. This means that God is the God of history but that each one of us is contributing to and determining the future of all. History doesn’t happen by chance or just bad luck, history is determined by the relationship of the human heart to God.
While this slow descent is occurring God will send messengers but the messengers are almost always ridiculed, despised and laughed at – or simply ignored. Only when life is so bad that there’s nowhere perceived as ‘better’ to go do people begin to listen to these messengers. The point I want you to note is that this process is happening now. There’s never a point in history when it’s not happening.
Pope Francis greets Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. In a surprise move Pope Francis has declared a Holy Year of Mercy beginning December 08th 2015 (Feast of the Immaculate Conception)
So, what do these messengers look like? How do we recognize them? The answer is; with great difficulty!
In Fatima almost one hundred years ago these messengers came as 3 children. But what do we know about Fatima? How much attention have we given it? A little later there’s St. Faustina and the message of Divine Mercy – what do we know about that? We’re now in the time of Mercy – we’ve been there for quite some time. It’ll be followed by Justice. Divine Mercy always precedes Divine Justice. Later there’s Padre Pio? We might know a little about Pio. Later again, there’s Pope John Paul II, then Benedict XVI, but how much attention have we given apart from what the media has told us? Now we have Pope Francis – who has just declared 2016 to be a Holy Year of Divine Mercy.
It’s not difficult to see that the great themes of salvation history also apply to us, right here, right now, that they’re unfolding even as I speak and that we’re all caught up in it.
We’ll summarize everything I’m saying when we come to pray the Our Father. We don’t pray; thy kingdom come, thy will be done in heaven only. No! We pray; thy will be done on earthas it is in heaven. God’s kingdom, God’s rule over the human heart is for the future of the earth. Heaven is well able to look after itself!
The cleansing of the Temple is an appropriate Gospel reading for Lent. The work of Lent is very similar – driving out what’s not of God!
For Jesus the Temple was important. He called the Temple nothing less than “my Father’s house” and he forcibly removed people he considered to be acting offensively. It’s quite a scene if not a little out of character; “he scattered the money changers’ coins” and “knocked their tables over…”
It’s a wake-up call for those who’d think that the Temple, or logically by extension the Church as we have it today, can somehow be disconnected from the person of Jesus Christ. On the contrary, the disciples understand the cleansing as zeal for God’s house devouring Jesus of Nazareth.
Interestingly Jesus doesn’t turn against the Temple, rather he turns against the men and women disfiguring God’s house. That men and women have disfigured the Temple is no reason to turn against the Temple.
When the Jews challenge his cleansing his reply is intriguing.
He turns the conversation to himself, to his own body which he calls “this sanctuary” and declares: I am acting like this because I am the fulfilment of the Temple – I am the true sanctuary of the Temple – and my resurrection will be all the proof you need.
Just as Jesus is the true sanctuary of the Temple so he is the true sanctuary of the Church.
Just as the Temple was disfigured by the sins of men so is the Church disfigured by the sins of men. Indeed, even Christ on the Cross is disfigured by the sins of men. That’ll never change.
The problem is neither the Temple nor the Church, but the human heart. In the same way for example, speaking of Ireland’s economic collapse, the problem is not bankers, the problem is the human heart. This is the doctrine of Original Sin. It makes so much sense.
Just as Jesus didn’t abandon the Temple so he will not abandon the Church, rather he calls each one of us to boot out what’s not of God so that the world can see more clearly that this sanctuary here – the one I’m standing in now – is the sanctuary of Christ’s body and blood.
Second Sunday of Lent, Year B, Mark 9:2-10, The Transfiguration.
Abraham is prepared to give his own child (First Reading Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18). It’s one of the most savage scenes in the bible. The only redeeming factor being that it’s a test and God is not going to allow it to happen.
Stephen Fry tells Gay Byrne what he thinks of God!
But for some parents, tragically, it’s happened, not that they were given a choice, rather it was forced on them, and is being forced on them, day after day, as they struggle to reach some kind of acceptance.
From the First Reading we move to the figure of Jesus, taking Peter, James and John with him, climbing a high mountain where they could be alone.
The revelation that occurs on the mountain will not be given to the other nine. Jesus takes Peter, James and John – not the others. We need to accept that God doesn’t give the same spiritual experiences to us all – for whatever reason.
Neither is the revelation given to the crowds taking an interest in Jesus of Nazareth. The vast majority among the crowds are not so much interested in discipleship – in giving up their lives for Christ – as in being cured of some difficulty so that they can get on with their lives.
Revelation always happens when we withdraw from the world, it happens away from the crowd. The world listens to talk, debate, voice after voice, but the follower of Christ listens to a single voice that’s heard only in silence.
Revelation happens when we’re in the company of Jesus. In the company of Jesus the disciples glimpse something much greater, something much more beautiful than ordinary experience.
Revelation happens after the effort of climbing the mountain. Climbing a mountain is always symbolic of the journey to God which brings “heightened consciousness” and “heightened awareness” (Fr. Robert Barron) and unrestricted vision.
Climbing a mountain is a difficult task, full of danger. Some of us will crawl on our hands and knees as we near the top, breathless, exhausted, perhaps bruised, cut and bleeding because we’ve fallen on the way up, because the ascent has been brutal and it’s taken a toll. Some of us may conclude that the ascent is too high a price, not worth it, because we can’t see beyond the immediacy of the suffering involved. There’s nothing like suffering to restrict our vision. Think Stephen Fry!
It requires self-sacrifice to climb the mountain of life and reach our true destination. It’ll cost us. On the way there may be unthinkable losses. Such is life anyway. But the teaching of Christ leaves no room for doubt – I’m worth the loss of everything! The spiritual experience is far more beautiful than anything in ordinary everyday experience.
Revelation doesn’t happen antiseptically, in a make believe world, it happens in this world, this real world, with Christ.
On the mountain top revelation happens – the earthly human Jesus is transfigured, significantly Mark makes the point of telling us that “his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them.” It was a glimpse of the other world; “dazzingly white” – transcendent illumination! People long dead, Moses and Elijah could be seen again. Peter wanted to stay. That’s us! That’s what we’ve done with Lourdes. We build tents (hotels). We crave this beauty. This is what we’re all looking for if we could only dare to believe, if we could only get past human suffering.
We might think that for Peter, James and John, the memory of this event would be enough to carry them through the passion and death of Jesus. But it wasn’t – at least initially – and that’s significant. In the immediacy of Jesus suffering and death even this memory fades, at least for a time. That’s how it is for us too, that’s how it is for Stephen Fry.
There is no way around or past human suffering. There’s only a way through it – by hanging on to Jesus Christ come what may!
As we approach Easter, appropriately enough, the question of death and resurrection surfaces.
So what does Jesus teaching around these issues look like?
Well, from today’s Gospel we’ve got: “If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live.” I’d like you to note something – even though he dies he will live. I’m placing emphasis on; even though he dies. What’s the alternative?
From elsewhere we find Jesus attempting to open the hearts and minds of the people to something greater: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more.” Luke 12:5
It’s a crisis situation. Lazarus is seriously ill. There’s a level of panic – family and friends need to be informed. Among Lazarus’s close friends is Jesus and so they send for Jesus – the man you love is ill, come quickly. Quickly – because if you don’t hurry he’ll be dead!
Yet Jesus doesn’t respond with any sense of urgency – he obviously doesn’t view death as the absolute human disaster – and doesn’t depart until two days later and by the time he arrives Lazarus is already dead for four days. When he arrives both Martha and Mary ‘mark his card’ so to speak: “If you had been here our brother would not have died.” Isn’t this the accusation that man fires at God all the time?
Martha and Mary have faith in Jesus – the faith comes from their close friendship. But while they have faith, it is faith that still has to grasp the full meaning of Jesus Christ and the human person, i.e., the immortality of the soul.
This is the big one – if Jesus can’t overcome death he’s useless to them – and to us!
Yet this is not Jesus definitive act. He calls Lazarus from the dead, gives him back to Martha and Mary, and we can only imagine the excitement of life in the years thereafter … until next time! Lazarus gets to die twice! Lazarus resurrection is not true resurrection, it’s unfinished business.
Try imagining life without death. “Time becomes madness if it cannot reach fulfillment. To be able to go on forever would be the hell of empty meaninglessness. No moment would have any importance because one could postpone and put everything off until an empty later which will always be there.” Karl Rahner.
Karl Rahner with Joseph Ratzinger
Lazarus resurrection is a very poor reflection of Jesus resurrection, a dim reflection of Easter. Jesus resurrection is very different. After rising he’s no longer bound by time and space and he doesn’t wander aimlessly about the earth looking for meaningful employment! He ascends. There’s completion, fulfillment.
Death, in a truly Christian understanding, far from being the absolute human disaster, is the gateway to fulfillment, to completion. If you and I could go on without death we’d go absolutely mad! We’d choose death in sheer desperation!
“If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live.”
The Samaritan woman represents the existential dissatisfaction of one who does not find what he seeks. She’s had “five husbands” and now she lives with another man.” Pope Benedict XVI
John 4: 51-42. The Woman at the Well.
Once again Jesus uses something very ordinary – water – to teach us about God and God’s desired relationship with us.
First thing to note: Jesus has gone out, he’s in hostile territory: “What? You a Jew and you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?” We need to move out from the security of our Church buildings too!
Now the woman could be any woman here (or man). She’s busy with her life doing something that’s life-essential – drawing water from the well.
But watch what happens as she meets Jesus – in the end she’ll put down the water jar and go and tell her friends about the man she’s met. She becomes a missionary. If it happened here in Enniscorthy some might say she’s turned into some kind of religious nut!
First she doesn’t get it: “You have no bucket, sir, and the well is deep; how could you get this living water?” She’s thinking in terms of water (her earthly life) but he’s talking about himself as “living water” (human fulfillment, which she’s so close to – she can actually reach out and touch God physically yet she might never meet him and know only the joys of this world). Notice too that she calls him “sir” rather than Lord – her journey will be from “sir” to Lord.
She gets there gradually, in stages, slowly discovering the full identity of Jesus on a one to one basis. It’s personal, one to one, the heart of God meets the heart of a woman and revelation occurs gradually.
Lesson – We must meet him personally. We must converse with him, if we do, he’ll change our lives.
Suddenly, as soon as the woman asks for “that water” Jesus asks her to call her husband – watch where this is going – and she replies “I have no husband” to which Jesus responds; “although you’ve had five (husbands) the one you have now is not your husband.” Classic!
Remarkably, she doesn’t protest, clearly she’s got some awareness of a religious understanding of marriage which Jesus affirms as God’s understanding of marriage (as opposed to the cultural understanding). She also acknowledges the expectation of Messiah.
Of course, nowadays we’d probably tell Jesus off and shout discrimination!
But she humbles herself, submits to a higher power and order, accepts the reality of sin, and he brings her forward. She meets the tender embrace of Jesus’ heart – mercy – always available to us in Confession. What if she’d gone the other way?
There’s one final detail I’d like you to notice. She brings the town to see Jesus – the town asks him to stay – and when they too have encountered him they say something that we all need to be able to say:
“Now we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the saviour of the world.”
Today’s readings are about bringing Jesus and the Gospel to others – going out. The psalm captures it well: Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News.
Today’s Mass Preface tells us that St. Patrick did just that:
For you drew him (St. Patrick) through daily prayer
in captivity and hardship
to know you as a loving Father.
You chose him out of all the world
to return to the land of his captors,
that they might acknowledge Jesus Christ, their Redeemer.
We all need to be a little bit like St. Patrick.
However, I’m always amazed by our reluctance to be missionaries – by the ability of the baptised to place the Church outside themselves.
Why did he baptise you (he – meaning Christ)?
He wants you to be his missionary, his eyes and ears, hands and feet.
We need to get this – as God’s baptised we no longer represent ourselves and our own interests, we represent Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God. In every encounter, in every person we meet, in every transaction, in every detail of our lives you and I represent Christ.
We’ve got to take this call seriously – don’t wait for others, not even me!
So let’s do something really practical. This week, pick one day, and deliberately represent Christ in every detail of your day. Focus on it – you’re no longer just working for yourself or your employer, you’re working for Christ.
Say to yourself: Today, I represent Jesus Christ and the Gospel.
Christ loves both victim and perpetrator of injustice equally, but different.
Christ’s love seeks to;
– heal every wound.
– burn out every evil.
It’s a double edged sword, cuts both ways.
Christ doesn’t want to lose a single soul, that’s how the true lover of Christ, the Christian, views the world.
We have little difficulty with Christ as long as He’s on the side of the good, but when we realize He’s equally on the other side, all-be-it differently, calling for repentance and conversion, He becomes a little more troublesome.
The good son has all the exterior signs of good religion but he hasn’t got his Father’s loving, forgiving heart.
Incidentally, isn’t the good son’s religion the kind of religion the majority of Church critics want to see? Wouldn’t he suit their agenda perfectly?
In fact, most of the commentary we hear about the Catholic Church in our day comes from the perspective of the good son who wants nothing to do with the bad son and fails absolutely to see the matter from the Fathers perspective!