Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion, Cycle B - March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Cycle B
March 29, 2015 10:30am and 12:30pm
Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air

Rembrandt – at the Crucifixion

When I was back in high school, I remember learning a little bit about the great Dutch artist Rembrandt.

I imagine all of us have learned something about him and his painting.  Rembrandt lived in the 1600s and did a beautiful painting that is entitled The Raising of the Cross.

The painting portrays the final moments before the cross is raised with Jesus on it.  Everyone is dressed as they would have been in Jesus’ time except one person.

The man raising the cross is dressed in the clothing of Rembrandt’s own time, the 1600s.  Rembrandt never explained this, but those who knew him realized that this man in the painting is Rembrandt himself.

Our Role

Now Rembrandt did not put himself in the painting as part of an ego trip.

Instead, he was making an important point.  He was conveying that each of us – including himself – plays a role in the crucifixion of Jesus.

This is why the characters in the story that we just heard are so memorable.
We identify with them. 

We see ourselves in those who were present for the crucifixion of Jesus.  Some of these persons are noble and some are not so noble, but either way, we see ourselves in them and realize that we play a role in the crucifixion – just as Rembrandt was conveying.

Who Are We?

For example, do I identify with Peter?

Am I enthused about my faith one minute, when things in my life are going well?  But then am I giving up on God the next minute, when a job loss or relationship troubles happen?

Or, do I identify with Caiaphas and the high priests?

Am I at peace when my experience of faith is black and white and pretty comfortable?  But then do I quickly resist and shut down to any gray area or anything different that faith may be calling me to consider?

On the flip side, do I identify with the women who followed Jesus all the way to the crucifixion?

Am I patient in dealing with the growing pains of a teenage son or daughter?  Do I persevere in caring for a parent who is aging and needing more and more care?

Or do I identify with Joseph of Arimathea?

Do I do the right thing, not in a showy way, but without too much concern about what others will think?  Do I realize that at the end of the day, inner peace and being true to myself are what count?


So, the key point, the key theme in Rembrandt’s painting is that in our everyday lives, we play a role in Jesus’ final hours.

Either we participate in crucifying and putting Jesus to death.  Or we are doing what we can to make him alive and present right now. 

Friday of the 5th Week of Lent, Cycle B - March 27, 2015

Friday of the 5th Week of Lent
March 27, 2015    8:30am


One of our Catholic authors says that often sin is 1) not doing what we really want to do, or 2) doing what we don’t want to do.
We see this in today’s readings.

The prophet Jeremiah is being resisted and persecuted.
And then, sadly, Jeremiah becomes like his persecutors.
He wants God to take vengeance on them and he even wants to see the vengeance, to see them suffer.
We have to imagine that Jeremiah ends up doing what he doesn’t really want to do.

In today’s gospel, some religious people accuse Jesus of blasphemy – of claiming that he is God.
They are religious people, presumably persons of sincere and good intention.
They must be aware that they are human and imperfect and in need of growing.
All along Jesus has been calling everyone to grow in their relationship with the Father.
But these religious leaders allow self-interest and maybe fear to get in the way, and the result is that they don’t do what they really want to do.
They don’t take any steps in spiritual growth because they won’t admit that Jesus has anything to offer them.

Now, I won’t say that this is the way to understand every possible sin, but it is a good insight into what a lot of sin is about.
Sometimes we do what we really don’t want to do, like Jeremiah in the first reading, and sometimes we don’t do what we realty want to do, like the religious leaders in the second reading.

This might be a good framework for examining our conscience here in these later days of Lent. 

Tuesday of the 5th Week of Lent, Cycle B - March 24, 2015

Tuesday of the 5th Week of Lent
March 24, 2015    8:30am


As I understand it, when we receive a flu vaccine, we actually receive a bit of the flu virus itself.
It is a killed portion of the virus, but still a portion of the flu.
In that way, the curse becomes the cure.
The virus becomes our source of strength and health.

That is kind of what happens in today’s first reading.
The Israelites in the desert are complaining and turning their back on God.
And so, they are punished by being bitten by poisonous serpents.
Then, they turn back to God and God tells Moses to make a figure of one of these serpents and mount it on a pole.
All who look at the figure of the serpent on the pole will be healed.
So the curse becomes the cure.
The poisonous serpent becomes a source of healing and health.

Jesus on the cross in effect calls us to the same thing.
We are all human, imperfect, and sinful.
Jesus dies on the cross for our sins.
Our looking at Jesus on the cross makes us aware of our sinfulness and of God’s great love for us.
And in that sense, the curse becomes the cure once again.
The awareness of the curse of our sins becomes our source of spiritual healing because it opens us to the love of God which is so apparent in Jesus giving his life for us on the cross.

This is an excellent way for us to understand what we are called to do during this season of Lent.

It is why the cross or crucifix needs to be so central to our awareness and our faith.

Monday of the 5th Week of Lent, Cycle B - March 23, 2015

Monday of the 5th Week of Lent
March 23, 2015    6:30am


If we take today’s two readings together, they present us with a kind of buffet of ideas for our reflection.

For starters, Daniel in the first reading and Jesus in the gospel are similar.
They live their lives from a firm center
They are one with God and God’s will and God’s ways.
They are just persons and persons who seek what is just and right.
They act with a peaceful and insightful wisdom.

Then, there is a similarity between the woman in the first reading and Jesus. Both are unjustly accused and made to suffer.

Next, there is a difference between the two women in today’s readings and Jesus.
Both of these women are fortunate to have someone to speak up for them and advocate justice or mercy.
Unlike both of these women, Jesus will have no one to act on his behalf and ward off the harsh judgment of others.

Then, on the surface both passages are about accusations of sexual infidelity. But below the surface, the passages are really more about spiritual fidelity – fidelity to God.
We see that fidelity in Susanna and Daniel in the first reading and in Jesus in the gospel.

Finally, both passages are about the reality of evil.
They are about evil that is the clearly defined breaking of God’s law.
We see this in the gospel, with the woman who apparently had committed adultery, and in the first reading with the two men who falsely accused Susanna.
And the readings are also about evil that is the not-so-clearly defined breaking of God’s law.
We see this in the gospel, with the righteous and religious upholding God’s law to the point of being self-righteous and harshly judgmental.

So, these passages are rich and offer a buffet of themes for our Lenten reflection today.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle B - March 22, 2015

5th Sunday of Lent
Cycle B
March 22, 2015   9:30 and 11am
Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air

Struggle: “Hate”

I have some struggles with today’s gospel.

Jesus says, “Whoever hates their life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”  My first struggle is that I like my life.

I really enjoy good food, like pasta and crab cakes.  I enjoy reading mystery novels and theology books and I like to watch movies.

I enjoy spending time with my family and friends.  And they are just some of the things that I really like about my life.

Resolution: Priority

So, what does Jesus mean when he talks about hating our life in this world”?

Scripture scholars tell us that Jesus is talking about our priorities and choices.  Jesus wants us to make him and his way a priority.

This means that we choose to follow the way of the gospel.  For example, a child would take up for a classmate who is being bullied on the playground.

A teenager or young adult would say no to drugs.  We adults would not stereotype a racial or any minority group but try to understand their background and perspective and life story. 

So hating our life in this world” really means that we make Jesus and his values our priority.  It means that we choose the way of the gospel even when this is difficult and even when this goes against what others are doing.

Struggle: “World”

Now I also struggle with the word worldin this gospel.

Jesus seems to speak pejoratively, negatively, about the world.”  He speaks about “the judgment of the world and “the ruler of the worldbeing driven out.”

I struggle with this because God made the world.  The Book of Genesis says that God looked at what he had made and saw that it was very good.

And yet, this gospel seems to hold the world as in opposition to God or in opposition to the spiritual.  So again, what is Jesus really saying?

Resolution: The Way

A careful reading of the gospels tells us that Jesus is talking about those who do not follow his way.

The idea is that we can choose not to follow the way of Jesus.  And this is what Jesus means by “the world.” 

With this understanding, I think it is better not to see ourselves as on one side – as practicing Christians or Catholic Christians and therefore as “good.”  It is better not to see ourselves as on one side and others, those not following the way of Jesus, “the world,” as on the other side, the bad side. 

I believe that it is better not to separate God or Godly people and the world in this way – better not to take this kind of separatist or dualistic and judgmental approach.  My reason for this is that, in truth, we are all “the world because there are ways that all of us fail to follow Jesus. 

I also think that this applies to how we sometimes speak of the sacred and the secular.  It can be tempting to see the sacred and the secular as completely separate.

It can be tempting to blame all that is wrong on the secular, on what is not faith-based or explicitly religious.  The truth is that at least some of what we might pejoratively label as the secular does a lot of good.

And it is also true that the area that we call the sacred should sometimes do much better in following the way of Jesus.  So I think even here we need to be careful in taking such a separatist or dualistic and judgmental approach.

The truth is that “the world,” as Jesus uses the expression, or the secular to the extent that it is counter to the way of Jesus – this is present in all of us.  So instead of pointing at others, it is better just to do all we can as individuals and as a Church to embrace the way of Jesus.