Saturday, March 31, 2018

Good Friday, Cycle B - March 30, 2018

Good Friday
Cycle B
March 30, 2018
Retreat and Conference Center at Bon Secours

The Third Cross

About ten years ago, a Muslim man was visiting a small Trappist monastery in the Northern African country of Algeria.

This Muslim and the prior of the monastery were friends.  The prior took his guest on a tour of the building, and eventually they came to the chapel.

The Muslim stopped and just starred at the crucifix.  Eventually, the prior asked his friend what he saw in the cross.

The Muslim man said: “I see maybe three crosses here, certainly two crosses.  There is definitely the cross in front and the cross in the back.

“The one in the front is formed by the extended arms of Jesus.  It was created by God and is the cross of God’s embracing love.

“The second cross is the one behind Jesus.  It was made by humanity and is the cross of hatred.

“But it was love and not really nails that attached Jesus to this second cross.  And it is this love which keeps drawing us to him.”

The prior could see all of this, but he asked his Muslim friend: “What is the third cross that you see?”  The visitor responded: “The third cross, it seems to me, is between the other two crosses.

“Isn’t it perhaps you and I struggling to loosen ourselves from the cross of evil and sin behind, so that we can bind ourselves to the cross of love in front?  Isn’t the struggle of moving from violence to peacemaking, from hatred to love, isn’t that struggle a third cross?”

Good Friday

That Muslim man is quite insightful.

We can discern three crosses on every crucifix.  And by the way, maybe this is one of the values in having a crucifix – a cross with the figure of Jesus on it – and not just a plain cross: the opportunity to discern these three crosses.

We are moved by the first cross.  This cross is Jesus himself reaching out to us with the love of God.

Then we are confronted by the second cross.  This cross is the one that we construct out of our self-centeredness and insecurity, out of our pride and ego, and out of our narrowness and tribalism – the cross on which we crucify both Jesus and one another.

Good Friday calls us to take up the third cross.  It calls us to embrace the humility and forgiveness of the Christ on the first cross.

It calls us to loosen ourselves from the crosses we have made – the second cross.  And it calls us to attach ourselves to the self-giving, sacrificial love of God – and that is the third cross.

I hope that this will be a helpful way for us to look at the crucifix from now on.  And I hope it is a helpful way for us to venerate the cross here this afternoon.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Holy Thursday, Cycle B - March 29, 2018

Holy Thursday
Cycle B
March 29, 2018
Retreat and Conference Center at Bon Secours

“Took, Blessed, Broke, and Gave”

In a few minutes, I will stand here at the altar and lead the Eucharistic Prayer.

I will repeat some words that we have heard many times. The prayer says that Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to his disciples.”

This evening, I am focusing on those four action words. Jesus took, blessed, broke, and gave.”

What I am thinking is that Jesus has also taken and blessed, broken and given us. Here is what I have in mind.

We Are Taken and Blessed

First, we are taken and blessed.

I remember when I was growing up in the Northwood community of Baltimore City, we would often organize our own baseball games on a field in the neighborhood. Each time we did this, two of us would be the managers of the two teams and would take turns choosing players from among the guys who were there.

Well, it was a big deal to be taken or chosen first. It meant that you were a good player and it was a real ego-booster.

Thank God, in the end, everyone was taken. No one was left out.

Well, the first thing we have to realize in the spiritual life is that God has taken and blessed each one of us.  God has spoken over us the same words that the Father speaks over Jesus at his baptism: “You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter.”

In this, God has touched the very core of our being. In and through Jesus, God has made us valued and worthy, wanted and loved.

This is so important as our foundation for living in today’s world. In our world, value and worth is often contingent on having sparkling white teeth or having a good job or owning a BMW or whatever.

But in truth, Jesus assures us that God has already taken and blessed each one of us. No one is excluded, like in my childhood pick-up baseball games.

What a wonderful sense of self and what a strong foundation for living this is for us. God, Jesus has taken and blessed us.

We Are Broken and Given

And then, Jesus has broken and given us.

Here we have to understand the word broken a little bit differently. Jesus has not really broken us.

Instead, he wants us to realize that we are broken. Each one of us is broken in at least some way.

We are all broken because we are human. We are incomplete in our own humanity and we are restless for the wholeness that only God can give.

We may be broken because of something that has happened to us or because of an addiction or because of a lost relationship. Or maybe because we feel guilty about something we have done.

So, Jesus wants us to be aware of our brokenness. And then, with that awareness, we can be given.

We can be given or give of ourselves with compassion and wisdom. We can do this with loved ones, family and friends.

We can do this with those in our local church or community or with co-workers at our jobs. And we can do this with those whio are living in desperate situations and whom we may never personally know.

In other words, we will be given authentically and fully because we know that we ourselves are also broken. That is the richness of these words.  


I conclude with this.

At the Last Supper, Jesus “took, blessed, broke, and gave” the bread to us. He gives us his own body and blood to nourish and strengthen us on our journey.

And he also gives us this bread so that we, in turn, can be bread, a bread of life for one another. This will happen as we realize that we also are taken and blessed, broken and given.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion, Cycle B - March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Cycle B
March 25, 2018

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. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle B - March 18, 2018

5th Sunday of Lent
Cycle B
March 18, 2018         
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville         8:00 am
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore  11:00am

Two Struggles

I struggle with two things in today’s gospel. Actually, it is two words.

1st Struggle: “Hate”

My first struggle is with the word hate.”

Jesus says, “Whoever hates their life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” Well, I don’t hate my life; in fact, I like it.

I really enjoy good food, things 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.

1st Resolution: Priority

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

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

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

A teenager or young adult would refuse to experiment with drugs and might even choose other friends to hang out with. We adults would be faithful to our life commitments – to marriage and family, or for me, to priesthood.

So hating our life in this world” means that we make Jesus and his values our priority.  It means that we do this even when it is difficult and even when it goes against what others are doing.

2nd Struggle: “World”

Now I also struggle with the word world.

Jesus seems to speak negatively about the world.”  He talks 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.

I find so much of creation beautiful and I find a lot of goodness in the world. And yet, this gospel seems to see the world as bad.

2nd Resolution: The Way

So again, what does Jesus really mean here?

Scripture scholars interpret this in context – and that’s really important for understanding the Scripture correctly – the context. The idea is that Jesus is not saying that the world itself is evil.

Instead, the word world, as Jesus uses it, means life not lived according to the way of the gospel – life not lived according to the way of the gospel. In other words, not hatingour lives.

So this would mean the child at school goes along with bullying a classmate or a teen tries drugs or we adults waver on our commitments when the grass looks greener on the other side or when the going gets tough. The word world means choosing something other than the way of the gospel.

Jesus wants us to realize that the world, again, as he uses the word, that the world can be in all of us. And it is from this that we need fuller conversion.


This takes me to one final thought that kind of wraps all of this together.

Jesus says today: “When I am lifted up, I will draw everyone to myself.” Here “lifted up” means Jesus being “lifted up” on the cross.

He says that this will draw “everyone” to himself. This will happen because his being “lifted up” shows us God’s unlimited love for us.

This is also what the word “glorified” means. Jesus says: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

Being “glorified” means making God present. And this happens in the great demonstration of God’s love when Jesus is “lifted up” on the cross.

This love is so powerful that it moves us to repent of the elements of the world that are within us. It moves us to hate our lives, in the Scriptural understanding of that word, and to make Jesus and his way our priority.