Welcome to "For Catholic Grownups"

December 9, 2009

Welcome to “For Catholic Grownups”!

This blog is an attempt to provide interesting and worthwhile Catholic Adult Education materials, either texts or podcasts I have produced myself, or links to other good resources.

I am doing this for several reasons. One is to act as a means of distributing to interested people recordings I have already made. Another is to advocate for Adult Catechesis within the Catholic Community, which I believe is sorely neglected in most parishes, despite the priority it is given in official Catholic documents on Catechesis.

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Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

July 13, 2019

July 14 2019

Gospel: Luke 10:25-37 (The Good Samaritan)

‘Sunday Connection’ Scripture Commentary

Question of the Week (Adults): When have you gone out of your way to help a stranger in need?

Question of the Week (Children): Would you help a new students who needed help? Why or why not?

Catechism Connection

1293 – Anointing with oil as a sign of healing
1825 – Christ commands us to be a neighbor to those far away
2083, 2822 – Love God and your neighbor as yourself

See the Online E-Book of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Saints This Week

July 14 Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
July 15 Saint Bonaventure Doctor of the Church
July 16 Our Lady of Mount Carmel patron of Chile
July 17 Servant of God Francis Garcés and Companions martyrs
July 20 Saint Appolinaris martyr

Year C – Fifteenth Sunday of the Year

In the Gospel today is the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. We usually focus on the story, and overlook the context: Jesus has been asked a question about the interpretation of the Law by a Lawyer. So how do we understand Biblical Law, both the Law as expressed in the Old Testament and in the New Testament?

Sometimes people contrast rather naively the attitudes of the Old Testament and the New Testament on matters of Law: thinking that the Old Testament is all about Law and sin and guilt, whereas the New Testament is all about mercy and love. It is said that the Old Testament is harsh and strict, the New Testament is kind and gentle; the Old Testament God is a legalist, who wants to punish, Jesus is full of mercy and says “It’s OK as long as everybody is nice and loves each other.”

But this is not at all accurate. God in the Old Testament is also merciful, and Jesus in the New Testament is also very demanding.

The Scholar of the Law in Judaism had a different role than that of modern lawyers. Much of their responsibility was to guide people to avoid sin, for example, in what they ate, when and how to pray, who to or not to associate with. So they were there to help people in their religious lives, and in particular to help people navigate the various religious purity codes which were important in the daily practice of Jewish people.

There are several ways in which Jesus subverts from within the expectations of his hearers. First of all, within the Judaism of his day, there was a certain literary form, a way of telling stories which always featured “a Priest, a Levite and an Israelite”.  There is a similar literary form in the United Kingdom with stories of “an Englishman, and Irishman and a Scotsman.” Now, if you were a Jewish man, you were either “a Priest, a Levite, or an Israelite” depending upon which tribe you belonged to, so this expression also meant “everybody”, or at least all men. So when Jesus came to the third part of his story, his hearers were no doubt expecting the third person passing along the road to be “an Israelite” so Jesus would have surprised and most probably shocked and scandalized his hearers by making the third man to be “a Samaritan”, a hated and despised enemy, who comes out best in the story by doing the right thing.

The second way in which Jesus subverts the question which is put to him by the lawyer, is that the lawyer asks, “And who is my neighbor?”, wanting to know who he is required to love as himself – and just as important – who he is exempt from loving as himself. But Jesus does not answer his question directly, but turns it around, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?”        

Now, the Priest and the Levite in the story were dutifully obeying the purity code which said that they could not go into the Temple if they had been polluted with blood. No doubt people were waiting for them and would have been very annoyed had they not turned up on time to lead the worship services! But Jesus says that the purpose of the Law is not to “keep yourself clean” but to “get involved when somebody needs you”. The Law commands both of these things, so you have a dilemma. So how do you decide or interpret it? Love and compassion are the guiding principles, teaches Jesus, not purity and legal correctness. As in many of his parables, Jesus is teaching his Jewish hearers how to interpret their own Scriptures, and the guiding principles are always compassion and love, especially to the poorest and weakest people. This is the third way in which Jesus subverts from within the expectation of his hearers, overthrowing the purity codes in favor of compassion.

Also, perhaps those who passed by hoped that someone else would come along and aid the wounded man, “not my problem – I don’t want to get involved”. Fortunately, somebody did stop and help, but they might not have done. Sometimes it is you in particular who has to get involved and help, because there is nobody else there to do what only you can do.

When writing in 2019 at a time when many migrants and refugees are being held in detention camps near the US border with Mexico, the compassion and mercy which Jesus teaches in this parable seems very vivid and alive to us, when we become aware of the poor conditions and lack of dignity given to people who have been the victims of violence and injustice, and who are seeking safety and help in the USA. The parable of The Good Samaritan is not about “being kind to everybody” as some may interpret it in a rather sentimental way, but rather recognizing, seeing, responding to and entering into solidarity with people who are innocent victims of violence and injustice. This parable is asking the USA, “who was a neighbor to the refugees and migrants at our border?”

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 6, 2019

July 7, 2019

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel: Luke 10:1-12, 17-20 (Jesus sends 72 disciples on a mission)

‘Sunday Connection’ Scripture Commentary

Question of the Week (Adults): Where do you see the message of Christian faith being rejected in the world today? What is your reacation to that?

Question of the Week (Children): What can you do when you are generous with others, and they do not want what you give them?

Catechism Connection

765 – The Disciples share in Jesus’ mission
787 – Jesus shared his life, mission, joys and sufferings with his Disciples

See the Online E-Book of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Saints This Week

July 8 Saint Gregory Grassi and Companions, martyrs 
July 9 Saint Nicholas Pick and Companions, martyrs
July 10 Saint Veronica Giuliani
July 11 Saint Benedict, patron of Europe, Kidney Disease, Poisoning, Schoolchildren
July 12 Saints John Jones and John Wall, martyrs
July 13 Saint Henry

Year C – Fourteenth Sunday of the Year

In this episode from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus sends out his 72 disciples, in pairs (some commentators think this is husbands and wives together) to go ahead of him and bring the good news of the Kingdom of God to the towns Jesus was about to visit. In other words, they were Evangelists, heralds of the “Good News”.

Jesus uses the expression, “the harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” As Catholics we probably associate this expression with an appeal for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. However, note the original context: Jesus was looking for ‘lay evangelists’, for disciples willing to bear witness to the Good News.

We get the impression from this story that the people Jesus asked were frightened of undertaking this task. Jesus reassures them in many ways. He gives them detailed instructions, and assures them that they will not come to any harm. For us, who are probably very reluctant evangelizers, we need to hear that same message! After they return, they rejoice in their success – even Satan is fleeing before them! We too can become effective evangelists if only we prepare well and set out in faith.

Please note also the First Reading of the Mass today which comes from the Prophet Isaiah. It is a very vivid picture of Jerusalem – and of God – being like a mother, suckling her children at the breast. We are used to picturing God as “Father”, but the scriptures use many different images of God, each of which reveals something new or different of who God really is and what God is like. We should not be worried or upset by language or images about God which is out of the ordinary. God is mother to us, as well as Father.

A note to any students of Economics reading this text: Adam Smith derived the title of his famous book “The Wealth of Nations” from this passage in Isaiah 66.

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

June 22, 2019

Gospel: Luke 9:11b-17 (Multiplication of the Loaves)

‘Sunday Connection’ Scripture Commentary

Question of the Week (Adults): When have you been most blesssed, and when have you felt a little “broken” in your service to others?

Question of the Week (Children): Why is it important to keep on giving, even when you are tired?

Catechism Connection

There are no references to this Gospel in the Catechism

See the Online E-Book of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Saints This Week

June 23 Saint Joseph Cafasso patron of Prisoners, Prussia
June 24 Nativity of John the Baptist
June 26 Saint Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer
June 27 Saint Cyril and Alexandria
June 28 Saint Irenaeus
June 29 Saints Peter and Paul  

Scriptures – The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

The Church places before us today a variety of Scriptural texts which all reflect upon the meaning of the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ.

Our First Reading is from the Book of Genesis, and presents to us two important concepts, three if you count tithing! First, Melchizedek is “a priest of God Most High”. Through him Abram offers thanks and praise to God. Melchizedek is a “type” of the person of Christ and his priesthood, and the major Christian argument for this is presented at length in the Letter to the Hebrews. It is crucial for us as Christians understanding both the priesthood of Christ and the Sacrifice of Christ.

Second, the use of bread and wine in the sacrifice Abram offered with Melchizedek also prefigures Christian practice in the Eucharist, and of course Jewish practice before that in the Passover.

Psalm 110 picks up this theme, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” The author of Hebrews uses this text and applies it to Jesus.

The Second reading comes not from Hebrews but from 1 Corinthians 11, and includes the earliest account we have of the “institution narrative”, of what Jesus did at the Last Supper to institute the Eucharist. These words are very familiar to us, because all the Eucharistic Prayers we know use this form of words.

The Gospel is Luke’s telling of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. This story has always had a Eucharistic interpretation, which is very deliberate and intended by the Gospel writer. Note the sequence of verbs:

  1. Jesus ‘took’ the loaves and fish
  2. He ‘blessed’ them
  3. He ‘broke’ them
  4. He ‘gave’ or ‘shared’ them

Look back at 1 Corinthians and you will see exactly the same sequence. This remains exactly what we do in the celebration of the Eucharist. 

Fourth Sunday of Easter

May 11, 2019

Gospel: John 10:27-30 (Jesus the Good Shepherd)

‘Sunday Connection’ Scripture Commentary

Question of the Week (Adults): Whom do you try to protect, as Christ protects you?

Question of the Week (Children): Who helps you feel safe and protected? Whom can you take care of and help feel safe?

Catechism Connection

590 – Jesus’ identity with the Father

See the Online E-Book of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Saints This Week

May 12 Saint Pancras
May 13 Our Lady of Fatima
May 14 Saint Matthias
May 15 Saint Isidore the Farmer patron of Farmers and Laborers 
May 16 Saint Peregrine Laziosi patron and cancer and AIDS patients
May 17 Saint Paschal Baylon patron of Shepherds 
May 18 Saint John I Pope, martyr

Scriptures – Fourth Sunday of Easter

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is often called ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ because the Gospel Reading speaks of Jesus in this way. It is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. There is a connection between the two in the call to the ordained ministry, serving Christ by also being a shepherd to God’s people. This Gospel fits well into the Easter season, as it is a reaffirmation of the eternal life which is given to human beings, as a result of the resurrection of Jesus. That eternal life is imperishable, and nobody who receives it can ever lose it.

The Second Reading today from the Book of Revelation affirms that Jesus is the “Lamb of God” who once sacrificed not sits in glory enthroned before God. It is also the Lamb who now becomes the Shepherd, to lead his flock to the ‘life-giving waters’ of eternal life. Look at the stained glass window just behind the Tabernacle at St. Thomas More. Note the figure of the ‘Lamb of God’ in the middle at the bottom. This image is drawn from the Book of Revelation, and indicates Jesus as the Lamb of God, the slaughtered victim who has become victorious over sin and death. We also now have the Lamb of God statue, portraying this same scene from the Book of Revelation, above the Baptism font.

The First Reading from Acts, and the Second Reading from Revelation – which is almost a meditation upon it – show that the early Christians were persecuted for their faith in Jesus, and for proclaiming it. Whereas God promises us life and peace, the world often responds with persecution and death. Yet in the middle of that persecution, the Good Shepherd guides and protects his sheep.

Lesson Theme Suggestion – Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and cares for us and loves us. God gives us eternal life which can never be taken away. Being a follower of Jesus means that sometimes you might be persecuted.

A Note on Shepherds in the Bible – Shepherds were important in the world of the Old Testament. Without the shepherd and his dog, the herd of sheep could not survive, and this led to the use of shepherding as an image of ministry. The chief shepherd is God, “who has been my shepherd, from my birth to this day” (Genesis 48:15). Many of the major figures of the Old Testament were shepherds, including Abraham, Moses, and David. The prophets criticized the kings for not being good shepherds, and Jeremiah foresaw a time when God “will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble” (Jeremiah 23:4).

Third Sunday of Easter

May 4, 2019

Gospel: John 21:1-19 (Jesus appears at the Sea of Tiberias)

‘Sunday Connection’ Scripture Commentary

Question of the Week (Adults): In what ways are you answering Jesus’ command to Peter, “Feed my sheep”?

Question of the Week (Children): What do you do to take care of others as Jesus asked peter to do?

Catechism Connection

448 – Jesus’ title of ‘Lord’
553, 881 – Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter
643, 644, 645 – Jesus’ Resurrection appearances
659 – Jesus’ risen glory
1166 – Celebrating the Resurrection on ‘The Eighth Day’ or ‘The Lord’s Day’
1429 – Saint Peter’s Conversion

See the Online E-Book of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Saints This Week

May 5 Saint Hilary of Arles
May 6 Blessed Gerard of Lunel 
May 7 Saint Rose Venerini
May 8 Saint Peter of Tarentaise
May 9 Saint Catherine of Bologna patron of Art and Artists
May 10 Saint Damian of Molokai
May 11 Saint Ignatius of Laconi

Scriptures – Third Sunday of Easter

The Gospel today gives us another story of an appearance of Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection. As before, in the stories of his post-Easter appearances, we get the same pattern:

  1. he appears out of nowhere
  2. he is not recognized
  3. he reveals himself
  4. he gives a mission.

Also, rather like last week, there is an emphasis on the physical reality of Jesus. He is not a ghost, nor only in their imagination, if he can cook the breakfast and share it with them.

Perhaps the most telling part of this story is the conversation between Jesus and Peter. Note the presence of the charcoal fire, which links this story to Peter’s denial of Jesus, also in front of a charcoal fire. Remember how Peter had denied Jesus three times: now Jesus asks him three times if he loves him more than all the others. It is a moment of reconciliation. Also, Jesus gives Peter a mission, to “feed my sheep” to take over from Jesus the role of the ‘Good Shepherd’, to support and strengthen the other disciples. Then Jesus talks to Peter of his death, of the demands of discipleship. This shows that the disciple must be like the master. Jesus reminds Peter again, “follow me”, which is the fundamental meaning of discipleship.

Lesson Theme Suggestion – Jesus was really alive and the disciples saw him again. He is not a ghost if he can eat breakfast. Jesus forgives Peter, then gives him a mission. We likewise are forgiven so much that Jesus trusts us to do his work.

Second Sunday of Easter

April 28, 2019

April 28

Gospel: John 20:19-31 (Jesus appears to his Disciples and Thomas)

‘Sunday Connection’ Scripture Commentary

Question of the Week (Adults): When has your faith in the Living Christ helped you to overcome fear?

Question of the Week (Children): What could you do this Easter season to help someone feel less afraid?

Catechism Connection

448 – Jesus’ title of ‘Lord’
643, 644, 645 – Jesus’ Resurrection appearances
659 – Jesus’ risen glory
730 – Jesus gives both the Holy Spirit and his mission to his disciples
976 – Jesus gives the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins
1287 – The Spirit is poured out on the whole messianic people
1441 – Jesus gives the power to forgive sins in his name
1461 – Forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation

See the Online E-Book of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Saints This Week

April 28 Saint Peter Chanel Martyr, patron of Oceania
April 29 Saint Catherine of Siena Doctor of the Church, patron or Europe, Italy
April 30 Saint Pius V Pope
May 1 Saint Joseph the Worker  
May 2 Saint Athanasius Doctor of the Church
May 3 Saints Philip and James Apostles, patrons of Uruguay
May 4 Blessed Michael Giedroyc 
 

Scriptures – Second Sunday of Easter

In the stories of Jesus’ post-Easter appearances we often get this pattern: he appears out of nowhere, perhaps in the guise of a stranger, he reveals himself, gives words of comfort (“Peace be with you”), and gives a mission (“as the Father sent me, so am I sending you”), and then disappears again.

From the moment of his resurrection the disciples are to do and to be what Jesus was. As Jesus was sent by the Father, so now it is our turn to carry on the mission. As Jesus “went about doing good in the power of the Holy Spirit,” in the words of St. Peter, so now the Spirit is given to us to do the same. Jesus gives the Spirit to his disciples, and the power to forgive sins.

In today’s Gospel we have the story of “doubting Thomas”. Thomas was not convinced by the stories of Jesus’ resurrection – he wanted to see for himself, to see that Jesus was real flesh and blood and not an apparition or a ghost. His questioning was rewarded, and it elicited from Jesus a saying which applies to all subsequent generations of Christians, including us: “You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

The very first Christians believed and felt very strongly that Jesus was alive and living with them, though not in the usual way. How were they aware of Jesus’ presence? One way that they found him was by living a life full of joy and peace even when facing persecution. Another was in their experience of gathering on “the Lord’s Day” to celebrate the Eucharist. This pattern of life not only reveals to us who live it the presence of Christ, but also reveals it also to others. The most important way that people have come to believe in Christ is through their perception of him in the life of Christian communities.

Lesson Theme Suggestion – In the resurrection, Jesus arose bodily from the grave. He was not a ghost! It happened on “the first day of the week” – The Lord’s Day – that we find him especially in out midst, in the Eucharist.

Easter Sunday

April 20, 2019

April 21, 2019

Gospel: John 20:1-9 (Mary Magdalene and Peter at the Tomb)

‘Sunday Connection’ Scripture Commentary

Question of the Week (Adults): When change could the hope of the Resurrection of Christ inspire you to make?

Question of the Week (Children): What bad habit would you like to “clear out” during the hopeful time of this Easter season?

Catechism Connection

640 – The Empty Tomb
2174 – Jesus rose on ‘The Lord’s Day’

See the Online E-Book of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Saints This Week

April 21 Saint Anselm
April 23 Saint George patron of England, Germany, Malta, Portugal, Boy Scouts, Soldiers
April 24 Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen
April 25 Saint Mark Evangelist, patron of Notaries
April 27 Saint Simeon

Easter Sunday is the most important and the most mysterious of the celebrations of our liturgical year. No words are adequate to express the profound significance of the Resurrection of Jesus.

The brief account by Peter in the Acts of the Apostles describes the faith of the early Church in the Resurrection of Jesus. Peter describes Jesus’ resurrection as part of God’s plan from the beginning, that God had chosen witnesses to attest to this mighty act, and that Peter and others had “ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” attesting not only to Jesus’ physical reality, but also making reference to “recognizing him in the Breaking of the Bread”, to the presence of Jesus in the celebration of the Eucharist, as attested in the Road to Emmaus story (Luke 24:13-25).

We hear a very different account of the Resurrection in John’s Gospel. Nowhere in Christian scriptures do we hear the story of how the Resurrection happened. Rather, we hear of its effects upon the believers. In this story Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty and runs to tell Peter. Peter and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (whom we understand to be John) run to the tomb and find that indeed it is empty, and that the burial cloths are all that is left. “The disciple whom Jesus loved” is first to believe, for, we are told, “they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead”. This theme that Jesus’ Resurrection is foretold in Scripture is also strongly present in the reading from Acts, and in today’s Psalm, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord”.

Our faith is both founded upon and challenged by the declaration that God has raised Jesus from the dead. We pray that that our faith becomes more real during this Easter season.

Good Friday

April 19, 2019

Gospel: John 18:1-19:42 (The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ)

Question of the Week (Adults):

Can you say that you have grown through your experience of physical or emotional suffering? Why or why not?

Question of the Week (Children):

How can the story of Jesus’ suffering make it easier for you to face something painful or uncomfortable?

Good Friday Homily – by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher of the Pontifical Household

Catechism Connection

 217 – Jesus bears witness to the truth
440 – The meaning of Jesus’ kingship is revealed on the cross
478 – The Sacred Heart of Jesus
544 – The Kingdom belongs to the poor and lowly
549 – The signs of the Kingdom of God
559 – Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem
575 – Jesus’ relations with the Jewish leaders
595, 596 – Divisions among the Jewish authorities concerning Jesus
600 – The blindness of those who plotted against Jesus
607 – Jesus’ desire to embrace God’s plan of redemption
608 – Jesus is called ‘The Lamb of God’
609 – Jesus freely accepts his suffering and death out of salvific love
624 – Jesus experienced death
730 – Jesus give his spirit into his Father’s hands
964, 2619, 2679  – Mary prays at the foot of the cross
1225 – Blood and water from the side of Jesus symbolize Baptism and the Eucharist
1432 – The human heart is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced
2605 – Jesus’ last words on the cross

Good Friday

What we are considering over Good Friday and Easter is what gives us our belief as Christians and our understanding of God. For the Jewish people it was the story of the Exodus, as told to us on Holy Thursday, which was their primordial experience of God; for us it is the story of Jesus’ last days upon earth – and we reflect upon this story to discover the meaning of Jesus’ life for us as God’s revelation of himself.

What was God’s plan for Jesus? Did God his Father wish his beloved son to die a painful death? Why did Jesus die?

Jesus himself described his mission: to preach that the kingdom of God was near, to seek out and save the lost. He said that he wanted to bring people life in abundance, the fullness of joy. He wanted them to know just how completely loved by God they were, and how they can love each other too. He spoke about the Kingdom of God, and brought it about by his actions, and showed people how they can find it for themselves. This was Jesus’ plan, and God’s plan for Jesus – I would like to call it “Plan A” – on how the kingdom of God would come about: Jesus would tell and show people, they would all respond and say, “yes, how wonderful, this is what we have been looking for.”

But we know that this is not what happened. Jesus’ preaching and his life brought him into conflict with others who spoke in the name of a false god, a god who would keep people trapped in guilt and helplessness, who threatened people with punishment and violence. God’s plan, “Plan A”, ran into opposition and in fact was defeated. People did not listen and change their ways. Well, some did, but only a few: mostly the outcasts, the sinners, the prostitutes, the victims of respectable society; certainly not many of the righteous and religious people.

I don’t think that God wanted Jesus to die, this was not part of the plan, not of “Plan A” anyway. But once God became part of human history in Jesus, it was almost inevitable.

Jesus’ enemies thought to defeat him, and they almost succeeded, when they had him put to death. But God was not to be defeated, and so there was a change of plans, to what I will call “Plan B.” I do not believe that it was God’s wish that Jesus should die on the cross – his own son, innocent and just? No human father would wish this to happen to his own child; God, who is all goodness and love, even less so. Can we see a change from “Plan A” to “Plan B” in the gospel story? Well, perhaps we can. The confrontation between Jesus proclaiming the message and the people not accepting it came to a head at the moment of his arrest. We saw Jesus agonizing in the garden, knowing what was about to happen, and struggling to accept it.

So why did it happen and why did Jesus die on the cross? There are various ways that people try to explain this. Most often people try to say that it was part of God’s plan, and that it was predicted in the Scriptures. But why was this the plan, which seems so arbitrary and cruel? People try to understand the cross using ideas which come from the Old Testament, especially ideas of sacrifice. People say that a sacrifice is necessary to begin the New Covenant, as one was necessary in the Old Testament for the Old Covenant. Or that the death of Jesus was like the sacrifices of the Old Testament, an offering to God for the expiation of sin.

But with all of these ideas, which are still part of our Christian heritage, people start with an idea of what God is like, and then try to explain the cross. But what I think we should do is start with the experience of cross – the death of Jesus, and go on from there to see what we learn about God, and most especially, what we can learn about how God really loves us.

Perhaps the question is: what kind of relationship of love does God have with human beings? Does God himself go by the way of the cross, or remain untouched by all the crosses which human beings have to carry throughout history, because God is essentially untouchable? The question isn’t just about how does God forgive sins, but the problem of injustice and sinfulness in the world. Not just how God can forgive an offence, but how he can take away the sin that leads to the cross of his son and all the crosses of history.

The death of Jesus shows us how far God goes in sharing human existence. If people will not listen and change, as was Jesus’ hope, then Jesus – and God himself – must carry the weight of sin from which the people do not turn.

“If he is God’s friend,” said the crowds, “Let God rescue him from the cross”. This mocking taunt implies two questions:

Who is really God: The Father of Jesus or the oppressive God? What is true power really about? The power to hurt or to heal? of death or life? of hatred or love?

But Jesus was not rescued. He was faithful unto death, death on a cross, a most shameful and painful death. When Jesus died, it was as if God died. God shared in the bitter loss of his beloved son, the loss that no parent can bear to face, because he had to finish what he had begun. He shared the lot of suffering humanity to the end.

In St. Paul’s writings he says that he preaches Christ crucified as the central message of Christianity. This is, he says, a stumbling block to the Jews and stupidity to the Greeks: stupidity to the Greeks because they believed that God could not suffer: God was perfect and so could undergo no change, feel no pain.

But God suffered the pain of the death of his Son. So we can learn from the death of Jesus that God is with us in the depths of our pain, that God’s love for us is stronger and more important even than life or death, even more so than the death of his son.

Holy Thursday

April 18, 2019

Gospel: John 13:1-15 (Jesus washes his disciples’ feet)

Question of the Week (Adults):

What is the most difficult thing you have done as a service to another person?

Question of the Week (Children):

What is the hardest thing you have ever done for a person who needed your help?

Catechism Connection

447 – Jesus’ title ‘Lord’
520 – Jesus is the model for our lives
609 – Jesus “loved them to the end”
616 – Jesus’ love for all give his sacrifice value for redemption
1085 – Christ’s Paschal Mystery is ever-present in the liturgy
1694 – Following Jesus’ example

Holy Thursday

In the Instruction for the Mass today it says “The homily should explain the principal mysteries which are commemorated in the Mass: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the Priesthood, and Christ’s commandment of brotherly love.” It begins with the Passover and ends with the Cross.

Let us first get some of the atmosphere of the day. The Passover was the greatest Jewish feast day. The city of Jerusalem would have been crowded with people from all over the world. There would have been a lot of excitement, as much as anything because of what Jesus had been saying and doing. The Roman authorities who ruled the city were afraid that there might be a riot, or worse. Jesus was almost in hiding and had to make the arrangements for the Passover celebration with his disciples in secret. He knew that his enemies were out to kill him, and that one of his closest friends was about to betray him. Yet in the middle of all this, he takes the time to celebrate with his closest friends God’s liberation of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Perhaps these words from the psalm The Lord is my Shepherd may have been in his mind: “You prepare a banquet for me in the sight of my foes.” He knew that it would be his last meal with his friends, so he wanted to make it a memorable and special occasion.

The Passover celebration was a big family affair, everyone had a part to play. The children had games to play and songs to sing; the mother of the family lit the candles to begin. All were invited, including “the stranger in your midst.” It commemorated the liberation of Israel from Egypt, which made Israel a people and by which they came to know God. It was very real and immediate: it wasn’t something in the distant past, it was alive and real today. At one point in the evening, when one of the children ask the father why they are celebrating, he says that it is because “The Lord our God brought me out of Egypt.” It was an important day for the Jews because it commemorated how they came to know God – as a people – and therefore what gave them their identity and their loyalty to each other.

The meal had much eating and drinking, lots of prayers, songs and ceremony. Jesus took the last piece of bread and the last cup. He must have surprised everyone with what he did: what did he mean when he said, “this is my body, this is my blood”? What links it to the his death on Cross? In both cases notion of self-giving and sharing. It is important to us because it binds us together in the way we come to know God. We come to know God in something we do together. We know God in many ways, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, through sharing bread and wine together, and through the loving service represented by the washing of the feet. As we often say at Mass, “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord Jesus, until you come again.”

The celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is also about the institution of the priesthood. But this is not a day which belongs to priests, just as the Mass and the Eucharist does not belong to priests: it belongs to all. Some people believe that at the Last Supper as if Jesus “ordained” the Apostles as “priests”. But there is no suggestion that he did so from the story of the Last Supper as we hear it. To say that Jesus ordained the apostles as priests at the Last Supper is a case of reading something into the story which was never there, because some people (priests, mostly) think that Jesus really should have done so. Jesus never ordained anyone to the best of our knowledge, though we hear of ordination (the appointment of elders) in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1;5-9.

But one can speak in a way of the institution of Christian Ministry in a broader sense, in the Washing of the Feet. When Jesus had washed his disciples’ feet, he said to them, “I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.” So he shows the attitude which should govern Christian ministry, humble service, not lording it over other people as – he said – the pagans do.

So, let’s be honest, there is nothing romantic or exciting about washing feet. We feel embarrassed about them: just try finding twelve people to be willing to have them washed on Holy Thursday! Most people are too embarrassed to have their feet washed in public.

In washing the feet, Jesus took the position of a slave. Peter would not let him demean himself, trying – as usual – to protect Jesus’ dignity, and getting it all wrong. Imagine how Jesus felt when he came to Peter; Peter, one of his dearest friends, who within hours would deny he ever knew him. This does not stop Jesus serving him and loving him. Again, imagine how he felt when he came to Judas, who was still with the other disciples at this point. Judas was about to do something even worse, to betray Jesus to his enemies. This still does not stop Jesus serving him and loving him, perhaps hoping that this act of love might help him to change his mind and remain loyal. Indeed, Jesus knew that all the disciples would run away and abandon him when he needed them most. So perhaps we can see another level of meaning in the washing of the feet: it is an act of reconciliation and forgiveness, even before the betrayal takes place.

Jesus explains what he has done and why, and that we should do the same for each other. Jesus says “you call me Master and Lord, and rightly, …” He makes a point about the nature of God’s power: it is a power to serve, to heal, to reconcile, not to dominate or oppress. This too is part of the example we are given to imitate, in the way we use the power we have over other people.

So, Jesus shows us by his example that Christian ministry begins in serving unromantic human need, in getting our hands dirty and not being afraid of getting involved in smelly and undignified things. It is another form of self-giving, therefore at one with the Cross. It is also part of the experience of the Incarnation, finding God in human life. The Incarnation does not just mean finding God in the person of Jesus, but finding God in all of human life, most especially in people and actions which are loving and life-giving, and as we learn from seeing Jesus on the cross, seeing God in the one who is victimized, shamed and excluded.

If we contrast the cross and the feet: the cross is, in a way, something a hero does, to die bravely. Washing feet, changing the baby’s daiper, caring for an infirm relative day after day is not the stuff of legends, but it has a similar meaning to the cross, giving one’s life in the service of others, out of love. “God loved the world so much that he sent his only son to wash our feet” as much as to die on the cross.

So as we celebrate this feast today, we are aware of various things: like a Jewish family gathering to celebrate the Passover, we are part of the family of people who know and love and honour Jesus. We are all here because we hope to keep the memory of Jesus alive, we hope to be close to Jesus, by doing what he did. When we wash feet, when we share bread and wine, when we love one another as he loves us, we hope to live the life that Jesus lived, to find God in our hearts, to know him truly. When we receive the Eucharist, which he instituted on this day, we remember that Jesus promises to love us and serve us and give his life for us: he asks us to do the same for each other, because we are all one body.

Passion Sunday

April 14, 2019

Gospel: Luke 22:14-23:56 (The Passion of Jesus)

‘Sunday Connection’ Scripture Commentary

Question of the Week (Adults): When have you felt that you betrayed the confidence of another,  as Peter did when he denied Jesus?

Question of the Week (Children): When have you let someone down who trusted you? How did you feel?

Catechism Connection 

440 – The meaning of Jesus’ Kingship is revealed on the Cross
449 – Jesus is given the divine title ‘Lord’
472 – Jesus’ human knowledge
591 – The Sanhedrin misunderstands Jesus
596 – Divisions among the Jewish authorities concerning Jesus
597 – The Jewish people cannot be blamed for the death of Jesus
602 – God “made Jesus into sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God”
607 – Jesus desired to embrace his Father’s plan of redemption
610 – Jesus made the Last Supper the memorial of his self-offering to the Father
612 – In the Garden of Gethsemenai Jesus accepts the “Cup of suffering”
633 – Jesus “descended into Hell” to free the souls of the just
641 – Mary Magdalene and her women companions are the first witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus
643 – The Resurrection is a historical fact
713 – The ‘Servant Songs’ in the prophet Isaiah (42, 49, 50-53) reveal the characteristics of the Messiah
730 – As Jesus dies, he commends his Spirit into his Father’s hands
876 – Christian ministers are “slaves of Christ” and must become slaves of all
1011 – In death we are called to God
1328 – The Sacrament of the Eucharist
1365 – The Eucharist is a sacrifice
2600 – Jesus prays before his Passion
2605 – Jesus prays on the Cross

See the Online E-Book of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

It is difficult if not impossible to comment briefly on the story of the Passion and Death of Jesus, so today I will look only at St. Paul’s own comment upon it, which we hear in the Second Reading, Philippians 2:6-11.

Many people in ancient times thought of God as being entirely distant and separate from this world, unable and unwilling to get involved with material creation. So it was an amazing thing that God became flesh, became as one of us, when Jesus was born of Mary. But the question is: how far did God go in taking on the human condition?

For God to become human at all is a great condescension; even if the Son of God was to come as a powerful earthly King, it would still be a great step down from heaven. But he went even further than that. He was born into a poor and homeless family, so he came to share the lot of ordinary people, to be poor with them and share their struggles and sufferings.

But is this the limit? No it is not. In St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians he wrote that though Jesus had the right to claim equality with God, he did not do so – he took on the position of a slave, indicating to us that God’s power is one of love and service, not of domination. But he went even further than this, accepting a painful and shameful death. Therefore there is no extremity of human suffering or experience which he has not experienced. So whatever we may suffer or experience, we can know that God has been there too and Jesus is there with us.

Lesson Theme Suggestion– God’s love for us is so great, that He was willing to offer up to death his only Son, Jesus. Loving self-sacrifice is the pattern of life for Christians, following the example of Jesus.