Today is Spy Wednesday and one of the more spiritually difficult days of the year in my opinion. While today’s Gospel passage is from John 13, where we encounter Judas at the last supper with Jesus, the story from Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 26:14-25) giving us the account of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus where he plans to hand him over to the chief priests in exchange for 30 pieces of silver is our focus here. We all know the story and for me, it is really hard to hear.
Here is a man who has been with Jesus since the beginning. He heard the words Jesus spoke, he listened to his teaching, he shared meals with him and witnessed the many miracles Jesus worked, and yet in Matthew 26:16, it says, “and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.” He is willing to just hand Jesus over to the men who want Him dead! It is shocking and sobering. Yet, how well, at times has this story represented the way I have treated my relationship with Christ?! How often have I been willing to give up my faith for those who want Jesus’ name unspoken?
As I reflected more on this one line I was struck by the wording of “looked for an opportunity.” That is what we, who are engaging in the new evangelization, are constantly asked to do. We are asked to look for that opportunity to share the way that Jesus Christ has changed our lives. It is striking that we, who also call ourselves disciples of Christ, who also spend time with him, read his words and ask him to speak to us and perform miracles in our lives and the lives of those we love (and often are witnesses of those miracles!) are presented today with a choice: look for opportunities to hand him over or look for opportunities to hand him on. Today, let’s take on the challenge to do reparation for the sins of Judas and look for the next opportunity to hand on the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Lent has officially started, and perhaps on your Facebook or Twitter or Instagram feed you have already been inundated with articles and infographs like “40 things to give up this Lent” or “15 Ways to Make the Most out of Lent” or even “10 Things You Shouldn’t Give Up this Lent.” But so many of those articles seem to assume something that I’m not certain it is safe to assume: What is the purpose of fasting?
I am a member of a small prayer group here at the Archdiocese’s central offices and yesterday, on Ash Wednesday we prayed together through Luke 5:33-39 where Jesus is questioned about why his disciples did not fast. Jesus, I think, gives a very interesting response to the question. In typical Jesus fashion, he answers their question with a question, “Can you make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.” He then goes on to give a parable about old wineskins and new wineskins, old cloth and new cloth and old wine and new wine. What does this really tell us about fasting?
At the surface it seems that the initial comment about the bridegroom and the parable about the incompatibility of the new and the old are virtually unrelated, but as we dig a little deeper we start to see what Jesus is trying to tell us. Let’s take first his comments about the bridegroom and his guests. It is apparent here, that Jesus is making a very simple point about the purpose of fasting: it is a means to an end. Fasting is meant to prepare our hearts and condition our wills to enter into a closer relationship with Christ. Of course, the ultimate closeness we all seek is to be with Jesus in heaven. Thus, while he was present among his disciples, there was no need for them to fast, because they were already with him who is the bridegroom and source of all grace. We have not reached that beatific vision, thus, we must fast.
Following that, then, we dive into the parable about the new and the old. In verse 38, Jesus says, “Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins.” As we make our way toward Easter, the Lord, as he always does, desires to fill us with something new, but before he can do that, we must present him with fresh wineskins to fill. Jesus says that “No one (who has gotten comfortable in the old ways) desires new, for he says ‘The old is good,’” and it is so tempting to become like that. For so many of us, our relationship with Christ has gotten really nice. It’s comfortable and safe, but Jesus desires more; he desires something fresh! Therefore, we must try to detach ourselves from all that stands in the way of his desires, even the good comfortable relationship we currently have with him, and prepare for a new relationship with Christ that would make our old wineskins burst. Through fasting, let us spend the rest of this lent preparing those new wineskins so that, on the day of his Resurrection, we can receive that overwhelming flow of new wine and end our fasting for the bridegroom has returned.
Merry Christmas!! What joy it is to know that the Savior of the world has come and will come again that we may be with him in Heaven for all eternity! And yet, as many of us have realized throughout the Advent season, there are things that we still need to do to remain ready for the second coming.
The beginning of John’s gospel contains these two verses: “In the beginning was the word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1), and “And the word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1: 14). These two verses point to a reality that so many of us either have taken for granted much of our lives or have just not realized: Jesus is the Word. God is truly present in the Word and, in fact, God IS the Word.
I was at Mass with my wife and five young children a few weeks ago and when it came time for the Gospel Acclamation, our youngest, who was in my arms at the time and had previously been squirming around me like one of those little chinchillas, turned and watched as the Deacon began making his way to the altar and slowly processing to the ambo with the book of the Gospels held high. During this whole time, my son was mesmerized. He began pointing at the book and reaching for it. What could have made him change so quickly from a South American rodent into a focused young boy in such a short time?
There are, of course, so many factors that could have drawn my son’s attention at that moment. The fact that we had all stood up at that moment, or the fact that the Deacon had moved from his place by the priest, or the fact that two young men were carrying candles, or perhaps it was the first time he noticed the big shiny book on top of the altar, or maybe it was that he noticed the book but, since it was in someone’s hands he knew this was his chance to get it. All of those could easily explain his sudden change in behavior, but those are not what made me reflect that day. To me, there was something special about that book that my son noticed, there was something that was drawing my son to that book at that moment and I knew that I should be drawn to it as well.
In Psalm 63 we read, “O God, you are my God—it is you I seek! For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts, in a land parched, lifeless, and without water.” In that moment, my son’s body was pining to be near to God. Perhaps it was the shiny book cover or the candles, or whatever other explanation, but he was reaching for God in that moment and he was reaching in the right place. Jesus gives himself to us in two ways at every Mass. He gives himself to us in his Word and he feeds us with his body and blood in the Eucharist. So often times we nod off, or don’t pay attention to the first half of the Mass because it is just a bunch of words. “Perhaps they are special words because they are in the Bible,” we say to ourselves, but do we realize that not only are they special words, but they are truly a gift of God, from God?!
As we enter into this new calendar year and celebrate the coming of Jesus as savior of the world at Christmas, let’s make a resolution to be attentive to the Gift of God in the word each and every time we go to Mass and to spend time daily seeking that gift as well. It is in doing so that He will begin to truly reveal to us the person he has created to be.
If you would like to make a commitment during 2016 to read the Bible everyday, here is a good place to start for advice and a plan to read just 10 minutes a day and make your way through the entire Bible!
In just over a month from today, the nation will once again celebrate a week dedicated to the prayer for vocations. This is a week when we remember the need of our local church for more seminarians, priests and religious, but it is also a week when we remember that God has created each of us for a definite purpose. While we want to pray for more priests and religious, we need to be open to the calling that God has placed on each of our hearts as well. Have you been created to give yourself entirely to one person for the rest of your life and through that marriage bring forth new life and lead them with you to heaven? Have you been created to give yourself entirely to all the people in a local church at the service of the Gospel and to stand in the place of Christ in the most important moment in the lives of your parishioners? Have you been created to love God above all and to be a bride of Christ, being a witness of the marital union we can all hope to attain one day in heaven? Have you been created to witness to the love of Christ in the world as a single person who is entirely satisfied by the love Christ offers you? Each of these paths are a unique calling and each one of us has been created to follow one of these paths in our own unique way, giving all our gifts and talents to the service of God in the way he has created us to use them!
That is what Vocation Awareness Week is about and that is why we are so excited to celebrate in many ways once again this year:
– Vocation Lesson plans have already been sent out to schools and parishes across the Archdiocese. These lesson plans are for all students in grades kindergarten through high school and also have lessons to share in a youth ministry setting. To access these plans simply go to www.vocationlessons.com and type in the access code CinciVocations513.
– The entire Archdiocese will have the opportunity to join with Catholics from across the entire state of Ohio in Eucharistic Adoration during a Statewide Evening of Adoration on Wednesday, November 4th. All parishes are invited to open their doors for this special evening, but more details along with a list of parishes who have already told the Vocation Office of their participation will be published soon. If your parish would like to join that list, please contact Wayne Topp at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– The Serra Club of Cincinnati will be praying through the entire Bible in a Nine-Day Bible Reading Novena starting on November 2nd. At the beginning of each book they will dedicate their reading to an increase of religious vocations in the Archdiocese and will pray together the Archdiocesan Prayer for Vocations written by Archbishop Schnurr. All able readers are encouraged to get involved by visiting www.fiveminutechurch.net and clicking on the Sign Up Genius link.
In the Gospel from Palm Sunday Jesus directs his apostles:
“Go into the village opposite you, and immediately on entering it, you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone should say to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ reply, ‘The Master has need of it and will send it back here at once.’” (Mark 11:2-3)
Perhaps this isn’t the most important detail in this story, but did you notice the details included about the animal Jesus chooses to be his ride into Jerusalem? Here is a young animal that has never been ridden. From what I have seen about donkeys, they aren’t exactly the most cooperative animals and a young one that has yet to be “broken” would be especially uncooperative I would think. In fact, I just learned that donkeys won’t do anything unless they know that what they are doing is safe. They are “stubborn” out of an extreme sense of self-preservation.
It sounds a lot like us doesn’t it? Stubborn out of an extreme sense of self-preservation. And “yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever (1 John 2:17).”
Perhaps it is that in the presence of Jesus, this colt realized that there was no harm in this man and he willingly offered his back to our Savior without trouble. Perhaps, like me, he offered resistance at first, but, in accepting the role he was meant to play, this colt made Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem one of great fanfare. The most important part, I think is that he was never spoken of again.
That is what we are called to do, especially as we enter into the great mysteries of this Holy Week. We must find the way that we are meant to share Jesus with the world and allow only him to be seen. We are just fulfilling the role God has made us to play. May we be courageous in responding like that colt. Denying our sense of self-preservation and giving our lives over entirely to His care.
On Saturday, March 14, 2015 at the most recent Encounter Cincinnati event, Fr. Dan Schmitmeyer was honored to be the keynote speaker and took the opportunity to remind the teens about the universal call to holiness that God has placed on every human heart.
Take some time today and enjoy:
While I was running yesterday, I began praying the Sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. For me, these mysteries are especially good to pray during a long hard run as it becomes easier for me to contemplate the pain and suffering Jesus went through for me and therefore, the little pain of sore legs or labored breathing or mental fatigue that runners often experience become not so great that I must stop or slow down. Instead, I am able, when I am having a good day, to offer that pain up for others and connect even more greatly with Christ’s sacrificial suffering and death.
On this particular day of prayer, however, I realized that it is so easy (okay, maybe “easy” isn’t the BEST choice of words) for me to spend time with Jesus’ agony in the garden, and the scourging at the pillar, and the crowning of thorns and the carrying of the cross and even the crucifixion, but when I pray the stations of the cross, I have a really hard time spending time with Jesus in the tomb.
As I think about the times I pray the Stations of the Cross, the one station that always seems to “fall flat” on me is the last one. Why? Is it simply that this station is the last one and by the end of anything (even prayer) I am ready to move on to the next thing – I don’t give that station the time it deserves? Or is there something inherent in the station that kind of makes me uncomfortable? Or is it just that I know the ending – I know he doesn’t stay there – and so I think about the resurrection instead? I’ll be honest, I don’t know which one of these is the greatest factor and I assume that at different times each of them plays a major factor, but for this one run, I spent time with the tomb.
It is a natural inclination, I think, to not want to think about the tomb. There is a mystery about the grave that leaves so many questions to be answered. There is an uncertainty about it all. But there is also great hope, that this is not the end. However, before Jesus, this was the end. When Jesus dies, if he is just a man, this is the end. The stone stays there and the burial garments keep him wrapped. For the first time, perhaps, the Son of God is left in total darkness. The one who brought light to the world in his coming as a child in Bethlehem has just been swallowed by the earth and enveloped in total darkness. All we have left, all the apostles and disciples have left, is Hope. We can hope that this man is who is seemed to be, we hope that we have given our whole lives to follow a man who will truly lead us all to paradise. And we must dwell in that hope, with great anxiety, perhaps. And isn’t that the way it is in our lives sometimes?
We go through life skipping along sometimes, the world is bright and sunny and everything is going our way. In fact, by the grace of God, we are doing great things and we can feel light of Christ reflecting off us into the world. And then there are times when we can’t even find God in the darkness. We are left reaching and grasping and hoping that we are still on the right path, that God has not abandoned us. Perhaps it is our own sinfulness that turns us from that light, or perhaps it is a loving God helping us to know that even in the times we struggle, he is still there so long as we stay faithful to Him. It is in those times that we enter the tomb with Christ, and it is there, that we continue to have hope.
In the readings from this past Sunday (and I love the way God can work in our prayer lives if we allow him – I didn’t read the readings before going on this run!), we heard about God promising to raise us from our tombs (Ez 37:12-14) and we got to hear the story of Lazarus being called out of his tomb (Jn 11:1-45)! And what I love about both of these readings is that God must call us out of those tombs. God is our creator; God is our redeemer! God made us and God will call us back to Himself on the last day! It is our duty to know the voice of our creator and to respond when he calls!
There will be times of darkness, there will be times of uncertainty, but those times can be filled with faith and with hope. We don’t need to be afraid of the tomb. Instead, let us enter it willingly and as this season of Lent comes to a close, let us spend a little more time contemplating the darkness.
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