Monday, March 31, 2008

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
Loosening Our Grip

Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14; 8:10; Psalm 40:7-8a, 8b-9, 10, 11; Hebrews 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38
Picture: CC Solar ikon

Probably no one likes to face a crisis. Nobody likes the feeling of losing one’s grip, of watching life careen wildly out of one’s control. Yet, frightening and unwelcome though they may be, crises are an inevitable part of life. Indeed, some see human growth as the result of properly negotiating a series of crises. But is there really a proper way? Is there even a Christian response to crises?

This seems to be the question that our readings raise for us on this solemn feast of the Annunciation of the Lord. For a serious crisis forms the background in both the first reading and the gospel respectively. In the former, King Ahaz of Judah finds himself in a quandary as foreign invaders threaten his kingdom. And if the enemy is at the gates in the first reading, in the gospel, it has already occupied the city. Judah is already under Roman rule. What to do? How might the people be saved?

Very often, the natural human response to a crisis is to try, as quickly and as efficiently as possible, to re-establish control. When sick, for example, we consult the best doctors, take the most powerful medicines. (And this is as it should be.) Or when the problem is even more serious, we may seek refuge in various religious devotions and spiritual disciplines. Whatever our chosen instrument, whether it be science or religion, when life threatens to slip out of our grasp, the natural human tendency seems to be to flex our muscles even harder, to tighten our grip. But then, if we’re lucky enough, a crisis sometimes comes along that proves to be beyond our paltry efforts. Something happens that puts into question our natural human tendency to choose the way of control. What then? Is there an alternative?

Yes, there is. And it is precisely this properly Christian alternative that we are celebrating today. Instead of seeking to re-establish control, we are invited to surrender to God. Or, in the words of the second reading, instead of continuing to seek to manipulate God by offering sacrifices according to the law, we are invited to submit to God’s will by participating in the one sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ. In contrast to the way of control, we are invited, as Mary was, to allow Jesus to be born in us, to walk the way of conception. What does this look like?

It begins, not by tightening our grip, but by widening our senses. Isn’t this what the Lord is asking king Ahaz to do in the first reading? Ask for a sign… Watch and listen carefully to what is going on around you. Ask for the grace to identify the ways in which God is already present and acting, even and especially in the midst of crisis. Isn’t this also what is happening in the conversation between Mary and the angel? Mary is asked to see things from God's perspective, to submit to God’s plan. This is, of course, not an easy thing to do, since it’s an invitation precisely to loosen one's grip. Who can predict what will happen, what will be born in us, as a result? Is it any wonder then that Ahaz emphatically refuses to ask for a sign and Mary is greatly troubled? Yet Mary is also blessed in that she is willing to first surrender her own anxiety to the Lord. She is willing to first loosen her grip on her own fear, and to allow God to do for her what she is not able to do for herself. I am the handmaid of the Lord… And Jesus is thus conceived in the one who is full of grace.

In our own particular crises how are we being invited to relinquish control and to walk the way of conception today?

Friday, March 28, 2008

(CC Joyseph)

Friday in the Octave of Easter
Reaction to Absence

Readings: Acts 4:1-12; Psalm 118:1-2 and 4, 22-24, 25-27a; John 21:1-14

How do you usually feel when something or someone goes missing? Which proverb describes your experience more accurately? Does absence make the heart grow fonder? Or is it more of a case of out of sight out of mind? Also, what is your reaction when what was lost makes a sudden reappearance? And what difference does it make anyway? These questions are brought to mind when we consider our two readings today. Between the readings there is both a convergence and a contrast.

Let us consider first the convergence. In each of the readings, there is an attention-grabbing event, which prompts a simple explanation. In the first reading, the event is the dramatic healing of the man crippled from birth, which attracts many people to the apostles Peter and John. And when the religious authorities question them, Peter and John have only one explanation to offer: it is in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean… this man stands before you healed… Similarly, in the gospel, there is also an event that prompts an explanation. Despite having caught nothing after a whole night of fishing, the disciples suddenly net an enormous number of fish as a result of following the directions of the risen Jesus. The number of fish is so huge that they are not able to pull in the net. To which, the disciple whom Jesus loved has only this to say: It is the Lord. Event and explanation. Thus far the convergence.

But consider also the contrast in reactions towards the respective events and explanations. For the religious leaders in the first reading, both event and explanation together constitute a disturbance of the peace, a disruption of business as usual. They are anxious to clamp down, to put a lid, on it. They arrest the perpetrators and try to silence them by all means within their power. In the gospel, Simon Peter is also very much perturbed by what has happened, such that without giving a second thought to his own state of undress, he jumps into the sea. But here’s the contrast. Whereas the religious leaders try to muzzle the apostles and so to divert people’s attention away from both the event and its explanation, Simon Peter makes a straight dash towards its source.

This contrast in external actions invite us to reflect further on the likely interior dispositions that prompt them. But it is perhaps useful first to remember the people about whom we are reflecting. Both the religious leaders and Simon Peter, albeit to different degrees, are guilty people: the former for unjustly causing Jesus’ death, the latter for denying and deserting his Master in his time of greatest need. Yet both react so differently at Jesus’ return. By their actions, the religious leaders demonstrate that, for them, it has truly been a case of out of sight out of mind. Whereas Peter shows that even though he seemed to have reverted to his former occupation, his heart has been pining all the while for the Lord whom he denied. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. The contrast could not be more striking.

And it is also highly significant, especially as we continue to contemplate the Lord’s rising and its effects. For the miracle of Easter is truly experienced only by Peter and not the religious leaders. Although both are close enough to the event of the resurrection and its effects, it is only Peter who can claim to be a true witness, one who experiences it and shares it with others. It is only Peter who runs towards it and then proclaims it with power. Such is the Easter significance of our respective reactions to the Lord’s apparent absence.

What about us? When the Lord seems far away, is it out of sight out of mind? Or does absence make the heart grow fonder?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wednesday in the Octave of Easter
The Power of Interpretation

Readings: Acts 3:1-10; Psalm 105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9; Luke 24:13-35

I find it rather striking how closely our readings today mirror what’s been going on at a meeting we’ve been attending over these past couple of days. Three points of convergence seem to stand out for me. The first is a problem, and the next two are attempts at a solution.

One thing that seems obvious to an innocent bystander is that not a few of the participants at the meeting are frustrated for a very specific reason. Theirs is the problem of implementation, or the lack of it. They lament that few, if any, of the issues being discussed at the meeting are new. And yet, to date, no effective steps have been taken to address them. Their exasperation is not unlike what we find in both our readings today. The man at the Beautiful Gate is both poor and disabled. More deep-seated even than his desire for alms is his hunger to do something he has never been able to do before. He yearns to walk. But the riches of both material and physical well-being remain well beyond his reach. He faces a problem of implementation. And so do the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They had hoped that, in Jerusalem, Jesus would somehow fulfill their yearnings for an earthly Messiah. But these dreams were dashed when Jesus was executed. Hence we find them leaving Jerusalem. Theirs too is a problem of implementation.

How to respond? At the meeting we’re attending the preferred approach seems to be the gathering and analysis of information. We’ve been listening to and discussing statistics obtained from the results of a recent census. This is, of course, a valuable and important exercise. It keeps us from empty speculation regarding the relevant issues. And yet, we might well wonder if this alone is enough to address the problem. Consider the situation in the gospel today. The disciples on the road to Emmaus are not ignorant of the facts. They are not out of touch with current information. Indeed, they are able to fill the Risen Christ in on all the relevant data. They know, for example, that Jesus was a Nazarene, that he was a mighty prophet, that he was condemned to death and crucified. They even know that his Body has gone missing. And yet, they remain headed in the opposite direction from Jerusalem, the place of their dreams. They remain caught up in the problem of implementation.

What is it that finally moves them to dash back to Jerusalem? What is it that finally dissolves the problem for them? The answer is clear. They recognize Jesus at the breaking of bread. But this takes place not only because they fix their attention solely on the facts. Rather, in addition to discussing relevant information, it is when they share with each other their hopes and fears, their dreams and disappointments, that they experience Jesus joining them and ministering to them in a singularly effective way. He interprets the raw data for them in light of the Scriptures. As a result, their hearts burn within them, and they are moved to make a change. They set out at once for Jerusalem. Properly guided interpretation of relevant information leads to enthusiastic implementation.

Today, my prayer is that, at our meeting, we might be able to experience something of the same dynamic.

What is yours?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tuesday in the Octave of Easter
Spiritual Seepage

Readings: Acts 2:36-41; Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20 and 22; John 20:11-18

If there’s one word that a homeowner probably dreads to hear, it’s seepage. We recently had some experience of this when the ceiling of one of our washrooms started dripping. It’s not such a good feeling to have some liquid of dubious origin dripping down onto you while you’re doing whatever needs to be done. The problem had probably started some time ago as a damp spot up above, something relatively easy to ignore. But whatever the source and nature of the dampness, it had since spread across the ceiling to such an extent that the plaster had become saturated and the presence of the liquid could no longer be ignored by those of us moving about obliviously below. Such is the nature – and the problem – of seepage. It’s only a matter of time before it makes its presence felt. There’s almost a certain inevitability to it. It tends to saturate and to spread, within and without.

Thankfully, it’s not just damaging dampness that has the tendency to spread in this way. Today, our readings invite us to reflect upon seepage of a different, more welcome and benign, nature. As we continue to meditate upon the Lord’s resurrection, we are confronted with its power to saturate and to spread. We see how the effect of the Lord’s rising first seeps into the hearts of the disciples and transforms them. Mary is called, by name, out of the arid anxiety of her grief, into the saturated intimacy of a personal encounter with the Risen Lord. She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbuni’ – which means Master. And the grace of that poignant meeting doesn’t stop there. Invading her whole being, it even continues to seep outward beyond her. So Mary of Magdala went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord…

And we find the same thing happening to them too. In the first reading, the grace of the resurrection seeps into Peter. And he who was so talented at putting his foot in his mouth, begins to spout words that cut his listeners to the heart. As it was with Mary of Magdala, these people hear themselves called by name. They experience an irrefutable connection between Peter’s message and their respective situations. What must we do, brothers? they are moved to inquire. And, in this way, the seepage continues on, beyond Peter, such that that very day about three thousand were added to their number…

Spiritual seepage: a striking image of the almost irresistible power of the resurrection. But even though the effects of the resurrection bear such a striking similarity to the problem of seepage. We obviously need to respond to it in a very different, even opposite, manner. For, like our ceiling, the latter is a problem that we need to contain. But the resurrection, on the other hand, is a grace that we need to prepare our hearts to receive and to welcome, to savor and to share…

How are we continuing to do this today?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Monday in the Octave of Easter
Story Time

Readings: Acts 2:14, 22-33; Psalm 16:1-2a and 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11; Matthew 28:8-15

It never ceases to amaze me how stories change. In the ministry of accompanying people on retreats, for example, it’s often striking how people begin the retreat with a certain story about themselves and their lives. And then, as the retreat progresses, that same story begins to change in subtle, sometimes even radical, ways, such that the same person leaves the retreat with a different story. It never ceases to amaze me when this happens, when the story changes. And perhaps even more amazing is how the change of the story is concurrent with a change in the person.

We see something similar in the readings today. Just yesterday, the gospel of John presented us with a rather dismal image of Mary of Magdala, desperately searching for the body of Jesus. They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him. But look what happens in the gospel today. Today, the women are filled with awe and great joy. Today, they meet Jesus and receive new courage. Today, they are sent to convey Jesus’ instructions to the other disciples to meet him in Galilee, the place of earthly ministry. Today, they are given a new story to tell. The Lord lives! He has a new mission for us to fulfill, a new story for us to proclaim! And we hear Peter’s version of this new story in the first reading: God raised this man Jesus to life, and all of us are witnesses to that. Both story and storytellers are radically changed.

But it is especially important to note the direction of these changes. On the part of the storytellers there is a change from anxiety to awe, from sadness to joy. Which effects a concurrent change in the story in the direction of clarity and truth. Indeed, Peter fearlessly proclaims this truth to the point of being blunt. You killed him, he says, but God raised him to life…

As we said, it is important to note the direction of these changes, not least because there is another changing story in our readings today. The chief priests are responsible for this in the latter half of the gospel. But the change they effect is very different from those we have been considering. Here, the story is changed in the direction of falsehood. And if there is a change in those responsible for this new story, it is in the direction of fear and of hardness of heart.

Amazing, isn’t it, how the single event of the resurrection can evoke such different responses, can give rise to such contrasting stories, moving in opposite directions?

As we continue to celebrate the Solemn Feast of Easter, what changes are being effected in us? What stories are we telling? In which direction are we moving?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Sunday
Mass of the Day
Getting Unstuck

Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-9

Today is the day of Easter joy. Sisters and brothers, this is what we proclaimed in our opening prayer just now. Today is the day of Easter joy. And we all know very well the reason for this joy. In the words of the ancient Easter greeting: Christ the Lord is risen! Indeed he is risen! The One who loved us so much as to give his life for us, the same One whom we have come to love in return, has conquered death. He lives! Surely it is only natural that we should rejoice. Even so, we might perhaps be forgiven for wondering what Christ’s rising has to do with us. Are we to be joyful only on his behalf, as someone might be expected to rejoice at a friend’s good fortune? Or is there not something in it for us as well?

A rather strange image comes to mind as we ponder this question. Fly paper. Remember what that is? It’s quite understandable if we don’t. It’s not used much these days. Fly paper is the sticky paper used to catch flying insects. You hang it up in strips and the flies get stuck to them and you discard them afterward. Simple but effective, if a little unsightly. But imagine, just for a moment, that you were a fly. Imagine what it’d feel like to be stuck to a strip like that. At first, you may struggle as hard as you can to break free. But the harder you struggle the more stuck you become. Finally, you give in to despair. You stop struggling and just wait for the inevitable. Terrible thought. Thankfully, we’re not flies.

And yet, doesn’t this world sometimes feel like one gigantic strip of fly paper? As we go through life, don’t we seem to have a remarkable tendency to get stuck in so many different ways and at so many different levels? I think, for example, of the country I visited recently. Although some say that the economy is improving, as evidenced by the appreciating currency, it’s difficult to deny that the country remains mired in corruption at many levels. In a rural area we visited, for example, we were told that although a concrete road is marked on the map, for the most part, there is really only a dirt track in reality. Only very small portions of the road have actually been paved. The money for the rest has been diverted into someone’s pocket. Fly paper. We find it everywhere.

And we don’t really have to look very far too. Although corruption is probably nowhere near as big a problem here, do we not find ourselves prone to getting stuck in other ways? Another image which comes to mind is that of a mouse in a cage, running furiously on one of those circular wheels. Isn’t this what life looks like for some, if not many, of us? The only difference being that the mouse can stop running when it feels like it, while we remain stuck on that wheel. Fly paper. And the examples of being stuck can easily be multiplied too. We might think, for instance, of various addictions, or the bearing of grudges, or the tendency either to shirk or to take on too much responsibility… We don’t have to look far to find fly paper. It’s everywhere.

This was Jesus’ experience as well. All through his life on earth, Jesus kept encountering fly paper. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us to lead us back to the Father and to one another. Yet, in so many ways, people kept trying to trip him up, to get him stuck. He had to be born in a stable because there was no room at the inn. As an infant, he had to flee to Egypt because king Herod wanted to kill him. After his baptism in the Jordan, he had to resist the attacks of the devil. Then throughout his ministry, he attracted opposition as much as admiration. And it is precisely the climax of this opposition that we have been recalling over these past three days. To the One who came in love to set us free, we offered the final sadistic strip of fly paper: a shameful, cruel, painful death on a cross, and burial behind a huge rock in a stone-cold tomb.

Is it any wonder, then, that the disciples also find themselves stuck after the death of their Master? Consider Mary of Magdala in today’s gospel. She visits the tomb on the first day of the week, because that is probably where she last caught sight of her Lord. But she is really only looking for a body. And when she finds the tomb empty, she immediately thinks of grave robbers. She is unable to recall Jesus’ earlier predictions regarding his rising. Quite understandably, Mary is stuck in the fly paper of her grief.

But here is where we find the crucial turning point of our reflection. This is where we find the joy of Easter. Here too is where we begin to discover what’s in it for us. Despite all the world’s efforts at getting him stuck, Jesus remains free and mobile. He proves himself immune to every kind of sticky paper. Even death turns out to be only a milestone on the path marked out for him. Isn’t this what that empty tomb in the gospel symbolizes? The stone is rolled away, and Jesus goes freely in and out, from death to life.

And this freedom is what Jesus shares with those who believe in him. To all who are stuck, Jesus offers the hope of breaking free. Isn’t this what all the running about in the gospel points to? Mary runs to find Simon Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved. And together the latter run to the tomb. Doesn’t this frantic initial reaction foreshadow what we find in the first reading? In the home of the foreigner Cornelius, Peter speaks boldly and passionately about his Master’s death and resurrection. We are… witnesses, he says. These are the words and actions of one who has become unstuck, and who then eagerly runs to tell others the Good News.

But getting unstuck is a process. As we heard in the second reading, it involves turning our minds and hearts from earthly to heavenly things. This doesn’t mean we should seek to escape from this fly paper world. Rather, we are to immerse ourselves more deeply in it as Jesus did, resisting every tendency of getting stuck in a superficial existence. We are to live the hidden life. For through our baptism we have died, and now our lives are hidden with Christ in God.

We see where and how this process begins to take place in the experience of the disciples. It is when they return to the empty tomb and gaze upon the grave cloths within that something happens to them. They gradually come to see and to accept a crucial truth: that he must rise from the dead. Looking at the empty tomb, they are given eyes of faith and hearts filled with hope. It becomes clear to them that Jesus cannot remain dead, that he must rise. It is an imperative. Two Sundays from now, when we listen to the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we will hear a second imperative that needs to be accepted: it was ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory… Christ had to suffer and he must rise. It is in coming to accept these two imperatives and in seeing their implications for us that we become unstuck, and so begin to experience the joy of the Crucified and Risen One and to share it with others.

This, then, is what’s in it for us. We who often feel stuck like so many flies on sticky paper. Even as we continue to stare at our own particular tombs, might we not ask the Lord to show us that the stone has been rolled away, and that the tomb is empty? Might we not ask for the grace to accept that the One who had to suffer and die also must rise? And after having imitated the disciples and submitted to the process of getting unstuck, as we learn to entrust ourselves to the Crucified and Risen One, won’t we also find ourselves running off to tell others the Good News?

Sisters and brothers, the fly has become unstuck. The Lord is truly risen!

Are we running yet?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wednesday in Holy Week
The Way of the Disciple

Readings: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 69:8-10, 21-22, 31 and 33-34; Matthew 26:14-25

Two key characters loom large in our readings today. Though their names are familiar, it is their respective designations that draw our attention. In the gospel, Jesus reclines at table with the Twelve, the Master with his disciples. But, in a sense, Jesus is also himself a disciple. For he is the One who most closely resembles the description we heard in the first reading, the One who most steadfastly follows the way marked out for him by his heavenly Father. Judas, on the other hand, is the turncoat, the chosen one who falls from grace, the cherished disciple who betrays his teacher. Disciple and traitor: these are the two designations that invite our attention and contemplation on this day before we accompany Jesus to his Passion.

Disciple and traitor: how do we tell them apart? Our readings identify for us at least three distinguishing characteristics. The first has to do with the path upon which they walk. As we have been noting in these days, Jesus’ journey epitomizes the walk of the disciple. he traverses the way of love and of freedom. His concern is to do the Father’s will, pouring himself out for the welfare of others. And in order to do this, he is willing even to endure suffering and shame, desolation and death. Yet the path he walks will finally lead him, and those who follow him, through the darkness of death into the brilliant light of resurrected life. In contrast, the walk of Judas, the traitor, is very different. Not only is it centered on the self and the insistent clamor of its immediate cravings and fears, but it is also a walk into enslavement. For the amount he receives in the gospel is also the cost of a slave. Thirty pieces of silver is Judas’ asking price, not only for his Master, but also for his very self. As we know only too well, Judas’ path will lead ultimately to the loss of his own life.

In addition to how they walk, both disciple and traitor are further distinguished by how they talk. As we heard in the first reading, the disciple speaks for the benefit of others. S/he speaks for the comfort and consolation of the wearied. And this is possible because the words that are the disciple’s gift to others s/he first receives from the Eternal One. The Lord has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them… In contrast, the traitor speaks only in his/ her own interest and only on his/ her own behalf. Consider how the gospel today ends with Jesus telling Judas: you have said so. Or, in another translation, they are your own words. This difference in speech is rooted in yet another distinguishing characteristic. The disciple is able to speak the words of the Master because s/he is first willing to listen. As we heard in the first reading: morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled… The traitor, of course, listens to other voices. In the words of our opening prayer, s/he is held captive by the power of the enemy.

Disciple and traitor, distinguished by how they walk, how they talk, and to whom they listen. If you are anything like me, you will perhaps find traits of both in yourself. Sometimes I am closer to one, at other times the other. Isn’t this why our attention is focused, especially in this week, on the Lord who accepted the cross and freed us from the power of the enemy?

How are we being challenged to examine how we walk and talk and listen today?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tuesday in Holy Week
Lead On…

Readings: Isaiah 49:1-6; Psalm 71:1-2, 3-4a, 5ab-6ab, 15 and 17; John 13:21-33, 36-38

We have been speaking of Holy Week as a journey, as the sojourn among us of the God who empties himself for our sakes. We have been emphasizing the need, especially during this sacred time, first and above all, to remain focused on Jesus, to remain by his side, to gaze unflinchingly upon all that he says and does, all that he suffers and endures. For, very likely, our attention to Jesus will begin to raise questions for us, personal and communal questions that will probe our minds and our hearts, our lives and our world. Even as we watch Jesus walk the terrible way of the cross, for example, aren’t we challenged to examine the path that we ourselves prefer to take? Where are we going? Whose road are we traversing? The right questions, the truly authentic ones, arise only to the extent that we are willing first to focus our attention on the Lord.

And as we continue to do so today, our readings present yet another metaphor to help us penetrate more deeply into the significance of what we are witnessing. Especially in this week, all that happens to Jesus is to be seen not just as different stages of a journey. It is also something more. The first reading indicates what this more is with these words: The Lord… made of me a sharp-edged sword… He made me a polished arrow… The images evoked are those of battle. Indeed, in this week, not only is Jesus making a journey, but he is also fighting a war, he is engaged in a fierce conflict. What we are witnessing in this week is how Jesus allows himself to become the powerful weapon wielded by God in the perennial battle between light and darkness. I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.

But lest we misunderstand, lest we be too quick to apply worldly standards in evaluating what is essentially a cosmic battle, it is important for us to pay careful attention to how this war is waged. We need to consider the surprising strategy that God adopts. We need to see, for example, how God’s preferred weapon is the power of a suffering servant, someone whose training leads him to think that he had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength. We need to contemplate the way in which God’s light triumphs by first submitting humbly to the terrors of the night, the same night that falls when Judas leaves the upper room to betray his master. We need to allow these divine tactics to sink into our consciousness, and to transform us. For, like Peter, we are too much influenced by the ways of the world to follow the Lord into battle. We are still too much prone to deny the One we profess to follow, to desert the Captain at whose side we have sworn to fight. We need the training that Holy Week and the Easter Triduum afford us. In the excitement and exhilaration, the desolation and despair, of our daily strivings, we need to gaze upon Christ and allow his example to remind us that my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God… Only then can we begin to fight triumphantly by our Master’s side, and so to sing of the Lord’s salvation.

These reflections bring to mind memories of an image and a verse. The image is from The Two Towers, the second movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Just as the foul army of Sauron is on the verge of overwhelming Helm’s Deep, from the east Gandalf leads reinforcements to the rescue. And thus is victory snatched from the jaws of defeat. Light triumphs over darkness. The verse is from the late John Henry Cardinal Newman:

Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me…

On whose way are we walking, on whose side are we fighting, today?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Monday in Holy Week
Of Violent Reservoirs & Gentle Falls

Readings: Isaiah 42:1-7; Psalm 27:1, 2, 3, 13-14; John 12:1-11

We’re entering what is probably the most powerful week in our liturgical year. During this time, we are invited to accompany Jesus as he journeys into Jerusalem and all that awaits him there. In the rather lengthy readings of yesterday, we were treated to a preview of what this journey looks like, of what it is all about. We were invited to consider the significance of Jesus’ actions as he sets his face like flint and walks steadfastly onward into the Garden and onto the Cross, into the Tomb and then beyond. We were reminded that it is a journey that began long before we were born, even before time began. For it is the pilgrimage of the timeless and eternal One who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself.... to the glory of God the Father. And it is this process of self-emptying unto glory that we are being invited carefully to contemplate and generously to share.

Our readings today help us in this effort. They call to mind two opposing images even as they transform their significance for us. The first image is that of a reservoir. At first glance, it is as comforting as it is inviting. It speaks to us of serenity and calm. It evokes for us a value that we have all been taught to cultivate from young, the value of saving, of putting something aside for a rainy day. But in the readings of today, this image is subverted into something that is far less desirable. For it is the devious words of Judas that bring this same image to mind, the same Judas who argues for saving Mary’s ointment for the poor. But his protest is born not of altruism but of self-interest. He is not setting aside alms for the poor but hoarding resources for himself. Beneath the apparently serene surface of the reservoir of his speech lies a demonic force that seeks to do Mary harm. Behind the caress of right-sounding words is a cruel hand that reaches out to break the bruised reed and quench the smoldering wick. Reservoirs can do violence too.

In contrast, Mary’s actions evoke a different image. It is that of a waterfall, cascading violently from a height. We find this in Mary’s extravagant act of affection and gratitude, as she anoints Jesus’ feet with perfumed oil. There is no pause to think about other possible uses for the costly ointment. There are no second thoughts, either about what others might say, or about the apparent waste involved. There is only a single-minded desire, on the part of Mary, to pour herself out as she does her precious salve, to express her sincere devotion to the One who comes to save us all. Of course, we must acknowledge that, in all we do, there is always room for prudence and right judgment. Even so, why does Jesus rise to her defense, if not because her extravagance mirrors, however obscurely, his own abundant and selfless outpouring of himself? You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me. Isn’t this what Holy Week is all about? And here, as with the reservoir, we find that the waterfall too is transformed. For violent as the cascading waters may be, they can also mask an exquisite tenderness, evidenced, of course, in Mary’s caress and in Jesus’ words in her defense, but also especially in the meekness with which Jesus walks to the Cross. And in the first reading we find the source of this paradoxical gentleness in extravagance: I, the Lord, have called you… I have grasped you by the hand… A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench. Waterfalls can be gentle too.

As we continue to accompany Jesus on his journey this week, and contemplate the significance of his self-emptying, perhaps we might consider which image our lives tend more to evoke, the violent hoarding of the reservoir, or the gentle extravagance of the waterfall…

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday in the 5th Week of Lent
Shelter in the Storm

Readings: Jeremiah 20:10-13; Psalm 18:2-3a, 3bc-4, 5-6, 7; John 10:31-42

We’ve been seeing plenty of rain and thunderstorms this week. I was caught in one a couple of days ago while accompanying some visitors to a local park. Thankfully we found a convenient shelter before the drizzle had developed into a downpour. It was just a simple little gazebo with a few benches in it. Nothing much to look at. And we had to share it with quite a few others. But we were grateful for the refuge it provided. Even so, it’s probably true that, if not for the storm, we would have probably ignored it completely, and happily continued on our way. Isn’t it interesting how one tends to take these shelters for granted until one really needs them?

We can probably say the same too, of our readings today. When we hear the psalmist profess his love for God who is my rock of refuge, my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold, isn’t it easy to miss the significance of his words? Isn’t it all too easy for us simply to pass them over, just as my friends and I would probably have passed by the shelter in the park? Isn’t it interesting how one tends to take shelters for granted until the onset of the storm?

Which is why it’s important to notice how both our readings are set in a gathering gale, a storm of a very particular type. The winds and rains, the lightning and thunder, come in the form of persecution and alienation. And what makes the storm most unbearable is probably its source. In the words of Jeremiah: all those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. It is none other than his friends, the very people whom he has dedicated his life to helping, who are now his oppressors. The same is true for Jesus. I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of these are you trying to stone me? Can we not hear the pathos that accompanies this cry? A terrible storm is brewing in the lives of Jeremiah and Jesus, a storm that will isolate them from all earthly help and assistance. And it is at this crucial time of their loneliness and desolation that they bear eloquent witness to us of the fidelity of God. In my distress I called upon the Lord and cried out to my God; from his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.

But that is not all. Our readings speak of more than just the experience of two men who find shelter in God in the midst of the storm. For, as the gospel reminds us, although Jesus is human, he is also God. In his experience we see more than just a man who is vindicated because he entrusted his cause to the Lord. Rather, in his life, death and resurrection, we actually witness God’s marvelous response to our cry for help. Engulfed as we are in the terrible storm of our own guilt, blinded as we are by the torrential downpour that is the effect of our sin, God does not stand passively by, waiting for us to stumble upon the safe refuge that he provides. Instead, in Christ, God braves the winds and the rains to bring us to safety. Isn’t this the substance of the incredible works that Jesus speaks about in the gospel, works that culminate in the Mysteries that we will celebrate most especially over the Easter Triduum? In Christ, God comes to us in our need. In him, the Shelter comes looking for us in the midst of the storm.

What is your experience of finding and providing safe shelter today?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Thursday in the 5th Week of Lent
Promise and Prostration

Readings: Genesis 17:3-9; Psalm 105:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; John 8:51-59

At the center of our readings today, we find two experiences, or perhaps two aspects of a single experience. Their central position in the readings serves to highlight for us their crucial importance in our lives of faith. The first experience is probably the more obvious one. It has to do with a promise generously given and faithfully fulfilled. I will maintain my covenant with you and your descendants, says God to Abraham, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you… And through the vagaries of history, God continues to remember his covenant, to faithfully abide by it, until its final fulfillment in Jesus, the Word made flesh. In him the God of Abraham binds himself to his people by a bond that can never be broken. Abraham rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad…

But this promise, which God makes and fulfills, cannot be adequately appreciated and accepted without another experience. This is an experience with which both God’s promise and its fulfillment are intimately intertwined. Consider how the first reading begins. Consider its description of the circumstances surrounding the making of God’s promise. When Abram prostrated himself, God spoke to him… The promise is made and received when the creature humbly acknowledges his Creator. Isn’t this what the physical posture of prostration signifies: a willingness to subject one’s entire self to the other? Isn’t it true that it is only when we receive the grace to adopt such a spiritual posture before God that we can actually begin to receive God’s promise, to experience God’s fidelity in our lives? Otherwise, like the people in the gospel, we will focus on the incidentals at the expense of the essential. Eagerly expecting a conquering hero who will snatch back the land physically occupied by their enemies, Jesus’ opponents fail to recognize the compassionate One who comes to reclaim their hearts for God.

Promise and prostration are also related in an even more striking way. Not only does a prostration accompany the promise when it is made, but more so does it constitute the way in which that promise is fulfilled. Isn’t this the deeper implication of Jesus’ scandalizing words to the people in the gospel? Before Abraham came to be, I AM. In Jesus, the unthinkable happens. God the almighty Creator deigns to prostrate himself before his creatures, humbly submitting even to death on a cross. In Christ, the promise made to humanity is fulfilled through a divine prostration. And isn’t it through witnessing this prodigal display of God’s love for us, that we in turn receive the grace to prostrate ourselves as well? Isn’t this the crux of the great celebration of Easter for which we are preparing?

A little more than a week from now, on Good Friday, our communal commemoration of the Lord’s Passion will begin with the presider prostrating himself in the sanctuary. It is an ancient tradition, one filled with deep meaning. It speaks to us of the intimate connection between promise and prostration, of the marvelous unity between the human and the divine.

What is our experience of promise and prostration today?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wednesday in the 5th Week of Lent
Dancing to the Tune of Truth

Readings: Daniel 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56; John 8:31-42

Months ago, while up in the mountains, we were told about the importance of dance in the lives of the people there, especially those who still cling to the old traditions. Celebrations often feature a communal dance, except when one family is in mourning, or is at enmity with another family. Then dancing and the playing of musical instruments – especially the gong – are forbidden until the mourning period is ended or the dispute resolved. In the mountains, dance is part of the fabric of daily living.

It seems different for us modern city-dwellers. Even though chic dance-clubs continue to attract hordes of patrons, here dance seems more of an optional pastime – perhaps even a frivolous one – than an essential part of life. And yet, isn’t it true that even if we don’t actually dance physically, every one of us dances at least figuratively? Don’t we dance to a variety of tunes, to melodies of ambition and competition, of materialism and consumerism, of envy and greed? Don’t we sometimes find ourselves so entranced by these tunes that even our freedom is lost?

Which brings us to our readings today. Both readings deal with the theme of freedom by presenting us with a contrast between two groups of people. The three boys in the first reading are slaves of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. The people in the gospel, on the other hand, pride themselves in being descendants of Abraham who have never been enslaved to anyone. But appearances are deceiving. For slaves though they may be, the three boys demonstrate their radical freedom in refusing to dance to the tune played by the powerful king. In defiance of the king’s decree, they refuse to fall down and worship at the sound of trumpet and flute, lyre and harp, musical instruments for idolatrous rites. They choose instead to acknowledge no god but the God of their ancestors. In contrast, the freeborn people in the gospel are unable to recognize and unwilling to accept Jesus as the presence of God in their midst. This makes something very clear to us, something of which they themselves remain stubbornly oblivious: in spite of their rigorous external observance of the law, they are actually dancing to an idolatrous tune.

But Jesus offers them a remedy, both for their ignorance as well as their idolatry. If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free… The way to freedom consists in tuning in and dancing to the music of the Word of God, which alone is capable of penetrating our hearts, of unmasking the extraneous melodies that hold us entranced, and of recovering for us the ability to recognize the tune of Truth for which our hearts are hardwired. And isn’t this what we have been doing especially in these days of Lent? Isn’t this what we will be doing even more intensely during Holy Week and the Easter Triduum? We will be meditating upon Christ the Word himself, as we celebrate in a special way, in the church’s liturgy, the Mystery of his life, death and resurrection. Through these celebrations, we hope to be helped, in our daily living, to tune in and dance to no other melody than that of Truth.

What tune are you dancing to today?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tuesday in the 5th Week of Lent
Drawn Upward

Readings: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 102:2-3, 16-18, 19-2; John 8:21-30

Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him… Don’t we find it surprising that this should have been so? What, we may ask, was so attractive and convincing about Jesus’ words in the gospel of today that they prompted many to believe. And to believe in nothing less than the unbelievable, to accept that human though he was, Jesus was also divine. You will realize that I AM. You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above. Do we feel the same attraction? Are we uplifted by the same inspiration as we listen to these same words in the gospel? Perhaps what is needed is for us to deepen our meditation, to consider more closely the import of what is being said.

We might begin, as St. Ignatius of Loyola often suggests, by situating ourselves within the scene. And the first reading proves helpful in this regard. The context is a people on a journey, and a rigorous and hazardous journey at that. The people are tired and hungry and thirsty, and their destination seems nowhere in sight. Can we not identify with such a situation? Whatever our particular circumstances, do we not know the feeling of being somehow tested to the outer limits of our endurance? Do we not know what it feels like to be worn out by the rigors of life? What happens then?

For Jesus, there are, broadly speaking, two ways in which one could respond. The first is the way of those who are from below. The Israelites provide only one example of what this can look like. Their complaints are not just expressions of concern, or requests for clarification. They lose faith both in Moses and in God. They forget God’s mighty action in their recent past, how God freed them from slavery in Egypt. They lose sight of God’s commitment to their future, God’s promise to lead them to a land where milk and honey flow.

In contrast, the singularly attractive feature about Jesus, what indicates so convincingly his origin from above, is the way in which he walks his earthly journey. In the midst of trials and tribulations, of pain and persecution, Jesus remains steadfast in his focus on his Father’s will. Although he suffers anxiety and anguish, although he cries out to his Father, he keeps walking the way that has been marked out for him. He does not water down his message. Neither does he run away. He keeps walking among us here below, until he is lifted up on a cross for the life of the world, just as Moses lifted the bronze serpent in the desert.

And isn’t this the reason for the attractive power of Jesus words in the gospel today? When we listen to them in faith, don’t we find ourselves drawn to gaze upon Christ on the cross? Aren’t we reminded of the extraordinary journey that Jesus walked for our sakes? Don’t we, who are from below, find ourselves drawn upward with Him who came to us from above?

As we approach Holy Week, how are we being drawn upward today?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Monday in the 5th Week of Lent
In the Valley of Accusation

Readings: Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62 or 13:41c-62; Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6; John 8:1-11

Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side...

I trust that many of us will remember experiences of walking in a dark valley. Perhaps even now some of us may find ourselves in the midst of such a walk. Often we are driven into the dark valley by a variety of circumstances, many beyond our control: by bereavement or betrayal, by disaster or disappointment. But the darkness takes on a very specific form in today’s readings.

In the first reading, the virtuous Susanna is driven into the dark valley by the accusatory fingers of unscrupulous men. Her life hangs in the balance because she chooses not to give in to the lustful demands of her accusers. And, for a while at least, it does indeed seem as though the dark valley will swallow her whole. But God rewards her fidelity by inspiring the boy Daniel to save her. I fear no evil for you are at my side…

As consoling as Susanna’s story is, however, isn’t it true that we can’t always find comfort in it? For how many of us can truly claim to be always as blameless as she? Isn’t it true that the darkness in which we find ourselves can often be attributed as much to our own negligence and conscious choice as it is to the actions and machinations of others? What then? Are we condemned to dwell in the darkness with no chance of salvation?

Thankfully, the other story in our readings brings us comfort. Although, like Susanna, the woman in the gospel is also driven into a dark valley by accusatory fingers, she can make no claim to innocence. She has been caught in the act. Indeed that is the title by which we know her: the woman caught in adultery. But, wonder of wonders, even in the darkness of her guilt and shame, the psalmist’s prayer holds true: you are at my side… Jesus saves her from her tormentors and she is left alone with him. Guilty though she is, like Susanna before her, she too is led from darkness into the light. And, in her place, the guiltless One will submit himself to the baseless accusations of sinful people.

Isn’t this the moving testimony that our readings offer us today, especially those of us who might, even at this moment, be walking in a dark valley? Such is the power and desire of our God to save us that he reaches out to us even when we find ourselves in dark valleys of our own making. The only way in which the compassionate mercy of God can be thwarted is if, like the accusers of today’s readings, we refuse to see our own darkness and are preoccupied instead with pointing fingers at others. Much like those who enter the confessional only to confess the sins of others. Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone…

How is the Lord accompanying us in our dark valleys today?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Thursday in the 4th Week of Lent
Relying on Referees

Readings: Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 106:19-20, 21-22, 23; John 5:31-47

It’s quite common for us to rely on someone to speak on our behalf. Often there’s simply no other way to get what we want. Say we’re applying for a job, or for a place in graduate school. Not only do we need to take tests and submit completed application forms testifying to our own qualifications, but we also need to give the names of referees who can vouch for us, people who are willing to stake their reputations on our suitability. No one really gives a second thought to this. It’s just the way things are done. If we wish to get ahead in this world, it’s normal and even necessary to have to rely on another’s testimony.

Which is why, from a certain point of view, it’s really not difficult to understand what Jesus is doing in the gospel today. He is, in effect, submitting an application for acceptance. He implores his listeners, the stubborn Jews of John’s gospel, to believe in him, to accept him as the one sent by the Father, to trust in his power to save. Consider the impressive list of referees on whom Jesus relies. John the Baptist testified to the truth… The works that the Father gave me to accomplish… testify on my behalf… The Father who sent me has testified on my behalf… the Scriptures… testify on my behalf… Moses… wrote about me… Yet, impressive though the list may be, Jesus’ plea falls on deaf ears. His application is rejected outright. His listeners refuse to believe in him.

But here’s where the similarity with our earthly metaphor ends. We submit applications for our own good. In Jesus’ case, however, the referees are invoked not for Jesus’ own sake, but for that of his listeners. I do not accept human testimony, but I say this so that you may be saved. Isn’t this the irony of the situation? In refusing to rely on the testimony of Jesus’ witnesses, his listeners actually exclude themselves from relying upon the testimony that Jesus himself comes to give on their behalf. For that is what Jesus is sent to do. As Moses does in the first reading, Jesus comes to speak on our behalf. He, the Word made flesh and splendor of the Father, comes to vouch for us, to assert on our behalf that humanity is indeed worthy of salvation. In rejecting him, in refusing to accept his referees, we exclude ourselves from relying upon his testimony on our behalf. We default on our application for the only vocation that really counts, a place in the ultimate graduate program in the Father’s kingdom.

And yet, Jesus doesn’t give up. He continues sending out application after application, listing referee after referee. Through the various people and events that he sends into our lives, the Lord continues to offer himself to speak on our behalf. Far beyond his own reputation, he even goes to the extent of laying down his life on the cross, so that we might finally be moved to believe, so that we might turn again and be saved. Isn’t this what we’re preparing to celebrate in these days of Lent, the final and greatest testimony that Jesus offers to us and for us to the Father: his death and rising from the dead?

How are we being invited to accept the Lord’s application and to testify on his behalf today?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Wednesday in the 4th Week of Lent
Roads through the Mountains

Readings: Isaiah 49:8-15; Psalm 145:8-9, 13cd-14, 17-18; John 5:17-30

I cannot do anything on my own… because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me…

In a culture that tends to place too much emphasis on freedom and independence, on being able to do our own thing, these words of Jesus must seem strange, if not spineless. And, indeed, they can be misinterpreted, taken to mean something that they do not say. For they do not imply that we should forget about who we are and what we want and give in instead to everything others tell us. Quite the contrary, the first thing that Jesus’ words imply is not forgetfulness but remembering.

Just as the Father never forgets his children, so too are we invited continually to remember whence we have come and where we are headed. This means trying to remain in touch with our deepest desires. Not just the superficial cravings that often motivate our every thought and action, but the undying yearning that has been etched into our hearts by the same One who has carved us upon the palms of his hands.

To recall these desires, to get back in touch with these memories of eternity, is also to find ourselves drawn back to the heavenly home from whence we came. It is first to heed the call issued by the Father in the first reading: Come out! Show yourselves! It is also to take the road that the Father constructs for our return: I will cut a road through all my mountains and make my highways level… And it is also to do what Jesus professes to do in the gospel: to collaborate in the Father’s work, to raise our voices so that others might hear the call, to labor with our hands so that others might have a road cut through the mountains that obstruct their return.

This is the work that defines us as Christians. This is the labor that enriches our lives, the service that makes us free. It may take as many different forms as there are people. For to reach every corner, the call will need to be sounded in different languages and at different frequencies. To penetrate every obstacle, the road will have to be cut in different widths, laid with different surfaces. But whatever its sound and shape, the work will be the Lord’s, if it is done according to the Father’s will, if it leads us all back to the Father’s house.

What work are you busy with today?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Tuesday in the 4th Week of Lent

Readings: Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12; Psalm 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9; John 5:1-16

Blood-thinners are often among the medicines that people with heart problems or hypertension have to take regularly. If I’m not mistaken, the drug somehow helps to ease blood-flow and so to prevent dangerous clots that could cause strokes and even death. Something like the same thing seems to be happening in each of our readings today.

The first reading tells of a deep river flowing into the Arabah. We know that the latter is desert country. And the sea spoken of here is none other than the Dead Sea. Nothing can grow in this dry and salt-saturated wasteland. There is only barrenness and death. But everything changes radically with the advent of the waters flowing from the Temple in Jerusalem. Not unlike the blood-thinners, the living waters dilute the concentration of salt to the point where life of great variety begins to flourish. The once-dead sea begins to teem with fish and evergreen trees thrive on the banks of the river, providing medicinal leaves and tasty fruit to all.

A parallel image is found in the gospel. In place of the Dead Sea of the Arabah, we find the Sheep Pool at Bethzatha. The environment looks just as bleak. Crowds of sick people gather here hoping for a cure but find none. In place of salt, there is, perhaps, too high a concentration of superstition or ritualism or despair. Whatever it is, religious practice fails to give life. Then Jesus comes. And things begin to change. In his life-giving presence, faith begins to flourish, and sickness gives way to health, immobility to vitality. Pick up your mat and walk.

There is perhaps one other connection between blood-thinners and the situation in our readings. We find a hint of this in the persecution that Jesus is beginning to attract in the gospel. Here is a reminder of the central mystery we celebrate. Jesus brings us the fullness of life only by laying down his own. He thins the blood of our faith by selflessly spilling his own. This is the paschal mystery that, in the opening prayer, we begged God for the grace to embrace. This is also the spiritual medicine that we’re taking in these days of Lent. Through it, we are allowing the Lord to purify and thin us of the things that make our lives too thick to bear fruit, too concentrated to give life.

What effect is it having, both on us and around us, today?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Monday in the 4th Week of Lent
Walking Together Towards the Dawn

Readings: Isaiah 65:17-21; Psalm 30:2 and 4, 5-6, 11-12a and 13b; John 4:43-54

Dear friends, all too soon, we find ourselves nearing the end of the Tertianship. All too soon, it is the time to say farewell. And beginning this evening, we Tertians will spend three days reflecting on what has gone before. Most likely, in these three days, we will ask ourselves what these six months have been about. No doubt, we will recall the people we have met, the graces we have received, the experiences we have shared. And, above all, we will ask ourselves what it all means for us. But, even as we say our goodbyes, and even as we prepare to enter the Triduum, our Mass readings today seem to invite us also to consider another question: not just what we did and whom we met, but what time of day it is.

For the situation in our readings takes place at a very particular time. As we heard in the responsorial psalm: At nightfall, weeping enters in, but with the dawn, rejoicing. We find ourselves at that special time when the night is lifting and a new day is dawning. I am about to create new heavens and a new earth, says the Lord, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness… And this promise, which the Lord makes in the first reading, is fulfilled in the gospel. In the person and prophetic ministry of Jesus, the dawn breaks not only upon Cana in Galilee, but also in the life of the royal official and his family. The darkness of a life-threatening illness is lifted, and a child’s life is saved. And, lest we misunderstand, the reading reminds us that this is not just any miracle but a sign. The implication is that the dawn breaks not just in Cana for a sick boy, but upon the whole of creation for the life of the world.

And haven’t these past six months of our Tertianship also taken place at the same time of day? Whether it was among the urban poor of Navotas or the rural farmers of Bontoc, the prisoners of Muntinlupa or the sick of Iloilo and the PGH, the students of UP and the Ateneo or our friends of the PPF, in these past six months, haven’t we found ourselves among people eagerly awaiting the dawning of a new day? Haven’t we encountered those yearning for the creation of new heavens and a new earth?

And haven’t we also seen what this waiting looks like? As our readings confirm for us, waiting is not a totally passive experience. To wait for the dawn can also mean making an effort to walk towards it. Isn’t this what the official does in today’s gospel, from Capernaum to Cana? And isn’t this also what the farmers of Sumilao did, from Bukidnon to Malacanang? Haven’t these six months of the Tertianship been an experience of waiting and walking towards the breaking of the dawn?

But, as our experience has also shown us, waiting is not easy. Especially not when the night seems to be at its darkest. It’s not easy for the priests and religious of Kalinga-Apayao, for example, who still grieve the death of a missionary priest at the barrel of a gun. No, even if the dawn might be breaking, it is not easy to wait and to walk. Perhaps what we need is what the sick child in the gospel had. He couldn’t walk himself, so his father did it on his behalf. He couldn’t experience the Lord himself, so his father shared his faith with him and with the rest of his family. It is not easy to wait and to walk, but we don’t have to do it alone.

I’m reminded of an experience I had early one morning, during our Long Retreat. We had reached that point in the retreat between Jesus’ burial and his resurrection. It was Holy Saturday. And I found myself drawn to pray in the Jesuit cemetery while it was still dark. Sitting in darkness, with a lit candle beside me, waiting for daybreak, I found myself in the company of our Blessed Mother. She was grieving the loss of her son. And yet, it was a consoling experience to sit with her. For even though I sensed her pain, I also felt something of her faith, her hope, and her love. At one point, I thought I felt her pat my knee and speak to me of her son. That he will come, she said, is as certain as the dawn…

That he will come is as certain as the dawn. My friends, even as we bid one another farewell, even as we prepare to each go our separate ways, how are we being invited to continue waiting and walking in one another’s company today?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

For Every Useless Word:
Speaking As With Words From God
2nd Lenten Sermon of
Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM (Cap)
Preacher of the Pontifical Household

Text of English Translation