As I was meditating on our readings for Palm Sunday and what to write for this reflection, I was struck by the difference between Judas and Peter. During the course of the last week of Jesus’ life before He died, they both did something terrible, but the ultimate outcome for each was drastically different.
Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. We aren’t sure why or what he was thinking, but he obviously did not think that Jesus would be condemned to death, because, as it became clear that Jesus would die, he went back to the religious leaders and tried to stop the whole thing, even throwing the silver pieces at their feet. When he realized they would not change their minds, he went out and committed suicide, I presume out of shame and guilt.
Peter, after bragging that he would die for Jesus, denied knowing Him three times and ran away. He was nowhere to be found during the crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus. Yet he became the rock upon which Jesus built His Church. Why such radically different outcomes, when they both had done horrible things?
Perhaps the answer is humility: maybe Judas was so proud of who he was that he was not able to face what he had done. If he knew Jesus at all, he would have known that Jesus would forgive him. But he couldn’t bring himself to face it.
Peter realized what he had done and he wept bitterly. He had the humility to accept his weakness and to face Jesus in the upper room after the resurrection, three times saying that he loved Him -- once for each time he betrayed Him. He was able to accept Jesus’ love and forgiveness and forgive himself.
All of us sin. All of us fail, sometimes miserably. But Jesus is always there, offering forgiveness and inviting us to come back. Are we humble enough to accept it, as did Peter, or do we turn away, like Judas?
Jesus always wants us to be like Peter; He is always waiting for us to accept His forgiveness and mercy. Hopefully, we are doing it. God bless.
Church sign of the week: You come from dust, you return to dust. That is why I don’t dust: it could be someone I know!
Our first reading is a selection from Ezekiel’s vision of the “dry bones.” He was writing during the Babylonian captivity, when things looked very bleak for the Jewish people. They were captives in a foreign land, Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed, and there seemed to be no way forward. They had broken the covenant with God and this was their punishment.
In the vision, God led Ezekiel out into a huge plain filled with dry bones. The bones started to move, rattling like thunder, and joined together. Then they were covered with sinews, followed by flesh, and finally skin. But they were lifeless until the breath of God entered them, giving them life, as God had breathed life into Adam. The point was that they should have hope, that God would breathe life back into them, despite the direness of their situation. That is what happened: eventually they were able to return to their
homeland, rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, and become a nation again.
The message to us is to trust in God’s goodness and mercy, no matter what we have done or how dire things might seem to us. God loves us, wants the best for us, and offers us forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is always there: we just have to accept it.
Lent is a special time in which we are invited to turn back to God, accepting His love and forgiveness. He is always ready to breathe life back into our dry bones. A special opportunity is Tuesday, March 28th. We will have a communal reconciliation service at 7:00 pm, with three priests available for individual confession. If that does not work for you, on Wednesday, March 29th, confessions will be held at St. Margaret Mary parish from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm. I will be one of the priests hearing confessions from 2:00 to 4:00 pm.
We are soon entering into our remembrance of the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, actions that clearly demonstrated that He loves us and wants us to be close to Him. I urge you to avail yourself of one of these opportunities to allow God to breathe life back into any dry bones. God bless.
Church sign of the week: Please don’t say mean things about yourself. That’s God’s child you’re talking about.
Our Gospel this weekend is the long saga, told by John, of the cure of a blind man. It is important to notice the trajectory of what is happening.
First, it was presumed he was blind because of sin, either his or his parents. He would have been an outcast of society. Jesus reaches out and cures him without the man asking for a cure. His neighbors take him to the Pharisees, who again reject him because he defends Jesus. Then Jesus takes the initiative a second time and searches him out; in other words, Jesus accepted him. And notice how his faith grows: he first identifies Jesus to his neighbors as “a man.” To the Pharisees, he calls him “a prophet.” When Jesus searches him out, he affirms that he believes that Jesus is “the Son of God.” From simply a man to a prophet to the Son of God!
There are two reflections I invite us to this week. The first is to reflect on our personal faith journey and where we are today. The more the blind man interacted with Jesus, the deeper his faith became. The more I interact with Jesus, the stronger my faith will become. Do I spend quiet time each day speaking with the Lord, sharing what is happening in my life, and then being quiet and listening? The more I do this, the stronger my faith will become.
Second, the blind man grew, as did the Samaritan woman and Zacchaeus, because Jesus was willing to accept them and interact with them, even though they were outcasts. My willingness to reach out and interact with someone who is rejected and/or isolated can make all the difference in their life. As time goes on, I can invite them to pray with me and/or come to Mass and be part of the community. There are many people around us who are like the blind man in
today’s Gospel: they need someone to reach out to them, affirming that they are important and eventually inviting them to grow in faith. That is what Jesus did! That is what we are called to do, as His disciples. Let’s make sure we are doing it.
Church sign of the week: Do you stand with the great or kneel with the broken?
There was one group of people that Jesus had a hard time accepting and for whom he had harsh words: religious people who scorned others who were “not as good as they were” (my words). They demanded that people live up to their standards, before they would accept them in any way. Words like “unclean” and actions like banning people from the synagogue underscore this attitude towards others.
This is an example of our human tendency to be judgmental and condemning of others, to define them by their failings (as we see it), and to demand that they change in order to be accepted. Jesus shows us a different way of relating through His interactions with the Samaritan woman at the well. Samaritans were despised by the Jews and evidently this woman was shunned by her own people, for she was alone at the well in the heat of the day. Normally, all the women would go to the well as a group early in the day, thus avoiding the heat and being safer together. Jesus ignored all of this and interacted with her, not condemning her for who she was or what she had done, but accepting her and loving her as a child of God. As a result of this, she grew to believe in Him and brought her village along with her.
The same thing happened with Zacchaeus: Jesus went to eat at his house with no conditions or questions, a sign in that culture of acceptance and identifying with someone. As a result of being loved and accepted this way, Zacchaeus completely changed, something the scribes and pharisees could not bring about with their condemning and ostracizing.
This is a strong message to us to overcome our human tendency to be judgmental and unaccepting, if the person does not meet our standards. Each person is a beloved child of God; we do not know their history or their intentions. If we are judgmental and dismissive, we are not acting as Jesus did. This is not about approving of something that is wrong, but rather not categorizing the person because of their beliefs and actions.
This means that our approach to loved ones, friends, or others who do not believe what we believe or whose actions are wrong (in our opinion) needs to be like Jesus’ approach to the Samaritan woman, not starting by pointing out their faults and telling them they need to change, but loving them as a beloved child of God. They can know we don’t approve of their actions, but that doesn’t mean we reject them.
This is difficult and sometimes it is not clear exactly how we should act toward someone, but the basic starting point has to be loving them and respecting them as a child of God. We should not be dismissing and isolating people. How am I doing with this challenge to all of us?
Church sign of the week: We were called to be witnesses, not lawyers or judges.
Our Gospel this second Sunday of Lent is Matthew’s version of the Transfiguration. Notice it is Peter, James, and John who are present, the same three disciples who will be present for the agony in the
garden. That is no coincidence: these disciples are being allowed to experience the divinity of Jesus to help them get through the trauma of His passion and death.
A message for us is that God is always with us, despite the trials and tribulations of life. When things are not going well, when we ourselves or someone we love is facing a long and painful illness, when a loved one dies, it can be a challenge to feel God’s presence and trust that all will ultimately be OK, since He is in control.
There are two clues in this Transfiguration story that help me to have trust, no matter what. The first clue is the final words that the Father speaks from the cloud: LISTEN TO HIM. I have to be paying attention to how Jesus lived His life and what He has said to us. In other words, I need to be reading and reflecting on the Gospels, each day, so that I can hear what Jesus wants to say to me at that moment in my life.
The second clue is that Jesus came AND TOUCHED THEM, telling them not to be afraid. Jesus wants to touch me. He wants me to feel His arms around me. That means, in addition to reflecting on the Gospels, I need to spend quiet time with Jesus, sharing my fears and struggles, then being quiet and allowing Him to speak to me. It is when I can do this that I feel His arms around me and hear Him say, “be not afraid.”
Over and over in the Gospels we hear Jesus say to His disciples, “be not afraid.” He wants us to trust Him. He wants us to know that all will be OK. He is there for us: we just need to let Him in. I invite us to make sure we are reflecting on Jesus’ words and actions in the Gospels, as well as spending quiet time with Him. Then we will not be afraid. God bless.
Church sign of the week: The storm shall pass. Meanwhile, dance in the rain!