Scripture Reflections

We are not accustomed to waiting. If a plane is delayed, I might feel outraged. We’ve all been at a stoplight when cars honk a nanosecond after the light turns green. When the wifi in my house doesn’t meet my kids’ expectations, I have yet to hear any of them calmly say, “Just wait, it will be back.”
 
I place great value in knowing when things will happen; that gives me a sense of control. When schedules are disrupted, like right now, it is a source of anxiety for me. I want to know when can we walk at the lakefront, when I can return to my job, when my children will be able to go back to school, when can I hug my friends, when there will be a vaccine, and for goodness sake when Costco will have Lysol in stock again! I feel more comfortable when I know exactly what I am dealing with but when information is lacking, I can’t help but panic a little. This is when faith is so important.
 
The apostles must have had moments of anxiety when Jesus’ instruction to them wasn’t specific enough too. The last thing they asked Jesus, before his ascension, was about the kingdom - they wanted to know when Israel would be back to the way things were. Naturally, they were expecting a temporal kingdom with a political victory, a revolution and a king.
 
When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.”
 
But this was not the type of kingdom that Jesus had in mind. Rather than answer the question, he tells them to wait for the Holy Spirit. Jesus knew that they were going to need help following him without a “him” there to follow. He wanted God not to just be with them but to dwell in them to help them understand and perform their mission.
 
We, too, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at confirmation. Admittedly, when I was confirmed, I didn’t understand this gift as I do now. When I am anxious, I call upon him to guide me. And when I take time to reflect and recognize the ways in which God calls to me through the Holy Spirit (you know, those “coincidences”), I find comfort and peace.
 
And much like I reassure my kids about our wifi, I think about what the angels who appeared after Jesus ascended who said (something like,) “Just wait, he’ll be back”. And just like that, I too am reassured.
What has your prayer been like during these odd days of staying at home, remote learning, and only being able to gather virtually online for Eucharist? My prayer has been sometimes pretty dry, other times amazingly rich and full, while still other times I am prayerfully afraid of the unknown or simply sad.
 
These are odd days, no doubt about it.
 
There was a post and a kind of reflection going around social media a few weeks back that reminded us that our experience is similar to that of the first Christians. After Jesus died they hid out in their homes. They were isolated from one another.
 
Some believed while others, like Thomas, did not believe. The online reflection reminded us that we have a lot in common with those first Christians who were forced to remain in their homes, for safety, while waiting for the next step in God’s unfolding of his saving plan.
 
This weekend’s readings move our attention to that next step. The Holy Spirit. The word spirit means breath in Greek. One of the challenges of those who are afflicted with the new coronavirus is the impact on being able to breathe. This is physical. But we are all sharing in the emotional or spiritual impact of this pandemic. We want to simply be able to breathe without fear, isolation, or danger.
 
In a different way, as we await Pentecost, we continue to embrace the experience of the very first Christians as they huddled in safety, awaiting a time when they could come forth and share what they had learned. We are like them in awaiting the gift of the advocate, the Holy Spirit … the very breath of God … that will fill us with the faith, courage, and love we need to take the next step.
 
This is hard stuff, at least for me. Very hard.
 
That said, those early Christian believers left us a journal of their own times that might be helpful in our times. The First Letter of Peter says, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.”
 
Why do I hope? Because God is good. God is goodness itself and has sent Jesus into the world to remind us of all that is good. Even more deeply, I have hope because people are so good. This is true even when they do not realize it themselves. While we are isolated, people are sharing, connecting, and praying. The hungry are being fed in creative ways. Healing is only possible because people are helping each other heal. Learning continues with difficulty yet with amazing ingenuity. Love continues. The Body of Christ lives in these days and in our times.
 
And each of us is part of the Body of Christ. After all, if the Holy Spirit, the Advocate … the breath of God … can only fill the lungs of believers who have hope, remain loving, and continue to step forward with faith. It is not a cliché. We really are in this together. God bless you!
Yes, it is certainly true that the present state of the world is chaotic and frantic. It might even seem at times that other than death and taxes the only certainty in our life is that there is no certainty. Though this notion may be tempting to entertain, we know from scripture and tradition that this is not true. Yes, the world and the spirit of the age certainly are in flux. They are governed by chaos rather than order. However, this is nothing new. The world waxes, wanes and changes with the passing of each age; it always has and always will. This is so even in “normal” times. Christ, however, is the constant “living stone” upon which our eternal life and hope is built. It is Christ and his one, true Catholic Church who remain the constant source of truth, love, refreshment and joy through the ages. Christ never disappoints!
In St. Peter’s 1st Letter we read that we Christians are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called [us] out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” We are, therefore, called to bear forth the light of this truth within our families, first and foremost, through prayer and Christian living, and within society in whatever capacity we are able—be it virtually or in person. Indeed, the apostles ordained the Church’s first deacons in the Acts of the Apostles to not only ensure the fair and just distribution of food to the needy, but to bear forth the light of Christ through their preaching and sacramental ministry. True Christian charity demands, therefore, that we not only be concerned with the wellbeing of someone’s body but, even more importantly, the wellbeing of the person’s soul. After all, eternal happiness with God, our Blessed Mother, the angels and saints in heaven is the goal!
In fact, this is why we as Christians are called not to conform ourselves to the world for which nothing is certain but, rather, to seek to conform the world to Christ who, according to the Gospel of St. John, is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” After all, Christ makes it clear that he, himself, is not just one way amongst many equally valid ways, but the only way to God the Father. Heaven is only possible, therefore, through Christ. Even though our ability to receive the Holy Eucharist and Confession is currently limited, we still have our marching orders from this Sunday’s readings: help Christ convert and restore the world to God’s loving design, one soul at a time. Starting with ourselves and our families, with our gazes fixed on heaven, we do this by remaining faithful to Christ, growing in our own spiritual lives, adhering to his teachings, committing ourselves to courageously spreading His Gospel and persevering in prayer. May our Blessed Mother always keep our hearts full of her loving Son’s hope, truth and zeal for souls.
 
In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes 7 "I AM" (Greek: ego eimi) statements using a metaphorical image. I am... the bread of life (JN 6:35), the light of the world (JN 8:12), the good shepherd (JN 10:11), the resurrection and the life (JN 11:25), the way, the truth and the life (JN14:6), and the true vine (JN 15:1). In this Sunday's Gospel, from John's 10th chapter, we hear Jesus explaining to the Pharisees, "I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture."  (For more on these statements, check out Fr. Peter's video for us.)
 
I like to imagine that the competing philosophies in Jerusalem and greater Judea at the time were just that -- competing. Through scriptural and theological debate, the different factions (Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes) attempted to win followers and influence in the region. Then here is Jesus the Nazarene, this upstart from Galilee, telling a scholarly establishment of Pharisees that they are "thieves and robbers," and the only way to salvation is actually through him. Now, I also like to imagine the reaction of both the Pharisees and others present. Certainly, the Pharisees would not have taken it kindly, but others might have relished witnessing the Pharisee leadership taken down a notch.
 
Perhaps out of a sense of rivalry but most definitely rooted in love, Jesus persists in challenging his listeners, and in ways accessible to common people at the time. He uses imagery of sheep and shepherds, vines and branches, bread, light. Literacy not required, scriptural scholarship not required -- these are images and ideas that everyone can understand.

Hope and belief are two powerful words in not only today’s readings but in our current situation.  These times right now can seem especially difficult and challenging. Some of us are dealing with too much togetherness.  Others are struggling with missing the loved ones we are not able to be with. We are trying to juggle our children’s e-learning while working full time jobs from home.  We are attempting to stay connected with friends and family through phone calls, Facetime and Zoom. This might be one of the many times in our lives when we find it hard to  hope so we just have to trust God and ask him to restore it. Even though we cannot see the end of this struggle right now, I am so thankful that I have my belief in God, and that he will bring us the hope we so desperately need right now.  Even death couldn’t separate Jesus from his disciples. He showed them his wounds so they would believe and have hope.  


In John’s Gospel Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”  Thomas had to have proof before he would believe that Jesus had risen and was with them.  Are you a “Doubting Thomas'' who needs to see it to believe it? Do you need to put your fingers in the wounds of the Risen Christ to have hope?  Or are you a believer who believes that after all of this is over and you can live again, you will live a kind of “new birth?” What will that new birth look like?  How will this latest experience, with its ups and downs, its struggles, its sadness, its loss, its loneliness, change you? Maybe you will appreciate the little things in life more, i.e. going out to dinner, watching your children play in the park, meeting a friend for coffee.  Maybe you will find a new gift in our Masses together as a community, and center your scheduling around coming to St. Josaphat on Sunday mornings.


When we come out on the other side (and we will!) how can we turn this tragedy into a blessing through our belief and hope?  Perhaps we have had more time to pray. Maybe because we are forced to stay home and can’t be out shopping or dining or running errands we have had the time to join Fr. Francis’s Zoom bible study on Wednesdays at 9 am or we have had the time to join the Women’s Group on Friday mornings at 9 am.  Maybe we will sign up for the online Alpha on Tuesday at 7 pm. Maybe we’ll have an overwhelming response to our Lunchtime Reflection with Fr. Peter this Tuesday from 12 - 12:45 pm to reflect on ways in which we can grow closer to Jesus. Maybe our personal relationships with friends and family will be stronger due to our agenda changes during these weeks.  Will our most important relationship, with Jesus, be stronger because we have belief and hope? I hope so!

Today’s Gospel takes us from the preparation of the Last Supper to Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.  This account is the “cut to the chase” of Christianity. God loves us so much that he sent his only son, Jesus, to die for our sins and open the gates of heaven for us. To remind us of this is why the crucifix is prominently displayed in all of our churches, and is our primary Catholic symbol.


Did you ever try St. Ignatius’s method of imaginative prayer with this familiar scripture passage?  (This type of prayer lets you “live into” a scripture story with all your senses and imagination. Check out your St. Josaphat Parish Prayer Guidebook for more information :-)  The women don’t get much coverage in this story, and of course I understand the cultural reasons why, but, “There were many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him.” 


Would I have been one of these women who followed Jesus walking 3+ days to Jerusalem from Galilee?  If we were friends, would he have wanted me to be there for support? Maybe I could have wiped his face like Veronica is said to have? Or maybe I could have helped prepare what was to be the Last Supper? 


I would have felt that being with Jesus and going with him to Jerusalem would have a bigger impact on spreading his Good News than lugging laundry to the washing pool, chasing after toddlers, and cooking over a hot fire.  But if I had little kids or ailing parents to take care of, there is no way he would expect me to shirk those responsibilities. To serve him best, he would want me to fulfill my duties as best I could, and with love. He would want me to listen closely to what God was calling me to do, and to do it well and cheerfully, even if it was not being in the midst of the action. And he would want my prayers for him to the Father.  


I liken this to my situation during this pandemic.  I’m not a scientist inventing a cure; I’m not in government making public policy; I’m not a nurse in the emergency room.  God put me here, at home, and is asking me to take care of my family and do what I can to help others while obeying the restrictions in place.  I can be positive, hopeful, patient and kind. (Well at least I can try!) And I can pray, a lot, for those that he has called to be on the front lines.  That they stay strong, healthy, clear-headed, honest, and collaborative. And for those who are suffering and those that care for them. That they get the support and comfort they need.  And for all of us. That we emerge from these days with a stronger reliance on God, and each other.  


I encourage you to spend those minutes right before you fall asleep or when you first get up in the morning to ask God what he wants you to do, who he is calling you to be.  (Even if you think you already know.) Then challenge yourself to listen for his answer. Maybe it will be clearer in these very unusual times.

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.  (John 14:23-26)

 

I interpret this Gospel as saying that no matter what, God is with you and will always be there for you if you are willing to listen to him. It’s saying that you have to love God and believe he is there in order to have him in your life. The Gospel says, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you,” meaning that he is always with us even if we don’t know it. We need to believe in God and put our trust in him by knowing he is there, even if we don’t feel like he always is.

 

I apply this to my everyday life as a newly confirmed Catholic by realizing that in times of hardship, God will always be there for me if I love and trust him. Although I am still young and haven’t experienced many hardships, I still have to love him so he can be with me through those tough times that I have yet to go through. Right now, the world is going through COVID-19, and it’s a very difficult time for everyone. I have to trust God and know he’s there to guide us to the light at the end of the tunnel. If I believe he’s there and love him, I can have faith in him to carry us through this pandemic. This Gospel has made me reflect on how I see God in everyday life and how I need to always love and be aware of God.

In today’s Gospel, we see a very intimate side of Jesus. We regularly read about Jesus healing the sick and infirm, but this healing has a different character. Jesus heals and raises a friend, someone he knew. Upon hearing about Lazarus’s death Jesus was perturbed. We also hear that he was troubled when he encountered Mary, the sister of Lazarus, in distress.
 
In the seminary, we learn a lot about what ecumenical councils and dogmas of the Church have said about the nature of God. However John has a very unique insight into the life of our savior. Jesus is the second person of the trinity, God made flesh, the Son of Man and Messiah. God could have instantiated himself in any way in our world, but he chose to bend down and meet us on our level. That’s not just a way of explaining that Jesus is fully divine and fully human. Being on our level includes all that comes with being a human, including sadness and grief. God did not make himself above how we experience, he embraced it.
 
This is perhaps one of the most astounding aspects of our faith, or at least one that I tend to return to in prayer. The incarnation is not just a nice theological term. It’s all encompassing, it extends to every part of the human experience, and this is incredible! God is not some faraway principal governing the universe from a distance. He became us; he is us! The prologue of John’s gospel tells us that this was the plan from the very beginning. Not only did he become us, but he did so that we might become like him.
 
He did so that Lazarus, and you, and I might be raised, spiritually and corporally. Jesus wept for his friend Lazarus. A God beyond all praising wept for us. God is not indifferent to our suffering and death, because he’s experienced it himself. This gospel passage is very timely in light of the current pandemic. Some might ask where is God in all of this? Does he even take notice of the sick? Are we left alone to die? Today’s Gospel answers that. In Jesus we are healed in more ways than one.

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


I don’t know about you, but I feel like I am in a very dark valley these days. And it changes from hour to hour. In my less selfish moments, I am thinking about the vulnerable populations for whom this virus is deadly. I am thinking about small business owners and workers in social environments, whose entire livelihood is at risk. Other times, I feel overwhelmed by the thought of empty grocery store shelves, and not having stored up enough. In my most selfish times, I worry about my savings account dwindling away. I think about how frustrating it is to be at home, trying to be productive, trying to guide my daughter through her e-learning, trying to stay out of my husband’s way as he works from home in a dismal economy.

 

But today’s responsorial (Psalm 23) reminds me that God is at my side. We need not fear. I keep forgetting that, but I’m working on it. Over the past week, I watched Mass with Fr. Francis online, I called in for a Bible Study and I’ve really been trying to pray more. And you know what? I usually feel better afterwards. I get out of my head and into my heart, and I feel God’s presence. Despite our social isolation, we are not alone.

 

Maybe, like the Pharisees in today’s Gospel (John 9), I have been blind to what is truly important. Maybe this whole experience will help me to refocus and come to a new appreciation of things. May God open our eyes to his loving presence. And open our eyes to what really matters—family, friends, having our basic needs met, connecting with others.

John 14:23-26 23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
 
I think Jesus is trying to say that if you follow his guidance/guideline/rules you will be rewarded, in the end, with God's love. Jesus is also not telling you to listen to him, he's asking you because it is God’s will.