Archive for the ‘Passion’ Category

Behold the Tree of Life

February 26, 2023

1st Sunday of Lent
By Fr. Victor Feltes

God grew many lovely, fruit-bearing trees in the Garden of Eden, but only two trees are mentioned by name. In the middle of the Garden the Lord God placed the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Tempted by the Devil, Eve ate from the forbidden tree and “gave some to her husband—who was with her—and he ate it.” If only Adam had been willing to confront the dragon-serpent and protect his bride, perhaps even to lay down his life for her! But the first man did not do this and the whole human family fell. (Let men called to lead and protect their families take note.)

Then our Triune God said: “Behold! The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil! What if he now also reaches out his hand to take fruit from the Tree of Life, and eats of it and lives forever?” For this reason, God banished our first parents from the Garden. This was not from divine jealousy, but from divine concern for us. Imagine everlasting human lives lived in unending sinfulness; that would be a hell on earth. “Through one man, sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men…” But God promised Adam and Eve a redeemer who would crush the serpent’s head and save us from sin and death.

In today’s Gospel, that Savior undergoes the Devil’s temptations not in a paradise but in a desert. The ancient tempter approaches Jesus and says, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread… If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down (from this temple rooftop)… All (the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence) I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” Jesus refuses each of these diabolical suggestions.

If the Christ conjures bread for himself when hungry, then how can he refuse to fill every hungry mouth? But what good would our filled stomachs be if we are never delivered from sin and death? And if the Christ demands that God his Father protect him from every harm, then how could he ever offer his life’s blood as our saving sacrifice? And if the Christ submits to our enemy’s rule over this world, then how could we ever be free? Jesus Christ understands his messianic mission and where it will lead him. It will lead him to the Cross.

Jesus calls himself the Bridegroom, and St. Paul calls him the second and final Adam. Unlike the first Adam, Jesus Christ the New Adam willingly and courageously lays down his life in battle with the Devil to save us, the Church, his Bride.

“[T]hrough one transgression
condemnation came upon all,
so, through one righteous act,
acquittal and life came to all.

[T]hrough the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so, through the obedience of the one,
the many will be made righteous.”

One beautiful Mass preface for Sundays in Ordinary Time praises God with these words: “[W]e know it belongs to your boundless glory, that you came to the aid of mortal beings with your divinity and even fashioned for us a remedy out of mortality itself, that the cause of our downfall might become the means of our salvation…

St. Paul’s tells the Galatians, “Christ ransomed us from the curse… by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree…’” In the tree that is his Holy Cross, we now see the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life combined.

During this Lent, contemplate the crucifix. Meditate upon the crucifix to know goodness, to behold God’s love for us. And gaze upon the crucifix to know evil, to see our sins at work. And ever-faithfully eat the fruit from this Tree of Life, which is Jesus Christ himself given us at Holy Mass. As Jesus taught in the synagogue at Capernaum, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life… For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. …Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” God once said in the Garden: ‘You shall not eat of the Tree or even touch it, lest you die.’ But now Jesus invites us, provided we are well-prepared: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body… given up for you.”

Hands Lifted up to Heaven

October 16, 2022

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

After God’s people, the descendants of Israel, crossed the Red Sea in the Exodus, an army of Amalekites came to battle them in the Sinai desert. So Moses instructed his servant Joshua: “Pick out certain men, and tomorrow go out and engage Amalek in battle. I will be standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” The next day, while Joshua led Israel’s soldiers in fighting the foe on the battlefield, Moses stood upon an adjacent hill along with Aaron and Hur.

As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.” Moses wielding this staff at God’s command triggered the plagues in Egypt, parted the Red Sea, and now brought Israel’s victory on the battlefield. But this raises a reasonable question: why would God condition his people’s success in combat upon an old man holding a piece of wood above his head? Moses lifting up this staff of God was a sign for God’s people which preserved them from a spiritual disaster.

God knew that if Israel had won apart from this sign they would have ascribed the victory to themselves. “We won this battle because we’re so smart, and strong, and brave! Maybe we don’t need God’s help after all.” Such pride in their success could be their downfall, in this life and the next. So instead, through the sign of an up-lifted staff, the Lord showed Israel, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains [with] me and I [with] him will bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

Similarly today, our Lord desires us to pray without ceasing for the good things we want or need. Otherwise, if and when his blessings come, we shall attribute these things to mere luck, coincidence, or to our own personal abilities, with no growth in our relationship with God. He is the source from whom all good things come. By asking and then receiving, we come to see and know the Lord is near and cares for us. And in the end, that is the most valuable gift of all.

God not only wants us to know and to love him, he desires us to glorify us as well. God is all-powerful, omnipotent, he could do everything without us. But by God accomplishing his will through us, as he did with Moses, the Lord makes us more like himself and causes us to share in his glory.

Holding the staff of God in his hands throughout the day made Moses’ hands and arms grow tired. (If you cannot understand why, try holding an object above your head for just ten minutes sometime.) When Moses’ body grew tired, his friends came to his aide. “They put a rock in place for him to sit on. … Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, [one on his right and the other on his left,] so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” With this help from his friends, Moses kept his arms raised-up and God’s people prevailed against their foe. All of this was a foreshadowing of greater things to come.

On Good Friday, when Jesus was condemned to death, he took the cross into his hands and carried it to the top of a hill. There his hands were nailed to the wood above his head. And Jesus was not there alone. All four Gospels note he was crucified between two others, “one on his right and the other on his left.”

Our Lord was mocked as he hung for hours upon the Cross: “Are you not the Messiah? … If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” But in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus had said, “Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? But then how would the Scriptures be fulfilled…?” Christ had the power to come down from the Cross, but if he had done that—if Jesus had released his hands from the wood—if he had refused to die for us, how would we have been saved from our enemies, sin and death?

Love kept Jesus on his Cross: love for his friends gathered nearby. love for the criminals on his right and left, and love for you and me. Consider what a precious consolation it was for Jesus in his suffering to have his Mother Mary, John the Beloved, and Mary Magdalene there supporting him. “But,” Jesus asks, “when the Son of Man comes [again], will he find faith on earth?” Will Jesus return to a world where everyone imagines they can get along just fine without him?

Let us continue being God’s humble people, recognizing our dependence on him. Let us ask of him our wants and needs so that we can know and experience his blessings. Then we shall share his deeper friendship and share in his great works, increasing in his likeness and increasing in his glory. By relying on God and the holy friends and loved ones his providence places near to help us, we shall share in our Lord’s great victory.

Patterns in Christian Dying — Funeral Homily for Ione Seibel, 84

June 6, 2022

By Fr. Victor Feltes

As a priest, I encounter many people in their dying days. And though every life is different, I have noticed often-repeated patterns. Three of these gracious elements are seen in Ione’s story.

Something I often find is the phenomenon of “a last good day.” The dying persons may or may not know they are in their final week of life, yet they are blessed to have a last good day. Sometimes they love being outside, and there’s a rare day in their final week when they feel well enough to go on a walk or do gardening. Sometimes it’s the day of a family reunion, where they delight to see their family and to say goodbye. Ione, despite her Alzheimer’s condition, had a last good day the Wednesday of her final week. Vernie, her husband of nearly 65 years, who was visiting her at her nursing home with a pair of their daughters, says Ione was “grinning, smiling, shining.” He and the staff described it as Ione’s “best day in two years.”

Jesus also had a good day before he died. When he took his place at table for the Last Supper he told his friends, the apostles, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for, I tell you, I shall not eat it again until there is fulfillment in the Kingdom of God.” Such blessings are bestowed upon us in this life as signs to us of God’s goodness before we enter into the next life.

A second phenomenon I often see is an alertness for the anointing of the sick and last rites. Vernie let me know Ione was dying and I was soon able to visit her on Saturday. When I arrived, he and their children were gathered around her. Now the sacrament of anointing is like the sacrament of baptism in that a receptive person may receive this sacrament even in an unconscious state. Some babies, for instance, sleep through their baptism yet receive the graces of baptism nonetheless. Her family tells me Ione had been unresponsive, but when I greeted her, as I told her who I was and why I had come, she opened her eyes at me. Ione’s family was struck by this but it’s something I commonly see—a providential alertness to receive this sacrament. The Lord often wills for his beloved to consciously experience this gift.

Jesus himself was anointed upon his head with precious perfumed oil in his final days and said, “She has done a good thing for me. … She has anticipated anointing my body for burial.” He was consoled and strengthened by this gift of love, and Jesus desires to console and strengthen us as we enter into his Passion and death.

A third thing I commonly encounter in my ministry is the bittersweetness of a beautiful death. Suffering and death are painful signs of this world’s brokenness from sin. Yet the circumstances which accompany many Christians’ passings are poetic signs to us that death is not our end. As we heard in our gospel reading, on the first Good Friday, a darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. Then our Lord breathed his last, near those who loved him most. The centurion who beheld how Jesus breathed his last said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” And the curtain in the Temple, which veiled its holiest place, was torn in two from top to bottom, from heaven down to earth.

Ione died on a Sunday, Christ’s day of Resurrection. And she died during Easter, the season of Jesus’ victory over death. Like him, she breathed her last in the afternoon’s third hour. And Ione passed away from us on the Feast Day of Jesus’ Ascension, when he passed through the veil from this world into heaven.

A Christian is never truly alone because the Lord Jesus is always with us through life and death. He makes our life story a part of his story, and makes our story like his own. Today is a day of grieving and joy, because we can see this truth anew in the life and death of Jesus’ servant and sister and friend, Ione.

What Makes Good Friday Good?

April 14, 2022

Good Friday
By Deacon Dick Kostner

I have always been puzzled with the question of why an all loving God would ever will or direct that his Son be required to die in order for the door to heaven be unlocked so that we might enter into eternal life. I thought this would be an excellent reflection for us to enter into for this Good Friday Service. My research disclosed an informed reflection that was given by a Fr. Terrance Klein, a priest in the Diocese of Dodge City, last year on Good Friday as a homily he presented to his parish.

He indicated we must go back to our creation story in the Bible to find the answer to this question and it all goes back to the fact that the Father desires his children to love him and the fact that one can never order someone to love them. Love can only be obtained if someone has the free will to decide for themselves if someone deserves their love. Free will is a requirement for real love to exist.

God created humans in his image and likeness, but he also created them with a free will to accept or refuse his fatherly teachings and laws which was gifted to us to help us find happiness and yes eternal life with him in heaven. As Fr. Chinnappan told us at our Parish Mission, God does not send us to heaven or hell at the end of our earthly lives, we send ourselves to that place by and through our free will decision to live out our lives either believing and following the advice of our heavenly mentor Jesus, or by refusing that advice.

God sent his son to us in human form so that we might better understand his words and teachings. He sent Jesus with the mission to share salvation instructions so that we might not only be happy in this life but also join God in heaven after this life for all eternity. He did not send Jesus as death sacrifice for our salvation rather he sent Jesus to us with a mission to bring us into the heavenly family by and through use of the key to salvation which is love of God and neighbor. It was the tremendous love that Jesus has for each and everyone of us that he gave his life so that we could witness the fact that death does not trump God’s love for us, his children. The question for us to ponder is do we desire to love God and neighbor and accept his love for us, or not?

On behalf of our Parish I would like to thank Fr. Chinnappan for an insight on the last words of Jesus on the Cross which revealed to this Deacon as to why today is called “Good Friday.” So why is this day “Good?” Maybe it is because it was through Jesus’ Passion and Death that human death came to an end for all of us who have listened to the Word and obeyed His directives for happiness not only in this life but the life to come.

God’s Love Among Us — Funeral Homily for Cecilia Jenneman, 100

April 11, 2022

By Fr. Victor Feltes

When Cecilia was born one hundred years ago the First World War had only recently ended. Some had hoped it would be ‘a war to end all wars,’ but this would not be so. There were millions more horrors, murders, and atrocities to follow. Religious demographers find there were more Christians martyrs in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined. The news reports from the Russian war in Ukraine show us that innocents are still suffering and being murdered in our time. Seeing such grave evils in the present and the past, even the faithful may understandably question, “Where is God?

Last week, a Dominican Catholic priest in Ukraine was asked about this in light of the wicked war crimes revealed in the town of Bucha near Kiev. Fr. Petro Balog replied, “Today we must recall the words of Christ from the 25th chapter of Matthew, where he says that ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ When we talk about Bucha… Christ was killed, Christ was deprived of his home, his hands were tied, and he was shot. All this was done to those with whom Christ identifies himself. …God is being crucified again, tortured again.” Fr. Balog emphasizes that God is not above it all. God is in the midst of the suffering and on the side of those suffering.

During Holy Week we remember how Christ’s love led him to offer his painful and sorrowful Passion to save us. Jesus’ innocent suffering, his death and resurrection, changes Christians’ view of this life, death, and the life to come. Though we naturally mourn the passing of Cecilia, we need “not grieve like [others] who have no hope,” for “the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” On the Last Day, his faithful will say, “let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!

Jesus teaches us at the Last Supper and today, “Do not let your hearts be troubled… In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. I am going to prepare a place for you… I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” Christ declares to us, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. … Love one another as I love you. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” And the lives of his present-day disciples, at our best, help others to believe in Jesus too. A faithful Christian life reflects the faithful love of Christ for his Spouse, the Church, and for each of us individually.

Like Jesus, Cecilia taught many gathered around her. Like Christ, she could “be kind, but be firm.” Some called her, “The best teacher I ever had.” Like our heavenly Father, there were many dwelling places in Cecilia’s house. In addition to family she excellently fed farm hands and friends, and opened her doors to host relatives in need (including her own aged mother, two aunts, and two nephews who had lost their own mother). And after her beloved husband, Bill, became severely debilitated, her faithful love cared for him too through their last two decades together. When asked to imagine living her life over again, she answered, “I would walk the aisle at St. Paul’s with the same man, welcome the birth of each child, grandchild, and greatgrand.” Like God loves each of his children, Cecilia wrote, “I loved each child dearly – perhaps in a different way as each is an individual, but 100% love for each one. …Remember my love for children; my seven, all grandchildren, and the great grands also.

And throughout her life, Cecilia’s Catholic Faith came first. She was known to say, “Without faith in God you have nothing.” She recalled her 1st (“Solemn”) Communion, receiving Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist in 8th grade, as a highlight moment of her life, and pointed to the nuns and priests at St. Paul’s as one of her life’s greatest inspirations. Cecilia wrote in her funeral preparation notes: “I hope I instilled a strong faith in God in my own seven children, grandchildren, and every child I was close to in my life. [I want my family to remember me for] whatever I did to help them to be better Christians.

In St. Augustine’s book The Confessions, the oldest autobiography in Western history, he writes about the death of his mother, St. Monica, whose prayers and lived example were so important for his conversion and salvation. As she was dying, St. Monica told her children “Bury my body wherever you will…. Only one thing I ask of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.” Monica was a saint, but she was not presumptuous. She desired the help of her loved ones’ prayers, just like we should pray for Cecilia. But Monica desired something more; not only for her dearest ones to pray for her soul but to draw near to the altar of the Lord Jesus themselves. God, like water, is all around us; but to drink we come to the font of Christ.

Human events are often gravely wrong and death is a heartbreaking scandal. But knowing Jesus Christ and his saints reveals the reality and strength of God’s love. The Easter resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ remains our hope and consolation, for Cecilia, ourselves, and all the world.

Entering Holy Week

April 9, 2022

Palm Sunday
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

Today the Church is celebrating Palm Sunday, Palm Sunday reminds us of the glorious and triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. As Jesus entered Jerusalem the crowds greeted him with shouts of joy and proclaimed him as the messianic king. They spread their cloaks on the ground and placed the palm branches on the street and shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” The donkey was a symbol of peace and those who rode upon them proclaimed peaceful intentions. The laying of palm branches indicated that the king or dignitary was arriving at victory or triumph.

In the second reading of today. The hymn tells us that even though he was divine, he took willingly the human form for our sake. He is the new Adam who became obedient and did not cling to his divinity and, He is the servant of God who accepted sufferings for the sake of humanity. Finally, he died on the cross a death of shame and humiliation. That death became the sign of triumph and glory and the means of salvation for the world.

The Gospel tells us of his victory and reveals in painful detail the physical sufferings of Jesus. There is rejection, pain, misunderstanding, and Humiliation and yet through it, all Jesus stands firm, faithful to God till the end. In the process, there is a transformation. The leader becomes a servant, shame turns to honor, mockery becomes praise, fear turns to trust, abandonment becomes love, despair turns into hope, and above all death blossoms into new life.

In today’s Passion narrative, Luke builds up to five basic events that take place during the last few days of the earthly life of Jesus. The first is that Jesus shares his final meal with the disciples. Second, Jesus is arrested by his enemies. Third, Jesus is subjected to the so-called Jewish trial. Fourth, Jesus is subjected to the Roman trial and is condemned to death. Fifth, Jesus is crucified on the Cross. He dies on the Cross and is buried soon after.

We must be ready to surrender our lives to Jesus during this Holy Week and welcome Him into all areas of our life as our Lord and Savior, singing “Hosanna.” Today, we receive palm branches at the Divine Liturgy. Let us take them to our homes and put them in a place where we can always see them. Let the palms remind us that Christ is the King of our families, which Christ is the King of our hearts, and that Christ is the only true answer to our quest for happiness and meaning in our lives. And if we do proclaim Christ as our King, let us try to make time for Him in our daily life. Let us remember that He is the One with whom we will be spending eternity. Let us be reminded further that our careers, our education, our finances, our homes, and all of the basic material needs in our lives are only temporary. Let us prioritize and place Christ the King as the primary concern in our lives. It is only when we have done this that we will find true peace and happiness in our confused and complex world.

This week, let us reflect upon the mystery of the Passion of Jesus, our King, as we prepare ourselves to commemorate His glorious Resurrection. Let us remember that Jesus died for our sins, your sins, my sins. Let us be most thankful to the Lord Jesus in thoughts, words, and in actions. And may the Spirit of Jesus be with us during the coming week as we relive the last few days in the life of Jesus on earth. This is a perfect opportunity for us to learn about Divine love so we too may grow in the love of Jesus by the grace of the Heavenly Father.

The Seven Last Words of Christ

March 19, 2022

The seven last words (or statements) Jesus said from his Cross are a classic reflection for Lent. This year, Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran preached on this theme throughout a four evening parish mission retreat at held St. Paul’s, March 14-17. His four talks are below.

Monday’s Talk
“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing”
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Tuesday’s Talk
“Jesus said to his mother: ‘Woman, this is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple: “This is your mother.”
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Wednesday’s Talk
“I thirst.”
“It is finished.”

Thursday’s Talk
“Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!’”

Why They Rejected Christ

January 29, 2022

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

When Jesus preached at Nazareth near the start of his public ministry, his own hometown neighbors rose up, filled with fury against him. They drove him out of their village intending to toss him head first off a cliff. Later, near the end of Jesus’ public ministry, one his own twelve apostles, after spending years in his close company, chose to betray Jesus to his enemies. And sometimes in our present day, lifelong Christians experience painful events and give up on their commitment to Christ. Why did Jesus’ neighbors in Nazareth reject him? Why did his apostle, Judas Iscariot, betray him? And why do Christians sometimes abandon him in hard times? All of these expected our Lord to do certain things for them but were disappointed. In each case, Jesus failed to do for them what they desired.

Part of the problem at Nazareth was that Jesus was too familiar to them. He grew up there as a little kid playing in their streets, he worked locally as a carpenter’s son, and he quietly attended their small-town synagogue for years. So when they heard him preaching they asked, “Where did this man get all this?” How could this guy be someone foretold of in the Scriptures? As Jesus acknowledges, “No prophet is accepted in his own native place.”

They wanted him to prove he was somebody special by working miracles before them. A sick doctor should be able to apply his talents for his own recovery and prove he is a real doctor; so the Nazoreans would say to Jesus, “Physician, cure yourself! Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.” But God’s prophet does not owe them miracles. Jesus notes that neither Elijah nor Elisha, two of the Old Testament’s greatest prophets, worked miracles for Israel’s individual widows or lepers, respectively. St. Mark’s Gospel reports that Jesus did not perform many mighty deeds in Nazareth, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. Their lack of faith and lack of openness seems to have limited the gifts of God they could receive. So Jesus failed to match their expectations, and they took great offense at him.

Why did Judas Iscariot betray our Lord for thirty silver pieces? St. John tells us in his gospel that Judas “was a thief and held [Jesus and the apostles’] moneybag and used to steal the contributions.” Those thirty coins represented thirty days’ wages back then, something akin to $3,000 today. Was Judas so greedy for that relatively-modest amount of money that he couldn’t resist? When Judas saw that Jesus had been condemned to death he felt deep regret at what he had done. He tried to return the money to the high priest and elders saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” He wishes to undo his deed, but the Jewish leaders brush him off: “What is that to us? Look to it yourself.” Judas goes away in despair and foolishly kills himself. If Judas did not wish for Jesus to die, then why did he sell him out? It seems that this apostle was disappointed by Jesus’ public ministry.

Most Jews expected the Messiah to come as a warrior-king like David. They imagined the Christ would drive out their pagan overlords, conquer Jerusalem, and lead an earthly kingdom of vast power, prestige, privilege, and wealth. But Jesus was not pursuing that popular dream. He devoted his efforts instead to teaching and healing the lowly and poor. When, after feeding thousands with five loaves and two fish, Jesus perceived “they were going to come and carry him off to make him king,” he firmly sent that crowd away and withdrew up the mountain alone. Judas had run out of patience waiting for Jesus’ Kingdom to come. Maybe Judas had given up on Jesus, and took that money to start a new life without him. Or maybe he hoped that Jesus—with his back to the wall—would finally wield his mighty, miraculous power to claim his royal throne, with Judas at his side. Either way, Judas’ disappointed expectations led this disciple to betray Jesus Christ and lose everything.

In our own day, some Christians leave the Lord Jesus after following him for decades. Oftentimes, this happens after a painful tragedy: a terrible diagnosis, a failed marriage, a Church scandal, a child’s tragic death. It is not the Christian life they had envisioned. They likely asked God for a particular miracle but it was not given. I know a man from a previous parish who attends Mass with his wife every Sunday, but he stopped receiving Holy Communion many years ago after their teenage daughter died in a car crash. I know of another long-time Catholic who reportedly became embittered at losing his good health and refused a Catholic funeral. How should a follower of Jesus Christ respond to life’s profound and painful trials?

On the first Good Friday, when Jesus died on the Cross, the Gospel of St. Luke tells us “all his acquaintances stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee and saw these events.” St. John’s Gospel highlights that the Blessed Virgin Mary was there at the Cross of Christ along with his beloved disciple. What did they feel like amid that horror? What miracles did they plead for that day? Their prayers to heaven seemed to go unheard. The next day, in shock and grieving on Holy Saturday, they may have questioned in their hearts, “Where was God? How could he let this happen? Does he not care? Where is his faithfulness to his faithful ones? How could this be part of a loving plan?” But the next day, on Easter Sunday, they witnessed the joyful resurrection Jesus had promised, and God’s loving, mysterious purposes became clearer.

Jesus told his disciples and says to us, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Jesus does not promise us a life exactly as we would plan it for ourselves. Not every prayer for a miracle will be granted exactly as we would imagine. But remember, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ will come for his faithful ones.

The Cup Jesus Drank

October 17, 2021

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approach Jesus asking for a favor: “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Jesus says to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink…?” They respond, “We can!” Jesus answers them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink… but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.

Jesus told James and John, “You do not know what you are asking,” but how well do we understand what Jesus is saying here? What was the cup that Jesus would drink? How would Jesus be enthroned in glory? And who got those places at his right and his left? The answers are found in the gospel accounts of the Passion.

Jesus, the night before he died, prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” And again, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” Earlier that same evening, at the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples, “from this time on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes. … Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” So when is the next time we see Jesus drink “the fruit of the vine”? All four gospels record that Jesus was given wine on his Cross. In his suffering, Jesus said, “I thirst.” Someone soaked a sponge in a vessel filled with sour wine and put it up to his mouth. Once Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished,” and then he died.

Alongside the cross of Jesus a pair of guilty criminals were also crucified; one on his right and the other on his left. Both of them had mocked Jesus at first, but then one of them repented. Acknowledging Christ’s innocence and lordship, he asked: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

So what is the cup which Jesus drank? His cup is a cup of suffering. When and where was Jesus first enthroned in the kingdom of God? He is enthroned in glory upon his Cross. And who received the places at his right and left? Those places close to Jesus went first to two crucified criminals. Indeed, James and John in today’s gospel did not know what they were asking. Yet these apostles would go on to be glorified through their own shares in Christ’s sufferings: including martyrdom for St. James and exile for St. John “the Beloved Disciple.”

Many people struggle to reconcile the reality of suffering with the power and love of God. Some Christians even mistakenly preach a “Prosperity Gospel,” saying that if you believe in God and love him, he will bless you so that bad things never happen to you. But this view is incomplete. There are true blessings which flow from following Jesus Christ and his Gospel, but the worldview of the “Prosperity Gospel” sets believers up for a fall. When painful hardship or tragedy eventually come, those Christians will either blame themselves for not having had enough faith or blame God for seeming to fail them. This latter group wonders, “If God is not dependable, why should I keep faith in him?” And then, feeling wounded, confused, and abandoned, they abandon God.

We do not completely understand the mystery of evils in our world; why a devastating earthquake happens to some particular city, why a particular healthy adult gets cancer, or why a particular young person perishes in a car wreck. We do know that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, that his plans see farther than our sight. And we know that God, who is the highest good, would not permit evils to exist unless his omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil. In Jesus Christ we see that God intimately knows and deeply cares about all the things we suffer. So what is the Lord up to?

It’s no coincidence that all four gospels mention how Jesus is crucified between two criminals, one on his right and the other on his left, with one who repents and one who appears not to repent. All of humanity is similarly suffering as a result of our original or personal sin. We too begin as guilty rebels condemned. But on the Cross, Jesus Christ the Son of God, though divine and innocent, joins us in our suffering.

The Letter to the Hebrews observes that in him “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way…” This divine plan for Christ to be a suffering servant was foretold through the Prophet Isaiah centuries before: “If he gives his life as an offering for sin… the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him. …Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.

This Good Shepherd intimately understands the sufferings of the flock. He comes down from his high mountain into our dark valley and calls us to himself. We can respond to him with faith, acknowledging his goodness and lordship as sheep on his right. Or we can remain as faithless goats on his left, unrepentant for our sins and rejecting Christ forever. Realize that Jesus Christ desires not merely to forgive our sins, but that you and I would become children of God the Father just like himself.

Why do evils and sufferings continue to afflict those who follow Christ? As I said before, we do not know the answer to every painful question. (I believe we will understand God’s plan and purposes far better in heaven when he ‘wipes away every tear from our eyes.’) But we do know that Jesus Christ wants us to share in his own greatness and glory.

In today’s gospel, Jesus tries to help his disciples see that the path to true greatness and glory are not what they imagine. “Those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles,” Jesus notes, “lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

In our loving service and in our faithful suffering, we become more like Jesus. With Jesus, our sacrifices and sufferings are redemptive, helping to make us saints while helping to save the world. This is the precious, challenging, saving cup our Lord offers us. But can we drink it? With the grace and love of Jesus Christ strengthening us, we can!

Hearts Like His — The Nathan & Cassandra Hagenbrock Wedding

June 12, 2021

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Sacred Heart of JesusNathan and Cassie’s wedding day lands upon this, the third Friday after the Feast of Pentecost, the eleventh day of June. God’s providence has arranged it that they be married on this special day – a feast day, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, during a month especially dedicated to Jesus’ Sacred Heart. You can see depictions of the Sacred Heart inside this church. There is the statue of Jesus behind me, here in the sanctuary, and presently another statue in our devotional corner in the back. In artistic depictions, you may see Jesus’ Sacred Heart resting upon his chest, or maybe he holds it in his hand offering it to you, and sometimes his heart is depicted by all itself. In every depiction it is a human heart, crowned with thorns, pierced on the side, with flames and a cross emerging from the top. What is the meaning of these things? What do they reveal about Jesus? And what do they mean for Nathan and Cassie and us?

The heart is the organ within every human being which is most associated symbolically with emotion, devotion, and love. Since becoming man through his Incarnation two thousand years ago, the Eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, has possessed a literal human heart in himself. And Jesus has personally experienced human feelings as well. But Jesus and his heart are not merely human, but divine. This reality is symbolized by the flames. As at the burning bush in Exodus, these flames do not consume his heart, but coexist with it and glorify it. Jesus feels and loves with a divine intensity, and this love leads him to sacrifice for love. This love gives rise to the Cross, upon which he suffered for us. This love occasions the crown of thorns, which he wore for us. And this love led to Jesus’ heart being pierced, the event we hear about in today’s Gospel. Jesus’ Sacred Heart is human and compassionate, divine and loving, long-suffering and glorious. And it is the will of Jesus, meek and humble of heart, to make our hearts like unto his, that you may endure suffering, be loving, and be made glorious.

You can see that this world is broken. Other people are broken. And you know, Nathan and Cassie, that though there is a great deal to like about you both, neither of you is yet perfect. Know that in your marriage, you will inevitably encounter suffering; sufferings caused by the world, sufferings caused by other people, and sometimes sufferings caused by each other. But when these thorns and small cuts come, do not let the fire of your love go out. Choose to keep loving, willing the good of each other. This is how Jesus loves us, and how he calls us to love.

This persistent decision to love is essential, but it is not enough. To love beyond human strength requires God’s strength; divine fire burning in your heart. You must love with Jesus’ love by connecting with him; praying daily, worshipping weekly, and communing with him constantly (spiritually or sacramentally) as you are able. Love each other by the love with which he loves you.

Choosing to love with the love of Christ in marriage is now your calling. This vocation together is to be for your joy, fruitfulness, and glory in the likeness of Christ. May Jesus Christ make your our hearts like unto his Sacred Heart, so that you may endure suffering, be loving, and be made glorious, like Jesus Christ himself.

The New Adam

April 2, 2021

Good Friday

Last evening, on Holy Thursday, I spoke of how Jesus calls and welcomes us to share his Eucharistic feast. Like at the first Passover in Egypt, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ the Lamb of God frees his people from slavery and death. And his Church continues to renew and rejoice in our great deliverance at this holy meal he gives us. Today, on Good Friday, Jesus resembles and surpasses Adam from the Garden of Eden.

Eve was God’s gift to Adam, and he was a gift to her. The Lord God had cast a deep sleep on the man and while he slept fashioned a woman, a bride, from his side. They began a marriage covenant, became one flesh, and were naked without shame on account of their innocence. Though Adam and Eve could have lived forever by eating from the Tree of Life, they still had some concept of what death was. Otherwise, God’s warning ‘you shall die if you eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil‘ would be meaningless to them. And also realize that the wicked tempter did not approach them crawling on his belly in the dirt — that humiliation followed as part of his punishment from God. The devil would have appeared to them as a more imposing predator.

God had placed the man in the Garden “to tend and keep it.” Adam was not only to cultivate paradise, but also to watch over, guard, and protect it, including Eve. However, when the tempter comes seeking to separate her from God forever, Adam does not intervene. At the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the first Adam does not lay down his life, he does not fight to the death against “the dragon, the ancient serpent, which is the Devil or Satan,” endangering his bride. So instead, she “took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” They failed, and sinned and fell together, with painful consequences for us all.

Jesus Christ is our New Adam “who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.” Though tried in the Garden of Gethsemane, he chose to fulfill God’s will, and “Christ became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Despite his sinless innocence, they stripped him naked and crucified him. The Cross is the New Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, where we see both his goodness and our evil on full display.

Once he had died, they pierced Jesus’ side, and blood and water flowed out. The Bride of Christ is his Church, fashioned from his side as he slept the sleep of death, born from baptismal water and eucharistic Body and Blood. And note Jesus’ last words quoted by St. John: they may be translated as “It is finished,” or “It is consummated.” Christ the Bridegroom, the New Adam, dies for his Bride, the Church; laying down his life in his victorious battle against the Evil One in another garden, and rising again to eternal life from a garden tomb, exulting her along with himself.

It can be a challenge for guys to identify with being the Bride of Christ, just as ladies are challenged to connect with their baptismal call to be priest, prophet, and king in Christ. There is a spousal mystery here, and we must not mistake every feature of earthly marriage for the fullness of the mystical reality with Christ. But realize that Jesus feels an impassioned love for you, a desire to be with you and be one with you, in a close covenantal bond. This relationship involves work and sacrifice – our daily decision to love him – but Jesus’ love for you is constant, always faithful, in good times and in bad. He rejoices in you as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, and offers you his whole self, on the Cross, from this altar, and for ever.

View From the Cross by Tissot

The New Passover Lamb

April 1, 2021

Holy Thursday

The Lord gave specific instructions to Moses and Aaron for the feast of Passover—commandments containing secret significance only later to be revealed. Every Hebrew family had to procure a lamb, a year-old male without blemish, one apiece for each household. If a family was too small for a whole lamb they were to join the nearest household in obtaining one and feast in the same house together. The lamb could not to be eaten raw nor boiled in water, but had to be roasted, baked whole and entire, once some of its blood had been taken to be dabbed on the house’s doorposts and lintel. The whole community of Israel was to celebrate this feast and no one was to go outdoors until morning.

The first Passover was held for the salvation of God’s people, so that deadly judgment would pass over their households and they would no longer be slaves in Egypt. Once they were freed, they continued keeping the Feast of Passover, renewing and celebrating their great deliverance by God’s power. All of these were signs and symbols of things to come, of the still-greater things which came with Christ.

At the Last Supper, Jesus told to his apostles, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you.” The Gospels note the bread and wine on the table, in accord with the Jewish Passover tradition, but where is the lamb at the center of the meal?

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

Jesus asked the apostles that night, “Do you realize what I have done for you?” Jesus is the Passover Lamb of God: an innocent young man, unblemished by sin, whose blood is poured out upon the vertical and horizonal beams of the Cross, to free and save all within his house. Tonight we gather in one house, Christ’s Church, as a family, joining with other households together at Mass, to really receive in the form of baked bread Jesus’ whole self. As St. Augustine once preached to newly baptized Christians: “Recognize in the bread what hung on the cross, and in the cup what flowed from his side. [T]hose old sacrifices of the people of God…represented…this single one that was to come.”

Jesus’ sacrifice saves us from deadly judgment and slavery to sin, and at this meal we renew and rejoice in our great deliverance through him. By God’s grace, may we always have priests and the freedom to offer the Mass on earth, and the grace to never wander off from God’s house into the outer darkness until the first light of the new dawn breaks—when Jesus Christ returns in glory.

Jesus asks his apostles, “Do you realize what I have done for you?” Do you realize what Jesus has done for you? Know that he has eagerly desired to share this Passover with you.

Recreating the Way of the Cross

March 21, 2021

Our 1st Station, with an introduction and a map of our Way of the Cross

The experience of visiting the Holy Land (as I did in 2016) gives a person lasting impressions. One is a deepened sense that the Gospel stories were not “once upon a time” but events of a real time and place. Another takeaway is a better sense of the region’s scale – which is smaller than what you would think. The size of the nation of Israel is less than New Jersey, and the area enclosed by the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City (0.35 square miles) is that of only one-and-a-half Vatican City’s. The Way of the Cross, from where Governor Pilate sentenced Jesus to death to the place of Christ’s death and burial, is about 600 meters or 2,000 feet, less than half a mile.

Remember in the film “The Passion of the Christ,” when Jesus falls and Mary rushes to him? This is my photo of the 3rd and 4th Stations in Jerusalem.

In the Holy Land I also learned that Christian tradition not only preserves details about Jesus’ Passion (such as his three falls and St. Veronica’s veil) but also commemorates the locations at which these sad moments occurred. These fourteen Stations of the Cross are still venerated and prayerfully walked by pilgrims in Jerusalem today. It is a powerful, beautiful experience which I wanted to recreate in the streets of my community, and which you might wish to offer yours.

A present-day map of the fourteen Stations on Way of the Cross in Jerusalem

This Lent, we’ve created an outdoor Way of the Cross. It begins in front of our church and school and loops one time around the city block opposite them. After measuring maps and receiving permission from the various landowners, we posted the traditional fourteen Stations along a path which approximates the actual Way of the Cross, both in its length and its distances between the Stations. Walking it takes about twelve minutes (if one does not pause to pray) and we plan to keep the Stations up until Easter Sunday. Our small-town, local newspaper even ran a story about them.

The final five Stations, commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, are grouped closely together near the end. This is because the locations of Jesus’ Cross and Tomb were situated only about 150 feet away from each other. Both sites are now housed within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. On Good Friday, the Roman soldiers led Jesus west outside the walls of Jerusalem to a white limestone quarry. St. John’s Gospel records that many people read the sign posted above our Lord’s head on the Cross indicating the “crime” for which he was condemned (“Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews”) because the place where he was crucified was near the city. It was also apparently alongside a road, since St. Matthew notes “those who passed by hurled insults at him.” Christ was crucified atop a rock formation there called Golgotha in Hebrew and Calvary in Latin, which laborers had cut around and left behind. As Psalm 118:22 had foretold, “the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

A view from Calvary of the Stone of Unction in The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The new tomb which St. Joseph of Arimathea gave to Jesus had been cut into a rock face amidst a garden nearby. Midway between these two places, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre now displays a stone venerated as the slab upon which Jesus’ body was prepared for burial by his mother and his friends. In whatever ways you accompany Christ through his sufferings this Lent, may you come to share more greatly in the graces and joys of his Easter Resurrection.

Christ Was Lifted Up

March 7, 2021

3rd Sunday of Lent

People would pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem from across the known world to worship, often bringing money to purchase oxen, sheep, or doves for sacrifices to God. So vendors had set up shop in the Temple’s outermost court exchanging foreign currencies into Hebrew coins for a percentage fee and selling animals for a healthy profit. God, however, had designated that large, marble-paved court as the Court of the Gentiles where non-Jews (that is, the Gentiles) could come to worship him at his Temple. The Father willed his Temple to be “a house of prayer for all the nations,” but the moneychangers and animal sellers were making it a noisy, smelly “marketplace.” And by charging unlawful interest and demanding excessive prices even of the poor, they were also “making it a den of thieves.

A place intended to be free for holy worship and communion with God had become unclean, profaned by sin. So Jesus personally comes to Jerusalem at the time of Passover and does something dramatic. He zealously cleanses the Temple, conquering evil, achieving justice, restoring relationship between God and man, drawing people to himself, and indeed sacrificing himself; for when the chief priests and scribes heard of this incident they began seeking a way to put him to death. Their plotting would lead to the Pascal Mystery at the heart of The Apostles’ Creed:

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried,
he descended into hell,
on the third day he rose again from the dead,
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

Why does Jesus Christ do these things? Because sin had caused the human race to fall far from God and paradise. Suffering, dying, and being barred from Heaven were our human lot. We had become slaves to sin and the Evil One, held hostage against our will. Our offenses against the All-Holy One required an incalculable repayment. And our separation from God had made us doubtful of his goodness and love for us. It was a slavery we could not escape, a debt of justice we could not repay, and a broken relationship we could not heal. But God had a plan to save us. He would aid humanity with his divinity by fashioning a remedy for us out of our weakness and suffering and mortality, that from fallout of our downfall would come the means to our salvation. By his Incarnation, the Son of God enters our sinful world as one of us and by his Pascal Mystery sets us free, cleansing us, for holy worship and communion with God. First, Jesus assumes our nature, and then he offers a perfect sacrifice.

As the Letter to the Hebrews says, since we “share in blood and Flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the Devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.” Jesus said that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many.” And lest it be unclear, St. Paul proclaims that the Lord “gave himself as a ransom for all.” Christ’s death frees the slaves and ransoms the captives, and now saints and angels sing to Jesus, the Lamb of God, in Heaven: “Worthy are you… for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation.

To some, the idea of Almighty God dying on a cross seems impossible, unbecoming foolishness. Yet Christ crucified is the power and wisdom of God. “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” This mysterious, hidden, wisdom, planned by God before the ages for our glory, was not understood by the devil and his demons; “for if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” In sinning God, Adam had handed himself and his descendants into the devil’s clutches, but in crucifying Christ (the sinless New Adam) the serpent overplays his hand and loses big. St. Augustine uses the image of a mousetrap in which Jesus is the bait. The devil takes this bait in putting Jesus on the Cross, but by shedding Christ’s innocent blood the devil is forced to release his claims on those who are joined to Christ. The trap snapped down and crushed the serpent.

Jesus’ sacrifice was also able to pay the incredible debt of human sins before God. All sin is wrong, but consider which sin is worse: to lie to a stranger or to betray a friend; to slap your enemy or to slap your mother? The greater the generous goodness and love that a person has shown us, the greater is the offense of our trespasses against them. So how great a crime then are our sins against God, whose love created us and from whom all good things come? How very great a debt of justice must then be satisfied? Our sins caused a debt no sinner could repay. God had commanded his Old Covenant people to offer animal sacrifices for their sins, the idea being that the creature was dying in the place of the sinner whose sins had merited death. However, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, “it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats take away sins. For this reason, when [Jesus] came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight in. Then I said, as is written of me in the scroll, “Behold, I come to do your will, O God.”’

Jesus Christ, God become man, perfectly fulfills the Law, keeping the commandments and doing his Father’s will. He lives for God without sin, honoring his Father and mother, proclaiming the Kingdom of God without idolatry or blasphemy, without murder or adultery, without thievery or lying or coveting, but with abundant love. And in his death, Christ obediently offers the perfect, acceptable sacrifice we were incapable of on our own; a divinely-perfected offering of humanity to God. By his Incarnation, Jesus has in a certain way united himself with every human person, inviting them to become one with him. Through his sacraments, we are more perfectly joined to Jesus to share in his life and enjoy the benefits of what he has accomplished. Christ is the Victor over sin and death, over the tomb and the underworld, over the world and the devil, and he invites us to partake in his victory.

In the beginning, though the Holy Trinity did not desire humanity to sin and fall, our freely-chosen rebellion did not come as a surprise. Before Creation, the eternal, all-knowing Trinity foreknew what it would cost to save us. And God still said Yes, “Let there be light.” Jesus Christ was freely delivered up crucifixion by lawless men according to the set plan and foreknowledge of God, as foreshadowed by the Old Testament Scriptures. But could God, if he had wished, before Creation or in the course of time, have ordained a manner for the Son’s saving sacrifice other than dying upon a Roman Cross? If so, if there were other unchosen options, then the Cross of Christ was chosen as a most effective and compelling sign for us. A less painful, less ignoble, less public, less striking death — if such a death could have saved us — would not speak to us so clearly as a powerful sign of God’s love for us as this. Jesus makes himself so vulnerable and so lowly so as to awaken a response of love in our hearts. He extends his arms on the Cross in hopes that the whole world will be drawn to his embrace. As Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

After Jesus died, the Apostles’ Creed says, “he descended into hell.” What are we to make of this? Death is the separation of one’s soul from one’s body. On Holy Saturday, while Jesus’ dead body laid in his sealed tomb keeping a perfect Sabbath rest, Jesus’ soul visited the souls of those in the realm of the dead. Our creed translates this abode of the dead (called “Sheol” in Hebrew or “Hades” in Greek) as “hell” because all souls there, whether righteous or unrighteous, were deprived of the vision of God. But this does not mean that the situations of the Just and Unjust there were identical. Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus describes the afterlife before the gates of Heaven had opened, showing Lazarus comforted in the bosom of Father Abraham while the uncaring, anonymous rich man (whose name is not written in the Book of Life) suffers torment in the flames.

Jesus descends to hell as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the souls imprisoned there. He does not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the souls of the Just. Jesus had said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” By proclaiming the Gospel in the underworld and inviting souls to Heaven, Jesus extends his saving victory to all the faithful people who had preceded him in death.

On the third day he rose again from the dead,
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

I do not have the time to speak much about these lines this Sunday, but in closing, note what St. Paul beautifully observes about Christ in his Letter to the Philippians:

Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, Being born in the likeness of men, …it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross!

Because of this, God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every other name, so that at Jesus’ name every knee must bend in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father: Jesus Christ is Lord!

Jesus empties himself in his Incarnation, humbles himself in his holy obedience, submits himself to his Passion and death, descends to the depths of the underworld, lower and lower and then Jesus is raised up from there, higher and higher, to life and rewards, glory and honor and power, enthroned at the favored righthand of God the Father. St. Paul says to “have among yourselves the same attitude” as this in your Christian life, for as Jesus teaches, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Jesus or Barabbas?

November 23, 2020

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

For the feast of Passover, the Governor Pontius Pilate observed a tradition of releasing to the crowds any one prisoner they wished. On Good Friday, in addition to holding Jesus of Nazareth, the Romans in Jerusalem had a notorious prisoner named Barabbas. When the crowd came forward and began to ask Pilate to do for them as he was accustomed the governor dryly asked, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” The chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead.

Pilate asked, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” They answered, “Barabbas!” Pilate said to them in reply, “Then what do you want me to do with the man you call the king of the Jews?” They shouted again, “Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they only shouted the louder, “Crucify him!” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd lest they riot, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified.

This episode with Jesus and Barabbas is recounted each Palm Sunday and Good Friday when the Passion narratives are read at church. However, the Gospels’ Passion accounts are so lengthy and rich with themes to consider that the crowds’ choice between these two figures is rarely ever preached on. Today, I would like to show you the deeper significance in this rejection of Christ the King.

The first interesting detail is in the meaning of these two men’s names. “Jesus” was the name given through angelic messages to Mary and Joseph, a name chosen in Heaven for the Son of God on earth. “Jesus” or “Yeshuah” in Hebrew means “God saves.” The name Barabbas breaks down into the Aramaic words “Bar” and “Abba”; “Bar” means “the son of,” while “Abba” means “father.” And thus, the name Barabbas means “the son of the father.” So Pilate is proposing a question to the crowd more profound than they realize: “Which son of the father do you choose? Do you desire God’s salvation?

The New Testament tells us that Barabbas was a Jewish revolutionary who, along with other captured rebels, had committed murder in a rebellion against Roman rule. The Jews commonly hated the Romans and resented the occupation of their Promised Land by a foreign, Gentile power. Jews expected that the Christ, the Messiah, if he were to come in Jesus’ day, would drive out the Romans and their puppets using the force of arms. Then they imagined that this man, God’s Anointed One, would take his seat upon his ancestor King David’s throne, establishing a renewed Israeli kingdom of worldly glory, with international power, military strength, and overflowing wealth. So when Jesus came among them they failed to recognize him as the Christ.

Unlike Barabbas, Jesus did not promote hatred for the Romans but a love for enemies. Jesus did not raise an army nor a sword, but preached “blessed are the peacemakers.” On Palm Sunday, Jesus does not enter Jerusalem riding on a warhorse, but on a donkey, as the Old Testament prophet Zechariah had foretold: “Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on a donkey.” But when presented with Jesus and Barabbas, the people rejected their true King and Savior, the Christ. St. Peter would go on to preach to the people of Jerusalem on Pentecost, “You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.” The choice between Barabbas and Jesus is a choice between two sorts of saviors, two very different kinds of revolutionaries and kings; one whom the earth thinks would be most effective and the one whom Heaven has sent us. The Christ and an anti-Christ.

It was within Jesus’ power to have forcibly imposed his rule over the whole world. At Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter is ready to fight—he draws a sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant. But Jesus intervenes, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way? Put your sword into its scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?” Jesus then heals to slave’s ear before he is led away by the guards.

Like a gentle lamb silently led to slaughter, Jesus endures his Passion and death. And who would have thought any more of him? But God raised him from the dead and he appeared to his disciples, who then courageously proclaimed to everyone that Jesus is the Christ. The Jews and Romans persecuted the early Christians. Though peaceful and innocent, Christians suffered indignities, imprisonments, and martyrdoms, yet the number of those saved by the Church continued to grow. Then, in 313 A.D. the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity and ten years later gave it the most favored religious status throughout the Roman Empire. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land … Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” Indeed, Jesus Christ and his Church succeeded where Barabbas failed: they conquered the Roman Empire not by destroying it but by converting it.

Today we celebrate Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe. Jesus the Almighty now reigns over us and over the whole world. But this knowledge, upon reflection, can raise troubling questions in our hearts. When we see the horrors of this world, grave evils throughout history and evil happening in our time, we may ask, “Lord, why aren’t you doing more?” Every year in our country, hundreds of thousands of unborn children are being legally murdered. Right now, millions of people in Asia are being held in concentration camps. How many billions of grave sins are being committed every day which cause innocents to suffer? Lord, why don’t you end this evil? Why don’t you force the world to bow down to your will?

We may wish Jesus and others to go violently into full Barabbas-mode against all the world’s evil, but this is not his way. Christ’s goal is the salvation of souls, as many souls as possible. Jesus the Good Shepherd shepherds the world subtly but in every place, speaking to the souls of both his friends and sinners, drawing them freely toward his salvation. But what about the grievous sufferings and injustices along the way? Jesus is not at all indifferent to these. Our loving shepherd is the best of shepherds because he has been a sheep like us, a lamb who was slain. He endured such sufferings and injustices personally as the lamb of God, and he still mystically suffers in and with the innocent. “Amen, I say to you, what you did [or did] not do for one of these least ones, you did [or did] not do for me.

The evil of this world is a heart-breaking scandal. But sin and death do not have the final word. The last word will belong to Jesus Christ. Trust in the crucified One, our suffering God who died and rose for us, the Shepherd of souls, the victorious Lamb, Christ our King. May his Kingdom come and his will be more fully done, on earth as it is in Heaven, in each and every soul.