Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Thirty pieces of silver (Wednesday of Holy Week, Matt. 26:14-25)

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot,
went to the chief priests and said,
“What are you willing to give me
if I hand him over to you?”
They paid him thirty pieces of silver,
and from that time on he looked
for an opportunity to hand him over.

* * * * * * *
Thirty pieces of silver—that’s all it took for the Son of God to be handed over to men who wished to kill him and destroy his message. One wonders what took over Judas’ mind and heart that he could exchange the love of his friend for such a measly amount. Did all those years of close contact with Jesus not do anything to him? Did he not learn to love him and know him intimately, as the other disciples did? Surely Judas had good moments with the Lord. Surely he enjoyed his company, otherwise he wouldn’t have followed him this far. Why the betrayal then?

Judas wanted to force the hand of God, he wanted to force Jesus into showing himself as the strong and powerful Messiah that he was. Like Peter, Judas couldn’t understand why Jesus had to suffer. But unlike Peter, Judas refused to be taught by Jesus and was too impatient for that teaching to finally come to him. He wanted action, and he wanted it now. But he miscalculated, and eventually regretted betraying his dear friend. He took his life on account of that mistake, and heaped yet another wrong on a wrong he had already done.

Judas is one of the truly tragic characters of scripture. But unlike Jesus, who was also a tragic figure, Judas’ tragedy ends there. There doesn’t seem to have been any redeeming moment to him, no redeeming scene. That’s what happens when humanity plays God, it finds itself in a corner, or sunk in a pit, unable to pull itself out. Only God can grant the final redemption of what to the world might appear a complete mistake.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Judas (Tuesday of Holy Week, John 12:1-11)

Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified,“Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant.One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved,was reclining at Jesus’ side.So Simon Peter nodded to him to find out whom he meant.He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him,“Master, who is it?”Jesus answered,“It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.”So he dipped the morsel and took it and handed it to Judas,son of Simon the Iscariot.After Judas took the morsel, Satan entered him.So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”Now none of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him.Some thought that since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus had told him,“Buy what we need for the feast,”or to give something to the poor.So Judas took the morsel and left at once. And it was night.

* * * * * * * *

The stage is set for a most tragic act of betrayal. Judas leaves Jesus and the other disciples before Jesus’ final meal with them. We know of course where Judas is heading: to the high priest in order to betray his friend. The gospel of John even manages to set the ‘mood’ for Judas’ horrific act: “It was night”.

We must not, however, think Judas to be a totally vile and evil man. In spite of what the gospel says may have been his motive, he remained a faithful follower of Jesus, at least up to this point. The very fact that he was made the treasurer of the group shows how Jesus trusted Judas, his stealing notwithstanding. He belonged to the inner circle of Jesus, perhaps not as close as John, but close to Jesus nonetheless.

We must not think Judas to have hated Jesus so much that he chose to betray him. In fact it is more likely the case that Judas, being one of the more intelligent disciples, knew in his heart that Jesus was the Messiah sent by God. But like the other disciples, and many others whom Jesus encountered, Judas could not and would not accept Jesus’ unique understanding of his role as Savior, that is, a suffering role.

And so Judas betrays Jesus, perhaps in the vain hope that should God see his Messiah suffer, he would intervene and smite all his enemies, thereby showing Jesus to be who and what he truly is, the Savior of Israel. But once again Judas miscalculated. The way of the world was not to be the way of God’s Son. For him, there was only the way of the suffering servant. This Judas could not accept. And hence, he betrayed Jesus.

We too betray Jesus at times, when we put in place of the values and principles we’ve learned from him, the values and principles of the world: that of power, of prestige, of wealth, of greed. Like Judas, we show ourselves unwilling to accept that the way of Christ is different from the way of the world, and following him means turning our backs to it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

What's in the heart is what counts the most (Monday of Holy Week, John 12:1-11)

Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,
where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served,
while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples,
and the one who would betray him, said,
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages
and given to the poor?”
He said this not because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief and held the money bag
and used to steal the contributions.
So Jesus said, “Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you,
but you do not always have me.”
The large crowd of the Jews
found out that he was there and came,
not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus,
whom he had raised from the dead.
And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too,
because many of the Jews were turning away
and believing in Jesus because of him.

* * * * * * * *

Judas criticizes Mary for anointing Jesus’ feet, saying the money could have been given to the poor. One would expect Jesus to agree. Why should such a sum be wasted when it could have in fact been used to feed many. But that isn’t what happened. Instead Jesus turns to Judas and rebukes him, not because what he had said made no sense. But precisely because it made too much sense—at least in Judas’ calculating mind.

Poor Judas, up to this point, he still didn’t get it. He was still operating on the world’s calculations of investment and return. He had become too worldly for his own good, material concerns were still his priority. Mary anointed Jesus’ feet in what Jesus himself saw as a symbolic gesture foreshadowing the anointing he will receive at his death. But more than that it was an expression of Mary’s love for Jesus, a love that went far beyond the utilitarian calculus out of which Judas operated.

The gospel reading tells us why Judas found Mary’s action unacceptable. It wasn’t really because he cared for the poor, but because he stole money from the group’s contributions. Intentions and motives, as always, made all the difference. Mary’s action may have been extravagant, but her motive was pure. Judas’ indignation may have been understandable, even salutary, but his motive was impure. For God what is in the heart is what counts the most.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A failure in the eyes of the world (Passion Sunday, Luke 19:28-40 / Luke 22:14-23:56)

The stage had been set for the final showdown between Jesus and his detractors. And today, Passion Sunday, the final scene will be played out. This is Holy Week, when the whole Christian world comes together to commemorate the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of his mission, and the fruition of the task that the Father had sent him to do. Everything Jesus had done so far, every word, every action, every miracle, had been building up to the climactic events of this coming week. All the players are now in place, all the elements of the play are now ready, and Jesus enters into his passion after a life of faithful service to his Father and to the people whom he loved.

The final scene in Jesus’ life appears to the whole world as a scene of tragedy, a failure of tremendous proportions. Here was a man who did nothing but good, who spoke only of peace, who cared only that the will of God be done. And he was to end his life in the most cruel and humiliating way—crucifixion, at the hands of the very humanity he was sent to redeem. In the eyes of the world which calculates its investments in terms of the returns it will get, Jesus has to be judged a failure, his mission futile, his words, fallen on deaf ears, his death the final judgment of a failed and wasted life.

Passion Sunday begins Holy Week on this sad note. It sets the tone for the somber days ahead. But there is inserted into this sadness, an unmistakable element of triumph. For we all know that the play doesn’t end with the crucifixion and death of Jesus on the cross, at the hands of those who rejected him. We know that death would not be the final word, that after the agony of Good Friday and the silence of Holy Saturday, will come the glory and triumph of Easter. When the very life of Jesus will find vindication in the hands of his Father who will give him the greatest reward of all by raising him from the dead and destroying death forever. The life of Jesus, his works and his deeds, did not happen in vain.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts (Saturday, 5th Week of Lent, John 11:45-56)

Many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what Jesus had done began to believe in him.
But some of them went to the Pharisees
and told them what Jesus had done.
So the chief priests and the Pharisees
convened the Sanhedrin and said,
“What are we going to do?
This man is performing many signs.
If we leave him alone, all will believe in him,
and the Romans will come
and take away both our land and our nation.”
But one of them, Caiaphas,
who was high priest that year, said to them,
“You know nothing,
nor do you consider that it is better for you
that one man should die instead of the people,
so that the whole nation may not perish.”
He did not say this on his own,
but since he was high priest for that year,
he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation,
and not only for the nation,
but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.
So from that day on they planned to kill him.
So Jesus no longer walked about in public among the Jews,
but he left for the region near the desert,
to a town called Ephraim,
and there he remained with his disciples.
Now the Passover of the Jews was near,
and many went up from the country to Jerusalem
before Passover to purify themselves.
They looked for Jesus and said to one another
as they were in the temple area, “What do you think?
That he will not come to the feast?”
Many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what Jesus had done began to believe in him.
But some of them went to the Pharisees
and told them what Jesus had done.
So the chief priests and the Pharisees
convened the Sanhedrin and said,
“What are we going to do?
This man is performing many signs.
If we leave him alone, all will believe in him,
and the Romans will come
and take away both our land and our nation.”
But one of them, Caiaphas,
who was high priest that year, said to them,
“You know nothing,
nor do you consider that it is better for you
that one man should die instead of the people,
so that the whole nation may not perish.”
He did not say this on his own,
but since he was high priest for that year,
he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation,
and not only for the nation,
but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.
So from that day on they planned to kill him.
So Jesus no longer walked about in public among the Jews,
but he left for the region near the desert,
to a town called Ephraim,
and there he remained with his disciples.
Now the Passover of the Jews was near,
and many went up from the country to Jerusalem
before Passover to purify themselves.
They looked for Jesus and said to one another
as they were in the temple area, “What do you think?
That he will not come to the feast?”

* * * * * * * *

Caiaphas, the high priest, unwittingly prophesies Jesus’ death for the sake of the people of Israel in today’s gospel reading. He was at a meeting with the chief priests and Pharisees, when he spoke those words. They had come together to discuss the many signs and wonders Jesus was performing among the people—deeds that brought many to follow him. This, the assembled leaders feared, would bring their nation on a collision course with the Roman occupiers who were very wary of popular figures with a big following that could easily turn into a revolt. Jesus had to go. Israel couldn’t afford another pretender who would only incur the ire of Rome.

But that’s where the leaders of Israel were wrong. They had pigeon-holed Jesus, categorized and classified him according to their very own notion of power and authority. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was another upstart leader whose message of death and destruction to the occupying power would only lead to terrible consequences for Israel. Caiaphas, the chief priests, and the Scribes, failed to even consider that the message of Jesus might actually be a completely different one, that his message of authority might actually mean service, and that his idea of power might actually mean something other than tyrannical control.

Once again they failed to recognize the uniqueness of Jesus and his message, not because they were unlearned or unwise—they were after all, the most educated of all the people in Israel. They failed to recognize Jesus because their hearts had already been hardened by their prejudices and biases. We too can be that way, especially when we go about labeling people.

Inauthentic religion (Friday, 5th Week of Lent, John 10:31-42)

The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus.
Jesus answered them, “I have shown you
many good works from my Father.
For which of these are you trying to stone me?”
The Jews answered him,
“We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy.
You, a man, are making yourself God.”
Jesus answered them,
“Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, "You are gods"‘?
If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came,
and Scripture cannot be set aside,
can you say that the one
whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world
blasphemes because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me;
but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me,
believe the works, so that you may realize and understand
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
Then they tried again to arrest him;
but he escaped from their power.
He went back across the Jordan
to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained.
Many came to him and said,
“John performed no sign,
but everything John said about this man was true.”
And many there began to believe in him.

* * * * * * * *

The hatred of the Jews for Jesus had reached fever pitch at this point. They were just about ready to kill him with their bare hands. Their lack of understanding and perplexity at Jesus had reached a point where there was open antagonism, even hatred for him and what he stood for.
True religion is something that for ages has helped humanity come to know its world and find meaning and sense in it. It has given humanity a tremendous source of hope that there is much more to life and existence than the daily grind. But religion also has its darker side. And it’s a side that has caused tremendous pain and suffering among human beings for centuries.

If true religion is a source of peace and hope, inauthentic religion has bred nothing but intolerance, bigotry, and hatred. People have been killed and have killed because of it. What we see happening between Jesus and his detractors is inauthentic religion rearing its ugly head. It will of course lead to the death of Jesus on the cross.

It is important to constantly ask ourselves whether our religiosity is still of the true kind or if it has began slipping into that inauthentic type which only hurts people and produces no good fruits.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Saying "yes" to God's will (Feast of the Annunciation, Luke 1:26-38)

The feast of the Annunciation calls to mind the great and wonderful deeds God has done for Mary whom he chose to be the mother of his only Son. It also recalls the “yes” Mary gave to God’s invitation. It is a “yes” that will find a perfect echo in her son’s acceptance of the Father’s will for him at the garden of Gethsemani, when faced with the tremendous and awful prospect of suffering and death, Jesus will affirm his obedience to the Father’s plan of salvation. Mother and Son are bound together by this “yes” to God’s will.

But it is a yes that surely didn’t come without difficulty for both. We must not imagine it being almost like an automatic thing for both Mary and Jesus to simply give their wholehearted assent to what God wanted them to do. Mary was herself puzzled by the angels words in the gospel reading today. “How can this be?” she asked. Not doubt perhaps, but perplexity was what she felt. It was after all, something so unusual. And at the garden, when Jesus finally came face to face with the prospect of suffering and death, while he did accept the Father’s design for him, he too found the situation difficult and perplexing. “If it is possible to take this cup away from me…” he said. And yet in the end, for both of them, it was the will of God that held sway.

In our lives too, there are moments when we find ourselves faced with very tough decisions whether to follow our own desires, or obey what we know to be God’s will. Jesus and Mary are inspirations for us in this regard. For in both of them we find a perfect submission to God’s will, despite perplexity and perhaps even fear.

Blind to the saving power of God, blind to his mercy (Wednesday, 5th Week of Lent, John 8:31-42)

Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him,
“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham
and have never been enslaved to anyone.
How can you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.
A slave does not remain in a household forever,
but a son always remains.
So if the Son frees you, then you will truly be free.
I know that you are descendants of Abraham.
But you are trying to kill me,
because my word has no room among you.
I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence;
then do what you have heard from the Father.”
They answered and said to him, “Our father is Abraham.”
Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children,
you would be doing the works of Abraham.
But now you are trying to kill me,
a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God;
Abraham did not do this.
You are doing the works of your father!”
So they said to him, “We were not born of fornication.
We have one Father, God.”
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me,
for I came from God and am here;
I did not come on my own, but he sent me.”

* * * * * * * *

The Jews prided themselves in being the “children of Abraham”, that was their solitary boast. On it they based their relationship with God and with others. All those who fell under that category were welcome, everyone else was looked upon with disdain. Jesus reproaches them and reminds them of the real meaning of that boast, that far from enslaving them to their biases, it is meant to liberate them and enable them to worship God for who he truly is and to recognize Jesus as his Messiah. Sadly, not even their being “children of Abraham” seems to have helped them in this direction.

They were blind because they were stubborn, and as they persisted in their stubbornness, so did they remain in their slavery to sin. For Jesus had come to free them, not only from blind prejudice, but from sin itself.

God’s invitation for us to turn away from sin and accept the message of the gospel is constant. It is always there, ready to be accepted into our hearts. But we must take the first step; we have to approach God and in humility, accept that we are in need of his forgiveness and his mercy. Otherwise, we condemn ourselves to the same situation as the Jews of Jesus’ time, face to face with the saving power of God and yet unable to see it clearly.

Nothing is ever outside the scope of God's love and mercy (Tuesday, 5th Week in Lent, John 8:21-30)

Jesus said to the Pharisees:
“I am going away and you will look for me,
but you will die in your sin.
Where I am going you cannot come.”
So the Jews said,
“He is not going to kill himself, is he,
because he said, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’?”
He said to them, “You belong to what is below,
I belong to what is above.
You belong to this world,
but I do not belong to this world.
That is why I told you that you will die in your sins.
For if you do not believe that I AM,
you will die in your sins.”
So they said to him, “Who are you?”
Jesus said to them, “What I told you from the beginning.
I have much to say about you in condemnation.
But the one who sent me is true,
and what I heard from him I tell the world.”
They did not realize that he was speaking to them of the Father.
So Jesus said to them,
“When you lift up the Son of Man,
then you will realize that I AM,
and that I do nothing on my own,
but I say only what the Father taught me.
The one who sent me is with me.
He has not left me alone,
because I always do what is pleasing to him.”
Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him.

* * * * * * *

Still they do not understand. “Who are you? the Jews ask. All this time, all those miracles, all those kind and loving words, and still they didn’t recognize him. One of the recurring themes in the gospel of John is precisely the inability of many to recognize Jesus and appreciate his ministry. Even the disciples, time and again, are presented as having such great difficulty in understanding Jesus.

All such misconceptions and lack of recognition, however build up to a climax which, in the gospel of John, is the “hour of glory” when Jesus will finally be revealed as the Son of God, and the Savior of Israel. And yet, even at that point, perplexity is the order of the day. For the very moment of glory is also the moment when Jesus dies on the cross—an event that seemed to be the very opposite of glorification.

This is the greatest paradox of John’s gospel, it’s a paradox that has confounded many who encountered Jesus, not only those who refused to believe, but even his closest friends. It is only after the resurrection that his disciples and many others will come to realize what Jesus had been telling them all this time, that his Kingdom was not of this world, and that his being Messiah is different from the way they had come to expect a strong, and powerful ruler. The way of Jesus is the way of humble service and the way of the suffering servant.

There is tremendous consolation here, especially for those who of us who find in suffering a great stumbling block to our trust in God’s love and compassion. Nothing, not even suffering, is outside the scope of God’s love for us, for in him, even the deepest and darkest moments of four life find meaning and redemption.

Jesus, our "map" to life (Monday, 5th Week of Lent, 8:12-20)

Jesus spoke to them again, saying,
“I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”
So the Pharisees said to him,
“You testify on your own behalf,
so your testimony cannot be verified.”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“Even if I do testify on my own behalf, my testimony can be verified,
because I know where I came from and where I am going.
But you do not know where I come from or where I am going.
You judge by appearances, but I do not judge anyone.
And even if I should judge, my judgment is valid,
because I am not alone,
but it is I and the Father who sent me.
Even in your law it is written
that the testimony of two men can be verified.
I testify on my behalf and so does the Father who sent me.”
So they said to him, “Where is your father?”
Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father.
If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”
He spoke these words
while teaching in the treasury in the temple area.
But no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

* * * * * * * *

To be a follower of Christ is to give oneself body, soul and spirit into the obedience of the Master; and to enter upon that following is to walk in the light. When we walk alone we are bound to stumble and fall, for so many of life's problems are beyond our solution. When we walk alone we are bound to take the wrong way, because we have no secure map of life. We need the heavenly wisdom to walk the earthly way. The person who has a sure guide and an accurate map is the one who is bound to come in safety to his or her journey's end. Jesus Christ is that guide; he alone possesses the map to life. To follow him is to walk in safety through life and afterwards to enter into glory.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

True righteousness (5th Sunday of Lent, John 8:1-11)

Jn. 8: 1-11

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area,
and all the people started coming to him,
and he sat down and taught them.
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman
who had been caught in adultery
and made her stand in the middle.
They said to him,
“Teacher, this woman was caught
in the very act of committing adultery.
Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?”
They said this to test him,
so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him,
he straightened up and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

* * * * * * * *

Last Sunday we read the parable of the Prodigal Son. The younger son lived a bad life, realized his mistake, and returned to his father. The elder son lived a law-abiding life, but ended up outside the father’s house, refusing to attend the feast his father prepared.

Which of these two sons can we compare to Saul, who later became the apostle Paul? Many of us will quickly answer, “the younger son.” Paul lived a wayward life and then experienced a total conversion to the ways of God, right? Not really. You see, Paul never lived a wayward life? Right from his youth he lived a strict religious life. He wasn’t wayward at all. He was like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal son who was always law-abiding and obedient to his father.

Paul’s conversion was not a change from a life of waywardness to a life of discipline. It was a conversion from one form of righteousness to another form of righteousness. The younger son in the parable needed a conversion of the unrighteous. He needed to change his ways and return to the father. The elder son needed a conversion of the righteous, from self-righteousness to true righteousness in Christ or, as Paul describes it in today’s second reading, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ”. This is the kind of conversion that Paul had. Which goes to show us that, whether we judge ourselves to be righteous or unrighteous, we all need conversion.

Which is better, the self-righteousness of the law-abiding Pharisees who were going to stone the woman caught in adultery, or the righteousness of the woman who changed her ways after her encounter with Christ? We all know the answer of course. Jesus was harder on the self-righteous Pharisees than he was on the tax-collectors and prostitutes. Both the Pharisees and the woman have gone astray and wandered from the path of true righteousness. But whereas it is easy for sinners to recognize their sinfulness and return to God, it is often difficult for the self-righteous to recognize that they too are in error. This is because when they compare themselves with others they say, “I am not doing too badly, after all. I am better than most people.”

How can we tell when we are entangled in the sinister web of self-righteousness? The test is pretty simple: How tolerant are we of those we perceive as wrong? Are we an easy person to live with? Christ wasn’t a difficult person to live with at all. But look at the stone-wielding Pharisees in today’s gospel. Remember the older brother last Sunday. He was so intolerant of his “sinful” junior brother that he walked out on him. Look at the life of St. Paul before his conversion. He was so intolerant of those who had become Christians, that he was prepared to kill them. He persecuted and killed Christians whom, he believed, were messing up the good, old religion of their ancestors. But when he converted to Christ, he realized that the sign of true zeal for the faith is readiness to die for one’s beliefs, not readiness to kill for them.

From then on Paul’s goal changed. His self-righteousness became true righteousness. And his intolerance had become compassion and mercy. Paul, the killer of Christians, would one day gave his life to die as a Christian. He had attained his life’s goal to suffer and die with Christ. This, my friends, is true righteousness. It is the righteousness to which Christ was inviting the Pharisees in today’s gospel, when he asked them to “think first, before casting the first stone”. It is the righteousness to which he invites us all. And so we pray:

Lord, when I am wrong, make me willing to change.
And when I am right, make me easy to live with.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The blindness wrought by stubbornness and unbelief (Saturday, 4th Week of Lent, John 7:40-53)

Some in the crowd who heard these words of Jesus said,
“This is truly the Prophet.”
Others said, “This is the Christ.”
But others said, “The Christ will not come from Galilee, will he?
Does not Scripture say that the Christ will be of David’s family
and come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?”
So a division occurred in the crowd because of him.
Some of them even wanted to arrest him,
but no one laid hands on him.
So the guards went to the chief priests and Pharisees,
who asked them, “Why did you not bring him?”
The guards answered, “Never before has anyone spoken like this man.”
So the Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived?
Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?
But this crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed.”
Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them,
“Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him
and finds out what he is doing?”
They answered and said to him,
“You are not from Galilee also, are you?
Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”
Then each went to his own house.

* * * * * * * *

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, was a cause of division to many. The crowds in today’s gospel reading argued amongst themselves as to where the Messiah was supposed to come from. Would he be from Galilee, or Bethlehem? Either way of course, Jesus fits the bill, he was from Galilee, but was born in Bethelehem. And he did belong to David’s line.

But this is hardly the point of our gospel reading. For as always, the people whom Jesus encounter, even towards the end of his earthly life, find him a source of confusion and perplexity. They couldn’t make up their minds. Where they to accept and believe him, or were they to simply dismiss him as another impostor and blasphemer? Was he the real thing?

For many the words and actions of Jesus were more than enough. The sick were healed, the blind had their sight restored, the deaf could hear, the mute could speak, the lame could walk. These, for many, were enough signs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah; they believed. For others, however, no amount of good deeds, no amount of good words coming from Jesus was enough to prove to them that he was in fact the one they had been waiting for all this time. For them, no proof was enough. Their total lack of faith made sure that they remained blind to the goodness of God right in front of them, in Jesus himself.

We too could be that way at times, not only unbelieving, but stubborn and persistent in our unbelief. Sadly, those who insist on being this way often miss the wonderful opportunity of knowing Jesus in a most intimate way.

Joseph, the "Righteous Man" (Feast of St. Joseph, March 19, Matt. 1:16, 18-21)

Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.
Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.

* * * * * * * * *

Today, Joseph is honored in his role as foster-father of Jesus and husband of Mary. At first, this feast together with the readings, seem more appropriately celebrated during the season of Advent than in Lent. After all, the gospel does speak of how the birth of Jesus came about. But on closer inspection, there’s really more to be said about Joseph and his relation to Jesus’ saving work.

The gospel calls Joseph, a “righteous man”, a title scripture reserves for those who are found truly worthy in the presence of God. So it must have been difficult for Joseph when he learned that his wife-to-be, Mary, was with child not his own. He loved her for sure, but righteous man that he was, he could not disobey the Law, and so he sought to obey it but at the same time shield Mary from whatever shame that might bring upon her. He was obviously in a very difficult situation. But God, as scripture says, would never forsake the righteous. And so he gives Joseph insight and tells him that his wife is indeed conceiving through the power of the Holy Spirit, and that he should have no fear of taking her into is home, for the child to be born would be the Son of the Most High.

And so he takes Mary and cares for her and Jesus, his very life touched by the difficulty that would eventually overshadow the life of both Mary and Jesus. He too, had shared in the future suffering of his son, but just like Jesus, Joseph too would find in God’s loving concern, a way to see in his difficulty, the hand of God at work in saving the world.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts (Thursday, 4th Week of Lent, John 5:31-47)

Jesus said to the Jews:
“If I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is not true.
But there is another who testifies on my behalf,
and I know that the testimony he gives on my behalf is true.
You sent emissaries to John, and he testified to the truth.
I do not accept human testimony,
but I say this so that you may be saved.
He was a burning and shining lamp,
and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light.
But I have testimony greater than John’s.
The works that the Father gave me to accomplish,
these works that I perform testify on my behalf
that the Father has sent me.
Moreover, the Father who sent me has testified on my behalf.
But you have never heard his voice nor seen his form,
and you do not have his word remaining in you,
because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent.
You search the Scriptures,
because you think you have eternal life through them;
even they testify on my behalf.
But you do not want to come to me to have life.
“I do not accept human praise;
moreover, I know that you do not have the love of God in you.
I came in the name of my Father,
but you do not accept me;
yet if another comes in his own name,
you will accept him.
How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another
and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?
Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father:
the one who will accuse you is Moses,
in whom you have placed your hope.
For if you had believed Moses,
you would have believed me,
because he wrote about me.
But if you do not believe his writings,
how will you believe my words?”

* * * * * * * *

The unbelief of those to whom Jesus is sent is simply too great. Despite the witness of the Law and the prophets, they still find themselves unable to accept Jesus, not because they can’t but because they won’t. Their hearts have become hardened, their ears deaf, and their eyes blind to the reality of Jesus right in front of them. How could a people whose sensitivity to the workings of God in the world had been sharpened and honed by generation upon generation that has waited constantly for the coming of God’s messiah still miss his arrival? The only answers is stubbornness of heart.

We too can be stubborn at times, unwilling to admit that what is in front of us is a clear manifestation of God. Unfortunately, becoming ourselves blind isn’t too difficult a thing to happen. When our biases begin clouding our sight, when our preconceived notions about who and what God is begin to hinder us from seeing everything as a possible revelation of his presence, we become unable to detect his presence, and instead take refuge in our own idols.

What is the cure for this kind of blindness? None but obedience alone. And that is the greatest puzzle of it all. The more we obey, the more we see. The more we open ourselves up to God’s command for us to open the doors of our hearts, the clear our sight becomes. Without this, we will remain imprisoned in our darkness.

In Jesus, heaven and earth are wed forever (Wednesday, 4th Week of Lent, John 5:17-30)

Jesus answered the Jews:
“My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.”
For this reason they tried all the more to kill him,
because he not only broke the sabbath
but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God.
Jesus answered and said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son cannot do anything on his own,
but only what he sees the Father doing;
for what he does, the Son will do also.
For the Father loves the Son
and shows him everything that he himself does,
and he will show him greater works than these,
so that you may be amazed.
For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life,
so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes.
Nor does the Father judge anyone,
but he has given all judgment to the Son,
so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.
Whoever does not honor the Son
does not honor the Father who sent him.
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word
and believes in the one who sent me
has eternal life and will not come to condemnation,
but has passed from death to life".

* * * * * * * *

Jesus speaks of the very intimate relationship between himself and his Father. He cannot do anything on his own, he says. The Father is always there for and with him, just as he is there for and with us. This new kind of relationship with God is something unheard of before Jesus. This makes the protests of the Jews understandable. God was so removed, so holy, so remote, so different from us that to think of someone who can be called “God’s Son” is simply unacceptable. It really was blasphemy for them, who would not even pronounce God’s name lest they disrespect his holiness.

But Jesus brings God down to us and shows us a face of God that had never been seen before, a face that human beings scarcely imagined could describe their powerful and almighty God. Jesus brought God closer to humankind and humankind closer to God. After Jesus, no one could say ever again that God lives somewhere so far removed from the needs, concerns, worries, fears, joys, and triumphs of creation. In Jesus heaven and earth are wed and we finally gain access to God who has become our Father.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A God of compassion and tolerance (Tuesday, 4th Week of Lent, John 5:1-16)

There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate
a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes.
In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled.
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there
and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him,
“Do you want to be well?”
The sick man answered him,
“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool
when the water is stirred up;
while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.”
Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.
Now that day was a sabbath.
So the Jews said to the man who was cured,
“It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”
He answered them, “The man who made me well told me,
‘Take up your mat and walk.’“
They asked him,
“Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?”
The man who was healed did not know who it was,
for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there.
After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him,
“Look, you are well; do not sin any more,
so that nothing worse may happen to you.”
The man went and told the Jews
that Jesus was the one who had made him well.
Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus
because he did this on a sabbath.

* * * * * * * *

Jesus cures a sick man on the Sabbath and incurs the ire of the scribes and Pharisees. To make matters worse, he calls God his Father—a blasphemy for the Jews. They had gotten so stuck in their ways that they simply refused to accept the possibility that God could choose to act in ways that were new, and to reveal himself in ways they least expected.

Their religion had become so stultified that they could not even recognize Jesus’ pity and compassion for the sick man as a clear sign that God himself was at work.

The scribes and the Pharisees thought they had God all figured out and tucked away in a neat and tidy box that there could be no other possible way by which God could show himself. This is a very real danger for many religious individuals. There is a thin line that separates religion from fanaticism.

Fanatics are persons who believe they know God’s mind completely and have got him all figured out. They see themselves as possessing the fullness of truth and everyone else, especially those with whom they don’t agree, as lesser human beings.

It’s a very real danger, and one against which we should all be on guard. The God of Jesus Christ is a God of compassion and tolerance. People who think they have God all figured out show a completely different image of God--one that can lead not only to bigotry and intolerance, but persecution and oppression as well.

Faith, Trust, and Surrender (Monday, 4th Week of Lent, John 4:43-54)

At that time Jesus left [Samaria] for Galilee.
For Jesus himself testified
that a prophet has no honor in his native place.
When he came into Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him,
since they had seen all he had done in Jerusalem at the feast;
for they themselves had gone to the feast.
Then he returned to Cana in Galilee,
where he had made the water wine.
Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum.
When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea,
he went to him and asked him to come down
and heal his son, who was near death.
Jesus said to him,
“Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
The royal official said to him,
“Sir, come down before my child dies.”
Jesus said to him, “You may go; your son will live.”
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.
While the man was on his way back,
his slaves met him and told him that his boy would live.
He asked them when he began to recover.
They told him,
“The fever left him yesterday, about one in the afternoon.”
The father realized that just at that time Jesus had said to him,
“Your son will live,”
and he and his whole household came to believe.
Now this was the second sign Jesus did
when he came to Galilee from Judea.

* * * * * * * *

There are certain things about the conduct of this “royal official” who comes to Jesus that stand out, qualities that serve as a wonderful example for everyone:

(i) He was a “royal official” who came to a carpenter. The Greek term used is basilikos which could even mean that he was a petty king; but it is used for a royal official and he was a man of high standing at the court of Herod. Jesus on the other hand had no greater status than that of the village carpenter of Nazareth. Further, Jesus was in Cana and this man lived in Capernaum, almost twenty miles away. That is why he took so long to get back home.

There could be no more improbable scene in the world than an important court official hastening twenty miles to beg a favor from a lowly carpenter. First and foremost, this man swallowed his pride. He was in need, and neither convention nor custom prevent ed him from bringing his need to Christ. His action would cause a sensation but he did not care what people would say as long as he obtained the help he needed. If we want the help which Christ can give we must be humble enough to swallow our pride and not care what others may say.

(ii) Here was a man who refused to be discouraged. Jesus met him with what at first might seem like bleak statement that people would not believe unless they were supplied with signs and wonders. It may well be that Jesus aimed that saying, not so much at the man himself, but at the crowd that must have gathered to see the outcome of this sensational happening. They would be there all agape to see what would happen.

But Jesus had a way of making sure that a person was in earnest. He did that to the Syro-Phoenician woman (Matt.15:21-28). If the man had turned irritably and petulantly away; if he had been too proud to accept a rebuke; if he had given up despairingly on the spot—Jesus would have known that his faith was not real. One must be in earnest before Jesus’ help can come to him.

(iii) He was clearly a man of strong trust and faith. It must have been hard for him to turn away and go home with Jesus' assurance that his little boy would live. Yet he had enough confidence and trust in Jesus to turn and walk back that twenty mile road with nothing but Jesus' assurance to comfort his heart.

It is of the very essence of faith that we should take Jesus at his word. Oftentimes, what we have is no more than a kind of vague, wistful longing that the promises of Jesus would be true. The only way really to enter into them is to believe in them with the clutching intensity of a drowning man. If Jesus says a thing, it is not a case of "It may be true"; it is a case of "It must be true."

(iv) Here was a man who surrendered himself to Christ completely. He was not a man who got out of Christ what he wanted and then went away to forget. He and all his household believed. That would not be easy for him, for the idea of Jesus as the Anointed One of God must have cut across all his preconceived notions. Nor would it be easy at the court of Herod to profess faith in Jesus. He would have been mocked and laughed at; and no doubt there would be those who thought that he had gone slightly mad.

But he was a man who had come to face and accept the facts. He had seen what Jesus could do; he had experienced it; and there was nothing left for it but surrender. He had begun with a sense of desperate need; that need had been supplied; and his sense of need had turned into an overpowering love. This “royal official’s” story must always be the story of the Christian life.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The sinner we welcome and dine with could be none other than ourselves (4th Sunday of Lent, A Prodigal Son, A Forgiving Father, Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)

The story of the prodigal son captures the complexity of our experience of sin, guilt, forgiveness, and acceptance. Jesus tells the story as tax collectors and sinners gathered round him to listen. The people he attracted were mostly rejects of Jewish society. And the Pharisees and scribes resented that. This is the context of the parable.

The younger, sinful son, represented the tax collectors and other low-life characters who heard Jesus’ words and wanted to reform. The older, obedient and dutiful son, represented the scribes and Pharisees who couldn’t accept that Jesus seemed more interested in sinners. They who considered themselves righteous, could not stand the idea that Jesus was preaching forgiveness for sinners; just as the elder son in the parable couldn’t accept that his father had forgiven his brother.

It would be a mistake to think that the message of the gospel is that sinning—then repenting, is better than righteousness. The younger brother was not better than the elder son. Jesus doesn’t say that. God, however gentle and forgiving he might be, expects us to live according to his laws. There is a growing tendency in the culture of our world today, to downplay the gravity of sin and think that good and bad are just a matter of personal taste. How many no longer believe in sin, in accountability, in righteous living, because anyway, God forgives? The compassion of God must not make us forget that he also commands us to live in righteousness.

On the other hand, while God makes clear demands on us, he is not harsh, unreasonable, and unforgiving. He does not lay upon our shoulders, guilt that we cannot bear. In another part of scripture, Jesus tells us that with God, there is still a yoke and a burden for us to carry. But he also says that it is a “yoke that is easy, and a burden that is light”.

The problem with the scribes and Pharisees was that they were more unforgiving than God himself, more demanding, harsher, and less compassionate. And so in another part of the bible, Jesus says to them, “Woe to you, for you put burdens too heavy for people to carry”. That was also the problem of the elder brother. His righteousness had become self-righteousness, and his dutifulness had made him harsh and unforgiving.

“Look”, he says to his father, “all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders”. In effect what he was saying was, “I have been extremely demanding of myself all this time, while my no-good brother threw his life away, and you still accept him.” What he really wanted to say, of course, was: “I was demanding on myself, you should be the same with him”. Oftentimes, harshness with others is really a reflection of our harshness with ourselves.

A person who shows no compassion towards others, is most likely to be one who shows no compassion to himself. One who is too demanding and unforgiving of others, is most likely to be the same with himself. In the end, the very persons the scribes and Pharisees were rejecting were not the sinners they despised. They were rejecting themselves.

And that is so contrary to the teaching of Christ on compassion. One of his most powerful admonitions is: “Be compassionate, as your heavenly father is compassionate.” And we have to obey. Because there will be moments in our lives when we will discover that the most difficult person to show compassion to, forgive, and accept, is none other than ourselves.

“This man eats with tax collectors and sinners”. As Jesus did, so must we. For it could be, that the sinner we welcome and dine with, is none other than ourselves.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

God is the source of all goodness, even our own (Saturday, 3rd Week of Lent, Luke 18:9-14)

Jesus addressed this parable
to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity B
greedy, dishonest, adulterous B or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week,
and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

* * * * * * *

We should not think the Pharisee in the gospel story to be a liar. He truly was a decent man who sought to live according to the Law of Moses. The Pharisees were men who sought to live their religion seriously. They were exemplars of obedience to the Law. On the other and, we should not think that the tax collector was anything other than what he was accusing himself of being—a sinner. For all we know, he probably had an entire string of real nasty sins which had filled him with such guilt and remorse that he couldn’t help but accuse himself.

What was wrong with the Pharisee then? And why did Jesus seem to praise the tax collector? The problem with the Pharisee was not that he was good and obedient to God’s Law, but that he saw the source and foundation for his righteousness in his very own acts. His goodness, he believed was something that came from his very self. He failed to realize that it was God, and not himself, who is the author of all goodness and righteousness.

On the other hand, the tax collector, believing his sinfulness to be coming from his very own self, could only look to God to become the source of his salvation and forgiveness. He had nothing to be proud of. He really was sinful, he really stood beyond the pale of what was religiously acceptable. He knew that he only had his cry of mercy to hold onto. But this, for Jesus, was more than enough.

The tax collector got it right, God is the sole source of all goodness and righteousness, and before him we are all sinners. Whereas he got it right, the Pharisee erred, believing himself to be the source and origin of his own holiness. Which of the two are we?

Friday, March 12, 2010

We attract more bees with honey than vinegar (Friday, 3rd Week of Lent, Mark 12:28-34)

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

* * * * * * * *

Not all the scribes and Pharisees were enemies of Jesus. Some of them asked him questions out of a real desire to learn from him or out of curiosity for what he might say next. Jesus was, after all, a very interesting person, and many found his ways and his words attractive and perplexing. This particular scribe who approached Jesus is one of those who probably merely wanted to ask Jesus a sincere question, to which Jesus of course obliges an answer.

He sums up the commandments in two very simple ones: love of God, and love of neighbor. There were two tendencies found among the learned men of biblical times, one was the tendency to expand the Law, and the other, to reduce them to their simplest and barest substantial expressions. This particular scribe may have belonged to this latter group, and thus when Jesus gave him a satisfactory answer, he calls Jesus , “teacher”, and says that his words were “well said”.

One of the truly wonderful things about Jesus was that there was tremendous sincerity in him. And it was a sincerity that found an echo in anyone, whether scribe, Pharisee, or tax collector, who approached him with the same sincere disposition. We may find Jesus criticizing the scribes and Pharisees on numerous occasions, but every so often, we find him speaking to them in almost friendly terms. Here was a man who knew how to call people’s attention when they needed reminding, but who also had a great deal of acceptance of anyone of any stripe or color.

Knowing who and what we are as followers of Jesus—as Christians, as Catholics—is important. We must be aware of our identity which makes us unique and different; and we must bear this identity with joy and pride—not “hide it under a bushel basket”. At the same time, however, knowing who and what we are—being cognizant and even proud of our identity—must never close us up to the richness and diversity of others. Neither must it make us lose sight of the need to be ever-respectful of others’ difference from us.

The surest way to attract people to Christ, and eventually lead them to him, is to develop an attitude of hospitality, warmth, respect, and welcome. We “attract more bees with honey than vinegar”. What is true of our ordinary everyday relationships is true as well of our “mission” to “win people for Christ”. The message we bring is important; but so is the manner by which we “package” it.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Committing to Christ (Thursday, 3rd Week of Lent, Luke 11:14-23)

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute,
and when the demon had gone out,
the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed.
Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul,
the prince of demons, he drives out demons.”
Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven.
But he knew their thoughts and said to them,
“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste
and house will fall against house.
And if Satan is divided against himself,
how will his kingdom stand?
For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons.
If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul,
by whom do your own people drive them out?
Therefore they will be your judges.
But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons,
then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.
When a strong man fully armed guards his palace,
his possessions are safe.
But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him,
he takes away the armor on which he relied
and distributes the spoils.
Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

* * * * * * *

There can be no wavering when it comes to following Jesus. Either one is with him or against him. Our life of faith is not some sort of collage in which we can pick and choose those commands which we want to obey and disregard those which we don’t like because they are hard and difficult to live by. This “cafeteria” type of religion is not acceptable to Jesus. He promises life to those who follow him, and demands of them that they give themselves completely to him. There can be no wishy-washiness in following Jesus.

This is the essence of his retort to the doubting crowd that a kingdom divided in itself will not stand. He couldn’t very well be doing God’s work and the evil one’s work at the same time. Likewise, one who seeks to be his follower has to give his all to this endeavor. He can’t be around today and gone tomorrow. It’s full-time commitment.

There are many who refuse to commit because they are afraid of what this commitment will entail, what it will demand of them. So they either run away from it, or sit on the sidelines watching. Afraid of getting hurt or failing, they refuse to commit, not realizing that in their refusal, they are also closing the gates to the possibility of finding complete fulfillment and happiness in this life and in the life to come.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Commonweal Editorial on Tomorrow's Priests (Commonweal, November 3, 2006)

November 3, 2006 / Volume CXXXIII, Number 19 Commonweal


Tomorrow’s Priests

The Catholic priesthood in the United States stands at a crossroads. An increasingly sophisticated Catholic laity fills the church’s pews and staffs its ever-growing parishes, and yet the church has failed to produce a corps of new priests to match it-in either quantity or quality. True, some data suggest that today’s recently ordained clergy are happier than their predecessors, and this is good news for stemming attrition in the short term. But over the long haul, happiness won’t be enough.

Dean R. Hoge’s new study, Experiences of Priests Ordained Five to Nine Years (National Catholic Educational Association), paints a worrying portrait of the priests who will serve U.S. Catholics in the decades to come. Compared with the priests in Hoge’s previous 1990 study, today’s new clergy are not only fewer in number but also older, less educated, less thoroughly schooled in theology, and less likely to see its relevance to ministry. And they are more heavily burdened with responsibilities, especially early in their careers.

Problems in seminary training have been brewing for some time. By the late 1990s, as the work of sociologist Katarina Schuth, OSF, shows, candidates for the priesthood had become increasingly divided between two groups: one focused on “orthodoxy” and Roman control, and less inclined to collaboration with the laity; and another-greater in number, but quieter about it-less interested in orders from Rome and more committed to collaborative governance. As for the quality of individual candidates, the Keystone Conferences, which convened Catholic seminary faculties annually from 1995 to 2001, assessed merely 10 percent of their priesthood candidates as highly qualified, and estimated that roughly 40 percent exhibited educational shortcomings ranging from insufficient preparation to learning disabilities.

Now we have Hoge’s study to bring us up-to-date, and the results are not encouraging. Neither the polarization problem Schuth described nor the seminarians’ educational disadvantages identified in the ’90s has abated. Hoge’s new study shows a striking drop in theological preparedness among seminarians. In 1990, only 17 percent of diocesan priests in his sample required remedial pre-theology courses after entering the seminary. Today, that figure has leapt to 47 percent. In focus groups, some priests even voiced serious doubts about the relevance of their theology courses to their ministry. How then can they hope to relate doctrine to experience when parishioners come knocking for counsel?

Relating to laypeople’s experience may prove increasingly difficult for other reasons as well. Recently ordained priests adhere to a “cultic” model of the priesthood that stresses the essential difference between clergy and laity; the priest, Hoge explains, is seen as “a man set apart whose job is providing the sacraments, teaching the Catholic Church’s doctrine, and being a model of faith and devotion.” A “servant-leader” model, on the other hand, emphasizes the collaborative elements of clerical leadership within the community. But the popularity of that model, ascendant in the 1960s, has waned.

In any case, as seminaries continue to graduate fewer and fewer priests, the clergy will become literally more “set apart”-and not just from the laity, but also from one another. In 2005, 54 percent of diocesan priests were serving as pastors after an average of seven years in the priesthood-more than double the rate for recently ordained priests in 1990. And of those working as pastors in 2005, 36 percent of diocesan clergy were overseeing more than one parish. Added to the stress of new responsibilities is the challenge of being placed in increasingly solitary living situations. Nearly half of those in the 2005 diocesan sample live alone, up from 29 percent in 1990. Is it any wonder that loneliness is often cited by the recently ordained as one of the major difficulties of adjusting to parish life?

Of course, seminaries can’t do everything. Yet some of the issues plaguing recently ordained priests can be addressed. Too few of these men have the training required to do the job adequately-and they know it. Indeed, increased attention to administrative and leadership skills is the number-one suggestion offered by the recently ordained when they make recommendations on how to improve seminary training. Chanceries should take up the task of training priests in the practicalities of running a parish, and work harder to foster a spirit of community among diocesan clergy. However these challenges are addressed, it is clear that more must be done to ensure the health and competence of the recently ordained. At stake is nothing less than the future of the church’s sacramental life. The continuation of current trends could spell calamity.

An Article on Priesthood Candidates by Fr. Paul Stanosz (Commonweal, December 1, 2006)

December 1, 2006 / Volume CXXXIII, Number 21


Paul Stanosz

Rev. Paul Stanosz is a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the author of The Struggle for Celibacy (Herder and Herder/Crossroad).

To shed some light on the crisis in seminary formation today (see “Tomorrow’s Priests,” November 3), let me describe a priest I know, a man I will refer to as Fr. Bo. Ordained after barely scraping by in the seminary academically, Fr. Bo identifies strongly with John Paul II. The first in his class to own a cassock, he has a strong devotion to Mary, never misses a papal youth rally, and prides himself on his theological orthodoxy. He also recently began cruising gay bars.

Bo did not realize he was sexually attracted to males until his mid-thirties. Not sufficiently challenged to face this issue in the seminary, he has remained in many respects an adolescent. He was once a strong proponent of mandatory celibacy and continues to oppose the ordination of women, but he now supports optional celibacy-because “priests need fun too.” Besides the sense of spirituality that drew him to the priesthood, Bo found the role appealing because it meant he would never have to look for another job, worry about money, clean house, or otherwise fend for himself. And because he was compliant and did little to draw attention to himself, he managed to be ordained.

Intellectually unformed, personally immature, Fr. Bo is by no means a rare exception at seminaries today. Indeed, his is a personality one encounters often among the newly ordained. And that’s the problem.

Few organizations take the training of their personnel as seriously as the Roman Catholic Church. Since the Council of Trent, the formation of priests in the Catholic Church has included lengthy periods of seminary training attending to nearly every detail of a candidate’s life. The duration and scope of this formation process have traditionally aimed at assessing the candidate’s ability and developing his commitment to the church’s mission. Yet despite this rigorous process-and increased Vatican scrutiny following the clergy sexual-abuse scandal-my recent doctoral research in several East Coast and Midwest seminaries has made me seriously question our ability to produce mature, intelligent leaders for tomorrow’s church. I reluctantly concluded that we are seeing a decline in the quality of applicants, which, when combined with other dilemmas facing the church, may forecast long-range and deleterious effects on the U.S. Catholic Church.

To be sure, many fine candidates continue to enter seminaries, and not a few seem certain to become holy, caring priests who will serve with devotion and even distinction. Still, growing numbers of seminary faculty are frustrated and alarmed by the declining intellectual ability of the applicant pool. (This is something they would say to me only behind closed doors.) Statistics support their concern. In Educating Leaders for Ministry (The Liturgical Press, 2005), Victor J. Klimoski, Kevin J. O’Neil, and Katerina M. Schuth reported that only 10 percent of today’s seminarians are highly qualified, while 50 percent are adequately qualified, and the remaining 40 percent are impeded in their ability to do successful academic work. Catholicism is not alone in its struggle to attract top candidates to the ministry; unlike Protestant and Jewish denominations, however, it has not benefited from the inclusion of women candidates, who substantially outperform their male counterparts on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). And so, as average GRE scores for all U.S. test takers rose during the 1980s, the scores of prospective seminary students fell, and today, are significantly lower than the national average on the verbal portion of the test. In recent years, some seminaries have been forced to institute pre-theology programs to address the significant shortcomings of their entrants’ theological background.

Seminaries, moreover, are called not only to help students master theology, but to help them grow in maturity. John Paul II’s influential 1993 exhortation, I Will Give Them Shepherds, wisely added human formation to the seminary’s traditional concerns about spiritual, academic, and pastoral development. Indeed, formation on the personal level was to serve as the foundation for all other areas of priestly training. John Paul II noted that a priest’s personality had to act as a bridge, rather than an obstacle, if others were to encounter Christ through his ministry. And so, psychosexual development and affective maturity came to be seen as central to effective seminary formation.

How well are our seminaries succeeding in promoting this maturity? The example of Fr. Bo does not augur well. Though he was ordained in the 1980s, Fr. Bo is representative of what I found in seminaries today. Many of the men in my study entered the seminary in their thirties and forties, yet-like many younger candidates-they frequently seemed to lack well-developed social and relational skills. Many had been away from the church for years before having a conversion experience, and some reported being moved to seek priesthood by the charisma of Pope John Paul II. Faculty members I interviewed noted that today’s seminarians are frequently drawn to theologies that exalt the status and distinctiveness of the clerical role, and are more interested in consulting the Catechism of the Catholic Church for clear answers than in exploring the wide breadth of Catholicism’s theological heritage. My sense from my research visits is that a significant number of seminarians are looking for a religiously saturated environment that will bestow a special sense of sacred identity. Their rooms often have the appearance of shrines, and their days are spent in study and prayer among peers who share their worldview.

My hope is that Fr. Bo resolves the issues related to his arrested development before he gets himself into other kinds of trouble. I am not sure this is likely. While he complains that it is the media’s fault that the clergy sexual-abuse scandal has created the “depressing picture” of the church for people, Fr. Bo seems unaware of the extent of the problems and of his own inconsistencies. What I find depressing is the church’s own lack of candor. Desperately needed are priests who are forthright, not only in terms of their own sexuality, but of their personal integrity.

Are today’s seminaries fostering such an ethos? I have my doubts. Many of the seminarians I conversed with seemed like impressionable, religiously disposed men who were seeking regimentation, self-abnegation, and an institutionally prescribed identity. Such authority-dependent men are likely to frustrate bishops and vicars-not because they will sexually abuse minors or fail to honor their vows, but because they will take little initiative on their own. Followers rather than leaders, they are not likely to show the creativity required for effective parish work. In the past, they might have gotten by serving as associates at larger parishes, but now they will be called on to pastor parishes after only a few years of experience as associate pastors.

The well-being of any organization relies on its ability to attract the best and brightest to its leadership ranks. While Catholics know that the number of newly ordained priests is down, not enough has been said about the characteristics and abilities of those who are entering the seminary.

Living according to the Law's spirit (Wednesday, 3rd Week of Lent, Mt. 5:17-19)

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”

* * * * * * *

There are those who label Jesus, a rebel. Today’s gospel reading shows that he is not so easily labeled or categorized. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill”, he says rather forcefully. Why then do we often find him in other scripture passages seemingly breaking the law, like doing cures on the Sabbath?

The fact is, Jesus is making a point; just as he is in this particular gospel passage. And that point is that in living our life of faith, we must learn to distinguish between those elements of our religion that our central and those which belong to the margins or periphery. It is substance that was always more important to him, the trappings were only important because they served to lead one to the essence of faith. The Law was important, not in itself, but because it served to bring people closer to God and to one another. Hence one who, like the scribes and Pharisees became too obsessed with the minute details of the law to the detriment of his relationship with God and neighbor was missing the whole point of the Law.

In today’s reading, Jesus uses a word that is most instructive in trying to understand his message, that word is “surpass”. Our righteousness, he said, must surpass that of the scribes and the Pharisees. By that he meant of course, that we must learn to look and go beyond the letter of the Law and live according to the spirit of the Law. Go one step further, he says, if the Law says love your neighbor and hate your enemy, love your enemy as well. That doesn’t abolish the law, it completes it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Forgiveness (Tuesday, 3rd Week of Lent, Matt. 18:21-35)

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times
but seventy-seven times.
That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had him put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master
and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”

* * * * * * * *

We owe a very great deal to the fact that Peter had a quick tongue. Again and again he rushed into speech in such a way that his impetuosity drew from Jesus teaching which is immortal. On this occasion Peter thought that he was being very generous. He asked Jesus how often he ought to forgive his brother, and then answered his own question by suggesting that he should forgive seven times.

Peter was not without warrant for this suggestion. It was Rabbinic teaching that a man must forgive his brother three times. The Biblical proof that this was correct was taken from the opening chapters of Amos where it was deduced that God's forgiveness extends to three offences and that he visits the sinner with punishment at the fourth. Surely, a man couldn’t be more gracious than God. Hence, human forgiveness was thought to be limited to three times.

Peter therefore must’ve been thinking that he was going very far, for he takes the Rabbinic three times, multiplies it by two for good measure adds one, and suggests, with eager self-satisfaction, that it will be enough if he forgives seven times. Peter was probably expecting to be praised. Instead Jesus tells him that one must forgive seventy times seven times, in effect saying that there can simply be no reckonable limit to forgiveness.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Missing God standing right in front of us (Monday, 3rd Week of Lent, Luke 4:24-30)

Jesus said to the people in the synagogue at Nazareth:
“Amen, I say to you,
no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel
in the days of Elijah
when the sky was closed for three and a half years
and a severe famine spread over the entire land.
It was to none of these that Elijah was sent,
but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.
Again, there were many lepers in Israel
during the time of Elisha the prophet;
yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
When the people in the synagogue heard this,
they were all filled with fury.
They rose up, drove him out of the town,
and led him to the brow of the hill
on which their town had been built,
to hurl him down headlong.
But he passed through the midst of them and went away.

* * * * * * * *

“No prophet is accepted in his own native place”. It must have been with a very heavy heart that Jesus uttered those words to the people at Nazareth, his hometown. You would expect that being “their own boy”, they would be proud that Jesus now possessed such great wisdom and understanding. Instead they found themselves saying, “But this is only Joseph’s son!” They failed to believe because they failed to see in the ordinariness of the Jesus whom they knew from his youth, the power and presence of God in their midst.

And that is the really sad part of this whole situation. For they could have been one with Jesus in his mission. They could have joined him in his ministry and secured for their own town, a greatness born out of a sharing in the wonderful deeds that God was to do through Jesus. Instead, they chose to shrink into their shells and take refuge in their prejudice and contempt for one who was all too familiar to them.

There are occasions which call upon us to let go of our petty biases in order to respond to the call of greatness and nobility. Sadly, we miss many of those opportunities because like the people of Nazareth, we look at the occasion and say to ourselves, “I know this already. There’s nothing new to it”, and we return to our shells and congratulate ourselves for being smart enough to reject this novelty in front of our eyes. The thing is, that novelty is at times, the very means by which God tries to break through our labels and categories in order to show us something wonderful and worthwhile. Unless we change our ways and open ourselves completely, we will constantly miss them.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The challenge of unconditional love (3rd Sunday of Lent, Jn. 4:5-42, The Samaritan Woman)

“Every hair on your head has been counted”, Jesus tells his disciples in Mt. 10:30. God knows us through and through. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you”, says God in the Book of Jeremiah (Jer.1:5). It’s a thought that’s both daunting and comforting. God knows everything about us: our strengths and weaknesses, our goodness and our sins. There are just no secrets with him.

In today’s Gospel, while Jesus was resting at a well, a Samaritan woman comes to fetch water. After a brief discussion, the woman says to him, “Sir, give me this living water which you speak of. So I won’t be thirsty anymore or have to keep coming here to draw water”. Jesus agrees. But he first asks her to call her husband and then come back.

Ashamed perhaps that Jesus would know her real situation, she responds to him with a half-truth: “Sir, I have no husband”. You can imagine her surprise when Jesus tells her: “You are right in saying, `I do not have a husband.’ The fact is, you’ve had five. And the man you’re now living with isn’t your husband either”. Jesus knew her story! There was no hiding from him.

She was stunned that he knew her sinful secret, and she was afraid of being condemned. And so she quickly changes the subject. “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet”, she says. “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” You can tell she was totally caught off guard by what Jesus knew about her. It was bad enough that he knew of her sinful past, would he now condemn and denounce her as well?

But Jesus didn’t do that! For he knew not only her sin, but also the fear that gripped her soul. And so instead of condemning her, he showed her compassion and gave her the chance to set things right.

“God knows us, through and through.” It’s a thought that’s both daunting and comforting. It’s daunting because it tells us that we can’t hide anything from Christ, especially not our sins. He knows us through and through. But it’s also a comforting thought, because it tells us that there’s no need for us to hide anything from Jesus, not even our deepest and darkest sins.

It is our greatest consolation as Christians, and our greatest source of strength, to know that God loves us, not as the perfect persons we sometimes imagine ourselves to be, but as the sinful and weak men and women we often are. Before God, we can simply be ourselves. The Samaritan woman did; and the forgiveness, acceptance, compassion, and love she experienced far surpassed anything she could have imagined.

The Prodigal Son (Saturday, 2nd Week of Lent, Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)

The story of the Prodigal Son is the story of each one of us. Time and again, we find ourselves running away from God, our loving Father, choosing instead to live our lives free from him, his will, and his plan for us, only to find ourselves stuck in situation we eventually regret.

The good news, however, is that should we at any time find ourselves wanting to return to our Father in Heaven, he will always be there to run to meet us, embrace us, and rejoice that we have found our way back to him.

Of course for some, a return to God seems to only become a possibility when they’ve finally hit “rock bottom”, when like the Prodigal Son, they find their situation worse than that of the slaves in the Father’s house. For others, the slightest difficulty sends them scampering back to the waiting Father, while others fail to return altogether.

In all these, however, one thing remains constant, and that is the Father’s love for us, his children. Whether we choose to return sooner or later, he will always be there, awaiting us on our return.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Gratitude (Friday, 2nd Week of Lent, Mt. 21:33-43)

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “Hear another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey. When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” They answered him, He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.” Jesus said to them, Did you never read in the Scriptures:

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes?

* * * * * * * *

The parable of the tenants who killed the vineyard-owner’s son, is the story of Jesus and the lack of acceptance that he experienced among his very own people. When the early Christian community found itself persecuted and thrown out of the Jewish synagogues, they sought to find an explanation in the life of Jesus who was himself rejected by the very people he had been sent to redeem. And if it happened to Jesus, it would surely happen to his followers.

But more than that, the parable of the tenants is a story of missed opportunities, betrayal of trust, and ingratitude in the face of the vineyard-owners overwhelming generosity. The owner is God of course, who in his kindness had given everything his people needed in order to produce much from the land over which he had made them stewards. The tenants are the people of Israel, who failed to live up to their end of the bargain, and instead decided to beat up and kill not only the owner’s servants, but his very own son. This is how God gets repaid for his kindness.

We too can be quite ungrateful at times. When we fail to give God thanks for the many gifts he has given us, when we fail to respond to his invitation to live good and honest lives, when we fail to recognize in our neighbors, especially those in need, the very person of Jesus his Son, we show a tremendous lack of gratitude, just like the tenants in our parable.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Jesus and the right use of wealth (Thursday, 2nd Week of Lent, Luke 16:19-31)

Jesus said to the Pharisees: “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by Angels to the bosom of Abraham.

The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’

He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham,
but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”

* * * * * * * *

The story of the rich man and Lazarus brings to mind the promise of justice that God will give his people at the end of time. At first glance, it seems like a mere condemnation of the rich who will find torment in the afterlife and a romanticizing of the poor who will be consoled and comforted in heaven when they die. While this is certainly one of the ideas the parable wishes to convey, there is a deeper meaning to the whole story.

The rich man finds himself condemned not for simply being rich. Jesus never said being rich was a sin. Instead, he finds himself tormented in the afterlife because in this life he showed himself quite indifferent to the plight of the poor Lazarus lying at his door, eating the scraps that fell on his table. It wasn’t his wealth that condemned him, it was rather what that wealth made of him—a man completely insensitive and indifferent to the plight of those who needed his help. It is what wealth does to a person that either merits him heaven or throws him into the fire in the afterlife, not wealth itself.

We too have possessions. We may not be as wealthy as the man in the parable, but we certainly own things. These in themselves, however much they might be, are neither good nor bad. But it is the effect they have on us that will determine whether they turn out to be good for us, or otherwise. How we use our wealth and the things that we own in order to be of help to our neighbor is what will ultimately decide where it is we shall go.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Fidelity inspite of failure to understand (Wednesday, 2nd Week of Lent, Mt. 20:17-28)

As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem,
he took the Twelve disciples aside by themselves,
and said to them on the way,
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem,
and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests
and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death,
and hand him over to the Gentiles
to be mocked and scourged and crucified,
and he will be raised on the third day.”
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons
and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something.
He said to her, “What do you wish?”
She answered him,
“Command that these two sons of mine sit,
one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”
Jesus said in reply,
“You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?”
They said to him, “We can.”
He replied, “My chalice you will indeed drink,
but to sit at my right and at my left,
this is not mine to give but is for those

for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
When the ten heard this,
they became indignant at the two brothers.
But Jesus summoned them and said,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,
and the great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.
Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

* * * * * * * *

Today’s gospel tells us not only about the misplaced ambition of James and John, who in this gospel—unlike in Mark’s, have their mother make the odd request for them. It also shows us how they completely misunderstood what kind of king Jesus was meant to be. His was not a worldly kingdom of power and wealth, but one of love that was willing to suffer and die to save the world.

Nothing that Jesus said seemed to be able to rid them of the idea of a Messiah of earthly power and glory. Still, when we have said all that can be said against James and John, this gospel tells us one shining thing about them--confused as they might be, they still believed in Jesus.

They could still connect glory with this carpenter who had incurred the enmity and bitter opposition of the religious leaders and who was apparently heading for death on the cross. There is amazing confidence and loyalty in these two men. They may have been misguided, confused and ambitious, but their hearts were in the right place. They had faith that in the end Jesus would triumph.

The story of James and John is a reminder to us as well. While we may sometimes fail to understand and accept the challenging and difficult things about our faith, we would do well to cast our lot with Jesus and remain faithful to him as James and John did

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)