In his conversation with Nicodemus Jesus said, “Unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” Billions of years ago the Spirit gave life to creation, giving an unimaginable variety of creatures. And creation hasn’t stopped! The universe’s birth depicted in Genesis’ “Let there be light” and the scientists’ Big Bang are still evolving. Creation is born again and again and again. The universe is expanding with incredible distance and speed. All creation is being birthed and enlivened by the Spirit. Plants and animals have their own way of giving thanks: chirps, barks, mews, croaks, flowering, growing, exuding scents and tastes. What about us? Are we filled with thanks for our coming to birth? Do we display the gifts of the Spirit? God has given us everything. What will I give back today? I suggest giving God yourself—this tiny bit of creation. This is the best way to enter the Kingdom of God.
The earliest depictions of Jesus Christ were those of a shepherd. Pictures of the sufferings and crucifixion of Jesus were too painful and inappropriate. The early followers of Jesus felt the image of Good Shepherd was the heart of the Christian message. “I am the Good Shepherd” is the Risen Lord’s self-portrait. I AM professed Christ’s divinity, along with I AM the way, I AM the truth, I the Bread of Life. If a sheep got lost, Jesus was the Way. If a sheep didn’t know which way to go, Jesus was the Truth. If the sheep became hungry, Jesus was the Bread of Life. And while Way, Truth, Life give direction, Jesus was intent on not letting any sheep go astray, because Jesus was also the Gate. The sheep would have to walk over the Good Shepherd who is lying down, closing the fence and becoming the gate. The Good Shepherd will do anything to keep his sheep close to him.
Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Sometimes you might see images of a desert during Lent to remind us that just as Jesus went into the desert, so must we. Sand is constantly shifting due to wind or other factors. An image I have used with high school students at the time of a penance service was a tray of sand. Students could write something in the sand while waiting for their turn for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Perhaps it was a symbol, design, or letter of something they wanted to change in their lives. After receiving the sacrament, they could return to the sand if they wished, to again draw or write something significant. Students caught the point of the shifting sand; namely, we are in the process of reconciliation together. What we do and say has an impact on others. We have the power to help other improve their lives.
The Solemnity of Saint Joseph
A new baby becomes the center of attention in the parents’ lives. It would have been no different for Mary and Joseph at the birth of Jesus. Together they watched Jesus grow in wisdom, age, and grace. In his role as head of the family, Joseph four times heeded the message of an angel, each time keeping Mary and Jesus safe as they traveled from place to place to find a safe home, finally landing in Nazareth. There Jesus learned life skills, prayer, carpentry, obedience, and more. Joseph and Mary had all along accepted life as it is with all its surprises and disappointments. I imagine that Jesus learned to take life as it came, too, from the example of his loving parents. With Jesus at the center of their lives, God was at the center of Mary’s and Joseph’s lives. On this solemnity of Saint Joseph, let us pray that Joseph and Mary will aid us in making God the center of our lives.
Thursday of the Fourth week of Lent
In early centuries those who observed Lent were the catechumens and penitents. Members of these two groups had spent years in prayer, penance, and learning. When it was time for the penitents to return to the community and the catechumens to become part of the community, the last few weeks and the last three days before Easter were quite intense in the preparation. (These last days of preparation eventually became what we know as Lent and the Sacred Triduum.)
When I taught high school, I told the students, “Don’t get ashes.” Shocked, they wondered what I’d say next, and then I added, “unless you’re going to be like the penitents and catechumens.” Having studied the two groups, the students understood that ashes would signify that they were signing up for the rigors of fasting and prayer preceding entrance or re-entrance into the community.
How have you been like a catechumen this Lent? Did you study your faith more by attending a lecture or reading a spiritual book? Were you like a penitent as you sacrificed to atone for sin? Have you received the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Quantum physics, pictures from Mars, and a better understanding that we are all stardust have connected everyone and everything. Having emerged from billions of years of evolution, we human beings are becoming more conscious of our connection. We realize we are becoming one Whole. The driving force of evolution is love.
As we get closer to Holy Week, the gospel readings sometime show the close connection between God the Father and God the Son. Today’s gospel, for example, states, “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.” The Trinity is community, the life-giving, love-giving Source from which all else flows. Some refer to the Trinity as the Divine Dance. All creation is invited to join the dance. Had Jesus not taught us about the Trinity or said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” we would never have been able to imagine such Community, such Creativity, such Love. Let us adore in awe. Let us also be a connector today, extending the divine love to others.
Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
How did Jesus manage to do it all? He fed crowds, cured the multitudes, gave up sleep, delivered long discourses, and more. What was the power within him? It was his ever-present relationship with his Father. Son of the Father was his identity. His experience of his Father, his Abba, grounded Jesus, giving him his purpose and energy.
Being a son or daughter of the Father is our identity, too. We need to deepen this relationship by turning to the Father in every need, turning to the Father in gratitude, turning to the Father even when we feel abandoned but acknowledging we are held by the Father’s loving embrace. Rooted in our relationship to the Father, we can trust. And in the trust we feel the energy to keep up.
Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent
A distraught father begged Jesus, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus replied, “You may go; your son will live.” The power of Jesus’ word and the faith of the father combined in an immediate healing discovered the next day when “the father realized that just at that time Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’”
God has shared the gift of healing with all of us. Are we using that gift? Certainly, we have all prayed for the sick and injured. Such prayer is often at a distance by necessity or by hesitancy. Could you draw closer to the person, touch the person, and pray for a cure? Your combination of faith and courage may result in the desired healing. After all, we continue the work of Jesus Christ through the power of the Spirit, the “sweet anointing from above.”
Fourth Sunday of Lent
In today’s Gospel we read that God did not send his Son to condemn the world, “but that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus assures Nicodemus that rather than destroying, God gives life, reconciles, forgives, unites. God comes as light and invites us into the light. God is fullness, creativity, love, beauty. Let us rejoice on this “Rejoice Sunday,” Laetare Sunday from the first Latin words of the Entrance Antiphon: “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast” (Isa 66:10-11).
Nicodemus may have visited Jesus at night because he was embarrassed. Sometimes we feel embarrassed by our lack of knowledge of Scripture or our images of a punishing God or a God who doesn’t answer our prayers. Put aside your embarrassment and have a heart-to-heart talk with Jesus. Be assured that “Whoever believes in him will not be condemned.”
Saturday of the Third Week of Lent
Pope Francis in his apostolic letter on Saint Joseph writes: “Joseph found happiness not in mere self-sacrifice but in self-gift. In him we never see frustration but only trust. His patient silence was the prelude to concrete expressions of trust.” During Lent we are accustomed to self-sacrifice. We give up favorite foods or certain pleasures. Self-gift requires much more. Instead of figuratively placing candy and social media on the altar, we place our very selves. We say, in effect, “Here I am. Do with me as you will” in much the same way that Mary at the Annunciation and Joseph after his dreams said “Do whatever you want with me, God. You can have all of me.” Becoming the parents of Jesus certainly entailed no little self-sacrifice as they sacrificed their security, their plans, their homes, their reputations. We honor Joseph and Mary on their special feasts (March 19 and 25 respectively) for their complete self-gift. May our Lenten self-sacrifices prepare us to become self-gift.