Follow the Way of the Cross

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April 14, 2019 – Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord - Luke 22:14-23:1-49

The gospels were gradually written based on oral traditions and memories of those who were witnesses to the life and death of Jesus. They recalled his words and deeds. Those who study how the gospels were written agree that the account of the passion and death of Jesus was probably the first part of the gospel to be put into writing.

That’s because the death and resurrection of Jesus are the central moments of the life of Jesus. In recalling these events, we are reminded that death is not the final moment of the life of Jesus and our lives. Rather, death is our entrance into eternal life with God. It is a gift from God. We were created not just to live and die, but to live again. That is God’s plan. Each year, as we celebrate Holy Week, we are reminded of this amazing truth.

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Compassionate Father

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March 31, 2019 – Fourth Sunday of Lent - Luke 15:1-3,11-32

Today’s gospel is easily recalled because it describes a family scene that many will recognize. Maybe some will connect this story directly to their own lives or with the life of a family that they personally know. All one has to do is mention the first lines of this story: “There was a father who had two sons,” and most will know what follows. This remarkable story that Jesus created is known by two titles: “The Prodigal Son” or “The Forgiving Father.” Today we will focus on the father and his attitude about his family, especially his sons. Most see the father in the story as being a “stand-in” for God.

As the story goes, his younger son was a bit of a scoundrel. He took his inheritance even before his father died. He overlooked the possibility that his father might need that money for his old age. But the son didn’t care. He was quite self-centered. After pocketing his dad’s money, he left home and wasted every cent on selfish spending. Not surprisingly, he eventually ran out of money and was in desperate straits. The only option he felt he had was to sneak back home, get a job from his father and work as a hired hand. No one would have blamed the father if he agreed to this new arrangement.

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Bloom Where You're Planted

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March 24, 2019 – Third Sunday of Lent - Luke 13:1-9

For centuries fig trees were highly valued in the Near East. Their broad branches provided much-needed shade in hot weather and their fruit was highly prized. When ripe, figs had high sugar content, so they offered a rich source of energy for daily life. They could even be baked into bread and preserved for a long time. Wine could also be produced from ripened figs. Everyone in the time of Jesus would pay close attention when he mentioned fig trees. People knew of their importance for survival.

He pointed to the fig tree as an example of something that was intended for the many uses just mentioned. But he added that if a fig tree did not deliver, it was to be cut down. A fruitless fig tree had little value, although some people might have thought that “next year” it would be better. Jesus recommended more decisive action. All of God’s creation has a purpose, he taught, and if anything fails its purpose, immediate action had to be taken.

Jesus used the fig tree as an example of us. We were not created by God to just sit around and do nothing. God has expectations for each one of us.

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Recognizing God

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March 17, 2019 – Second Sunday of Lent - Luke 9:28-36

I live in the shadow of two mountain ranges. So, when the gospel describes an event happening on a mountain top, I can easily picture it in my mind. I also recall earlier biblical mountain-top moments, like when Moses was given the Ten Commandment. You can expect something special to happen when on a mountain-top. Perhaps it’s closer to heaven.

We have heard about the Transfiguration of Jesus many times. It is described to us at least once a year during the Mass readings and it is a common event that has been captured by Christian artists over the centuries. It’s a rather remarkable event, unlike any other in the life of Jesus. Some scholars suggest that it happened in the presence of the closest of the disciples of Jesus because they would be tested later during his passion and death. We might recall that Peter himself, who witnessed the transfiguration, still failed Jesus in those last days.

One feature of the story that I think important is the desire on the part of the disciples who were there to “freeze-frame” the event. It was so wonderful that they wanted it to continue. They desired to create a lasting memorial of the event, like a church or a shrine or some kind of permanent expression of what they experienced.

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What Are You Giving Up?

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March 10, 2019 – First Sunday of Lent - Luke 4:1-13

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and its powerful ritual of receiving ashes on our foreheads. While not an official Holy Day, it is one of the most-attended Catholic masses of the year. I even know non-Catholics who attend Catholic Mass that day to receive ashes. And what’s the message of Ash Wednesday? We are made from dust, and in a sense, we will return to dust. Of course, the focus is on the bodily aspect of our existence. In spirit we are created by God to live forever. Still, Ash Wednesday is a good reminder that we are not the source of our lives. God is.

Most of us are “seasonally aware” of Lent more than any other season of the Church’s year. For some this awareness began when we were children and were directed to “give up” one thing or another during Lent. For me, this meant no candy. I had a very sweet tooth.

As the weeks passed, I accumulated candy (I don’t recall how) and stored it in a container on a kitchen shelf. When Lent ended, I quickly collected my stash and consumed it all at once, which resulted in my developing my biggest sugar-high of the year. What this all had to do with being a good person or a devoted Catholic is not easily shown. All that I recall is that I was conscious through Lent of how many more days I had to wait until …

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Witness to Truth

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March 3, 2019 – Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 6:39-45

Recently I was having a routine medical exam that involved an analysis of my blood. Before sharing the results of the test with me, my physician asked me if I wanted to really know the results. I was a bit taken back by her inquiry, so I asked her why she asked me. She smiled and said that some patients seem to prefer good news to truthful news. Especially when it involved themselves and their health.

Her insight into human nature came to my mind in reading today’s gospel. Jesus is teaching his followers (us) about honest communication. Full communication, he noted, includes being honest with oneself. He uses that great image of the log and the splinter. We tend to clearly see the tiny splinter in our neighbor’s eye but fail to see the giant log (or beam) in our own. Honesty with oneself can be challenging. Especially if we have something we would rather hide.

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Our Best Efforts

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February 24, 2019 – Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 6:27-38

In today’s gospel we find the well-known Golden Rule. “Do to others as you would have them do unto you.” And it also contains some rather difficult challenges. Here are a few of them: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. Lend to others whatever they ask and expect nothing in return. Don’t judge and don’t condemn others. Forgive everyone. No exceptions.

Taken together, these demands are among the most difficult of Jesus. Some would say they are impossible to enact. But wait. More must be said because in no way should they be dismissed, or worse, ignored. That’s because Jesus said that’s the way God is. Our God is absolutely kind to all and more merciful than we can imagine.

But you may say that we are not God, and that is so true. Nevertheless, we’re called to be like God as much as we can. Which we can never do perfectly. However, we can move in that direction. We can seek “perfection,” knowing full well that we will never fully achieve it. And God does not expect us to be “perfect.” But God does hope that we will try!

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Jesus' Action Plan

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February 17, 2019 – Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 6:17, 20-26

In the air these days in the United States is talk about potential candidates for the next presidential election. All candidates ask themselves how they might best address the American People. What can they say to gain the most votes? They want a popular message, one that will stir the hearts and minds of voters, especially those who vote more for the candidate than for a political party. The so-called “independents.”

Today’s gospel summarizes the “campaign” message of Jesus. He lists a series of positives that he will help create in our world. Read in that light, how would you judge the possibilities of his success?

He begins by affirming three planks in his platform: (1) Further lack of resources for the poor, (2) continued hunger for those not having enough to eat, and (3) more sadness for those who are mourning the difficulties of their lives.

Wait a second, you say. That kind of political platform will get no votes. He’d better change his approach if he wants to be popular. But there’s the catch: Jesus is not after popularity. He’s about offering to his listeners, then and now, directions on how you, your family and friends, really anyone, can enter and live more fully in God’s kingdom.

 

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God of Surprises

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February 10, 2019 – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 5:1-11

A few years ago, I read a wonderful book about the spiritual life called, The God of Surprises. Reading this work reminded me of a couple of important things that I tend to forget. First, I am not fully in change of my life. God is. And second, I may well be surprised what God has planned for me. It might often be more challenging, more demanding, and more wonderful than anything I might have expected.

This element of surprise is manifest in the narrative presented in today’s gospel. It is sometimes called “The Great Catch.” It describes a time when Jesus told Peter and his fishing crew to head out for the deeper waters. Then he told them to drop their nets, and let’s see what happens. It turned out that a whole lot of fish suddenly filled their nets. So many, in fact, that they had to call for another boat to help them bring in their haul. Peter and his fishing buddies were really surprised.

Having had such a great catch that day, Peter couldn’t wait to get out on the water the next day. Fishing was his business. It gave him and his family a livelihood. If he could get a similar catch the next day and the next day, well, he would be among those who could boast that they were quite successful fishermen.

Then came another surprise.

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Hard News

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February 3, 2019 – Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 4:21-30

You have probably heard that the word gospel means “good news.” That might give the impression that everything we read about in the gospels, especially the words of Jesus himself, will be good to hear and read. We will readily accept and agree with all of it. We imagine that the gospel message should not make us feel uneasy or disturb us. It will all be good for us and we will be glad to apply it to our everyday lives.

And it seems that when Jesus came to his home town of Nazareth, that’s what his hearers wanted from Jesus. Just the good stuff. Like they imagined, like what they thought he had said in the nearby town of Capernaum. Tell us what you told them. Do here what you did there. We want to be your followers, too. Lead us to the promised land.

Apparently, Jesus did not fulfill their wishes. That’s because his message was challenging, and at times, quite difficult and demanding. His description of what was “good” likely differed from theirs. We don’t know the details, but we do know that he would say such things as, “Love your neighbor. Do good to those who hate you.” Or “Take up your cross daily and follow me.” So, when he told them what they might not have wanted to hear, they rejected him. Since Jesus failed to deliver the goods they wanted, they turned on him and “drove him out of town.” So much for “home-field advantage!”

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