Gospel reading of the day:
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.
On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The teacher says, My appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.'” The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered, and prepared the Passover.
When it was evening, he reclined at table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, “Surely it is not I, Lord?” He said in reply, “He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me. The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.” Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” He answered, “You have said so.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: The gospels make clear to us that Jesus had many enemies, but it was not these who openly opposed him who betrayed him: it was one of the people who was closest to Jesus, one who walked with him on long dusty roads, saw him work his miracles, heard him proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God to the poor, and witnessed his compassion toward the sick. Today’s gospel reading tells us that when Jesus told his disciples that one among them was about to betray him, each one doubted himself and herself; each one asked Jesus, “Surely it is not I, Lord?” In other words, in a secret place in their hearts, all of them understood their own capacities to turn on the Lord. Judas, who of course knew what he was going to do, also chimes in, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” And though he asks the same question that the others asked, his question rings with the falseness of concealment of conscious intentions. We too who are baptized into the Lord have walked with Jesus, seen the miracles he works in broken lives, heard the good news, and understood his compassion, and yet each of us is well aware of his or her own capacity to betray Jesus. Let us pray, as Jesus taught us, that we not be put to the test.
Saint of the day: In Western Christianity, the Wednesday before Easter is sometimes known as “Spy Wednesday,” indicating that it is the day that Judas Iscariot first conspired with the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus for thirty silver coins. This event is described in the three Synoptic Gospels: Matthew 26:14-16, Mark 14:10-12, Luke 22:3-6. The story as Matthew tells it is redolent with references to a passage in the prophet Zechariah (11:11-13).
The Sanhedrin was gathered together and decided to kill Jesus, even before Pesach if possible. In the meantime, Jesus was at a gathering in Bethany. Here he was anointed by Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, with very expensive ointment of nard. Judas, we are told, was indignant about this; the oil could have been sold to support the poor. Judas went to the Sanhedrin and offered them his support in exchange for money. From this moment on Judas was looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.
Judas’s betrayal, of course, when it comes, comes in the form of a kiss. After Jesus and several disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray after the Last Supper, Judas identified his master to the guards who accompanied him with a kiss on the Lord’s cheek.
Gospel reading of the day:
John 13:21-33, 36-38
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.
When he had left, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. You will look for me, and as I told the Jews, ‘Where I go you cannot come,’ so now I say it to you.”
Simon Peter said to him, “Master, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, though you will follow later.” Peter said to him, “Master, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: The reading from the gospel today speaks about two betrayals, Judas’s and Peter’s, and by inference, it speaks of a third betrayal, our own. Jesus predicts that one of the 12 will betray him to the authorities, and the Beloved Disciple asks Jesus who will turn on him. Jesus answers, “It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it,” and he offers to Judas a sign of friendship, a small portion of food. In the moment that Jesus tells Judas to do quickly what he plans to do, Judas makes his fateful choice and leaves the Lord and his friends.
The evangelist in the gospel often contrasts light and dark, and he poignantly observes at the departure of Judas that, “It was night”: darkness has settled in and about the Lord and his companions. And yet in this moment, Jesus still can say that the time has come for Jesus to be glorified. This is the very theme that I have tried to relate over and again the last several weeks, that God reveals Godself in the darkest moments. Even in the moment of betrayal, even at night, even when all is apparently lost, God is there, doing what God does, transforming the moment and making it something entirely new.
There is a second betrayal that the gospel addresses. This betrayal is Peter’s, Peter who brashly suggests he is prepared to die with Jesus when Jesus knows that Peter is not at all prepared to make such a sacrifice. Because this story appears in each of the gospels, Peter certainly in later years must have spoken of the incident over and over again: it obviously made a deep impression that Jesus knew Peter would betray him a certain number of times before a certain specific event. Peter doubtless told the story to make clear the importance of conversion and repentance and the Lord’s openness to receive back to himself those who betray him.
And so it with us as we move to the conclusion of our Lenten journey: we too repent over and over again of the same sins, hoping never to do again those things that over and over have injured our connection to God, and Jesus, over and over again, receives us back. Even when night descends on us, when the gloom of self-accusation and guilt is thick about us, let us dare to know, even with perfect confidence, that God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves and ask the Lord that he will help us as we stumble along our way. Let us hope and believe that God stands by us to glorify us even in our betrayal.
Saint of the day: Born March 5, 1904 in Freiburg, Germany, Karl Rahner, S.J. was one of the most influential Roman Catholic theologians of the 20th century. His theology influenced the Second Vatican Council and is ground-breaking for a modern understanding of Catholic faith. Written near the end of his life, Rahner’s Foundations of Christian Faith (Grundkurs des Glaubens), is the most developed and systematic of his work, most of which was published in the form of theological essays. Rahner wrote over 4,000 articles and books.
The basis for Rahner’s theology is that all human beings have a latent (“unthematic”) experience of God in any experiences of meaning or “transcendental experience.” It is only because of this proto-revelation that recognizing a specifically special revelation (such as the Christian gospel) is possible.
The philosophical sources for Rahner’s theology include Thomas Aquinas, read from the aspect of contemporary continental philosophy. Rahner attended lectures by Heidegger in Freiburg. He died of natural causes in Innsbruck, Austria on March 30, 1984.
Spiritual reading: Look, look on Jesus, poor and crucified, look on this Holy One, who for your love has died, and remember as you contemplate the sacred mysteries, this Jesus whom you gaze upon, loves you most tenderly. (Claire of Assisi)
Gospel reading of the day:
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.
Reflection on the gospel reading: The gospel reading for Monday of Holy Week sees Martha, Mary, and Lazarus throw a party in the Lord’s honor. Just as Lazarus’s resurrection has foreshadowed Jesus’ own resurrection, now at this party comes Lazarus’s sister Mary’s turn to presage an event in Jesus’ life, that is, the death of the Lord.
In today’s passage, Judas critiques Mary’s action as callousness toward the poor, but Jesus sees in Mary’s act something different than Judas sees. Where Judas sees selfishness, Jesus sees love: prescient of his coming death as a criminal, Jesus recognizes that as one who is to be executed infamously, his body will not receive an anointing. Jesus sees in Mary’s anointing something Mary almost certainly does not see, the preparation of the Lord’s body for death.
We might recall also that it is in John’s gospel that Jesus washes his disciples’ feet to model for them a lesson of service. We can wonder whether Jesus modeled his example to his disciples cognizant of Mary’s example to him just several days earlier. And in any event, Jesus here and at the Last Supper makes clear that in our service to one another we die with him on the cross and join our love to his in the pascal mystery we have begun to commemorate.
Saint of the day: Born in 1814 near Naples, Arcangelo Palmentieri was a cabinet-maker before entering the Friars Minor in 1832, taking the name Ludovico. After his ordination five years later, he taught chemistry, physics and mathematics to younger members of his province for several years.
In 1847 he had a mystical experience which he later described as a cleansing. After that he dedicated his life to the poor and the infirm, establishing a dispensary for the poor, two schools for African children, an institute for the children of nobility, as well as an institution for orphans, the deaf and the speechless, and other institutes for the blind, elderly and for travelers. In addition to an infirmary for friars of his province, he began charitable institutes in Naples, Florence and Assisi. He once said, “Christ’s love has wounded my heart.” This love prompted him to great acts of charity.
To help continue these works of mercy, in 1859 he established the Gray Brothers, a religious community composed of men who formerly belonged to the Secular Franciscan Order. Three years later he founded the Gray Sisters of St. Elizabeth for the same purpose. Toward the beginning of his final, nine-year illness, Ludovico wrote a spiritual testament which described faith as “light in the darkness, help in sickness, blessing in tribulations, paradise in the crucifixion and life amid death.” The local work for his beatification began within five months of Ludovico’s death in 1885. Ludovico of Casoria was beatified in 1993.
Spiritual reading: Under the cross I have understood the destiny of God’s people; I believe that those who understand that all this is the cross of Christ ought to take it up themselves in the name of all the others. (Edith Stein)
Gospel reading of the day:
The elders of the people, chief priests and scribes, arose and brought Jesus before Pilate. They brought charges against him, saying, “We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Christ, a king.” Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He said to him in reply, “You say so.” Pilate then addressed the chief priests and the crowds, “I find this man not guilty.” But they were adamant and said, “He is inciting the people with his teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to here.”
On hearing this Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean; and upon learning that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod who was in Jerusalem at that time. Herod was very glad to see Jesus; he had been wanting to see him for a long time, for he had heard about him and had been hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at length, but he gave him no answer. The chief priests and scribes, meanwhile, stood by accusing him harshly. Herod and his soldiers treated him contemptuously and mocked him, and after clothing him in resplendent garb, he sent him back to Pilate. Herod and Pilate became friends that very day, even though they had been enemies formerly. Pilate then summoned the chief priests, the rulers, and the people and said to them, “You brought this man to me and accused him of inciting the people to revolt. I have conducted my investigation in your presence and have not found this man guilty of the charges you have brought against him, nor did Herod, for he sent him back to us. So no capital crime has been committed by him. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.”
But all together they shouted out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us.” — Now Barabbas had been imprisoned for a rebellion that had taken place in the city and for murder. — Again Pilate addressed them, still wishing to release Jesus, but they continued their shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate addressed them a third time, “What evil has this man done? I found him guilty of no capital crime. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.” With loud shouts, however, they persisted in calling for his crucifixion, and their voices prevailed. The verdict of Pilate was that their demand should be granted. So he released the man who had been imprisoned for rebellion and murder, for whom they asked, and he handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they wished.
As they led him away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus. A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’ At that time people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?” Now two others, both criminals, were led away with him to be executed.
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” They divided his garments by casting lots. The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.”
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last.
The centurion who witnessed what had happened glorified God and said, “This man was innocent beyond doubt.” When all the people who had gathered for this spectacle saw what had happened, they returned home beating their breasts; but all his acquaintances stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee and saw these events.
Reflection on the gospel reading: We now enter into Holy Week where we remember, in the deepest sense of the word, the events of the Lord’s passion and death. We should reflect on this week as a unity. It is a time in which we celebrate Jesus’ victory as we enter into his suffering. We remember this week Jesus’ paradoxical witness that in the most profound weakness lies the glorious entry of God into ordinary human affairs.
The entry of God into our human history is a recognition that among its many joys, life often is hard. We all know that it contains really terrible personal experiences, like cancer, alcoholism, bankruptcy, the death of a parent or child, or a loveless marriage. But there also are ordinary experiences that simply make us dull and listless. We can become deadened with the sameness of everything. Unending chores can weary us, and even what makes us happy eventually can grow stale. We may sense that our closest friends are still distant. We may grow sad as the new grows old, the days pass by, the bills come and luck does not, life goes on, but friends die.
The victory of God in the suffering of Jesus is that these extraordinary and ordinary sufferings that ubiquitously afflict our human condition, no matter how much they may weigh us down, God indeed transforms with the promise of what comes beyond the cross. We must go through it to get through it, but the promise of Holy Week is that, if we trust in God, all will become new again.
Spiritual reading: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you; righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. ~ Zechariah 9:9
Gospel reading of the day:
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?”
Reflection on the gospel reading: Today’s gospel reading follows immediately upon the raising of Lazarus in Bethany, a short walk from Jerusalem, and it prepares us to enter into the mysteries of Holy Week. News of what Jesus has done is traveling fast, and many believe in him as the result of the signs he works.
Today’s gospel is full of ironic statements where the actors say something at a basic level that is filled with a deeper meaning. Rather than dare to dream that something wonderful is happening here, the Sanhedrin meets to raise the complaint, “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.” The irony, of course, is that everything that frightened them actually did occur within just a few decades. Caiaphas, the high priest, plots Jesus’ death saying that it is better that one man should die than let the nation perish, but the evangelist is aware that Caiaphas’ banal statement has a much deeper meaning, that Jesus dies for his people and in a still deeper way, Jesus dies for all people everywhere in all time.
Jesus senses the depth of the threat that faces him, so he goes away to a remote place to remain secure until the hour is ready. The picture of the arid land fixed in today’s gospel reading is where our Lord went to await his hour. The scene now is set to enter into Holy Week.
Saint of the day: Born sometime in the seventh century after the birth and explosive expansion of Islam, Saint John Damascene spent most of his life in the monastery of St. Sabas, near Jerusalem, and all of his life under Muslim rule, indeed, protected by it. He was born in Damascus, received a classical and theological education, and followed his father in a government position under the Arabs. After a few years he resigned and went to the monastery of St. Sabas.
He is famous in three areas. First, he is known for his writings against the iconoclasts, who opposed the veneration of images. Paradoxically, it was the Eastern Christian emperor Leo who forbade the practice, and it was because John lived in Muslim territory that his enemies could not silence him. Second, he is famous for his treatise, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, a summary of the Greek Fathers (of which he became the last.) It is said that this book is to Eastern schools what the Summa of Aquinas became to the West. Thirdly, he is known as a poet, one of the two greatest of the Eastern Church, the other being Romanus the Melodist. His devotion to the Blessed Mother and his sermons on her feasts are well known. He died probably about 749.
Spiritual reading: Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith but they are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the passion of Christ. (C. S. Lewis)
Gospel reading of the day:
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.
Reflection on the gospel reading: In today’s reading, we have a contrast between those who refuse to recognize the power of God that works in Jesus and those who understand that something unprecedented indeed is at work in the man. The ones who are privileged in their social context refuse to look beyond their narrow categories to see the signs that God gives, but the ones who enjoy less privilege, the ones who live beyond the Jordan, do not have rigid categories that attempt to put God in a box. This latter group consults its experiences and says, “Something is true here that was not true elsewhere.” It is these ones who have the freedom to believe in Jesus.
Saint of the day: Born in 1556 as Margaret Middleton at York, England, Margaret Clitherow was the daughter of Thomas and Jane Middleton, a candle maker and the Sheriff of York for two years. Raised Anglican, she married John Clitherow, a wealthy butcher and chamberlain of the city of York, in July 1571. She converted to Catholicism around 1574. She was imprisoned several times for her conversion, sheltering priests (including her husband’s brother), and permitting the celebration of clandestine Masses on her property. During her trial in Tyburn in March 1586, she refused to answer any of the charges for fear of incriminating her servants and children; both her sons became priests, and her daughter became a nun. She was pressed to death on Good Friday, March 25, 1586 at York, England. She is one of the Forty English Martyrs.
Spiritual reading: Flee to our Lord and we shall be comforted. Touch him and we shall be made clean. Cling to him and we shall be safe and sound from every kind of danger. For our courteous Lord wills that we should be at home with him as heart may think or soul may desire. (Juliana of Norwich)
Gospel reading of the day:
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Reflection on the gospel reading: I often have reflected over the years that the Church might have done well to call this feast we celebrate today, “the Feast of the Incarnation,” and not that of the Annunciation. In a way, this feast is a greater occasion than Christmas and perhaps only second to the events of Holy Week and Easter. In fact, the feast we celebrate today makes Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter the mysteries that they are. The child would not have been born if he had not first been conceived. The infinite meaning of his suffering, death, and resurrection results from the fact that God threw God’s own life into God’s creation.
Faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation are two of the central tenants that define our Christian faith. It was at the Annunciation that the Incarnation began to become a reality. It was at this moment that “the Word was made flesh and lived among us.” Today should be a special day of praise and thanksgiving for all of us.
The Feast of the Annunciation: The annunciation to Mary by the angel Gabriel that she was to be the Mother of God (Luke, 1), the Word being made fiesh through the power of the Holy Spirit. The feast of the Annunciation, called also in old calendars the feast of the Incarnation, is celebrated 25 March. It probably originated about the time of the Council of Ephesus, c.431, and is first mentioned in the Sacramentary of Pope Gelasius (died 496). The Annunciation is represented in art by many masters, among them Fra Angelico, Hubert Van Eyck, Jan Van Eyck, Ghirlandajo, Holbein the Elder, Lippi, Pinturicchio, and Del Sarto.
Spiritual reading: The Word became flesh to communicate to us human beings caught in the mud, the pain, the fears and the brokenness of existence, the life, the joy, the communion, the ecstatic gift of love that is the source of all love and life and unity in our universe and that is the very life of God. (Jean Vanier)
Gospel reading of the day:
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.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: In today’s gospel, Jesus dares us to undertake a journey, and the invitation is the deepest meaning of our Lenten renewal. Jesus says, “If God were your father, you would love me, for I came from God.”
To see Jesus more clearly, to follow him more nearly, to love him more dearly is our given path into the presence of the Lord of Spirits and the Flesh, and since that Lord has fashioned us like garments to fit the pattern of the Lord’s own form, it is in Jesus and only in Jesus that our truth and freedom can be realized.
Saint of the day: This day is the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.
The Eucharist commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus, the meal where Jesus instituted that breaking of the bread and that sharing of the cup that became the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox, the Communion of the Protestants, and the Mass of the Catholics. And it was at Mass, 30 years ago today on March 24, 1980, that an assassin murdered Oscar Romero at precisely that moment in the liturgy where the priest presented his gifts, the bread, the wine, and unexpectedly, himself, to God as he prepared to recite the Eucharistic Prayer.
An anxiety-ridden Oscar Romero grew from boyhood to be a man who served the Church as a quiet, studious, withdrawn, conservative priest. Of him his brother said, “My brother always turned inward, thought too much.” And one who observed the earlier period of his priesthood less charitably observed, “He was an insignificant being, a shadow that went by clinging to the walls.”
When the bishops of El Salvador recommended that this sober scholar, this apparent nebbish, this “pastor to his paperwork,” become a bishop, they had no expectation of the ferocious voice they would unleash against the crisis that engulfed El Salvador. Indeed, for years after that appointment, his fellow bishops heard nothing from their brother more threatening than the turning pages of his breviary.
In February 1977, Romero became the Archbishop of San Salvador. Shortly afterward, his friend, the first priest Romero had ordained, was murdered at the government’s hands, assassinated for his service of the poor. A crowd of 100,000 drew together in a square in shock and horror to mourn the death of Romero’s friend, the dead priest servant of the poor. To the crowd, Romero gave a vow.
Whoever touches one of my priests, is touching me. And they will have to deal with me!
A swelling wave of approval echoed in the applause that rolled through the crowd, and the magnitude of the injustice against his people fired Romero’s imagination. As one who was there observed, “Thousands of people were applauding him, and you could see him grow stronger. It was then that he crossed the threshold. He went through the door. Because, you know, there is baptism by water, and there is baptism by blood. But there is also baptism by the people.”
Oh! that lamb did start to roar.
This is the mission entrusted to the church, a hard mission: to uproot sins from history, to uproot sins from the political order, to uproot sins from the economy, to uproot sins wherever they are.
The shadow on the wall became Amos in the court of the king, a voice of radical unfettered self-forgetting concern for the lot of the least, the despised, the disdained, the rejected.
We must not seek the child Jesus in the pretty figures of our Christmas cribs. We must seek him among the undernourished children who have gone to bed at night with nothing to eat, among the poor newsboys who will sleep covered with newspapers in doorways.
That the government found his voice a taunt, a nuisance, and a scourge was not lost on Romero.
While it is clear that our Church has been the victim of persecution during the last three years, it is even more important to observe the reason for the persecution . . . The persecution comes about because of the Church’s defense of the poor, for assuming the destiny of the poor.
On March 23, 1980, Romero in a broadcast heard across the nation appealed to the men of El Salvador’s armed forces to mutiny:
Brothers, you came from our own people. You are killing your own brothers. Any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God, which says, “Thou shalt not kill.” No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you obeyed your consciences rather than sinful orders. The church cannot remain silent before such an abomination . . . . In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cry rises to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: stop the repression.
The next day, Oscar Romero was dead. A 1992 United Nations Commission that investigated his murder observed about that day 30 years ago today, “On Monday, 24 March 1980, the Archbishop of San Salvador, Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdamez, was celebrating mass in the Chapel of the Hospital de la Divina Providencia when he was killed by a professional assassin who fired a single .22 or .223 calibre bullet from a red, four door Volkswagen vehicle. The bullet hit its mark, causing the Archbishop’s death from severe bleeding.” Yet the bullet that killed Romero did not silence his voice.
I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.
His people to this day labor to recover from the horrors they endured. The sister of someone I know served recently as a Catholic lay worker in El Salvador. I spoke to this friend not long ago ago. She told me that her sister had observed Romero’s continuing presence among the people.
There is a certain mass grave the people were digging up to remove the massacred to proper places of burial. The horror in that mass grave unleashed an immense pathos; as an expression of their grief, the people painted a mural on a wall above the grave. At the center of that mural stands the image of Oscar Romero, his enormous arms reaching out, bending around, enfolding in an embrace the murdered of that grave, who lay these years anonymously in that place.
Spiritual reading: For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God. (Irenaeus of Lyons)
Gospel reading of the day:
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.
Reflection on the gospel: The I AM statement we saw in yesterday’s gospel is now repeated. In today’s gospel, Jesus twice uses the words, I AM, to describe himself. The discussion of what God said to Moses when Moses asked God for God’s name is a little complicated, but what the Jews understood God to have said is, “I AM,” and in today’s gospel, Jesus uses those very same words about himself. In other words, Jesus in the gospel passage is making a very strong claim about his own identity. Jesus tells his listeners that when they lift the Son of Man up, they will know this is the truth about Jesus, that, as Jesus says later in John’s gospel, “The Father and I are One.” Being “lifted up” in today’s passage, of course, refers to Jesus’ being lifted up on the cross. Jesus is telling us that it is in his suffering that we will come to recognize his glory. Today’s gospel goes once again to the paradox of Christianity, that there is in suffering, the revelation of God’s glory. And what is true about Jesus, that God reveals Godself in suffering, is true also about us, who have been baptized into him. Our suffering is not empty: God sees it and fills it with God’s own infinite meaning.
Saint of the day: Toribio Alfonso de Mogrovejo was bishop and defender of the rights of the native Indians in Peru, Born in Spain in 1538, he studied law and became a lawyer and then professor at Salamanca, receiving appointment-despite being a layman-as chief judge of the court of Inquisition at Granada under King Philip II of Spain. The king subsequently appointed him in 1580 to the post of archbishop of Lima, Peru. After receiving ordination and then consecration, he arrived in Peru in 1581 and soon demonstrated a deep zeal to reform the archdiocese and a determination to do all in his power to aid the poor and defend the rights of the Indians who were then suffering severely under Spanish occupation. He founded schools, churches, hospitals, and the first seminary in the New World. To assist his pastoral work among the Indians, he also mastered several Indian dialects. He died on May 23, 1606 at Santa, Peru of natural causes. He is the patron saint of native rights.
Spiritual reading: Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God whom we have to hear, and whom we have to trust and obey in life and in death. (Karl Barth)
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.
Reflection on the gospel reading: Seven times in the gospel of John, Jesus says, “I am.” In doing so, John’s gospel alludes to Jesus’ identification with the God of Moses, whom the Israelites understood when Moses asked God’s name to say, “I am who am.” The rest of the passage makes clear that the evangelist identified Jesus with the Father, and for us, it is through Jesus that we come to the Father.
Saint of the day: Nicholas Owen, S.J., familiarly known as “Little John,” was small in stature but big in the esteem of his fellow Jesuits.
Born at Oxford, this humble artisan saved the lives of many priests and laypersons in England during the penal times (1559-1829), when a series of statutes punished Catholics for the practice of their faith. Over a period of about 20 years he used his skills to build secret hiding places for priests throughout the country. His work, which he did completely by himself as both architect and builder, was so good that time and time again priests in hiding were undetected by raiding parties. He was a genius at finding, and creating, places of safety: subterranean passages, small spaces between walls, impenetrable recesses. At one point he was even able to mastermind the escape of two Jesuits from the Tower of London. Whenever Nicholas set out to design such hiding places, he began by receiving the Holy Eucharist, and he would turn to God in prayer throughout the long, dangerous construction process.
After a number of narrow escapes, he himself was finally caught in 1594. Despite protracted torture, he refused to disclose the names of other Catholics. After being released following the payment of a ransom, “Little John” went back to his work. He was arrested again in 1606. This time he was subjected to horrible tortures, suffering an agonizing death. The jailers tried suggesting that he had confessed and committed suicide, but his heroism and sufferings soon were widely known.
He was canonized in 1970 as one of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales.
Spiritual reading: Do not forget that the value and interest of life is not so much to do conspicuous things…as to do ordinary things with the perception of their enormous value. (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)