april, 2019

sun07apralldayalldayFifth Sunday of Lent - Daily Lenten Reflection April 7(All Day: sunday) Event Type :Liturgical Calendar

Event Time

All Day (Sunday)

Event Details

Meditations for Lent

By: Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
Courtesy of Sophia Institute Press

Week 5: Sunday

The Raising of Lazarus

Jesus nears Jerusalem. He is already at Bethany, a village at the foot of the Mount of Olives. His death nears, and what he does to prepare us for it is miraculous: He raises Lazarus from the dead.

Jesus was going up to Jerusalem to die, and it would seem that death’s empire was stronger than ever once he had fallen under its power. But he works the great miracle of the raising of Lazarus to show us that he is death’s master.

All of the terror of death is here before us. Lazarus is dead, enshrouded, entombed, and already decaying and putrid. They fear to move the stone covering his tomb lest they infect the place and loose its unbearable stench. Here is a horrid spectacle: Jesus shudders to see the tomb, and he weeps. In the death of his friend Lazarus he deplores the punishment shared by all men. He looks upon human nature as created for immortality, but condemned to death by sin. He is the friend of all mankind, and he comes to restore us. He commences by shedding a tear for our disaster and shuddering at the sight of the punishment that he himself will soon face for us. To him, what seems so awful about death is chiefly that it is caused by sin. It is sin, rather than death, that moves him to shudder, to be troubled in spirit, and to weep. He is all the more greatly moved as he draws near the tomb. This frightful cavern where the dead man has been laid: what can be done? “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37). They did not ask whether he could raise him because they could not imagine it to be possible. They thought that all Jesus could offer in the presence of this evil were his tears and sorrow. Here is all mankind in death: nothing is to be done except to lament its fate. No other resource is at hand. So does the story begin. The opening scene is one of desolation.

Yet the second is all consolation, for we see the power and victory of Jesus over death.

Jesus says, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God” (John 11:4). Yet Lazarus did in fact die; what the Savior meant is that death would here be vanquished and the Son of God glorified in the victory. He continued: “Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him out of sleep” (John 11:11), calling his death a falling asleep and showing that it is as easy for him to raise the dead as to awaken a sleeper.

As he approaches, he is progressively revealed to be the victor over death. “If you had been here,” Martha says, “my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:21-22). You are all-powerful, not only to prevent death, but also to wrest its prey from its grasp. “Your brother will rise again.” “I know that he will,” says Martha, “on the last day” (cf. John 11:23-24). She does not doubt that Jesus can resurrect him before then, but she does not think herself worthy of that grace.

Let us savor the words of Jesus to Martha, after which death has no sting: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). He will never die. Death for him will be only a journey. He will not remain there, and he will arrive at a condition in which he will never die. Martha’s faith is great. In her spirit she sees the general resurrection and confesses Jesus Christ as the One who, being in Heaven and in the Father’s bosom, is come into the world. Jesus, Son of the living God, lives with the same life as his Father. “As the Father has life in himself,” he says, “so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself ” (John 5:26). It is with good reason, then, that he tells us that he is “the resurrection and the life” and “as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will” (John 5:21). He is a source of life; he is the same life as the Father. Life came to us when he became man. “We proclaim to you,” says St. John, “the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:2).

“Father, I know that thou hearest me always” (John 11:42, Douay-Rheims). Thus are we delivered, for such an intercessor speaks on our behalf. “Lazarus, come out.” The prophets had raised several men from the dead, but none of them had treated death in such an imperious manner. It was, as the Savior said, the hour “when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25). What is done now for Lazarus alone, one day will be done for all men.

It is important that we meditate upon these words and deeds so that we may be strengthened against the fear of death, which is so extreme in us that it is capable of making men lose their minds. We must arm ourselves against this fear, chiefly by meditating upon the promises of the Gospel and attaching ourselves with a living faith to the truth that Jesus has vanquished death. He did so in the case of a young girl still in her bed, a widow’s son being carried on a bier, and in the person of Lazarus. These three to whom he restored life remained mortal. What was left for him to do was to vanquish mortality itself. It was in his own person that he would win so perfect a victory. After he had been put to death, he rose, never to die again, and without having first seen corruption, as the psalmist sings: “Thou wilt not let thy holy one see corruption” (Ps. 15:10, Douay-Rheims [RSV = Ps. 16:10]). What was done in the head will be accomplished in the members. Immortality has been assured to us by Jesus Christ.


Jesus and the New Exodus: Readings for 5th Sunday of Lent

Lent is drawing to a close.  This week we celebrate the last Sunday of Lent before the beginning of Passion Week. This Sunday is period of “quiet” between Laetare Sunday and Passion/Palm Sunday, our last opportunity to meditate on the ‘ordinary’ struggle of Lent before the intensity of the events in the last week of Our Lord’s life. Let’s use it well!

The Readings for this week focus on the theme of a “New Exodus.”  Just as Moses was a savior figure who lead Israel to freedom through the Red Sea, so Jesus leads us to freedom through the waters of Baptism.  Let’s see how this theme plays out:

  1. Our First Reading is Isaiah 43:16-21:

Thus says the LORD,

who opens a way in the sea

and a path in the mighty waters,

who leads out chariots and horsemen,

a powerful army,

till they lie prostrate together, never to rise,

snuffed out and quenched like a wick.

Remember not the events of the past,

the things of long ago consider not;

see, I am doing something new!

Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

In the desert I make a way,

in the wasteland, rivers.

Wild beasts honor me,

jackals and ostriches,

for I put water in the desert

and rivers in the wasteland

for my chosen people to drink,

the people whom I formed for myself,

that they might announce my praise.

In the course of Lent during this Year C, we have made a review of the story of the salvation of the people of Israel from the patriarchs to the promised land, reading key texts to remind ourselves of pivotal points in the saga.  So we began with Deuteronomy 26:4-10, in which the Israelite worshiper recited the story of this people from the time of Jacob to the settlement of the land of Israel.  Then Genesis 15 reminded us of God’s covenant with Abraham which included the promise of the Exodus and the possession of the land.  Exodus 3 called to mind God’s choosing of Moses and commissioning him to bring the people out of Egypt.  Finally, Joshua 5:9-12 gave us a snapshot of the people of Israel having arrived in the land, as promised, and eating of its good fruits.

Now todays reading presents us with the prophet Isaiah, speaking at least 500 years or more after the settlement of the land.  On behalf of God, he calls to mind the Exodus, when God “opened a way in the sea” and “snuffed out” the “powerful army” of Pharaoh.  But then he says: “Do you remember that?  Good!  Well, now forget about it!”

Remember not the events of the past,

the things of long ago consider not;

see, I am doing something new!

God is going to initiate a “New Exodus,” in which his chosen people will be feed and watered in the “desert” and the “wasteland.”  Even the “wild beasts, jackals, and ostriches” will honor God at this time.

What is all this referring to?  Key to understanding the fulfillment is remembering certain texts from the Gospels, like John the Baptist in John 1:23: “I am the voice of one crying, ‘In the wilderness make straight the way of the LORD’”—just as our text reads, “In the desert I make a way.”  We should also remember the account of the transfiguration in Luke 9:31, when Jesus discusses his upcoming “exodus” with Moses and Elijah.  These and other texts make the connection between Isaiah’s promised “New Exodus” and the mission of Jesus.

Both the “wilderness” (see Exekiel 20:35) and the “wild beasts” (see Acts 9, esp. vv. 9-29) are associated with the Gentile nations in Scripture, and “water” is an image of God’s Spirit (see Isaiah 44:3).  So Isaiah’s prophecy of water being provided in the wilderness for God’s people among wild beasts may be understood as a promise that God will pour out his Spirit among all the nations and form for himself a people from those who dwell among the Gentiles.  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the goal of Jesus’ mission: we see it beginning in John 20:22-23 and continuing through Acts 2 and especially Acts 9, where the Spirit falls on uncircumcised Gentiles (‘wild beasts’) and God begins to form a people for himself from these same Gentiles.

  1. Our Responsorial Psalm is Psalm 126:
  1. (3) The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion,

we were like men dreaming.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter,

and our tongue with rejoicing.

  1. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

Then they said among the nations,

“The LORD has done great things for them.”

The LORD has done great things for us;

we are glad indeed.

  1. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD,

like the torrents in the southern desert.

Those that sow in tears

shall reap rejoicing.

  1. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

Although they go forth weeping,

carrying the seed to be sown,

They shall come back rejoicing,

carrying their sheaves.

  1. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

Psalm 126 is clearly a post-exilic psalm, one sung by the people of Judah after they had returned from exile to Babylon.  It reflects the great hope and joy of this time period, when the Judeans experienced something about which they had all but given up hope: their restoration to their land and city (Jerusalem).  The joy of this time is a foretaste of the joy we experience now, having experienced the fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise in the First Reading. We, at least most of us, are the “wild beasts” and the “wilderness” that God has transformed through the outpouring of his Spirit.  We have been lead out of slavery to sin into the freedom of being children of God.

  1. Our Second Reading is from Philippians 3:8-14:

Brothers and sisters:

I consider everything as a loss

because of the supreme good of knowing
Christ Jesus my Lord.

For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things

and I consider them so much rubbish,

that I may gain Christ and be found in him,

not having any righteousness of my own based on the law

but that which comes through faith in Christ,

the righteousness from God,

depending on faith to know him
and the power of his resurrection

and the sharing of his sufferings
by being conformed to his death,

if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

It is not that I have already taken hold of it

or have already attained perfect maturity,

but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it,

since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, I for my part

do not consider myself to have taken possession.

Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind

but straining forward to what lies ahead,

I continue my pursuit toward the goal,

the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.

As we journey through Lent and try to intensify our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, this Second Reading serves as an encouragement for all those who are sincerely trying—by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—to grow in holiness.  For those who are not trying, of course, this reading will fall on deaf ears.  But for the sincere, Paul’s words are a comfort:

forgetting what lies behind

but straining forward to what lies ahead,

I continue my pursuit toward the goal … Christ Jesus.

A greater experience of Jesus Christ at the celebration of Easter is the goal of our Lenten journey.

Notice the similarity with the First Reading, which exhorted “Remember not the things of the past!” and Paul who says, “Forgetting what lies behind!”  We can understand the spiritual sense of these texts as urging us to forget any failures of our Lenten mortifications and resolutions, and to renew our commitments to prayer and self-sacrifice in the short time that remains.

St. Paul also reminds us of the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, referred to here as “the Law” and “Faith.”  St. Paul says he has no “righteousness of my own based on the law,” but instead he desires “the righteousness of God.”

The “righteousness of God” is a supernatural property, and ultimately it cannot be disconnected from the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit, which we receive and is renewed in us through the sacraments received with an attitude of faith, communicates divine attributes to us.  The Spirit gives us a righteousness that is beyond merely human capabilities.  This was the problem with the Old Covenant and the Law.  The Law was well and good as far as it went—but it did not give us supernatural power, it only instructed us in what is right to do.  The New Covenant communicates to us God’s presence and power in our lives.  But, there is a mystery involved in this: how much effect this divine power and presence has in our lives does depend on our cooperation.  That is why Paul says, “I have not already attained perfect maturity, but I continue in my pursuit ….”  God does not save us without our cooperation.  We need to receive, embrace, and respond to the gift of God’s righteousness in the Holy Spirit.

  1. The Gospel is John 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.”

The scribes and the Pharisees have contrived this whole event as a political trap for Jesus. We notice immediately that there is something fishy about the events, because they bring this woman “caught in the act,” but the man involved is nowhere to be found, even though the Law of Moses would hold him equally responsible.  Where is the man if they caught the woman “in the act”?  Possibly this woman is just a paid actor, although we just don’t know.

In any event, this is the nature of the trap: If Jesus responds by telling the scribes and the Pharisees that they should stone the woman, the scribes and Pharisees will immediately run to the Roman authorities and report Jesus as advocating rebellion against the Roman government and its laws, since the Roman government had reserved to itself alone the authority to apply capital punishment.  No other group or persons in the empire had the power of execution, and to advocate or attempt the execution of someone apart from Roman authorization would be interpreted as an act of sedition.

On the other hand, if Jesus responds by telling the scribes and Pharisees not to execute the woman, they will report to the people, “This man Jesus is no true prophet because he defies the Law of Moses!”  Thus, they will succeed either in getting Jesus arrested or else discrediting him in the eyes of pious Jews.

Jesus knows this is a trap, so he refuses to respond.  When they keep pressing him, he offers this suggestion: “Let him who is without sin throw the first stone.”

By saying this, Jesus puts the responsibility for the woman’s execution squarely on the shoulders of the scribes and Pharisees.  They certainly do think that they themselves are without sin, but they do not dare take up a stone to throw at the woman, because they would be immediately arrested by the Roman soldiers who were keeping an eye on the Temple courts from the massive, adjacent Antonian fortress.  The whole proceedings were probably being watched by soldiers from the parapets of this fortress, which Rome had built precisely for keeping peace at this most volatile area of Jerusalem.

So now Jesus has turned the trap on the Pharisees.  If they throw stones, they will be arrested by the Romans.  If they don’t throw stones, they will appear to be admitting that they have sin.  In the end, they choose the shame of being outwitted in public rather than arrest, torture, and incarceration by the Roman authorities.  The oldest and wisest are the first to figure out that Jesus has outwitted them; the youngest and foolish keep hanging around, hoping there is some way out of their “checkmate.”  Do not think for a moment that their decision not to throw stones was actually some kind of sincere conviction in their hearts that they truly were sinners in need of forgiveness!  Certainly not!  They just didn’t want to be arrested.

When they all have left, Jesus asks, “Has no one condemned you?”  And she responds, “No one, Lord.”  None of her accusers had been willing to sustain the accusation; therefore, from a legal perspective, there were no longer any plaintiffs.  And how can a judge condemn a defendant if there are no plaintiffs?  So Jesus says, “Then neither do I condemn you.  Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

If the woman had really committed adultery, then Jesus exhorts her to do so no longer.  But even if she was a paid actor, it was a sin to cooperate with the Pharisees in the effort to entrap an innocent man.  And she needs to repent of that sin.

In none of this does Jesus relax in the least his teaching on sexual purity.  Jesus has the highest standards of sexual propriety, forbidding not just adultery but even the internal lust that is the seed of adultery (5:28-30), and that if necessary we should be willing even to maim ourselves if such will free us from sin.  So in Our Lord we see the paradox of unyielding teaching about the way of holiness combined with an inexhaustible willingness to forgive, heal, and restore (Matt 18:22).

In the context of this Mass, this Gospel reading gives comfort to those many of us who have botched  or messed up our Lenten practices, or even abandoned them and gone back to a self-indulgent lifestyle in small or large ways.  The Lord is ever forgiving.  He does not condemn but encourages us to “go and sin no more.”  Yet he does not lie to us by telling us we can attain eternal life while indulging in sin.  The Lord never tells us an untruth.  Since salvation is by definition an “exodus” or freedom from sin, we cannot be “saved” while we are still “sinning.”  Sin is what we are saved from.  As Pope Francis has often said, he does not tire of forgiving, but we tire of repenting!

-Dr. John Bergsma