John, the beloved disciple

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Many of the icons of Saint John show him with a chalice, and frequently that chalice has a snake emerging from it. The imagery relates to a tale that the evangelist drank from a chalice poisoned by a snake yet was unharmed due to the blessing he gave that potion before drinking it.

The chalice is an important part of this apostles imagery, but I think only partially because of that story. It was John who was with Jesus at the agony of the garden when he said let this cup pass from me, but not my will but thy be done. John was one of the inner circle, witnessing the transfiguration. He stood at the foot of the cross with Mary when Jesus said behold your mother and behold your son. As that chalice held the suffering of Christ that John witnessed at the garden, he also held that vision of the transfiguration. He was in charge of protecting Mary, and of receiving her guidance and wisdom. Mary is that model of the Church, and the one who carried the Christ. Hers was the faith that proclaimed the greatness of the Lord at the incarnation, and the one who maintained that faith throughout Jesus ministry. Hers was the message of Gods joy, and when Jesus said behold your Mother; that joy was placed in charge of John. In a way that chalice that is associated with John is not simply the poisoned cup, but is also that cup of Christ’s suffering, and of the Joy signified through wine.
It is the chalice that contains the messages of Mary, as mother of the Church. It is a symbol, of apostolic succession as the priesthood, and can rightly be looked at as a combined symbol of the ministry Christ’s Church. Johns symbol, that chalice reminds one of that saints ministry role in the Church as a guardian of knowledge, and as teacher. In the Christmas narrative, Jesus is told of being laid in a manger. Later in the story, he will take wine and pour it in a chalice  and say this is my blood. That is the chalice that John holds. The Christmas narrative tells of the birth of Christ, Johns story reminds us of the reason. The manger held the body, and the chalice holds the blood.

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“a mission” told twice, and today..

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Over the past couple of days the gospel readings have  been from Matthews Mt 10:7-15 account of the commissioning of the Apostles to proclaim the Kingdom of God. They are given permission to do certain things and they are prohibited from doing others. They are directed to bring the message to the house of Israel, and not to the likes of Samaria. They are given permission to cure and heal in His name, they are prohibited from allowing anything to corrupt their mission. Finally, they are told of the many hardships they will endure.

Think of those 12 Apostles going into the world Mt 10:16-23 on this specific mission. They are a small group of followers going against an enormous establishment. They are going against a massive temple, and the power and wealth that is behind it. They challenge a religious authority, that authority is also a political authority; and it is an authority with powerful allies(?) in a world that abhors unrest and uprisings. It is a world that is dominated by brute and brutal strength. It is a world where the authority does not tolerate challenges. My first biblical image? They are David going after Goliath.

Jesus said to his Apostles:
“As you go, make this proclamation:
‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Cure the sick, raise the dead,
cleanse the lepers, drive out demons.
Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.

David versus Goliath gives image of the twelve stepping into the world, it also should give hint of the outcome. The young shepherd defeats a behemoth, defeats the beast with what? A slingshot and some stones, that’s what the story implies. The story implies those simple devices, but that boy has something behind him too. Something that gives him strength, strength to go into battle and be victorious. David is an anointed one, the Apostles are too. Seemingly small they have the power of God standing beside them. If their opponent is strong, they are stronger. Looks can be deceiving. Most know how both stories continue. David is victorious, Christ’s Apostles continue their mission undefeated. Their commission continues to this day. The empire has not defeated them, no matter how hard it tries.

Jesus said to his Apostles:
“Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves;
so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.
But beware of men,
for they will hand you over to courts

I say the Apostles mission continues, and that they have not been defeated, but I dare not say the opponent has surrendered. Mt 10:24-33 Read a newspaper, turn on the television, eavesdrop on a conversation. What’s all the chatter about, and can anyone spot an agenda? Its more than liberal versus conservative, or the donkey and an elephant. Odd image that last one! Its the social agenda, or I should say agendas. Many align with their parties. They are the truths and the lies interspersed amongst battling fractions perched on a soapbox. Each claiming to be David and both acting like a Goliath. Power proclaiming its story.

But where are those disciples, where can they be seen? The mission continues, and the opponent flexes its muscle. Its puffed up and well fed, well financed and organized and well seated on a gilded  earthly throne. The disciples, distressed and tormented, they are under attack. Values and beliefs under siege, plundered. Attacked verbally by the media, by a well fed army. The disciples  are called the devil, even though many see their good works. But then again, maybe they don’t see , that mighty opponent is blind and crippled, though they do not know. Blinded by a false message proclaimed by an overstretched authority. Crippled by corruption and coin, the same corruption the disciples were commanded to avoid. The apostles mission, to defeat and also to heal. Don’t miss that word heal. To heal the cripple, to restore sight to the blind, to add salve to a wound.

“Therefore do not be afraid of them.
Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed,
nor secret that will not be known.
What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light;
what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.

The opponent armed with power and gold and supported through propagandists.The disciples, armed with a simple truth as proclaimed by their LORD. It seems like the battle of David and Goliath continues today. We all know how it ends, even though some refuse to admit it. Such is the power of deception. The lie will fall, and truth will prevail. The kingdom of God is at hand. It truly is. The story told three times. One, David and Goliath. Two, the Apostles and the world. Three, those that listened to those disciples and their world today.1,2,3.

 

 

Peter and Paul

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Peter and Paul, and Jesus’s call to “Follow me.” A few days ago I pondered, “to follow Jesus do my feet need to move?” The quiz revolved around following in terms of entourage, or following philosophically. To rephrase it is following a corpus, or the teachings. Peter and Paul are an example. Peter, the disciple who walked and talked, and dined, and sailed, and questioned the LORD for several years before Jesus’s Passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. Paul, the follower who heard the voice from heaven “Why are you persecuting Me? “Two different experiences. One followed with sandals to the sand, and the other with eyes to the sky. Both followed the LORD, but in different ways. Peters discipleship I will not experience, Paul’s is up or debate. Peter, from the Baptism of the LORD through the Ascension, Paul’s an Easter disciple. Both followers of Christ.

Both these Apostles are a study in contrasts. Peters walking with the LORD versus Paul’s conversion to the LORD is but one example. Peter, a Jew as was Paul. Peter delivered Christ’s message to a Jewish population in Rome. With his congregation there is a cultural continuity, they knew where Jesus the Christ came from. Paul however, preached to the pagan gentiles. With him is a great cultural divide. The gentile gods were alien and numerous, Paul had to explain the God of Israel and His only begotten Son to a people of an entirely different tradition. With them there was limited knowledge of David, or Moses, or the covenant. Peters flock started their experience with these Old Testament figures. Their introduction to Christianity was through Judaism, Paul’s students started their journey with the pagan deities of Greece and Rome. A contrast and a challenge. The challenge though, helped define the Christ Paul taught. That is the Jesus Christ that was passed down to me.

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply…

His challenges of bringing Jesus to the Gentiles influenced Peter too. With the questions brought about by the gentile converts, Peter had to reevaluate the Judaism styled Christianity Peter inherited. For them to answer Christ’s “Follow Me” required that they reexamine the spiritual roadmaps they referenced.” To follow” as to choose the path of Christ. Surprisingly that path was forged through the differences of cultures, the truth of Christ was found in each. Obstacles also were common to each. Christ was not Peter’s victory, or Paul’s. Christ was the victory of both, it was the Church they became members of; and that Church was influenced by the unique gifts brought by each of its members.

I want you to know, brothers and sisters,
that the Gospel preached by me is not of human origin.
For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it,
but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Peter emphasizes the foundation of Christ’s teachings. Few knew the LORD as well as Peter. Paul brought the questions of the LORDS flock, and his pagan congregation certainly must have asked the most questions. They also were the most likely to be misled by unscrupulous leaders. They emphasized the need for truth in teaching the gospel, and Peter with Paul prayed constantly that the Holy Spirit deliver that truth. One can’t forget that before Paul was a Christian, he was a persecutor of Christians. In his battles with the LORD, the LORD indeed was the victor. Saint Thomas’s doubts come to mind, first his stubborn disbelief and then his proclamation of faith. “My LORD and my GOD.” Paul’s Apostleship is a proclamation of faith. Such was the conversion he preached, and his preaching was filled with passion. Fitting that their feast is celebrated together, Peter the rock anchored in a personal knowledge of the LORD. Paul the convert with a zeal for bringing Christ to others

Corpus Christi, the Church, me, and the multiplication of loaves and fishes

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Corpus Christi, the Feast of the Body of Christ and a celebration of the Eucharist. The day is a companion of Holy Thursday but has its origins in the efforts of a thirteenth century saint, St. Juliana of Liège. That was a time when respect for the sacrament was on the decline and Juliana found that troubling. In her effort to bring back fitting devotion to the Blessed Sacrament she campaigned for a day of devotion to commemorate the Sacrament.

The feast of Corpus Christi is the fruit of those efforts and her image is often one of her holding a monstrance. I seem to remember she also is the one who advocated for locked tabernacles so that the Sacrament could not be desecrated by vandals. Her concerns were real.

The day, from its beginning, was marked by a public procession of the sacrament. The blessed host, carried in the monstrance by the priest, and followed by a procession of vowed religious, diocesan priests, and the parishioners. It was a regal and public display of devotion to the real presence of our Lord in the form of bread and wine. That real presence is one that Protestants argue against, and therefore the feast is a uniquely Catholic one. It becomes a proclamation of Catholicism.

The point of this part of the discussion? First, the feast was initiated to bring back reverence. Second, it is a public affirmation of a belief. Those processions, from what I have seen in photographs, were beautiful displays and their beauty was important. The beauty of the display drew one’s eyes towards the Sacrament. Sad that I only saw those Corpus Christi processions in old photographs. I wonder how many have never witnessed or participated? Sad that a beautiful tradition is becoming a lost tradition. From my view of the world they are certainly needed today.

the Twelve approached him and said,
“Dismiss the crowd
so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms
and find lodging and provisions;
for we are in a deserted place here.”
He said to them, “Give them some food yourselves.”
They replied, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have,
unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people.”
Now the men there numbered about five thousand.

Next, I come to the Gospel reading. It classically is known as the feeding of the five thousand or the multiplication of the loaves and fishes Lk 9:11b-17.In that passage the Apostles wish that Jesus dismiss the crowds that had followed them so that they might find something to eat. Jesus declares “Feed them yourselves!” A declaration is a comandment. If Jesus commanded the Apostles, he also commanded those they anointed. That is the first command that is given, it is the priests order to distribute what will become the Eucharist. I think at that time in their  formation they were not ready to comprehend the Sacrament instituted Holy Thursday. They were disciples. Still, I cannot miss that command. I see it in the Mass today.

The next command that Jesus issues to His disciples is to break up the five thousand into groups of fifty. That would create one hundred groups of fifty. If my multiplication is correct, 50X100=5000. Why do I find this math problem intriguing? It is because Jesus formed congregations. Imagination yields an original 100 parish churches, or at least their blueprints. Certainly one can also look at Moses dividing the Israelites into the tribes also. I find the order of His Church more relevant. At least today.

To each of those fifty congregations, Jesus has the Apostles distribute the blessed loaves of bread. With this my mind becomes overly obsessed with mathematics. First, five loaves to fifty groups. How does one divide that? Each love is divided into ten pieces, and each congregation receives one piece. For this I need a visual aid. I want to picture this in my mind. A loaf of bread, for convenience is fifty slices. Fifty slices times five loaves is 250 slices. 250 slices divided for 100 congregations is 2.5 slices. Those two or three slices must be divided amongst 50 people. Why this fascination with mathematics? It is because I want to see what each person received, and my conclusion? They likely received the same as I do at Holy Communion. I can place myself in that group, I can “see” my parish, and I can “see” His Church. I am there, today.

One area of this discussion I will only mention briefly, that is when the Apostle’s gathered together the remains, it was enough to fill twelve baskets. In that detail is a familiar theme. It is an abundant harvest, and I think back to when Jesus told Peter to cast his net again; and they were so full of fishes the net nearly burst. Their efforts bore fruit, what they accomplished was pleasing in the eyes of God.

Of course this is but one passage of the event, I have the benefit of knowing what follows. I know the argument against those who came for a free meal, He argues that they come for food that brings everlasting live. I know that Jesus ultimately reveals the nature of the bread. He declares “I am the bread come down from heaven.” He declares “I am the bread of life.” Ultimately on Holy Thursday Jesus commands, after breaking the bread, “take this (bread) all of you and eat, for this is my body.” Still though I can place myself in that crowd, I can find my seat. The mathematics helps place me in the scene, it helps me comprehend the feast that is Corpus Christi.

Merci beaucoup, on a Sunday.

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Merci beaucoup, as the French would say. Divine mercy Sunday, doubting Thomas Sunday; a Sunday with two names.

Let’s start with Thomas’s doubts, his question’s, his refusal to believe. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Was that for his lack of faith in Christ, or was it because of the immense amount of faith he had placed in the Lord? Per opinion I suspect it was the latter. I can also venture a guess that he refused to diminish Christ’s legacy, so strong was his hope in Christ’s promise. He could not rely on hearsay. His doubt was a demand for truth , it also could be considered a defense. A legal court argument, so it seems to me. A refusal to face the realities of the crucifixion. Is that possible, might it be human? Thomas is a real person, with human emotions. Thomas is not that different from any man today. An emotional reaction? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed Some also say that Thomas’s doubt was precisely for our benefit. Some say Jesus revealed Himself while Thomas was absent so that he would express a human response and demand a proof of the resurrected Christ. Blessed are those that do not see yet believe, Thomas’s argument helps us do exactly that.

Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

Think a little deeper about the doubt of Thomas, think of it in terms of Christ’s mercy. Divine mercy. If Thomas has doubt , look at it from another point of view. Look at his doubt from the viewpoint of someone who was scourged, and mocked, and tortured for someone like Thomas. Look at Thomas from the viewpoint of a person who was shown no mercy. Did mankind show Christ mercy? Did mankind respond to Christ with mercy, did Christ respond with the same brutality he received? Christ’s response to Thomas is in virtuous understanding, He wishes that Thomas believes. Jesus Christ gives Thomas the benefit of the doubt. Forgiveness? Jesus sees Thomas as good. Think to the story of creation please. He extends His wounds as a merciful response to Thomas’s doubt. That mercy is extended after three days in the grave. That mercy is extended after descending into the depths of hell. One can ask how much more God must do beyond hanging on a tree to prove His love and mercy for man? The answer is He extends his wounds mercifully so that we might believe . That is mercy, endless mercy, divine mercy. God extends his mercy even before receiving a merci beaucoup, a thank you. Gods mercy is not dependent on our actions, it is freely extended despite our doubt, shortcomings and human frailties. It is endless and selfless, it is eternal. That is divine mercy. Merci