Silent night

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Silent night, Holy night,

All is calm, All is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sleep in heavenly peace.

That song has been running through my head since 3:00 pm  yesterday. I know it’s the wrong season, but is that really true? Silent Night comes from the Nativity, and last night was the night after the crucifixion. In the hymn Jesus lies in a manger, the LORD has descended to our realm. God becomes man. Yesterday Jesus dies on the cross, and is placed in a tomb. In that tomb the LORD descends into the deepest and darkest depths of our existence. Jesus descends into the depths of Hell to liberate all who helplessly lie there. Jesus brings the dead back to the living and sets humanity free. Death is destroyed, it looses its grip. The promise of Christmas is fulfilled. It is done. Silent night, Holy night.

Good Friday to Holy Saturday

Francis of Paola

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“At the age of fifteen, Francis (of Paola) left his  home at Paula in Calabria to live as a hermit in a cave by the sea-coast.” Here his religious order takes form. (Here is a side story: In ancient times Calabria was referred to as Italy, it is the  first locality to be called  that name. It is located at modern Italy’s southern end.) For brief background leading up to life in a cave: His parents were devout Christians with a devotion to  St. Francis of Assisi. They had prayed for that saints intercession so that the infant Francis of Paola might be cured of an eye infection. Their son, as a child, wore the Habit of the Franciscan friars ( the little-habit). With that habit his eyes were immediately cured. Jesus cured the sight of many.

Now back to the cave by the seashore. Over time some “disciples” gathered around him. In 1436, and partially because of those followers,  he founded his own Franciscan order the “Minims.” Religious orders are approved by the pope,, and they must submit a rule for the order. Popes often rewrite those rules. Their original name was Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi, hermits not monks, priests, or friars. Francis was a contemplative that eventually was called to active ministry. The Minims observed a perpetual Lent, and never touched meat, fish, eggs, or milk. That was their fourth vow, their addition to the rule of Assisi. It gave their order character. One interesting point about Francis is that the hermit was never ordained a priest. Many legends are associated with this saint. He can be researched, must I type everything? Do your homework ! He was Prophet, miracle worker, and said to have the ability to read minds. He is the patron saint of sailors. If one word is to be associated with him it is Charitas. They wore black wool robes. They started in southern Italy, many moved north and were found in Germany. There they were called Paulaner.

Franciscan’s were big in the time of the hermit of Saint Francis, and they had become much larger than the Saint from Assisi ever intended them to be.  They were popular. Francis of Assisi wanted his order to counter corruption and false devotion, the one from Paola wanted to do the same. They were contemplative. Is there a conflict or contrast here? They were Minims in the times of Kings. They were little people in the time of some very Big People, and one has to be around “Big People” to fully understand that. They were the counter-revolution and they took the world by surprise.

Interesting is how Francis (OM) order had changed, much in the same way his northern mentors (OFM) was changed at the request of the pope. Their intent was for an order that revolved around a small group of devotees, the pope’s intent was for an order that would change Europe. In looking at these medieval saints, it is often important to look at their period in history. It’s important to remember bureaucratic Churches, corrupt clergy, and powerful Kingdom’s. It is important to look at all of the Big people these little saints did battle with. Their was reason for their retreat from Society, and for the popes putting them back in the fight. They were a contrast, and what contrasts with today? On one hand there is Francis original devotion, that of a contemplative hermit. On the other is the Popes desire to create large orders. Francis of Payola was loyal to the chair of Peter. Francis also lived a long life, I wonder if he came full circle and ended at that cave by the seashore? If my memory serves me correctly, the one from Assisi ended up at the same grotto he started from. Both orders exist today, but the Order Minim is a fragment of what it once was. Hermits I here are on the rise. The Church the friar hermit served was at its height during the saints lives, today it is on the decline. What is the message of Francis of Paola today?

Man born blind

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If a blind man gaining sight Jn 9:1-41 isn’t an eye opener, listen to that conflict building between Jesus and the Pharisees. In the healing of the “Man born blind” there are two story lines taking place. One is of Jesus heling that man, and the other is the Pharisees accusing Jesus of going against the laws of the Sabbath for preforming that miracle. The man healed says little, he occasionally answers some questions presented before him. The story tells little about the wonderful experience of vision, it mentions little about seeing the world for the first time. The majority of the story is prosecutor and defense. There is a question that is asked at the beginning of the narrative and it would be a shame to let that question to become lost in the argument. The question the disciples asked Jesus is: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” That question contains some important details. The first is that the man’s blindness us the result of sin, the question wants to determine where the burden of sin lies. Is it from the parent, or the son? The question was not unusual for the time period, infirmaries were commonly considered to be a curse from God. It was a retribution for a sinful act. If this writer recalls correctly, according to the Torah a parent’s sin was not passed on to the children. According to the law if someone bore the curse from sin, it was through their own fault. That is not the answer Jesus gives. His answer is an emphatic neither, the blindness is not the result of a sin committed. To Jesus it is not even a curse. That might not seem to be a bold statement in the light of today’s medical advancements, but in the first century it went against a fundamental structure of society. People would have stood back in puzzlement. Religious leaders would have a furrow in their brow, they would have been challenged by the response. Jesus response would have been met with disapproval. The problem is that Jesus healed the man born blind, the gauntlet was thrown to the ground. Now there is a duel.

In the narrative a lot of detail is presented describing the scene. The first bit of evidence is the mechanism by which this man regains sight, but first notice the man does not ask to be healed. Why? I assume since he never knew sight, he accepted his handicap. But Jesus does open his eyes, and here is the quote on how: When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes,” I know in the bible there are a few references to ointments for the eyes but in that quote one thing stands out. Jesus spit on the ground and made clay. Jesus made something out of dirt or clay, and he infused it with something of his own. He formed it with the dirt of the earth and his spittle. The description sounds awfully crude, but how were we formed? God formed us from clay, and infused us with his breath. Man and the ointment are both ordinary dirt and something divine. Call it a divine breath or sacred spittle, they are the same.

Is it difficult to miss that connection between God and man? Suddenly the God of the Old Testament gets much closer, or was the LORD ever that far away? There is a change in perception that happens here. Eyes were opened in more way than one. Jesus certainly does challenge the Old Testaments view of the relationship between God and Man. Jesus opens the eyes of many, but he also places anger in the eyes of quite a few. He is challenging the teachers, and they question his authority.

Jesus challenges the teachings of the authorities, and this places the anger in their eyes. Don’t forget the initial question about whose sin was responsible for the man’s blindness, and don’t forget Jesus response. Jesus said the blindness was not caused by sin. Jesus did tell the man to wash in the pool of Siloam, and those pools frequently were used for ritual cleaning. The Pharisees did not marvel at how the pool of Siloam cured the man, they were angered that the LORD healed that blind man on the Sabbath. They knew the source of the cure, and that angered them. Most of the rest if the argument is an attempt to discredit Jesus. They try to discredit him for healing in the Sabbath. They suggest that the blind man was in collusion with Jesus, and finally they suggest that the man was never blind. All of their attempts are discredited.

The blind man healed does see Christ differently than the authorities, at first he sees Jesus as a prophet. Jesus engages that man about who Jesus is. Jesus tells him, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” Throughout the narrative Jesus gives hint of His nature, and of His mission. Here Jesus say’s I am the light of the world. In other parts if the discussion Jesus states “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” As that blind man gains his vision, a vision of Jesus Christ also begins to appear. This causes rejoicing among some, and they become disciples. While some rejoice, anger builds up in the eyes of others. They preach and plot and malign themselves against the Lord Jesus Christ.

It can be called anger in their eyes, or delusion, or a lie. It is not the truth. I see the same thing today, it is a conflict that continues. Some see that light of Christ clearly and follow His way. Ohers, they cannot accept His Good-News for whatever reason, and journey towards a darkness. Some follow fads that sometimes glitter on the horizon. Today it is a commonplace New-Age philosophy. Others, weakened by their own frailties, fail to accept His forgiveness. Stubbornly they continue on their own way. They fail to heed his advice and bathe in that pool of water, the pool of forgiveness. That man born blind? He welcomed the LORDS intercession and gladly accepted His action. That blind man realized who the Christ was, and what he had done. That blind man was thankful for that light he had received, and then let that same light guide him on his way. The contrast between the man born blind and the Pharisees is as clear as night and day. The man born blind clearly enjoyed basking in that light of day, Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters:
You were once darkness,
but now you are light in the Lord.
Live as children of light,
for light produces every kind of goodness
and righteousness and truth.

Fourth Sunday of Lent
Lectionary: 31

1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a

Ps 23: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6

Eph 5:8-14

Jn 9:1-41