DAILY LENTEN MEDITATIONS

March 29, 2018 – Thursday of Holy Week

Pilate was amazed that Jesus was already dead.  He summoned the centurion and asked him if Jesus had already died.

And when he learned of it from the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.  (Mk 15:44-45)

It was just this morning that Pilate had sent Jesus to death on the cross.  He is surprised to find that Jesus is already dead.  Death on the cross was intended to take a long time.  The greater the pain, the greater the screams… and the more likely that people will learn not to commit crimes. 

History does not treat Pilate well.  There’s no evidence that he ever gave much thought to Jesus.  He had other things on his mind.  The brief trial earlier was an interruption in his busy day, and this request of Joseph is another one.

There are many things that seem like intrusions in my busy life.  Like religious practices.

The “Sacred Three Days” (Triduum) begin this evening.  It’s a good time to think about my priorities.                            

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.   

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After the evening Mass on Holy Thursday, the altar cloth is removed from the altar, reminding us of the stripping Jesus’ garments before he was crucified.

For many centuries, this “stripping of the altar” was a formal ceremony, accompanied by the words of Psalm 22:  “They divide my garments among them, for my clothing they cast lots.”

Today, the stripping of the altar is done without ceremony and in silence.

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March 28, 2018 – Wednesday of Holy Week

When it was already evening, since it was the day of preparation, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of
Arimathea, a distinguished member of the council, who was himself awaiting the kingdom of God, came and courageously went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.  (Mk 15:42-43)

It is getting toward sunset on Friday.  The Sabbath is about to begin.  All is quiet.  A lone figure goes to Pilate’s Jerusalem headquarters.

Who is this Joseph?

We can’t be certain.  The Gospel of Matthew tells us that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus; the Gospel of John adds that he was a disciple “secretly.”

Mark doesn’t call him a disciple at all.  He only mentions that he is a member of “the council” (i.e. the Sanhedrin), the group that had condemned Jesus to death.  In effect, Joseph was a member of those opposed to Jesus.  Perhaps because Jesus is a Jew, Joseph decides that his body should not be left on the cross after sunset on the eve of the Sabbath, and that he should be given a proper burial.

Interesting, isn’t it?  The first kind act extended toward Jesus since the beginning of his Passion may have been done out of a sense of duty, and by someone who was a member of the group opposed to Jesus.

Maybe Joseph should be the one I pray to when I’m trying to be kind to someone with whom I’m at odds.  I can’t always change my feelings.  I just do my duty, as Joseph did.

And I’m doing it to Christ.                           

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.   

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How do the Jewish people prepare for the Sabbath?

There are many things that can be done, including:

Some people choose to eat a lighter meal on Friday, in anticipation of the Sabbath dinner. 

Traditional Jews do not shop on the Sabbath, so the day before is spent purchasing food.

Traditional Jews do not cook their food on the Sabbath so that too would have to be done the day before.  Foods can be kept warm on a hot plate or on the stove.

Some Jewish men go to a ritual bath on Friday afternoon; that allows them to reflect on the upcoming Sabbath.

The Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday and ends at sunset Saturday.

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March 27, 2018 – Tuesday of Holy Week

There were also women looking on from a distance.  Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome.  These women had followed him when he was in Galilee and ministered to him.

There were also many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.  (Mk 15:40-41)

For the first time in Mark’s Passion, women are mentioned.  Some of them will be mentioned again at the burial.  Given the social structure of those times, this is remarkable.

And where are the Twelve and the rest of the disciples?  Couldn’t they have at least come and stood at a distance?  It’s been over 15 hours since they fled.  Couldn’t they have pulled themselves together by now?

It is not easy to draw close to the crucified Lord.  Even these women (who, to their credit, are there) are described as looking on “from a distance.”  This is the same phrase used of Peter when, after fleeing with the other disciples, he follows Jesus to the high priest’s house.

The truth is that, although I am a follower of the Lord, there are times when I do so “from a distance.”                         

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.   

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“Come the Kingdom, all that matters is how we have treated one another.’

Bishop Ken Untener, who died on this date in 2004

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March 26, 2018 – Monday of Holy Week

The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom.

When the centurion who stood facing Jesus saw how he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”  (Mk 15:38-39)

All is quiet at Golgotha.  It is sometime after 3 p.m.  Jesus is dead, and his body hangs limp and lifeless on the cross.

A high-ranking Roman soldier, a Gentile, makes an astounding statement: “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

The very first words of Mark’s Gospel are “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.”  As the Gospel moves along, no human being calls him Son of God.  A voice from heaven called him “My Son” at his baptism in the Jordan River and again at the Transfiguration.  Demons did when Jesus drove them out.

Now this Romans soldier proclaims that this man was the Son of God.  He is the first human being in Mark’s Gospel to do so.

Jesus’ identity is manifest in his suffering and death.  To get to know Jesus, I had best spend some time before the cross.                        

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.   

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In the great Temple in Jerusalem, the veil (or curtain) of the sanctuary separated the Holy of Holies (the dwelling place of God) from the rest of the temple.

Only the high priest could pass beyond the veil and enter into the presence of God, and only on one day of the year, the Day of Atonement.

Some scholars suggest that the tearing of the veil at the time when Jesus died symbolizes the end of the need for the Levitical priesthood to be the mediator between humanity and God.  Jesus’ death opened up access to God for all people.

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March 24, 2018 – Saturday – Fifth Week of Lent

Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.  (Mk 15:37)

There is another scream (again, that is what the Greek word means).

Then Jesus dies.  For me.

Mark describes the death of the Messiah, the Son of God, in just seven Greek words (nine words in English).

Death is like life.  It doesn’t always happen the way I would write the script… perhaps the death of those I love, or even my own.

The one I can count on to be with me when I die is the Lord.  For sure.  He is Emmanuel – God with us, always, and especially at death.  Not watching from a lofty distance, but going through it with me, and leading me to the other side.  That’s why he died for me, to lead the way through death.

Holy Week begins tomorrow.  This last stretch of Lent is a good time to become more conscious of the God who is with me always – and to draw closer to the Lord.                  

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.   

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On Palm Sunday, the Passion Narrative is from Matthew, Mark, or Luke, rotating every three years (John’s account is always read on Good Friday).  This year’s account is from Mark

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March 23, 2018 – Friday – Fifth Week of Lent

At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.  And at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi,Eloi, lama sabachtani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “Look, he is calling Elijah.”  One of them ran, soaked a sponge with wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to take him down.”  (Mk 15:33-36)

The entire scene is wrapped in eerie darkness.  God is beginning to step in.

The bystanders were not sympathetic.  The offer of wine was not a friendly gesture, more mockery than anything.

The death was not a pretty sight.  Jesus “screams” (the literal meaning of the Greek word) a desperate prayer.  These are his last words in Mark’s Passion.  Never had he felt so alone.

Jesus is not questioning the existence of God.  He is struggling with the apparent silence of God.

Jesus learned well from the Psalms not to hide his feelings when he prays.  I can take a cue from that.  There are times when the best way to pray is to tell God how I honestly feel, pour my heart out.  God can take it.               

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.

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March 22, 2018 – Thursday – Fifth Week of Lent

Those passing by reviled Jesus, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself by coming down form the cross.”

Likewise the chief priests, with the scribes, mocked him among themselves and said, “He saved others; he cannot save himself.  Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.”  Those who were crucified with him also kept abusing him.  (Mk 5:29-32)

 There are three groups of hecklers:

·         The passers-by, most of whom wouldn’t have known Jesus.  They talk about him in front on him.

·         The chief priests and the scribes, who don’t speak directly to Jesus.  They talk about him in front of him.

·         And the cruelest of all – the crucified criminals who also make fun of him. 

In their eyes, Jesus obviously wasn’t what he claimed to be.  “How can you be the Son of God, call God ‘Abba” and hang here like this?  Come down from the cross and then we’ll believe.”

There are times when I feel the same way.  Someone I love has a long and painful death.  “How can you be a good God and let this happen?”

I have no answer.  All I can do is look at the cross an say, “He is the Son of God, and this did happen.  I believe, O Lord.   Help my unbelief.” 

It helps to have a cross on the wall, or on a stand, on I can look at, even hold.              

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.

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March 21, 2018 – Wednesday – Fifth Week of Lent

And the soldiers divided Jesus’ garments by casting lots for them to see wheat each should take.

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.

The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”

With him they crucified two revolutionaries, one on his right and one on his left.  (Mk 15:24-27)

The death watch has begun.  Death usually came slowly to those crucified.  This was by design, so they would suffer as much as possible. 

The Gospels tell me precious little about Jesus on the cross.  I’m told about the soldiers dividing up his clothes (part of the degradation was to strip the victim)… what time it was… what the inscription on the cross said… that his “entourage” was made up of criminals at his right and left.

But I’ll get no description of Jesus on the cross.  It was too horrible to tell.

Yet the cross is our logo.

This is the cross with which I sign myself, the cross I put on my wall, wear around my neck.  I ought never to take it lightly.             

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.   

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‘Seven times a day I praise you.’  Psalm 119:164

In his Passion narrative, St. Mark takes special notice of the time of day.

For instance, in today’s text above, he notes that it was “nine o’clock in the morning” when Jesus was crucified.

For faithful Jews at that time, morning prayer and evening prayer were held at the Temple, as well as prayer at the third, sixth and ninth hours of the date (i.e. 9 a.m., 12 noon, and 3 p.m.)

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March 20, 2018 – Tuesday – Fifth Week of Lent

The soldiers brought Jesus to the place of Golgotha (which is translated Place of the Skull).  They gave him wine drugged with myrrh, but he did not take it.  Then they crucified him.  (Mk 15:22-24)

Just outside the walls of Jerusalem was a rocky knoll that resembled the shape of a human skull.  The word for skull in Hebrew is “Golgotha” and in Latin “Calvarium.” 

Nowadays, with modern-day news coverage, I would have all the details.  There would be helicopters overhead, reporters on the ground interviewing passers-by, announcers in the studio talking to experts who could explain what was going on.  I’d see the crossbeam laid flat on the ground, Jesus forced to lie on it; I’d hear the ring of the hammer pounding the nails, the cries of pain.  Then as the soldiers hoist the beam in place, I’d see the victim writhing, twisting, screaming.

But the Gospels have none of that.  Anyone who had seen a crucifixion – and most had – didn’t need to be reminded of the details.  All they needed to hear was:  “Then they crucified him.”

This was what Jesus was dreading in his Gethsemane prayer.  But he found the courage to accept it.  He took it.

And it was for me that he did it.         

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.   

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In his Passion narrative, St. Mark notes today that Jesus was offered wine drugged with myrrh… which he refused.

Mark is the only evangelist to add that detail, although Matthew lists myrrh among the gifts of the Magi, and John says it was used in the preparation of the body of Jesus for burial.

Myrrh is the reddish brown dried sap of a tree found in Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia and Jordan.  It is often used in incense, as well as an additive to wine, perfume, toothpaste and lotions.  The early Egyptians used myrrh as an embalming ointment, and burned it at sacrifices.

Why did the soldiers add myrrh to the wine offered to Jesus?

One scholar suggests this was another way for the soldiers to mock Jesus because the Romans often mixed myrrh with wine to create a scented drink enjoyed by royalty.  Or the drink may have been offered for its dulling effect (i.e. to lessen the pain).  Either way, Jesus refuses the offer.

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March 19, 2018 – Monday – Feast of St. Joseph

The soldiers pressed into service a passer-by, Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry Jesus’ cross.  (Mk 15:21)

It was customary to take a zig-zagged route to the site of crucifixion to make a spectacle of the condemned criminal.  Jerusalem’s streets were narrow and winding and, because of Passover, very crowded.  Here I see the cross for the first time.  Normally, just the crossbeam was carried.  The vertical beam was already fixed in place at the site.

An ominous chord is sounded in that Jesus didn’t carry his own cross, as was customary.  Apparently he had been beaten so badly in the scourging, he was unable to do this.

Think about Simon of Cyrene.  It wasn’t as though the Roman soldiers had asked for a volunteer and Simon had raised his hand saying, “I’ll do it.”  He was simply passing by and out of the blue he was “pressed into service” to carry the cross.

A lot of crosses come that way.  Why this?  Why me?  Simon should be the patron saint for those who carry these kinds of crosses.  He is given no introduction.  No farewell.  He is never seen again.

He carried the cross, not knowing why, or where he was going.  But he wasn’t lost.  He was following the Lord.     

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.   

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Simon of Cyrene is world famous, yet in all of Scripture, there is only this about him:

Mark:  The brief passage above.

Matthew: “As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon; this man they pressed into service to carry the cross.”

Luke:  “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.”

John:  No mention of him.

Cyrene was in North Africa, in the general area of modern day Libya.  A Jewish settlement was there at that time.  Simon may have come to Jerusalem for the Passover.  One gets the impression that, until he happened to be passing by, he was an unknown figure with no relationship to Jesus.  He was forced to do what he did.

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March 18, 2018 – Fifth Sunday of Lent

The Dead Sea is the dead sea because it is a dead-end, and has no outlet.  It continually receives and never gives.

Almsgiving is simply “getting it right.” Everything we have belongs to God, and is given to us for our benefit and the benefit of others.

A picture is worth a thousand words:  The Dead Sea lies about 13 miles east of Jerusalem.  It is 53 miles long, 10 miles across at its widest.  In some places it is 1,300 feet deep.  Its major source is the Jordan River which flos directly into it.

The salt content of the Dead Sea is about 25 percent, which is six times that of the ocean.  There are no fish in it, and freshwater fish carried into it by the Jordan River die instantly. 

Today is the Sunday of the Third Scrutiny for those who are planning to enter the Catholic Church.  

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.   

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Almsgiving all year long

How can I give alms to the poor?

There are four levels of action for helping the poor:

·         By helping people who are part of my own life (family, friends, neighbors, people at work, etc.)

·         By helping people who are not directly connected to my own life (i.e. the people I help through donations to a food pantry, or other people I may never see but want to help).

·         By thinking about the causes of poverty.

·         By addressing the causes of poverty, the systems and structures in society which impoverish people.

That fourth point can be difficult.

As one bishop noted, “We would much rather deal with the poor people who are part of our lives.”

Almsgiving is so much more.

‘Give alms from your possessions.  Do not turn your face away from any of the poor, and God’s face will not be turned away from you.  Give alms in proportion to what you own.  If you have great wealth, give alms out of your abundance; if you have but little, distribute even some of that.  But do not hesitate to give alms…’   Tobit 4:7-8

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March 17, 2018 – Saturday – Fourth Week of Lent

And when the soldiers had mocked Jesus, they stripped him of the purple cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him out to crucify him.  (Mk 15:20)

Having amused themselves at the prisoner’s expense, it is now time to go to Calvary, the place where victims were crucified.

The troops are just carrying out their orders.  No need to think about the justice or injustice of is all.  It was part of the system and theirs was to do and not to ask why.  That’s how orderly societies operate.  You do what you’re told. 

The saintly Archbishop of Recife, Brazil, Dom Helder Camera (who died in 1999) said: “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint.  But when I ask why there are poor, they call me a Communist.”

It takes a lot of courage to ask the simple question:  “Why?”

I wonder if I have that courage?    

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.   

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‘… the Redeemer has declared “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.”  Happy the man who gives alms to Jesus…’    Fr. John Spratt, Charity talk for St. Peter’s Orphanage, December 1861

Fr. John Spratt (1795 -1871) was an Irish Carmelite priest who served the poor and disenfranchised. 

Born in Dublin, Ireland, John was said to have a special affinity for the poor, even as a child.  After attending a Carmelite College in Spain, he was ordained in 1820 as a member of the Carmelite Order in Ireland.  During his priesthood, he founded the Catholic Asylum for blind women, St. Peter’s Orphanage, and St. Joseph’s Night Refuge for the homeless, as well as the Carmelite Church on Whitefriar Street in Dublin. Fr. Spratt also worked with alcoholics, strongly promoting temperance.

In 1835, Fr. Spratt was invited to preach at the Church of the Gesu in Rome.  His preaching was so inspiring that he received many tokens of appreciation.  In the 19th century, it was fairly common practice to allow local churches from around the world to bring home relics from the catacombs in Rome.  Pope Gregory XI offered Fr. Spratt the relics of St. Valentine… and the Irish priest accepted.  Back in Ireland, he placed the saint’s reliquary on display at the Whitefriar Street Chapel where he lived. 

After Fr. Spratt’s death in 1871, interest in St. Valentine’s relics waned, and they were put in storage.  In 1950, they were discovered during a church renovation, and a statue and shrine was built to honor St. Vanentine.

Today is St. Patrick’s Day.

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March 16, 2018 – Friday – Fourth Week of Lent

(The first step in execution by crucifixion has already taken place, though not detailed in Mark’s Gospel.  Jesus was scourged, a brutal whipping that was actually part of killing the victim.  In what follows I should picture a bloodied and beaten Jesus.)

The soldiers led Jesus away inside the palace, that is, the praetorium, and assembled the whole cohort.  They clothed him in purple and, weaving a crown of thorns, placed it on him.  They began to salute him with, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and kept striking his head with a reed and spitting upon him.  They knelt before him in homage.  “Mk 15:16-19)

Jesus is treated like a king – the purple, the crown, the words of salute, the homage.  How ironic.  What the soldiers think is buffoonery is actually the truth.

As so often happens, verbal abuse quickly turns into physical abuse.  They hit him on the head, the same head the nameless woman had anointed at the beginning of the Passion.

After the brutal scourging, Jesus is almost helpless.  Like a child, he is undressed and dressed.

He knows that it is like to be helpless and to feel like someone without dignity.

How I treat people who are incapacitated – in any way – is a measure of my love for the Lord.    

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.   

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The color purple

In their Gospels, both St. Mark and St. John note that the cloak the soldiers used to mock Jesus was purple. 

During the time of Jesus, purple was a royal color, a sign of power and wealth.  Purple dye could be expensive.  While plants and other items could be used to make the dye, the best purple color came from a spiny shellfish known as a Murex mollusk.

Liturgically, purple is a symbol of penance and preparation.  It is mainly used during the seasons of Advent and Lent.

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March 15, 2018 – Thursday – Fourth Week of Lent

So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified.  (Mk 15:15)

Cicero once said that the word “cross” should be far from a civilized person’s thoughts.

It was the most terrible form of execution known in antiquity.

There was a formula by which the decision to crucify was rendered by Roman judges.  The official language was Latin, and the judge would say something like: “Ibis in crucem” (“You will go to the cross”).  Those were the most chilling words a condemned criminal could hear.

Mark Says that Jesus is “handed over to be crucified.”  This is part of a chain on “handing-overs,” one after the other, into unfriendly hands.  It began when Judas handed him over to the chief priests… who handed him over to Pilate… who handed him over to the executioners.  In the end, Jesus will hand himself over to the Father in death.  At last, he will be received into friendly hands.

Those same friendly hands await me, not only at death, but at every Mass:  I can place myself on the altar and join with Christ as he gives himself into the Father’s hands.  

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.   

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‘Unity, friendship and charity.’    Motto of the Daughters of Isabella

The female component of the Knights of Columbus is the Daughters of Isabella.

The women’s charitable organization was established in 1897 in New Haven, Connecticut.  Names after Queen Isabella (the patroness of Christopher Columbus), it was originally begun as a ladies auxiliary to the Rev. Joh Russell Council of the Knights of Columbus. 

The purpose of the Daughters was to unite “all Catholic women in a sisterhood.”  Its goals included “friendship, sharing of talents and experiences, support of one another in times of crises and celebration, fundraising, and support of churches, schools, scholarships, seminaries, mission, Right to Life, and other charitable causes.”

In 1907, the group changed its name to the National Circle, Daughters of Isabella, and began to form “circles” throughout the United States and other countries.  Each circle focuses on a particular charitable project.

Today the Daughters of Isabella has about 60,000 members throughout the Unites States and Canada, making it one of the largest Catholic women’s organizations.

On this day in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI declared Fr. Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus in 1881, “venerable” – a step on the path to sainthood.

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March 14, 2018 – Wednesday – Fourth Week of Lent

Pilate again said to the crowd in reply, “Then what do you want me to do with the man you call the king of the Jews?”  They shouted back, “Crucify him.”

Pilate said to them, “Why?  What evil has he done?”   But they only shouted the louder, “Crucify him.”  (Mk 15:12-14)

Pilate gives the crowd a choice between Jesus or Barabbas.  When the crowd chooses Barabbas, Pilate must decide what to do with Jesus.  He ducks the decision and leaves it to the crowd.

Their response:  “Crucify him!”  (This is the first time in Mark’s Passion that the word “crucify” is spoken aloud.)  When Pilate asks them why, they shout even louder, “Crucify him!”

Mob psychology.  Perhaps one person started it by shouting “Crucify him!” and the rest picked it up.

Popular opinion will prevail.

There are modern equivalents to the shout “crucify him” and a shout like this can set public opinion moving in a bad direction, especially on human life issues.

It’s not always easy to stand against the tide.

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.   

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‘I do not believe on can settle how much we ought to give.  I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. 

In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. 

If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small.  There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.’

C.S. Lewis (1898 – 1963), English author

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March 13, 2018 – Tuesday – Fourth Week of Lent

Now on the occasion of the feast Pilate used to release to them one prisoner whom they requested.  A man called Barabbas was then in prison along with the rebels who had committed murder in a rebellion.

The crowd came forward and began to ask him to do for them as he was accustomed.  Pilate answered, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?”  For he knew that it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed him over.  But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead.  (Mk 15:6-11)

Jesus has been:

·         Betrayed by Judas

·         Arrested by an armed band

·         Condemned by the highest religious court in the land

·         Mocked and taunted

·         Denied by Peter

·         Accused falsely before Pilate

·         And is now at the mercy of “the crowd.”

In Mark’s account, once Jesus is arrested in Gethsemane, no one will say a single kind word, or do a single kind deed on his behalf.  He is alone the rest of the way.  On the cross he will even feel abandoned by God.

Do I ever feel that way?  Do I know anyone who might feel that way?  A call, a card, a visit might help.

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.   

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‘I practice the “highest” law in the “highest” court, the law of charity in the court of heaven.’  Sr. Nirmala Joshi

On this day in 1997, Mother Teresa stepped down as head of the Missionaries of Charity, the community she had founded.  She was succeeded by Sr. Nirmala Joshi.

Born in India and raised as a Hindu, Sr. Nirmala attended a boarding school run by Christian missionaries.  She obtained a master’s degree in political science, and then lived in a hostel run by Catholic sisters while she studied to become a lawyer.  She was baptized as a Catholic on April 5, 1958, and the following month joined the Missionaries of Charity.

Sr. Nirmala helped open the order’s first home outside India, in Venezuela in 1965, as well as a convent in the South Bronx, New York, where the missionaries established a homeless shelter in 1971.

As superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, Sr. Nirmala expanded the organization’s mission to 134 countries by opened centers in nations such as Afghanistan, Israel, and Thailand.

Sr. Nirmala died in Calcutta, India, in 2015, at the age of 81.

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March 12, 2018 – Monday – Fourth Week of Lent

As soon as morning came, the chief priests with the elders and the scribes, that is, the whole Sanhedrin, held a council.  They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate.  Pilate questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews” He said to him in reply, “You say so.”

The chief priests accused him of many things.

Again Pilate questioned him, “Have you no answer?”  See how many things the accuse you of.”  Jesus gave him no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.  (Mk 15:1-5)

As the trial proceeds, Pilate clearly knows that Jesus is not guilty.  What will he do?  Should he stand for the truth, or take an opinion poll?
He will take the coward’s way: avoid trouble, at all costs, including truth.  He hoped the crowd would come round to see the truth.  But they didn’t.  Too bad.

I know what it’s like to face that kind of decision.  Values are not always popular.  It’s easier to go with the trend.  Let it be their choice, not mine.  I’ll do what’s expected. 

The Lenten practices of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer are meant to help give me the discipline to live up to what I know to be true.                          

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.   

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‘Do people weigh you down?  Don’t carry them on your shoulders.  Take them into your heart.’  Dom Helder Camara

Dom Helder Camara was born on February 7, 1909.  He once said he had a “thousand reasons for living,” not the least of which was because “love walked with him” especially in the faces of the poor. 

Archbishop Camara was barely five feet tall and about 120 pounds, yet he cast a large shadow in his diocese in northeast Brazil.  He was known simply and lovingly by his people as “Dom Helder.”  To the Brazilian military dictatorship that he opposed, he was branded as the “red bishop.”

Dom Helder’s life exemplified his identification with his people.  When he was named archbishop of Olinda and Recife, he relinquished the archbishop’s palace, and lived in a sparsely furnished room in the back of his church.  Instead of wearing an expensive pectoral cross as a sign on his office, he wore a simple wooden cross.

He supported land reform, and his activism on this and other social issues earned him death threats.  On one occasion, his home was riddled with machine gun fire.  Because of his work for human rights, Dom Helder was nominated four times for the Nobel Peace Prize. 

Dom Helder was installed as archbishop of Olinda and Recife on this day in 1964.  He died of cardiac arrest on August 27, 1999.  In 2015, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of the Saints gave its approval for opening the process for possible sainthood for Archbishop Camara.

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March 6, 2018 – Tuesday - Third Week of Lent

The chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death, but they found none.  Many gave false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree.  Some took the stand and testified falsely against him, alleging, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple make with hand and within three days I will build another not made with hands.”  Even so their testimony did not agree.  (Mk 14:55-59)

For the Jewish people, the 71-member Sanhedrin was the highest court in the land. 

Like many religious or political leaders today, they were motivated by a mixture of true religious devotion, conscientious soul-searching… plus some insincerity, selfishness, bias.  That same mixture lies within most every religious group and within each of us.

What the witnesses reported about Jesus simply wasn’t true.  They twisted his words.  There is nothing worse than having people say things about me that aren’t true, whether it’s in court or to a friend or neighbor. 

Jesus, who knew the sting of slander, taught me to respond with love, not bitterness.  Christianity is a way of life, and sometimes it seems a strange way to live.  That’s one of the reasons why we try to support one another. 

Next time at Mass, maybe I should look around me.  The people I see believe the same things I do – and their hearts are with me as I try to walk this “strange path” behind Jesus. 

I need to take a moment to remember the support I receive from the people in my life.               

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today

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March 5, 2018 – Monday - Third Week of Lent

They led Jesus away to the high priest, and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together.

Peter followed him at a distance into the high priest’s courtyard and was seated with the guards, warming himself at the fire.  (Mk 14:53-54)

Only a few hours earlier, after the Last Supper, Jesus left the Holy City of the Mount of Olives.  Now he retraces his steps, marched along by people who want to kill him.

In the darkness, Peter is following “at a distance” (a detail noted in all four Gospels).

This is not the measure of a true disciple.  I am called to be with the Lord up close.

For instance, right now.

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.   

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‘If we are able to enter the church day and night and implore God to hear our prayers, how careful we should be to hear and grant the petitions of our neighbor in need.’   St. John the Almsgiver

St. John was born of a noble family in Cyprus about 550 A.D.  He married and had children, but after his wife’s death, John decided to live a simple life, serving God.

In the early seventh century, at the urging of the people of Alexandria, Egypt, the emperor appointed John as their patriarch.  As a young man, John had a vision of a beautiful maiden who called herself Compassion.  Now, as patriarch, he had the opportunity to “practice charity without limits” among Alexandria’s poor.  He made a list of 1,000 needy people whom he placed under his care.  He called the poor his “lord and masters” because of their “mighty influence” with God.  Sometimes people who really weren’t poor took advantage of his benevolence.  When John was told of this, he said: “Give unto him; he may be Our Lord in disguise.”

John faithfully visited hospitals, freed slaves, gave the Church’s treasury to hospitals and monasteries, and welcomed refugees.  He distributed his own money and possessions to the poor.  A story is told of a merchant who gave him a valuable gift.  John sold it and gave the proceeds to the poor.  The merchant re-bought the item and gave it to John again.   The same thing happened.  John is said to have remarked, “We’ll see who tires first.”

John was forced to flee Alexandria when the city was occupied by the Persians.  He returned to his homeland of Cyprus where he died in 616

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March 3, 2018 – Saturday - Second Week of Lent

And they all left Jesus and fled.

Now a young man followed him wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body.  They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked.  (Mk 14:50-52)

There is particular irony in the young man’s flight.  Probably a disciple, though not one of the Twelve, he had left all things to follow Jesus.  Now, he leaves all things to flee from him.

Why did the frightened disciples run for their lives?  Jesus had been distraught, troubled, but he managed to face what he had to face.  Why couldn’t they??

Well, for one thing, they were sleeping while he was praying.   Prayer does help.

Prayer is one of the three traditional practices of Lent.  It’s not easy in today’s world to find a time and place to pray.  Perhaps it was never easy.

But I’ve managed to spend six minutes each day reading these meditations.  And what I’m doing is a form of prayer. 

And this prayer can help me fact whatever difficulty I have to face… today.                  

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.   

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‘The rich man who gives to the poor does not bestow alms but pays a debt.’    St. Ambrose

Ambrose was a Roman official, governor of a region in northern Italy, with his headquarters in Milan, Italy.  When the bishop of Milan died in 374, the people had a hard time electing a replacement because of angry factions.

Worried about civil disorder, Ambrose when to the basilica where the election was taking place and told the wrangling parties to conduct themselves peacefully.  Someone shouted, “Ambrose for bishop!” and the crowd picked up the refrain.  Ambrose fled, but the people tracked him down and insisted that he become their bishop.  But Ambrose wasn’t a priest.  He wasn’t even a baptized Christian.  In the space of a week, Ambrose was baptized, confirmed, ordained a priest and ordained a bishop.

Ambrose began an intensive study of Scripture, sold his property, lived an ascetic life, generously reached out to the poor, and was immersed in the pastoral care of his people.

When the Goths invaded and took thousands of captives, Ambrose raided money and melted down the Church’s gold vessels for payment to ransom the hostages.

He turned out to be a holy bishop, and a major leader in the Church.  When he died 23 years later, on Holy Saturday in 397, the people acclaimed him as a saint.

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March 2, 2018 – Friday - Second Week of Lent

One of the bystanders drew his sword, struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his ear.

Jesus said to them in reply, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs, to seize me?  Day after day I was with you teaching in the Temple area, yet you did not arrest me; but that the Scriptures may be fulfilled.”  (Mk 14:47-49)

First, there is the sword.  Jesus didn’t carry one.  Nor did he approve of its use here. 

Next, Jesus speaks to the crowd.  Jesus seems to be more hurt than angry, asking why they thought they had to come to him armed.  He had never raised a hand against anyone.

It’s crushing to be misunderstood by others, thought to be someone “evil” among friends, or at work, or even in our family.  To be judged this way cuts to the heart.

Jesus knows how it feels, but he taught me not to respond with the sword.  There are times along “the way” when you just plain take it.

This might be a good time to talk to the Lord about that.           

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.   

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‘It is not sufficient for me to love God if I do not love my neighbor.  I belong to God and to the poor.”  St. Vincent de Paul

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was founded in 1833 by Frederic Ozanam.  It was name for a French saint who served the sick and poor nearly 200 years earlier.

As a young priest, Vincent de Paul was captured by Turkish pirates and sold into slavery in Tunisia.  Upon his release he returned by Paris, France, where his duties included serving as a chaplain to imprisoned galley slaved.

With Sr. Louis de Marillac, he established the Daughters of Charity and Ladies of Charity to go out into the community and serve the poor.

Vincent de Paul died in 1660.   His feast is celebrated on September 27th.  He was named patron saint of all charitable institutions by Pope Leo XIII. 

The first St. Vincent de Paul Society in the United States was founded at the Basilica of St. Louis in the city of St. Louis, Missouri, in 1845.

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March 1, 2018 – Thursday - Second Week of Lent

While Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, accompanied by a crowd with swords and clubs who had come from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders.  His betrayer had arranged a signal with them, saying, “The man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him and lead him away securely.”

He came and immediately went over to him and said, “Rabbi.”  And he kissed him.  At this they laid hands on him and arrested him.  (Mk 14:46-46)

Note that Mark doesn’t simply identify Judas by name.  He adds, “one of the Twelve.”

The Gospel writers almost always do that when referring to Judas.  Earlier in the Gospels when Jesus first chose the Twelve, at Judas’ name they add, “who betrayed him.”

Why do they do this?  After all, what Judas did was an embarrassment to the early Church and to Christians in every century.

The Gospel writers were honest and didn’t flinch from the bad news.  They knew that the Lord could make all things turn to good, and they weren’t afraid of acknowledging failure and sin. 

How am I doing at acknowledging my sins?  Lent is a good time for the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a way of facing my weaknesses and failures and receiving the Lord’s healing and strengthening.      

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.    

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On this day in 1961, President John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president of the United States, established the Pace Corps.  Its purpose was to promote world peace and friendship by sending trained American men and women overseas to help nations with development.

In making the announcement, the president noted that the Peace Corps was “designed to permit our people to exercise more fully their responsibilities in the great common cause of world development.”  Since its inception, more than 225,000 volunteers and staff have worked in more than 141 countries.

The idea of a peace corps was first proposed in 1959 by Congressman Henry S. Reuss from Wisconsin.  It was quickly taken up by Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey, and then Senator John Kennedy.

While on a campaign stop at the University of Michigan in 1960, presidential candidate Kennedy floated the idea of serving in Asia, Africa and Latin America to a group of students.  The students like the idea so much they began a letter-writing campaign in support of his proposal.

Look back at your Lenten plans of February 11th.  If you haven’t done as well as you wished, now is a good time to make a fresh start.

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February 28, 2018 – Wednesday - Second Week of Lent

When Jesus returned he found his disciples asleep.  He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep?  Could you not keep watch for one hour?  Watch and pray that may not undergo the test.  The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”  (Mk 14:37-38

Jesus has been praying to “Abba.”  The disciples have been sleeping.  By now it is probably after midnight.  It is Good Friday.

When Jesus says, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” he isn’t just talking about the disciples.  He is “the Word made flesh.”

Headed into suffering and death, Jesus was willing in spirit, but he experienced the hard reality of human life:  it is difficult to cross the bridge from good intentions to good deeds.

I could tell stories of good intentions stacked in side me but not yet translated into action.  It’s so hard.  But Jesus has crossed that bridge and he’ll take my hand to help me do the same. 

The best thing to do when I face a tough situation is to find my weak points and turn to the Lord for help.  Paul learned that reliance on Christ and said, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”     

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.    

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One of the most popular Lenten hymns is “Stay with me, remain here with me, “ based on Mark 14:27-41.

It was written by the French liturgical composer Jacques Berthier (1923 – 1994).  The son of musicians, Berthier was asked in 1955 to compose music for a fledgling religious community of 20 members.  The ecumenical community was called Taize.  Over the next 40 years, Berthier composed much of the music for which Taize became known.

Among the liturgical music written by Berthier and still used today are “Eat This Bread” and “Jesus, Remember Me”.

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February 27, 2018 – Tuesday - Second Week of Lent

Jesus advanced a little and fell to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass by him; he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you.  Take this cup away from me, but no what I will but what you will.”  (Mk 14:35-36)

The cup.

At times it is the cup of gladness, as when I sing, “We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”  Or, for a toast at a banquet.

It is also the cup of suffering.  When the disciples James and John came to Jesus and asked for special places in the kingdom, he asked, “Can you drink the cup that I shall drink?”

Now Jesus himself comes to the moment of truth.  He is like me in all things but sin, and he faces the same difficulty I face in crossing the bridge from saying to doing.  He pleads, “Take this cup away from me.”  But his next words are crucial” “Not what I will but what you will.”

When at Communion I stand before the cup and say “Amen,” part of what I am saying is this: “If you will be with me, Lord, I can accept and get through whatever sufferings I have to fact.”

He is with me, today, to face… whatever.

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.    

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The New Testament contains no specific law about tithing.  Early Christians simply shared what they had with the poor.

But as the Church grew and its material needs increased, the Church fathers resurrected the Old Testament’s encouragement of tithing as a moral obligation and something good to do.

Eventually, the Church Council of Macon in 585 A.D. ordered payment of tithes under threat of excommunication.  At the end of the eighth century, Charlemagne made tithing to the Church a civil law.  Initially the practice was limited to food, and only eventually expanded to one’s profits and wages.  The Council of Trent (1545 - 1563) declared that payment of tithes was due God, and not to do so would lead to excommunication.

In the United States, only the Church in the North Central and Mississippi Valley areas ever used a tithing system, introduced by the French and ended when the United States acquired the lands. 

The 1983 Code of Canon Law notes that the faithful are obliged to assist the Church by providing what is necessary for charitable works.

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February 26, 2018 – Monday - Second Week of Lent

Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”  He took with him Peter, James, and John, and began to be troubles and distressed.  Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death.  Remain here and keep watch.”   (Mk 14:32-34)

Jesus is truly God, and truly human.  In the earliest centuries, people had a hard time believing he was God.  In more recent centuries, people have a hard time believing he is human.

In this scene, I see his humanity in its stark reality. Jesus is looking at death – not any death, but a shameful, painful death on the cross – and he looks it in the eye.  He is on the ground pouring his heart out, “troubled and distressed.”

In the end he will manage to see it through, but he struggled, and Mark wants me to knob that.  He paints his portrait of Jesus with the colors of human weakness and helplessness.

For some reason, there are sufferings that, even with God’s help, can’t be avoided.  I’ve been through a few, or a lot, and there will be more along the way.  Jesus also experienced this kind of suffering firsthand, and he is with me through them all, including the ones I may face today.

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.    

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The Trappist monk who influenced the design of the fonts used by Apple computers was a world-renowned master of calligraphy.  

Robert Palladino was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1932.  His grandfather helped build St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe.  In 1950, the 17-year-old Palladino joined the Trappist order in Pecos, New Mexico, where his handwriting earned him special calligraphy training from the monastery scribe.  He was ordained in 1958, but left the monastery in 1968 and began to study calligraphy at Reed Collect in Portland, Oregon.

In 1969, he was dispensed from his priestly vows and later married.  That same year, he joined the faculty at Reed, where future Apple founder, Steve Jobs, audited his calligraphy class.  Jobs later credited Palladino and his class for Apple’s distinctive onscreen fonts.

Palladino taught at Read until 1984.  His wife died in 1987, and Palladino was readmitted to the priesthood in 1995 in the Archdiocese of Portland.  He ministered at various parishes and taught calligraphy in nearby colleges. 

Fr. Palladino died on this date in 2016 at the age of 83.

Fr. Palladino was portrayed by actor William Mapother in the 2013 movie, “Jobs.”

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February 25, 2018 – Second Sunday of Lent

Almsgiving and Time

There is something so god about giving food to the hungry.  Is there a way I can keep the practice going?

It might take time.

It’s surprising to think of time as a part of almsgiving, but it’s one of my most precious commodities.  There’s a saying:  Tell me how you spend your thoughts, how you spend your money, and how you spend your time… and regardless of what you say is important to you, I’ll tell you what is really important to you.

Jesus put it another way: “Where you treasure is, there also your heart will be.”

There is something about Lent that makes me turn my thoughts more easily towards my spiritual life.  I see and hear things differently – inside me, at home, in the media. I come to know where my attention belongs.  I make resolutions to do better in areas of prayer and generosity.

I’ve got all the time I’ll ever have.  I can’t produce more time and I can’t take away some of it. The question is not making more time; it’s how I use my time.

These 40 days of Lent are a precious opportunity for me to step back and think about the things that are important to me, and then do something about finding ways to spend time on them.

‘Let not your hand be open to receive and clenches when it is time to give.’  Sirach 4:31

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February 22, 2018 – Friday, First Week of Lent

After singing a hymn, the Twelve went out to the Mount of Olives. 

Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will have your faith shaken for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be dispersed.’ But after I have been raised up I shall go before you to Galilee.”  (Mk 14:26-28)

Jesus and his disciples have left the upper room and are on their way to the Mount of Olives, a long hill just outside the wall of Jerusalem.  He talks to the disciples along the way. 

The Good Shepherd is walking with his flock.  In just a few hours his flock will indeed have their “faith shaken” and will “disperse.”  But the Good Shepherd loves his sheep, and will lay down his life for them.

Death will not end Jesus’ work as a shepherd.  He tells them that after his death he will walk ahead of them (“go before you”) again.

I (who am a member of the flock today) constantly struggle with the same problem: shaken faith in my Church, in myself, in just about everything.  Thank God, the Good Shepherd has not retired.  He is with my in a new way, even closer than before, no longer restricted by time and place.

The Good Shepherd cares for his sheep.  He is with me in whatever I do.  Not from a distance, but right alongside me and, through his Spirit, even within me.

Today!         

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.

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Rosa Maria Segale was born in 1850 in Italy.  When she was four, her family emigrated to Cincinnati, Ohio.

At 16, Rosa entered the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati where she took the name Sr. Blandina.  In 1872, she was assigned to work in the western United States.  She first taught the poor in Colorado, and later when to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she co-founded public and Catholic schools, and helped start St. Joseph’s Hospital.  She ministered to the immigrants and the poor, and sought fair treatment for Native Americans.

The story is told that while she was in Colorado, she intervened when Billy the Kid threatened to kill four doctors for refusing to treat the gunshot wound of his friend.  She herself nursed the outlaw’s friend back to health.  It’s said that Billy once called off a covered wagon robber when he saw that Sr. Blandina was among the stagecoach’s passengers.

In 2014, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe opened Sr. Blandina’s cause for sainthood.

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February 21, 2018 – Wednesday, First Week of Lent

When it was evening, Jesus came with the Twelve.  And as they reclined at table and were eating, Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.”

They began to be distressed and to say to him, one by one, “Surely it is not I?”  He said to them, “One of the Twelve, the one who dips with me into the dish.  For the Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him but we to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.  It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”  (Mk 14:17-21)

Jesus and his disciples are in an upper room in a house somewhere in Jerusalem.  It is Thursday evening.  The great feast of Passover began at sunset.  This night meant for them something of what Christmas Eve means to me – a time for gathering with family and friends.  Yet, at this intimate gathering, Judas is preparing his act of betrayal.

Contrary to what is sometimes thought, the Church has never declared that Judas is damned.  The “woe” that Jesus pronounces is not a curse but a cry of anguish.  Jesus reacts with sadness, not bitterness or vengeance. 

To be betrayed not only by one of his disciples, but by a member of “the Twelve” was a terrible blow for Jesus.  Jesus loved Judas.  It cut to the heart.

In one way or another I have felt something like this because of broken relationships, divorce, being done in or betrayed by someone I trusted.

Jesus is no stranger to how I feel.     

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.

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Struggling with his faith, poet Robert Bridges wrote to poet Gerard Manley Hopkins for advice on how he could learn to believe.  Hopkins sent back a two-work letter: ‘Give alms.’

Gerard Manley Hopkins was a Jesuit priest and major poet of 19th-century England. 

Born July 28, 1844, near London, Gerard was raised in the High Anglican Church. When he enrolled at Oxford University, he became friends with Fr. John Henry Newman (whom Pope Benedict XVI beatified in 2010).  In 1866 Gerard joined the Catholic Church.  After graduating from Oxford, Gerard taught at Fr. Newman’s Oratory School near Birmingham, and then entered the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1868.

Ordained in 1877, Fr. Hopkins served the poor in London’s slums for three years, before taking a teaching post at a college in Lancashire.  In 1884, he became professor of Greek and Latin at the University College in Dublin, Ireland.  He died of typhoid fever in 1889 at the age of 44.

Prior to ordination, Fr. Hopkins had written many poems.  But he set aside his poetry, believing it was too individualistic and self-indulgent for a Jesuit priest to write poetry.  Only after reading the writings of John Dun Scotus did he realize poetry presented no conflict with priesthood. 

Fr. Hopkins didn’t gain fame as a poet until the posthumous publication of his work in 1918 by his friend, Robert Bridges, the poet laureate of England. 

Fr. John Henry Newman was born in London on this day in 1801.

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February 20, 2018 – Tuesday, First Week of Lent

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to Jesus, “Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?”  He sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city and a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water.  Follow him.  Wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’  They he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready.  Make the preparations for us there.”

The disciples then went off, entered the city, and found it just as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover.  (Mk 14:12-16)

The lamb Jesus and his apostles will eat at the Passover meal would have been sacrificed in the Temple earlier in the day.  Jesus, through his death on the cross, will become the new “Lamb” who becomes my food at the Eucharistic meal.

During Lent, when I say a prayer before the meals I eat, perhaps I can include a word of thanks to God for giving me the food of the Eucharist. 

I might be something like: “Thank you, Lord, for the food I am about to eat…and thank you for the body and blood of Christ, which feed the life within me that will never die.”

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.

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‘The lamb must be a year-old male and without blemish.  You may take it from either the sheep or the goats…’    Exodus 12:3-11

For the Jewish people, preparing the lamb for the Passover meal required following certain procedures, carefully outlined in the Old Testament Book of Exodus, chapter 12, versus 3-11.  For example, no bones of the animal are broken, and the lamb is roasted whole.  The lamb is to be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

For Christians, the Paschal lamb prefigured the Lamb of God, i.e. Jesus Christ whose death redeemed the world.

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February 19, 2018 – Monday, First Week of Lent

(When the woman poured expensive perfumed oil on Jesus, some guests criticized this as a terrible waste.  Jesus defended her.  Judas was there too, and has his own reaction.)

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went off to the chief priests to had Jesus over to them.  When they heard him they were pleased and promised to pay him money.  Then he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.  (Mk 14:10-11)

What ever happened to Judas?  Eleven chapter earlier in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had chosen Judas as one of “the Twelve,” part of his inner circle.  How could someone so close to Jesus turn traitor?

Was it for money?  Well, Judas got paid, but not all that much.  He traded Jesus for a small sum.

Maybe Judas was frustrated.  Jesus should have been turning this world around…  and here they were in a small town arguing about some nobody woman who wasted money on perfumed oil.  It was going nowhere (sound familiar?).  Jesus was always wasting time on the little people.  What about the big problems – the occupation of Israel by the Romans, poverty, disease, incompetent religious leaders?

Did Judas really feel that way?  I don’t know.  All I know is that I do feel that way, lots of times.

Lent is a time when I thing long thoughts about the long haul.  The good works that I manage to do seem so small.  I cannot expect to turn the world around in my lifetime. 

So do I become frustrated, like Judas?    

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.    

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February 18, 2018 – First Sunday of Lent

What to give up?

In the spirit of Lenten sacrifice, I am asked to consider the one thing I am going to give up, turn over to the Lord…  something I really ought to give up because I’m too attached to it, or because it stands in the way of my spiritual growth.

This one is a real challenge, because it involves something I am very attached to… a bad habit, a possession… or something that has to do with my eating or drinking…  or smoking.  It might be a grudge I’ve been carrying for a long time.  Or I may have to give up my pride and apologize to someone.

It may be relationship that needs to be dealt with.  It may be games on my computer that eat up too much of my time. 

This giving up is hard to do, and this is where prayer and fasting are needed to enable and support me on this Lenten journey.

‘Almsgiving above all else requires money, but even this shines with a brighter luster when the alms are given from our poverty.  The widow who paid in the two mites was poorer than any human, but she outdid them all.’  St. John Chrysostom     

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‘There is no more profitable practice as a companion to the hold and spiritual fasting that that of almsgiving.’  Pope St. Leo the Great.  The Eastern Church celebrates his feast today.

Pope Leo was born in 390 in Tuscany, Italy.  While serving as a deacon in the Church at Rome, his diplomatic and political skills caught the eye of several popes, who asked him to troubleshoot various problems in the Church.

After Pope Sixtus III died in 440, the deacon named Leo was chosen to become pope.  He served for 21 years.

During his papacy, the Church was in turmoil because of heresies, barbarian attacks, disagreements over dogma, and the disintegration of the Roman Empire.  Not surprisingly, Leo’s focus became unity.

In 452, Leo personally met with Attila the Hun as he advanced upon Rome and convinced him to spare the city from destruction and plundering. 

Leo often preached on the practice of giving alms, noting that the riches God has given should not be hoarded.  He called almsgiving the key to heaven.  Leo died on November 10, 461, and is buried in St. Peter’s Basilica.

In 1754, he was named a doctor of the Church, the first of two popes to ever be so honored (the other was Pope Gregory the Great).

Before the general revision of the Roman Calendar in 1969, today had been the feast of St. Leo the Great.  In the new calendar, he is honored on November 10.

Today catechumens sign the Book of the Elect.

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February 17, 2018 - Saturday after Ash Wednesday

February 17, 2018 – Saturday After Ash Wednesday

Jesus said, “Let her alone.  Why do you make trouble for her?  She has done a good thing for me.  The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me.  She has done what she could.  She has anticipated anointing my body for burial.  Amen, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”  (Mk 14:6-9)

Jesus wasn’t miserly about forgiveness, now about the things of the world.  He fasted, but he also ate and drank with sinners.  He admired the lavish generosity of this nameless woman – whose largesse was to become so famous that “wherever the Gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

Maybe sometimes I hold on too tightly to things.  A “loose hold” would be better.  Fasting and giving things away are two ways to overcome a tight-fisted hold on things that will eventually pass away.

Spring is just around the corner.  Some creative “spring cleaning” could turn up a lot of things that I could let go of, and let others enjoy.

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.

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Turn Lenten alms into Easter Joy.  (Catholic Relief Services)

CRS Rice Bowl

Throughout Lent, people across the United States will participate in Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl.  This Lenten program invites people to place a cardboard container in their homes, and put in it the money that is saved because of their fasting and the things they give up for Lent. 

At the end of Lent, the Rice Bowl is brought to Mass, and the money collected is forwarded to Catholic Relief Services.  SRS uses the money for development projects in poor nations and hunger relief in the local diocese.

According to CRS, nearly 14,000 Catholic parishes and schools participated in CRS Rice Bowl in 2016.

Today we finish the first four days of Lent.  These can be a warm-up to help us get the feel of this “40 day” season.  Take a look at your Lenten plans and make any necessary adjustments.

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February 16, 2018 – Friday after Ash Wednesday

There were some who were indignant.  “Why has there been this waster of perfumed oil?  It could have been sold for more than 300 days’ wages and the money given to the poor.”  They were infuriated with her.  (Mk 14:4-5)

An old priest in the inner city had spent his life with the poor.  A young priest asked him what he should get his mother for Mother’s Day. 

“Two dozen roses,” he replied.

“Why two dozen?”

“Because everyone buys a dozen.”

There are some who take a gloomy view of generosity as though I can never enjoy the things of this earth and must always mete out my money and goods with a worried face.

Generous giving to others is part of a refreshing attitude toward all material things: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.”  Treat the goods of this earth with a free spirit.  Enjoy them and make sure that others can enjoy them too.

There is a saying that “it takes a heap of living to make a house a home.”  Well, it takes a heap of giving to make this earth a home for everyone.

Almsgiving is one of the three traditional practices of Lent.  Generous giving to the poor is a powerful way to acknowledge that everything I have comes from God.

What is the Lord inviting me to give away today?

It changes the way I look at everything.

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.

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‘Fasting and almsgiving are “the two wings of prayer” which enable it to gain momentum and more easily reach even to God.’  (St. Augustine)

Alms are a freewill gift to those in need.

The New Catholic Encyclopedia defines almsgiving as “a religious act, inspired by compassion and a desire for justice, whereby an individual who possesses the economic means helps in a material way a less fortunate neighbor.”

Almsgiving has been part of Church practice since its beginning.  In the first three centuries, alms were brought to the Eucharist and lat3er distributed by the deacons.  By the fourth century, the bishop collected the alms offered and established endowments used for building hospitals and institutions to help the poor, orphans, sick  etc.  

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Thursday after Ash Wednesday - February 15, 2018

 February 15, 2018 – Thursday after Ash Wednesday

When Jesus was in Bethany reclining at table in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard.  She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head.  (Mk 14:3)

In the Jewish funeral tradition at that time, the body was anointed with oil before burial.  Jesus died last on a Friday afternoon.  Because the Sabbath began at sunset that day, they had to bury him in haste, without the anointing. 

But two days before his death, the unnamed woman at the banquet, without knowing it, was symbolically preparing Jesus for burial.

This is a story of extravagant giving.   Some of those who saw what the woman had done were angry at this “waste” of money.  Couldn’t she have used a less costly oil?  They didn’t understand such extravagance. 

Jesus in the Last Supper, Passion, and death on the cross, is about to give himself extravagantly.  By her own largesse, this unnamed woman is a “herald” of what Jesus is about to do. 

Shall I be small-minded or large-minded in my giving the Lent?  What would extravagant giving be for me?  Wound I dare to do it?

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today. 

What is spikenard?

Spikenard is an oil often used in making perfume.  It is obtained from a plant found in the Himalaya Mountains.  The plant’s underground stems (rhizomes) are crushed and distilled into a thick, amber-colored oil.    Use of this oil was considered a luxury in the ancient world.  

Spikenard is mentioned in Mark’s scriptural text as the ointment the woman used on Jesus’ head at the house of Simon the leper.

In John’s Gospel, spikenard is used at the house of Martha and Mary by Mary who anoints Jesus’ feet.

Why the discrepancies?

Some scholars suggest that these are two similar but different anointings.

Spikenard has long been associated with St. Joseph, and Pope Francis has an image on the spikenard plant on his coat of arms.  In Hispanic iconographic tradition, St. Joseph is often depicted holding a branch of spikenard.

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Ash Wednesday - February 14, 2018

“When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets do to win the praise of others.  Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”   -  Mt 6:2-4 Gospel for Ash Wednesday

Today I begin reading the Passion Narrative of St. Mark.  One way to pray the Scripture is to ‘take someone with you’ and talk with them along the way.  For example, Mary Magdalene, or Peter, or Mary the mother of Jesus. 

The Passion according to Mark

The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were to take place in two days’ time.  So the chief priests and the scribes were seeking a way to arrest Jesus by treachery and put him to death.  They said, “Not during the festival, for fear that there may be a riot among the people.”  (Mk 14:1-2)

Thunderclouds had been gathering on the horizon for a long time.  Herod had beheaded John the Baptist.  Religious leaders felt more and more threatened by Jesus.  Now the die is cast.  They have decided to kill him. 

Jesus spent most of his life and ministry up north in Galilee.  Now he has come south to Jerusalem for the Passover, where as many Jews as possible gathered to celebrate the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt some 1.300 years earlier.

There is a festive spirit in the air.  But although life seems normal, Jesus is two days away from death.

At the beginning of the old movie Brian’s Song, a voice says: “Every true story ends in death.  This is a true story.”

The story of Jesus is a true story.  He dies.  But the story doesn’t end in death.

My Story is also a true story.  I will die.

Ash Wednesday is a good time to talk to the Lord about live and death… and life after death.

Spend some quiet time with the Lord today.

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Daily Lenten Meditations for February 13, 2018

Six minutes a day.

That’s what you are asked to give from now until Easter.  Each 24-hour day has 240 “six minute” packages.  During Lent, one of those will be given to the Lord.

The centerpiece of each day (except Sundays) is the Passion according to Mark.  We’ll walk through the whole Passion a little bit at a time, and offer some reflection with each piece. 

Once you it into it you’ll find this practice to be peaceful, even something to look forward to.  You’ll also find that it helps to make your day go a bit better. 

Prayer does that.

Focus on the Scripture text.  God may take you down a path different from the written reflection that is provided.  Don’t worry about that.  God speaks to us through the Sacred Word.  Stay with the Scripture and the thoughts that come.  This is a traditional form of prayer. 

The Passion begins on Ash Wednesday, when Lent actually begins. 

spend some quiet time with the Lord today.

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