• By Msgr. Owen Campion

    Fifth Sunday of Lent
    John 11:1-45

    The Book of Ezekiel provides the first reading for this weekend. Even a quick reading of the history of ancient Israel shows that there were precious few periods of prosperity and calm. Indeed, only the reigns of David and Solomon might properly be considered as truly good times.

    Some times were more trying than others were. Certainly, generations endured miserable times in Babylon, confined in wretchedness, taunted and abused as a minority. Understandably, these Jewish exiles yearned for the day when they could return to their homeland.

    Ezekiel built upon this theme of hoping and expectation. As did all the prophets, he saw a release from Babylonian bondage not as an accident or a happy turn of events. He saw it as a result of God’s mercy and of fidelity to God. Thus, in this reading, the Lord speaks, promising to breathe new life into the defeated, dejected people.

    St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans furnishes the second reading. Rome was the absolute center for everything in the first-century-A.D. Mediterranean world, the political, economic and cultural heart of the vast, powerful empire. It was a sophisticated city.

    Rome’s inhabitants came from everywhere, having brought with them a great variety of customs and beliefs.

    Paul wrote to the Christian Romans, among whom eventually he would die as a martyr. Many of them would also be martyred.

    This reading stresses two spiritual realities. The Christian is linked with God in Christ. So, the Christian possesses the very life of the Holy Spirit, a life that will never die.

    For its third reading, the church this weekend presents the Gospel of John. Jesus went to Bethany, then a separate community but now a part of greater Jerusalem, summoned by Martha and Mary, who were anxious about their brother Lazarus, the Lord’s friend, who had died.

    When Jesus at last arrived, Lazarus was dead. In fact, he had been dead for several days. Putrefaction had begun. Responding to the sisters’ faith, the Lord restores Lazarus to life.

    Several important themes occur in the passage. First, of course, is the active, life-giving love of Jesus. In the mystery of the Incarnation, Jesus feels and expresses human love. Secondly, the faith of Martha and Mary is unqualified.

    The evangelist sees a parallel between the resurrection of Jesus and the restoration of earthly life to Lazarus. In each account, mourning women are essential parts of the story. A stone closes the tomb. The body is dressed, and a face cloth, customary in Jewish burials of the time, covers the face. Finally, in each story, faith and human limitation have important roles.

    Reflection

    Next week, on Palm Sunday, the church will invite us to learn and to worship in the most intense liturgical days of its year. Calling us to Christ, and with ancient drama and the most compelling symbolism, it will proclaim Jesus as Savior and as Risen Lord.

    This weekend, the church prepares us for this experience, giving us the beautiful and wondrous story of Lazarus.

    Echoing the Lord’s own resurrection, today’s message is clear. If we are united with Jesus, as Lazarus and his sisters were united, then in God’s power we will have everlasting life. However, this eternal life will occur only if we seek Jesus, and if we seek Jesus with the faith uncompromisingly displayed by Martha. Only Jesus can give us life.

    The other readings reinforce this theme. For everyone, life can be taxing. Death awaits all. Ezekiel assures us that God will give us true life. It will be the life of holiness, the life that never ends.

    St. Paul insisted that this divine life abides only in Jesus. So, lovingly, as Lent progresses, as Lent anticipates its culmination, the church calls us to Jesus, the Lord of life.

    Posted on March 28, 2017, to:

  • By Msgr. Owen Campion

    Fourth Sunday of Lent
    John 9:1-41

    Drawing from the first word, in Latin, in the Entrance Antiphon for this weekend’s liturgy, this Sunday long has been called “Laetare Sunday”. “Laetare” means “to rejoice”. The church rejoices that even amid the drabness and penance of Lent, the glory of Christ shines forth, as the Lord rose in brilliant light after being crucified.

    The first reading for this weekend is from the First Book of Samuel. An ancient prophet, and therefore God’s representative and spokesman, Samuel selected the young David to be king of Israel. To signify this appointment, Samuel anointed David with oil.

    Anointings always have marked persons for special jobs or to strengthen them in particular circumstances. All Catholics are anointed when they are baptized or confirmed. Priests and bishops are anointed. Faithful people in bad health are anointed to strengthen them and reinforce their spiritual constitution should they near death. Once, kings were anointed.

    David was, and still is, special in the Hebrew mind. He was the great king who united and empowered the nation, but he was much more than a successful political leader. His ultimate duty was in tightening the bond between God and the people. The bond was in the people’s genuine acknowledgement of God, and their lives of obedience to God’s law confirmed this bond.

    The Epistle to the Ephesians provides the second reading. This reading is an admonition to the Christian people of Ephesus, in the first century A.D. one of the major seaports, commercial centers and pagan shrines of the Roman Empire.

    Drawing heavily upon the imagery of light and darkness, the reading links light with righteousness and darkness with sin, calling upon the Christian Ephesians to live in the light.

    St. John’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. Central to the story is the Lord’s meeting with a man blind since birth. The Lord gives the man sight. To understand this entire story, it is necessary to realize how Jews at the time of Jesus looked upon physical difficulties.

    Unaware of the scientific explanations for blindness and other problems that people of this age have come to see as obvious, the ancient Jews believed such terrible handicaps came as a result of sin. After all, Original Sin ushered death itself into the world. In this thinking, sin also upset the good order of nature, hence disease. Thus, the question came. Was this man’s blindness the result of his own sin or a sin of his parents?

    Searching for an answer, the Pharisees question the man. The Pharisees are shown as obstinate and smug. By contrast, the blind man is humble and sincere. He has faith in God and in Jesus.

    An added element, surely of special interest to the early generations of Christians who suffered persecution, was that the Pharisees expelled the man from their synagogue. The righteous often suffer from the ill will of others.

    Reflection

    The Gospel story recalls a miracle. It also is a study in contrasts. On the one side is the man born blind, whom Jesus healed. The other side is that of the Pharisees, so self-satisfied and so confident in their own knowledge and in their own high estimates of their piety.

    We must apply these contrasts to ourselves. We may not be very evil, or even pompous and boastful as were the Pharisees. Still, we must admit our limitations. Our exaggerated judgments of ourselves trick us again and again and again.

    All this keeps us in the dark. Lent is the time to face facts. We must recognize our need for God. We must turn to God. He is light. The wonder of this is that God will receive us, love us, forgive us and give us sight. The light of God’s presence awaits us. Rejoice!

    Posted on March 22, 2017, to:

  • Third Sunday Of Lent
    Exodus 17:3-7

    The source of the first biblical reading for this Lenten weekend’s liturgies is the Book of Exodus, one of those five books of the Bible regarded as the basis of God’s revelation to the Chosen People. The initial theological concepts and regulations about behavior are seen as being rooted in the original teachings of Moses.

    Together, these books constitute the Torah, then and still the cornerstone of Judaism. Another name is the Pentateuch, this term coming from the Greek word for five.

    As the title implies, the Book of Exodus greatly is concerned with the experiences of the Hebrews as they fled Egypt and moved toward the land God that had promised them. It was a very difficult trip. Even today, a journey across the Sinai Peninsula by land is bleak. It is not surprising that the Hebrews wondered if they had swapped the witch for the devil as they wandered across Sinai. In frustration, bewilderment and misery they grumbled about Moses, who led the way.

    Water was a precious commodity in this arid environment. Understandably, the people feared thirst. Moses, enlightened by God, told them to look for water in an improbable place. It was the side of a rock. As directed, the people struck the rock, and water flowed.

    St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans supplies the second reading. As is so typical of Paul’s writing, this passage celebrates Jesus as the only source of life and of bonding with God, and it proclaims salvation in Christ as the gift coming from the willing sacrifice of the Lord on Calvary.

    For its last reading this weekend, the church presents a section of St. John’s Gospel. It is the story of the Lord’s meeting with the Samaritan woman beside a well in Samaria. The reading is heavy with lessons for us.

    First, the site is Samaria. For the Jews of the Lord’s time, Samaria represented many bad things. The woman is a Samaritan.

    Samaritans were of Hebrew heritage, but they had acquiesced when foreigners invaded the land, compromising with paganism, and even intermarrying with pagan foreigners. Intermarriage added insult to injury, because by such unions Samaritans defiled the Hebrew heritage.

    Faithful Jews scorned Samaritans and looked upon Samaritans with contempt. Also, at the time of Jesus, no adult, unmarried man ever engaged a strange woman in conversation, let alone a Samaritan.

    The message is that, obviously, Jesus set all these considerations aside. He bore the mercy of God, a mercy was meant for everyone —all conventions aside.

    Furthermore, by outreach to this Samaritan woman, the Lord asserts that every person possesses a dignity, indeed a right to eternal life.

    More than Jacob of old, Jesus promises a gift of water greatly more satisfying than any that could be drawn from a well.

    Finally, the Lord predicts that a new order is coming. It will be neither centralized in Jerusalem, nor on the mountaintops where the Samaritans customarily worshipped.

    Reflection

    Very much a part of Lent are the church’s preparations to receive new members during the Easter Vigil. Central to the vigil is the triumphant celebration of the Eucharist. The Lord lives! Water also is a prominent symbol. With water blessed at the vigil, the church will baptize new members.

    For those Catholics already members of the church, not being baptized at the Easter Vigil but participants nevertheless, water also will symbolize life. The previously baptized will renew their baptismal promises aloud. The priest will sprinkle them with blessed water to recall their baptisms.

    While water will symbolize new life, in these readings, the church is telling us that God alone, in Jesus, is the source of life eternal. Baptism indicates this.

    Lent is our time to decide whether to embrace this life or not.

    Posted on March 14, 2017, to:

  • By Msgr. Owen Campion

    Second Sunday of Lent
    Matthew 17:1-9

    The Book of Genesis is the source of this weekend’s first biblical reading. As its name implies, Genesis reveals the divine origin of life and the divine plan in the forming of the Hebrew race.

    First and foremost, Genesis is a splendidly vivid revelation of God’s majesty and power, but also of the dignity of humanity and purpose of life. It is a great pity that this marvelous book has been so tortured and misconstrued by well-meaning but uninformed readers over the years. The message of Genesis is not about the details of how creation occurred.

    This weekend’s reading is about Abraham. Considered by scholars to have been an actual person and not a myth, Abraham is regarded as the father of the Jewish people.

    The reading makes several points, including that God is active in human affairs; and that God communicates with humans, and they with God.

    Abraham has very strong faith. God rewards this faith by pledging that Abraham’s descendants, until the end of time, will be God’s special people. It is not a dignity conferred without obligation. Descendants of Abraham must be loyal to God and, by their lives of faith, reveal God to the world.

    For its second reading, this weekend’s liturgy presents a passage from the Second Epistle to Timothy.

    Timothy was a disciple of Paul. The church venerates Timothy as a great saint, very important in the formation of Christianity. According to the New Testament, Timothy was the son of a pagan father and a devout Jewish mother. He was Paul’s secretary at one point and once was imprisoned with Paul, although eventually released. Tradition is that Timothy was the first bishop of Ephesus, then a major city. Its present ruins lie on the Mediterranean coast of modern Turkey.

    This reading encourages Timothy to be strong in his Christian belief despite difficulties and obstacles.

    St. Matthew’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is the story of the Transfiguration, ablaze with symbols of God with which any Jew instantly would have been familiar, as these images appear throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. In these Scriptures, brilliant light, mountaintops and pure white all symbolized God. Finally, surrounding Jesus were Moses and Elijah, the great heroes of the Hebrew religious tradition.

    This scene utterly contrasts with that of Calvary. Instead of shimmering clothes, Jesus is crucified after being stripped of his garments. Instead of glowing clouds and brilliant light, gloom and darkness surround the cross.

     

     

    Reflection

    Lent is little more than one week along, and already the church is encouraging us and reinforcing our faith, just as Jesus strengthened the faith of the Apostles who stood trembling and in dismay before the divine sight manifested on the mountain.

    The message is clear. Jesus is God, active and present among us.

    To be personally saved, however, we must believe, and in our belief we must commit our very lives to Christ. So, Abraham is critically a part of this weekend’s lesson as an example.

    Nowhere in these readings is any account of the crucifixion, no reference to Calvary. Nevertheless, the event of the Lord’s death on the cross is essential to understanding fully this weekend’s message.

    Calvary represents the world. It was for a moment, seemingly, the triumph of earthly power and human sin over good. Certainly the enemies of Jesus saw the crucifixion as their victory. Jesus died, but then came the wonder of Easter.

    Every human being can be tricked into assuming that earthly things, or earthly satisfaction, will bring them reward. Instead of reward, sinning brings death. All around it is gloom and darkness.

    So, the church counsels, have faith, see beyond the gloom, rejoice in the light of Jesus. Remember the Transfiguration and remember Abraham, our model of absolute faith. Remember the true reward in life.

    Posted on March 7, 2017, to:

  • By Msgr. Owen Campion

    First Sunday of Lent
    Matthew 4:1-11

    The first reading for this first weekend of Lent is from the Book of Genesis.

    Few passages in the Scriptures are as abundant in literary technique, and in theological message, as is this reading from Genesis. Bluntly confronting paganism and the tendency of all humans to avoid accusing themselves of fault, it goes to the heart of sin.

    The heart of sin is that it is the result of a freely chosen act by humans. While in this reading the role of the tempting devil is clear, it also is clear that the devil only tempts. The devil does not force the first man and woman to sin. They sinned of their own will.

    The temptation in itself has a lesson. Rebelling against God, the perfect and the perfectly just, was foolhardy. Yet, imperfect even in their pristine state of holiness, the first man and woman listened to bad advice and trusted not God but another. It is a process that has been repeated untold number of times in the lives of us all.

    The second reading is from the Epistle to the Romans. In this reading, the epistle looks back to the incident described in Genesis. It reminds us that by the original sin the first humans introduced sin, and resulting chaos and trouble, into earthly existence.

    Thus, death and hardship are not God’s designs for us. They were not curses sent upon the human race by an angry God. Believe it or not, the first humans chose them when they sinned. Sin, voluntary and deliberate, brought such devastatingly bad results into the world.

    God is the center and source of everlasting love and mercy. He did not leave humanity in the whirlpool of death and despair created by human sin. Instead God sent Jesus, the Redeemer, the Son of God.

    St. Matthew’s Gospel provides the last reading. It recalls the temptation of Jesus. It is a Synoptic tradition not unique to Matthew. Similar stories appear in Mark and Luke.

    As was the case with Genesis, this reading is heavy in its symbolism. For example, bread in the time of Jesus much more obviously represented survival than bread would be today.

    Modern refrigeration and quick transportation of food products have given us, in our day, a great selection as to what we will eat. In the time of Jesus the selection was considerably less. There was no refrigeration. Few foodstuffs could be transported at any distance without spoiling, but grain and flour could be stored. Bread was a principal food. So the devil tries to convince Jesus that the devil can give true life.

    In another example, the devil takes Jesus to the top of the temple. Even the earth, created by God, can be contaminated by evil.

    The final and most powerful message is that Jesus can command even the devil. Jesus is God.

    Reflection

    This weekend is the first weekend of Lent. The church uses the opportunity of this weekend to teach us one of the most basic facts of spiritual life. Sin removes us from God. Sin is not thrust upon us. We are not captured by sin against our will. We choose to sin.

    Perhaps, ultimately, the deadliest effect of original sin was the human tendency to minimize the danger of sin and to deny personal responsibility.

    In these readings, the church calls us to awake and then turn away from sin. It reminds us of our own personal role in sin. It pleads with us not to underestimate temptation. It reassures us that, although temptations may be strong, Jesus is our Redeemer and our strength. His strength is enough to overcome any temptation. But we must fortify ourselves by asking for the Lord’s strength. This is the purpose of Lent.

    Posted on February 28, 2017, to: