14 April 2014

The Stations of the Cross with the Masters; Reflections by Fr William Doyle SJ


Tintoretto, 1566-67, Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice


Around the judgement seat are grouped a motley crowd. Men and women of every rank, the high-born Jewish maiden, the rough Samaritan woman; haughty Scribes and proud Pharisees mingle with the common loafer of the great city. Hatred has united them all for one common object; hatred of One Who ever loves them and to their wild fury has only opposed acts of gentle kindness. A mighty scream goes up, a scream of fierce rage and angry fury, such a sound as only could be drawn from the very depths of hell. “Death to Him! Death to the false prophet!” He has spent His life among you doing good – Let Him die! He has healed your sick, given strength to the palsied, sight to your blind – Let Him die! He has raised your dead – Let death be His fate!


El Greco, 1600-05, Museo del Prado, Madrid


Away from the palace now a sad procession is winding. On the faces of the multitude a fiendish joy is written, they have had their wish and now issue forth to glut their eyes on the dying struggles of the suffering innocent One. Painfully He is toiling up the long narrow street, narrower still from the crowds that line the way; each step is agony, each yard of ground He covers a fresh martyrdom of ever increasing suffering. With a refinement of cruelty His enemies have placed upon His shoulders the heavy, rough beams which will be His last painful resting place.

Cruelly the heavy beam weighs upon His mangled flesh and cuts and chafes a long, raw sore deep to the very bone.


Raphael, 1517, Museo del Prado, Madrid


Bravely has our Lord borne the galling weight of His cross; bravely has He struggled on, tottering and stumbling, longing for a moment’s rest, yearning for a respite however short. But rest He will not, that He may teach us how unfalteringly we must press on to our goal. But nature will have its way. His sight grows dim; His strength fails and with a crash our Saviour lies extended on the ground. Oh! if you have not hearts of stone let Him lie even thus, poor, crushed and broken thing. If you have but one spark of compassion left, one tender feeling of sympathy urge Him not on awhile, so spent, so weary. On a poor maimed brute you have pity – think of the sorrow of Him extended there.

Fourth Station: Jesus meets his Blessed Mother

The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin: Mother of Sorrows
Albrecht Dürer, c.1496, Alte Pinakothek, Munich


To sensitive souls the pain they cause others is far worse than any sufferings they may endure themselves. They may have much to endure, but to see others in pain causes them deeper grief. Jesus and Mary meet. Alone He could have suffered with joy so that she, His dearest Mother, might have been spared the agony of seeing all He must endure. With one look of pity Jesus reads the anguish of that cruelly lacerated heart; with one long gaze of infinite love and pity Mary sees the depth of her Son’s woe, His long hours of torture, His utter weariness, His sorrow, His grief, His anguish. May she not help Him? At least lift for one moment that cross?

Master Thomas de Coloswar, 1427, Christian Museum, Esztergom

When God lays a cross upon us, some misfortune, some unexpected burden, instead of thanking Him for this precious gift, too often we rebel against His will. We forget that our Saviour never sends a cross alone, but ever sweetens its bitterness, lightens its weight by His all-powerful grace. With reluctance, with unwillingness, Simon bears the cross of His Master. At first his spirit revolted against this injustice, his pride rebelled against this ignominy. But once he accepted with resignation, his soul was filled with heavenly sweetness, he felt not the weight of the heavy beams, he heeded not the jibes of the multitude but pressed on after His Master, proud to be His follower.


El Greco, c.1580, Museo de Santa Cruz, Toledo

As the sorrowful procession moves slowly on, a woman, who with anxious gaze has watched its approach, steps forward and wipes the sacred face of Jesus. It is a simple action, yet reveals the kindly thoughtfulness of a charitable heart. Gladly would Veronica have done all in her power to lessen the sufferings of the Lord, to ease the dreadful burden which was crushing Him, to show some mark of sympathy and compassion. That little act of love touched the broken Heart of Jesus; He wipes the clotted blood and streaming sweat from His Face, leaving His sacred image stamped on the veil of Veronica; but deeper and more clear cut did He impress on her heart the memory of His passion.



Rubens, 1634-37, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

Jesus falls a second time, crushed beneath the weight of His awful sufferings which are fast draining His strength. Exhausted and spent He lies upon the rough-paved ground, a cruel resting place for His bleeding, lacerated body. Vainly He tries to rise, for love impels Him on to the consummation of the sacrifice, but His tottering limbs will not support Him and once again He falls upon the ground. Again the soldiers with fiendish brutality drag Him to His feet with coarse jibes and mocking laughter, with kicks and blows they drive Him on, pulling Him now forward, now back, striving if possible to add to the sufferings of the patient victim.


Jacopo Bassano, 1550-55, Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest

The disciples of Jesus have deserted their Master, and fearful for their own safety, have abandoned Him to His fate. Peter who would die for Him, Matthew who left all to follow Him, are far from Him now and dread to be pointed to as His friends. Yet Jesus is not alone. A few, a faithful few, remain beside Him still, poor, weak women, but strong with the courage of love. The brutal crowd surge round, inflamed with hate and lust for blood; but they offer Him the tribute of a woman's heart the silent tears of sympathy.

“Weep not for Me,” He says, “weep rather for those who unlike these My executioners will one day crucify Me again with full knowledge of what they do.”


Ninth Station: Jesus falls the third time

Christ Carrying the Cross
Hieronymus Bosch, Palacio Real, Madrid


The hill of Calvary is almost reached, the hour of the great sacrifice is at hand. Still the heart of Jesus thirsts for suffering to show His great, His all devouring love for us. Again He falls! With limbs all bruised and broken, with a body all one raw, red, quivering sore, each step He took was agony. But to fall thus helpless on the ragged ground, to be kicked and beaten as He lay with nerveless limbs all paralyzed with pain must have been to His high-strung, delicate frame a thousand-fold martyrdom. The executioners were alarmed. Was death going to rob them of their victim and cheat them of the joy they promised themselves as their victim writhed in the agonies of death?

Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped of his garments

The Disrobing of Christ (El Espolio)
El Greco, 1577-79, Sacristy of the Cathedral, Toledo


At last He stands upon the hill of shame to pay the price of our redemption. In the eyes of His Eternal Father, a sinner laden with the crimes of a wicked world; before men, the most abject and abandoned of creatures. A brutal soldier advances. He lays his hand upon the garment of Jesus and roughly tears it from His sacred shoulders. The cloth has sunk deeply into the gaping wounds left by the recent scourging, and driven deeper still by the weight of the cross and the oft-repeated blows. With a horrid, rending sound the wounds are torn open afresh, the sacred blood gushes forth anew and bathes His limbs in its ruddy stream. It is a moment of awful agony.

Eleventh Station: Jesus is nailed to the Cross

Christ in Agony on the Cross
El Greco, 1600s, Art Museum, Cincinnati


Upon His last resting place Jesus lays Himself down. No soft bed, no easy couch to ease the agony of His aching limbs, but a hard, rough beam must be His place of death. Meekly He extends His arms, those arms ever open to welcome back the repentant sinner, and offers His hands to be pierced as the Prophet had foretold. A long, blunt nail is placed upon the palm: a heavy, dull thud, the crunch of parting flesh and rending muscle, the spouting crimson blood which covers the face and hands of the hardened soldier and Jesus is fastened to the cross. Come, sinner, gaze upon your work for you have nailed Him there! Your sins it was which flung your Saviour down, your sins which drove the iron deep into His sacred flesh.

Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the Cross

Christ on the Cross, with the two Marys and St John
El Greco, c.1588, National Gallery, Athens


Upon the cross He hangs now, the most abject and despised of all men, the butt for vile jests, a common mark for all to hurl their jibes at. There He hangs, in agony no human lips can tell, no mind conceive, an impostor, a vile hypocrite, a failure. “He came to make Himself a King! See, we have crowned His brow with a royal, sparkling diadem. He sought a kingdom! From that elevated throne let Him look upon the land which will never be His now. He threatened our Scribes with woes and punishments, let Him look to His own fate and if He has that power which some say was His, let Him come down now from the cross and we too shall believe in His word.”

Thirteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the arms of His Mother

Pietà (The Lamentation of Christ)
El Greco, 1571-76, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia


Mary stands at the foot of the cross to receive in her arms the lifeless body of her Son. Once more His head is resting on her bosom as it used to do long years ago when a little child He nestled to His Mother#s breast. But now that sacred head is bruised and swollen, stamped with the cruel mark of the mocking diadem; His hair all clotted with the oozing blood, tangled and in disorder. Even she, upon whose heart is stamped every lineament of her Son’s dear face, can scarcely recognise His features now. On every line is marked the anguish of long drawn agony, of torture and agonizing pain, of woe, unutterable woe, of sorrow, suffering and abandonment.

Fourteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb

The Entombment of Christ
El Greco, 1560s, Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Athens


The final scene of the awful tragedy is drawing to a close. Reverently the faithful few bear the dead Christ down the hill of shame, that body from which all the care of loving hands cannot remove the marks of the cruel scourge, the rending nails, the lance’s gaping thrust. Into the tomb they bear Him, the burial place of a stranger, best suited to Him Who during His life had not where to lay His head. Reverently they lay Him down; one last, fond embrace of His own Mother before they lead her hence, and then in silence and in sorrow they leave Him, their dearest Master, to the watchful care of God’s own angels. Sin has done its work! Sin has triumphed, but its very triumph will prove its own undoing.
+++
All paintings from Web Gallery of Art

Reflections by Fr William Doyle SJ from Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ


Fr William Doyle SJ was finally appointed during World War I chaplain of the 16th Irish Division, serving with 8th Royal Irish Fusiliers, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 6th Royal Irish Rifles and the 7th Royal Irish Rifles. Having fulfilled his priestly duties in an outstanding fashion for almost two years, he was killed in the Battle of Ypres on August 16, 1917, having run “all day hither and thither over the battlefield like an angel of mercy.” This good shepherd truly gave his life for his sheep.
Fr Doyle’s body was never recovered.
Fr William Doyle SJ (3 March 1873 - 16 August 1917)
Many thanks to Pat Kenny, blogmaster of Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ.

09 April 2014

'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' Sunday Reflections, Palm Sunday Year A


Christ's Entry into Jerusalem
Melozzo da Forli, 1477-82, Fresco, Basilica of Santa Casa, Loreto [Web Gallery of Art]

The Commemoration of the Lord's Entrance into Jerusalem


Gospel Matthew 21:1-11 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada)

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately. This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,


    humble, and mounted on a donkey,

        and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”



The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!

    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”


When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”


The following Hymn to Christ the King may be sung during the procession.


Chorus:

Gloria, laus et honor tibi sit,
     rex Christe redemptor,
cui puerile decus prompsit
     Hosanna pium.

Glory and honour and praise be to you,
     Christ, Kind and Redeemer,
to whom young children cried out
     loving Hosannas with joy.

El Greco, c.1608, Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest [Web Gallery of Art]


Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Matthew 26:14 – 27:66 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

The response for today's Responsorial Psalm is My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? ('abandoned me' in the NAB Lectionary), the last words of Jesus according to St Matthew, whose version of the Passion is read today. The readings carry that theme, explicitly or implicitly. The Prophet Isaiah says, I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The church applies these words to the sufferings of Jesus. Yet there isn't total abandonment: The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

Psalm 21 (22) is fulfilled in the Passion and Death of Jesus. St Paul in the reading from his Letter to the Philippians speaks of the self-emptying of Jesus: Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

An tAthair Pádraig Ó Crolaigh (Fr Patrick Crilly) of the Diocese of Derry, Ireland, reflects on this in his poem An Crióst Tréigthe (The Abandoned Christ). I have added my own English translation.


An raibh sé ina aonar ar feadh a shaoil,
Was he alone throughout his life,
An Críost seo scartha ón Trionóid naofa?
This Christ separated from the holy Trinity?
Ar chrothnaigh sé an dá phearsa eile,
Did he notice the absence of the two other persons,
Nó an raibh sé in aineolais orthu?
Or was he unaware of them?

Agus i ndiaidh fhás na spioradáltachta ann,
And after the growth of spirituality in him,
I ndiaidh greim a fháil ar a cheangal le Dia,
After he grasped his connection with God,
Ar fágadh in aonar arís é ar an chrois
Was he left alone again on the cross
Gan a fhios aige cén fáth ar tréigeadh é?
Not knowing why he had been abandoned?

Nuair a fhuair sé bás ar an chrois,
When he died on the cross
Ar ócáid cheiliúrtha é filleadh abhaile?
Was going home an occasion of celebration?
Nó ar bhraith sé tréigean a dhaonnachta
Or did he feel the abandonment of his humanity
I gcumha a shaoil abhus mar dhuine?
In the loneliness of his life here as a human being?

Ag leanúint Chríost dúinn i mbeocht an tsaoil
In following Christ in the living of life
An mbuailfimid lena thréigean siúd?
Will we encounter his abandonment?
An féidir linn a bheith Críostaí
Can we be Christian
Gan casadh sa saol leis an Chríost tréigthe?
Without coming across the abandoned Christ in life?

Poem taken from Brúitíní Creidimh, published by Foilseacháin Ábhar Spioradálta, Dublin, 2005. The title could be translated as 'Mashed Potatoes of Faith'. Potatoes are the main staple in Ireland.

Father Ó Crolaigh, I think, is teasing out some of the meaning of St Paul's words today: Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus wasn't acting or engaging in any kind of 'drama-drama', as we say in the Philippines. He truly suffered a sense of being forsaken, of being abandoned, to the very depths of his being. He did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. We see that in the Garden of Gethsemane when the three Apostles closest to him fell asleep during his hour of greatest need. His cry from the Cross, Eli, Eli, lema sabachthaniMy God, my God, why have you forsaken me? comes from the innermost recesses of his heart, from a sense of even his Father having abandoned him.

One of the forms of feeling abandoned that I have come across in recent years in persons I have met and in my reading is a sense of disillusionment with the Church. In some predominantly English-speaking countries Church leadership has lost much of its moral authority because of the way it has been seen to have dealt - or not to have dealt - with the awful reality of some priests having abused children and adolescents.

Many older persons in Western countries are bewildered by the reality of the younger generations having abandoned the Church to a large degree, not a few having abandoned Christianity itself. Maybe some have abandoned the faith because they see the Church, and by extension Christ himself, as having abandoned them. That should be a fearful thought for those who see themselves as followers of Jesus with the responsibility of making him known to the world.

In more and more families spouses are abandoned by their husband or wife, children by their parents. Though it's not as great a phenomenon now as it was in the 1970s and 1980s, friends have expressed to me their sense of having been abandoned by their priests who left. I know from friends who have left the priesthood that their decision to do so was often very painful and not taken lightly but I have rarely heard one who has made that decision express any awareness of the pain it has left in others.


Pope Francis has spoken a number of times about the 'throwaway culture' that has resulted in the killing of humans considered 'unnecessary' and in the slavery of others, as he did last January in speaking to diplomats assigned to the Vatican (above).

Jesus in his experience of being abandoned, forsaken, has carried the pain of all who go through that to whatever degree and from whatever cause.

+++


THE DONKEY
by G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

When fishes flew and forests walked 
And figs grew upon thorn, 
Some moment when the moon was blood 
Then surely I was born; 

With monstrous head and sickening cry 
And ears like errant wings, 
The devil's walking parody 
On all four-footed things. 

The tattered outlaw of the earth, 
Of ancient crooked will; 
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb, 
I keep my secret still. 

Fools! For I also had my hour; 
One far fierce hour and sweet: 
There was a shout about my ears, 
And palms before my feet.











08 April 2014

Pope Francis meets with persons who are deaf and persons who are blind


On Saturday 29 March Pope Francis had a special audience with persons who are deaf and with persons who are blind. Some at the audience were both deaf and blind, including Fr Cyril Axelrod CSsR, the only deaf and blind priest in the world, a South African born of Jewish parents.

Here is the text of the News.va report, with my emphasis added.

Vatican City, 29 March 2014 (VIS) – “Witnesses to the Gospel for a culture of encounter” is the theme of the Day of Sharing organised by the Apostolic Movement of the Blind, with the participation of the Gualandi Mission for the Deaf (the Little Mission for the Deaf), as well as the Italian Union of the Blind and Partially-Sighted. These organisations were received in audience this morning by Pope Francis, who commented on the theme of the Day.

The first thing I observe is that this expression ends with the word 'encounter', but first this presupposes another encounter, the one with Christ. Indeed, to be witnesses of the Gospel, it is necessary to have encountered Him, Jesus. … Like the Samaritan woman. … A witness to the Gospel is someone who has encountered Jesus Christ, who knows him, or rather, who feels known by him: recognised, respected, loved, forgiven, and this encounter … fills him with a new joy, a new meaning for life. And this shines through, is communicated, is transmitted to others”.

I have mentioned the Samaritan woman because she offers a clear example of the type of person Jesus liked to meet, to make them his witnesses: marginalised, excluded, disdained people. The Samaritan woman was this type, inasmuch as she was a woman, and a Samaritan – the Samaritans were despised by the Jews. But let us think also of the many that Jesus wished to encounter, especially people affected by illness and disability, to cure them and to restore their full dignity to them. It is very important that precisely these people become witnesses to a new attitude, that we can call a culture of encounter. A typical example is the man blind from birth … marginalised in the name of a false idea that he had received a divine punishment. Jesus radically refuses this way of thinking – truly blasphemous! - and performs an act of God, giving him the gift of sight. But the important thing is that this man, as soon as this happens to him, becomes a witness to Jesus and His work, that is the work of God, of life, love and mercy. While the Pharisees, from their safe distance, judges both him and Jesus as 'sinners'; the cured blind man, with disarming simplicity, defends Jesus and in the at the end professes his faith in Him, and also shares his fate: Jesus is excluded, and he is excluded too. But in reality the man enters into a new community, based on faith in Jesus and on brotherly love”.

“Here we have the two opposing cultures. The culture of encounter and the culture of exclusion, of prejudice. The sick or disabled person, precisely because of his or her frailty and limits, may become a witness to this encounter: the encounter with Jesus, that opens us to life and faith, and to the encounter with others, with the community. Indeed, only those who recognise their own fragility and their own limits can build bonds of fraternity and unity, in the Church and in society”, concluded the Holy Father.

Fr Cyril Axelrod CSsR

When I was young the term 'deaf and dumb' was widely used. 'Deaf-mute' is a term still used by some, including this Vatican report which referred to the 'Little Mission for the Deaf Mute'. Indeed, that is the historical name of this congregation whose ministry is exclusively with the Deaf. But the words 'dumb' and mute' come from a misconception of hearing people that those who are deaf are not able to speak. Profoundly deaf people have the capability of speech but very often that is never brought to life because they cannot hear. But youngsters who are profoundly deaf can be taught how to speak.

The word 'dumb' has come to mean 'stupid' because profoundly deaf people were often seen to be such because they shared no common language even with their own family. Deafness isolates, much more so than any other physical disability.

Some persons without any severe disabilities speak of others as being 'differently-abled'. I've never liked that term because it's not true. Deaf people and blind people have the same wide range of abilities as everyone else. Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Andrea Bocelli are three singers who come to mind who have the disability of blindness. but that hasn't prevented them from having successful careers in music. 


Helen Keller, precisely because she was deaf and blind, had an enormous influence on others once she discovered her gifts through the patience of Anne Sullivan, her tutor.

Portrait by Josef Karl Stieler [Wikipedia]

And Beethoven had become totally deaf by the time he composed his revolutionary Ninth Symphony, the first symphony ever to include singers, with Schiller's Ode to Joy in the last movement. But he didn't hear that music with his ears, only with his mind and memory. Beethoven wasn't 'differently-abled'. He was a musical genius who acquired the disability of deafness as he grew older. This began when he was about 30. For the last ten of his 57 years he was almost totally deaf but continued to compose.

When I was a young priest I studied for a degree in musical education and spent some months as a practice-teacher in two public schools in New York State. The students I had in First Year High School were almost impossible to keep in check. But when I was able to get across to them, despite the noise level, that Beethoven had no hearing when he wrote The Ninth they quietened down and listened, quite awe-struck, to the music. The concluding words of Pope Francis, in a sense, had come true in that instance: Indeed, only those who recognise their own fragility and their own limits can build bonds of fraternity and unity, [in the Church] and in society.

There were no flashmobs in Beethoven's day but I'm sure he wouldn't be unhappy with the Ode to Joy section of his 'Ninth' being played in a public square in Catalonia, Spain, bringing joy to young and old, his music, written nearly 200 years ago when he was already deaf, bringing musicians, singers and listeners out of themselves as it did those noisy 14-year-olds I was trying to teach 42 years ago.




05 April 2014

'I am the resurrection and the life.' Sunday Reflections. 5th Sunday of Lent Year A


Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel John 11:1-45 [or John 11:3-7, 20-27, 33B-45] (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) [Shorter form of the Gospel: omit what is in square brackets]

[Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.] 

So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 

[The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world.  But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.”  After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”  The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.”  Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.  Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.  For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”  Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him. When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazaruz had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away,  and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.]

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”  Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,  and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

[ When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”  And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.  Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping,]

He (Jesus) was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”  Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”  But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.  Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”  Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”  So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.


From The Gospel of John

I think it was back in the 1980s when I was at home in Ireland on a visit that I heard a young diocesan priest being interviewed on national radio about his work as a prison chaplain. He spoke about an occasion when he spent an hour in a cell with one prisoner who was there for stealing on a large scale. The priest got no response whatever - until he was about to leave. He then looked at the young man, put his arms around him and said, 'I love you', adding the man's name.

The prisoner broke down and began to open up to the priest. Over a period of time they became friends. After he was released the young man set up a successful security agency, no doubt drawing on his 'professional skills'.

In Worldwide Marriage Encounter we say 'Love is a decision'. At times it may be accompanied by warm feelings, at other times the very opposite. It is easy for a young man and a young woman who find each other attractive to feel 'love'. This may lead to 'until death do us part', a very solemn decision to love one another.




Last Wednesday in his general audience Pope Francis reminded married couples of this, gently, humorously and clearly. The secret is that love is stronger than an argument. And therefore I always advise married couples, 'Don't end your day without making peace.

Here the Pope was saying 'Love is a decision'. He added humorously: It's not necessary to call the United Nations and have them come to your house to broker the peace. A little gesture will do, a caress, a 'Goodnight, see you tomorrow'. And tomorrow you start over. This is life, carry on! Go forward with the courage to want to live together. This is great, it's beautiful. What Pope Francis is saying here is that love is a decision, a major decision made on one's wedding day that demands many daily 'minor' decisions. The same applies to anyone called to a commitment.

The young priest visiting the prisoner in Ireland wasn't experiencing any feelings of love for the prisoner and the latter probably felt deep anger towards him, maybe even hatred. But the priest made a decision to love that man, no matter how difficult it was, no matter what he was feeling at the time.

Van Gogh, May 1890, Saint-Rémy [Web Gallery of Art]

In the gospel we find Jesus making a number of decisions, all expressions of love:
  • He decided not to go immediately to visit the gravely ill Lazarus when he got news of this: Though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
  • He then decided to go back to Judea despite the fears of his disciples that harm would come to him.
  • He accepted the reproaches of both Martha and Mary: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. He made no attempt to 'explain' why he hadn't come.
  • He told the people: Take away the stone.
The purpose of Jesus in all these decisions was to lead the disciples and Martha and Mary into a deeper faith:
  • To the disciples and later to Martha: Lazarus is dead.  For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.
  • To the Father: Father, I thank you for having heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me. 
It is clear from the gospels that Jesus had a special, though not exclusive, affection for Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Maybe he felt free to drop into their home at any time and not be 'on duty'. (As an aside, in more than 40 years in the Philippines I have rarely seen a bishop invited to any kind of occasion except to 'do something', to be 'on duty'.) The friendship Jesus had with the three gave them the freedom to be open with him and to be true to themselves.  Luke 10:38-42 shows us Martha scolding Mary in front of Jesus in a way that happens with someone considered part of the family. The Lord, if you had been here . . . of both Martha and Mary can be read as a reproach mingled with hope to someone deeply trusted. 

Jesus invites each of us into that kind of warm, trusting relationship that is expressed in the story about St Teresa of AvilaOnce, when she was travelling to one of her convents, St Teresa of Ávila was knocked off her donkey and fell into the mud, injuring her leg. 'Lord', she said, 'you couldn’t have picked a worse time for this to happen. Why would you let this happen?' And the response in prayer that she heard was, 'That is how I treat my friends'. Teresa answered, 'And that is why you have so few of them!'

But above all in the raising of Lazarus, which points towards the death and Resurrection of Jesus himself, we see the resurrection and the life who was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved confronting death and conquering it. The death he was conquering wasn't only physical death but the sickness and death brought about by sin. Jesus calls us to faith and hope in him and to make decisions to love based on that faith and hope.

It was such faith that gave that young priest in the prison cell the courage to express his love, rooted in the love of Jesus for both, for the prisoner in deed and then in word. And it was that expression of love, in deed and in word, rooted in the love of the resurrection and the life for both, that enabled the man to walk out of the prison cell he had created for himself in his own heart.

The decision of the priest to stay with the prisoner despite the lack of response and the eventual decision of the prisoner to believe in God's love for him were both examples of love being a decision, decisions based on trust in God's love for them, the kind of trust that Martha and Mary had in Jesus.



Antiphona ad Introitum Cf Ps 42 (43) 1-2

Iudica me, Deus
et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta,
ab homine iniquo et doloso eripe me,
qui tu es Deus meus et fortitudo mea.

Entrance Antiphon  Cf Ps 42 (43) 1-2

Give me justice, O God,
and plead my cause against a nation that is faithless.
From the deceitful and cunning rescue me,
for you, O God, are my strength.