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Lenten Reflections - Week 6
Lenten Reflections - Week 6

Saturday - April 8th - JN 11:45-56

Many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what Jesus had done began to believe in him.
But some of them went to the Pharisees
and told them what Jesus had done.
So the chief priests and the Pharisees
convened the Sanhedrin and said,
"What are we going to do?
This man is performing many signs.
If we leave him alone, all will believe in him,
and the Romans will come
and take away both our land and our nation."
But one of them, Caiaphas,
who was high priest that year, said to them,
"You know nothing,
nor do you consider that it is better for you
that one man should die instead of the people,
so that the whole nation may not perish."
He did not say this on his own,
but since he was high priest for that year,
he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation,
and not only for the nation,
but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.
So from that day on they planned to kill him.
So Jesus no longer walked about in public among the Jews,
but he left for the region near the desert,
to a town called Ephraim,
and there he remained with his disciples.
Now the Passover of the Jews was near,
and many went up from the country to Jerusalem
before Passover to purify themselves.
They looked for Jesus and said to one another
as they were in the temple area, "What do you think?
That he will not come to the feast?"

Reflection by Stephen Rappold

The reading today reveals a lesson not only about the political machinations of the temple authorities, but also about the initiative of the Holy Spirit. On the surface, there does not appear anything out of the ordinary with what Caiaphas says. Caiaphas, as the reading mentions, is the high priest for the year Jesus was killed. As such, his duties included offering sacrifice on behalf of the entire assembly of Israel on the atonement day of Yom Kippur. Also, he alone was able to enter the part of the temple known as the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant resided. The reason he alone was able to enter the Holy of Holies was because it was believed that God's presence, or shekinah, resided in the Ark of the Covenant. Therefore, only the high priest possessed enough favor with God to be able to stand in His very presence. This role gave the high priests a privileged position within Jewish society. The privileged status of the high priest was threatened when the Romans took over the region of Palestine. As a result, the temple authorities forged an unholy alliance with the Romans. The Romans would allow the temple authorities to keep their cozy lifestyle if the temple authorities helped the Romans to maintain order among the Jewish people. Caiaphas was very concerned with maintaining this balance of power, so he was more than willing to sacrifice someone he saw as a potential revolutionary. However, there seems to be another interpretation beneath the surface of this reading. The Gospel writer adds that Caiaphas did not speak on his own accord, but rather uttered a prophecy about how the death of one man saved us all from our sins. This is very interesting considering that prophecy was not a normal part of the high priest's job description, as he was not an oracle. Nevertheless, the Gospel writer insists that this prophecy was due to his role as high priest. Perhaps this can reveal something to us about our own lives. Caiaphas was certainly a close-minded man unworthy of his position. Yet, for some reason, God saw fit to give the gift of prophecy to him. I look at myself and my career as a teacher and I must admit, there are so many occasions where I am unworthy of the great task God has bestowed upon me. I am always amazed at the times in my class when, as I like to put it, the Holy Spirit takes over. The Holy Spirit uses me, an unworthy creature, as a vehicle through which His word is spread. Whoever you are, a student, a teacher, a parent, remember that if Caiaphas, the man who orchestrated the death of Jesus, can be a mouthpiece for God then we certainly can be as well. Though we are imperfect, we must look with hope and confidence on the mercy of the one man who died for the sake of us all so that we may not perish, but have eternal life with Him.

Friday - April 7th - JN 10:31-42

The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus.
Jesus answered them, "I have shown you many good works from my Father.
For which of these are you trying to stone me?"
The Jews answered him,
"We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy.
You, a man, are making yourself God."
Jesus answered them,
"Is it not written in your law, 'I said, 'You are gods"'?
If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came,
and Scripture cannot be set aside,
can you say that the one
whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world
blasphemes because I said, 'I am the Son of God'?
If I do not perform my Father's works, do not believe me;
but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me,
believe the works, so that you may realize and understand
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father."
Then they tried again to arrest him;
but he escaped from their power.
He went back across the Jordan
to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained.
Many came to him and said,
"John performed no sign,
but everything John said about this man was true."
And many there began to believe in him.

Reflection by Brenda Miller

For the past several Sundays during this Lenten season, the theme of the gospel message has been about 'blindness' - both in the secular and spiritual sense. In today's Gospel, John 10:31-42, Jesus admonishes unbelievers – those who 'choose' to remain blind even when God's works are made manifest – as attested by the following passage: "If I do not perform my Father's works, do not believe me, but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father." Jn 10:37-38

These past few weeks, as many of you know, I have been called to bear what seems to me to be a very heavy cross due to my only daughter's totally unexpected life-threatening health issues. My cross – which doesn't begin to compare with the one Jesus carried - has been bearable solely because of my belief in and my understanding of what our Lord, Jesus Christ endured for all of us – and not only He, but what His Blessed Mother also must have endured, because now I can say that to some extent, I have walked in her shoes. I have witnessed and still today continue to witness God's merciful and gracious providence in helping us through these difficult times.

I thank God that He has allowed me to 'see' His works – in the, oh so many prayers being offered by so many – I can't even begin to count. In the kindness of others: the surgeons, the hospital NCU staff, the unit nursing staff, orderlies, maintenance staff, my Mount Carmel Family, strangers – all have gone out of their way to make sure that not only my daughter, but the family was comfortable and our needs met: sleeping accommodations, food, warm blankets, hopeful reassurances – and all offered with a smile and a gentleness meant to remind us we were in good hands – both in a secular and more importantly in a divine way - our God at work!

I am witnessing His works in other less tangible ways as well – a transformation in my daughter's response to Christ in her life as she herself reflects on what has been happening to her. I see where my daughter's and actually my eyes have been 'opened with a better clarity' to the realization that truly we can bear just about anything and everything, if we truly believe in our heart of hearts that God our Father, through His Son our Lord Jesus Christ, does provide all that we need to face and endure, joyfully and thankfully - even in the midst of pain, sorrow, fear and copious tears.

I have seen the works of the Father. I believe that Jesus Christ has shown us and continues to show us how we are to respond to the merciful love that the three divine Persons have for each one of us. Will I still experience sorrow and pain and a debilitating fear? Will I be called to shed additional tears? Probably so, being that I am a human creature, therefore subject to our own earthly limitations. But, and here is the ever hopeful message that resonates with me when I am at my lowest: with God all things are possible and He will not ever allow you to suffer needlessly. This is His promise made through His Son, so when Jesus asks the non-believers that even if they do not believe in Him, at the very least "believe the works, so that you may realize and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father." Jn 10:38b

Thursday - April 6th - JN 8:51-59

Jesus said to the Jews:
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever keeps my word will never see death."
So the Jews said to him,
"Now we are sure that you are possessed.
Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say,
'Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.'
Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died?
Or the prophets, who died?
Who do you make yourself out to be?"
Jesus answered, "If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing;
but it is my Father who glorifies me,
of whom you say, 'He is our God.'
You do not know him, but I know him.
And if I should say that I do not know him,
I would be like you a liar.
But I do know him and I keep his word.
Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day;
he saw it and was glad."
So the Jews said to him,
"You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?"
Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you,
before Abraham came to be, I AM."
So they picked up stones to throw at him;
but Jesus hid and went out of the temple area.

Reflection by Sr. Barbara Nell Laperouse, O.Carm. - "Whom do you make yourself out to be?"

Have you ever been asked the question, usually in a very sarcastic tone: Who do you think you are? This is the question asked of Jesus by the Jews when he spoke of God as his Father, being true to the word of the Father, and more importantly, proclaiming himself as coming from God, the Father, therefore, being God's son. Jesus remained firm in his response that he came from the Father, and those who were faithful to the word of the Father would not die. The Jews had difficulty with this, as we probably might have had, for the teachings of Jesus were radical; Jesus spoke as one having an intimate relationship with God to the point of implying that he and the Father were one! And Jesus and everyone faithful to the teachings of the Father would not die. How could Jesus, this young man in his early thirties speak of these things with such an air of authority? How could he make such promises? What did Jesus see that they were not seeing?

Jesus spoke with the wisdom that came through his close, personal relationship with God, the Father. He spoke with a wisdom that came with the teachings in the synagogue, the home life of Mary and Joseph, his personal experiences with family and friends, and through his prayer life in community with the Jewish people in the synagogue, the nights spent in prayer on the mountain and those moments of healing, forgiving sins, the raising of Lazarus and the son of the widow from the dead . His prayer and ministry were the teaching tools that brought forth a divine wisdom. This is how he came to know himself, to see as God sees, to hear as God hears, to love as God loves and to know himself as the Son of God.

We are given this gift of wisdom through the Holy Spirit and the sacraments of Baptism, Reconciliation and Eucharist, in prayer and through our daily experiences lived in the presence of God. Who do I think I am? My answer is found through schooling, parents and home, friends and social relationships; but, only prayer, the sacraments and a deep, personal relationship with God through living in God's presence can enable me to see myself and others with the eyes of God, and know and love myself with the heart of God. Only then can I, with Jesus, know myself as a Child of God, who teaches, heals and feeds God's people and who knows God truly as my Father. I have been given this gift of divine wisdom; using this gift in the way I live brings to me the hope of eternal life. I know myself as a Child of God. You have these gifts, so "Who do you make yourself out to be?"

Wednesday - April 5th - JN 8:31-42

Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him,
"If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham
and have never been enslaved to anyone.
How can you say, 'You will become free'?"
Jesus answered them, "Amen, amen, I say to you,
everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.
A slave does not remain in a household forever,
but a son always remains.
So if the Son frees you, then you will truly be free.
I know that you are descendants of Abraham.
But you are trying to kill me,
because my word has no room among you.
I tell you what I have seen in the Father's presence;
then do what you have heard from the Father."
They answered and said to him, "Our father is Abraham."
Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children,
you would be doing the works of Abraham.
But now you are trying to kill me,
a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God;
Abraham did not do this.
You are doing the works of your father!"
So they said to him, "We were not born of fornication.
We have one Father, God."
Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me,
for I came from God and am here;
I did not come on my own, but he sent me."

Reflection by Imogen Hoffman ('17) - "Free"

"The truth will set you free." It might be just me, but that sounds like a dramatic line in a very interesting movie. What did Jesus mean when he said that? If truth sets you free, then lying must keep us captive. I knew that to be true. Believe it or not, I have told lies before. Maybe it was to spare someone's feelings or to keep a secret. Whatever the reason why I told each lie, every time I did I added a link to the chain that kept me attached to sin. Lying is a sin and one of the Ten Commandments. Jesus said, "Everyone who commits a sin is a slave of sin." Well, we all sin whether we want to admit it or not. We have all sinned since the Garden. So, we are all slaves of sin that need to be set free. Who is going to free us? Our first answer would be Jesus. After all, "Jesus saves," right? Instead of Jesus saying, "You need to be set free. Here I am! I'm here to free you," He explains that we can only be free if "a son" sets us free. A son such as a male offspring? Or is Jesus talking about himself? He is the Son of God and the Son of Man. So, "a son" AKA the Son of God AKA Jesus will save us. Let's go a little deeper. He says "the truth will set you free." Jesus is the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life. So, Jesus is the Truth. Which sets us free. Jesus sets us free. And will save us. Is your mind blown yet? Mine is.

I've been taught that sin enslaves us, but I never pictured humans as literal slaves of sin. That's what we are. If it weren't for God saving us through Jesus, I don't know if we would be here today. This made me reflect on the recent sins I've committed. Jesus died to save us from our sins, and then here we are today committing all kinds of sins all the time. Of course, everyone is going to sin. I am not talking about little white lies. I am talking about theft, greed. Next time we want to sin unnecessarily, I think we should all think about the sacrifice Jesus made and how we are repaying Him. Do we really want to be enslaved by sin again or do we want to be free?

Tuesday - April 4th - JN 8:21-30

Jesus said to the Pharisees:
"I am going away and you will look for me,
but you will die in your sin.
Where I am going you cannot come."
So the Jews said,
"He is not going to kill himself, is he,
because he said, 'Where I am going you cannot come'?"
He said to them, "You belong to what is below,
I belong to what is above.
You belong to this world,
but I do not belong to this world.
That is why I told you that you will die in your sins.
For if you do not believe that I AM,
you will die in your sins."
So they said to him, "Who are you?"
Jesus said to them, "What I told you from the beginning.
I have much to say about you in condemnation.
But the one who sent me is true,
and what I heard from him I tell the world."
They did not realize that he was speaking to them of the Father.
So Jesus said to them,
"When you lift up the Son of Man,
then you will realize that I AM,
and that I do nothing on my own,
but I say only what the Father taught me.
The one who sent me is with me.
He has not left me alone,
because I always do what is pleasing to him."
Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him.

Reflection by Sister Beth Fitzpatrick, O. Carm.

This Lent, I am re-reading Discalced Carmelite Sister Vilma Seelaus's reflections on St. Teresa of Avila's teaching in the Interior Castle. This sentence gives light in my reflections on today's Gospel: "As we become receptive of God as loving mystery who both defies control and, at the same, time is intimate to all human activity, like a mirror, God---truth itself---reflects back the untruth of all that is inauthentic in the soul." In this scene from the Gospel, Jesus is addressing the Pharisees, men who are convinced that they know the law, that they know who God is, that they have the capacity to judge what is of God and the right to judge others. They seek to be "in control."

Jesus, the very presence of the Loving Mystery who is God, the I AM of the Old Testament, reveals the God who searches for the lost, heals those broken in body, mind or soul, and delights in sharing a meal with sinners. Jesus mirrors back, in very stern language, the untruth of all that was inauthentic in the souls of the Pharisees, all that is inauthentic in our souls!

Yet, even in his rebuke to the Pharisees, Jesus invites them to faith. "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM..." Recognizing that Jesus is Lord, believing in Him, hoping in Him, loving Him loving his brother and sisters, and desiring to please God has the potential to draw the Pharisee in all of us into union with Jesus, so that we might say with Jesus, "The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone..." May we desire ever more deeply this Lent to do what pleases God.

Monday - April 3rd - JN 8:1-11

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area,
and all the people started coming to him,
and he sat down and taught them.
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman
who had been caught in adultery
and made her stand in the middle.
They said to him,
"Teacher, this woman was caught
in the very act of committing adultery.
Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?"
They said this to test him,
so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him,
he straightened up and said to them,
"Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her."
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
"Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?"
She replied, "No one, sir."
Then Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more."

Reflection by Kristen Hode - "She Is Us"

If you haven't heard by now, NBC recently debuted a new Tuesday night drama called This Is Us. I, like millions of others, am completely hooked. Besides the brilliant story lines, the mind-boggling plot twists, and the plethora of emotions just one episode can conjure up in my soul, I think it's the relatable characters that give this show its spark. So far it's done a good job, in my opinion, of showing real people in real situations grappling with real emotions. I bet a lot of viewers have even found themselves thinking things like, "Oh my gosh...that is so me" or "This hits way too close to home. I definitely know what he/she is going through" etc. Maybe it's because we as human beings find comfort in connection. I think for a lot of us, knowing there may just be someone else out there we can relate to brings peace and validity to our feelings and helps remind us that we are not alone.

So do you want to know a secret? I think I feel connected to the woman from today's gospel. She is me....and she is you. She is us. And this is because I am a sinner too (no matter how good, and kind, and how loving I try to be). I have had and am certain I will still have moments of weakness and temptation, of poor choices and unkind words/actions. But the thing that keeps me hopeful is that I know and love a very forgiving God. I know a God who will always love the real me and who won't define me by my sin even at times when I don't feel very deserving of forgiveness.

I recently bought myself a little daily reflection book for Lent full of scripture passages and selections from some of Pope Francis' homilies, and wouldn't you know it that just a few days ago, the reflection I stumbled upon happened to be based on this very gospel reading. Maybe the following words of Pope Francis will resonate with you like they did with me: "It is not easy to entrust oneself to God's mercy, because it is an abyss beyond our comprehension. But we must! Go to Jesus...He forgets; he has a very special capacity for forgetting. He forgets, he kisses you, he embraces you, and he simply says to you, 'Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.'...The Lord never tires of forgiving: never! It is we who tire of asking for his forgiveness."

Jesus does not seek to point out our flaws or reprimand us for our words or actions. So why do we sometimes feel the need to do that to others, sort of like the scribes and the Pharisees did to the woman? Is it because we want to draw attention away from our own sin by putting blame on someone else? Is it because we don't want to admit to ourselves that we "messed up"? Or is it maybe a mix of the two? Regardless, here's the beauty of knowing Jesus, loving Jesus, and living in relationship with Jesus: He is an ever present reminder of the peace and healing that await us if we are open to conversion and to a change of heart. No matter how deep, how shameful, or how dark we view our sin to be, how beautiful is it to know that there will always be someone waiting for us with open arms if we only allow ourselves to step out of the darkness and into the light of His mercy.

Whether you are sitting here today feeling connected to the woman in the gospel for a sin that is perhaps weighing on your heart, or maybe even like the judgemental scribes and Pharisees, I want you to know you're not alone. I have been there too. I have been the woman, and I have been the Pharisees. They are us.

"Lord, pour out your endless mercy on my tired, sinful heart. Help me to see that you are always ready to forgive me and to help me start again." (from Lent with Pope Francis)