Category Archives: Holy Week

True Gift of Self

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Dear Folks,

This is Holy Week, the height of our liturgical year. We try to put everything else aside to focus on this journey. We follow Jesus from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, His time in Jerusalem, His passion and death, and finally the resurrection.

All four Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. This year we look at the Gospel of Luke, who, just before the entry tells the story of a king who returns to his kingdom to hold his servants accountable for their stewardship and destroy his enemies (Luke 19:11-27). This shows us how to view His time in Jerusalem. He will hold them accountable for their stewardship of God’s gifts.

The essence of the Gospel is the gift of self. Our Lord gave Himself completely, and that comes to its fullness in His sacrifice on the cross. We see here a contrast between those who truly give the gift of self with those who give a false gift or who refuse completely.

After His entry into Jerusalem, He weeps for it, saying that they lost their chance for peace and would be destroyed (Luke 19:41-44). This anticipates the talk on the destruction of the temple, coming persecution, and the coming of the kingdom (Luke 21:5-36). This suggests that if they had accepted His teaching, they could have avoided this catastrophe. We know that they tried a futile uprising and were destroyed. Centuries later, Christianity would conquer the Roman empire by evangelizing it. What would have happened if they tried that approach first thing? Unfortunately, so many people threw away the opportunity that God had given them. Their bad stewardship was being judged.

Then Jesus cleansed the temple. God had given them the great gift of temple so they could give themselves to Him in their worship, and they were using it for their own selfish purposes. Their bad stewardship was being judged.

The chief priests, the scribes and the elders attempt to pin Jesus down on His authority, but they won’t take a stand themselves (Luke 20:1-8). This isn’t going to work. We have all dealt with people who want to hold others accountable, but object to being held accountable themselves. We cannot claim to understand Christianity while staying safe. We have to put ourselves on the line, including the possibility that Christ will completely rework our lives,

including being publicly known for our positions. Anonymous criticism gets no respect. Again, that is not a true gift of self.

He tells the story of the tenant farmers who won’t make a return to the vineyard owner (Lk. 20:9-19), even killing his son. He is making clear that the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people have not been good stewards of the great gifts they have been

given. Instead of giving their hearts, their minds, their wills and their strength to God (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5), they kept their hearts for themselves and used God for their own purposes.

We contrast this with two stories just before and near the end of this section. Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) received an unexpected opportunity in the visit of Jesus and used it to turn his life completely around. An unnamed widow (Luke 21:1-4) was given very little to work with, but responded with all her heart and all her self. These are praised for their stewardship.

I recently rewatched the 2019 movie “Midway.” The battle of Midway was one of the most critical battles of World War II, and it is very inspiring to see so many people who made such great and brave sacrifices for the sake of the war effort. They wanted to live, to be safe, and to be with their families, but they knew how much their work mattered. During this holy week, I suggest we reflect on how we have responded to God, how might He be calling us to respond, and how well do we believe that our response to God matters?

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Being Present

Being present to another

One of the key factors in any friendship, in any love relationship, is how we are present to each other. What is it like to have someone give you their full attention, to act like you are important to them, that they are focusing on you? We also know what it is like to have someone act like they are barely aware of you, that their minds are elsewhere, that they are just doing what they need to do to get on to something else. It makes a big difference. And let’s be honest, there might have been some times when we were dealing with someone that we didn’t want to deal with, and we let it show.  How did we act then? When we are with someone who is precious to us, how do we act.

Some moments are more crucial than others.  Sometimes we might be doing different things, but generally aware of the other person, and that is good. Two guys in the same boat fishing, not speaking, not looking at each other, letting their minds drift, but it’s okay. It’s good to be together, but don’t need to do much. If, on the other hand, someone important to you comes and says, “After what has just happened, I’ll never be the same.”  This is not a good time to say, “Go ahead, I can listen and watch TV at the same time.”  A couple can be sitting in the same room, one reading a book, one catching up on the news, but if they are doing that during their wedding, there is a problem. Sometimes people are chattering for the joy of it, and what they talk about is not that important.  Sometimes people are sharing their most precious secrets, thing close to their hearts, and it takes a lot of trust to do that.  Then it is most important to be especially attentive.  To do that poorly with harm the relationship, but to do it well can strengthen the relationship a great deal.

God is always reaching out to us, but very often we don’t respond well. “I was ready to respond to those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said: here I am! Here I am! To a nation that did not invoke my name. I have stretched out my hands all day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own designs (Isaiah 65:1-2).”

“After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in replay, ‘Lord it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’ When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’ And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone (Matthew 17:1-8).” We get a rare moment in which the Father speaks from heaven, and His message is the importance of listening to Jesus.  Of course, these were Jesus’ disciples, and the inner circle of His disciples at that. They probably thought they were already listening, and that this message should be for others (fortunately, they had the sense not to argue).  I would suggest that we often do not listen as well as we think we do.  It is something we can grow in.

During the agony in the garden (Matthew 26:36-46), Jesus brings His closest friends, Peter, James and John, and asks them to keep watch and pray.  They fall asleep. Jesus didn’t need them to do anything except be present and attentive.  He was having a really difficult time, and needed some friends’ support.  I’m sure it hurt that they failed, and it will be remembered until the end of time how they failed.

At the Last Supper, and during the celebration of the Eucharist ever since, Jesus is sharing Himself most intimately, Who He really is, body, blood, soul, divinity. He draws us into His death and resurrection, His ultimate sacrifice of love. During this time in which people are separated from the Mass, we may want to reflect on how we tend to respond to God’s gift. It is almost a universal problem that our minds wander during Mass, but within the limits of our fallen human ability, how do we treat this holiest of moments? How might we grow in our response?