My son sings bass in this.
“This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it” (Jn 11:4).
The entire life and work of Christ is between the two poles of the Incarnation, which we remember in the Annunciation celebration of March 25, and the Paschal Mystery, which we soon celebrate during Holy Week beginning on Holy Thursday. Throughout His life and ministry Jesus repeatedly shows us His power over all things, and in this seventh sign in the Gospel of John, He shows His power over death. It was the Original Sin of Adam that brought illness and death to the entire world and all its inhabitants. Through this Gospel story we see the necessary reality and mystery of tension in the spiritual life.
What do I mean by the mystery of tension? It is the mystery of God coming into our weakness to make us strong.
This mystery is what propels us to be better, to live life to the fullest! Consider an analogy: swimming for a world record. The goal of the “red line” (see video) is always before the swimmer. The swimmer does everything in his power physically and mentally to prepare himself to swim his best — the world record is always in front of him! This analogy is a sign for us of what a determined human being can accomplish; yet, once the world record is reached, there is always another one to be achieved.
Life in Christ is no different. Jesus performed seven signs in the Gospel of John, each building on the other, each fulfilling a prophecy and/or a feast of the Old Testament. Through these signs He shows that He alone is the fulfillment of all of our hopes and dreams, the healer of all our emotional hurts and physical maladies. He has even conquered death.
When Jesus learned about the illness of Lazarus He said, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it” (Jn 11:4). This can be compared to the “Happy Fault” of Adam that the Church proclaims in the Exsultet, “O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ! O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!”
My prayer for today is to participate in God’s glory by inviting Him into my weaknesses, my sorrow over world events, my lack of faith and hope, and my lack of love for others. These illnesses within me are not unto death. God is glorified through them as I implore Him to heal me, to open my heart to His love, to turn my sorrow into JOY!
The readings for today are found at the USCCB website.
The readings today have everything to do with the battle in the heart. Jeremiah, through the Holy Spirit speaking to his spirit, says, “I knew their plot because the LORD informed me…” (Jer 11:18a). He trusted the Lord, but still had not realized the extent of the plots against him. Regardless, he obeyed the Lord and trusted Him, the LORD who spoke to his heart.
Does God speak to everyone in their hearts? Absolutely. Even the evil ones, who hatch plots against the Lord’s holy ones? (cf. Jer 11:19, Ps 7:2-3). Yes.
The contrast between the evil ones and the holy ones is also presented in the Gospel. God speaks, but they do not hear Him, because they have cut themselves off from His word with their hardness of heart. Their intellects can no longer be informed by the information presented outside of them, because what is within them is defiled and refuses to hear. Our human intellects are darkened as a consequence of our sins until we cannot even see, much less understand, the Truth.
We see this very clearly in the Gospel for today. The most interesting contrasts are between the guards and the elite, and then Nicodemus, (who is one of “the Jews”), and the elite. The elite are those jews who will not listen: the Pharisees, the Saducees, and the teachers and doctors of the law. They sent the guards to bring Him, but even the guards were captivated by Truth; their hearts were open. All it takes is a willingness on our part to believe; God will do the rest. Nicodemus seemed to want to be a voice of reason, and unveils the irony and hypocrisy: “Shouldn’t we first hear what He has to say?” After all, if they had asked the right questions, they would know that He was of David’s family and came from Bethlehem!
This convicts me because I am faced with my own personal hardness of heart, the kind that will not even ask the right questions. Perhaps this is a reason the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to give Jesus some last words that we do not hear in the other Gospels: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
None of us knows what we are doing, which is why we need a Savior. None of us is well, but many of us think we are. We cling to the law that is outside of ourselves, but if we do this, it can harden our hearts. Jesus fulfills the law with Life and Love. He says to the person in front of Him, “I love you first and foremost. Whatever you have done — I can and will forgive. Whatever your burdens are — I can and will carry them. Whatever ails you — I can and will heal.”
And then He says, “You just need to let me.”
Tolle lege et Scribentes!
That is what I heard in my mind at 1:30 am, after two hours of no sleep. It is unusual for me not to fall asleep. Very unusual. I will chalk it up to the stress of the times — the stress that my fancy watch has been telling me about, to which I seem oblivious. Until I can’t sleep…then I know something is awry. I should add that my mind was indeed filled with worry…about everything…but especially that someone in my family would get sick, particularly my sons who live on their own.
I had a friend ask me yesterday what the Latin means. Translated it means, “Take up and read and write!” There is a bit of a deeper meaning though. St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church from the 4th century, once heard (literally, from a child’s voice), the phrase “Tolle lege!” He then opened the book of Romans and read this: “Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts” (Rom. 13:13-14). A good summary of the story is here. This was the point of conversion for Augustine. He was a man of incredible intellect, and up to this point had reasoned himself into some type of belief. But now, through the voice of a child, he heard, “Tolle lege! Take up and read!” This was the time when the “rubber meets the road,” so to speak. This was the time to put that belief into practice, be baptized, put on Christ, and die to the old life of debauchery.
I have heard these words in my mind twice during periods of insomnia, and both in the last year.
“Really?” I asked this morning. Again, “Tolle lege,” but this time with the addition, “Romans 8.”
Okay. Fine. I got up and made myself a cup of cinnamon tea and started reading Romans 8.
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Rom 8:14-15).
Daddy. My Daddy. I am a daughter of the Father, and He is with me. Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? (John 14:1-2).
Do I believe?
There is more:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18).
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:26-28).
Again, do I believe?
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?…For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:31, 38-39).
By 2:30 am my prayer was, “Ok, Lord. Thank You, Lord!” You see, like Augustine, I have reasoned my way into belief. Intellectual knowledge, also called head knowledge, is indeed important in the journey to the Father. But the Father wants more, which is why He sent His only Son, Jesus, to become flesh and suffer with us. We are joined to Him through Baptism; we are adopted sons and daughters who belong! The Father wants us to have intimate knowledge (yada, Heb.) of His love for us. He wants to bring us into the Trinitarian love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This morning, the Holy Spirit brought me back to Scripture to tell me what I need to hear.
Our Heavenly Father is working everything for our good. These sufferings are nothing compared to the joy He has in store. He is preparing us to receive His gift of eternal life, and here is the paradox: since it is eternal, it is also present now. His presence, through the Spirit within us, is interceding for us in the depths of our souls, and nothing…NOTHING…can separate us from His love.
Not even a stupid virus.
Encouragement for the day:
Praying with Sacred Scripture is always a good idea. Praying Sacred Scripture with the entire Church in the Divine Office is even better. Today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation. It is days like this that I like to explain (to anyone who will listen!) why we do what we do! Today is a Solemnity (the state or quality of being serious and dignified), and is therefore a day of celebration! In the Office of Readings the Te deum is added, and in Morning Prayer we pray the hymn of thanksgiving and praise found in the book of Daniel, Dan 3:51-90. I’d like to add that this prayer of thanksgiving and praise was offered to God through extremely grave circumstances that could be compared to our own today. (You will understand if you read the entire chapter).
We all know of other important Solemnities: Christmas and Easter. We celebrate the Incarnation (the Word made flesh, cf. Jn 1:14), on Christmas.
But is that the only celebration of the Incarnation? No, because we as Christians know the truth of our beginnings. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer 1:5). The Lord is speaking to Jeremiah, but He is speaking to all of us. We exist as human persons because we were a thought of our heavenly Father first. We were formed into flesh by His loving will, and he placed His life-giving spirit within us.
Today we celebrate the Word becoming incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”
—Jn 1:1-5; 14
You see, Sacred Scripture tells the truth about God, us, and how we are made for relationship with Him. And today we celebrate the day the Lord became God with us, Emmanuel. As part of this celebration, I share a prayer video of the Te deum, which means “an expression of thanksgiving or exultation.” This hymn is sung within the Office of Readings, as a part of the prayer of the entire Church, on Solemnities and Sundays.
“Lord, show us your love and mercy, for we place our trust in You. In You, Lord, is our hope: And we shall never hope in vain.” (Te deum)
God is our refuge and our strength,
an ever-present help in distress.
Therefore we fear not, though the earth be shaken
and mountains plunge into the depths of the sea…The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob (Ps 46:2-3,8).
There is a peace to be found when I turn off the world. Make no mistake, we have a choice to Whom we listen, both internally and externally. This goes to that First Freedom (I will always be going back to this).
I had a blissful morning of silence from the external sources that are not the people who are closest to me. I texted friends a psalm verse of encouragement. I heard back from many. I received prayer requests. I cleaned my kitchen with joy (and anyone who knows me knows that we are talking about something miraculous). I found out about a death due to COVID-19. A former colleague’s husband died. The chosen fast from worldly news gave me the opportunity to offer every moment in prayer, even while doing the dishes, giving truth to the adage, “God is in the pots and pans,” (cf. St. Teresa of Avila, The Book of Foundations, Ch. 5.8).
The news, right now, is like the Oreo cookie to which I am a slave. The more I consume the more anxious I become, and the more I want to consume. And it takes my focus away from the persons who matter most: family, friends…the Lord.
Where would I be without the Lord? Sad. Anxious. “In You Lord is our hope, and we shall never hope in vain” is the last line of the Te Deum prayer that we sing on Sundays and Solemnities. In fact, tomorrow we sing it! For today, enjoy Restless is the Heart, sung by the Notre Dame Folk Choir.
He asked them when he began to recover. They told him, ‘The fever left him yesterday, about one in the afternoon.’ The father realized that just at that time Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live,’ and he and his whole household came to believe (Jn 4:53-53).
One of my favorite saints is St. Therese of Lisieux. She composed a prayer called The Act of Oblation to Merciful Love, (June 9, 1895), and I have personalized it as part of my morning prayer.
One particular line struck me as so appropriate for our times: “Ah! I cannot receive Holy Communion as often as I desire, But, Lord, are you not all-powerful? Remain in me as in a tabernacle and never separate yourself from your little victim.”*
Indeed, the Lord is with us, and He remains with us. In the beginning of the Gospel of John we read, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (Jn 1:14). The word dwelt (skenoo, Gk), literally means that He ‘made His tent,’ or ‘tabernacled’ with us.
As I asked yesterday, “Do you have love in your heart?” Of course we do! And because we have love, we have God. Today I acknowledge that God is with me in my heart, even though I cannot receive Him in Holy Communion. He is there. To this truth I assent in faith. I pray that He helps me to grow in love today as I interact with the beautiful people in my life: family, friends, and students.
As we saw in the Gospel (Jn 4:43-54) today, Jesus’ love and power knows no boundaries. Today He helps a royal official, and doesn’t need to go into the official’s house to work a healing miracle. In the same way, His love and power through us knows no boundaries. A text, a phone call, or a video chat are perfect ways to bring His love to one another.
His works are manifest when we believe.
*— Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux (Navigating the Interior Life) by Anthony Lilles, Daniel Burke, http://a.co/7HcIQgM
The coronavirus pandemic is a gift.
I woke up this morning with two realizations — I am actually now getting the amount of sleep that I should get, and all those thoughts of:
“I need to slow down…”
“We are too busy…”
“I wish I had the time to…”
have now come to a point in which I have been given an opportunity to figure out what is really important and do it.
So after I realized these things I thanked God for His mercy! In His merciful love, (hesed, Heb), He allows this suffering so we turn to Him! He alone is the creator! He alone is the healer! All the love and care and attention and healing that is coming from other human beings have One source — the God who created all things.
By giving mercy we are giving God.
By giving love we are giving God.
By caring for our neighbor we are caring for God’s people, and bringing His merciful love and healing to others.
And He will sustain us. He will, because that is who He is, Love Incarnate, who died for us, was resurrected by the Father, and through His Holy Spirit gives us eternal life when we cling to Him in that same Spirit.
There is nothing more important than knowing this and acting on it.
We have been given a gift. The question is, will I open it?
Today I want to combine the two Sundays of no public Masses into one theme: worship from the heart. God’s providential goodness is amazingly beautiful, when we can see it. We see it (by His grace) when we open our hearts to His light and look for it. On that point let us begin with the Gospel today.
Jesus heals a man blind from birth (Jn 9:1-41). When Jesus was asked about the origin of the blindness, whether it was the sin of his parents or the man’s own sin, our Lord replies, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” Jesus says a bit more, but I want to focus on the reason for the blind man’s trial — so that the works of God might be made visible. This is not the only time that Jesus mentions that trials are for our sake, so that we may see the works of God.
Last week we saw the testimony of the woman at the well, “‘Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?’ They went out of the town and came to him” (Jn 4:29-30). The people rushed to see Jesus because of the truth He had spoken to the woman in her heart. She testified to Him, and they believed!
Jesus will say in the Gospel next week, before the raising of Lazarus, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (Jn 11:4).
God is glorified through our weaknesses and trials! Nothing, not even death, can stop Him!
So what does this have to do with worship from the heart?
God can change my heart through this crisis, if I let Him. I need to be open to the light, to the truth that God is with us (Emmanuel). I cannot be like the Pharisees in today’s Gospel, who, when presented with goodness, find reasons to reject it (cf. Jn 9:16). I must resist the hardening of my heart — and see the goodness and truth that is right in front of me — in my family and in the sacrifices of all who are working in hospitals, grocery stores, and delivery services (to just name a few!).
Love requires sacrifice, and Love Himself has given us the ONE, true sacrifice that is re-presented to the Father for all time in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Whether we are physically present at the liturgy or not, Jesus’ sacrifice is offered to the Father everyday by His ministerial priests, and we can join ourselves to it. We are baptized priest, prophet, and king, and it is in these capacities that we are called and equipped to make sacrifices ourselves. Jesus said to the woman last week, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him” (Jn 4:23). The hour is here. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (cf Ps 95:7-8).
I ask you, dear reader, do you have love in your heart?
If you have love in your heart, you have God (cf 1 Jn 4:16). Anyone who has love in their heart has God in their heart, and can make sacrifices into acts of true worship through the love they give their neighbor. These sacrifices are true worship when they are united to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. Every moment is a gift, even in time of crisis, or should I say, especially in time of crisis. God is with us, indeed, we just need eyes to see it. Open the eyes to my heart, Lord!
Amen. Jesus, I trust in You!