Saturday, March 31, 2012

Jesus Triumphs!

Over the past few decades, what has come to be called the "Prosperity Gospel" has gained popularity among televangelists. Anyone who has ever watched programs featuring Joel Osteen or Creflo Dollar will have heard various forms of it. The Prosperity Gospel states that following Christ should result in increased financial success for the believer as well as improved health and well-being. For those who follow such a doctrine, religion is a way to win friends and influence people. The Word of God becomes a means to reach our goals and fulfill our potential.

Now there is no doubt that Jesus wants us to be happy. He came to give us an abundant life. And there's no doubt that a life of faith gives us the discipline which can also translate into success in our relationships and other endeavors. However, there are many problems with interpreting Christianity as a program for material prosperity or psychological well-being. First and foremost, it is not the example that Jesus left for us. He did not come to earth to fill himself with wealth, but to empty himself for us. He did not come to claim places of honor for himself, but to take the lowest place. If Jesus' primary concern was his well-being, he would never have accepted the humiliation of the cross, and we would never have been forgiven our sins.

In today's second reading, Saint Paul tells us that we should follow the example of Christ. Biblical scholars tell us that he is quoting from an ancient hymn celebrating the humility of Jesus. Unlike Adam who, in the garden of Eden, tasted the fruit so that he could be like God, Jesus did not cling to his equality to God, but willingly took on our human flesh. Being the Son of God, he could have been born into the family of a powerful king or a wealthy landowner, but rather he chose to be born to peasants of humble means. Though he was the most powerful man to ever walk the earth, he chose not to use that power to enrich himself but to enrich us. And he did not use that power to save himself from the shame of the cross, but willingly gave himself up to death to save us. Why did he endure all this? So that God the Father would glorify him. As Saint Paul writes, because of what he suffered "God highly exalted him and gave him the name which is above all other names." Jesus was not after the glory that the world gives. Rather, he was after something greater, a glory that could only come from God. And the only way to reach that glory was to suffer the humiliation of the cross.

Paul's message to us is that if Jesus is humble and puts our needs before his own, then we must do the same. As we contemplate his death for our sins, we must ask ourselves whether we are too concerned with living a prosperous and comfortable life to pick up our own cross and follow Jesus. And as we hold in our hands these palm branches symbolic of the coming of our Savior, we must reflect whether we have welcomed him in the needy, in the poor and in the sorrowful whom we meet everyday. Whose needs are we called upon to help God meet? Whom are we ignoring in our everyday life who could use a friendly smile or a helping hand. Those people are Jesus who comes into our midst in the disguise of the distraught.

If we have learned anything during the financial crisis of the past year, it is that the security that money promises to give us is an illusion. God wants to offer us something more permanent than riches, power or popularity. He wants to give us his very life. He wants to give us his love.

Each of us has a need to be loved. And we each want to be loved for the person we are, not for what we have. God is no different from us in that respect. He does not want us to love him because he gives us things. He wants to be loved because he is our Creator and our Father. He wants to be loved because he is love itself. This is the mystery of the cross. That God has nothing greater to give than his very self. And he wants to offer us nothing less than his life. What good is gold or silver in comparison to the knowledge of the love of God?

On this Palm Sunday, we commemorate Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He comes as a king to take the throne of David. But he is no earthly king. He does not enter on a muscular steed, but on a lowly donkey. It is not a well equipped army that escorts him through the gates of the royal city but a band of peasants. And he does not enter the city to take it by force but to surrender himself to a sentence of death. Jesus is not at all what we would expect from someone who claims to be the Son of God and Savior of the World. If we are to be his followers then we cannot live only for our own comfort and well-being but for his glory. But if we do take up our cross and follow him, we will know a joy and a peace which no one can ever take from us. And we will have treasure in heaven more glorious than we could ever hope for or imagine.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Holy Week Mysteries of the Rosary

Some alternative mysteries of the Rosary to contemplate as Holy Week approaches.

1. The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
Mt 21: 1-10; Lk 19: 29-40; Jn 12: 12-19; Mk 11:1 - 11

2. The Anointing at Bethany
Jn 12: 13-25; Mk 12: 15-18; Mt 21: 12-17; Lk 19:45-38

3. The Cleansing of the Temple
Mk 12: 15-18; Jn 2: 13-25; Mt 21: 12-17; Lk 19: 45-48

4. The Washing of the Feet
Jn 13: 1-17

5. The Agony in the Garden
Mt 26: 36-46; Mk 14: 32-42; Lk 22: 39-46

Monday, March 26, 2012

Fifth Sunday of Lent

It is common nowadays for people to describe themselves as "spiritual and not religious." We all have friends who say that about themselves or have seen the phrase written on bumper stickers. Some of us here today might even describe ourselves that way.

But what do people mean when they claim to be "spiritual but not religious"?

Generally, they mean that they have a relationship with God or with a "higher power" without belonging to a church or adhering to any dogmas or creeds. In fact, they claim to have respect for all religions, picking and choosing from each the teachings that suit their lifestyle and the "god of their understanding". For such people, religion is not a shared, communal reality, but a personal, interior experience.

As with all fallacies, there is a kernel of truth in what these self-described spiritual people believe. Religion is primarily a matter of the heart and of the spirit. Because each of us is created in God's image and likeness, we all carry within ourselves the ability to hear his voice speaking to us through our conscience. Our hearts were made to love God above all things. When we look within, we already find a basic understanding of God and his plan for our lives. God created us to be spiritual.

We hear this reality described in today's first reading. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God promises the people of Israel that he is about to establish a new covenant with them. That is, he is about to invite them into a new relationship of faithful love with him. Unlike the old covenant which was written on the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, the new covenant will be written on their hearts. As Jeremiah describes it, no one will need to be taught the ways of the Lord because God will reveal himself to the heart of each believer. This is what we commonly mean by the word "spiritual" - to have an interior, heart-felt love of God.

However, God is talking about something more than a natural desire or ability to know him. Rather, this personal relationship with him is a gift. It is not something that is ours through birth, but through baptism. God's Spirit who writes this new covenant in our heart, who speaks to our spirit about the ways of truth and love, is given to us through baptism and faith. The Holy Spirit is not something we can receive just through personal reflection or meditation. We receive the Holy Spirit when we become members of a community of faith. We receive the Holy Spirit by practising religion.

Jesus gives us more insight into what it means to be genuinely spiritual in today's gospel. Andrew and Philip approach Jesus to tell him about some Greeks who want to meet him. It is the week of Passover, close to the time when he would suffer and die. His upcoming death is weighing heavily on his heart. His "hour" is approaching, and he takes the opportunity to instruct the disciples and us about what it means to be a true follower. It means having our hearts set on eternal life. And the only way to enter into that heavenly life is to hate our earthly life. The only way to reach the glory of heaven is through death. Jesus say, "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit." And so the person who loves Jesus is willing to follow him when it is inconvenient, when it is painful and when it is costly. The truly spiritual person who has his or her heart set on the things of heaven will follow Jesus even to the cross. The person with genuine insight into spiritual matters realizes that Jesus cannot be separated from his cross nor can eternal life be separated from death to self.

The words of Jesus are very different from the language we hear from the "spiritual but not religious" crowd. For them, being spiritual is not a way of dying to self but of enriching oneself. It is not a way of glorifying God but of growing in self-esteem and self-fulfillment. It is not a way of seeking the things of heaven but of having a better life on earth. It is not about knowing God as he has revealed himself in Scripture and in Church teaching so that we can humbly serve others but about having secret knowledge that gives one a sense of superiority over others. This so-called "New Age" spirituality is really something very old - trying to achieve the glory of heaven without the shame of the cross.

We shouldn't judge such people. Very often, they are well-meaning and generous. At the same time, we don't want to fall into their error and miss out on the abundance of life that Jesus is offering us. His words are clear to all those who seek him: "If anyone would follow me, he must take up his cross." The deepest desire of our heart is union with God through Jesus. It is natural that we fear being ridiculed by others for practising our religion in a whole-hearted way. It is also natural that we fear what we would have to give up to follow Jesus. But as the Holy Spirit reveals to our hearts more and more the love of God and the truth of the gospel, those fears diminish because we are beginning to taste what our spirits long for and everything else seems less important by comparison. When we have the real thing, we will not settle for cheap imitations!

We are here today because we are both spiritual and religious. We do not want to deny ourselves the experience of worship with other believers. We want to learn from the words of Scripture and the teaching of the Church. We want to benefit from the wisdom of the believers who have gone before us. We want to encounter Jesus in the Eucharist. This abundance of spiritual riches is ours through baptism and faith. It is a taste of heaven given to us who have decided to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fourth Sunday of Lent

There is no doubt that Jesus made an impression on everyone he met. Because of the power of his words, some left their jobs and their families to follow him. Others, however, were offended by the special relationship he claimed to have with the Father and turned their backs on him refusing to listen despite the powerful signs he performed. Others were afraid of him. They feared that he would incite the people to rebel against the Roman occupation and create instability in Jerusalem. We will hear in the upcoming weeks how these people would eventually convince the Romans to crucify him.

There is another class of people, however. There were those who didn't know quite what to make of Jesus. They were moved by the beauty and power of his words. They were amazed by the miracles and signs he performed. Yet they were just not ready to follow him. Such a person was Nicodemus whom we read about in today's gospel.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a man with much power and influence. He considered himself an authority on the Jewish Law and a teacher of the people. Like the other Pharisees, he would have felt some responsibility to guard the people from error. And so he would have been especially cautious of Jesus. Nonetheless, he felt drawn by his words. So he visits Jesus at night in secret to see for himself what he is all about. He is not ready to become a follower, but he is not ready to turn his back on him either.

Jesus welcomes Nicodemus. He does not turn him away because he is skeptical and unsure. He does not tell him to come back when he has more faith. Rather Jesus builds on the faith he already has and challenges him to recognize the gift of salvation and eternal life which he is being offered.

There are two parts to Jesus' message to Nicodemus.

First, he speaks to him about the great love of God. Jesus was sent into the world by the Father, not to condemn it, but to bring eternal life to all those who would believe in him. God's desire is not to find fault with us but to draw us into a relationship of love with him. For this reason, Jesus would be lifted up on the cross as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert to bring forgiveness and healing.

Second, that gift of eternal life is available to anyone who believes in Jesus. Those who believe are the ones who are willing to step out of the darkness of sin and falsehood and into the light of faith. Remember that Nicodemus is visiting Jesus at night, when it's dark, so that no one will see him. Jesus is challenging him to step into the light and not be ashamed to be counted as one of his followers. It will mean leaving behind the prestige and power he has as a leading Pharisee. It will mean being rejected and ridiculed by many of his friends. But, more importantly, if he can find the courage to step into the light, it will mean being a friend with Jesus, seeing his great works, and knowing the Father's love in a way he could not otherwise imagine.

The gospel reading does not tell us how Nicodemus responded. We presume that he slipped away into the night to ponder Jesus' message to him. We won't hear about him again until later in John's gospel when he argues for a fair trail for Jesus and at the crucifixion when he, along with Joseph of Arimathea, helps to place his body in the tomb.

There is a little bit of Nicodemus in each of us. Most of us have an admiration for Jesus and are moved by his words. Yet there is still a part of us that wants to hold back. We are not ready to follow Jesus all the way. We fear what others will say about us if we live our faith wholeheartedly. Or we aren't ready to give up some sinful behaviors to embrace the full message of the gospel. Others of us can't get over the shame we feel about our past life and aren't ready to welcome the Father's promise and gift of forgiveness. Each of us, in some way, prefers to meet Jesus in the dark where our ugly faults and failures can be hidden from sight.

These forty days of Lent are all about stepping out of darkness into light. Through prayer and penance, we are to examine our conscience and bring to God our weakness and sin so that his forgiveness and grace can begin to fill up the emptiness of our spirit. There is still time for those of us who haven't yet gone to confession to do so before Holy Week. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is an important first step away from the darkness. We reveal our sins to a priest so that we can be freed from the burden of shame and embrace God's love and forgiveness. Then we can begin to live again in the joy and peace of God's Spirit.

In today's second reading, Saint Paul reminds us that God is rich in mercy. We need not linger in the shadows of fear and shame because there is a forgiving God who waits for us in the light. It was for this reason that Jesus came - to draw all people to himself. At this Eucharist, Jesus will be lifted up in the form of bread and wine for us to adore and to receive with gratitude and faith. The prayer, "My Lord and my God," will come to our lips as we gaze upon our Savior who is given to us as food. Let us ask that he ignite a fire within us so that we can take the light of his truth and love to those who continue to dwell in darkness. Then we will become what he has called us to be - a light for all the world.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Jesus Drives out the Money Changers

This article first appeared in CONNECT! magazine

I tend to feel uncomfortable around people who are angry. I often wonder if I'm to blame for their foul mood or if I should do something to make the situation better. Anger is a difficult emotion to experience whether in oneself or in others.

The gospel doesn't tell us how the crowds reacted to Jesus' prophetic expression of anger in the temple. No one tries to stop Jesus. No one voices outrage at his extreme actions. Though it would seem to be the perfect opportunity for the authorities to apprehend Jesus for causing a disturbance, they appear to be fearful of inciting the crowd. It could be that the crowd agreed with Jesus about the greed of the moneychangers. It could be that they were already used to Jesus' forceful words against those who manipulate religion for their own profit. Whatever the case, Jesus' action does not appear to provoke outrage on the part of the people. He exercises the same authority in the temple which he does in his teaching, freezing in awe those who witness his actions.

As a good and pious Jew, Jesus loved the temple which he called "my Father's house". His outburst of anger makes no sense otherwise. Jesus is not having a temper tantrum, but expressing real disgust and disappointment at the commercialization of his Father's house. His anger is an expression of love not an assertion of power. It is the anger of a father who sees his children in harm's way and the passion of a jilted lover.

The religious leaders,however, require of Jesus a sign proving his authority. It is then that we hear Jesus' strongest identification with the temple: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up ." It is a cryptic message only understandable in the light of his death and resurrection. Like so many of Jesus' other words in John's gospel, they would have to be guarded in the disciples' hearts until his resurrection. The Temple is Jesus' body - Jesus himself - victorious in death and risen in glory.

In Jesus' day, the temple was the pulsing center of Jewish life and worship. It was there that God dwelt in all his glory. It was there that sacrifices of oxen, sheep and doves were offered in atonement for sin. Its sheer size and the beauty of its adornments were sources of pride for the Jewish nation. The idea of it being destroyed was offensive, and any suggestion of it being rebuilt in three days was ridiculous. Just imagine someone saying the same thing about Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome! There's no doubt that Jesus' actions in the temple began the chain of events which would lead to his passion and death.

Before the building of the temple under King Solomon, God's presence among his people was symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant which housed the tablets of the law written by God himself on Mount Sinai. There was no permanent place to keep the Ark of the Covenant. Rather, it traveled with the people in a tent. God walked as his people walked. They lived in tents and so did he. When the people took up more permanent residence in the land and established a dynasty in Jerusalem through King David, then God took up a more permanent residence in a temple of stone.

Jesus is the new temple of God's glorious presence among us. The Ark of the Covenant and the temple symbolized God's desire to walk with his people. In Jesus, God takes up the tent of our human flesh and builds us up into a living temple whose permanent place is heaven. Jesus becomes both the altar and the lamb of sacrifice. It is a temple located wherever God's people are located. It is a sacrifice which requires no moneychangers. It is a temple which can never be destroyed.

We can bet that Jesus has the same passion for his people, the new temple, that he demonstrated in the temple of Jerusalem. Whenever God's people are denied access to the saving mysteries, whenever obstacles are placed in the way of their expression of faith and whenever they are denied justice, Jesus' ire is raised. And, ours should be as well. We think of those living in countries like China and Saudi Arabia where Christians are denied the free expression of their faith. We think of Christians who are persecuted in India. At home, we think of parish leaders who make access to the sacraments and the religious education of children needlessly burdensome. And, we think of ourselves when we deny the right of a good example to those who know us to be Christians. Under such circumstances, those who share the love of Jesus ought to start knocking some tables over.

The Catholic convert, Dorothy Day, often commented on the lack of passion she witnessed on the part of Christians as compared with her atheist friends. And, the criticism is often leveled that we are too busy looking forward to heaven to stoop down to help our brothers and sisters on earth. We can get angry, but it is often directed at trivial issues such as whether the bells should be rung during the Eucharistic prayer or who will get a solo at the Christmas pageant.

However, as we grow into the sense that we are members of Christ's body, forming a temple which spans the globe, we can no longer fail to be interested in the sufferings of others whether they be close by and within reach or in other countries. We will be unable to walk past the panhandler or overlook the stories of persecution. It will mean making a contribution, writing a letter to a Senator or even walking a picket line. It will mean holding them always in prayer at the temple of the Eucharist.

When we reach out to others, we are helping to build the New Temple. The same Dorothy Day once wrote: “People say, 'What is the sense of our small effort?' They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time.” That is the work of Christ in the Holy Spirit to raise us up as a temple where his mercy is manifest to the world.

(image by Boris Olshansky)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Third Sunday of Lent - ALREADY!

Saint Francis of Assisi is one of the greatest saints who ever lived. When he first started on the path of holiness, he wasn't sure what God wanted from him. One day, he found an old church that had been abandoned and was falling apart. It was called the Church of San Damiano. He poked through the ruins and found half buried in the dirt a beautifully painted cross. He pulled it from the ground, propped it up against some rocks and began meditating on it. As he entered deeper and deeper into prayer, he heard Jesus speak to him from the cross. "Francis", our Lord said, "rebuild my Church which you see has fallen into ruins." Francis assumed that Jesus was speaking about the church of San Damiano. So he began gathering stones to rebuild the abandoned building. Seeing his efforts, others began to join him. However, soon young Francis came to understand that Jesus did not mean that he wanted him to rebuild the church building made of stones but to build up the Church which is the People of God. And so he gathered together the men who had been helping him and started the Franciscan order dedicated to living Jesus' teaching in the fullest way possible in poverty and joyful witness to the good news. Francis learned from his experience that what Jesus wanted from him was not so much to renovate buildings but to renovate minds and hearts through the power of the gospel.

In today's gospel, we see the temple leaders fall under the same misunderstanding that Saint Francis did. When they asked Jesus what right he had to clear the moneychangers from the temple, he responded with something of a riddle: "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days." Like Saint Francis of Assisi, the people thought he was talking about the temple building. But Jesus was talking about his body which will rise from the dead three days after he is crucified. Jesus is the new temple. He is the new lamb of sacrifice. His body is the place we worship and the offering we make to God for our sins. Like Francis, Jesus will rebuild the temple, but not with stones. He will rebuild it with people, the people who believe in him, follow him and live as he lived. We are the new temple.

From ancient times, the Church has been referred to as "the Body of Christ". Saint Paul first raises the idea in his letter to the Romans when he writes, " Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others" (Rom.12:5). What Saint Paul wants us to understand is that, through our baptism, we become interconnected in a way that we cannot see or sense, but that is nonetheless real. Just as all the body suffers when just one part of the body is hurting, so all God's People scattered throughout the world, in some mysterious way, share in each other's joys, pains, struggles and consolations. Because of this mystical union, I am strengthened by the good works that other Christians perform even if I never actually see them do it. At the same time, I am weakened by the sinfulness of others. Just as Jesus taught and Saint Francis learned, we are each parts of a body, the Body of Christ. And so we belong not only to Christ, but also to each other.

Each of us is called to help Jesus rebuild the Church which is his body. Like the different parts of the body, all of us will have a different role in the Church's mission of preaching the good news. But one thing is true for each and every one of us no matter what our station in life may be. Each of us is called to build up the Church by living a holy life. If the sacrifices, prayers and good works I perform can strengthen the Church, then I must take every opportunity I can find to do good. In the same way, if my sins weaken and demoralize the body of Christ, then I must avoid sin at all costs.

Today's first reading recounts for us the Ten Commandments. God delivered the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel during their 40 years in the desert. They were meant to guide the people as they established themselves in the promised land. By following God's law, it was to be clear that Israel was different from other nations which worshiped many gods and had immoral customs and practices. Instead, Israel would be God's special people, a holy people. We who are inheritors of the promise made to Israel and who believe in the Messiah are also called to be a holy people by following God's commandments. We are called to be different and to shine forth the light of God's word in a world full of darkness.

We are always talking about what it would take to bring more people to the Church and to get them more excited about their faith. Sometimes we think it will take playing livelier music or preaching more compelling sermons. Some people even think the Church should compromise on some of her teachings to make the Christian life seem less demanding. For all that talk, the one thing that each of us could do to draw more people here every week is to live our faith and to be holy. If we do that, people will sit up and notice. They will see that there is something special going on here because of the holiness of our lives. They will see our peace and joy and want it for themselves. The most riveting sermons and the most uplifting music will not draw a single person here if our lives are not beaming with the holiness that comes from Jesus.

We are approaching the midpoint of our Lenten journey. We can start to feel weary as the weeks drag on. But we can always rely on Jesus for strength. The knowledge that we are connected to him through the mystery of the Church which is his body inspires us to draw inspiration and encouragement from him. And we can be encouraged knowing that our good works are somehow bringing strength to others around the world who need it. We are working together to build up the Body of Christ through the power of the Spirit until that day when we will enter the heavenly temple to live with God forever.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Second Sunday of Lent

Losing a child is about the worst thing that could ever happen to anyone. It is every parent's worst nightmare. Parents who experience such a tragedy tell us that for many years afterward they continue to struggle with grief, anger and guilt over losing their child. Even when they are able to accept the loss and find some measure of peace, the thought of their child is always on their mind. And tears are never far away.

All of us experience death and loss in our own lives. We will never know why some people suffer more tragedies than others. What we do know is that we have a choice as to how we will react. We can either turn inward and grow bitter. Or we can reach out to help others and find some measure of serenity in our grief.

Today's first reading presents us with a man who is faced with the imminent death of his son. What was going through Abraham's mind when God told him that he was to sacrifice his only son Isaac on Mount Moriah? Was he angry that God would ask so much of him? Did he wonder what good killing the boy could possibly do? If these thoughts were going through his mind, the Scripture does not tell us. Just as shocking as God's request is Abraham's determination to obey God's command. And God rewards Abraham's heroic faith and obedience by sparing his son and declaring that he will be the father of many nations.

We might think that God is cruel for requiring so much of Abraham. But have any of us ever thought that, while God spared Isaac by having Abraham substitute a ram in his place, he did not spare his own Son, Jesus, but gave him up to death for us? What we most fear - the death of a child - is exactly the price God was willing to pay to save us from our sins and to hold out for us the gift of everlasting life. God loved us so much, that he was willing to do the unthinkable to ransom us from the power of death.

It is very tempting for us to think that Jesus' death was not traumatic for God the Father because he knew that Jesus would rise from the dead within a few days. And since God the Father and God the Son are one, they can never be separated, even by death. But the Bible tells us that God has compassion on all his creatures and that he has a special love for the poor and the suffering. If God the Father can be moved by our suffering, how much more was he troubled by the suffering of his Beloved Son? It was no easier for God to experience the death of Jesus than it was for Abraham to think about sacrificing Isaac or for any parent to lose a child. And yet he allowed it to happen out of love for us.

If it is hard for us to relate to what God the Father would have felt at Jesus' crucifixion, we can certainly relate to Jesus' own suffering. Just before he was handed over to the Roman authorities, the Bible tells us that the agony he felt was so intense that he sweat blood. Jesus felt real pain and suffered real torment throughout his crucifixion. The knowledge that he would soon rise from the dead did not make the agony any easier. Jesus' death was no easier than the death of any other person who ever lived. And yet he accepted such a cruel death out of love for us.

In today's second reading, Saint Paul reminds us of the sacrifice that God the Father made for us. And he assures us that if God would go so far as to offer up his Son for us, he will provide us with whatever else we need to grow in faith and holiness. God has shown us how absolutely committed he is to us. God has shown us how deeply he loves us. We need only place our lives in his hands with total trust, like Abraham, that whatever happens, no matter how traumatic or how awful it may seem, God will never leave our side through it all. And, more importantly, God will make some good come from it.

Every second Sunday of Lent, the Church offers for our reflection the story of Jesus' transfiguration. In the presence of his three closest disciples, Jesus' glory as the Son of God shines through his human nature, and God the Father's voice is heard booming from the heavens: "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!" We reflect on this story at this point every year during our Lenten journey so that we can be reminded that, when we embrace sacrifice and suffering, the power of God can shine through us. Saint Paul tells us in the letter to the Romans that the sufferings of the present are as nothing compared to the glory which will be ours in Christ. When we accept our suffering with love and trust, we become more like Jesus. For this reason, we can even rejoice in the trials we face, because faith teaches us that our difficulties are transforming us more and more into the image and likeness of Christ.

At this altar, we will recreate Jesus' sacrifice by offering bread and wine. Can we offer ourselves along with Jesus? Can we join our suffering to that of Jesus on the cross? Can we trust God enough to give him everything we have and are in perfect and absolute trust? If we can, then we will see our lives changed along with the bread and the wine, and we will bring God's love to others in ways we could never have imagined otherwise.