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Gospel

A Careful Look at the Anointing at Bethany

29 March 2021

John 12:1-11

One of the things I like to do with very familiar passages like this one is dive into the passage’s specifics. It can be easy to gloss over words like “nard” and “denarii”, but by looking more closely at them, we can find surprising meanings and connections. 

Let’s look at “nard.” Nard is an amber-colored essential oil taken from a plant in the honeysuckle family, which grows in the Himalayas. It probably would’ve been used sparingly, for special occasions, because of its high cost (it cost about $104  an ounce in today’s currency). But Mary pours out a pound of it. Imagine a pound of essential oil poured all over your feet! The fragrance must have been intense.  

Nard is also called spikenard, which, in Hispanic Catholic iconography, is used to represent St. Joseph. Pope Francis has a branch of spikenard on his papal coat of arms just for this reason. Both Mary of Bethany and St. Joseph poured out their lives to God continually, even when they didn’t understand what God was doing. Mary will stand at the foot of the cross. St. Joseph heard messages from angels. Did either of them fully know the whys and wherefores of God’s plan? Absolutely not. But they trusted that he had one and they poured out their lives in his service, even when it would have been easier to step away and hold back. 

Pope Francis’ coat of arms. The flower in the lower right is spikenard. 

Emily DeArdo

Meditation

Are we pouring out the best of ourselves to God? Are we giving him our trust and love even when, like St. Joseph, we might not understand what he’s asking us to do? Or are we like Judas, hoarding the best of ourselves?  What do you care about?

Lent Devotional 2021
Download A Time to Grow Lent Devotional as a free E-book here
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Bible, Gospel, Lent, Uncategorized

Palm Sunday

28 March 2021

Mark 14:1-15:47

Palm Sunday 

We are womb to tomb people. In January we pray and we march to protect life in the womb, and hopefully life in all its stages, too. How often, though, do we really embrace the beauty and dignity of dying? More specifically do we ever take the time to think of the moments after life leaves our bodies? Do we ponder being prepared for burial? 

Today’s reading brings us to thinking about preparation for burial. In Mark 14:8 Jesus says “She has done what she could. She has anticipated anointing my body for burial.” Here Jesus is speaking of the woman who came to Simon’s house with the alabaster jar of perfumed oil, Spikenard. “She broke the alabaster jar and poured it over His head” (14:3), anointing Jesus for burial. As one who would be buried as a criminal, it would have been commonplace for him not to have been anointed at all. 

 All of this brings me to the story of Lizz Lovett. Lizz, a wife and mother, long suffered the ravages of cancer. Her beloved husband, Ryan wanted to honor Lizz to the very last and researched ancient Judeo-Christian rituals and prayers as a final act of love and service to her, to include how to honor her body upon death. He wanted her to know that his love for her continued even after she died.

Ryan and eight others, including Lizz’s mother and sister lovingly prepared her body for Christian burial after she died. This included anointing her body with spikenard and wrapping her body in burial cloth. Ryan, like the woman who anointed Jesus, knew how important and sacred it was to care for someone womb to tomb.

I can’t imagine a more loving and eternal act. Ryan said that by lovingly preparing her body for Christian burial he participated in preparing his wife for the marriage ceremony of her union with Christ in Heaven. He gave her up, with dignity and tenderness and faith, to the end.

The Gospel reading speaks of preparations for Christ’s passion, but should also have us reflect on how we prepare ourselves and others for our union with Christ in heaven.

Lisa Miklos

Meditation

You can read Lizz and Ryan’s story here.

Lent Devotional 2021
Download A Time to Grow Lent Devotional as a free E-book here



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Bible, Gospel

Thoughts for When we Feel Insecure

27 March 2021

John 11:45-56

In today’s Gospel, Jesus had just performed yet another miracle in raising Lazarus from the dead, garnering more believers with each miracle. When this news reached the Pharisees and the chief priests, a meeting of the Sanhedrin was called. Instead of being open to what God was revealing through his son, these leaders felt threatened. 

They worried about preserving their position and wealth and allowed greed, fear, and envy to motivate them.  Insecurity and ego can lead people to do horrible things. We know historically that the chief priests and the Pharisees did not always get along, but when they saw a common enemy, they colluded to persecute the Son of God.  

When you think about it, the world may have changed as it moved through the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Information Age, but some things have not changes. When people feel threatened or afraid, they will often employ sinful means to suppress the threat. 

Some have relied on emotions or propaganda. Others have relied on instilling fear. Some use clever but faulty logic or reasoning to get their point across. The irony in this reading is that in verse 50, Caiaphas states exactly what must happen to realize God’s plan of salvation without realizing that Jesus’ death is offered to save all of us and not merely his alliance.

Can you see yourself in this passage? Do you let fear, greed, or a desire for influence or adulation steer your decisions? Do you deal fairly with others in your person and professional pursuits? We all fall short of God’s law sometimes, if you see these vices in your life, make a good confession. Don’t beat yourself up. Know that where you are weak, your community of faith is praying for you . . . having a piece of chocolate may help, too.

Aly Tugaoen

Meditation

From the Daniel Iverson Hymn: Spirit of the living God, Fall afresh on me. Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me. Spirit of the living God, Fall afresh on me.

Lent Devotional 2021
Download A Time to Grow Lent Devotional as a free E-book here
Uncategorized

A Belated Annunciation

Luke 1:26-38

I wrote this reflection in January, to publish on March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation. But I’m struggling this week. My COVID vaccine absolutely knocked me out. While I hate to publish late, this is one of those posts that’s just going to have to be better late than never. Thanks for reading 🙂 Here goes:

One of the things I love about our faith

Our Faith is so smart! Even the liturgical calendar is smart. There are exactly nine months until Christmas, which is why today (ah-hem …a few days ago, actually), we mark the Annunciation of the Lord’s birth by the angel Gabriel. Today’s gospel is often associated with children’s Christmas plays, but for us today, it falls within Lent. Why?

I think one reason that we read about the Annunciation during Lent is to be reminded of exactly who Jesus is. Jesus is fully God and fully human. The early Church Fathers coined this as the “hypostatic union” of Christ’s divinity and humanity that was present from the very moment of Jesus’ miraculous conception in Mary’s womb.

Fully Human Fully Divine

At Mass, we are reminded of the unity of Christ’s humanity and divinity when the priest pours the water into the wine and prays quietly, “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” Once the two liquids are mixed, they cannot be separated from one another.

The Church Fathers wrestled through decades and councils about how to articulate the incarnation, that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14), in spoken and written language. After all, how can one write the profundity of a miracle in mere human constructs? If these learned men struggled, imagine how tremendously graced Mary must have been, when as a mere teen, she understood who and what she would carry in her womb and gave her resounding “yes” to God, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

Why does any of this matter?

There is so much to meditate on in this passage, but I hope you’ll remember two things: First, Jesus assumed the fullness of your humanity, in all its weakness, because he loves every bit of you. There is nothing about you that is outside the reach of God’s mercy or redemption. Second, if you feel overwhelmed or afraid that you’re not living up to what God (or anyone else) asks of you, go to Mary. Pray her fiat “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). She knows what it means to move from being “troubled” (Lk 1:29), to assenting to God’s will.

              Elizabeth Tomlin

Meditation

Offer today’s concerns to Mary.

Pray one Hail Mary slowly.

Lent Devotional 2021
Download your copy of A Time to Grow: A Daily Devotional for Lenten Pilgrims here.
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Jesus

Fish or Cut Bait

23 March 2021

John 8:21-30

The disciples were confused by many things that Jesus said to them, but I doubt they were confused by today’s passage. As we progress through this part of John’s Gospel, we’re getting to the “fish or cut bait” part of Jesus’s ministry. Are you with him, or not?

By this point, Jesus, he has turned water into wine (Ch 3). He has encountered the woman at the well (Ch 4). He has cured fevers, (Ch 4) and healed invalids (Jn 5:8). Jesus has walked on water (Jn 6:19). He has even given two of the “I am” statements of John’s Gospel: “I am the bread of life” (Jn 6:35), and “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12).

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells the Jews that he does not belong to this world, and that he was sent by the Father. He refers to himself with the term “I am,” which some scholars (but not all) believe is Jesus’ way of identifying himself as continuous in being with the name that God spoke to Moses in Exodus 3:14 “I am who I am” transliterated to “YHWH.”

We’ll never know for certain whether Jesus referred to himself as YHWH or not. But what theologians see in investigating this part of John’s Gospel, is that Jesus is indeed revealing himself as the Messiah, and “Because he spoke this way, many came to believe him” (Jn 8:30). 

C.S. Lewis famously wrote the following about discerning who Jesus is:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

 

Based on today’s gospel, and your own experience of the Church and the Sacraments, what do you believe? Who do you say that Jesus is?

Elizabeth Tomlin

Meditation

How did you come to know Jesus as Lord? Spend some time praying lectio divina with today’s Gospel. If it’s available to you, go to Adoration or make time to go this week.

Lent Devotional 2021
Download your copy of A Time to Grow: A Daily Devotional for Lenten Pilgrims here.
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Bible, Gospel, Lent, Mass Reflection

Who Could Cast the First Stone?

22 March 2021

John 8:1-11

By Cassandra Smith

Most of us have committed sins that are hard enough to utter in the quiet confessional, where we at least have the option of spilling our guts with a screen hiding our faces. There’s at least a pretense of anonymity. Imagine that you are caught doing the worst thing you have ever done, and you are dragged by your arm and denounced to your community.

I hear the sneers, the laughter. The fingers gripped around my arm will surely leave a bruise. I see the blood-thirsty eyes of the people around me, waiting to fling their own anxieties, frustration, guilt, and hatred at me with those stones. These people are not more righteous than me, they just haven’t been caught.

Tears are welling up in my eyes. Could I just go back to the moment before I chose to sin? I see Jesus. I feel my throat close as I swallow a fear-filled cry. I want to plead my case. But how can I defend the indefensible? I’m guilty. I know I deserve the death that’s coming.

What is Jesus writing in the sand? Why have I been released?  

During trials like this, the witnesses would cast the first stones of execution. So what did Jesus write to cause these people to abandon their case? St. Augustine proposed that perhaps Jesus scrawled the sins of the woman’s accusers in the sand.

In the short-term, Jesus saved this woman’s life. Yet her sin remained, and we know that the penalty of sin is death. In just a few weeks, we will walk with Jesus as he pays the penalty for this woman’s sins and for all of our sins. Though blameless, Jesus trades places with us. 

Cassandra Smith

Meditation

“No one has greater love that this, to lay down one’s live for one’s friend” (Jn 15:13). Have you made time to meet Jesus at this seat of mercy yet during Lent? Make a plan to go to Confession this week.

Lent Devotional 2021
Download your copy of A Time to Grow: A Daily Devotional for Lenten Pilgrims here.