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
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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
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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
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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
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Bible, Gospel, Lent

Catholics Don’t Know the Bible. Or do we?

18 March 2021

John 5:31-42

By Maggie Phillips

I’ll be honest, I read and re-read this passage, not quite knowing what to make of it. So I looked at the footnotes, and something leapt out at me. In John 5:39, Jesus says, “You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf.” According to the footnotes, Jesus may be speaking imperatively, imploring his listeners to search the scriptures to see for themselves how they testify to his saving mission.

Have you ever heard someone say they didn’t know anything about the Bible because they were Catholic? Or that Catholics don’t know the Bible?

We Catholics don’t have a reputation for memorizing scripture and verse in our religious education classes. In fact, the concept of memorizing scripture may be entirely foreign to you.

But we Catholics hear God’s word proclaimed in the Old Testament, New Testament, Gospel and Psalms at each Mass. We hear scripture prayed in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Because we hear scripture proclaimed to us in fragments during Mass, instead of memorizing it, we may think that our knowledge of scripture doesn’t count. 

To that I say, it does count! The entire prayer of the Mass has deep scriptural, liturgical roots, and the readings of the Mass have been thoughtfully chosen by the Church in her wisdom to illuminate each other. It’s imperative that we pay attention.

It’s imperative because Jesus tells us in John 5:39 that if we think we have eternal life through the Word, who John tells us earlier is God himself — “And the Word was God” (Jn 1:1) — then we have a responsibility to take initiative and search the scriptures. Now, that can be daunting. And to paraphrase Ned Flanders of The Simpsons, “some of the stuff seems to contradict the other stuff.” We aren’t meant to read the Bible in isolation and without context.

So where can we get some help in understanding the scriptures outside of the Mass? Search out podcasts from orthodox, authoritative sources. I recommend “The Lanky Guys” and Father Mike Schmitz’ “Bible in a Year”. Find a good Bible commentary with an imprimatur from the author’s bishop.

God wants us to know him. It’s the fondest wish of his heart to be in communion with us. He’s written you a love letter. Open it!

Maggie Phillips

Meditation

Pray this verse and try to commit it to memory. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Jn 1:1

Lent Devotional 2021
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Bible, Eucharist, Gospel, Lent, Mass Reflection, Self Care, Theology

It’s all About Relationships

16 March 2021

John 5:1-16

What exactly did Jesus do that was so upsetting to the Jews that they wanted to have him killed? The last line of the Gospel is the perfect place to begin this reflection, “because he not only broke the Sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal to God” (Jn 5:16).

Ironically, this last line points to exactly why Jesus was born. He came on a mission to create a kingdom of love to reign in our hearts, to share the love of God the Father with us, and reveal that he is one with God, for Jesus is God, a member of the Holy Trinity. Jesus came to invite us into a personal relationship, heal us, and inspire us to follow him and grow in holiness. 

In life, it is easy to see matters through “our worldly lenses”.  We can start to think that God will follow our formulas and ways of thinking rather than being open to the Lord’s plan. When life doesn’t go our way, we can become anxious, stressed, and even dive into depression. We can push God away. Yet, we’re called to press into God in these moments – into his promises, his embrace, his offer of salvation.

Think of the man in this passage who longed to be healed and waited 38 years for this most glorious moment of his life. He was not only healed but had a rich and meaningful encounter with Jesus!  Imagine how grateful he was when Jesus healed him. Jesus is offering us the same type of healing, he wants to set us free from the baggage that holds us back from loving Him. Jesus shows us that there is always meaning to be found when we are struggling. If nothing else, struggles offer us an opportunity to encounter Jesus more profoundly and learn to trust that he is there for us. 

Jesus sought out the man so that he would know that Jesus was the one who healed him and shared a powerful message. He said, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” In a way, these final words to the man are a formula for life. Jesus wants to heal us, yes, but the next line, “sin no more that nothing worse befall you” is the most important, for what is worse than being crippled or even blind? Sinning and going to hell, and ending our relationship with Jesus. May we seek to be holy!

Emily Jaminet

Meditation

From what do you need healing? It could be a physical ailment, anxiety, desire to control something, the need to forgive a wrong. Wherever you need healing, offer it to Jesus today. Invite the Lord to that place.

Lent Devotional 2021
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