March 2021: The Deep End
The Deep End
Third Sunday of Lent
7 March 2021
A question of authority
It is tough at times to figure out who has authority on certain issues. There are ‘experts’ everywhere, telling us how we should eat, exercise, manage our finances… the list goes on. Something that has struck me during the current pandemic is how hard it can be to know who to believe. We hear from doctors and virologists, politicians and economists, and their opinions don’t always align. It can take us a while to trust the voices we hear in the media.
The Temple scene in today’s gospel sparks a debate about Jesus’ authority. While he certainly cuts an authoritative figure as he drives out the stall-holders and money-changers, he is immediately questioned. The Jews demand a sign to explain his provocative words and actions, as if to say ‘Who do you think you are?’ It is interesting to note that in John’s Gospel, this scene takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (unlike the Synoptic Gospels where it comes towards the end). This would explain the disbelief of the witnesses.
In calling the Temple ‘my Father’s house’ Jesus identifies the source of his authority. But his interrogators do not understand, nor do his disciples, though we are told it later makes sense to them after the resurrection. This scene offers more than an angry Jesus and a clueless audience. It is a public revelation of Jesus’ identity and authority, as the one in whom God’s presence dwells. It also emphasises the radical new way of living that Jesus has come to bring about. As we journey through Lent, we ask ourselves where the message of Jesus has become obstructed in our lives, and how we might open our hearts again to his presence and guidance.
‘I invite all Christians, everywhere, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them… The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realise that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.’ (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium)
Fourth Sunday of Lent
14 March 2021 • Laetare Sunday
Out into the light
Today, the ‘middle’ Sunday of Lent, is known as Laetare Sunday – Laetare means ‘Rejoice!’ We tend not to think of Lent as a time to rejoice, but signs of joy are central at Mass today, such as the use of flowers on the altar and rose-coloured vestments for the priest instead of the usual Lenten purple. The shadow of the cross still looms large, but we look forward with hope to Easter, when light will conquer the darkness.
We are offered an opportunity today to pause and reflect on our Lenten journey. In our gospel we hear that ‘the [person] who lives by the truth comes out into the light’. On the other hand, Jesus says that those who ‘prefer darkness to the light’ live in fear that their actions will be exposed.
We hear a lot of talk these days about transparency. We have seen the damage caused by those whose private actions gravely contradict the message they proclaim in the public sphere. Some questions we might ask ourselves this Lent are: Am I living a truthful life ‘in the light’? Am I honest in my dealings with others, trying always to choose what is right and just, or are there things I do in secret that are unkind or dishonest? Am I attentive to the needs of others or am I more inclined to think of myself? Lent offers us the opportunity to step out into the light, to allow the light of Jesus to sweep away any darkness or destructive habits and to begin again.
‘We proclaim the resurrection of Christ when his light illuminates the dark moments of our existence, and we are able share it with others; when we know when to smile with those who smile, and weep with those who weep; when we accompany those who are sad and at risk of losing hope; when we recount our experience of faith to those who are searching for meaning and happiness… and there – with our attitude, with our witness, with our life – we say ‘Jesus is Risen,’ with our soul.’ (Pope Francis)
St Patrick, Bishop, Principal Patron of Ireland
17 March 2021
‘I arise today’
We often forget that Patrick was an immigrant – in modern terms we might call him an undocumented migrant. In his Confession he describes himself as a refugee: ‘I am first of all a simple country person, a refugee and unlearned. I do not know how to provide for the future.’ But Patrick’s fortunes were turned around and he embarked on a mission in his adopted homeland that would earn him the title ‘Apostle of Ireland’.
We are reminded in our gospel today of our mission to ‘Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation’. While this might seem a mammoth task, we are reminded of all those who have carried that torch of faith down through the ages, from the apostles, to St Patrick and the saints and all who have been courageous in bringing the Good News of Jesus to the world. Many, like Patrick, would have been considered unlikely disciples and teachers but they embraced the challenge.
We all have our part to play in this mission. Through the words we speak, the way we love, the way we work for justice and care for creation, we are participating in God’s plan for the world. The faith passed to us through Patrick encourages us to greet each day with joy, hope and courage. Let us be inspired to meet the challenge of each new day with the words of St Patrick’s Breastplate:
I arise today, through
the strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon…
I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me
God’s shield to protect me.
Fifth Sunday of Lent
21 March 2021
‘We should like to see Jesus’
Those poor Greeks. Did you notice that they never actually get to meet Jesus? At the start of today’s gospel, some Greeks who are followers of Jesus come to Jerusalem. They are travellers, outsiders, and would like to meet Jesus in person. But when Philip and Andrew relay the request, Jesus begins to talk about how his ‘hour’ is coming. It is the last we hear of the Greeks, who disappear from the story altogether.
But they are important nonetheless. Firstly, they indicate that word about Jesus is spreading. More importantly, they prompt Jesus to reveal that, when his hour comes, he will draw ‘all people’ to himself. In the space of a few short verses, we go from a brief mention of a group of foreigners seeking Jesus, to Jesus making it clear that his saving mission is for all people, of all nations, both Jews and Gentiles – including these Greeks! There is no suggestion from Jesus that some groups are ‘in’ and others ‘out’. All are included. All are invited. All are welcome.
I remember once hearing someone describe their home as a domestic church, a place of ‘indiscriminate welcome’. As we continue our journey through Lent and soon into Holy Week, we listen carefully to these words of Jesus. He came for everyone. He wishes to draw all people to himself. Notwithstanding the current restrictions on gatherings and public worship, let us take this time to reflect on the world we would like to build when things open up again. Are we open to everyone, including ‘outsiders’? Do our homes, parishes and communities radiate welcome, where all who enter experience God’s love?
‘For some, the good news is that there are insiders and outsiders and they are the insiders. For others, the good news is that there are no outsiders.’ (Rachel Held Evans)
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
28 March 2021
The journey of discipleship
Our opening reading from Mark’s Gospel captures the elation of the crowds who welcome Jesus in Jerusalem. They spread greenery on the road in front of him, they lift their voices in praise, singing ‘Hosanna! Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord!’ But their hope and loyalty is short-lived, as we discover in our reading of the Passion. Jesus is left almost alone to face humiliation and death. His followers have heard his radical message of reversal and upheaval, but when it comes down to it, the challenge is too much. We are told ‘they all deserted him and ran away’. While Peter follows Jesus at a distance, he is soon denying he even knows him. Soon, the crowds are shouting for Jesus to be crucified.
We are very familiar with the Passion Gospel and it can be tempting to allow ourselves to tune out, particularly when it comes to the unpleasant parts. We do not like to think of ourselves as part of the mob shouting ‘Crucify him!’ Yet if we enter fully into the experience, we can see ourselves in the story. When things are going well, it is easy to praise God and shout ‘Hosanna!’, and promise we will not lose faith. There are other times we fall asleep, become complacent. And then there are days when we struggle, when we are confused or do not know what God expects of us or whether we are able to handle the difficult times. We pull away from God. The different disciples display this range of human reactions and emotions. This week, Holy Week, we are the disciples walking with Jesus on a journey that leads to the cross. And yet here at the cross, we find Mary Magdalene and the other female disciples, and Joseph of Arimathaea. We know the story is not over for these disciples, or for Peter and the others. The journey of discipleship is just beginning.
‘We don’t have to be able to articulate all the logic of what is happening now. But Christians walk on with the conviction that there is One who does make sense of the apparent madness of shattered human dreams.’ (Bishop Donal McKeown)