Lectio Divina is a form of meditation rooted in liturgical celebration that dates back to early monastic communities. It involves focused reading of Scripture (lectio), meditation on the Word of God (meditatio), contemplation of the Word and its meaning in one’s life (contemplatio) and ends with prayer (oratio). For this Lent, we will have a Lectio Divina resource for the readings for Ash Wednesday and the Sundays of Lent that can be used by individuals or in group settings.
In the early Church there was a problem with distinguishing the place and relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist, especially when considering the question of baptism. John moved into a baptism that was a sign and symbol of repentance. Yet he baptized Jesus, who was in no need of repentance. There were those who heard John preach and thought he might be the Messiah, the anointed sent be God for the Jewish people. And even today’s first reading shows the confusion between the baptism received by John, and the baptism celebrated by the early Church after the resurrection of Jesus. So just what is the difference?
First, it is important to know that there was a qualitative difference between the two. Those who were baptized by John that we read about today did not know of the Holy Spirit, and it can be presumed, of John’s clarification of his role and that of Jesus.The baptism of John was a concrete sign of the desire to repent and believe in Jesus, who was to come, whose sandal John is not worthy of untying. John even says to Jesus that he should be baptized by Jesus, and not the other way around.
The baptism of John was a necessary preparation for the preaching of Jesus, insofar as it prepared people to know of the mercy of God for those who are willing to repent. It was the outcasts, the marginalized who embraced the preaching of John and his call to repent with great enthusiasm. It is the baptism of Jesus that fully removes sin, and enables us to enter into the deep relationship that leads to eternal life.
When they are baptized in the sacrament, they are transformed. They receive the Spirit, they become deeply aware of God and their relationship with him. Today we see baptism and confirmation in the reading from Paul. Do you ever think of how you are called to be changed because of your baptism and confirmation? Ideally these are moments when we are profoundly committed to the following of Jesus. These are moments when we become deeply aware of our choice to leave everything and follow Jesus wherever he may lead us. Will you follow Jesus?
How do we look upon others? Peter and John are seen by the leaders of the Sanhedrin as ordinary, uneducated men. How could they be vehicles of the power of God? Do we entertain the belief that God can work and speak through anyone? Do we eliminate others because of the way we perceive them? Who are the ordinary and uneducated we exclude?
When we perceive what happens in our world it is not that difficult to see many ordinary and uneducated. Perhaps we exclude those who do menial, service jobs. Do we value janitors, fast food workers, cashiers at a variety of stores? What about garbage collectors, auto workers, auto repair men and women? Do we overlook those who speak poorly?
Even though those in the Sanhedrin cannot deny the powerful signs and works accomplished through Peter and John, do they really open themselves to the miraculous that is occurring through them, because they can dismiss them as ordinary and uneducated?
I recall a man in a parish I was in who taught me much about God. When I first moved into this parish, I was taken aback when envelopes appeared in my mailbox, with the names of every candidate for office written all over them. It was not simply the well-known candidates, but was literally every candidate running, some I had to look up to even know who they were. The man who wrote on these envelopes, and the many I was to receive during my time there was schizophrenic. There were times he left very old coins, some decades old, and a few dating back almost two centuries. When I asked the group home where he lived if they realized he was leaving these coins, they said he did. He recognized this was the only thing of value he really had and he wanted them to be given to God.
When this man attended Mass, he often raised his arms high in the air, and there were times he laughed loudly or made loud unintelligible noises. I was proud of our little congregation that they always welcomed him warmly. He was a phenomenally good organ player. I would even have encouraged him to play for Mass if there was any certainty of what he would play. But we were as likely to hear Christmas music in July and patriotic hymns at Christmas.
But what I will remember most about him is that in the midst of all of this, he taught me much about God. He could be profound. Sometimes what he wrote forced me to examine my life. And while he did not perform an obvious miracle, he did teach me much about Jesus. Is there someone in your life that would teach you about Jesus if you allowed it to happen?
What’s in a name? I suspect if I rattled off a few slogans and jingles, it would not take too long to identify the name of the company that uses it. The first question asked of new parents is what the name of the new child is. When a new sports team is created, there is much thought given to the name of the team. When thinking of the name of a website, great care is given to come up with something that is easy to remember.
I remember a former student who was given a nickname because of a character he played in a drama. At first, he really enjoyed the new nickname, and I suspect more, the attention he got from his friends. But over time, he enjoyed the nickname less and less, until the one day in class he told his friends that he really did not like it at all. He did not want his identity reduced to this silly nickname.
And so just what is the power of a name? Usually parents give careful thought to the name of their child. I remember the difficulty very good friends of mine had in coming up with a name if their first child was a boy. (Fortunately they had a girl, and the name she has was the name of the Sister of Mercy who introduced them.) At a baptism, the first question asked of the parents concerns the name of the child.
Today in the first reading we encounter Peter and John who want to make it clear that all they are doing is not in their own name, but is rather, in the name of Jesus. Peter understood the power of a name. First, because Jesus changed his name from Cephus to Peter, based upon Peter’s confession of faith and his role in the Church. Second, and more importantly, it is because Peter has come to believe, by God’s grace, the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. It is not that Peter is the most important, but rather that Peter, by allowing Jesus to act through him, can invoke the name of Jesus through which miracles occur.
I do not like being dependent on others. While there are times when it is a good thing, there are also times where I do too many things myself when I would be better to let others help. And so the thought of having to be carried anywhere, to be so dependent upon others that I could not go anywhere without being carried by others, is not in any way an enjoyable situation for me. Every day, day after day, this man is carried to beg. Not only is he dependent upon others to move, he is also dependent upon others for sustenance. Were it not for others, the man would likely die.
But on the day we encounter this man, it is not the same old day. Today, he is carried into the presence of Peter and John, newly emboldened by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the new life of Jesus. While the focus of the story is the man healed, I find myself wondering about those that carried the man to the Beautiful Gate. Were these the same people as yesterday? Did they carry this man every day? What is it they hoped would happen for the man they carried each day? Were those who carried the man honest, or were they the type who might take some of what the man received in donations? Were they people who had cared for this man his whole life? Were they people filled with generosity? Were they themselves poor?
We simply do not know. What we do know is that on this day those who carried the man made possible for him a special encounter with God. Whether they were kind or not, what they did put the man in a place where Peter and John could make something miraculous possible in his life.
Last week the Dominicans of the Central Province held their assembly, and I went. One of the speakers we heard was Sherry Wedell, the author of a book, Forming Intentional Disciples. She spoke of the importance for us to think of the need in the Church for disciples, and how we might understand better the process of becoming a disciple. One phrase she used was “drop the net”, which refers to the moment we hear about today in the gospel where the fishermen “drop their nets” to follow Jesus, the moment they choose to become disciples.
As we move into “Ordinary Time” (named, by the way for “ordinal” or numbers, not to distinguish it from the extraordinary), we begin with the important encounter of Jesus. We meet Jesus squarely in both readings, both a description of his divinity, as one through whom God speaks, and as one that seeks a definite choice to become disciples.
The first reading, though, cannot be thought of rightly as a reading that seeks to distance God from the people created in His image. Rather, it is through the Son, Jesus, that God speaks to us. The relationship is a personal one. Now, we encounter the very person of Jesus, Son of God, and we are able to know God because we know Jesus.
What’s in a name? These “O antiphons” we have been considering over the past few days are historical ways of referring to the Messiah, in essence, the ways people named the Messiah. In today’s gospel, there is a bit of a controversy. it was fully expected that the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth would be named Zechariah like his father. At the very least, there was the expectation that the name chosen would be a name of someone in the family, a relative known to all.
The first question asked in baptism concerns the name given to the one baptized. Our identity must be firmly established from the beginning of our lives. In baptism this identity is firmly established as Christian. The name given us distinguishes us, even if others have the same name. It is because we are known uniquely to God who made us. And the call God gives to each of us is uniquely personal. God does not call us as a number, or as a person who will “fall through the cracks.” No, with God everything is indeed magnificent.
And so just as a farmer tills the soil to make it ready, we too have been tilling the soil of our hearts over these past days, indeed, during the entire season of Advent. Hopefully more than anything we have come to realize the need to cooperate with God. In naming her son John, Elizabeth cooperates with the grace of God. She is familiar with this grace. Despite the difficulty of not having children before, she can see the hand of God active in her husband Zechariah, and her relative Mary.
You may have noticed over the past couple of weeks that the readings are clearly focused on the end of time. John has taken great pains to describe visions that he has seen about the next life in the next world. In the midst of all of this, perhaps the most important observation that John makes is the vision of a new heavens and a new earth. The reason I think this is so important for us, is all too often in our lives there are too many instances where we see things that are falling apart. I am not talking simply about physical things, although certainly watching someone age, and experience the inevitable hardships that come with growing older, is certainly quite important.
No, I am referring in so many ways to what we encounter time and time again in our world, throughout all ages of history. It’s not difficult to become overwhelmed by those things that we see occurring in our world. It’s sad in so many ways, that the things that human beings have been struggling with in terms of sin are still in our midst. People still do not get along, we still not learn to share, there are times are we treat people differently for very superficial reasons like the color of their skin, and the world is increasingly becoming a place of great disparity financially and otherwise.
If this is all there is, then indeed we are the saddest of peoples. It is not to suggest that life is miserable. I feel like I’m a pretty happy person. Perhaps you do too. But these events should remind us to focus our attention on the person of God who calls us to this new and extraordinary life. In the Psalms, God tells us that he is doing something new. In today’s reading John sees a vision of a new heavens and a new earth. And certainly the resurrection of Jesus changed everything about what it meant to be a follower of God. There was something far more important to hope for and to hope in because Jesus extends to each of us this tremendous gift of unending and eternal life.
It is important to remember that this newness occurs whether we see it or not. And so, it should be some comfort and consolation to those who may not feel that there is much new, or who may not see much new in their lives, to know that God continues to do these things, even when we are unaware.
Are you one of those people who, when reading a mystery, go first to the end of the book so that you know how it’s going to turn out? For some people, reading a mystery novel this way helps them to enjoy the book more. In literary terms, we see something like this any time we encounter a flashback. There is a current television show, entitled How to Get Away with Murder, which began by showing the end of the show first. The rest of the series, was an attempt to take viewers through the pathways that lead to the event at the beginning of the show, which of course, was really the end.
Today’s first reading is taken from a book of the Bible that is a bit like the person who wants to know the end of the story. The book of Revelation was an attempt to help the early Christians, many of whom were facing great persecution, to remember at the end of the story would result in the great triumph of the Lord Jesus Christ. By knowing how the end of the story would turn out, people were given strength to endure the difficulties of the age in which they lived.
Today’s reading offers the first glimpse of the kingdom of heaven. The open door, the trumpet like voice, will provide a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven, and numerous visions, which John will communicate throughout the course of this book. While we may or may not be experiencing the same types of persecutions that were common in first century Rome, we do know that life provides us with our own share of difficulties. These difficulties may look like persecution. It is common to refer to our current age, is the age of martyrs, since so many people are being killed because of their faith. two places come to mind, when I consider the current age as the age of martyrs. The first is Nigeria, or Boko Haram has made kidnapping and terrorizing citizens a full-time occupation. Many have been killed.
The other place, is in Mozul. where the actions of ISIS have forced the Christians who lived there to flee. We may not find ourselves in such drastic circumstances, but at the same time we may find ourselves in an environment that is not always support our faith. Among some in this country, there is a growing attitude that face is meant to be a completely private affair. No one should speak openly about their faith, and discussion of faith is seen to have no place whatsoever in the public square. When Dr. Francis Collins was appointed head of the NIH, there were many who are skeptical of the appointment because he is a Christian. They question his ability to be both a person of faith, and a committed scientist who would utilize the scientific method. This view underlies the belief that science is really about facts while religion is about fairy tales and myths.
What is it like to hear the voice of God? What is it like to be so overwhelmed by religious experience that we do not want it to end? How does one respond when becoming overwhelmed by the love of God? Today’s celebration of the Transfiguration is a rather interesting one indeed. All three gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke have a version of this story. In Peter’s letter, which we hear today recalls the experience Peter have on the top of the mountain with Jesus.
It’s understandable that this experience was important enough for these three evangelists to have given a version of this story. Moreover, the three versions of this gospel encounter of the Transfiguration are read not only today when we commemorate the Transfiguration, but are also used for the second Sunday of Lent. So why is it that this experience is important enough for us to hear it at least twice?
The first reason is the importance for Peter, James and John, and indeed for us, to be given the reassurance and confirmation that the mission of Jesus is true. Just as was true in the day of Jesus, so we discover there are so many areas of life where it can become easy to give in to despair. Like Peter, James, and John, and perhaps Jesus himself, we need those reminders that the glory of God is still real, and active, alive.
The second reason is to remind us of the tremendous glory of God. Not only that, but to know that this glory of God is accessible each one of us with a simple and easy command: listen to Jesus. While not every telling the story has God saying exactly the same thing, what does seem to be clear is the importance of Jesus being identified as the son of God, and the importance for us to listen to Jesus in our own lives.
As human beings, we need confirmation that we’re on the right track, especially when things seem to be failing all around us. By admonishing the apostles not to say anything about the vision until after Jesus’ resurrection of the dead, Jesus is helping the apostles to recognize that the consolation of the Transfiguration is not simply for today. Rather, as is reinforced in the first reading the vision of the Transfiguration is to remind us of the ultimate victory of God over sin and death.