Reflection for the First Friday of Lent
by Mr. Chris Canniff, Theology Department Chair
Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.
If you turn away your hearts and will not listen, but are led astray and adore and serve other gods, I tell you now that you will certainly perish.
Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you.
The excerpts quoted above, which were read at Mass the day after Ash Wednesday, come from the Book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. On the verge of entering the Promised Land, Moses is enjoining the Hebrews to reckon with the choice for or against God.
“Life and prosperity…death and doom”—when we get down to it, every choice we make is a choice between these alternatives, that is, a choice for or against God, either helping us and those around us to draw nearer to him or hindering us all on the way.
Lent is a time for introspection on this matter. What kind of life are we living? What sorts of choices are we making? Are we living a life that will lead us to the Promised Land? Are we choosing God or choosing against him?
Moses casts the choice against God in terms of idolatry. While this word, especially in relation to Moses, conjures up notions of a golden calf, we have to bear in mind that idolatry is far more common in our own time than such a crude literalism would at first let on. Idolatry is the act of assigning ultimate value to anything that isn’t God.
To what do I assign ultimate value? What matters most to me in life? How we answer such questions determines every choice we make thereafter. If wealth or pleasure or power or honor matters most to me, I will act accordingly. I will pursue those ends no matter the costs.
I have never felt tempted to worship a statue of a golden calf, but I have been tempted to act as if money were the most important thing in my life. If we are honest with ourselves, we may find the frequency of our own idolatry alarming. There can be as many idols as there are things in this world.
This is why we fast during Lent: to cultivate the necessary detachment from the things of this world, to see that they are not necessary for either our sustenance or our success, to learn what it means to rely solely on God.
On this first Friday of Lent, let us not forget the First Commandment that was given to Moses on Sinai: “I am the Lord your God; you shall not have other gods beside me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, nor shall you bow down before them or serve them.” There’s a reason this one comes first. We cannot hear it often enough nor learn it well enough.
Let this Lent be a time when we examine our choices in the light of this truth of who our God is—the one, the only, the ultimate. A choice against him brings “death and doom,” but a choice for him brings “life and prosperity.” Let us all seek the path that will make us fully alive.
Friday, March 3, 2023
Mr. Nicolas Twaalfhoven, Theology Faculty
This past Tuesday, the daily Mass readings included the famous Gospel passage in which Jesus teaches his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, or the “Our Father.” If you ask any Christian to recite one prayer from memory, this prayer will be far and away the most popular, so it’s worth taking a quick look at it.
Unfortunately, English speakers are at a slight disadvantage in understanding one of the subtle but crucial messages hidden in the language of this prayer. The English language has developed in a way that makes it a little harder for us to understand that we’re addressing God in an informal, familiar, intimate way when we’re praying the “Our Father.” Phrases like “hallowed be thy name” sound archaic and formal to us, even though the word “thy” has always technically been the informal way of addressing someone. When addressing a king or judge, for example, you would always say “Your Majesty,” or “Your Honor.”
Spanish speakers, on the other hand, still actively use informal addresses for people close to them. They can understand more intuitively that, in teaching the “Our Father,” Jesus is instructing us to speak to God as He does, as a child to his or her loving father. This is such an important lesson hidden in the language of the “Our Father,” because it’s so easy to think of God as a distant king or judge, or even a distant father, who isn’t involved or interested in the details of our everyday lives.
The “Our Father” contains one demand: we must forgive others if we want to live in the Father’s house. This makes sense: revenge rips kingdoms and communities apart, and forgiveness breaks this cycle of revenge. At the same time, I know that one of the most difficult challenges I face every day is to quickly recognize those moments when I’ve allowed myself to sink into self-pity or to dwell on past hurts. As the Christian author C.S. Lewis put it, “We all agree that forgiveness is a beautiful idea until we have to practice it.”
The saints teach us that it’s impossible to consistently forgive from the heart, and often many times every day, without spending some time every day in prayer. That’s when our heart expands to realize that we all share a common Father, who wants each of us to rest securely in His arms.
March 10, 2023
By Ms. Rosa Mazzeo, Theology Faculty
Today is my father’s heavenly birthday. I often think of him even though it has been almost 18 years since I heard his voice. He returned to God in the same month and year as Pope John Paul II. It is interesting how I remember both passings in one memory as they represent two of most important aspects of my life: the love of family and my faith in God. One day I remember asking my father why life was so unfair. I do not even remember the nature of the problem, but I do remember saying to him that “I did not deserve” to be treated a certain way. My father immediately reminded me that Jesus did not deserve to be crucified but He was. I was humbled by his response. I have never forgotten that lesson.
When I looked ahead at the readings for this week, I recognized a similar theme. We are not always rewarded in this life for doing God’s work. In fact, many times the opposite is true. All we know is how to get ahead in this life, but is that really the goal? Is that what God intended when God created us?
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells us to stop judging and condemning but instead forgive and speak kindly. He continues, “For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you." All week we have similar words of wisdom such as in Matthew’s Gospel when Jesus concludes “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted." It does not appear that “getting ahead in this life” (as we understand it) is the goal.
This then leads me to ask what God wants from us. How can I do what is required on earth to be successful and please God at the same time? The next clue comes from Matthew’s Gospel on Wednesday which recounts Jesus saying, “whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This brought me back to my father’s lesson so many years ago. It’s all about faith in a loving God who will make good on God’s promises.
The psalm from Jerimiah seems to have the answer, “Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.” The goal is not to follow the ways of life on earth but to follow the way of the Lord while on earth. When our time on earth comes to an end and our soul returns to God, we will receive our just rewards. We must be patient. Jesus promises us in Matthew 19: 23-30 that “the first will be last, and the last will be first”. We must remember to be patient while being the people God wants us to be.
March 17, 2023
By Fr. Michele Benetti Theology Faculty, Science Faculty
Every year, I look forward to this time of the year because these are the weeks when I teach the book of Job to our Fenwick students. This often-forgotten gem from the Old Testament contains one of the most spectacular reflections on the biggest question we can face as human beings. God leads us into the journey of Lent every year to dispel all doubts by making us face all the questions, fears, and spiritual wounds in our life we do not want to face. If we take a look at all of these, what is the greatest objection against a loving and providential God? It is the existence of innocent suffering, the experience of pain, physical, mental, or spiritual which is not deserved, nor caused by our behavior. Our students refer to this problem with this simple question: Why do bad things happen to good people?
You can hear all the conversations from the book of Job in this question the disciples asked Jesus at the beginning of this Sunday’s gospel: “Who has sinned to make this man blind? Was it him or was it his parents?” In their minds, the disciples were trying to defend God by blaming the suffering of this man born blind either to him or his family. They could not face innocent suffering. But that was not what Jesus came to do, this is not what Jesus wants us to deal with innocent suffering.
Jesus’ answer, in fact, is not a simple theoretical explanation, a formal defense of God’s actions. His answer is much more surprising and infinitely more effective. Jesus is God’s answer to the problem of innocent suffering because he drank the full chalice of the consequences of our darkness. He certainly did not have to do it, and yet he accepted to drink it to the dregs. All of it. The Father spared nothing of it. He who was supremely innocent, who spent his earthly existence to bring the healing humanity has always longed for, received in return mockery, abuse, and the most shameful death. But it is exactly His innocent suffering that became our real hope. Because He suffered for us, now if we open our lives to Him, there is no darkness that can truly overcome us.
A few weeks ago, a couple of friends of mine, who got married just two years ago, lost their 18-month-old son. He died in sleep. In front of an event like that, can a theory, a bunch of platitudes, or even a complete system of morals, be an adequate answer? Clearly, not. There is no amount of wisdom, human or divine, that is able to explain that. And, yet, my friends were surprisingly hopeful in front of that, even as you can read here if you’d like (https://ca-en.clonline.org/news/current-events/2023/01/27/how-do-we-adhere). How is that possible? Because the answer to their suffering was not an idea, but the lived experience of walking with the risen Jesus who, by accepting his mission all the way to Golgotha, embraced the short life of little Trevor and his parents.
We walk the journey of Lent to become aware of the fact that Christ’s sacrifice is not an optional feature. If life was a car, faith in Jesus is not like having leather seats, or even autopilot. Jesus’s sacrifice is not an add-on element that makes life a little better. Jesus’ sacrifice is the only hope for our living. I wish for all our Fenwick family to walk behind that candle on Easter vigil more aware that everything hinges on the truth of His sacrifice.
March 24, 2023
By Ms. Briana Maund, Theology Faculty
In the Gospel readings for this week, there is one passage that particularly stands out to me: Jesus’s healing of a disabled man at the pool of Bethesda in John 5. There are several curious details of this story. First, the sheer length of time this man had been ill: 38 years. He tells Jesus, “I have no one to put me into the pool… while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.” How many consecutive days did that man lay beside the healing water, hoping that someone would help him in? I can imagine the indignity he felt each time he struggled alone to reach it.
Considering this, Jesus’s response to the situation is another striking element of the story. He asks the man, “Do you want to be well?” In such a situation, who would not want to be well? Who would be content with such suffering? Why is Jesus even asking this?
Yet as the story continues, it is clear that Jesus is not just referring to the man’s physical condition. Finding him later in the temple Jesus tells him, “Look, you are well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse may happen to you.” When Jesus healed this man of his illness, it is implied that he forgave his sins also. His healing was an invitation to spiritual conversion. This point would have been immediately clear to Jesus’s original audience, who often believed illness was a sign of sinfulness.
When Jesus asked the man if he wanted to be well, he not really asking if he wanted to walk again. Rather, Jesus was asking if the man wanted to be forgiven of his sins. The man’s desire for this spiritual healing is evident by the fact that immediately after meeting Jesus, he goes to the temple to worship God. Jesus even knew he would find him there.
This twofold healing, I believe, captures the core purpose of Lent. Each Ash Wednesday Jesus asks us, “Do you want to be well?” Not physically, but spiritually.
And yet, who would actively choose to remain spiritually afflicted? The Gospel gives us an answer, in the form of the Pharisees who witness this healing. Rather than rejoicing in the miraculous restoration of the crippled man’s health, these legalistic critics are outraged that Jesus worked on a sabbath. Their hardness of heart is startling. To me, this is a reminder of the way self-righteousness may blind us to God’s mercy and love towards the lost, sick, and suffering. That is why each Lent, we assume practices of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. These practices are a powerful way of reminding ourselves that we are all sinners in need of God’s abundant mercy. They also serve as our answer to Jesus’s question: yes, Lord, we want to be well. And just as Jesus healed the man at Bethesda, he will surely heal us.
March 31, 2023
Mr. Anthony Moccia, Theology Faculty and Director of Campus Ministry
With Palm Sunday fast approaching this weekend, we are entering the final stretch of this Lenten season. For many of us sports-inclined readers, you could call it the fourth quarter, the third period, or the last leg. There is something special about the end of a game. Of course, the whole game must be played, but for some reason, the last minutes stand out more than the first. Lent is the anticipation and preparation of the last moments of Jesus’ ministry, culminating in his death and resurrection. To reflect on Jesus’ final days, we must also consider what he says In John 13:15, In this verse, Jesus commands his disciples to, “do as I do.” Jesus is inviting us to imitate him.
As we consider how to imitate Jesus during these final weeks of Lent, I want to provide one example presented in Last Sunday’s Gospel reading. During Mass, we heard the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. We know from the passage that Jesus intends to awaken Lazarus from the dead. The question I often ask is: If Jesus knew that Lazarus would awaken from death, why then would he spend any time weeping with those mourning Lazarus’ death? In Father Mike Schmitz’s homily from this past week, he provides an answer that I find very compelling. To quote Father Mike, he states, “that Jesus allows what breaks our hearts to break his.” In Jesus’ tears we find empathy and love for all moments of our life, and are reminded that these moments matter. In his final moments before being arrested, he finds time to demonstrate to his followers and us what it means to love. May we too find moments in our lives to imitate Jesus, just as Jesus wept.
To imitate Jesus, we must also consider for ourselves who Jesus is. This coming Sunday being Palm Sunday, allows us an opportunity to celebrate a prophecy of the Messiah being fulfilled. I’m currently reading a book by Brant Pitre titled Jesus and the Jewish roots of the Eucharist. In the book, Professor Pitre describes the type of Messiah the Jewish people were waiting for. One of the attributes of this Messiah was that he would be a “New Moses.” Professor Pitre explains that the Jewish people during the time of Jesus believed, “that like Moses before him, the Messiah would one day be sent to Israel, in a time of great need, in order to deliver them from bondage.” Rabbi Berekiah, who lived in the fourth century AD says, “That just as the first redeemer [Moses] was, so shall the latter Redeemer [Messiah] be. Rabbi Berekiah provides the example of Moses taking his wife and sons and placing them on a donkey (Exodus 4:20), and states that the latter Redeemer will also come “Lowly and riding upon a donkey,” as seen in Zechariah 9:9. This Sunday during Mass we will read Matthew 21:1-11, in which Jesus will ride a donkey into Jerusalem. Coincidence, I don’t think so! This prophecy was so well known that the Jewish spectators of the procession, laid down their cloaks and put palms down, while crying and shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest."
This coming Palm Sunday provides us with another confirmation that Jesus is the Messiah, and worthy imitation. Last Sunday, Jesus provided us with an example of what it means to imitate him. I pray that as we conclude this Lenten season we find ways to imitate Jesus. That we may too weep, allowing our hearts to be broken, while clinging to the hope Jesus promised us, all while continuing to walk in Faith.
Reflection for Good Friday
by Mr. Chris Canniff, Theology Department Chair
“God is dead, and we have killed him.” Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed these words in the late 19th century as an assertion of his strident atheism. While his sentiment was a metaphorical expression of his belief that modern man had overcome the need for any fabricated notions of divinity, today we Christians can speak these same words as Nietzsche, but we must mean them quite literally. For on Good Friday, God is dead, and we have killed him.
Who is to be blamed for the death of Jesus: Judas Iscariot who betrays him for thirty pieces of silver? the Jewish Sanhedrin who condemns him for blasphemy? Herod Antipas who had been taught by his father to fear the Messiah? the angry crowd who repeatedly shout “Crucify him!”? Pontius Pilate who passes the sentence then washes his hands?
All of these actors in this great theo-drama certainly played their part to bring about that end. But in the grander scheme of the whole of Salvation History, the culpability rests with every sinner. The innocent God-man dies in order to save the guilty. Only grace so great could combat and conquer sin so severe.
This afternoon or this evening, in Catholic churches all around the world, every priest will process silently to his sanctuary to prostrate himself before the altar, with his congregation kneeling at his back. What weight drags us so low! The death of our God is on our conscience! How can we atone?
In the course of this liturgy, this Mass of the Presanctified, the passion narrative will be proclaimed, and in many instances the congregation may be asked to shout those words of the crowd: “Crucify him!” This is our reminder of the role we all play in the death of God.
As all enter the church in silence on this day, so too do all depart in silence at the liturgy’s conclusion. The experience of walking out in this way can be one of disillusionment and desolation. One may feel much as we do after having kept vigil with the dying through to their last breath, only then to leave the place and not know what to make of our emptiness and grief. We are confused and alone, without the one who loved us most.
What hope do we have from here? Is this the final word? Has God abandoned his people because we first turned on him?
Fortunately for us, we know of Christ’s victory. We know of his return in forgiving love. But his first followers really had to live the anguish of Good Friday without any certainty of the miracle of Easter Sunday to come. It may be wise for us to try to appreciate the pain of this day for what it is and to contemplate just how lost we would be if God’s love had not been greater than our capacity for sin.
So to close, I offer you a recommended piece of spiritual reading (St. Josemaría Escrivá once said, “Do not neglect your spiritual reading. Reading has made many saints!”). Fenwick students may be familiar from their theology classes with the Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft. At this link,(click here) you can read his dystopian short story entitled “A World Without an Easter.” In a brief dialogue of just a few pages, he strikes to the heart of the matter. The wisdom of a rabbi underscores the need for a real bodily resurrection, not just a mere symbol of something wished for in vain.
The Resurrection of our Lord is a fact of history. He now lives New Life beyond death, and thus is he our one true hope.