Our Mission

The message of mercy is that God loves us — all of us —no matter how great our sins. He wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. Thus, all will come to share His joy. It is a message we can call to mind simply by remembering ABC.

A — Ask for His Mercy. God wants us to approach Him in prayer constantly, repenting of our sins and asking Him to pour His mercy out upon us and upon the whole world.

B — Be merciful. God wants us to receive His mercy and let it flow through us to others. He wants us to extend love and forgiveness to others just as He does  to us.

C — completely trust in Jesus. God wants us to know that the graces of His mercy are dependent upon our trust. The more we trust in Jesus, the more we will receive.

The Divine Mercy Devotion

Devotion to The Divine Mercy involves a total commitment to God as Mercy. It is a decision to trust completely in Him, to accept His mercy with thanksgiving, and to be merciful as He is merciful.

 The devotional practices proposed in the diary of Saint Faustina and set forth in this website are completely in accordance with the teachings of the Church and are firmly rooted in the Gospel message of our Merciful Savior. Properly understood and implemented, they will help us  grow as genuine followers of Christ.

Merciful Heart

There are two scriptural verses that we should keep in mind as we involve ourselves in these devotional practices:

1. “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are  far from me” (Is 29:13);

2. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7). It’s an ironic and somewhat frightening fact that many of the  most religious people of Christ’s time (people who were actively practicing their religion and eagerly awaiting the promised Messiah) were not able to recognize Him when  He came.

The Pharisees, to whom Christ was speaking in the first quotation above, were very devoted to the prayers, rules, and rituals of their religion; but over the years, these outer observances had become so important in themselves that their real meaning had been lost. The Pharisees performed  all the prescribed sacrifices, said all the right prayers, fasted regularly, and talked a lot of about God, but none of it had  touched their hearts. As a result, they had no relationship with God, they were not living the way He wanted them to live, and they were not prepared for the coming of Jesus. When we look at the image of the Merciful Saviour, or pause for prayer at three o’clock, or pray the Chaplet — are these things drawing us closer to the real sacramental life of the  Church and allowing Jesus to transform our hearts? Or have they just become religious habits? In our daily lives are we growing more and more as people of mercy? Or are we just giving “lip service” to God’s mercy?

 Living the Message of Mercy

The devotional practices revealed through Saint Faustina were given to us as “vessels of mercy” through which God’s love can be poured out upon the world, but they are not  sufficient unto themselves. It’s not enough for us to hang The Divine Mercy image in our homes, pray the Chaplet every day at three o’clock, and receive Holy Communion on the  first Sunday after Easter. We also have to show mercy to our neighbours. Putting mercy into action is not an option of the Divine Mercy Devotion; it’s a requirement!

Our Lord strongly speaks about this to Saint Faustina:

I demand from you deeds of mercy which are to arise out of love for me. You are to show mercy to your neighbours always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse yourself from it (Diary, 742).Like the gospel command, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,” this demand that we show mercy to our neighbours “always and everywhere” seems impossible to  fulfill. But the Lord assures us that it is possible. “When  soul approaches Me with trust,” He explains, “I fill it with such an abundance of graces that it cannot contain them within itself, but radiates them to other souls” (Diary, 1074).How do we “radiate” God’s mercy to others? By our actions, our words, and our prayers. “In these three degrees,” he tells Sister Faustina, “is contained the fullness of mercy” (Diary  742). We have all been called to this threefold practice of mercy, but we are not all called in the same way. We need to ask the Lord, who understands our individual personalities and situation, to help us recognize the various ways we can each show His mercy in our daily lives.

By asking for the Lord’s mercy, trusting in His mercy, and sincerely trying to live His mercy in our lives, we can assure that we will never hear Him say of us, “Their hearts are far from Me,” but rather that wonderful promise, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

It is our hope that you will continue to read and reread the information on this website and make the prayers, attitudes, and practices presented a real part of your life, so that you  may come to trust completely in God and live each day immersed in His merciful love — thus fulfilling the Lord’s command to let your life “shine before people, so that they  will see the good things you do and praise your Father in Heaven” (Mt 5:16).

 Diary, Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, Divine Mercy in My Soul (c) 1987 Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception, Stockbridge, MA 01263. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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 The Carmel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Joseph at Darlington, Co Durham, England, Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, is the prolongation of the second of three English Carmels founded in the seventeenth century in Flanders, Province of Brabant, (today Belgium, then the Spanish Netherlands). Religious persecution in England did not permit any monastery to be established in England at that time.

The Community has never suffered interruption since it was founded in 1648 at Lierre, Diocese of Antwerp, but it has relocated several times until finally settling at the present address in 1830.

The foundation was planned by the first English Carmel which had been established at Antwerp in 1619 under the care of Mother Anne of Jesus (Brussels) and Fr Thomas of Jesus, Provincial. There were two Carmels at Antwerp at this time: the Flemish one was founded by Mother Anne of St Bartholomew, where she still resided, and the English one at Antwerp-Holland. This latter Carmel is now represented by the Carmel of Lanherne, Newquay, England. We consider ourselves the spiritual children of Mother Anne of St Bartholomew who trained the first English Prioress, Mother Anne of the Ascension Worsley. Close bonds of friendship united them to the end of their lives.

By 1648 the Hopland Carmel, in spite of several foundations in Flanders and Germany, numbered forty Sisters and a second purely English foundation became a necessity. The town of Lierre, in the same Diocese of Antwerp, was chosen as site for the new Carmel. The twelve foundresses all came from the Antwerp Community, and the foundation was financed entirely by the mother-Carmel which divided its patrimony in half. The new Carmel was very poor at the beginning. 

Monastery

Their first home was the ‘Refuge of Nazareth’ belonging to the Bernadine nuns of Lierre (this house still exists today) from which the Community moved in 1651 to some small houses turned into a monastery in Kerkstraat. They built a proper Carmel in the same street, almost opposite, at the beginning of the next century, with a beautiful, simple baroque church which was consecrated 17th October 1717. Of both these properties remnants still exist today, and the town of Lierre has a historical interest in the former monastery of ‘the Holy English Teresian Nuns’ and, we are told, intends to restore the old baroque garden-chapel and place a commemorative plaque there.

When the contemplative monasteries in the Spanish Netherlands were suppressed in 1782 under the Emperor Joseph of Austria, the English ones were not affected. The Carmel of Lierre provided a home for ten Flemish Carmelites from Douay and Bruges. But in 1794 they, too, had to flee before the advancing troops of the French. Since the mentality in England had become more tolerant and the penal Laws had been relaxed, the three English communities were able to return to their native land. Wearing secular clothes, our Community crossed the Channel on 4th July 1794 and were, by a few days, the very first daughters of St Teresa to set foot on English soil. The Prioress at that time was Mother Anne Bernard of St Teresa Houseman, remarkable for leadership and spirituality. The Community lived in hired houses, first at Bishop Auckland (1794-1804), Northern Ecclesiastical District (the Hierarchy was not yet restored) and then at Cocken Hall near Durham (1804-1830), once more in great poverty, but helped by generous benefactors. In 1830 they finally settled at their present property which they adapted and extended. The little church was consecrated on 25th October 1858. It is built in neo-Gothic style by the architect George Goldie. In Lierre we had our burial vault, in Darlington we have our own cemetery inside enclosure. 

Darlington Carmel

Chief events

Darlington Carmel was asked in the late twenties of the twentieth century to make the first foundation in South Africa. This was realised under Bishop O’Leary of Johannesburg, which has since made another foundation in Wynberg, the Cape.

In 1971, at a Carmelite Meeting in the wake of Vatican II, the great number of Carmels in England and the decrease of vocations led to a discussion of amalgamation. After consultations, the Community of Wells Carmel, Somerset, generously offered to join us. This Carmel had been founded in 1874 from Lanherne Carmel belonging, therefore, to the same tradition as Darlington. The amalgamation has been successful and greatly blessed. It took place on 29th February 1972 under the leadership of Mother Margaret of Our Lady of Sorrows Campbell (Wells Carmel).

In February 1992 Darlington Carmel became the founding house of another Carmel in South Africa, at Mafikeng, in the Diocese of Kimberley, under Bishop Erwin Hecht O.M.I. 

Notable members

Our early Sisters left home and country, then a difficult undertaking, to follow their vocation and pray for the conversion of England in exile. They had the spirit of the English martyrs and came from the Catholic families in England who had suffered many hardships for the faith since the Reformation and had passed it on to each successive generation. It is an inspiration to read their lives and the testimonies they left behind of their simple, sturdy and Teresian spirit.

Outstanding among them for holiness and mystical graces was our second Prioress Mother Margaret of Jesus Mostyn (8 December 1625 – 29 August 1679) who impressed a spiritual stamp on the Community. Her life was written by her confessor Canon Bedingfield, and published in the nineteenth century by Fr Coleridge S.J. It was re-written by Sr Anne Hardman SND and published by Burns & Oates in 1937. The same author wrote ‘English Carmelites’.

On July 3, the Church celebrates the feast day of St. Thomas the Apostle. Best known for his initial unwillingness to believe the other apostles in their claim that Jesus had risen from the dead, St. Thomas can teach the faithful about believing without seeing.

As an apostle, Thomas was dedicated to following the Lord. Upon hearing that Jesus was returning to Judea, an area that would pose dangers due to the growing animosity of the authorities there, he immediately said to the other apostles, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn 11: 16).

Yet despite this determination, Thomas proved not only too weak to stand beside Jesus as he faced his crucifixion, but also doubted the Lord’s Resurrection when he was told about it by the other apostles. Denying their story, he told them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe” (Jn 20: 25).

A week later, Christ appeared and said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”  When Thomas did so he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”

In his general audience on September 27, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of St. Thomas, explaining that we can learn from his doubts, which show us “that Jesus can now be recognized by his wounds rather than by his face.”

“The Apostle Thomas’ case is important to us for at least three reasons,” said the Pope.  “First, because it comforts us in our insecurity; second, because it shows us that every doubt can lead to an outcome brighter than any uncertainty; and, lastly, because the words that Jesus addressed to him remind us of the true meaning of mature faith and encourage us to persevere, despite the difficulty, along our journey of adhesion to him.”

After Pentecost, St. Thomas is traditionally believed to have preached the Good News to the Persians and Medes, until he reached India, where he evangelized and was eventually martyred in 72 A.D.

St. Thomas’ feast day is July 3, and he is the patron of architects and builders.

 

What is Pentecost? For Christians, Pentecost is a holyday on which we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the early followers of Jesus. Before the events of the first Pentecost, which came a few weeks after Jesus’ death and resurrection, there were followers of Jesus, but no movement that could be meaningfully called “the church.” Thus, from an historical point of view, Pentecost is the day on which the church was started. This is also true from a spiritual perspective, since the Spirit brings the church into existence and enlivens it. Thus Pentecost is the church’s birthday.

“Pentecost” by Jean Restout II, 1732. Public domain.

What does the word “Pentecost” mean?

The English word “Pentecost” is a transliteration of the Greek word pentekostos, which means “fifty.” It comes from the ancient Christian expression pentekoste hemera, which means “fiftieth day.”

But Christians did not invent the phrase “fiftieth day.” Rather, they borrowed it from Greek-speaking Jews who used the phrase to refer to a Jewish holiday. This holiday was known as the Festival of Weeks, or, more simply, Weeks (Shavuot in Hebrew). This name comes from an expression in Leviticus 23:16, which instructs people to count seven weeks or “fifty days” from the end of Passover to the beginning of the next holiday (pentekonta hemeras in the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture).

Shavuot was the second great feast in Israel’s yearly cycle of holy days. It was originally a harvest festival (Exod 23:16), but, in time, turned into a day to commemorate the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. This day became especially significant for Christians because, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, during the Jewish celebration of Shavuot/Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon his first followers, thus empowering them for their mission and gathering them together as a church.

What actually happened on that day of Pentecost?

This event is recorded in the New Testament book known as The Acts of the Apostles. Chapter 2 begins, “And when the day of Pentecost [ten hemeran tes pentekostes] had come, [the first followers of Jesus] were all together in one place” (2:1). All of a sudden, a sound came from heaven, like a strong wind, filling the house where the people had gathered. Something like tongues of fire rested on their heads. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak” (2:4). (Notice the tongues of fire on the heads of the people in the painting by Restout.)

The languages spoken by the early Christians were intelligible (not other worldly) and were heard by thousands of Jewish pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot. The content of the miraculous messages had to do with God’s mighty works (2:11). Many who heard these messages in their own languages were amazed, though others thought the Christians were just drunk (2:12).

At some point, Peter, one of the leading followers of Jesus, stood up and preached his first sermon. He interpreted the events of that morning in light of a prophecy of the Hebrew prophet Joel. In that text, God promised to pour out his Spirit on all flesh, empowering diverse people to exercise divine power. This would be a sign of the coming “day of the Lord” (Acts 2:16-21; Joel 2:28-32).

Peter went on to explain that Jesus had been raised and had poured out the Spirit in fulfillment of God’s promise through Joel (2:32-33). When the crowd asked what they should do, Peter urged them to turn their lives around and be baptized in the name of Jesus. Then they would be forgiven and would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (2:37-39). Acts reports that about 3,000 people were added to the church that day (2:41). Not a bad response to Peter’s first sermon!

 

What is the Spiritual Significance of Pentecost?

There is no simple, one-size-fits-all answer to this question,  because Pentecost knits together several themes, emphases, and  experiences. I will suggest four possible ways that Pentecost matters  today. Two of these I’ll develop today. The other two I’ll save for tomorrow.

1. The Presence and Power of the Spirit

 

A stained glass window from the Meaux Cathedral in Meaux, France. Public domain.

On  the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, the  Holy Spirit was poured out upon those followers of Jesus who had  gathered together in Jerusalem. What happened on the first Pentecost  continues to happen to Christians throughout the world today, though  usually not in such a dramatic fashion. We rarely get a heavenly wind  and tongues of fire anymore. Nevertheless, God pours out the Spirit upon  all who put their faith in Jesus Christ and become his disciples (see  Romans 8:1-11).

Christians are meant to live in the presence and power of the Spirit  of God. The Holy Spirit helps us to confess Jesus as Lord (1 Cor 12:3),  empowers us to serve God with supernatural power (1 Cor 12:4-11), binds  us together as the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-13), helps us to pray  (Rom 8:26), and even intercedes for us with God the Father (Rom 8:27).  The Spirit guides us (Gal 5:25), helping us to live like Jesus (Gal  5:22-23).

Personal Implications: Pentecost presents us with an  opportunity to consider how we are living each day. Are we relying on the  power of God’s Spirit? Are we an open channel for the Spirit’s gifts?  Are we attentive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Is the fruit of the  Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.) growing in our lives? Most Christians I  know, including me, live in the presence and power of the Spirit, but  only to an extent. We are limited by our fear, our sin, our low  expectations, not to mention our tendency to be distracted from God’s  work in us. Pentecost offers a chance to confess our failure to live by  the Spirit and to ask the Lord to fill us afresh with his power.

 2. The Central Role of the Church in God’s Work in the World

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on individual followers of  Jesus as they were gathered together in Jerusalem. This gathering became  the first Christian church. New believers in Jesus were baptized as  they joined this church. They, along with the first followers of Jesus,  shared life together, focusing on teaching, fellowship, breaking of  bread, and prayer. They shared their belongings so that no one was  hungry or needy. As these first Christians lived out their new faith  together, “the Lord added to their number those who were being saved”  (Acts 2:47). Thus we speak of Pentecost as the birthday of the church.

In theory, the Spirit could have been poured out on the followers of  Jesus when they were not gathered together. There are surely times when  the Holy Spirit touches an individual who is alone in prayer,  worship, or ministry to others. But the fact that the Spirit was given to a gathering of  believers is not incidental. It underscores the centrality of the church  in God’s work in the world. The actions of the earliest Christians put  all of this in boldface. The Holy Spirit is not only given to  individuals, but also, in a sense to the gathered people of God. Thus,  in 1 Corinthians 3, the Apostle Paul observes that the church is God’s  temple and that the Spirit dwells in the midst of the church (3:16-17;  in 1 Cor 6:19-20 we find a complementary emphasis on the dwelling of the  Spirit in individual Christians).

Personal Implications:  Pentecost is a vivid illustration of the truth that is found throughout  Scripture: the community of God’s people is central to God’s work in the world. Thus,  Pentecost invites us to consider our own participation in the  fellowship, worship, and mission of the church. It is a time to renew  our commitment to live as an essential member of the body of Christ,  using our gifts to build the church and share the love and justice of  Christ with the world.

 3. The Multilingual Nature and Mission of the Church

On  Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowered believers in Jesus to praise God  in many languages that they had not learned in the ordinary manner (Acts  2:5-13). Symbolically, this miracle reinforces the multilingual,  multicultural, multiracial mission of the church. We are to be a  community in which all people are drawn together by God’s love in  Christ. As Paul writes in Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or  Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and  female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

“Pentecost” by Giotto di Bondone, 1320-25, National Gallery, London.

Personal Implications: Although there are some glorious  exceptions, it seems that the church has not, in general, lived out its  multilingual mission. We are often divided according to language, race,  and ethnicity. Pentecost challenges all of us to examine our own  attitudes in the regard, to reject and repent of any prejudice that  lurks within us, and to open our hearts to all people, even and  especially those who do not share our language and culture. Yes, I know  this is not easy. But it is central to our calling. And it is something  that the Spirit of God will help us to do if we are available.

 4. The Inclusive Ministry of the Church

After the Holy Spirit fell upon the first followers of Jesus, Peter  preached a sermon to help folks understand what had just happened. In  this sermon he cited a portion of a prophecy from Joel:

‘In the last days,’ God says,
‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
In those days I will pour out my Spirit
even on my servants–men and women alike–
and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18; Joel 2:28-29)

 

Later, Peter explained that the Spirit would be given to all who  turned from their sin and turned to God through Jesus (Acts 2:38).

 

This was a momentous, watershed event. For the first time in history,  God began to do what he had promised through Joel, empowering all  different sorts of people for ministry. Whereas in the era of the Old  Testament, the Spirit was poured out almost exclusively on prophets,  priests, and kings, in the age of the New Testament, the Spirit would be  given to “all people.” All would be empowered to minister regardless of  their gender, age, or social position.

Although this truth would not mean that every Christian would be  gifted for every kind of ministry, it did imply that all believers would  be empowered by the Spirit. The church of Jesus Christ would be a place  where every single person matters, where every member contributes to  the health and mission of the church (see Eph 4:11-16).

Personal Implications:Each Christian needs to ask: Am I  serving God through the power of the Spirit? Am I exercising the gifts  of the Spirit in my life, both in the gathered church and as I live for  God in the world? Pentecost is a time to ask God to fill us afresh with  the Spirit so that we might join in the ministry of Christ with gusto.  And it is a time to renew our commitment to fulfilling our crucial role  in the ministry of God’s people in the world.

Courtesy to:http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/

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Each year when Easter morning comes, everyone who knows about the real Easter message should feel the uplifting, emotional lift of a new birth, a renewal, and new possibilities.  No matter how hopeless, impossible or difficult your life may be, thanks to Jesus suffering and death, and subsequent Resurrection, you have new life — and today is truly the first day of the rest of your life.

You see, Easter isn’t about colored eggs or candy or cute little bunnies, or even families getting together for dinner.  It is about how, 2000 years ago, a real, living man, suffered and died for our sins so that we could be forgiven and have new life.

The lessons of the Easter season are so many that I can only recount a few of them.  There are lessons of sacrifice — the ultimate sacrifice by Jesus, of his life that all mankind could be saved.  Who among us is readily willing to sacrifice our life for others?  Perhaps not so many of us.

There are lessons of pain and suffering — excruciating suffering of Christ being crowned with thorns, of carrying his own cross, of being flogged, and ultimately of being crucified until He was dead. It is all far beyond the imagination of most people.

There are lessons of forgiving betrayal and of tolerating the fear caused by an entirely new, impossibly good, God-like man — the Son of God, made man.  Today, as it was then, understanding the mystery of how the Son of God could be made man, remains just that — a mystery.

Rather than dwell on the negative parts of Jesus’ days leading up to Easter, let’s think about all the wonderful ways Easter’s meaning can affect your life and mine, and everyone else who considers Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, death and miraculous Resurrection.  If He can do that for us, shouldn’t we try to do our part?

Pray for help with your suffering.  Forgive those who have betrayed you or treated you badly. Pray for them too.  But most of all think about the message in the words “redemption” and “Resurrection.”  Take time to truly think about—and pray about—how you can be “redeemed” for your past transgressions, and especially how you can be “resurrected,” to a new and better life.

There is a new life waiting for you if you can renew your efforts, believe in the good parts of your life and abandon the bad ones.  Just as God welcomed Jesus into his kingdom and ended His suffering, God will help you too. He will help all of us — but first we must do three things:

 

  1. Believe in the Easter message — the power of God and Jesus’ Resurrection.
  2. Ask God, sincerely, for His help, and redemption in your life.
  3. Do your part — make your life a symbol of Resurrection — and always remember, “With God, anything is possible.”

And when in doubt…pray.  It truly works.

Have a Happy Easter.

Holy Week:  Day 1 Reflections and PrayersI’d like you to use your imagination:  Imagine you only have one week left to live, and you know it.  What do you do? Some might say, “I guess I’d want to know how God would want me to live it.”  Fortunately, we do know…

This week, we’re going to take a look at what Jesus did in his last week of life.  Simply put, Jesus did all that you would come to expect of someone who claims to be God on earth: Jesus does the unexpected.  As a church, we believe his extraordinarily surprising, unorthodox, ironic and supernatural actions and words deserve deeper, reflective thought.  So each day this week, you’ll receive an email message with some prayers, questions and thoughts about the meaning of the season we are in right now:  Holy Week, the last week of Jesus’  life.

Setting the Stage:

John’s gospel account of Jesus’ life tells us what happened just before Day 1 of Jesus’ last week:   Jesus has just raised his friend Lazarus from the dead (after having wept, of course).  A lot of the Jews have now placed their faith in him.  A lot of the Jews don’t like this.  Six days before the Passover feast, the Jews are gathered in Jerusalem preparing for the Passover with a ceremonial cleansing.  Jesus, being a Jew himself, is, naturally, expected to show up.  But (this is just like Jesus!) he isn’t there.  The Jews are looking for him.  You can almost hear the jittery concern in their
voices:  “Isn’t he coming to the Feast after all?”   Some of the Jews are asking this because he’s the “life of the party”; others are asking this because they want to kill him.  Slight difference.  Nevertheless, there’s a singular question hanging on everyone’s hearts and lips:

 ”Where is Jesus?”Well…it seems that Jesus is having a party outside of Jerusalem in a town called Bethany with his friends Lazarus, Lazarus’ sister Mary, and Martha.  This is just like Jesus! Enjoying the company of friends when he “should” be “cleansing himself” for the Passover!  It only stands to reason, I guess.  I mean, what do you expect when someone has just been raised from the dead?  Some things are simply more important than “ceremonial cleansing”, you know what I mean?
Reflect
on this question:  “In what ways do I opt for ‘ceremonial cleansing’ instead of a celebration of life?”
and/or Take time to pray:  “Lord, cleanse me from
within.  Help me not to be so concerned about what people think of me on the
outside.  Help me to be clean of heart.”

Meanwhile, the Jews in Jerusalem are busy planning Lazarus’ death, too.  Kind of ironic:  he was just brought back to life.Back to Bethany:  While they’re having the party, Mary takes a pint of expensive perfume and pours it on Jesus’ feet.  Jesus says, “She’s just prepared me for my burial.”  He knows he’s going to die very soon…

Day 1:  Sunday
It’s time to leave the party at Lazarus’ house and go to Jerusalem for the Festival.  Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that Jesus asks a couple of his disciples to go into a village nearby and “borrow” a colt that has never been ridden before.  Jesus knows all the details: where to find the colt, how they will recognize it (it’s tied up), what to say to the owner of the colt.  If these events had happened today Jesus might have said something like:  “I want you to go to Pozuelo.  Next to the Casa Cultural, there’s a house.  Next to that house, you’ll find a moto.  It’s brand new.  It’s a canary yellow color.  Bring it to me.  When you go to take it away, the guy who owns it will come out and say, ‘What the ____ are you doing with my
brand new canary yellow moto?’  You say:  ‘The Lord needs it.’  He’ll just let
you take it.”

Now, here’s the funny part:  Jesus rides into Jerusalem on this colt, and people are basically proclaiming him to be their king.  In those days, a king would ride into town with great fanfare on a horse, surrounded by attendants and soldiers.  Jesus had none of that.  (It would be like a parade in Madrid for the king of Spain: imagine the king of Spain riding a canary yellow moto in a parade.  It just doesn’t happen.)  But Jesus doesn’t mind.  It’s just another one of his surprises: he shows us what kind of king he really is.  He’s a humble king, trekking the corridor of death (remember, he
knows he’s going to die this week). Take time to pray:  “Lord, make me truly humble of heart.”

While Jesus is riding into town, people are laying palm branches in his path.  A strange custom in our way of thinking, until we learn that for the Jews the palm was a symbol of prosperity, beauty and victory.  Solomon’s temple, for example, made use of the palm motif to signify this (see I Kings 6:29, 32, 35; 7:36).  The actions of Day 1 are ironic on many levels:  the people wanted him to rule their nation, but not their hearts.

Reflect on this question:  “In what ways can I genuinely ascribe
prosperity, beauty and victory to Christ today? In what ways can I allow Christ
to rule my heart?”
and/or Take time to pray:  “Lord, I bless you.  You are
beautiful.  You are my Lord.  Conquer my heart.”

While the people were laying palm branches in his path, they were also shouting, “Hosanna!” which means “Save us!”  Yet another irony:  the people wanted him to save them, but they had no idea that it would take his death to do that.  Jesus didn’t want to save the people from the Romans: he wanted to save them from themselves.  And he would die to make that happen. Reflect on this question:  “What areas of my life do I need saving from? Am I  willing to lay down my life, like Christ did?” and/or Take time to pray:  “Lord Jesus Christ, save me.  Have mercy on me.  Forgive me of my sin.  Cleanse me and be my king. Where I am diseased of spirit, bring healing.  Save me from myself.”

After he arrived in Jerusalem, he went to the temple and looked around.  Then, “since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”  (Mark 11:11).  I wonder what he thought as he lay down that night, the end of a long day, the end of a long month, the beginning of a long week…

Digging Deeper
Try reading the different gospel accounts of Day 1, listed below:
Matthew
21:1-11
Mark 11:1-11
Luke 19:28-44
John 12:12-19

May this Holy
Week be meaningful for you.

Holy Week:  Day 2,
Clearing the temple & Cursing the Fig Tree

No doubt as Jesus left the temple area at the end of Day 1, he had a lot on his mind.  Perhaps he thought of the dedication of the first temple ever built in Israel: Solomon’s temple.  It’s entirely plausible that he might have thought this.  After all, Jesus did have a way of bringing an eternal perspective on things.  Perhaps he thought of the way things should be.  On the day the first temple was dedicated, God’s glory dominated the scene…

Picture Solomon, on the day of dedication, praying:  “Now arise, O Lord God, and come to your resting place…May your priests, O Lord God, be clothed with salvation, may your saints rejoice in your goodness…”  When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.  “The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it.  When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying ‘He is good; his love endures forever.’”  (see II Chronicles 6:41-7:3)

That was one picture of what God originally had in mind when he thought of the temple: a place where God dwelt.  A place where people bowed their hearts to him, worshiping him, praying to him, adoring him.

The picture Jesus saw was quite different.  The temple had become a marketplace.  Instead of people bowing their hearts, they were turning a profit.  A pretty far cry from God’s original intention. Reflection:  “When God first drew me into a relationship with him, he had something good, pure and life-changing in mind.  Is my relationship with him still characterized by that simple purity and life-changing devotion?
Prayer:  “Lord, forgive me for cheapening your
presence in my life.  Fill the temple of my heart with your over-powering glory
once again.”

The temple Jesus saw before he went to bed the night of Day 1 was sort of like a fig tree he saw the next morning.  Just before going to the temple that morning, Jesus was hungry and wanted something to eat.  He saw a fig tree on his way to the temple but it didn’t have any fruit for him to eat, even though it was loaded with leaves.  He pronounced a curse on it, and it died that day.  What good was a fig tree if it didn’t bear fruit?  That was its purpose after all.  Not just to look pretty.

So, when Jesus got to the temple did he think “What good is  a temple if people don’t meet God there?  It’s supposed to be a place where your soul gets fed.  That’s its purpose after all.  Not just to look pretty.”

On the outside, the temple was a busy place (just like the fig tree: it had a lot of leaves), but on the inside it was dead  (just like the fig tree: it didn’t bear any fruit).  The temple was supposed to be a “house of prayer”, instead it had become a place of preoccupation and spiritual distraction, robbing people’s hearts from their God.  So, Jesus “cursed” the temple too, by clearing out the money changers and teaching the merchandisers a lesson:  this isn’t what it’s supposed to be like!

Reflection:  “I sense my life is cluttered with things that
distract me from connecting with God on a more intimate level.  What things do I
need to clear out of my life?  Am I really willing to declutter my life?  Am I
willing to simply pray and wait upon God?  Or am I content with avoiding God by
doing the business of ‘Christian activity’?  I will take time to listen to God
and meet with God this week.”

Prayer:  “Lord, clear out my heart.  Do
what you will, even to the point of ‘over-turning’ my tables.  Remodel my inner
world.”

On the second day of Jesus’ last week, he made pretty clear work of “setting the record straight.”  He was anything but weak.  He was firmly resolute in making a statement about just what God has in mind for his people, knowing full well that in just a matter of days he would die.  So, at the end of that day, Jesus left the city for a rest in Bethany (possibly, he stayed with his friends again…).  After a display of strength, the Saviour of the world (the Maker of the fig tree and the God of the temple) needed a rest.

Digging Deeper
Try reading Mark’s gospel account of
Day 2 and take time to imagine yourself in the scene:
Mark
11:12-19

May this Holy Week continue to be meaningful for
you.

Holy Week:  Day 3,
Teaching in the temple & on the Mount of Olives

After having given the money changers and the merchandisers a good thrashing on Day 2, Jesus has the gall to go back to the temple the very next day.  Now that he’s gotten their attention, he figures he’ll teach them a thing or two.  But, of course, he’s made some enemies.  And they decide “We’ll teach that Jesus a thing or two.”  So, they ask him: “By what authority are you doing these things?”  In other words: “Who do you think you are, you good-for-nothin’ so-and-so!”  He answers them like only the Son of Man can: he asks a question.  Since they can’t answer his question, Jesus says he won’t answer theirs.

Later, others try to trap him with clever questions and scenarios.  For example, someone asks him “Should we pay taxes to Caesar?”  Now they’ve really got him:  if he says “yes”, he’s a traitor
to the Jewish cause; if he says “no” he’s a traitor to the Roman cause and they’ll turn him in.

Then, the Sadducees, who don’t believe in the after-life, decide to be a little more clever: they ask Jesus a question that is predicated on the existence of an after-life to find out what he thinks about it.  Jesus sees right through their trickery, reads their minds and directly confronts their misconceptions about heaven and the resurrection.

It strikes me:  Jesus is not only a morally good man, he’s also really smart!  (Often, I forget just how smart Jesus is.  Do you ever do that?)  In fact, he’s wiser than Socrates or Plato!

The Bible tells us there was one man there who witnessed Jesus’ wisdom.  Mark’s gospel records: “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating.  Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’”  This guy really wanted to know (that is, he wasn’t just asking Jesus this to trick him). The intellectual sparring match had come to an end: “Now we’re talkin’!”  Jesus thinks.  “The most important one is this:…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and
with all your mind and with all your strength.”  And, just for good measure, Jesus decides to throw in the second greatest commandment as a bonus prize:
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  (It just struck me, by the way: this is the verse we love to quote so much–Jesus spoke those words only days before dying.  Probably not an accident, eh?)

There’s a lot more that goes on at the temple that day, but space limits mentioning it just now.  I’d encourage you to dead the account yourself in Mark (listed at the foot of this message).  For now, let’s reflect on what we’ve encountered thus far…Reflection:  “Is Jesus an authority in my life?  Or, like the teachers of the law, do I scoff at his wisdom and power, questioning him?  Do I love God with my whole being?  Or is it something I think is a nice idea in my head but has no effect on my
soul?”Prayer:  “Lord, forgive me for times when I’ve doubted the wisdom of your ways.  I give you my heart.  I give you my soul.  I love you with my mind and with all my strength.”

After he’s done for the day at the temple, Jesus goes out to the Mount of Olives, opposite the temple.  (What is it with this fascination with the temple, do you suppose?)  While they’re leaving, the disciples are admiring the temple building (don’t they get it?!).  Jesus reinforces the temple’s obsolescence by being more clearly direct: he tells them that the temple will be destroyed one day.

The disciples are curious.  Does Jesus know something we don’t know?  When is this going to happen?  How will we know when it’s going to happen?  So, Jesus tells them.  Today we call this the Olivet Discourse.  It’s the time Jesus predicted how all of this would come to an end one day.  (Imagine: in one day Jesus sparred with brilliant minds concerning politics, the after-life, the finer points of the Mosaic law, and other puzzles and now he’s talking about eschatology: how it’s all going to end!  What a great feat!  He surely is worthy of our worship.)

One point is worth noting in what Jesus told his disciples on the Mount of Olives:  Keep watch, because Jesus will be coming back when we least expect him.
Reflect:  “Is Jesus coming back this year?  Could he come back this
week?  What would that be like?”
Prayer:  “I long for the day, Lord Jesus,
when you will return and I will see you face to face.  I watch for it with eager
anticipation.”

I can’t speak for anyone else, but normally I don’t ponder these kinds of topics on Holy Week.  Typically, the whole week is about Jesus dying.  It seems strange that we would be thinking on “Day 3 of Jesus’ last week” about things like the greatest commandment and Jesus’ second coming.  It seems strange, that is, until we realize this compelling fact:  Jesus thought about it on his lastweek of life, and he thought it would be appropriate to say something about it so that we could think about it 2000 years later.  I figure, if it’s good enough for Jesus to think about on his last week of life, it’s good enough for us, too.

Digging Deeper

Try reading Mark’s gospel account of Day 3 and take time to imagine yourself in the scene:
Mark 11:27-13:37

May this Holy Week continue to be meaningful for you.

Holy Week: Day 4, The Mysterious Silence

We all have a “day off.”  As a minister, I work a lot on the weekends, so mine happens to be today.  And it also just so happens that, on the last week of Jesus’ life, he also needed a “day off.”  And this was the day.  For him it must have felt like the “calm before the storm.”  (Yes, believe it or not, even with the incredibly intense events of the past few days, Jesus’ most intense days and hours were still awaiting him!  I find that simply amazing.  How much stress can one person take?!)

Oddly, the Scriptures do not clearly tell us what Jesus did on Day 4 of his last week.  Mark’s gospel has one statement in verse one of chapter fourteen that says, “Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away…”  (so…that would be, in our reckoning of time, Tuesday).  And then in verse 12 of chapter fourteen Mark says “On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread…” (so that would be in our reckoning of time, Thursday from 6 p.m. onwards).

On one level, we could chastise Mark: “You’ve just skipped a day!  What’s up with the “two-days-before” and the “on-the-first-day-of” nonsense!  We want to know what happened the next day.  I mean, it was just getting juicy!  Raising that guy Lazarus, not attending the ceremonial cleansing time, riding into Jerusalem to the shouts of ‘Hosanna’.  Then,  the action scene where Jesus turns over tables, the public debate and the foreshadowing prophecy.  What happens next?!”  (It’s people like this who write biographies called “Jesus: the missing days” or  produce
documentaries titled  “Jesus Unplugged:  A behind-the-scenes look at never-before-seen footage.”  It’s people like this who desperately want to find out what Jesus did that day.)

It’s people like this who need to “get a life.”  ;-)   Just kidding.

Here’s a question:  what if Jesus didn’t “do” anything?  Is that so bad?

For some people it is.  I mean, imagine someone telling you “You’ve got one week left to live.”  I must confess:  if I were told that, and if I had the same infinite power Jesus has, I would probably have gone around trying to do as much “good” as possible.  I probably  wouldn’t be causing a ruckus in the temple by trashing the place and I certainly wouldn’t be taking a day off.  You know what I mean? But Jesus did.  (Take a day off, I mean).

Now:  I can just hear someone saying:  “How do you know he took a day off?  Maybe he did a bunch of stuff but it was simply never written down?”

This is just my humble opinion, but  I doubt that.  ;-)

Here’s why:  because this is the last week of Jesus’ life and almost every phrase and nuance has been written down about Jesus’ words and actions thus far and afterwards.  In fact, this is the part of the record of Jesus’ life that is the most “complete.”   Did you know that around one third of the stuff recorded about Jesus centers on his last week of life?   Now, when it comes to other parts of his life, there’s a lot that hasn’t been written down in the interest of “space” and in the interest of more force in terms of “story-telling.”  (John closes his account of Jesus’ life by stating:  “Jesus
did many others things as well.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”)  But, I don’t think the gospel writers omitted key details of this part of Jesus’ life.   For that reason, I find the argument that “Jesus did a bunch of stuff, but it just wasn’t written down” to be an unlikely alternative.  I think it’s more plausible that Jesus “took a day off”.

The question that begs to be answered is “Why?”

I have one idea, one “speculation”  (and let me stress:  this is mere “speculation.” ).  Bear with me:

Have you ever been to a more “liturgical” kind of church service?  For those of us who have, you will recall that the basic stucture of the whole service is what we call “antiphonal.”  An “antiphonal” service has a compelling format because it is the format of “dialogue”:  First, God speaks and humans  listen.  Then, humans respond and God listens.  What if this antiphonal dialogue is rooted in
Holy Week?  I think it is.

You see what I’m driving at?  What if Jesus’ last week is antiphonal?  First, God speaks and humans listen.  Then, humans respond and God listens.  Maybe Jesus “took a day off” because he was
listening:  listening to his Father, but also listening to see mankind’s response to what he just did the day before (he taught in the temple and on the
Mount of Olives, remember?)  Maybe, Jesus was just listening.  Just resting and listening.

This fits with what’s recorded in John’s gospel.  There’s his idea of Jesus saying “Okay, I’ve done some amazing things.  Now the ball’s
in your court.  Will you believe in me?”  (John’s gospel isn’t totally in “chronological order”.  It isn’t totally “linear.”  So he has some keys as to what may have happened to “the missing day.”)  He writes just before chapter thirteen’s record of his Passover–Thursday night–account:  “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.”  (John 12:37)  It’s as if John is saying:  “Okay, Jesus has spoken.  What’s your response?”  (It’s totally antiphonal!)

Having said that, I think it’s time to listen (and respond).
Reflection:  “Do I
believe in Jesus?  He’s done his miracles, he’s spoken his words of life:  do I
believe him? Jesus is waiting for me to respond to him now.  How will I
respond?”
Prayer:  “Lord Jesus, you have worked miracles.  You have shown
yourself to be God.  I believe in you.  I respond to you in faith and I follow
you.”

Digging Deeper
Try reading John’s gospel account on this “silent day”: John 12:37-50

May this Holy Week continue to be meaningful for you.

Holy Week: Day 5, The Last Supper

I don’t know about you, but I know weeks in advance where I’m going to have Christmas dinner, who I’m going to have it with, at what time we’ll eat it and even what we’ll have on the menu (fruit salad, please!).  And, without taking a survey, I’d be willing to bet most of you are the same way.    “Why are you starting out your writing today with a statement about Christmas dinner?” you may well be asking.  Here’s why:

Because Christmas dinner holds the same importance for me (and for many of us) as the Passover dinner held for Jesus and his disciples.  It wasn’t something you just planned at the last minute.  It was the high point of the whole Jewish calendar (just like Christmas is for us).  So, don’t you think it’s just a little weird that Jesus’ gang has no idea where they’re going to spend the Passover?  How unJewish of them!  (Fortunately, Jesus has it all planned.  Once again, he bails them out).  But, here’s what’s eerie about this: On the first Passover, the Jewish people ate their meal “on the run” because it was their last meal before escaping the clutches of the slave-driver Pharaoh.   If there was such a thing as “fast food” in Moses’ day, the Israelites had it!  They ate their meal “on the
run.”

And so did Jesus.  With that, we get our first clue of some really eerie parallels with the first Passover feast.  But, in typical Jesus-fashion, he puts an interesting twist on the whole thing.

During the meal, Jesus picked up the bread.  The bread was made without yeast.  To the Jewish person this meant two big things:

First,  the bread was made quickly:  In Exodus, when God gave instructions to the Israelites concerning the night they were going to be able to leave Egypt, God tells the Israelites not to put yeast in their bread because there wouldn’t be time to let the bread rise anyway.  They needed to eat it “on the run”, in the face of persecution.

Second, bread without yeast became a symbol of purity:  untainted bread.  For this reason, during the Passover season, yeast was not to be found in a Jewish household.

So when Jesus took the bread at the Passover meal and said, “Take and eat: this is my body” he was reinterpreting the original Passover meal significance.  Let’s combine now the two ideas of the
original significance of the unleavened bread and apply it to this scene with Jesus and his disciples:  it seems like Jesus may have been saying “Just like the Israelites of old, we are ‘on the run.’  We are facing opposition.  You need nourishment and I, the pure, untainted bread, am your food.  I will subject my pure body to the flame of persecution for you, in the same way the unleavened
bread was baked over the fire.  All you need to do is take my life into your being.  But do it quickly.  Do it with haste.  Or the enemy may catch up with you.”  (It just struck me:  How often, today, we “add yeast” to Jesus, and don’t eat him with a sense of urgency!)

Reflection:  “In what ways do I
‘add yeast’ to Jesus?  In what ways do I taint the pure bread of life?  Do I
really realize my urgent need for Jesus?”
Prayer:  “Lord Jesus, I desperately
need you.  You are more than enough for me.”

Then, Jesus took the cup which was another symbol of significance in the Passover meal: blood.  In the original Passover, the Jewish people were spared their lives because of the blood of a lamb.  Here’s how it happened:  God sent Moses as a prophet to tell the king of Egypt, who was holding the Israelites in slavery,  “Let my people go!”   When the king of Egypt refused, God sent various plagues upon the Egyptians, but he made ways of sparing the Israelites.  The final plague was the worst:  God sent an angel of death to take the life of every firstborn male in
Egypt.  God told the Israelites that if they wanted their lives to be spared they were to utilize the following plan:  on the night the angel of death came
through Egypt, the Israelites were told to paint the doorframes of their houses with the blood of a perfect lamb.  That way, when the angel of death came, if he saw blood on the doorposts, that household would be spared.  It was the Israelite’s way of saying “I belong to God.”  Then, the Israelites were to eat the slaughtered lamb quickly and the unleavened bread.  The Israelites were literally “passed over” when the angel of death came and saw the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their houses: thus, the Passover.

Now:  shooting back to the scene of Jesus’ last supper…Jesus takes the cup, which has the symbolic wine representing the blood of the lamb, and says, “Drink: this is my blood spilled out for you.”  In other words:  “I am the perfect lamb.  If you want to be passed over by the angel of death, you better spread some of this on the doorposts of your heart.”  Jesus was saying, “My shed blood will save you, if you apply it to your life.”

Jesus is the unleavened, pure bread of life, willing to face the fire for our nourishment.  He asks us to eat the bread with a sense of urgency to escape the enemy of our soul.  Jesus is the perfect blood of the lamb.  He asks us to personally apply his blood to escape the angel of death.

Reflection:  “Am I ready to accept Jesus’ offer?”
Prayer:  “Lord Jesus, I accept your offer.  You are my bread of life.  I want your blood to cover me.  Protect me from the enemy and save me from death.  Thank you for your willingness to face persecution and death.
Thank you for your sacrifice, perfect Lamb of God.”

Digging Deeper
Try reading Mark’s gospel account of the last supper:
Mark 14:12-26

May this Holy Week continue to be meaningful for you.

Holy Week:  Day 6, Jesus is arrested, tried, and killed

I just read the story again.  It sounds like a cliche, but my heart feels like it’s beating heavily in my throat.  A heavy weight pushes down on my chest.  Powerful, intense movement in my soul.  Just think of it!  He was innocent, he was God, he was a miracle worker, he’d done nothing wrong.  And they killed him.  It can’t be real.  The story feels more like poetry.  Certainly not the stuff of history.  But it is history.  I guess we could almost call it “poetic narrative.”

Jesus’ last day of life before burial is loaded with imagery, symbol, power, depth, emotion.   Poetry.

The day’s symbolism starts in a place called “Gethsemane”: literally, the word in Aramaic means “oil press.”   Ironic that the Son of Man in his last day of life should go to pray in a place called “oil press.”  I guess that’s why he was sweating drops of blood.  The life was pressed right out of him in tiny, precious droplets.  While in Gethsemane, Mark tells us in the original Greek that Jesus is literally “surrounded by sorrow, grief, pain and agony.”  (In Greek, Mark uses the word “perilupos”.  “Lupos”=grief, “Peri”=around or surrounded by).  And in the Greek version, Mark tells us that this sorrow comes upon Jesus suddenly, shockingly, suprisingly.  Jesus was suddenly amazed and surrounded by inner pain, like a hunted animal
(grief pressing the life out of him).  What a picture.  No wonder he prayed.  No wonder he asked his Father if the “cup” could be passed from him.

Then Judas comes and betrays the Son of Man with a kiss.  Why a kiss?  Why not just point him out?  Perhaps because he was trying to fool Jesus into thinking he really loved him and had no part with those thugs with clubs.  But you can’t fool Jesus.  He sees right through you.

Reflection:  “Do I try to fool Jesus?  Do I tell him I love him, mouthing the words with a stone cold heart?  Do I kiss him like Judas?”
Prayer:  “I am done with trying to fool you, Lord Jesus.  You see all, you know all.  You know my innermost thoughts and feelings.  You know my heart better than I know it myself.  Change me.  Change my heart.”

Jesus is taken to the Jewish religious leaders and they put him on trial.  Those who hate him can’t make their stories match up.  Jesus remains silent the whole time, just letting them make fools of themselves.  Finally, according to Matthew’s and Mark’s account, after being silent throughout the whole trial, Jesus says just one thing: the statement that would ultimately damn him to death in their eyes.  (Why didn’t he just keep his mouth shut?!)

Meanwhile, Peter, the “rock” that the church would be built upon, denies knowing him.  It’s all unraveling now.

Jesus is taken to Pilate and put on trial.  He’s mostly silent.  In Mark’s account, he says just one thing again: “Yes, it is as you say.”    (The question was:  “Are you the king of the Jews?”  Not a question you want to answer in the affirmative when you’re standing in front of the Roman governor).

Pilate can’t decide what to do:  Jesus has obviously committed no crime.  Then Pilate remembers a custom they have:  “It was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested.  A man called Barabbas was in prison…[he] had committed murder…”  Pilate must have thought, “I’ll offer the people Jesus or Barabbas.  Surely they’ll choose Jesus, because Barabbas is a murderer.  Surely they’ll want Barabbas to die, not Jesus.”  But the crowd chooses Barabbas–for freedom (already the paradox of the cross is foreshadowed:  the innocent one pays the guilty one’s penalty).  Pilate is surprised.  He wants to know why.  They don’t tell him.  They just keep shouting louder and louder and louder “Crucify him!  Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  Jesus, the innocent one, will be killed.  There’s blood on Pilate’s hands.  He needs to wash them.

Before a whole company of soldiers, Jesus is beaten on the head with a staff several times.  He’s whipped.  They put a crown of thorns on his head.  He’s mocked.  They spit on him.  (But he hasn’t done anything wrong!)

He’s led to the Place of the Skull.  They nail him to a cross.  They take his clothes.  He says just seven things while hanging there:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  He offers forgiveness.

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”  He offers heaven.

“Dear woman, here is your son.  Here is your mother.”   Family created.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Sin borne.

“I am thirsty.”  Spiritual desert.
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”   The end is near.   A loud cry, and-”It is finished.”   Salvation complete.

It’s over.  Spear in his side.  Blood, water.  The curtain:  torn.  The sky darkens.  Body in the tomb.
“Still falls the Rain–Dark as the world of man, black as our loss–…

Still falls the RainWith a sound like the pulse of the heart that is changed to the hammer-beat…

Still falls the RainIn the Field of Blood where the small hopes breed and the human brainNurtures its greed…

Still falls the RainAt the feet of the Starved Man hung upon the Cross…
Under the Rain the sore and the gold are as one.

Still falls the Rain–
Still falls the Blood from the Starved Man’s wounded Side:He bears
in His Heart all wounds,–those of the light that died,
The last faint spark in the self-murdered heart, the wounds of the sad uncomprehending dark,…

Still falls the Rain–…See, see where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament:

It flows from the Brow we nailed upon the tree Deep to the dying, to the thristing heart
That holds the fires of the
world,–dark-smirched with pain…

Then sounds the voice of the One who like the heart of man
Was once a child who among beasts has lain–Still
do I love, still shed my innocent light, my Blood, for thee.’”(exerpts from “Still Falls the Rain” by Dame Edith Sitwell)

No words can describe what happened that day.  Poets come closer to sapping its meaning.  And Gethsemane foretold it.

Try spending a good portion of the day in silence: in contemplation of a dark but truly Good Friday, and an unjustly murdered but truly great Jesus.


Digging Deeper

You can find accounts of Jesus’ last day in all of the gospels:Matthew 26:36-27:61
Mark 14:32-15:47
Luke 22:39-23:56
John 18:119:42

May this Holy Week continue to be meaningful for you.

Holy Week:  Day 7, To go where every man has gone before

Now it’s time for Jesus to do some serious battle.  If you think Jesus displayed incredible courage by overturning the tables of the money changers on Day 2 and then returning to the “scene of the crime” on Day 3, just wait till you hear what Jesus faced on Saturday.

“What?!  On Saturday?!  He was still in the tomb: how is it possible that Jesus did battle from the grave?”

Typically, we skip this day, jumping right from His death on the cross on Friday to His resurrection from the dead on Sunday.  But some pretty significant stuff happened on Saturday, so let’s just take a few minutes to contemplate the significance of His burial.

The early church, by the way, didn’t miss the significance of Saturday.  In fact, they saw so much significance in this day that they deemed it appropriate to include two phrases about this in the Apostle’s Creed.  One of the phrases seems like a redundancy;  the second phrase seems more like heresy (but it isn’t, rest assured).

The Apostle’s Creed reads as follows:
“I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,Was
crucified, dead, and buried:
He descended into hell;
The third day He rose
from the dead; etc…”

I was talking with someone about the Apostle’s Creed the other day and when I asked her if she had any questions about anything in the Creed, she said, “What about that phrase ‘he descended into hell’? I’m not so sure about that.”  And my guess is that some of the people reading this have the same kind of question.  But first, let’s take the “and buried” part of the statement…

Let’s pose it as a question:  Why would the Apostle’s Creed read “and buried” when it just got done saying Jesus was “dead”?  Of course, He was buried!  No need to point that out, right?

There are at least a few reasons why it is important to note that Jesus was indeed buried.

One:  The gospel writers thought it important to note that Jesus was buried.  There are whole paragraphs in the gospels dedicated to pointing out the preparation of Jesus’ body for burial, laying him into Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, and even noting that those faithful female followers of Jesus saw it happen.

Two:  This establishes the final fact of Jesus’ death.  In modern times this is important since some skeptics of the resurrection claim “Jesus never actually died, he just passed out.”  The painstaking preparations utilized in burying Jesus dispel the possibility of that theory.  The death of Christ becomes a firmly established fact in history, not just a fanciful expression in an epic allegorical poem.

Three: On a more “spiritual” level, Jesus’ burial is important because, in His burial, He took our atonement one step further.  Here’s how:  not only did Jesus bear our sins in His body on the Tree of Calvary, He also carried those sins with Him into the grave, leaving them buried there forever.  (Leviticus 16:22  prefigures this with the picture of a “scapegoat”:  the scapegoat has the sin of the nation of Israel placed on it and then it is set free to wander in a “solitary place.”  This foreshadows Christ’s burial–the scapegoate being a “type” or “picture” of Christ.  Exciting, eh?!)  Corrie ten Boom makes the point that our sins are thrown into the ocean and then God posts a sign there that says “No fishing.”  Christ’s
burial is like that.    Our sins are left buried in the grave.

In light of that, it is indeed important to observe and contemplate Christ’s burial.

Reflection:  “My sin is forever dead and buried.  Do I keep digging it up?  Why?”
Prayer:  “Thank you, Jesus, for your atoning work that leaves nothing undone.  You are truly the ‘author and perfecter’ of my faith.”

Now let’s tackle the more controversial phrase in the Apostle’s Creed:  “he descended into hell.”

To understand this, though, we need to understand what the early church meant by the word “hell”…

In our day, “hell” has come to mean essentially “a place where the wicked are punished.”  But a few hundred years ago, when the Apostle’s Creed was first translated into English, the word “hell” meant simply “the unseen place” or “the covered place” (not necessarily a “place where the wicked are punished”).  Investing the word “hell” with this kind of broader meaning had its roots in the Greek word “Hades” and the Hebrew word “Sheol.”  So, it seems, to understand the word “hell” in the Apostle’s Creed, we do better to understand what Hades/Sheol means, since this is theintention of the word as it appears in the Apostle’s Creed (not as we use it today, let me stress).  Now:  In the early church, Hades (or Sheol) was a place where all the departed went (both therighteous and the sinner; the blessed and the wicked) and it did not necessarily involve “fire” or “punishment.”  It was more like a waiting place.  A place
where people awaited future judgement.  This, then, is the correct meaning of the word “hell” as it appears in the Apostle’s Creed.  For sake of modern-day
clarity, we would not be amiss in substituting the word “Hades” for the word “hell” when it comes to translating the Apostle’s Creed.

With that background, let’s get back to the issue at hand:  Jesus’ descent into “hell”  (Hades).   Why is it important to note that Jesus descended into Hades?  I can think of several compelling reasons:

One:  it was in descending to Hades that Christ completed His identification with us as humans.  You see?:  at that time, every human descended into Hades, whether wicked or blessed; and so did Christ.  His descent into Hades, therefore, shows that He really was fully human!  He really does know what we go through!  How awesome!  He left no “stone unturned” in taking on our human nature.  He went “where every man has gone before.”

But, Christ is not merely human, He’s also God.  So, as God, Christ did a unique work.  He did something no mere human could ever do:  He took  the keys of death and Hades, and He released the righteous dead that were being held captive there so that they could enjoy His presence from that time on in Paradise.  And,  he didn’t stay there, like the rest of humanity.  He emerged from Hades–something no one had ever done before.

Now:  I can just hear someone saying “Wait a minute there, Troy!  This sounds a little like heresy to me.  Where does it say that in the Bible?”

There are a few key texts that support this (in addition to what we know of the early church beliefs and the Apostle’s Creed, which are also, in my mind, good indicators of orthodox–right–belief).  Bear with me, some of this is a bit “technical” but the last text/point is very juicy indeed!:

First, the apostle Peter refers to Jesus’ descent into Hades in Acts 2:24-32.  In quoting king David, Peter says in verse 27 that Jesus will not be “abandoned to ‘Hades’” (NIV translates “Hades” as  “grave”:  this is not a literal translation–a truly “grave” mistake–sorry for the pun!).  It is an important distinction, however, because this seems to indicate that Jesus did indeed descend into “Hades” but was not “abandoned” (or left) there.  In other words, David/Peter seems to indicate that He did go there, He just wasn’t left there.

Second, this also fits with the picture we get in Ephesians 4:8– “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train…”  That begs the question:  Who were these “captives” he led in his train?  The early church believed that this is none other than the “blessed” (“righteous”) inhabitants of Hades at the time.  Their waiting was over.  So now,  when someone dies they go directly to be with the Lord–there’s no need for a “waiting place” like Hades anymore.  See Philippians 1:21-23 where Paul indicates that we are present with Christ the moment we depart–that’s because the ighteous don’t go to Hades anymore to await judgement.  In fact, C. Donald Cole (Moody Press) notes that there is no such thing as Hades anymore: only heaven and hell (in the modern-day sense of the word), because when Christ led out the righteous inhabitants of Hades (as is indicated by Ephesians 4:8) “Hades” became “hell”–a place reserved only for the “wicked.”

Third, this way of looking at it does not contradict what Jesus told the prisoner on the cross next to him:  “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

Fourth,  this also fits with the picture in Revelation 1:18.  (Brace yourself.  This is the juicy part!)  Jesus appears to John in a vision and identifies himself as the one who holds “the keys of death and Hades.”  Where did Jesus get these keys?  The early Christians believed He got them by going there and fighting for them.

And this is the part I like the best:  the early church believed that Christ was not just a sacrificial lamb.  They also believed He was the victor.  The irony is thick:  soldiers are posted at Jesus’ tomb all day Saturday.  Meanwhile, Jesus is waging a battle on a more strategic front: in Hades.  The soldiers by the large sealed rock can’t touch Him.  In fact, they’re completely unaware of the battle being raged “beneath” them!  Jesus goes where every man has gone before to do something no man has done before.  He “breaks the seal” by stealing the keys!  The soldiers posted at the tomb’s entrance are impotent to stop it all from happening.
When Christ descended into Hades, a battle was waged and Christ emerged victorious.  He now has the keys of death and Hades–for real.  I don’t know about you, but I think that is way way way way COOL!!!  Christ is the victor!  He fought the battle!   He released the prisoners!  He led them out of Hades into His glorious presence!  So now, when we die, we go directly to be with Him.  Directly to heaven.  To paradise.  (I can’t wait!!!)

And to think, all that was happening on Saturday (even the guards were oblivious!).  Explain to me again why we tend to skip from Friday to Sunday, because, quitehonestly,  I don’t get it???…

Reflection:  “Christ is the victor.
Am I experiencing His victory in my life?”
Prayer:  “Lord Jesus, thank You
for your full participation in our humanity.  And thank You for your deliverance.  I proclaim you to be the Lord of everything on the earth, above it, and beneath it.  You are the Almighty One.  You hold the keys of death and Hades. I long for that day when I, too, will be with You in Paradise.”

Digging Deeper
You can find accounts of Jesus’ burial in the following places:
Matthew 27:57-66 Mark 15:42-47
Luke
23:50-56
John 19:38-42

May this Holy Week continue to be meaningful for you.

Holy Week:  Easter Sunday

Dear Friends,

It has been a privilege journeying through Holy Week with you.  Today, on Easter Sunday, I’d like to depart slightly from the normal format we’ve been following.  Instead, I’d just like to share with you Mountainview’s Easter message that we just shared shortly after noon earlier today.  I hope you enjoy it.

Yours,

Troy

“Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man…Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed…For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality…’Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your
victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ …thanks be to God! He gives us the
victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers [and
sisters], stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
(excerpts from I Corinthians 15)

Those words say a lot. But I‘m the kind of person who likes to boil it down to its basic bottom line. And here‘s what I came up with: “Things don’t have to stay dead anymore.” I’ll admit, it does seem
a bit simplistic , but I think it’s true. So, if you remember nothing else from this reflection today, remember this grammatically awkward statement: “It’s not too late. Things don’t have to stay dead anymore.”

I turn on the news. There’s a war on. Iraq is a dead place. A bomb here. A bullet there. Call me an idealist, but the message of the resurrection says “It’s not too late. Things don’t have to stay dead anymore.” Real, lasting victory can be won through Jesus Christ our Lord (only through Jesus Christ our Lord!)

But sadly, I don’t even have to turn on the news. I simply look around at the world and I can see that it’s still a dead place. Drugs, crime, prostitution, environmental disaster, racism, theft, murder, rape, deception, adultery. A bomb here (literally, for those who live in Spain!). A bullet there. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the world is a dead place. But the message
of the resurrection is a message of life. It says “It’s not too late. Things don’t have to stay dead anymore.” We can shed the clothing of mortality thanks to the immortality of Jesus Christ. Because of the resurrection power made available to us personally through faith in Christ, we can loosen the knots of vice and embrace the ultimate modern-day virtue: life.

But sadly, I look into my heart. I have to be honest: regrettably, there are times when even I as a minister don’t feel much of anything. I’m embarrassed to say that a heart can also be a place of death. It takes the form of jealousy, self-centeredness, pride, hate and lust, among a whole list of other things (including disappointment). A bomb here. A bullet there.   Know what I mean? Yes, I am embarrassed to say: a heart can be a place of death. What’s the point of denying it? We can all relate to that, I think.

And that’s why I picked this text today. Because this text tells us that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not just something that effects Jesus: it’s something that effects me, too, if I
place my faith in Jesus. Crudely put, this text tells me: “It’s not too late. Things don’t have to stay dead in that heart anymore.” I will say again, that is stating it a bit crudely, but that doesn’t stop it from being any less true, does it? Of course not. “Things don’t have to stay dead in that heart anymore.” Really. Christ can infuse our hearts with His life. His death, burial andresurrection prove that.

On Friday He died, taking all our sin upon Himself. On Saturday, He buried our sins with Him in the grave, never to be exhumed, never to be dug up again by those creepy gravediggers. Then, the Bible tells us Jesus marched into Hades. A lot of people were waiting there for Him. I wonder if He told them, “Don’t worry it’s not too late.” He declared them free
as He took the keys of death. He knew “I don’t have to stay dead anymore.” And so…On Sunday, He emerged from the grave. Alive. Jesus wasn’t swallowed by death. It was the other way around. He swallowed death. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?”

Yes, through believing in Him, things don’t have to stay dead in our hearts anymore. Through faith in Him, Jesus can infuse our hearts with His life. And that’s how He can infuse the world with life: one heart at a time. Things in the world around us really don’t have to stay dead anymore.

That’s why Paul concludes this section on the resurrection by saying “Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

He says that because the “work” we are to give ourselves fully to is “the Lord’s”. And “the Lord’s work” is a work of resurrection. It’s a work of infusing dead hearts with Christ’s living power. A work of exchanging mortality for immortality, of trading the perishable for the imperishable. And it begins in you. And me.

So, we wake up on Monday morning: and everything goes fine. But, we wake up on Tuesday morning, and the day is a disaster. There’s a hurtful word spoken, a life-quenching thought sent out. You end the day feeling the shrapnel of relational land-mines. Shards of glass, splinters of wood , slivers of metal prick your heart, deep cuts in your soul. But, you realize: “Things don’t have to stay dead anymore.” You decide to give it a try. You figure, “Immortal God wrapped our mortal flesh around Himself when He became baby Jesus, so why can‘t I wrap His immortality around my spirit? Bury my old self in him and become a newborn baby, just like He did.” So, you take your heart, cut and bleeding, and hand it to Him–that‘s what it means to place
your faith in Him. He takes your heart, and folds it carefully into His body. In other words, He swallows death–that‘s what it means to be saved by Him. Inside His body now, you feel your heart begin to beat again, this time steady and strong–that‘s what it means to have new life in Him. It’s happened, you’re a newborn baby, with a new day awaiting you, a whole new life ahead of you. You lay there inside His body: Warm, loving, comforting: His skin is a blanket. You rest there. And then realize, “I have the strength to face another day. I’m not dead. Things don’t have to stay dead. I can live.” That’s power for living. That, my friends, is what you call Resurrection Power.

May our prayer always be:  “Lord, begin and complete your resurrection work in my heart. I don’t want to stay dead anymore.”

Reflection:  Take time to reflect on the disappointment and disgrace that abides in your heart, personally.  Then, take time to contemplate that there really is hope for another day because of the life-giving work of a Risen Saviour.  Finally, pray to Him, asking Him to infuse your heart with His life and then believe that He will do it, by faith.

During Lent we go beyond regret for the past

The Lord said to Joshua: ‘Today I have taken the shame of Egypt away from you.’ ” This single sentence, pronounced by Joshua as the children of Israel entered the Promised Land, summarised the new beginning that the Exodus had represented for God’s people. It is a timely reminder for ourselves, as individuals and as a Church, that there can be a new beginning. Such a new beginning, while it demands our humility, comes not from ourselves, but from God’s graciousness.

The Exodus was not the work of a sinful people. It was the gracious action of a compassionate Father who looked upon his people in their distress, whose forgiveness set them free from
the bondage of sin, whose love enabled them to live as God’s people. Lent summons us to the same humility, the same repentance.

The parable of the prodigal confronts us with the selfishness that alienates us from a generous God and promises God’s forgiveness to create us anew.

The context in which the Evangelist Luke set the parable is important. The Pharisees and scribes had complained of Jesus as a man who “welcomes sinners and eats with them”. To the conventional piety at the time it was deeply shocking that Jesus not only spoke of forgiveness, but chose to associate himself with public sinners. The uncomfortable truth underlying the parable is that we, who condemn so readily, are the sinners welcomed by Jesus and invited to share at his table.

The parable begins with the selfishness of the younger son. This younger son was not accused of any single dramatic sin. Quite simply, he could not see beyond himself, thinking only of himself and the share of the estate that would ultimately come his way. Such selfishness was unable to see beyond itself and rejoice in the Father’s love. Instead, it placed itself at the centre of the world and began to make demands: “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.”

It was this unthinking self-indulgence that opened the door to everything that was to follow. “A few days later the younger son gathered together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.” Through his unthinking selfishness the younger son had grown insensitive to the Father’s love. Only when he had been finally overwhelmed with the consequences of his alienation was he able to appreciate the Father’s love and the truth about himself. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.”

At times we shall feel the consequences of our own sinful selfishness and, like the Prodigal Son, long for what has been so easily squandered. Humble repentance brings us to the realisation that while we have become strangers in the Father’s presence, his love longs to welcome us back: “This son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.”

St Paul perfectly describes God’s forgiveness as a new creation. “For anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here.”

During Lent we go beyond regret for the past: we allow ourselves, through repentance, to become a new creation. “For our sake God made the sinless one into sin, so that in him we might become the goodness of God.”

Let us not underestimate the struggle of LentIn the popular imagination Lent is frequently caricatured as a drab season, a time for restraint and self denial. Whilst this is undoubtedly true of certain aspects of Lent, it is far from the complete picture. Lent must be, above all else, a positive preparation to share the fullness of Christ’s death and Resurrection at Easter. It responds to the deepest of human needs: the longing to begin again, to leave behind all that has died within us, to embrace everything that leads to life.

This call to new life is particularly significant during this graced Year of Faith. True faith is not simply an intellectual knowledge of Christ’s death and Resurrection. It is the surrender of all that we are and hope to become to the death and Resurrection of Jesus. This is the new beginning for which we long, the faith professed by St Paul. “If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved.”

Lent offers the prayerful reflection and discernment that enables us to respond to Paul’s proclamation. Every new beginning, if it is to be something more than a scarcely articulated regret for the past, must be a positive commitment to the future.  This will, of course, involve humble repentance for the past.  Things don’t simply happen: we play our part and, however complex our lives, repentance must begin as the humble acceptance of sin’s destructive power in our own lives, and its consequences for those close to us. There can be no firmer foundation for our Lenten resolutions.

The Readings for the first Sunday of Lent echo the history of God’s people, a history which, like our own lives, brought challenge and the need for renewed commitment. One such moment came at the end of Israel’s 40 years wandering in the wilderness. This had been a period both of uncertainty and infidelity. As they stood on the threshold of a new life in the land promised as their lasting security, Moses spelled out the commitment that would safeguard their future. They were to remember the love that had accompanied their wandering, that had looked with compassion on the sufferings of their enslavement in Egypt, that had enabled them enjoy the blessings of the land. Through the ritual offering of the first-fruits, they were called to live out the generous love that they had received.

At the beginning of Lent let us acknowledge that we are pilgrims, at times lost in a wilderness of our own making. For us the promised land is a life lived in Christ.  Our renewed commitment is a deeply personal faith that surrenders itself to Paul’s promise. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

The example of Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness prepares us for the journey of Lent. It was a time of struggle, a time when Jesus positively embraced a life lived in communion with his Father’s will.

The Devil played on the very human longings that Jesus shared with us. His physical hunger reflected the many unsatisfied hungers that drive our lives. Jesus refused to allow need, however deeply felt, to master his life.  “Many does not live on bread alone.” During Lent we are called to recognise that the longing for satisfaction can lead either to self indulgence, or, with Jesus, to a life surrendered to God.

We, no less than Jesus, are tempted by the power promised by status and influence.  We cannot bow down to our own self-importance, any more than Jesus could worship his tempter.

Let us not underestimate the inner struggle that Lent represents. We do so in the strength of him who was tempted as we are tempted, and in the strength of him who remained faithful to the will of the Father.

New year celebrations

The practice of making New Year’s resolutions goes back over 3,000 years to the ancient Babylonians. There is just something about the start of a new year that gives us the feeling of a fresh start and a new beginning. In reality, there is no difference between December 31 and January 1. Nothing mystical occurs at midnight on December 31. The Bible does not speak for or against the concept of New Year’s resolutions. However, if a Christian determines to make a New Year’s resolution, what kind of resolution should he or she make?

Common New Year’s resolutions are commitments to quit smoking, to stop drinking, to manage money more wisely, and to spend more time with family. By far, the most common New Year’s resolution is to lose weight, in conjunction with exercising more and eating more healthily. These are all good goals to set. However, 1 Timothy 4:8 instructs us to keep exercise in perspective: “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” The vast majority of New Year’s resolutions, even among Christians, are in relation to physical things. This should not be.

Many Christians make New Year’s resolutions to pray more, to read the Bible every day, and to attend church more regularly. These are fantastic goals. However, these New Year’s resolutions fail just as often as the non-spiritual resolutions, because there is no power in a New Year’s resolution. Resolving to start or stop doing a certain activity has no value unless you have the proper motivation for stopping or starting that activity. For example, why do you want to read the Bible every day? Is it to honor God and grow spiritually, or is it because you have just heard that it is a good thing to do? Why do you want to lose weight? Is it to honor God with your body, or is it for vanity, to honor yourself?

Philippians 4:13 tells us, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” John 15:5 declares, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” If God is the center of your New Year’s resolution, it has chance for success, depending on your commitment to it. If it is God’s will for something to be fulfilled, He will enable you to fulfill it. If a resolution is not God honoring and/or is not in agreement in God’s Word, we will not receive God’s help in fulfilling the resolution.

So, what sort of New Year’s resolution should a Christian make? Here are some suggestions: (1) pray to the Lord for wisdom (James 1:5) in regards to what resolutions, if any, He would have you make; (2) pray for wisdom as to how to fulfill the goals God gives you; (3) rely on God’s strength to help you; (4) find an accountability partner who will help you and encourage you; (5) don’t become discouraged with occasional failures; instead, allow them to motivate you further; (6) don’t become proud or vain, but give God the glory. Psalm 37:5-6 says, “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.”

Courtesy to www.gotquestions.org

PREPARING FOR THE BIRTH OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST:

The prophet Isaiah throughout his writings entitles thecoming Messiah–our Lord Jesus Christ–the “Holy One” although he uses this significant name interchangably for God the Father. This title,Isaiah’s favorite, is used a total of twenty-nine times beginning in the very first chapter of his most significant prophecy, most significant because of it’s intense focus on our Lord Jesus. This attribute of the character of God is in fact more than just an attribute, for holiness is the primary word used to describe the very essence of our God.It is not surprising therefore that the preparation for the Holy One’s birth would be saturated in holiness as described in Luke chapter one. From the very outset, when Zacharias was visited by the holy angel as he was ministering in the holy place at the altar of incense, God’s holy angel underlined the fact that Zacharias’ son would ‘be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.

Another of God’s holy angels, Gabriel, would then visit the virgin Mary bringing the good tidings of great joy, telling her that she would ‘conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name JESUS’. He explained to her that ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God’.

Mary then visits Elizabeth, her cousin, the wife of Zacharias who was miraculously with child as the holy angel had told her husband. When Mary greeted Elizabeth ‘the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost’ and immediately ‘spake out with a loud voice’ and blessed Mary, recognizing that Mary would be the mother of her Lord!

Mary, following Elizabeth’s words, magnified the Lord, rejoicing in spirit for what God her Saviour was doing in her life. She rightfully ascribed to Him the name ‘Holy’ in verse 49! She continues her magnification of the Lord by listing His mighty actions toward men and His people Israel. Later in the chapter, the birth of John the Baptist is recorded. And at that time his father Zacharias was ‘filled with the Holy Ghost’ prophesying of God’s great working in visiting and redeeming His people, bringing salvation through the house of David by the Lord Jesus Christ just as He had spoken through his ‘holy prophets’! Zacharias continues by underlining the fact that God remembers His ‘holy covenant’ performing the mercy He promised to the fathers.

The last reference to holiness comes in v.75 where Zacharias encourages and exhorts those who would read his prophesy in the ages to come. He reminds us all that we must serve the Lord without fear, in ‘holiness’ and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. This holiness which we need in order to ‘see the Lord’ is provided by the Lord Jesus Christ when we receive Him as our personal Savior. This provision of personal holiness is just one of the many benefits we receive when we are ‘born again’ by putting our faith in His death, burial and resurrection.

This first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, which gives us the surrounding circumstances of our Savior’s birth, is saturated in holiness, a fitting preparation for the miraculous incarnation of the Son of God, the Holy
One of Israel! Have you received the Lord Jesus Christ as you personal Savior? If you have, are you serving Him in ‘holiness’ and righteousness? The greatest gift you can give the ‘Holy One’ this Christmas is yourself, dedicated to serving Him in ‘holiness’ and righteousness…all the days of your life.

 Where or what is  Purgatory?

The existence of Purgatory is so certain that no Catholic has ever entertained a doubt of it. It was taught from the earliest days of the Church and was accepted with undoubting faith wherever the Gospel was preached. The doctrine is revealed in Holy Scripture, and has been handed down by Tradition, taught by the infallible Church and believed by the millions and millions of faithful of all times. 

Only those souls that are completely free of sin can enter heaven. It stands to reason, then, that the soul with unforgiven sins or the souls of those who have not yet atoned for their sins during their lifetime, yet tried to live as God would have us live, cannot enter Heaven and do not deserve Hell.

Purgatory, then, is a place of temporal punishment for those who die in God’s grace, but are not entirely free from venial sins or have not entirely paid the satisfaction due to their sins. The existence of purgatory is universally taught by all the Fathers of Church. The words of OurLord , “Thou shalt not come out from it until thou hast paid the last penny” are very clear (Matt. 5 :25) Later, when speaking of the sins againt the Holy Spirit, Jesus says such a sin “will
not be forgiven either in this world or in the next,” implying that there are some sins that cannot be atoned for in this world (Matt. 12:32).

 Saint Paul shows his belief in purgatory when, in his second letter to Timothy he prays for the deceased Onesiphorus. “May the Lord grant him to mercy from the Lord on that day. (2 Tim. 1 :18). Even in the Old Testament there was a belief in the existance of purgatory, for there we find Judas Machabeus sending 12,000 drachmas to Jerusalem to have sacrifiices offered for the sins of the dead. That chapter ends with the advice: “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins” (2 Mach. 12 :46).

In purgatory, souls suffer for a while in satisfaction for their sins before they can enter heaven. The principal suffering of these souls consists in the pain of experiencing, on the one hand, an intense longing for God and, on the other, a realisation that they are hindered from possessing Him by reason of their past sins. Unlike the souls in hell, they are certain of one day seeing God. They can be helped, moreover, by the prayers of the faithful on earth, and especially by the offering of Mass.

In the “Decree on Purgatory,” we read, “The Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Spirit and in accordance with Sacred Scripture and the ancient Tradition of the Fathers, has taught in the holy Councils and most recently in this ecumenical Council that there is a purgatory, and that the souls detained there are helped by the acts of intercession … of the faithful and especially by the acceptable Sacrifice of the altar” (Council of Trent,1563).

Padre Pio had a very special relationship with the Holy Souls..indeed such was the relationship that they were his frequent visitors..and led him to say: “I see so many souls from Purgatory that they don’t frighten me any more. More souls of the dead than the living climb this mountain to attend my Masses and seek my prayers.”

When Padre Pio was asked how long a particular soul would stay in Purgatory he replied “At least one hundred years. We must pray for the Souls in Purgatory. It is unbelievable, what they can do for our spiritual good, out of gratitude they have towards those on earth who remember to pray for them.”

The length of time souls are detained in Purgatory depends on:

a) the number of their faults; 
b) on the malice and deliberation with
which these have been committed; 
c) on the penance done, or not done, the
satisfaction made, or not made for sins during life; 
d) much, too, depend on the suffrages offered for them after death by friends and relatives still alive. What can be safely said is that the time souls spend in Purgatory, as a rule, is very much longer than people commonly imagine.

04/11/2012

Full text of Benedict XVI’s homily at Mass opening Year of Faith

By Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday, 11 October 2012

Dear Brother Bishops,
Dear brothers and sisters!

Today, fifty years from the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, we begin with great joy the Year of Faith. I am delighted to greet all of you, particularly His Holiness Bartholomaois I, Patriarch of Constantinople, and His Grace Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. A special greeting goes to the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches, and to the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences. In order to evoke the Council, which some present had the grace to experience for themselves – and I greet them with particular affection – this celebration has been enriched by several special signs: the opening procession, intended to recall the memorable one of the Council Fathers when they entered this Basilica; the enthronement of a copy of the Book of the Gospels used at the Council; the consignment of the seven final Messages of the Council, and of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I will do before the final blessing. These signs help us not only to remember, they also offer us the possibility of going beyond commemorating. They invite us to enter more deeply into the spiritual movement which characterized Vatican II, to make it ours and to develop it according to its true meaning. And its true meaning was and remains faith in Christ, the apostolic faith, animated by the inner desire to communicate Christ to individuals and all people, in the Church’s pilgrimage along the pathways of history.

The Year of Faith which we launch today is linked harmoniously with the Church’s whole path over the last fifty years: from the Council, through the Magisterium of the Servant of God Paul VI, who proclaimed a Year of Faith in 1967, up to the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, with which Blessed John Paul II re-proposed to all humanity Jesus Christ as the one Saviour, yesterday, today and forever. Between these two Popes, Paul VI and John Paul II, there was a deep and profound convergence, precisely upon Christ as the centre of the cosmos and of history, and upon the apostolic eagerness to announce him to the world. Jesus is the centre of the Christian faith. The Christian believes in God whose face was revealed by Jesus Christ. He is the fulfilment of the Scriptures and their definitive interpreter. Jesus Christ is not only the object of the faith but, as it says in the Letter to the Hebrews, he is “the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith” (12:2).

Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ, consecrated by the Father in the Holy Spirit, is the true and perennial subject of evangelization. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor” (Lk 4:18). This mission of Christ, this movement of his continues in space and time, over centuries and continents. It is a movement which starts with the Father and, in the power of the Spirit, goes forth to bring the good news to the poor, in both a material and a spiritual sense. The Church is the first and necessary instrument of this work of Christ because it is united to him as a body to its head. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21), says the Risen One to his disciples, and breathing upon them, adds, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v.22). Through Christ, God is the principal subject of evangelization in the world; but Christ himself wished to pass on his own mission to the Church; he did so, and continues to do so, until the end of time pouring out his Spirit upon the disciples, the same Spirit who came upon him and remained in him during all his earthly life, giving him the strength “to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” and “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Lk 4:18-19).

The Second Vatican Council did not wish to deal with the theme of faith in one specific document. It was, however, animated by a desire, as it were, to immerse itself anew in the Christian mystery so as to re-propose it fruitfully to contemporary man. The Servant of God Paul VI, two years after the end of the Council session, expressed it in this way: “Even if the Council does not deal expressly with the faith, it talks about it on every page, it recognizes its vital and supernatural character, it assumes it to be whole and strong, and it builds upon its teachings. We need only recall some of the Council’s statements in order to realize the essential importance that the Council, consistent with the doctrinal tradition of the Church, attributes to the faith, the true faith, which has Christ for its source and the Church’s Magisterium for its channel” (General Audience, 8 March 1967). Thus said Paul VI.

We now turn to the one who convoked the Second Vatican Council and inaugurated it: Blessed John XXIII. In his opening speech, he presented the principal purpose of the Council in this way: “What above all concerns the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine be safeguarded and taught more effectively […] Therefore, the principal purpose of this Council is not the discussion of this or that doctrinal theme… a Council is not required for that… [but] this certain and immutable doctrine, which is to be faithfully respected, needs to be explored and presented in a way which responds to the needs of our time” (AAS 54 [1962], 790,791-792).

In the light of these words, we can understand what I myself felt at the time: during the Council there was an emotional tension as we faced the common task of making the truth and beauty of the faith shine out in our time, without sacrificing it to the demands of the present or leaving it tied to the past: the eternal presence of God resounds in the faith, transcending time, yet it can only be welcomed by us in our own unrepeatable today. Therefore I believe that the most important thing, especially on such a significant occasion as this, is to revive in the whole Church that positive tension, that yearning to announce Christ again to contemporary man. But, so that this interior thrust towards the new evangelization neither remain just an idea nor be lost in confusion, it needs to be built on a concrete and precise basis, and this basis is the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the place where it found expression. This is why I have often insisted on the need to return, as it were, to the “letter” of the Council – that is to its texts – also to draw from them its authentic spirit, and why I have repeated that the true legacy of Vatican II is to be found in them. Reference to the documents saves us from extremes of anachronistic nostalgia and running too far ahead, and allows what is new to be welcomed in a context of continuity. The Council did not formulate anything new in matters of faith, nor did it wish to replace what was ancient. Rather, it concerned itself with seeing that the same faith might continue to be lived in the present day, that it might remain a living faith in a world of change.

If we place ourselves in harmony with the authentic approach which Blessed John XXIII wished to give to Vatican II, we will be able to realize it during this Year of Faith, following the same path of the Church as she continuously endeavours to deepen the deposit of faith entrusted to her by Christ. The Council Fathers wished to present the faith in a meaningful way; and if they opened themselves trustingly to dialogue with the modern world it is because they were certain of their faith, of the solid rock on which they stood. In the years following, however, many embraced uncritically the dominant mentality, placing in doubt the very foundations of the deposit of faith, which they sadly no longer felt able to accept as truths.

If today the Church proposes a new Year of Faith and a new evangelization, it is not to honour an anniversary, but because there is more need of it, even more than there was fifty years ago! And the reply to be given to this need is the one desired by the Popes, by the Council Fathers and contained in its documents. Even the initiative to create a Pontifical Council for the promotion of the new evangelization, which I thank for its special effort for the Year of Faith, is to be understood in this context. Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual “desertification”. In the Council’s time it was already possible from a few tragic pages of history to know what a life or a world without God looked like, but now we see it every day around us. This void has spread. But it is in starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us, men and women. In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. And in the desert people of faith are needed who, with their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive. Living faith opens the heart to the grace of God which frees us from pessimism. Today, more than ever, evangelizing means witnessing to the new life, transformed by God, and thus showing the path. The first reading spoke to us of the wisdom of the wayfarer (cf. Sir 34:9-13): the journey is a metaphor for life, and the wise wayfarer is one who has learned the art of living, and can share it with his brethren – as happens to pilgrims along the Way of Saint James or similar routes which, not by chance, have again become popular in recent years. How come so many people today feel the need to make these journeys? Is it not because they find there, or at least intuit, the meaning of our existence in the world? This, then, is how we can picture the Year of Faith: a pilgrimage in the deserts of today’s world, taking with us only what is necessary: neither staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money, nor two tunics – as the Lord said to those he was sending out on mission (cf. Lk 9:3), but the Gospel and the faith of the Church, of which the Council documents are a luminous expression, as is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published twenty years ago.

Venerable and dear Brothers, 11 October 1962 was the Feast of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God. Let us entrust to her the Year of Faith, as I did last week when I went on pilgrimage to Loreto. May the Virgin Mary always shine out as a star along the way of the new evangelization. May she help us to put into practice the Apostle Paul’s exhortation, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom […] And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:16-17). Amen.

Our Lady Needs Rosaries.

Do you know that Our Lady is depending on you to help her?Do you know that you can change the future course of world events? When Our Lady was assumed into heaven she continues to help us from heaven but she depends on you, on each of us to help her. We learn from her many apparitions that she is depending on our Rosaries. On July 13th 1917 in Fatima Our Lady said, “Continue to say the Rosary every day in honour of Our Lady in order to obtain peace for the world and an end of the war because only she can obtain it.” Mary is depending on your Rosaries to help her achieve her plans in the world. No wonder then that in so many apparitions in so many places she has asked us to pray the Rosary every day. In the same apparition in Fatima on July 13th 1917 she said that if we fulfilled her wishes Russia would be converted. We have seen this fulfilled. On October 13th 1917 in Fatima Our Lady revealed herself as Our Lady of the Rosary. In Lourdes Our Lady never came before they had begun to pray the Rosary and she always left shortly after they had finished praying the Rosary and she prayed the Rosary with Bernadette. During the apparitions Bernadette went into ecstasy and during those ecstasies for the benefit of people praying the Rosary she mimed or acted out the mysteries of the Rosary under the guidance of Our Lady. One would never undermine the influence of the mother in
one’s life; if  it is great, and how magnificent it would be the role of our heavenly mother in each one’s life! God’s first promise to the humanity was of sending a saviour through the woman (Gen 3; 15 ) –mother Mary. And I always think that the most blessed moment in a person’s life is the time when one surrenders fully to God.  When Mary accepted the call of God, this immediately transformed her into person powered with Holy Spirit; no wonder why   she ran to Elizabeth to assists her and to greet her in times of her need. The first trimester pregnancy was rejuvenation in her physical and spiritual life.

What is 24 hr. Rosary?

In a nutshell, reciting rosary continually for 24hrs –bringing Our Lady’s intercession to fill us with Holy Spirit and to seek her protection to witness Christ in this challenging world. When we pray as a family the family is given a special grace and also protection through our lady. This prayer can start at any time of the day, have some preparation and the hosting family members need to take confession in preparation for this great prayer and
also make sure we have the support of three or four friends to continue this 24rh prayer without a break. This prayer session can consist of; Bible reading, praise and worship, singing devotional songs, intercessory prayers and spontaneous prayers in addition to the rosary prayers. This preparation and prayers bring miracles into our personal and family life; children receive special grace to stay with God at all times.

Is this 24hr rosary possible in our tight scheduled life?

Yes, without a pause. This special mission rosary prayer started in December 2007 in a family in Newcastle, England and since then this rosary   has been continually prayed every month in a catholic community consisting of 40 families. The abundant blessings and the miracles received through these rosaries have prompted many families to host these 24hr rosary prayers and now it has spread to different parts of the world too. It is much important to have
spiritual preparations of any kind to host this prayer. Like any good mother, Our Lady is concerned for us her family so after her Assumption in heaven she continues to help us from heaven but she needs your Rosaries to help her achieve her plans. Give a bouquet of roses to your heavenly mother every day by praying the Rosary. The bouquet of roses will then be transformed by Our Lady so that she can help people around
the world.

We shall be vigilant to keep all our traditional prayers in our families and to pass on to our next generations to continue have our Lord’s blessings .if we   look  at the past, can anyone deny the wonderful guidance God has been providing to us?

ST.

NB. Pls contact admin for more information on 24hr Rosary if needed.

Go into all world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation (Mk 16; 15). It  is  so  evident  that the Malayalee Catholics The  strong  devotion  to Our Lady, Mass attendance, Family  bond and marital  stability  are  the  core to catholic life, and  even  in  this challenging as  well as in this  fascinating  world, most  of  us sacrifice a lot  to retain  these  spirits ,especially in a world  where the establishment of family   and spirituality  is constantly attacked by   aggressive secularism.

This website aims to help everyone to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit within us and also to witness Christ with our unique family and missionary life in the different walks of our life. Kindly share  your views and practice to  brighten this light  to  the world to know God better  through  ourselves .We shall offer  our  fasting  and  special prayers to the Lord of the harvest to send  out labourers into his harvest (Mt:9,38) for  this great mission.

Go into all world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation (Mk 16; 15). It  is  so  evident  that the Malayalee Catholics have settled down  across the  world  not  merely  for   livelihood,  rather  to  impart  the faith  and the cultural heritage acquired  in our early life. In this new arena, the  priority  has always been   to  search  for a  catholic church,  catholic  school, prayer groups/retreats to continue, and to bring up  our children in  the cream  catholic spirit.  We always prefer to remain as distinct community in following Christ regardless of our educational or living circumstances. Kerala Catholics have been blessed right across their life with   access to Christian educational institutions, exposures to different faith, cultural and linguistic groups, and skills to travel and integrate to different nationals. We have missionary  priests,  nuns, teachers,  doctors,  social  workers, IT professionals , nurses , chefs and many others from all walks of life directly  reach out to every  aspects  of  people’s life  in this modern world to share our  heavenly possessions (Luke 19:11-27 ).  God has specially made this army from time to time in spreading His kingdom from the East to the West.

The  strong  devotion  to Our Lady, Mass attendance, Family  bond and marital  stability  are  the  core to catholic life, and  even  in  this challenging as  well as in this  fascinating  world, most  of  us sacrifice a lot  to retain  these  spirits ,especially in a world  where the establishment of family   and spirituality  is constantly attacked by   aggressive secularism.

This website aims to help everyone to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit within us and also to witness Christ with our unique family and missionary life in the different walks of our life. Kindly share  your views and practice to  brighten this light  to  the world to know God better  through  ourselves .We shall offer  our  fasting  and  special prayers to the Lord of the harvest to send  out labourers into his harvest (Mt:9,38) for  this great mission.

Soy Tharaniyil.