So That They May Believe

Gospel Jn 13:16-20

When Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, he said to them:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master
nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.
If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.
I am not speaking of all of you.
I know those whom I have chosen.
But so that the Scripture might be fulfilled,
The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me.
From now on I am telling you before it happens,
so that when it happens you may believe that I AM.
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send
receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

Dear fellow pilgrims,

It is late, so I will just send a few brief thoughts regarding today’s readings.

I can just imagine Jesus saying this after the washing of the feet, which seemed to turn the duties of servant and master on its head. This gesture of our Lord’s is similar to other gestures that challenged the understanding of the many social ways by which humans categorized themselves, but here, He is underlining the fact that the washing of the feet should not lend themselves to thinking that He is actually below them in authority.  Judas makes that mistake, he takes the opportunity to have authority over Jesus, to manipulate Jesus in some way, but even this is in accordance with God’s plan, what God had said would happen.

The whole first reading is St. Paul going through the Biblical lead-ins to Jesus, saying that all of these things the Jewish people knew to be true were actually pointing to the veracity of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus was all about recontextualizing what people saw as the way to appease temple leaders or the way to become holy, He was the answer to all these things, the sacrificial Lamb and the Way.

The main thesis of these passages is that all things are ordered towards bringing God’s people back to Him, letting them know that He is the Alpha and Omega, the one true God. God takes on human flesh, washes His followers feet, allows betrayal…for what? For exactly this: for bringing His sheep back into the fold. To show them that He is I AM, the one who is, who was, and ever shall be.

That is also the main point of everything in our lives, as well. All things should lead us to a closer walk with Him.  Maybe today (Friday), try praying more to God in question form, like “What are you trying to teach me about yourself?” in a tense moment of the day, or “I know you want to teach me something, here, but I can’t see it yet. Where are you in this situation?” Sometimes knowing and proclaiming an ultimate purpose will help you pray and then listen for an answer.

In the peace of Christ,
Alyssa

Remain in Me

Domenico_Morelli_-_Conversione_di_san_PaoloToday’s first reading describes the dramatic conversion of St. Paul. Before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was “breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,” and yet today we remember him as a great evangelizer and prolific New Testament writer. What happened? Nothing less than an inbreaking of divine grace.

For the powers of humanity, there are a great many situations that are beyond hope: souls that have been irrevocably corrupted, systems that are beyond repair. But for God, no one is beyond hope. No matter how hardened a person, God can break through any barriers to offer them mercy and an opportunity for transformation. He stopped Paul right in his murderous path, turned him away from Damascus and out into all the world a changed man. He channeled Paul’s zeal toward its natural, rightly ordered purpose: building up the Kingdom of God. In the same way, our own human purpose can only be understood through an encounter with the divine.

Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him (John 6:56).
Jesus has given Himself to us in the Eucharist as an opportunity for encounter with Him, that we too might be transformed by His grace. He instituted this sacrament so that we might share a radical intimacy with Him. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati understood this deeply—he received Communion daily, meeting Jesus every morning and carrying Him throughout the rest of the day. This is the key to his sanctity: not Pier Giorgio’s own goodness, but his openness to divine grace, to deep intimacy with and vulnerability before God.

“I urge you with all the strength of my soul to approach the Eucharist Table as often as possible. Feed on this Bread of the Angels from which you will draw the strength to fight inner struggles.”
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Conversione_di_san_Paolo_September_2015-1aThe great things that Paul achieved after his conversion stemmed from this intense closeness with God and awareness of God’s perfect love. This is what opened Paul’s heart to allow God to work through him rather than imposing his own will. When the scales fell from his eyes and he saw his life with sudden clarity, he fell to his knees in humility before God. Throughout the rest of his life, as he wrote and preached and converted a great many souls, he was ever aware that it was all due to God working in him: It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). Paul knew all too well the cold, cruel man he would be without God, and thus he was able to recognize that any good fruits that flowed from his work were not due to his own power or talent or goodness, but from Jesus Christ working through him.


1. Domenico Morelli, Conversion of Saint Paul / PD-US
2. Caravaggio, The Conversion of Saint Paul / PD-US

Good Friday

Though he was harshly treated, he submitted
and opened not his mouth;
like a lamb led to the slaughter
or a sheep before the shearers,
he was silent and opened not his mouth.
Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away,
and who would have thought any more of his destiny?
When he was cut off from the land of the living,
and smitten for the sin of his people,
a grave was assigned him among the wicked
and a burial place with evildoers,
though he had done no wrong
nor spoken any falsehood.
But the LORD was pleased
to crush him in infirmity.
—Isaiah 53:7–10

ChristandThornsSo many of Jesus’s disciples abandoned Him in His time of greatest suffering. Surely it would be so difficult for them to bear, to see their beloved Jesus treated so brutally and their hope of His Kingdom buried along with Him. But I think we have much to learn from the ones who stayed—John, Mary, Mary Magdalene, and the other women beneath the Cross. In this most painful moment, they did not look away. They did not abandon the One they loved. They stayed to comfort Him as best they could and to truly grieve this injustice, this loss, instead of hiding from it. And even in their grief, they did not despair. Even when it seemed all hope was lost, they trusted that God had a plan.

Do you have the courage to behold Christ crucified? Are you willing to stay with Him at the Cross, or would you rather you turn your head and look away? Be not afraid. Do not despair when you see and hear of the persecution of the innocent. Be present, grieve, weep with those who weep—but do not despair. The Cross is the sign of our salvation. Just as the blood of the Passover lamb was smeared on wooden doorposts as a sign of protection from the Angel of Death, so too the Blood of the Paschal Lamb was smeared upon the wood of the Cross. With the protection of the Blood of the Lamb, we who stand beneath the Cross will be passed over by death and will see the Promised Land of God’s Kingdom.

I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
—John 16:33


Image: Carl Heinrich Bloch, The Mocking of Christ / PD-US

Truth Is a Person

The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus.
Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from my Father.
For which of these are you trying to stone me?”
The Jews answered him,
“We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy.
You, a man, are making yourself God.”
Jesus answered them,
“Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, ‘You are gods”‘?
If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came,
and Scripture cannot be set aside,
can you say that the one
whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world
blasphemes because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me;
but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me,
believe the works, so that you may realize and understand
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
Then they tried again to arrest him;
but he escaped from their power.
—John 10:31–39

Pantocrator.jpgWhen it came to listening to His sermons and watching His miracles, Jesus’s followers were totally on board. But when He proclaimed Himself the Son of God, none of the Jews listening to Him—as we see in today’s Gospel—could accept such an outrageous claim. They were familiar with prophets, men who proclaimed God’s truth and channeled His power to perform miracles, but a man who was God? Blasphemy.

We, too, can be susceptible to this mindset of imagining God not as a Person but as a distant, lofty idea, a series of teachings and traditions to be practiced. The truth of the Church is deep and complex, something that we can really sink our teeth into and deeply reflect upon on a theoretical level—but first and foremost, truth is a Person. Jesus is not merely a representative of the truth, a preacher of God’s Word; he is truth. The people struggled to grasp this; they couldn’t comprehend how a man could be so arrogant as to think himself on the same level as God Almighty. What they didn’t consider is that God would deign to lower Himself to our level, to take on human flesh for our sake. Jesus is telling them not that a man is God, but that God is a man. And this proclamation is not blasphemy but love: that the heart of the universe beats within the chest of this humble, ordinary-looking man. This Jesus—ever loving and peaceful, drawing crowds and crowds of followers anxious to see Him and to touch Him—this is the face of Yahweh.

We are called not only to know and understand God but also to be His hands and feet, vessels of God in the world. Christianity is not merely about studying and preaching God’s Word; rather, it is about relationship with the living Word. It is about offering our whole lives to become the manifestation of God’s Word.

As we approach Holy Week, let us draw close to God, peeling away the sins and fears that separate us from Him. Let us experience His Passion, Death, and Resurrection from a perspective of intimate relationship with Him instead of just going through the motions. And let us pray that we might manifest God in the world, so that through our presence others may encounter the Way, the Truth, and the Life.


Image: Icon of Christ Pantocrator, St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai / PD-US

Jesus Defines the Relationship

From today’s Gospel:

“…Who do you make yourself out to be?”
Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing;
but it is my Father who glorifies me,
of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’
You do not know him, but I know him.
And if I should say that I do not know him,
I would be like you a liar.
But I do know him and I keep his word.
Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day;
he saw it and was glad.”
So the Jews said to him,
“You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?”
Jesus said to them, 

Amen, amen, I say to you,
before Abraham came to be, I AM.”

So they picked up stones to throw at him;
but Jesus hid and went out of the temple area.

My dear fellow pilgrims,

I have been sitting in my reflection-writing chair for about twenty minutes now pondering this Gospel passage, and I have finally thought of something pretty …human that parallels what happens here between Jesus and the Jews.

Jesus just had a DTR with the Jewish people.

Have you ever heard of the acronym DTR? I think I first heard it from Monica Herber (a beloved Frassati member) when she was asking me about my relationship timeline with Aidan. It means “define the relationship,” and is a very helpful way to describe what is usually a complicated conversation between two people who have been seeing each other pretty regularly but are in need of some clarity as to what they really “are.”  It usually comes after a string of going out on what seems to be dates with the person but you don’t know if it’s really a date or if you’re just looking for an excuse to use an Applebee’s gift card your aunt gave you. (True story, by the way. And I was also looking for someone to drive me to Trader Joe’s.)

But in all seriousness, even though it may come off as a juvenile way to describe what happens here, I think it is worth exploring. (And yes, maybe it’s worth exploring, in part, because I don’t have any better ideas right now. )

If you’ve ever had a DTR, or several, you know all of the emotions going into it are putting more weight on the result of this conversation.  All of what you have experienced with this person has been telling them something about who you want to be for that person, but you have not yet given this relationship a name. You have not yet put parameters on the exact role you want to play in their lives. Chances are, though, if you want to have a DTR, you are the one who wants the other person to stick around, you want to commit to them and you want to know if they will commit. Well, here, Jesus knows that this is the exact time He needs to reveal His identity to His people, the Jews, and because He is God, He knows exactly how it’s going to go. He will be rejected by many. But, He also need to speak the truth of Who He Is so that people can truly accept Him.

Because one of the salient emotions of a DTR is risk. You’re risking losing the relationship you had with this person in order to gain a truer relationship, to build a mutual relationship that you both want. Jesus has been performing miracles, gathering a following of people, intriguing everyone with knowledge and empathy and all these things people have never experienced before and really like and oh my gosh it’s all so crazy, right? But He is no mere prophet, He isn’t an entertainer or just a magician, He is Who Is, He is I AM.  Jesus called Himself I AM, a Jewish phrase for God’s name. It was bad enough that Jesus said it publicly, but He was seen as committing blasphemy because he claimed to be the I AM. Jesus was defining the relationship by defining Himself, because only by acknowledging the absolute divine nature of Christ can we understand our relationship to Him and to anyone else, for that matter. Only by further understanding His Identity can we understand our own. (Side note: And how counter-cultural is that?? Our own personal truth is not the greatest truth. Of course personal truths are necessary to acknowledge and care for, but they cannot be cared for without acknowledging the supreme truth of Christ’s Identity.)

Jesus knew this moment was the beginning of the end. He knew once He told them who He was, their relationship would never be the same. Humanity would never be the same. It wasn’t enough to show them the Way, He needed to tell them He Is the Way, the Word, the Life. He spoke using the language His Father gave them, because He Is the Word. But they threw stones at Him and were scandalized because they were afraid, they were seeking to entrap Him.

But just think about the heaviness of Jesus’ heart immediately preceding that moment… everything was about to change. It is such a human thought process: “I don’t want them to know who I really am because then they will reject me. I don’t want them to know the relationship I want with them because they will think I’m too weird or out there.”  I’m sure Jesus felt this dread in a sinless way because He longed for them to listen and yet knew they would reject Him. He was saddened by the rejection, I’m sure.

This passage helps us prepare for His Passion by helping us see the humanity in the onset of His rejection and the legal case against Him. Try thinking about a time when you took a risk to explain who you really are to a person, or maybe think back to a time when the DTR didn’t go so well. Try to empathize with Jesus.

May we be the ones in the crowd who meet His profession of love for us and longing to be the Messiah with listening hearts. May the fact of His divinity and Incarnation be the basis of relationship for us and for understanding ourselves.

Pax Christi,
Alyssa