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  • Father David M. Knight

April 11, 2017

Tuesday of Holy Week

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Isaiah 49: 1-6 is the beginning of the second Song of the Servant. These songs portray the ideal Servant of God, the perfect Israelite, whose consecration to the divine will, even in the midst of overwhelming suffering, ‘takes away the sins of many.’

The Servant’s identity is complex:

The Servant is “Israel, alive in all of her great leaders and intercessors.... But the collective interpretation leads to an individual Servant of supreme holiness, greater than any single Israelite of the past.... It was Jesus who clearly identified himself as the Servant.... The Servant is both a collective personality and an individual messiah.[1]

For practical purposes we can apply what is said about the Servant to Jesus, to Israel, to the Church, and to ourselves. Individually and collectively, we are all engaged in his mission, and we experience what he experiences in fulfilling it. Four points to keep in mind:

  • The Servant knows he was chosen “from my mother’s womb.” So do we — at least from the womb of Baptism. And Jesus. But he was tempted to doubt it, as we are.[2]

  • He feels he has “toiled in vain and for nothing.” So did Jesus, who on the cross felt failure and abandonment. So do we.

  • He knows his “reward is with the Lord.” So did Jesus. In his human consciousness he did not know on the cross that he would rise from the dead. But like Abraham sacrificing Isaac, he believed, “hoping against hope,” that he was inexplicably saving the world and entering into his glory. We sometimes need to do the same.[3]

  • In response to his discouragement, God extends his mission beyond Israel to include the whole earth: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” When the pot is empty, throw a party! After Good Friday, Pentecost. “I will sing of your salvation.”

John 13: 21-38 shows us Jesus aware of betrayal and denial by two of his closest followers, and his response is to say, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him!” He knew things were out of his hands. He was to be delivered up. He had no human support. And he knew the Scriptural principle: In the absence of the human the divine is revealed, The Virgin Birth: the absence of a human father revealed the fatherhood of God. Sending his disciples without resources to show they relied on God.[4] His present situation: the absence of all human support meant he was in the hands of God. If God was allowing his total abasement, God must be glorifying him. There was nothing more to do but surrender in joy: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” “I will sing of your salvation.”

Initiative: Find life in death, hope in despair, light in darkness, love in abandonment, power in weakness. In the absence of the human, rejoice in God.

[1] Jerome Biblical Commentary.

[2] See his temptations, beginning with “If...” Matthew 4:1-11; 27:39-46.

[3] Romans 4:18; John 12:23-28.

[4] Matthew 10:9-10.


  • Father David M. Knight

April 10, 2017

MONDAY of Holy Week

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Isaiah 42: 1-7 is the first “Song of the Servant of Yahweh", whom God calls “my chosen one with whom I am well pleased.” But the description is valid for anyone who would do the work of God. As disciples we ponder the characteristics of the person God chooses for his work, to whom he says, “On you I have put my spirit.”

  • One who will “bring forth justice;”

  • “not shouting out... in the streets;”[1]

  • who “will not break the crushed reed;”

  • who “will not grow faint” before “establishing fair judgment on earth;”

  • for whose teaching the ends of the earth are “waiting.”

The God who chooses this kind of person is the exultant Creator who “spreads out the heavens,” and “gives breath and spirit to people.” His desire is clear: “I called you for the victory of justice, as a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, and bring out prisoners who live in darkness.” He wants life, light, freedom. God “grasped by the hand” and “formed” his servant. Intimacy. Guidance. Do these points give something to think about?

John 12: 1-11 shows us a contrast. First there is Mary, who like the exultant, profligate Creator in Isaiah, pours out on Jesus’ feet a pound of perfume so expensive it would take a laborer’s whole yearly wage to buy it. Crazy! Extravagant. Passionate. Like God!

Judas makes the called-for objection: “We could have sold it! And given the money to the poor!” If he himself were giving extravagantly to the poor, we could accept that. But what he really shows is a mind that can’t see beyond dollars-and-cents to passionate love. Even if he hadn’t been stealing he would have been horrified. He had a small heart. Passion doesn’t count pennies. Or stop to count anything!

St. Ignatius says we make more spiritual progress through one really generous act than ten run-of-the-mill sacrifices. Why? Because we get a taste of what God is like. We get it by treating God like God — which, paradoxically, is the way to experience how he treats us — with boundless love and unstoppable generosity.

It figures: God is “in-finite” (without fines, the Latin for boundaries). If we try to respond to him without boundaries, we get a hint of what it is like not to have any. St. Ignatius’ prayer was:

Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous.

To serve you as you deserve.

To give and not to count the cost.

To fight and not to heed the wounds.

To toil and not to seek for rest.

To labor and not ask for reward —

Save that of knowing I am doing your will.

We could do worse. The core of both these readings is the picture of a God who exults in giving life and being, and invites us to be the same. “The Lord is my light and my salvation.”

Initiative: Do something extravagant: for someone else or for yourself. Feel God.

[1] He “accomplishes his mission modestly and quietly, not whipping people into conformity but transforming them interiorly.” Jerome Biblical Quarterly.


  • Father David M. Knight

April 9 2017

THE SIXTH SUNDAY OF LENT (Year A)

PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD’S PASSION

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Inventory

Do I ever grow weary of praying? Of reading Scripture or reflecting on the word of God? Do I sometimes feel it is useless, that nothing ever comes of it? Do I ever feel that God just doesn’t care about me? Did Jesus feel this?

Input

The Responsorial Psalm is the first verse of Psalm 22, the verse Jesus quoted on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Jesus may have recited the whole Psalm, but if not, the first verse was enough to bring the whole Psalm to mind in his Jewish listeners. And it is a song of trust and triumph: “In you our ancestors trusted… and you delivered them. To you they cried, and were not put to shame… All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD… For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.” Jesus was calling up this Psalm to counter the abandonment he felt in his heart. This pinpoints the theme of all the readings.

In the Opening Prayer we focus on Jesus as a “model of humility” because he subjected himself to human weakness like ours. We ask God to “help us bear witness to you” by trusting in God’s power when our weakness crushes us.

Morning after morning:

Isaiah 50: 4-7 is a declaration of perseverance based on trust. Isaiah recognizes that he is called to discipleship because he is sent to teach: “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.”

We are all called to teach. Jesus said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world…. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. …Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5: 14-16).

To do this we must be committed to persevering discipleship, to constant preoccupation with the message of Jesus; to persistent reading and reflection on the Scriptures, and to open-minded expansion of our understanding of Christ’s teaching. Isaiah testifies to his own faithfulness to discipleship: “Morning after morning he wakens my ear to listen” as a student.

What Jesus felt:

Philippians 2: 6-11 tells us that Jesus experienced the same human difficulties we do. We may think that because Jesus was God prayer always came easy to him; that he never experienced temptations to doubt and despair; that nothing in him ever resisted the Father’s will.

But this isn’t true. In his agony in the garden (Matthew 26: 37-46) Jesus felt “deeply grieved, even to death” — so much so that on the emotional level he was ready to call off his whole passion: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me!” His feelings were intensely opposed to what God wanted him to do. But feelings are not the measure of anyone’s faith, hope, or love — neither in Jesus nor in us. In the garden Jesus did not feel any desire to die for us. But on the level that really counts, the level of will and free choice, he was firm: “Yet not what I want but what you want.”

When Jesus became human he became really human, with no privileges. “Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself,” being born just as human as we are, with all the weaknesses that belong to being human, sin excepted. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

This same Jesus, by taking our bodies to be his own, has also taken on our weakness — and given us his strength. That is the rock-bottom source of our confidence.

Triumph by defeat:

Today’s Mass is called both “Passion Sunday” and “Palm Sunday,” because it begins with a procession in which we carry palms. We read two Gospels: the Passion (Matthew 26:4 to 27:66) and one for the procession (Matthew 21: 1-11), when we reenact Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem as the crowd that accompanied him spread their cloaks on the road, cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road, shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

This scene gives a key to understanding Christ’s passion and all of his work in the Church since then: the strategy of God is that Jesus wins by losing. He enters Jerusalem in triumph to die. His defeat and death on the cross were his victory over sin and death. And in the world today, when the Church seems most weak and defeated, that is when God is able to do his best work in us. A poor and humiliated Church is a healthy Church

In our personal lives, when we feel the least faith, hope and love, that is precisely when we may be acting most purely out of nothing but faith, hope and love. When our feelings give us no support, but we are still trying to do what we committed ourselves to do, we know we are persevering by the pure grace of God. That is the most unambiguous experience of grace. It is the ultimate verification of conversion. And it is the touchstone of dedicated discipleship. When our feelings are crying out, “My God, why have you abandoned me?” but we have not abandoned him, that is when we know most surely he is near.

Jesus said, “The disciple is not greater than the teacher” (Matthew 10:24). If we are showing up as disciples, Jesus is showing up as Teacher, whether we feel him there or not.

Insight: In my ordinary life, when have I gone against my feelings to persevere in something I decided to do? Were the results good? Can I do the same with prayer?

Initiative: Decide what you will do to be a disciple— how much time you will commit to reading, reflecting and other learning experiences —and determine to persevere.


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