Category Archives: Parish Lenten Mission

The Public Life of Jesus: From Jordan’s Bank to Jerusalem

Conference II

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish Bulletin for February 28, 2016)

This is Part Two of this year’s Parish Lenten Mission, THE PUBLIC LIFE OF JESUS: FROM JORDAN’S BANK TO JERUSALEMClick here to read Part One.

How did people look upon this Man, Jesus of Nazareth? It is very evident that people considered His place of origin, Nazareth, as reason alone to reject Him? “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathanael (Bartholomew), one of the future Twelve Apostles asks disparagingly when he first hears of “Jesus the son of Joseph of Nazareth?” (John 1:45-46). And even in His place of origin Nazareth itself, the people of that obscure, impoverished village look down on Jesus the son of Joseph the carpenter as “beneath” them, or at least as no-one they could ever take seriously as a miracle-working rabbi, unless, maybe, He were to start performing wonders right there in front of them.

Several months after Jesus has inaugurated His Public Life, when He comes back to the synagogue at Nazareth, He is violently rejected. People are murmuring: “How came this man by this wisdom and miracles? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary?…” (Matthew 13:54b-55a) Why—He had not passed through the training of any Rabbinic school under a learned Master! “How doth this man know letters, having never learned?”

The “Carpenter’s Son”. In context this is a term used to describe the general work of a man who has to earn his daily bread by the strength of his own arms and whatever skill he may possess with his tools. St. Justin Martyr is the ancient source for stating that Jesus specially made “ploughs and yokes” (Contra Tryphon 88). Then, as ever, people make the most superficial judgments based on a man’s social standing and material good fortune. The lowliness of Jesus’ origins was a stumbling block to many, and played no small part in inciting the organized hatred of His enemies later on.

His ordinariness—which we who have the Christian faith gaze at in wonder: God’s condescension to us and His compassion—deflated the popular imagination of what the Great Messiah was going to be like. “We know this man, whence he cometh: but when the Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is.” (John 8:27) It was, of course, not known at the time, all that had transpired around Jesus’ Birth. This was Mary’s secret, only to be revealed later in the time of the Church: “But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

John the Baptist, who had begun his preaching mission a few months before Jesus, at least had the aura of an other-worldly Man-of-God. No-one knew of John’s origins: he had suddenly appeared out of the desert, an utterly strange man. “John was in the desert, baptizing and preaching the baptism of penance, unto the remission of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea and all they of Jerusalem and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” (Mark 3:6) His appearance co-incided with the time of Daniel’s Prophecy as to when the Messiah should at last appear, so the people were in great expectation. Many held John to be the Messiah, although John denied that he was anything more than his herald who had come to prepare the way.

So great was people’s attachment to John the Baptist that his mission only gradually decreased in favor of Jesus of Nazareth. For much of the first year of Jesus’ Public Life, John the Baptist’s Mission is still going on concurrently. Four times John gives explicit testimony in favor of Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ and not himself. It is John who sends Jesus his first disciples from out of his own group, one of these being Andrew, the future Apostle and the brother of Simon Peter. Even after John’s murder at the order of Herod’s son Herod Antipas, and even after the preaching of the Gospel by the Apostles after Pentecost, a core group of John the Baptist’s followers tenaciously remained together, revering John and not transferring their allegiance to Jesus as the Christ.

The religious attachment to John the Baptist apart from Christianity has survived twenty centuries to our own day in the country of Iraq, among a sect called the Mandeans. Driven from their homeland by the recent strife a number of Mandean refugees have re-located in, all of places, Worcester, Massachusetts.

Whereas John was other-worldly and mysterious, Jesus was, to all appearances, an ordinary man, embedded in their everyday, ordinary world. He was so much a Jewish man of the Galilee. And while John lived a life of extreme deprivation, Jesus’ example was one of ordered enjoyment of life when He was in public.

Take, for example, the Wedding Feast at Cana. “And the third day, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. And Jesus also was invited, and His disciples to the marriage.” (John 2:1-2) Jesus was a guest at a large wedding feast. We cannot even imagine John the Baptist being there.

We also see here Jesus’ attachment to His kinfolk. In this time and place, a wedding feast is the gathering of the whole clan. It is no wonder that the bridal couple ran out of wine, given the demand that this event must have made on their hospitality. And it is here, as we know, that Jesus performs His first public miracle, at the behest of Mary, His mother.

“And the wine failing, the mother of Jesus saith to Him: they have no wine.” (John 2:3) He changes the gallons of ordinary water which had been poured into the large stone pots reserved for the Jewish ritual purifications into the finest of wines. “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.” (John 2:11)

This first Public Miracle of Christ is also the ruling metaphor for what the whole Redemption of Christ is going to accomplish in the souls of those who will come to have faith in Him. He will take that “water” of ordinary, broken, and unredeemed human nature, and by His grace He will transform it and make it capable of sharing in the very life of God.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

The Public Life of Jesus: From Jordan’s Bank to Jerusalem

Conference I

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish Bulletin for February 21, 2016)

Our Theme for our Parish Lenten Mission this year is: THE PUBLIC LIFE OF JESUS: FROM JORDAN’S BANK TO JERUSALEM. The visible Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ may be divided among five distinct phases: 1) The Sacred Infancy, 2) The Hidden Life, 3) The Public Life, 4) The Sorrowful Passion, and 5) The Glorified Life, or “The Great Forty Days” (from Easter Sunday to Ascension Thursday). It is this Third Phase, the Public Life of Our Lord Jesus, which we will make the focus of these Friday Lenten Conferences.

The Four Gospel Books of Inspired Scripture—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—give us many details of Jesus’ Public Life, but they are distinctive narratives in their own right. It is only natural, however, that Christians should want to organize the material of the Four Gospel Books into one comprehensive linear narrative, a “great story” which we can remember and keep close to us as we hear the various readings of the Gospel proclaimed in church from year to year. One such comprehensive narrative is an article from the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia entitled “Jesus Christ” by Jesuit scholar A.J. Maas. This is the source I will use to re-trace the course of Jesus’ Public Life.

How long was this “Public Life” of Jesus of Nazareth? Fr. Maas presents the case that it endured for three years and some months based on the evidence from St. John’s Gospel that there were four distinct Passovers observed during Jesus’ Public Life.

The first occurred shortly after Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist, when Christ cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem for the first time: “And the Passover of the Jews was at hand.” (John 2:13) The second is mentioned in John 4:45: “And when [Jesus] was come into Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He had done at Jerusalem on the festival day: for they also went to the festival day.” (Fr. Maas argues that this unnamed festival is most likely Passover.) The third is the reference point for the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes in John, Chapter 6: “Now the Passover, the festival day of the Jews was near at hand.” (John 6:4) The fourth and last Passover is Holy Week: “Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany, where Lazarus had been dead whom Jesus raised to life.” (John 12:1)

These three-and-a-half years (roughly) of the Public Life of Jesus may be fit into the Roman chronology between December A.U.C. 778 and March A.U.C. 782. The Romans counted their years from the mythical founding of their City of Rome. (A.U.C. stands for ab urbe condita, “from-the-founding-of-the-City”.) Comparing the evidence from the Gospels to the record of historical events at this time, we know that Jesus of Nazareth was born in the last year’s of the reign of King Herod and that He began His Public Life “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea… And Jesus Himself was beginning about the age of thirty years: being (as it was supposed) the son of Joseph.” (Luke 3:1. 23.)   If Herod’s date of death in Roman chronology was A.U.C. 750, then Christ could have been born between A.U.C. 747-749. Tiberius Caesar began his associate reign with Augustus in A.U.C. 764.  Fifteen years later was A.U.C. 778.  Depending upon His actual year of birth, Our Lord could have been 29-32 years at the beginning of His Public Life and 32-34 years at His Crucifixion.  (Because the Christian chronology of A.D., “Anno Domini”, in-the-Year-of-the-Lord was invented centuries after these events and projected back in time, the Year A.D. 1 is off by about 4 years. That is, it is four years late. The Birth of Christ would had to have been between the years 3-1 B.C. in actual history, making the years of the Public Life A.D. 25-29.)

Christ’s Public Life has a discernible pattern of distinct missionary journeys. There are nine of them. The first six took place in the region of Galilee, while Jesus used the city of Capharnaum as the center of His ministry.  The final three missionary journeys took Our Lord south into the Jewish heartland of Judea.  So, in the course of Our Lord’s Public Life, the people of His own Jewish nation living in Galilee and Judea would have had the knowledge of acquaintance of Him. They had unparalleled opportunity to hear Jesus’ voice, to behold His Sacred Face, to feel the warmth of His human sympathy for them. What would we not give to have a day of it! An hour of it! They had three-and-a-half years!  And still… many of them would not have Him.  Theirs was a positive rejection.  As Christ says, as He weeps over Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: “Thou hast not known the time of thy visitation.” (Luke 19:44)

Over the next Five Conferences we will follow Our Lord Jesus on His missionary journeys: we will trace His paths together, taking note of the major markers along the way. And then, we will follow Him into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and we will watch Him as He goes before us to the Cross in order to accomplish our Redemption.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

Pilgrimages to Jerusalem: Christian Jerusalem

(This is the Pastor’s Note from the March 29, 2015 Parish Bulletin for Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish.  It is a summary of Father’s “Fifth Conference for our Lenten Mission series” lecture held during the Stations of the Cross on Friday nights at the parish during Lent, 2015.)

As we concluded our Conference last week, the Christian Jerusalem of the Eastern Roman Empire was violently destroyed by the Persian armies in A.D. 614.  Scarcely had the Romans recovered Jerusalem and begun to rebuild, when the Arab armies of the new religion of Islam took possession of the city in A.D. 638, after a four month siege.  Through the mediation of the Christian Patriarch Sophronius with Caliph Omar, Jerusalem capitulated on fair and generous terms.

Although the first period of Muslim role over Christian Palestine was tolerant, by the time of the Christian Millenium, A.D. 1000, the situation had changed to one of violent oppression and religious intolerance.  The Christians of Jerusalem were sore-oppressed.  Christians pilgrims from the west seeking to visit the Holy Places were frequently attacked, plundered, held hostage, or even murdered.  Christian shrines were no longer respected and some were destroyed.  This state of affairs was the chief contributing factor to Pope Urban II’s call in 1095 for an armed pilgrimage, a “crusade”, to free Jerusalem.

The Age of the Crusades is much out of favor now, but in its day the Crusade was a hugely popular movement in Western Europe.  It has permanently marked Catholic Christianity and shaped it in ways which still affect us although we may not be aware of its influence.  How easily, for example, do we speak of zealous dedication to a good cause in terms of a holy war, a crusade.  People are identified as “crusaders” for civil rights or “crusaders” for the unborn.

Between 1098-1250 A.D. there were seven Crusades directed towards wresting the Holy Land from Muslim control.  The First Crusade was the most successful.  Jerusalem was taken in 1099 and a new Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem was established there which lasted 88 years until the resurgent Muslims under Saladdin overcame them.

The Third Crusade (1188-1192), the one associated with King Richard the Lionhearted of England, recaptured the coastal towns of Palestine for the Crusader Kingdom and made it possible for Christian pilgrims to resume their visits to the Holy City under Muslim control.  The Sixth Crusade (1228-1229) of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II was successful enough on the battlefield to gain concessions from the Muslims on who controlled Jerusalem.  The Christians once again were to possess the city, but they could not put up defensive walls and the Muslims in the city remained without restriction.  In 1244, the Muslims attacked defenseless Jerusalem, massacred large numbers of Christians, and burned many churches, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Seventh Crusade (1248-1250) was the best organized and the best-equipped, led by King St. Louis IX of France.  It met with defeat, however, on account of the misfortunes of war.  The last crusader fortress of St. Jean d’Acre fell in 1291.  The Western Crusader presence in the Holy Land had lasted 192 years, 1099-1291.  Considered from its principle objective of recovering the Holy Land for Christendom and then holding on to it, we have to say that the crusading mission failed.

But even in failure the Cross had its exultation.  In 1219, during the Fifth Crusade (1218-1221), St. Francis of Assisi appeared in the Crusader camp in Egypt.  After gaining permission to pass beyond the Christian lines with another friar, Brother Francis made his way towards the Saracen lines calling out “Sultan! Sultan!”.  In short order the two friars were seized, maltreated, and held captive.  Eventually, his captors gave in to his request and brought him into the presence of the Sultan.

There Francis preached the Gospel to him and called upon him to repent.  To prove his earnestness, Francis offered to step into fire and if the fire did not harm him then that would be a proof to the Sultan that the God of the Christians was the one true God.  The Sultan would not let Francis carry out such a test, but something about him held the Sultan’s sympathy.  He offered Francis precious gifts, which the Saint refused, not even as alms for the poor.  What was it that moved the Sultan’s heart towards Francis, in spite of the bitter religious war that was raging between the Muslims and the Christians?  We may wonder.  Was it perhaps that Francis of Assisi, so filled with the charity of Christ, radiated in his face the Face of Christ, and that was what the Sultan saw that compelled him to listen, to want Francis to stay with him, and ultimately to give him safe-conduct back to the Christian camp.

The Trial by Fire of St. Francis before the Sultan
Fra Angelico: The Trial by Fire of St. Francis before the Sultan. (1429 A.D.)

We do know that it is St. Francis’s legacy which has left the most permanent mark of the Crusader-era on the Holy Land until this very day.  Each year, at the Good Friday Liturgy, a collection is taken up for the Holy Land Shrines which are under the care of the Franciscans.  After the destruction of Christian Jerusalem in 1244 the Muslim ruler invited the friars of St. Francis to become the custodians of many of the Christian shrines.  From the 13th century on, they would be the guardians who would receive Christian pilgrims who, in spite of all the dangers and illuminated by the thought of Heaven, still made their way to Jerusalem to greet the Holy City as Christ Himself once had.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)