Gospel of John Chapter 1

Karen and I have been thinking about all of you. We hope that you are well along on your first lesson. We hope, too, that you are enjoying the lesson as much as we did. On Tuesday we will discuss your answers to the questions. We look forward to seeing all of you at our next meeting.

 

If you have not started your lesson, remember to read the first chapter of the Gospel of John before you begin reading the commentary in the text. When you have read both the chapter in John and the commentary, then begin answering the questions. We know how tempting it is to think that we know the first chapter of John, as we have all heard parts of it many times through the years. But it really is important to read it again. God has so much goodness and beauty for us. It would be sad if we were to miss opening the gift He has prepared especially for us.

 

On page 11 of the commentary in your text book – the very last paragraph which begins with “The beginning of the public ministry of Jesus is described.” There is a question which Jesus asks those who are following Him. In the first chapter of John the individuals are Andrew and John, men who will become disciples of Jesus. Jesus asks the two men: “What do you seek?” Karen and I thought that question was for all of us, at all times and places, as we all wish to be disciples of Jesus. So as you go about the rest of your week, think about that question. What would you answer if Jesus were to knock on your door or call you on the phone and ask you that question? We will not ask you to give us your answer in class. The question is a personal one and a reminder that the words we read in the Bible are not just part of an interesting story that took place a long time ago. The words in the Bible are our story as well, for we, too, seek to follow the Lord and learn from Him.

 

Those of you who asked to be called, will be called by either Karen or me. We will begin making our calls this weekend or at the latest on Monday. This email which we are sending to all of you is just a way of keeping in touch, of sharing little thoughts that Karen and I had during and after we read the material and answered the questions. We hope to email you each week with more questions and/or interesting things which we have learned when working on our study. You may share any thought you had about the lesson with us as well. If you have any questions while doing your lesson, please call Karen or me, or email either of us. We are here to help you.

 

Since I have listed everyone’s email address on this email, I ask all of you to be courteous to each other. Unless someone gives you permission, please do not use anyone’s email address to send advertisements, political messages or those “chain letter” type emails.

Gospel of John Chapter 2

Franciene and I hope that you are all enjoying this second lesson, and are gaining some wonderful insights from this beautiful Gospel of John. And we’re sure that you’re getting a workout with going back and forth between the Catechism and the other books of the Bible as you work through the questions.
The story of the wedding at Cana can seem so familiar to us, as we have heard it so many times. And yet there is so much to think about within the short story. There is the loving concern of Jesus and His Mother for the young couple at their marriage celebration, and there is the wonderful advice that Mary gives the servants, to “do whatever He tells you.” As the author of the commentary writes on page 22: “You would be hard pressed to find a spiritual director who could offer greater wisdom.”
One of the things that we can ponder in our own lives this week is how Mary often nudges us also in this direction. I know that in my own life Mary has been the catalyst in my spiritual life many times. She always points us to her Son, and to what is pleasing to Him. We can try to follow her example of her willingness to cooperate with God’s grace in our lives, in whatever surprising ways that may be!
We hope that you are enjoying this lesson, and–as always–feel free to call or email either of us with any questions. We look forward to seeing you next Tuesday!

 

Gospel of John Chapter 3

We  hope you are all enjoying the cooler weather. The mornings have been beautiful. Even the birds seem to be happier and more active with the cooler temperatures.This week our study is on Chapter 3, the Gospel of John, which gives us some understanding about the sacrament of Baptism. The chapter in John recounts Jesus relationship to two different individuals – Nicodemus, a Pharisee and learned man of the Jews, and John the Baptist, whom we have met in an earlier chapter. We know that the baptism by John was “of the flesh”, designed to help those newly baptized repent of their sins and be prepared for the coming of the Messiah. The baptism which Jesus speaks about with Nicodemus is of “water and the Spirit”. It is the baptism which gives us adoption into the family of God.

Four years ago my daughter began the lengthy process of adopting a small boy from Haiti. There were legal hurdles, lost paperwork, visits with U.S. government officials, social workers and judges, multiple trips to Haiti to visit with the Haitian government and the child, and of course, the four year worry that something would go wrong.  As a grandmother I experienced with my daughter the trials, the waiting and finally the joy which was involved in the process. At the beginning of June my daughter flew to Haiti for the final time and came home to Texas with Shamma James McDonald.

The Baptism, which each of us experienced whether as infants or later in life, brought us into the family of God and made us His adopted daughters. God waits patiently for each one of us to accept His invitation to join His family. God prepares for each of us a path for our journey to Him and provides us assistance whenever we have need of His help. As each one of us accepts God’s invitation and becomes part of His family, He rejoices, much as my own family rejoiced when the adoption process for Shamma was completed.

In the book “Life of the Beloved” by Henri Nouwen, a now deceased Catholic priest, we read: “From all eternity, long before you were born and became a part of history, you existed in God’s heart. Long before your parents admired you or your friends acknowledged your gifts, or your teachers, colleagues, and employers encouraged you, you were already “chosen”. The eyes of love had seen you as precious, as of infinite beauty, as of eternal value…Long before anyone heard us cry or laugh, we are heard by our God who is all ears for us. Long before any person spoke to us in this world, we are spoken to by the voice of eternal love…The truth…is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity, and held safe in an everlasting embrace…This truth is not simply an inner truth that emerges from our center. It is also a truth that is revealed to us by the One who has chosen us….”

Being “chosen” by God to be part of His family is a gift of such graciousness, goodness and generosity. Will you join Karen and me this week in thanking the Lord that He has chosen us as His adopted daughters – “beloved and precious and of eternal value”?

May God bless you as you do your study. Enjoy your week. We look forward to seeing you all on Tuesday. Call us if you are having trouble with the lesson or just want to talk.

Gospel of John Chapter 4

We hope that you are enjoying this week and the next lesson in our study. These stories can be so familiar to us, and yet as we read and study them again, we can see new insights in them.
In Chapter 4 of the Gospel of John, the majority of the story is about the Samaritan woman at the well. In the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible I have, I read an interesting footnote that brought something to me that I had never thought about before. We are told that after her unexpected and life-changing encounter with Jesus at the well, the Samaritan woman “left her water jar” and went back to her people to tell them about her experience. It sounds like she became both a believer and a missionary at that point, and brought her belief in Jesus as the Messiah to all those who would listen to her.
The footnote in my Bible quotes St. Augustine in saying “The water jar is the fallen desire of man that draws pleasure from the dark wells of the world but is never satisfied for long. Conversion to Christ moves us, like the Samaritan woman, to renounce the world, leave behind the desires of our earthen vessels, and follow a new way of life.” I had never thought of that symbolism before, and the specific mention of the Samaritan woman leaving her water jar behind must have been considered important to the story.
It made me think of how my own priorities shifted when I came back into active participation in the Church in my mid-twenties, and how some activities and even relationships had to be changed or put aside. And a “new way of life” can seem threatening to those who do not choose to share that new life with us. But God gives us the graces and the strength to follow Him, and–by our example, perhaps–others around us can be encouraged to seek a relationship with Him. It made me mindful of how we are all called to be missionaries in that way, by living our life in a way that leads to God.
Anyway, that footnote got me thinking, and I hope that you will find it interesting and something to ponder in your life. Franciene and I hope that you are enjoying this lesson, and–as always–feel free to call or email either of us with any questions. We look forward to seeing you next Tuesday!

Gospel of John Chapter 5

Karen and I hope that your week is going well. How are you doing with your lesson? Have you run into any questions that have puzzled you? Remember, even if you are unable to answer all of the questions, we still want to see you next Tuesday. Someone in the class will have the answer to that puzzle, even if you couldn’t put all of the pieces together.
 
In this lesson we read of Jesus healing a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years. A slow reading of the story – and a little imagination as well – can have us seeing and smelling and hearing all the things that would have assailed that poor man for so long. As our commentary tells us, the pool of Bethzatha was near the Sheep Gate, where the animals to be slaughtered in the Temple were brought into the city. Each day for all of those 38 years the paralyzed man might have prayed for healing, and each day his prayer was not answered. But on one special day, Jesus, the very Lord of the Universe, comes through the Sheep Gate. He is the” Lamb of God”, the One who is destined to take away the sins of the world. On this particular day, known to the Lord from before time began, Jesus heals the paralyzed man. Does Jesus reach down with His hand and help the man up? Is the smile of Jesus and the joy in His eyes so appealing that the man complies when he is told to rise and take up his mat and walk? Those are all interesting questions to think about. Perhaps we can hear Jesus asking us: “Do you want to be healed?”. I find myself saying, “yes,Lord, please”. How about you?
 
Further on in Chapter 5 is a remark by Jesus about John the Baptist. “He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John’s.” John 5:35-36a. That statement really caught my attention. Both Jesus and John the Baptist were given a testimony that was entrusted to them alone. John the Baptist had the specific task of announcing that the time had arrived for the appearance of the Messiah and calling his listeners to repentance. John’s unique mission included pointing out Jesus as “the Lamb of God”.Perhaps like John the Baptist, we all have a testimony to deliver, a special one that is entrusted to each of us alone. Jesus saw John the Baptist as a burning and shining lamp. Does He see each of us as shining lights that point out the path of Life to others? What will it take for each of us to be that shining light? And when our lamp is at last extinguished, will we all hear those beautiful words from our loving Lord, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world“? I pray that it is so.
Enjoy the rest of your week. May God bless you abundantly.

Gospel of John Chapter 6

We hope that you are enjoying this week and the next lesson in our study. This lesson on the Eucharist is so rich and has so much good commentary for us to ponder. So many theologians and saints have written so much about this, and I love the poem “Adoro te devote” which is attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas, and translated by the 19th century Jesuit priest Gerald Manley Hopkins, and which is found in our Catechism at #1381. I know that first verse is something that I repeat often when I am in the Adoration Chapel, as it seems to sum up our natural reaction to this great Mystery of God’s great love for us.
And since so much has been already been given to us by such smart people about the Eucharist, I thought a lot about the short segment of Chapter 6, where Jesus walks on the Sea, and calms His frightened disciples. I can think of all of the times in my life when I felt like I was in a small boat in a big sea, with the darkness and storms all around me. I can worry with the best of worriers, and I know that that just made the waves seem to loom larger around my little boat. And even when the disciples see Jesus walking on the water toward them, they are frightened because they don’t understand what is happening, and that probably adds to their sense of fear. When Jesus tells them “It is I; do not be afraid.” then they were glad to take him into their boat, and the storm abated and they landed safely. A footnote in my Bible says that “this reassurance that Jesus gives to the disciples is also an act of self-revelation. His words recall the holy name “I Am” that Yahweh revealed to Moses at the burning bush.” And then this is made even clearer to the disciples with His power over the laws of nature in the storm at sea.
I can also think of many times when I was glad to welcome Jesus into my rocking boat, and how differently I was able to perceive things once I did that. Even if the storm doesn’t immediately calm, we are not left alone and frightened, and we know that we will land safely at the shore in His company. I think that as we grow in our faith we realize that we need Him and don’t want to separated from Him in our daily life and adventures.
And I’ve read that some of these seas were known by different names: the Sea of Galilee, the Lake of Gennesaret, or the Sea of Tiberias. I’ve included a poem I love by another 19th century poet which reminds me of this chapter we’re studying, and it always makes me think of this story in the present tense–Jesus is walking toward us right now and offering us His love and protection.
The Kingdom of God
O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air–
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumor of thee there?

Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!–
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places–
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
‘Tis ye, ’tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry–and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry–clinging to Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Genesareth, but Thames!

By Francis Thompson
I hope that you will find in this chapter several good things to ponder in your life. Franciene and I hope that you are enjoying this lesson, and–as always–feel free to call or email either of us with any questions. We look forward to seeing you next Tuesday!

 

Gospel of John Chapter 7

Chapter 7 Gospel of John

Have you ever visited St. Helen’s Church when no one else was there? Perhaps you quietly slipped in the back door and found your way to a pew, tiptoeing so as not to disturb anyone, even though you see no one else in the Church at this hour. As you begin to pray, you can sense in the falling dust motes and warm colored light streaming through the windows around you, the sights and sounds and smells of the many liturgies which have been celebrated in this sacred space. These sense impressions, you think to yourself, are a reminder of the Presence of God. Just a little beyond you, resting in the Tabernacle, is our Risen Lord. You realize, almost as though it is a surprise, that He has been waiting patiently for you, loving you, calling to you, although you don’t remember hearing His Voice. But you are here, in His Presence now, feeling His Peace and His Love. And you rejoice in the amazing blessing which has been given to you.

I wondered this week if the ancient Jews had these same feelings. Not on the days of the community celebrations when throngs of worshipers filled the Temple, but on those quiet days, perhaps even late in the evening, when someone visited the Temple alone, thinking of their God present with His people in the Holy of Holies just beyond the thick curtain. How then, we might ponder, did the ancient Jews miss that moment when their loving God was visibly present with them? Do we miss our God here with us when we come to Mass and absentmindedly find our way to a seat, greeting others along our way? Do we often forget that our Risen Lord is present at that very moment in the sacred space of our Church?

There was a movie some years ago entitled “Jesus of Nazareth”. In one of the scenes soon after the beginning of the film, we see the young couple, Joseph and Mary with the infant Jesus in Mary’s arms, approach the Temple. It is a special, sacred day for this small family, for on this day they will present their infant son to God, as is prescribed in the Law. They are approached by a wizened old man whose name is Simeon. We read in Luke, Chapter 2,  verses 25 – 35: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him …… Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying, “Lord, now let your servant go in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel”… then Simeon blessed Mary and Joseph and said to his mother Mary: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against, so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed….”

In chapter 7 of the Gospel of John we begin to see the opposition to Jesus growing, the dissension that Jesus has brought, fulfilling Simeon’s prophesy of so many years ago. There are some, present in the Temple during this great feast of Booths, who wonder if Jesus is the prophet  who will come in the last days, or if he is the Messiah long promised. Some say that Jesus is possessed by demons; others say that Jesus’ teaching is too hard, that He is asking the people to do things forbidden under the Law. The people argue about where Jesus was born, or if prophets can come from Galilee. Many present know his parents – Joseph and Mary, while the Messiah is meant to have unknown parentage. The authorities of the Temple complain that Jesus heals on the Sabbath. They contend that Jesus makes Himself equal to God by calling God “His Father”. They wonder where He has gotten His knowledge, as He does not quote learned Rabbis of the past. So the Jerusalem Temple, a place once thought to be a holy and sacred space, has become a place of arguments and contention, just as old Simeon prophesied. Even among the leading scholars of the Temple are some who are coming to believe that this Jesus of Nazareth is the very One they have been waiting for, but their questions and comments are silenced by those scholars who disagree with them.

Unlike the ancient Jews, we do not have to question who Jesus is or where He was born, for we know those answers. The loving Lord of creation has come as He promised, and He is here, resting in the Tabernacle, waiting for us, to give us His very Self. While studying this lesson I have come to see myself a little differently, perhaps a little too argumentative, almost like the ancient Jews. So this week I resolve, when I attend Mass, to clear my mind of complaints about the music, or the children crying in the pews, or the lady seated next to me with strong perfume, or the people who leave early. I resolve only to rejoice in my Lord, who is present here with us. And I will remember and hold close to my heart that this space of worship is a sacred space, reserved for sacred and loving thoughts, and not a place of contention. For the Christ, the Holy One of God, has come and has brought salvation with Him. And He is loving me into life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gospel of John Chapter 8

In Chapter 8, we read “Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know he truth, and the truth will make you free.” He seems to raise the bar for his true disciples, and to offer them a freedom beyond our human understanding. This truth is different from the thinking of most people today, for this truth Jesus speaks of puts God, rather than our own personal feelings and ambitions, as the one true good. And unlike our understanding of freedom being the ability to do whatever we want according to our own desires, this freedom that Jesus speaks of is a freedom from sin, which is an alienation from God.
In the commentary for this lesson there is a quote about Jesus from Pope Paul VI in 1974 that says “He is the joy of the world; He is the image of the invisible God; He is the way, the truth and the life; He is the One who knows us even from afar; He knows our thoughts; He is the One who can forgive us, console, cure, even raise from the dead; and He is the One who will return, the judge of one and all in the fullness of His glory and eternal happiness.”
Part of the challenge of this truth is for us to realize who we are, and who God is. This requires some serious self-knowledge on our part, which brings a humble realization of our weakness and our sinfulness, and the recognition of our need for God as our Creator, Redeemer and Friend. It is an interesting question to pose to ourselves: When we face the truth about ourselves, how does our relationship with God change?
We could all be in a situation like the Samaritan woman at the well, who encounters Jesus, and her life is forever altered. She has encountered Truth, and her priorities, relationships and activities have changed as a result. I can think of ways that my life has altered as I have tried to grow in my relationship with God, from bigger changes like ongoing study, to smaller day-to-day efforts to love as I am loved by God. And I think that when we make these efforts–large or small–to be more forgiving, less judgmental, and more willing to carry the cross we are given, then we help to bring this Truth to the world around us.
I hope that you will find in this rich chapter several good things to ponder in your life. Franciene and I hope that you are enjoying this lesson, and–as always–feel free to call or email either of us with any questions. We look forward to seeing you next Tuesday!
In His Love,
Franciene and Karen

 

Gospel of John Chapter 9

What an amazing chapter this is! Like the Samaritan woman in chapter 4, we see an ordinary, simple person beset by the trials of life, who is found by Jesus, healed and brought to faith in Him. Karen and I both loved this lesson. We hope you do too.

I remember when I was a child, how my sisters and I would blindfold one another and lead each other around, trying to understand what it must be like to be blind. I remember how often we would trip over small stones along our path, or feel disoriented as we walked blindfolded. Remembering this simple play acting has led me to think a long time about this particular story in the Gospel of John.

Those of you who have been around infants know that babies are not born with an ability to see perfectly. When a child is born, she sees only black and white and shades of grey. Color comes later. Most of the baby’s vision is blurred. A baby learns to focus by studying the faces of those closest to her. Eventually, a baby will notice bright moving objects, and at about two to four months, follow the object by moving her eyes instead of her head. A baby must learn to use both eyes together, and her brain must learn to ”translate” the information sent by the eyes into usable information, which helps the child interact with and understand the world.

The miracle of Jesus with the man born blind becomes even more spectacular than we may first think, as we reflect on this information. It was not just a matter of the man’s eyelids being closed, or the man having cataracts. No matter why the man’s eyes did not work, the man’s brain was not functionally connected to his eyes. I am astounded when I think about this. Jesus opened the man’s eyes and connected all those neural pathways, so that when the man washed the mud from his face, he looked around and understood what he was seeing. At least, that is how I interpret the miracle.

Who was the blind man? What was his life like before he met Jesus? Using our imaginations we can visualize a little about him. He was poor and unable to work – we know this because he had to beg. He lived with his parents, for he could not take care of himself. He had probably never been inside the Temple, as he would be considered a sinner and unclean. Though his religious education was likely provided by his parents, when speaking with the Pharisees, he was sure of who God was and how He acted. He knew that sometimes prophets were given the grace and power to heal others. He says that God does not listen to sinners, but He listens to those who do His Will. The man born blind was likely dirty to look at, often knocked about by the crowds which milled around the Temple, pushed out of the way by those who considered beggars a nuisance. The man born blind was totally dependent on the good will of others.

Did Jesus need to use mud to heal the man? No, of course not. As the Navarre Bible comments, “Jesus works through the medium of matter to produce effects which exceed anything matter can do. Like the Sacraments, Jesus confers on matter the power to spiritually regenerate man.”

Though the Pharisees question the blind man and others about him at length, this poor and simple man knows what has happened to him. He repeats his story over and over again – “I was blind, but now I see”. The man born blind knows that no one has ever cured someone like him. The man born blind will not deny the fact of his healing, even though the Pharisees banish him from the Temple. The man born blind will not deny the gift of God that has been given to him.

The man born blind has been found by Jesus – not once, but twice. His life will never be the same. He has been given freedom to be the man God created him to be. He has been given knowledge of the reality and love of the Son of God. The man born blind has made his choice – to believe in and worship the Son of God.

After the  extended investigation the Pharisees, too, are left with a choice – to see Jesus as He truly is, or to continue to be blind to the Glory which has come into their midst. And what about me? Can I see myself in the man born blind or even the Pharisees? Are there times when I have tried to hide the truth about myself or others?  Does this story shine light on my own spiritual journey? Who or what has God used to open my eyes to His incredible love? How can I allow the love of Christ to reach out and heal me? There was so much to be found and reflected on in this Gospel story.

“I will lead the blind on their journey; by paths unknown I will guide them. I will turn darkness into light before them, and make crooked ways straight. These things I do for them, and I will not forsake them.” Isaiah 42:16

Remember if you have any questions, call Karen or me. We welcome your calls. We look forward to seeing you on Tuesday.

May the study of this chapter bring you many blessings,

Gospel of John Chapter 10

Franciene and I hope that you are enjoying this wintry week and the next lesson in our study. This beautiful image of the Good Shepherd is probably one of the best-loved and most comforting images in the Bible.

In Chapter 10 Verse 3 we read that “the sheep hear His voice, and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out His own, He goes before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.” We believe that He specifically calls each of us, and then remains with us always. Isn’t that a comforting and pleasing image to us?

A footnote in my Bible reminds us that for Jesus to call us each by name is such an amazing mark of intimacy and familiarity. I have often thought about how personal and individual our own call is from Jesus in our lives, but how we can still turn away from His voice if we choose not to listen to or follow Him. But to think that He calls us each “by name” reminds us that He knows us so completely – even our innermost being – and He loves us with a personal love that is as if we were the only person who existed for Him.

Jesus tells us “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow Me.” These words assume an existing relationship because Jesus uses the word “my” as the possessive adjective before the word “sheep”. And this personal and familial relationship, which was begun at our Baptism, leads us toward eternal life and promises that those who hear Jesus’s voice will not perish or be snatched away form His care.

I like to think that after our Baptism, each of us hears Jesus’ gentle voice in a way that is tailored specifically to us – to our personalities and to the particular circumstances of our life – and that we allow Him to lead us to the pastures He has chosen for us, and that we remain in His care. We know that He leads us each by different paths, but we are all part of His pasture where He nourishes and protects us. The challenge for us, I think, is to continue to make the effort to focus on His gentle voice in our noisy world, as He continues to call us toward Himself.

I hope that we can each find some time this week as we study this beautiful chapter to strive to listen to that gentle voice in our souls, and that we can keep our eyes fixed on our Good Shepherd, so that we can follow Him always.

Franciene and I hope that you are enjoying this lesson, and – as always – feel free to call or email either of us with any questions. We look forward to seeing you next Tuesday!