Mary’s letter to her children

My dearest children,

It is with a great and tender love that I write to you today. You, my children, reach out to me often to ask for my help. It gives me joy each time you address me, each time you seek my help. Your words of love mean so much to me. I am always eager to help you, to pray to our gracious and merciful God for your many needs.

I am often surprised by your questions about my life. I will answer a few of those questions in this letter and perhaps more at a later time. There are some questions whose answers must wait until we meet in person in God’s kingdom of heaven. All of your questions are welcome as they are a sign of your love for me and for my beloved Son.

You have asked me often: When God called me to be the mother of His Son was I afraid, how quickly did I answer God’s request, did I realize all that would be required of me? Those simple questions require a long answer, as they reflect so much on the years of my childhood.

I cannot remember a time in my life when the love of God was not in my heart and in my mind. Each day when I awoke from sleep, I would open my eyes to His love and feel in my heart the great love He has for me. Each day the first words I spoke were words of praise and thanksgiving for our heavenly Father. My parents taught me this, that my first duty must always be to our God.

My people are commanded to begin each day with the prayer which is called “the Shema”: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” This prayer was taught to me from the very earliest age, and I prayed the words each morning when I arose.

As a small child – I cannot remember what age I was although I know that I was very young – my parents entrusted me to the Temple in Jerusalem where I learned the teachings, the prayers and the sacred words of my ancestors. Our people often pondered our relationship with our God and sought His help and answers to our most pressing needs.

I spent each day in the company of holy men and women who had devoted their lives to our loving and merciful God. Each day, throughout the day, when I was able to do so, I would raise my eyes to the Holy of Holies. I ached to see the Face of our heavenly Father with my own eyes and not only to imagine His Face with my heart. I desired so much to be close to Him, not to be separated from His Presence by the heavy veil which covered the Holy Place in the Temple. I knew that our God resided within that most sacred place as He had promised to remain with us forever. From the time of our father Abraham many centuries ago, we have had a covenant, a set of promises, given to us by our God, who had chosen us to be his very own. From that long ago time our God has never abandoned us and stands ready to help us.

I listened with rapt attention to the music which filled the Temple, music which was devoted to the praise of our God. Often, I sang those songs silently throughout the day and made them my special prayer of love to our Father. Though my days were filled with many activities, I blessed God for His goodness to me and to all of His people. I rejoiced in the work which had been given to me to do. I was just a small child, yet somehow, I knew that God had chosen for me all that I was to do each day. Those thoughts gave me so much comfort even on those days when I missed seeing my parents’ smiles, hearing their voices and feeling their arms embracing me. During festival times – three times each year, my parents traveled to Jerusalem, and I spent time in their company. What a joy that was for me!

When it was time – when my body began to change with my approaching womanhood, I was sent home to live with my parents. I was told that it wouldn’t be long before a husband would be found for me, as this was the way of my people. I prayed daily that the man chosen for me would be a holy and righteous man. I was not disappointed when I learned that Joseph of Nazareth was the man chosen to be my husband. Not only was Joseph righteous, a man devoted to the Laws of God, but Joseph was also talented in his chosen work. I knew that Joseph was kind, courageous and strong in body and spirit. I saw the Hand of God in the choice of a husband for me. 

Joseph of Nazareth (Franco Zefferelli film)

Before we were married, Joseph and I often walked in the garden of my parents’ home, speaking softly to one another. I enjoyed being in Joseph’s company and hearing about his work and his thoughts about the life we were soon to share. Joseph trusted so deeply in God’s love for our people. He often pondered the Law which God had provided for us and that Law was reflected in the quality of the work which Joseph did for others. I looked forward to that day when I would live with Joseph in our own home, for I believed that our home would always be filled with joy.

Some days before my marriage to Joseph, when I was on my own – I don’t remember now if I was in the garden tending the vegetables and flowers which my mother grew there or working alone at my loom, I was startled by a brilliant light, much brighter than even the sun on a cloudless summer day. Though it seems impossible, I could hear music and the soft sound of voices singing within and surrounded by the light. In the light I could see the form of someone coming toward me – I cannot tell you how he looked, whether like a man or a spirit. I knew deep within me that the form which I saw in the light was that of an angel. There are no human words to describe the angel’s beauty nor the sense of awe which I felt just looking at him. The angel spoke gently to me although I did not hear his words with my ears. The words, instead, seem to form deep inside of me, as though the words were themselves alive and moving.

Unknown artist

Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you”. I did not understand what the angel meant; the angel sensed my confusion and fear, so he continued: “Do not be afraid Miriam, as you have found favor with God. You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Yeshua. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the House of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end.”

I could feel my mind racing as I listened to the angel, trying to remember all that I had been taught of my faith. I remembered the prophecy of Isaiah: “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel.” I remember thinking – Could this woman of prophecy be me? How is it that the Lord God has so favored me? And yet deep within my heart I sensed it must be true, that I was the most blessed of women, that Isaiah’s long-ago prophecy of a Messiah was coming true at long last – and I was to be the honored woman who would bear the Messiah into the world. 

I knew that children were conceived through the coming together of a man and a woman in marriage. I was not yet married to Joseph, a marriage that had been arranged by my parents before and without my consent. My parents did not know of my desire nor my promise to God to remain a virgin. As a child in the Temple, I had promised our Father in heaven to belong exclusively to Him. The angel recognized my puzzlement at the news which he had given to me, so he continued: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

In my heart I could feel my answer to the angel’s request forming even before the words were on my lips. “Behold I am the handmaid of the Most High. Let it be to me according to your word.” Then the light faded, the music stopped and the angel left me alone at my work to ponder all that had passed between us.

The angel had also told me that my cousin Elizabeth, who was long past the age of conceiving a child, would give birth to a son in a few months. I knew at once that I should go to her. Elizabeth and I had spent many wonderful moments together when she visited Jerusalem during my childhood. Elizabeth often accompanied her husband Zechariah when it was his turn to perform his priestly functions in the Temple. Her companionship meant so much to me, as Elizabeth was a loving reminder of my parents and the home I had left behind in my childhood.

As I pondered all that had just happened, I began to be uneasy. How could I have a child without a husband? I knew that there was no limit to God’s power, and yet the Law of my God prescribed death for a woman who had relations with a man without the bonds of marriage. What would my parents and Joseph think? How do I tell my family and Joseph what I had just seen and heard? Would they believe me? What would the people of our village think when they heard my story? Would my parents be shamed and shunned? Yet I trusted so completely in God’s love for me that I knew that He would take care of everything, that there was nothing to fear.

I gave thanks to our God for the blessings that He was imparting to me and to my people at the fulfillment of the ancient promise of a Messiah. I praised God for His goodness and mercy and asked for His assistance as I walked this new path that He had set before me. So many images flashed then through my mind – the delight I often felt when I the saw the light glisten and dance on the moving water in the stream near our home, the joy I knew as I watched the approaching morning sun change the colors of the clouds, the surprised smile within me when I was startled by small creatures scurrying about in the brush looking for something to eat, the captivating smell of the flowers in my mother’s garden and the intricate beauty of their petals – everything that I encountered that day after the angel had spoken to me had an indescribable joy to it. I wondered then if God knows this joy as He looks at the beauty He has created everywhere and given lovingly to us.

I approached my parents that evening with my desire to visit my cousin Elizabeth. They were resistant at first, yet they could see that I was determined. Arrangements were made for my travel, and I began my journey to Ein Karem the next day

Reflections on the book of Ezra Chapters 1-3

Quite a few years ago my husband’s employer transferred my husband from Phoenix, Arizona to Austin, Texas to a new factory which had recently been built. The employer paid for house hunting trips, for all moving expenses including hotel rooms and rental cars and even helped pay the additional mortgage interest rates for the new residence in Austin which we had purchased. We had been living in Phoenix since our marriage several years before and were happy there, but the move to Austin was an opportunity for my husband to advance in his profession.

I thought about this event from my own life as I read the first three chapters of Ezra for my Bible study class. The book of Ezra is “historical” although not all of the details are exact and sometimes the names of historical persons or dates are given incorrectly. The story of Ezra begins with the movement of a large number of Jews from Babylon back to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple. The previous book of the Bible, 2 Chronicles, describes the events which led to Jerusalem and the Temple being destroyed and those Jews who survived the destruction being deported to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar.

According to the Navarre Bible commentary, ”the message of the historical books of the Bible, of which Ezra is one, is a story of God’s relationship with the Jewish people, that He never abandons them. The genealogical lists all serve to show that the exile in Babylon did not involve any breaks in the links binding the people to their ancestors, the patriarchs…Therefore, their own descendants must stay loyal to the Covenant that their fathers made; it establishes Israel as a holy nation set apart from the rest, to be devoted to God…”

Cyrus was king of Persia from 559 to 529 BC. “When he entered Babylon in triumph (after overthrowing the Babylonian empire) in 539 BC… he heard about the position of the deportees from Jerusalem and facilitated their return to their country to rebuild the temple of their God.” Again according to the Navarre commentary, “God uses a pagan king to achieve his saving purpose for the chosen people…moreover, the seventy years of exile prophesied by Jeremiah are shortened by Cyrus’ decree which causes the return from exile to happen in 538 BC.”

The actual number of people who return to Jerusalem is very large, even though it represents a small proportion of the Jews in the diaspora.” According to the Biblical text the whole assembly which returned were 42,360 and additionally men and maidservants and male and female singers. The distance this group traveled was over 900 miles and the journey took some months.

I thought about the people who had been exiled – people of all ages forced to move from their country, from their homes, away from the Temple which was the center of their culture and life. How did they survive? No doubt many died on the journey from Jerusalem to Babylon and many more died in trying to settle in the new environment. Where did they live? How did they find work? How many continued to follow the faith of their ancestors?  How difficult it must have been to move to a new location with a different culture, with different ways of doing necessary things. 

I thought again about the move I made with my family. It was complicated but made easier for us by the help we received from my husband’s employer. We had funds from the sale of our old home to purchase a new one. Food was readily available in our new environment. My husband had employment although in a new location, but his salary was not in jeopardy. We could continue to live in Austin much as we had in Phoenix. We had to set up a new home, discover places to shop for necessities, find new doctors and dentists, but it was all simple compared with the problems faced by the exiles to Babylon.

From the details supplied in the Bible, we know that some families thrived in the new environment for they became well to do. Many more individuals and families would not have been so fortunate. After 50 years of exile Cyrus tells the people they can return home. Who chooses to leave and who remains? How is that decision made? Are those who return the individuals who have been most faithful to the Law, who failed to acclimate themselves to the Babylonian society? The Bible does not tell us.

Those who were young when they were exiled – children perhaps who remembered their homes or those who believed that their families homes and land would be waiting for them – no doubt wanted to return and chose to do so. Did they realize what they would face once they arrived in the homeland? Did any of the exiles realize how difficult the journey would be – most would not have made the journey to Babylon 50 years prior unless they came as children? Most of the returnees walked 900 miles across what was likely inhospitable surroundings? How did they provide food for the people who returned? Was the food supplied by the king? What about water sources?

Even traveling a long distance in my own time is difficult. A route must be selected, preparations must be made. Roads are paved, provisions are easily obtained but there is still danger and difficulties to be faced. How was that done in the time of Ezra? Who was responsible? Who made the plans and arranged for provisions for the journey? Was it up to the individual to decide or did some leader decide who could return to Jerusalem? What criteria would be used to either allow or disallow an individual to return? Would the sick or elderly be allowed to make the journey or only those who were strong enough to face the rigors of the journey? Was the group accompanied by armed soldiers who protected the group?

There are so many questions which could be asked. For most of the questions we have no answer. All of this above was written because of a question asked in the workbook which accompanies the study. Question three asks: In your own words, explain the good news in Ezra 1:2-4. My answer was simple as are most of the answers I write in the workbook, but the question deserves so much more. “We are going home!

I can’t help but feel the emotions that might have passed among the people living in this foreign and inhospitable place. Home! Much as we might feel in a similar circumstance. But as I have learned throughout my life, you can never go back. The previous home is never what you remembered. If you have an opportunity to visit that previous “home”, somehow it is changed and the rosy picture that you remember is very different from reality. I think it must have been the same for those who returned to Jerusalem. Now they had to make it their home again and it wouldn’t be easy. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah describe those difficulties.

Liturgy of the Hours

Some years ago I purchased a book entitled “Christian Prayer”, an amended version of the Liturgy of the Hours prayers. I  wanted to pray along with at least the Morning Prayer from the daily prayer of the Church – this is called the “Liturgy of the Hours”. I was unable  to determine which psalm and hymn accompanied each day’s prayer in the book I had purchased, as the psalms and prayers change daily. There is also a paper guide which can be purchased to help with the Christian Prayer book, but even that guide wasn’t helpful to me.

On many mornings in the Morning Prayer there is a long passage from the book of Daniel, Chapter 3 to be read and studied. I had little experience or knowledge of the Book of Daniel at that time except for some remembered childhood stories of “Daniel and the Lion’s Den”.  So after several months of attempting to pray the morning prayer of the Church, I returned to praying an alternate prayer, similar to but shorter than the Liturgy of the Hours. This shorter prayer is from the Magnificat magazine, which I had followed for several years.

Last fall I found an app for my phone called “Universalis” which provided everything I needed to be successful at reading and praying along with the Liturgy of the Hours. Once I began reading the morning prayer regularly, I found that I loved the variety and beauty of the psalms and prayers that were presented each morning. The passage from the book of Daniel, Chapter 3, verses 52 through 90, was presented often, as I expected. Since my first attempt at praying the Liturgy of the Hours morning prayer, I had come to recognize that the passage from Daniel was a “litany”. Understanding the form of the passage from Daniel helped me to overlook  the repetitive nature of the passage from Daniel.

A litany is described as “A liturgical prayer consisting of a series of petitions recited by a leader which alternates with fixed responses by the congregation.” We often pray litanies such as the Litany of the Sacred Heart at specific times in our Church during our worship on First Friday feasts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Daniel Chapter 3 describes the trials of the Jewish captives who refused to worship the golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar and were condemned to be burned in a furnace. The men walked into the flames and began praying to the Lord. As the flames grew higher, the men continued to pray and praise God. The flames did not touch the men in the furnace and an angel was seen walking in the flames with the men. The inside of “the furnace became as though a dew laden breeze were blowing through it.” Hearing the men sing and seeing the angel walking with them, Nebuchadnessar ordered that the men be released as he realized that he had no power over them.

Here are some verses from Daniel, Chapter 3:

“Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord, praise and exalt Him above all forever.

Angels of the Lord, bless the Lord, praise and exalt Him above all forever.

You heavens, bless the Lord, praise and exalt him above all forever.…” and this continues for quite a few verses until the last verse: “Bless the God of gods, all you who fear the Lord: praise him and give him thanks, because His mercy endures forever.”

A verse from the Daniel passage “jumped out at me” one morning: “Light and darkness, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever”  I remember reading in Genesis how God said “Let there be light, and there was Light”, but I never thought about the darkness. If there wasn’t light then surely it would be dark, but then I realized that without God, there was nothing – no light, no darkness, nothing! How can I have missed that important fact all these years?

Praying with the Liturgy of the Hours these past months has opened my eyes in many ways. I have discovered the beauty of Psalms I seldom read; I began to understand passages in other books which I usually avoided and I have become more familiar with the writings of early Fathers of the Church who provided homilies and letters to their congregations. Many of these letters and homilies are included in the readings which accompany the Morning Prayer.

I still love the Magnificat, the little book of daily readings which I have subscribed to for many years, but I have come to find comfort in praying the daily prayer of the Church: the Liturgy of the Hours thanks to a little app for my phone entitled “Universalis”.

Session 1 of “Presence” – Reflection

Exodus chapter 3:2-8, 10-15

This passage in Exodus continues the story of Moses, who is now a shepherd who serves his father-in-law Jethro. Moses had left Egypt forty years earlier. Moses has not had an ordinary life for a Hebrew. As an infant Moses was set adrift in a reed basket in the Nile River by his mother in an attempt to save his life – all male Hebrew infants were to be drowned at birth by an order of the Pharaoh. Moses was rescued by the daughter of the Pharaoh and raised as her own child. Moses then lived a privileged life with the royal family until his murder of an Egyptian, who had been beating a Hebrew slave.

Moses set adrift

The only mention in the Bible of Moses’ relationship with his birth family or other Hebrews during these early years is that Moses was nursed by his birth mother at the request of the Pharaoh’s daughter. Once Moses was weaned, he was returned to his adoptive mother. There is no mention in the Bible of Moses further interaction with the Hebrews until he returned to Egypt to fulfill God’s mission.

Moses fled Egypt when his murder of the Egyptian is seen by Jewish witnesses and likely reported. Moses then settles in Midian where he marries one of the the daughters of Jethro, a Midianite priest. His wife is named Zipporah and she bears Moses a son. Even though the Pharaoh whom Moses knew had died, the Hebrews remained slaves to the new Pharaoh in the land of Egypt. 

(A Bible dictionary tells us: “ to be holy is  “to be set apart.” This applies to places where God is present, like the Temple and the Tabernacle, and to things and persons related to those holy places or to God Himself.”)

Moses and the burning bush

In Exodus chapter 3 we read, “and the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush...”. Moses has been tending the sheep of his father in law near Horeb (Sinai), the mountain of God, and his attention was caught by an unusual sight – a burning bush which is not consumed by the flames. Intrigued and curious why this might be so, Moses approaches the burning bush. A voice calls to him from the bush – “Moses, Moses” and then Moses responds: “here I am”.  Moses is told by the angel’s voice that the place on which Moses is standing is holy ground, that he should take off his shoes.

Taking off one’s shoes in the presence of God or in a holy place suggests that one must be submissive and respectful to the One who is above all things, who has power over all things and all people, who deserves to be venerated and loved. In Church we genuflect or bow when we enter as we recognize the holiness of the worship place and of the Person who is present in the Tabernacle behind the altar.

God addresses Moses and tells the shepherd that the Person speaking to him is the same God who once spoke to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, ancestors of Moses’ people. In fear and reverence for God, Moses hides his face for we read that  “he was afraid to look on God.” It was believed at that time that gazing upon God would bring instant death.

God has spoken to Moses for He has an important task for Moses to accomplish – Moses must go back to Egypt and bring God’s people out of Egypt to the promised land. God tells Moses that “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry…I know their sufferings.” Moses is understandably confused and perplexed as he later wonders aloud how he is to accomplish this task. God comforts Moses by telling him that He, God Himself, will be with him as Moses goes about this work. The sign that God has sent Moses on this mission will be shown when Moses has accomplished the task – the Israelites will worship God on this very mountain of Horeb.

What God is asking of Moses is an unbelievably difficult task. For centuries the Hebrews have been enslaved by a powerful foreign nation. Moses must return to Egypt, where he is a wanted criminal and even rejected by the Israelites some years ago and free the enslaved people. At first Moses is given no directions as to how he is to accomplish what is asked of him, although God assures Moses that “I will be with you“.  As the conversation continues, God provides more details about the help that He will provide to Moses.

Moses’ first response to God’s request is somewhat strange – Moses wants to know God’s name in case the Israelites ask him. God responds to Moses’ question and says that His name is – “I AM WHO I AM… this is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”  God continues in this way: “Thus shall you say to the Israelites: “The Lord, the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever.” God is reminding Moses and the Israelites that He is making good on His covenant with the patriarchs, that the chosen people have not been forgotten. God then tells Moses how to begin this mission so that the Israelites are assured the God will lead them to the land once promised to Abraham and to freedom.

Knowing a person’s name was important in Biblical times as it denoted some control over that individual if his name was known. God’s response to Moses question does not give any power over Him as the name itself denotes God’s power. God cannot be controlled or owned by anyone as He just is. God is existence itself.

This story is similar to many which we read in the Bible – God calls someone for His purposes and doesn’t tell the person how exactly to accomplish the task which has been assigned to him. A person appears to be on his own, to come up with the means and methods to accomplish the task until the story unfolds further and the reader recognizes that God has been directing the action and assisting the person in his mission.

God places His trust in the person He has chosen. God’s choice of the person and the mission is not random. God sees the past, the present and the future. God created the person he has chosen, so God is aware of what the person has the ability to do.

Moses’ conversation continues with God. Moses tries to back out of the assignment citing his speech impediment, but God gives Moses help by choosing Moses’ brother Aaron to help him, to do the speaking for Moses.

Moses from “The Ten Commandments”

The sign God presents to Moses is what I found most troubling at first. “You will know that you have done what I have asked you to do and that I have asked you to do it when you have accomplished it.” In other words you won’t know for sure that God has sent you on this difficult mission until you accomplish it.

As we continue reading we see all the signs of God’s presence along the journey which Moses undertook. There were plagues directed against the Egyptian gods, the Passover of the angel of death, the parting of the waters of the Red Sea, the manna in the desert, the water from the rock, the cloud and fire which accompanied the people and many other miracles.

How does this story relate to the mission which God has assigned to each of us? Our lifelong assignment from the time of our Baptism into our faith is to follow Christ, to carry the crosses in our life, to relate to the people and situations which God places in our lives, to share His message of love. We will not truly know that we have accomplished our mission until the mission is completed. We walk in the dark, using our reason and the gifts God has given to us. We trust that we have understood what our task is until we finally reach the end of our lives. We then hope to hear our Savior say to us, “well done, good and faithful servant“.

Like Moses we must trust that God is with us as we travel the path set before us. As we proceed in our assigned tasks, we are blessed with many “signs” of God’s presence as Moses was. Christ has left us the Eucharist, His Body and Blood, to serve as food for our journey. Christ left us His Holy Spirit to encourage and guide us along the way. By reading and studying the stories in the Bible we are encouraged and strengthened, for we see God’s work throughout salvation history which assures us that He is with us.

An inspiration about Mary as a mother

During one of the morning Liturgy of the Hours, one of the first psalms to be read and prayed was psalm 95. The psalm begins this way:

“Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord;

Let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation,

Let us greet him with thanksgiving;

Let us joyfully sing psalms to him….

As I read the psalm I imagined that the Blessed Mother often sang this psalm to her Son in the quiet hours of the morning, perhaps when she nursed Him. The psalm continues praising God for His work of creation and reminds us that everything belongs to Him for He made everything.

The psalm then continues:

“Come, let us bow down in worship;

Let us kneel before the Lord who made us.

For he is our God,

And we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.”

As we read and pray the psalms we see many of the topics which Jesus used in his preaching. I wonder if many of these motifs became ingrained in His heart and mind during those early years of His life when He spent so much time in His mother’s presence.

Finding peace and my place in the world

Poppies in acrylic and watercolor – F. McDonald

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

I have always been puzzled by this passage from Scripture. Of all the men who have ever lived or will live, our Lord Jesus had a heavy burden. He had to carry the sins of all of us. How could His burden be light when He carried the cross with our sins to His death?

Recently I read a reflection written by “Servant of God Walter J. Ciszek, S. J.” and I began to understand more of what Jesus was saying. Father Ciszek was convicted of being a “Vatican spy” during World War II and spent 23 years in a Soviet prison.

Father Ciszek wrote “ It was the grace quite simply to look at our situation from “God’s viewpoint” rather than ours….Not the will of God as we might wish it, or as we might have envisioned it, or as we thought in our poor human wisdom it ought to be. But rather the will of God as God envisioned it and revealed it to us each day in the created situations with which He presented us. His will for us was the 24 hours of each day: the people, the places, the circumstances he set before us in that time….”

Jesus didn’t worry about the Passion which was to come, about the tremendous burden which He would carry to the cross. Jesus lived each day in His Father’s will, dealing with the people, places and events which God the Father has placed before Him. 

So what do Jesus’ words mean for me? How do I use what Jesus said in the above passage to reflect on my life and be at peace with the way my life has unfolded?

Growing up in a warm and loving family, I saw my future as being full of promise, and it was, because I was born and grew up in an amazing country and was given all that was necessary to make that future for myself. However, the success which I dreamed about was not the success which I achieved. 

I grew up thinking that I was the “bright star” in my family, the one, who like my dad, was the smartest of all of my siblings. While I hoped as a young person to have a prestigious job, to be hailed by others as a great success, my life turned out differently. I became a wife and a mother and later a grandmother, a volunteer in many and sometimes unusual ways in the communities in which I have lived. I worked in my home, caring for my family and the environment in which I lived.

I struggled from time to time with the career which I chose when I married my husband. It was not a career that I dreamed about during my youth, not a career that I ever wanted. I often hoped over the years I have lived to escape from this  homemaking “career”, because I thought myself more suited to some other work which seemed more important to me and to the society in which I live. I often thought of seeking outside employment, of finding that perfect job, a job that would provide me with the success and public adulation which I wanted. There was always something standing in the way of my “escape” whether it was the immediate needs of my family, or as the years passed, the lack of advanced education which might be needed for that “perfect” job, and then finally diminished physical ability to do something different than what I had chosen so many years ago.

I have come to see that God had a Hand in my choice of a life’s career. I have come to see that the life that God helped me to choose for myself was perfect for me. I am not famous and will never be so – very few people know my name or ever will. I will never have the public adulation I thought that I wanted as a young person. But I have had the opportunity to develop innate skills and abilities I would not have developed had I worked outside my home. I have not been successful in the world as the world counts success, and yet, looking back over these many years of my life, I have found happiness.

Christ’s burden was light, because He did everything He did out of love. Jesus did only as much as His Father set before Him each day. When each day was over, Jesus thanked and praised the Father for all of the moments of His day. Jesus knew that He was successful in the eyes of the Father, because He had obeyed the Father’s will for that single day – and each day of His life. May I always do the same.

A Letter from Mary Magdalene

Dear friends,

I know that I haven’t written to you in some time, but life has been so busy and so full. Please forgive me for not writing, but you must know what has transpired lately. I will explain as much as I can, but I must warn you that what I write may sound strange and unbelievable to you.

This should have been a wonderful and joyous festival weekend – the annual festival of Passover. While it can be a busy time of year with lots of preparation for the national religious festival, I have looked forward to this time of year for the last three years – since I first met Jesus of Nazareth. He had released me from the demons which once controlled me, giving me my life back and assuring me of God’s endless love. For this gift from God I will be forever grateful.

The re-telling and the re-experiencing of our people’s miraculous release and escape from bondage in Egypt and the gift of our land from God has always been a holy time for us, a time of great joy, a time of praise and thanksgiving to our loving and ever present God. I wish that you had been here to experience it with us.

This year – this difficult Passover – has been troubling and so very painful. Our Rabbi, our Master – Jesus of Nazareth – the one we believed to be the Messiah, was arrested, tortured and put to death by the cowardly Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, at the instigation of our religious and civil authorities. I witnessed the horrific execution with His mother, Mary, one of His disciples, John, and some other women who followed Jesus as I did, as our Master was crucified and died a slow and agonizing death. We all tearfully accompanied Jesus’ body to a borrowed grave, given in love by Joseph of Arimathea, where our Master was hastily buried before the Passover feast began. 

There was no time before the feast to give the proper honor to Jesus’ body, to wash away the blood and dirt, to anoint His body with herbs and spices and wrap it in fine linen. Instead a sheet of fresh linen was placed under His body, large quantities of myrrh placed onto His body and the remainder of the sheet of linen used as a cover. A cloth was placed over Jesus’ bruised and battered face. Then a stone was rolled in front of the borrowed tomb just as the Sabbath and the Passover feast was beginning.

I have been in awe of Jesus’ mother Mary for some time, as I have walked next to her as we accompanied Jesus during His ministry to God’s people. I have spoken with Mary often, enjoying her company, laughing at her jokes and being amazed at the life which Mary has led. Mary’s peace and strength with all that has transpired during the three years of Jesus’ ministry gave all of Jesus’ followers the courage and determination to “walk faithfully” with our Lord. The days were long, the journeys and roads we traveled often dusty and rough. Mary became our role model as she was undaunted in her desire to follow and to serve her Son no matter the physical cost to her. As you must have guessed, Mary is no longer young, but she is still physically strong.

But this week – these few days before Passover – once we understood that Jesus would be put to death, our beloved Mary summoned all of her courage to follow her beloved Son through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha while He carried the cross on which He was to die. Mary then witnessed His humiliation and pain as her son Jesus was stripped of His garments and nailed to the cross. I could tell by Mary’s facial expression, her tears and her silent, fervent prayers that Mary suffered greatly along with her Son. I will never understand how Mary could stand there beneath the cross so resolute and determined, never flinching from the commands of the Roman soldiers to move away, for she knew that her presence would give her son Jesus some small comfort in His final hours. After a time even the Romans realized that Mary would not be moved, and they relented in their commands.

When it appeared that Jesus was dead, a Roman soldier thrust his lance through the Heart of Jesus. Mary then collapsed into the arms of John, who took Mary to his own home after Jesus was placed in the tomb. I believe Mary is still staying with John and the other disciples since her son’s death.

Once the required time of rest for the Sabbath was completed, my friends and I began the lengthy preparation of materials to give to our beloved Jesus the respect that was due to Him at His death. We purchased the spices to anoint His body, prepared water containers and clean cloths to properly wash His body – all of which we carried with us – and linen strips to wrap His body for burial as is our society’s custom. It was all we could do to finish these preparations given our grief and pain at His loss.

Our tears came so easily – we sobbed and cried all through the Sabbath day of rest. Nothing could assuage our grief and sorrow or help us to understand why our religious authorities were so hateful of Jesus. We all wondered how we would have the courage and strength to complete these final tasks for our beloved Lord, and even more, how we would live out the rest of our lives without Him.

We began our sorrowful journey to our beloved’s gravesite just as the city gates were opened, moments before dawn. It was still dark as we set out, but small rays of light were just beginning to appear over the horizon. The road to the grave is not long, but each step which we took was in great emotional pain, as we remembered and re-lived what had transpired and the difficult task which lay before us. We were in silence as we walked, keeping our deepest thoughts to ourselves. So much pain and desolation and yes, even anger at what had happened, those feelings which came from the depths of our hearts. 

What had Jesus done to deserve this evil treatment – that question replayed over and over in our minds. Our Master was kind and helpful to everyone; He healed all who asked for healing of their infirmities – Jew and Gentile alike. Jesus tried to teach us God’s way, a way subtly different from that taught by our religious authorities, who had made Moses’ Law so difficult that the common man could never follow it.

As we grew close to the tomb, we finally broke our silence and wondered if we would be able to move the stone which was placed in front of the opening. We realized that we should have brought some of the men, some of His disciples, with us. Perhaps the Roman soldiers will assist us in moving the stone, or we thought, we may find someone else who is visiting the gravesites this morning to assist us. 

As we arrived at our Master’s grave, we noticed that the Roman soldiers – mysteriously – were gone – this should not be! Roman soldiers never desert their posts, as it means a sentence of death to them. There was no one around whom we could see, but the huge stone which once covered the entrance to the tomb had been moved away.

Where was everyone, we wondered? The sun had now risen, though it still was not far above the horizon. The air was so still. There was an eerie silence around us – nothing appeared as it should. I was frightened, as were all the women who accompanied me. Should we run to find help? To whom should we go? Finally, shaking with fear, I was able to summon my courage to approach Jesus’ tomb and look in. What I saw I will never forget, not if I live forever.

Easter morning

When there is time, I will write more. For now, dear friends, may God’s peace be with you.

Mary of Magdala

Gospel of Luke Chapter 24

Luke Chapter 24 Verses 1 – 12

St Peter

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.

9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

I have read these words so many times through the years. I have tried to imagine the scene, felt the pain and sorrow and surprise of the women as they approached the tomb and found the stone rolled away. I have wondered what these “two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning” looked like. Would I have been afraid as well and wondered who they might be? I have read and thought about why the Apostles – the Eleven – and all the others – disciples of Jesus would not have believed the women. 

Today as I read this passage I noticed that “Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb” in verse 12. No other Apostle accompanied Peter  in this version of the Resurrection account. In the Gospel of John both Peter and John run to the tomb to ascertain the women’s story. In the Gospel accounts of Matthew and Mark, the scene is completely different. In Matthew the women meet Jesus on their way back to Jerusalem to tell the eleven remaining Apostles to meet Jesus in Galilee. None of the Apostles return to the tomb in Matthew. In Mark – the longer ending – the disciples refuse to believe Mary Magdalen, who has given them the message that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Again no one goes to the tomb to check out her story, and as we continue to read we learn that some disciples meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

It would be so much easier if all the accounts told the exact same story, but then it would seem as though everyone coordinated their “narrative” as the media does today. Each of the Gospel accounts is addressed to a different audience, so that might be part of the difference in the accounts. Each witness, as they do today, notices things that another person does not notice and relates the event in a different manner based on his/her own personal history and way of speaking. The basic story is the same – Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. That is what we believe.

I also found it interesting that Peter “saw strips of linen lying by themselves”. Remembering the raising of Lazarus, witnesses saw Lazarus come out of the tomb bound in strips of linen. This was the usual way Jews of that day prepared the body of the deceased for burial. So was Jesus’ body wrapped in the same way or was his body just covered front and back by a long sheet of linen – one length of the linen placed on the stone, the body of Jesus lovingly placed on top of it and the remaining part of the linen placed on top of the body? If the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Jesus, the second method was used.

Ripping the linen into strips and winding them around the body would have taken considerable time and effort. Given that the Sabbath was fast approaching after Jesus died, it would seem more likely that the linen was not torn into strips, but Jesus’ body was placed on the long length of linen. Using this method would also make possible the anointing of the body later, as the women were prepared to do. If strips of linen were used, the body of Jesus would have had to be unwrapped before anointing and then wrapped up again. Moving a dead body, even if the person was slight of build, requires a lot of physical strength.

My original question as to why Peter went alone to the tomb has no answer that I could find or imagine. Was everyone else too afraid to accompany him or were they all still asleep as it was early in the morning? Peter may have lost his courage on the night Jesus was arrested, but if this retelling of the story is accurate, Peter has certainly found his courage again. He isn’t afraid to go to the tomb where perhaps Roman soldiers are still stationed.

We are told that of all the Apostles, Peter loved Jesus the most. His desolation at what might have happened to Jesus’ body would have been unbearable. With all the tears Peter shed on the day the Jesus died, he might not have had any left to shed.

When I reflect on this story of the empty tomb, I almost always picture the burial places of my parents. If I were told that my parents’ graves had been opened and that their bodies were missing, it wouldn’t take me long to be on my way, to check it out for myself. The time spent traveling to the location of their graves would be spent in tears and desolation, the question “why?” repeating itself over and over again. How could someone hate these two loving people so much as to disturb their final resting place? No doubt Peter thought the same about the Lord he loved so much.

Revelations Chapter 17 and 18

Heavenly father, we come to you in praise and thanksgiving. You have gathered us from the four corners of our community to share your Word and to learn from it. We thank you for the words of your prophets who pointed the way to your blessed Son Jesus. As we continue to study your Word, we pray that You will fill us with your peace. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Many of you know that my sister Jean passed away unexpectedly last October. Though I went to her funeral and saw her one last time before the casket was closed, there are still moments when I cannot believe that she is gone from us. I know in my heart that my sister is with God. but sometimes I look at her photo and wonder – where is heaven? Is she truly happy? Is she with mom and dad? Has she met St. Peter? I wish then that my sister would phone me and fill me in on everything that she is experiencing, but then I remember Jean doesn’t have her address book, so she may not remember my phone number.

Our contemporary culture gives us a poor view of heaven. It shows us cartoon like pictures of people sitting on fluffy clouds plucking harp strings, and little baby angels darting to and fro, shooting tiny arrows at people in love. Not all that interesting, is it?

John’s vision of heaven, on the other hand, gives us a sense of the wonder and beauty and majesty of God’s eternal home, a home God wants to share with us. It is a place beyond our wildest dreams, where even our imaginations cannot take us. St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians: …“eye has not seen, and ear has not heard….what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

In John’s vision heaven also appears to be a very busy place. Joyful Christian witnesses praise God both in song and prayer. Legions of angels hurry about fulfilling God’s commands. The prayers of the faithful on earth ascend in an unbroken stream to heaven, and God’s answers to those prayers, His blessings, descend like a gentle rain back to earth. In all this joy and beauty and activity, there is also evidence of a deadly war being waged for the souls of mankind.

The book of Revelation has shown us the army of the Lord and God’s battle plan. We have looked in awe at the magnificence and power of the leader of God’s forces – the Lord Jesus Himself. And we have been assured that the outcome of the battle is already known, for by His Cross and Resurrection, Jesus defeated the forces of evil, who are now on the run. What remains to be done, a sour own military generals would say is, “mopping up” – collecting up and removing the remaining enemies and restoring the universe to its original beauty and order. We don’t know how long this will take, as there are still battles to be fought and souls to be save. We are an important part of this war. We are the “church militant”, the church still on earth.

We have been surprised at the battle strategy of God. It can be described in just one word: “Truth”. No ak-47’s, cruise missiles or nuclear weapons needed – just Truth! “The Truth of the Word of God is so powerful that it can conquer the physical kingdoms of this world, and it breaks the dragon’s power over peoples minds.” Those who will accept the truth will be on the winning team and spend a joyous eternity in the presence of God. Those who will not accept God’s truth will spend eternity – somewhere else.

In chapter 17 of the book of Revelation, John continues the story of this war which is being fought between good and evil. He begins this chapter by describing one of God’s enemies – Babylon. This is not the true name of the enemy – for the name is code for the Roman empire.

Why did John use the name of Babylon to hide his message? Remember in our studies this year, we learned that Babylon was the first empire to desecrate and destroy the Jerusalem Temple – the place where God dwelt on earth. Those in John’s congregation would recognize the overwhelming danger which faced them. The enemy – Babylon – would attempt to destroy the new Temple of God which dwelt within every baptized Christian.

At the time of John’s writing, Rome was the most powerful nation on earth. Rome had civilized much of the known world and had conquered other great empires until it was the only one left. Among its many accomplishments, Rome had built roads to connect all of its territories and had kept the roads secure, making travel and commerce possible. It had instituted methods of governance and provided a common language for all of the conquered territories. Many of the Roman empire’s actions over the preceding centuries before Jesus’ birth, provided the means through which the Gospel had spread so quickly.

Paul wrote in the letter to the Romans that “everyone should be subject to authority. For there is no authority except from God…” (Romans 13:1-6) After the persecutions by the Romans began, John insists that Christians must oppose and resist the demands of the empire with every fiber of their being.

The Roman empire, which once had been a help to the growth of the church, was now promoting a belief that its emperor was a god. Rome demanded that its subjects, citizens and non-citizens alike, must worship the emperor publicly.

John calls Rome “the great harlot who lives near the many waters”. With the Mediterranean sea surrounding the empire’s headquarters in Rome, it could control all the profitable trade routes in the known world. Through this convenient avenue of travel, Rome could quickly send its forces wherever they were needed to quell uprisings or conquer new territories. Like a spider in its web, Rome’s tentacles reached out in every direction.

John tell us that the “inhabitants of the earth became drunk on the wine of her harlotry”. Wealth and luxurious living are powerful temptations, as we all know. It was desirable and profitable to turn from true worship of God to worship of the emperor, if that brought good living and freedom from oppression. Many Christians abandoned their faith in Jesus when the persecutions began.

John tells us that he saw a “woman seated on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names… wearing purple and scarlet and adorned with gold, precious stones and pearls…she was drunk on the blood of the holy ones and on the blood of the witnesses to Jesus.”

Here John has described in vivid language the state of Rome’s soul and her ultimate fate. Though Rome is rich and powerful, she has persecuted and killed Christians, and eventually she will be alone and defeated, punished for her sins. She cannot escape God’s judgment.

John saw that Rome would go the way of other empires – the Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian and Persian to name only a few. These empires had ceased to exist, each one overtaken by one more powerful. The only empire which will survive is the one that John himself had preached: the kingdom of God.

In Chapter 18 John describes the fall of Rome. He sees “an angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth became illumined by his splendor.” That angel had come to deliver God’s judgment.

John tells us that many nations were in thrall to Rome. Rome’s allies, whose kings had been placed on the thrones of the conquered nations by the Roman emperor, had “drunk the wine of her licentious passion.” He is tell fellow Christians that the entire Roman Empire is not safe for them. The vassal kings will do as Rome demands to keep their power and position.

A voice from heaven warns Christians to “depart from her … so as not to take part in her sins or take part in her plagues…” But there was nowhere to go outside the Roman influence. With these words John cautioned his congregations that they must stay close to their faith, or they would suffer the same fate that awaited Rome and her allies.

The entire populace of the Roman Empire deserted their Roman connections over time. Corruption of the governing class, disregard for the well being of the people, greed and immorality rotted the nation’s core, and in so doing, Rome became vulnerable to attach from her enemies. The once glorious and powerful empire faded from history.

John’s story of vice, corruption and evil transcends time. His words have a lesson for us too. There are questions we must ask ourselves, such as “Where do we fit into this timeless story”?

We can be certain that we have been called to Christ in Baptism – Jesus knows each one of us and wants us to belong to Him. As Psalm 139 tell us: “for you formed my inward parts, you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…my frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret…” And we have certainly been chosen by Christ as members of His mystical Body – His Church one earth.

Are we truly following Jesus as God requires of us? Have we allowed worldly idols to rule our lives, or do we live faithful to the Lord? We know that materialism is a powerful force which can rip us, body and soul, away from Jesus and the eternal life He offers to us.

Have we responded to the Lord’s call? Have we used the gifts given to us to spread Christ’s message? Have we been an example for Christ in the way we live our daily lives? Do we refuse to go along with the Christ? Are we willing to accept rejection by our friends or even our families, if that is what it takes to live the Word? to be true followers of Christ we must answer “yes” to these 5 questions.

The citizens of Rome must have been aware of the evil around them, yet they did nothing to stop it. Will we be like them? Can we see the evil which is almost epidemic in our culture? Will we be like the early martyrs, Agnes and Cecilia and other ancient Christians, and stand against evil when we see it, whatever form it takes?

In China and many Muslim countries, faithful Christians are standing for the truth of Christ. And many are dying for their faith. Though we live in a country which now allows us the freedom to worship as we choose, we have seen our faith being attacked from many sides even here. The time has come when we must stand up for our faith in the public sphere.

Our actions will influence the path of our lives, as it did for the early Christians. At the end of our lives, the choices we have made – whether to follow the Lamb of God or turn our back on Him, will be used to judge us.

The invasion of Rome by the Germanic tribes in the third century fulfilled John’s prophecy of destruction. The ancient Roman monuments and buildings which remain have become a symbol for the fall of a great empire. the faith of the martyrs has outlived the powerful Roman emperors and their wealth. For the faith in Jesus has spread to the four corners of the earth and will be triumphant until the Day of Judgment.

There are real challenges that you and I must face daily in our consumption-oriented world. We have been called by our Baptism to live the Gospel values which were secured by the blood of Jesus and those who walked in His footsteps.

In Chapter 14 of the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”

As disciples of our Risen Lord, our future is known, and it is glorious and wonderful. Let us wait then in calm anticipation for Jesus to come and take us home.

Book of Revelation

Who can stand up for the Church and who can stand up against evil?

Revelation Chapter 6-7

This lecture was given my first year as a facilitator for our WCSS program. We were using a study series by “Catholic Scripture Study” during that time. The facilitators were given extensive notes from which to prepare the lecture. The facilitators chose what parts of the material we thought was most important and added our own material and thoughts to the lecture. After the small groups had met to discuss their study and answers to the questions posed for the chapter, the facilitators gave the lecture to the large assembled group.

“I, John, you brother, who share with you the distress, the kingdom and the endurance we have in Jesus … was caught up in the spirit on the Lord’s day” (Rev 1:2-3)

St. John is at prayer when he is taken up in the Spirit. So let us begin with a prayer: “Eternal Father, anoint us with your Holy Spirit, so that as we read your Eternal Word, your Word may penetrate our whole being and transform us. Grant us the blessings to be faithful to your Word that we may be a light shining upon all who are in darkness.”

“Then I watched while the Lamb broke open the first of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures cry out in a voice like thunder, Come Forward.”

We have been invited, along with John, through the open door to Heaven, and are kneeling with him before the throne of God. We are overwhelmed with joy at the sight of our Creator. The light around the Father glows and shimmers and sparkles with colors and warmth and brilliance unknown on earth. The very air dances with the music and the voices of all His creation.

And then, with John, we watch expectantly, as Jesus, the Lamb of God, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, comes forward to accept the scroll from the right hand of the Father and open the seals. How awesome is His kingly bearing, His priestly garments, His fiery eyes and the light of love which illuminates His face like the sun! We are greatly blest to witness this moment!

As people attentive to the Word of God, what did the first hearers of John’s visions think of the letters and the tribulations that had been revealed by John? Did they imagine, as we did, John’s visit to Heaven? The early Christians knew that God consistently refused to reveal the future and had warned the ancient Israelites not to consult mediums and wizards. In Leviticus 19:31 the Lord had said: “If any turn to mediums or fortunetellers, prostituting themselves to them, I will set my face against them.”

John’s words are not those of a wizard or a fortuneteller. He was a man who had walked the dusty roads of Galilee and Judah with the Lord, who had stood at the foot of the cross with Mary and had been present when Jesus died. John had witnessed the Lord’s empty tomb and had seen and touched the Risen Savior. He had spent many years after Jesus had returned to the Father, traveling the world. He was persecuted as he shared what he had experienced and learned at the feet of His Master – the message Christ had come to earth to teach us. God loves us.

The aim of John’s Apocalypse is very practical. It contains a series of warnings addressed to people of all times, for it views from an eternal perspective the dangers, both internal and external, which will affect the Church throughout history. The Book of Revelation uses as its starting point the persecutions which the early Christians suffered starting from the time of Nero. These persecutions continued for several centuries. Heresies and defections were the internal perils which had begun to undermine the Church.

The first thing that God gave John to “see” is that the Redeemer is triumphant, and that the faithfull are victors with Him. But God also warns John that the Church will be persecuted throughout its pilgrimage on earth, and the faithful will also suffer, if they stay united with the Lamb. The power of darkness will make war unceasingly against the Church and will do all in its power to undermine the faith of the believers.

A short history of the Church may help us to understand John’s visions. The Roman Empire had tolerated indigenous religions of their conquered subjects and had considered Christianity, since its beginnings, as a part of Judaism. But in 64 AD the emperor Nero, prompted by complaints from the Sanhedrin, ruled that Christians were not Jews, but were merely troublemakers. Unspeakable horrors awaited any Christian who would not deny his faith in Jesus Christ and worship the emperor. Many Christians died during the Roman persecutions which followed, and even more denied their Lord. Both St. Peter and St. Paul were martyred during the rein of Nero.

Then in 67 AD Jerusalem revolted against Rome by refusing to offer daily sacrifices for the emperor. An enraged Nero turned his attention from the Christians to Jerusalem. He mobilized a massive Roman army to defeat the Jews and destroy Jerusalem.

Those early Christians who listened to John’s revelations did so with wide eyes and pounding hearts, for they understood the symbolic language John used and knew the dangers they faced. Some scholars believe that the revelations of John were written around 90 AD while others suggest an earlier time. Regardless of when the revelations were received, several of the seals may serve to illustrate the events surrounding the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.

The first four seals have much in common. As each seal is opened, horsemen appear, each one a different color. “There was a white horse and rider and its rider had a bow. He was given a crown, and rode forth victorious to further his victories.” The horse and rider symbolize Christ’s victory in His Passion and Resurrection and personifies the final victory of the Word of God.

The second seal introduces a red horse and ride who is given a sword – a symbol for war. John states: “Its rider was given power to take peace away from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another.”

The Roman historian, Josephus, describes the three political groups competing for power inside Jerusalem during the Roman siege of the city. The first of these was the Sanhedrin, and there were two different groups of zealots. The Zealots were defeated when the Temple fell, then took up their defenses in the royal palace, slaughtering 8400 of their countrymen who had taken refuge there.

When the third seal is opened, a black horse is introduced: “There was a black horse and its rider carried a scale in his hand.” This symbolism refers to the cost of food and of measuring rations and is describing famine. There was sufficient food stored in Jerusalem to withstand a 21 year siege before the Romans attacked, yet during the fighting in Jerusalem between the rival political groups, the Zealot armies destroyed one another’s food supplies. Jerusalem fell to the Romans in 3 and 1/2 years; many Jews succumbed to starvation before the walls were breached.

“There was a pale green horse. Its rider was named Death, and Hades accompanied him.” The final image represents disease and death. With inadequate food and tainted water supplies, disease stalked the Israelites in the fortified city. Any Jew who tried to escape the walls was caught by the Romans and crucified on the surrounding hills.

The opening of the fifth seal reveals an altar and the souls of those who had given their lives for Christ beneath the altar. They cry out: “how long will it be, holy and true master, before you sit in judgment and avenge our blood?” The heavenly altar with the victims sacrificed in the name of Christ is a direct link to the Old Testament. In the Jerusalem Temple, the blood of the victims collected beneath the altar. This image shows us that the martyrs are close to God.

The sixth seal is actually the final one, since the seventh seal repeats the previous events. “There was a great earthquake, the sun turned black as dark sackcloth and the whole moon became like blood. The stars in the sky fell to earth.” These words describe the end of political dynasties. The priesthood of the Sanhedrin was demolished and sacrificial Judaism ended forever with the destruction of the Temple. Nero was the last of the royal line of Augustus Caesar.

In chapter 7 we are witness to the infinite love of God and the knowledge that most of us will prevail in the end. We see an angel come up from the East, holding the seal of the living God.” The seal will be put on the foreheads of the servants of God. First the Israelites will be marked – 144,000 – that is, 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes. These are the remnant of Israel, those who by faith and good works will be given salvation.

Then John tells us: “After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, form every nation, race, people and tongue.” All of those who had been marked by the angel would be protected in much the same way that the ancient Hebrews were protected in Egypt by the physical blood of the lamb placed on the doorposts and lintels. In the Christian Church the mark or seal of God may refer to the spiritual mark of Baptism, as well as that received during reception of the Eucharist, which is the blood of the Lamb placed on our souls.

While we are in the midst of earth’s history and tribulation, we should remember that worship of God is taking place in Heaven. When we participate with the priest and the faithful at Mass, we are participating also with those in heaven, repeating once again the mystery Jesus commanded us to offer in His Name.

Even at the time the St. John saw this vision of Heaven, our faith was known by God. If we finish our lives faithful to the Lord, then we were there, in St. John’s vision, just as we imagine earlier, in that great multitude praising God:

They will not hunger or thirst anymore, Nor will the sun or any heat strike them. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and led them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear form their eyes.”

I pray that these words give you peace.!