Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent
Jeremiah 17:5-10  +  Luke 16:19-31
March 1, 2018

He is like a tree planted beside the waters….

During the Season of Lent we often meditate on the image of a desert:  whether the Sinai Desert, through which the Israelites wandered for forty years after their Passover, or the wilderness where Jesus prayed and fasted for forty days before His public life began, leading to the Passover of His Death and Resurrection.  We might well consider Calvary to be a desert, also:  if not physically, then morally and spiritually, since no place on earth in human history has ever been as close to Hell as Calvary.

The person whose hope is the Lord “is like a tree planted beside the waters”.  When was the last time that you were profoundly thirsty?  Have you ever experienced dehydration?  How is such an experience a metaphor for our spiritual life?

One of the truths that we see in meditating on the image of “a tree planted beside the waters” is that it is rooted—physically and metaphysically—in the soil.  The “waters”, perhaps from a river, soak through the soil, into the roots, and so nourish the tree.  So in the light of Jeremiah’s words from our First Reading today, you might pray over this question:  “What is the soil of your spiritual life?”

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent
Jeremiah 18:18-20  +  Matthew 20:17-28
February 28, 2018

“My chalice you will indeed drink….”

As does yesterday’s, today’s Gospel passage focuses our attention on the virtue of humility.  When Jesus prophesies to James and John “My chalice you will indeed drink”, we may wince, given that we know “the rest of the story”.  We know, although James and John don’t, that Jesus’ “chalice” is His sorrowful Passion and Death.  These words should provoke true pity in us for what James and John are asking.

However, the meaning of today’s Gospel passage is more than simply, “Be careful what you wish for….”  Nor is the meaning limited only to James and John as apostles:  Jesus’ words in this verse are for each of His followers, including yourself.

Every one of us, as a Christian, ought to strive to make James and John’s petition our own:  not unknowingly—as their mother asked—but knowingly.  Knowing that Jesus’ “chalice” is the Cup of Suffering, which collected His own Precious Blood from the Cross, we ask Jesus out of love to let us drink from His chalice.  The fruit of this chalice will strengthen us to walk with Jesus on our own ways of the Cross, and through them to eternal life.

Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent
Isaiah 1:10,16-20  +  Matthew 23:1-12
February 27, 2018

“You have but one Father in heaven.”

Sometimes this verse is quoted against Catholics, who address their priests as “Father”.  However, you don’t at the same time hear the New Testament Letter to Philemon quoted, where Saint Paul says, “I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment” (verse 10).  Are these words of Saint Paul un-biblical, and un-Christian?

Or ought we, rather, look at today’s Gospel passage in its own scriptural context?  Scripturally, the first and last verses of today’s Gospel passage help us see the meaning of Jesus’ words:  “You have but one Father in heaven.”

Jesus begins by pointing out the contradiction of the scribes and Pharisees.  They legitimately hold the “chair of Moses”, but the choices of their lives are illegitimate.  They do not practice what they preach.  These first words of the passage present the problem.

The passage’s last words present the answer:  “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  Everything in between is a means to this end.  Today, then, reflect on this question:  “How often do I pray specifically to God the Father, and nurture my relationship with Him as if I were indeed a humble child of His?”

Monday of the Second Week of Lent

Monday of the Second Week of Lent
Daniel 9:4-10  +  Luke 6:36-38
February 26, 2018

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Repeat these words of Jesus throughout the day:  “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  As you do so, be sure to pause for emphasis when you come to the two words in the middle line.  “…just as…”  These two words—as small as they are—remind us of something central to Lent, and to being a Christian.

God does not ask us to be merciful according to our own personal time-tables, or to the degree that we feel like being merciful, or towards those whom we’re ready to show mercy.  God asks us… now, to all who need mercy, to show mercy without measure.  This is how the Father shows mercy.

We hear a plea for the Father’s mercy in today’s Responsorial Psalm, the refrain of which is:  “Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins” [based on Psalm 103:10].  We give thanks during Lent that God the Father—through His Son—has not dealt with us according to our sins.  We ask the Lord during Lent to open our hearts to the Gift of Jesus’ Cross.

We see the Father’s mercy in the person of Jesus.  On the Cross, we see how merciful God the Father is.  So we beg God, through His grace, to help us be towards others just as merciful as Our Father is to them and us alike.

The Second Sunday of Lent [B]

The Second Sunday of Lent [B]
Gen 22:1-2,9,10-13,15-18  +  Rom 8:31-34  +  Mk 9:2-10
February 25, 2018

So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.

In today’s Gospel passage we hear of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  You and I can see clearly that it is a foreshadowing of the Resurrection.  Yet Peter, James, and John see things differently.

These three select apostles were invited by Jesus to see the reason for following Jesus of Nazareth.  At this point in their lives, the disciples had been following Jesus for quite some time.  Yet on this day when Jesus was transfigured, His suffering, death, and resurrection were still some ways in the future.

In following Jesus around, these disciples had already endured many trials, and yet they still weren’t sure where they were going with Jesus.  They surely weren’t expecting Jesus to die the death of a criminal on the Cross, much less rise from the dead.  Jesus’ transfiguration offered a hint of where they were headed.

But Peter, even having been chosen by Jesus to lead His Church, misunderstands the purpose of Jesus revealing His glory.  “Rabbi,” Peter exclaims, “it is good that we are here!  Let us make three tents.”  In other words, “Let’s pitch tent and stay awhile.”  Each of us is like Peter at times.  When we find a winning horse in life, we bet on it.  There are enough things in life that we’re unsure about.  Why should the disciples leave the mountain?  This was the greatest sight of Jesus they’d ever glimpsed.

However, as He does continually throughout the Gospel, Jesus corrects Peter.  Jesus basically says to him:  “You cannot stop on this mountain, because I am not going to stop.  You need to keep up with me.”  Jesus, of course, did keep right on moving.  He continued on the move to Jerusalem, because there lay the goal of His earthly life.  Jesus kept moving towards that Holy Week when He would be betrayed, arrested, and crucified at the top of Calvary, covered with the stain and tarnish of our sins.  For now, we see the disciples continuing to walk with Him.  But if they had fully understood what was coming during Holy Week, would they have continued to follow?

Sadly, we know that after the Last Supper—where Jesus handed over Himself to the apostles in the Eucharist—one of the apostles handed over Jesus to His enemies.  Most of the other apostles fled at Jesus’ arrest.  For them, the mount of Jesus’ Transfiguration was one thing, but the mount of His Crucifixion quite another.  Only St. John, the Beloved Disciple, stood with Jesus on both mounts.

Jesus is not to be worshipped as someone completely unlike us.  It is in His humanity, His “lowly flesh,” that He is glorified.  Likewise, it is in our humanity—through our many weaknesses—that we seek to grow in holiness.  We do not have to experience miraculous visions to follow Jesus faithfully.

Christ became human to free us from our sins, not from our humanity.  Underneath the stains and tarnish of the life of each of us, there lies the beauty of a human person—body and soul—created in the Image and likeness of God.  God has deemed your person—your self—worth saving from sin, and Christ was willing to purchase your self at the price of His own life:  at the price of His Body and Blood, soul and divinity.

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

Saturday of the First Week of Lent
Deuteronomy 26:16-19  +  Matthew 5:43-48
February 24, 2018

“But I say to you, love your enemies….”

Today’s Gospel passage is from the first third of the Sermon on the Mount.  This “inaugural address” is recorded (in full) only in Matthew, in chapters 5-7.  Today’s Gospel passage forms part of a series in chapter 5 of five contrasts between the commands of the Law and Jesus’ commands to love.  Each contrast uses a variation of the form, “You have heard that it was said….  But I say to you.”

The contrast presented in today’s Gospel passage is the last of these five contrasts.  You could easily argue that Jesus saved the hardest for last!  How are we to love our enemies?  The simple answer is:  “Like Jesus on Calvary.”

We might begin by asking how our enemies got to be our enemies in the first place.  Sinners gain enemies because of their sins.  So one way to shorten the list of our enemies is to sin less.

Jesus, of course, was sinless, but still had plenty of enemies.  In fact, Jesus had enemies for just the opposite reason that sinners do:  because of His unwillingness to compromise with evil.  To whatever extent we may, through God’s grace, bear holiness in our own lives, we too will win enemies.  These enemies we must love unto the Cross.

Friday of the First Week of Lent

Friday of the First Week of Lent
Ezekiel 18:21-28  +  Matthew 5:20-26
February 23, 2018

“You have heard that it was said….”

In today’s Gospel passage, from very early in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives His first example of the “New Law”:  the Law of Love, in contrast to Israel’s understanding of the Law of Moses.  The examples that Jesus gives in this section of the Sermon on the Mount have a consistent structure:  “You have heard that it was said….  But I say to you….”

As a background to today’s example, consider that our Christian Faith teaches that sins come only from the human will.  There are indeed sins that rise out of the soil of anger, fear, boredom, and other emotions.  But those emotions are not the sins.  The “sins of anger” (or “of fear”, or “of boredom”) are the choices that we freely make when we allow these emotions to dictate our thoughts, words, and actions (that is to say, when we match our actions to our emotions).

Consider carefully what Jesus says:  He does not say, “Whoever is angry with his brother is sinning.”  Jesus says that when anger is within a person, that person will be “liable to judgment”, meaning that the freely chosen actions that flow out of a person filled with anger will be judged.  That person may be judged innocent.  Regardless, a person with anger in his soul will be held liable for his choices, not only if he kills out of anger, but even if he speaks or thinks in anger.

Note also that emotions come and go, but our choices remain.  Among the many true “sins of anger” (again, free choices that flow from a soul experiencing anger), one of the more powerful is the free choice to “nurture” or “nurse” the emotion of anger.  In a normal human life, anger can leave one’s life just as quickly as it enters.  But often, a person wants to use this emotion as a source of what he falsely considers a form of “strength”.  This active nurturing of anger is a true and common sin.

With all this in mind, and in light of the Cross of Jesus Christ, we can today reflect on this question:  Do I ask God merely to take away my anger, or to help me act justly in the face of my anger?

The Chair of St. Peter the Apostle

The Chair of St. Peter the Apostle
1 Peter 5:1-4  +  Matthew 16:13-19
February 22, 2018

“Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven….”

Peter is one of those saints so important to the life of the Church that he has more than one feast day during the year.  Today is “the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter”.

The chair is a symbol of authority.  Jesus refers to this in Matthew 23:2-3, when He commands and warns the crowd and His disciples:  “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.  Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.”  Of course, Moses must have had an awfully big chair for all the scribes and Pharisees to be able to fit into it… unless this “chair” is metaphorical, referring to the teaching and judging office that Moses held in the Name of God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus declares to Simon:  “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”.  The name that Jesus gives to “Peter” is a second metaphor for an office of teaching and judging, but to drive the point home, Jesus uses a third metaphor by speaking of the “keys of the kingdom of Heaven”.

The “power of the keys” is used in many ways:  some are specific to the Office of Peter (that is, the papacy), while others are shared with those ordained to priestly ministry (for example, the Sacrament of Confession).  Jesus mediates the grace of His Death and Resurrection to us through the ministry of mere human beings.  These human leaders of the Church have been chosen by God, and so we pray for them, that they might always be faithful ministers of God’s grace.

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent
Jonah 3:1-10  +  Luke 11:29-32
February 21, 2018

“Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.”

In Catholic theology, typology is the study of types.  A type is something (usually, someone) who foreshadows or pre-figures some future thing.  A type of a person can foreshadow by means of some personal quality (for example, the physical strength of Samson might be said to foreshadow the spiritual strength of Christ; or the wisdom of Solomon, the Wisdom who is Christ).  A person who is a type can also foreshadow through the events of a narrative, as in today’s readings, where the narrative involving Jonah foreshadows the narrative of Holy Week.

Jonah foreshadows Jesus Christ.  We see many things about Jonah and the events surrounding him that point to Jesus.  But Jesus Himself mentions one thing in particular.  He mentions for whom Jonah was a sign:  “… Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites.”  So will Jesus Himself, he explains, become a sign “to this generation.”

So He is for our generation, also.  We can look back, then, to the Ninevites, as if looking in a mirror, and ask how our lives might be reflected in theirs.  The Book of the Prophet Jonah is, in fact, very short.  It is only four chapters long, and the chapters are 16, 11, 10 and 11 verses long, for a total of just 48 verses!  Take some extra time over the next day, then, to read all 48 verses of the Book of Jonah.

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent
Isaiah 55:10-11  +  Matthew 6:7-15
February 20, 2018

“If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.”

When we look at the Our Father in the context of Saint Matthew’s Gospel account, it’s striking that the first topic that Jesus discusses after handing over this prayer to His disciples is the forgiveness of sins.  This is not surprising, but it is striking.  The Our Father is sometimes considered to be a compendium of the Gospel.  So then, after giving us the “treasury” of the Lord’s Prayer, the Lord begins to teach by discussing the reality of sin.

Challenge those who dismiss either Lenten penance, or the Christian belief in sin itself.  But recognize, at the same time, that Jesus’ words following today’s Gospel passage point us not only beyond our own sins, but even point us beyond the divine Love that we see when we look at the crucifix.  Jesus points us outwards, to “those who trespass against us”.  As Christians, we are defined not by our own sins, nor even—in the end—only by God’s love.  In the end, we are defined by the manner in which we turn to others and forgive them as we have been forgiven by God the Father, by means of the very love by which He has forgiven us.