March 4-9, 2019

Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Sirach 17:20-24  +  Mark 10:17-27
March 4, 2019

“How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!”

Why is it hard “for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God”?  The Church does not teach that human wealth is evil in and of itself.  Some mistakenly think that Scripture says that money is the root of all evil.  But the correct quote from Saint Paul is that “the love of money is the root of all evils” [1 Timothy 6:10].  Nonetheless, that begs the question:  what is it about the love of money that tempts the wealthy away from the Kingdom of God?

The Church teaches that pride is chief among the seven “capital sins”.  The “love of money” must directly relate to pride.  In fact, human wealth is a burden and a responsibility.  Wealth tempts the wealthy person to sin against both God and neighbor:  against the former because the wealthy person is tempted to feel no need for God; against the latter because the wealthy person is tempted to feel superior to the neighbor who has less human wealth.

But wealth is an opportunity for the wealthy person to love God by imitating His beneficence, and to love one’s neighbor by prudently using one’s wealth for their good.  In both of these, man is called to share in and reflect the super-abundance of God’s generosity to others.

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Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Sirach 35:1-12  +  Mark 10:28-31
March 5, 2019

Peter began to say to Jesus, “We have given up everything and followed you.”

The Evangelist doesn’t give us details surrounding Peter’s statement that Jesus’ disciples have given up everything to follow Him.  But Jesus surely reads Peter’s heart before replying.  Jesus is speaking to us disciples in the 21st century, as well.  He explains the logic of discipleship.  Then He sums up His teaching with a brief point for our meditation.

Is there some regret in Peter’s heart as he lays bare the sacrifice he’s made to follow Jesus?  Jesus explains that both in this world and the next, a disciple’s sacrifice bears fruit.  In “this present age”, material sacrifices are compensated by the superabundance of the Church’s graces and charisms.  All the more, “in the age to come”, the consequence of following Jesus is eternal life.  Jesus’ logic lays bare what St. Francis of Assisi expressed in his canticle:  “It is in giving that we receive, and in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Jesus then sums things up.  “Many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.”  Jesus seems to respond to Peter by saying:  in loving your God and your neighbor first, you are putting God and neighbor first, and yourself last.  But in opening ourselves by the act of loving, we are opening our hearts and minds to receiving divine love from God and His Church.

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Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:12-18  +  2 Corinthians 5:20–6:2  +  Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
March 6, 2019

“For our sake He made Him to be sin who did not know sin….”

One way to meditate upon the whole of Lent is to allow our Lenten journey—including our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—to be a means to enter into the priesthood of Jesus Christ.  Every baptized Christian shares in this priesthood, and the baptismal priesthood shapes every other call that God gives.

One phrase in particular from today’s Second Reading forces us to reckon with the depth of Jesus’ priesthood.  What does Saint Paul mean when, speaking about God the Father and the Son, he states that “For our sake He made Him to be sin who did not know sin”?  This saving truth reminds us about three distinct forms of humility that Jesus accepted for our salvation, through which He stands between sinful man and the divine Father.

First, we need to reflect upon God the Son humbling Himself to become human at the Annunciation.  Jesus stands between God and man as True God and true man.  For scriptural meditation on this saving mystery during Lent, we might use the prologue of St. John’s Gospel account, or the canticle of Christ’s humility found in the second chapter of Philippians.

Then, more than thirty years after His conception, this divine Word made Flesh offered up His life on the Cross.  We need to reflect upon Jesus’ humility on Calvary.  Upon the Cross, Jesus is not an Old Testament priest, crying and weeping and offering a dumb animal in sacrifice.  In humility, the Word made Flesh sacrifices His own Body and Blood, soul and divinity.  To reflect on this saving mystery, we might use the Passion narrative from any of the four Gospel accounts.

But within this second form of Jesus’ humility dwells a third:  a mystery that we must not underestimate.  Again, in speaking about the Father sending His divine Son to save us, the Apostle declares:  “For our sake He made Him to be sin who did not know sin”.

Often when we meditate upon the Passion of the Christ—say, for example, during the Stations of the Cross—we are impressed by how awfully man’s sins affect Jesus.  We might imagine the Cross as “containing” our sins, so that the physical weight of Jesus’ heavy cross symbolizes the spiritual weight of all mankind’s sins.  Or we might imagine each lash from the Scourging at the Pillar as representing an individual sin.  But while those images may help us meditate upon the meaning of the Passion, St. Paul is saying something even more profound.

God the Father made His divine Son “to be sin”:  not only to carry sin, or be wounded by sin, but to be made sin.  Jesus, who from before time began was true God, stands not only in the place of sinners, but in the place of sin.  This is where He offers sacrifice as a new and everlasting priest.  His stance between merciful grace and man’s sins brings both together in Himself, where the former destroys the latter, for us men and for our salvation.

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Thursday after Ash Wednesday
Deuteronomy 30:15-20  +  Luke 9:22-25
March 7, 2019

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

There are three steps to Jesus’ counsel in today’s Gospel passage.  Jesus explains to us:  “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  Each of the three steps within this counsel is necessary to entering into the mysteries of Lent.  They are like three legs of a stool:  if you remove one leg, the stool will not stand.

Many Christians are willing to make sacrifices during Lent:  they are willing to deny themselves chocolate, or television, or even Facebook!  But Jesus says that to follow Him, we have to deny ourselves much more:  each of us has to deny his very self.  But what does this mean?

We can’t answer that question until we understand how we define the human self.  For many of us, our self is self-defined, because we believe in what the culture around us tells us about being a “self-made man”.  To experience deeper conversion in our lives, we have to allow God to define the terms of our lives.

But denying one’s very self is only the first step.  The second step is for the Christian to take up his cross “daily”:  not just during Lent; not just once you’ve got life figured out; but “daily”.  Crosses can come into our lives from many different places:  from our own foolish mistakes, from the evil choices of others, or from the loving and merciful will of a Father who knows what is best for us.  There are many situations in our lives as Christians that allow us to bring about goodness into this world, if only we are willing to bear our crosses daily.

The third step of the Lord’s command is to follow Him.  That is to say, we should recognize where the first two steps are leading us.  If we deny our very self, and take up our cross each day, then we are headed with Jesus to Calvary.  That’s where Jesus will lead us, if we follow Him.  We do not need to be frightened by this, because if—like Our Blessed Mother and the Beloved Disciple—we walk with Jesus to Calvary, He has promised that we will experience the joy of His Risen Life, a life which is deeper than any suffering, and everlasting.

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Friday after Ash Wednesday
Isaiah 58:1-9  +  Matthew 9:14-15
March 8, 2019

My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit….

Both John the Baptist’s disciples in the Gospel Reading and the house of Jacob in the First Reading are thoroughly focused upon themselves.  The people of the house of Jacob seem to be fasting as a way of gaining leverage in their negotiations with God.  John’s disciples want to know why Jesus’ disciples don’t have to fast in the same way they do.

In both readings God is trying to make clear what the purpose of fasting (or, in fact, any type of penance) is.  On the surface, when we fast we are imitating Christ, who fasted for forty days in the desert.  Whenever we carry out works of penance by denying something we want, we are imitating Christ who denied his own life for our sake.

But on a deeper level, through our penance we are clearing out our souls.  We are clearing out of our soul those desires which serve only ourselves.  The more and more we remove these desires, the more room there is in our soul for the desires of God, the fruit of which are the works that He wants to accomplish within us and through us.

Lent is about preparing our souls to accept the Cross of Christ in our own lives.  When we seek to follow in the footsteps of Christ, we ourselves are led to Calvary, where with Mary and the apostle John we gaze upon our God who died for us.  At the foot of the cross we learn humility and gratitude for the sacrifice Christ made on the Cross for us.

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Saturday after Ash Wednesday
Isaiah 58:9-14  +  Luke 5:27-32
March 9, 2019

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.

During Lent, any time that you hear the word “way” you ought to think of the Via Dolorosa:  the “Way of Sorrows”.  This is the way from the city of Jerusalem to the top of the hill of Calvary, where Jesus’ feet and wrists were nailed to a cross.  For the Jews in ancient days, Jerusalem was the greatest city on the face of the earth.  It was as close to Heaven as you could find on earth.  Little wonder, then, that the city of Jerusalem was often used in the Scriptures as a “type” or symbol for Heaven.  This is where the phrase “the heavenly Jerusalem” comes from.

Jerusalem was so great a place that anyone who resided there would rarely leave it.  If they did, it would only be for a serious reason.  But to go outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem, and travel up to the hill of Calvary in order to be crucified:  there was a particular shame in this.  Going outside of Jerusalem to be killed by the state was symbolic of being an outcast in death.

So you can see how this way—the Via Dolorosa—was not only a way of sorrow, but of shame as well.  No wonder that most of the apostles weren’t willing to walk the Way of the Cross behind their Master.

But this is the “way” that the Psalmist foreshadowed:  “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.”  It is a way of contradiction, because it leads from a city of life, power and strength, to a barren hilltop of death, weakness and impotence.  It is not a way that any right-thinking person would want to go, if he learned about what’s important from the teachers of this world.

But Our Lord has a unique way to teach us:  a way that we learn only in the process of following Him.  This way leads to mercy, forgiveness and—through mercy and forgiveness—divine love.  For all the times that we are tempted by our culture to cultivate bitterness, anger and resentment against those who have hurt and harmed us, Our Lord invites us to follow Him along a different way.