Monday of the First Week of Lent
Leviticus 19:1-2,11-18 + Matthew 25:31-46
March 11, 2019
“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
At the beginning of this first full week of Lent, Jesus preaches to us about the Final Judgment. The parable that Jesus preaches in today’s Gospel passage reminds us of the old adage: “Always begin with your end in mind.” This saying is good for reflection first thing in the morning, as an entire day upon God’s green earth stretches out before us. At the beginning of the day we pray the Morning Offering, which reminds us that each day on earth is about God: living in His love, and for His glory.
This saying—“Always begin with the end in mind.”—is good for reflection at the beginning of Lent, as we recognize our need for conversion, our need for forgiveness, and our need for redemption. Thanks be to God that all of these are possible in Christ!
Some would argue that God’s Judgment at the Second Coming inspires fear, and so therefore we ought not reflect upon either the Second Coming, or upon the three of the four Last Things that seem “negative”: Hell, death and judgment. But Hell, death and judgment do not come directly from God. God permits each, but only when man chooses them. God’s direct choice is always love. Love is the end for which God has created each person. Reflecting upon the consequences of the Last Things help us more firmly choose God in all things, even in suffering.
Tuesday of the First Week of Lent
Isaiah 55:10-11 + Matthew 6:7-15
March 12, 2019
“If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.”
Our prayers of petition add nothing to God: neither to His knowledge of us, nor to His love for us. God cannot love us more than He already does. Likewise, He knows everything about us, better then we know ourselves. He knows our past lives, our current thoughts, motives and actions, and our destiny. So if we offer our petitions to God, since we do so not for God’s sake, we must do so for our sake. But in what sense is this true?
If our petitions are answered as we wish, then the act of petitioning God beforehand helps our little minds understand our dependence on God: that every good thing comes from him, not from ourselves.
If our petitions are not answered as we wish, because what we wish is contrary to what God wishes for us, then the act of petitioning God helps our little hearts turn towards Him and ask questions about our own desires, and how we might need to reform them. Hopefully this helps us enter more deeply into God’s Heart and His desires for us.
Yet if our petitions are not answered as we wish because what we wish is something we are not ready for, then the act of petitioning God helps our little souls to grow in their capacity and desire for God’s good gift. We hear St. Augustine speak to this holy need in the Office of Readings during the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time:
“The whole life of a good Christian is a holy desire. Now what you long for, you do not yet see: however, by longing, you are made capable, so that when that has come which you may see, you shall be filled. For just as, if you would fill a bag, and know how great the thing is that shall be given, you stretch the opening of the sack or the skin, or whatever else it be—you know how much you would put in, and see that the bag is narrow—by stretching you make it capable of holding more. So God, by deferring our hope, stretches our desire; by the desiring, stretches the mind; by stretching, increases its capacity. Let us desire therefore, my brethren, for we shall be filled.”
Wednesday of the First Week of Lent
Jonah 3:1-10 + Luke 11:29-32
March 13, 2019
“Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.”
Signs are important in the Christian journey. Jesus speaks of two signs in today’s Gospel passage. He says that both Jonah and the Son of Man are signs for others. But Jesus says more. He explains that “as” Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, “so will” the Son of Man be a sign to “this generation”.
So we need to ask first how it was that Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites. The Old Testament Book of Jonah presents Jonah in two ways. First, Jonah preaches the need for repentance throughout Nineveh. Second, he is thrown overboard into deep waters and is swallowed by a large fish where he spends three days, all because he is the scapegoat for the affliction facing his shipmates.
Given all this, how does Jonah foreshadow Jesus serving as a sign to Jesus’ own generation? First, Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God. This proclamation always begins with preaching the need for repentance and conversion. His preaching, however, along with His saving works, inevitably lead to His condemnation. Jesus rhetorically asks His co-religionists, “I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of these are you trying to stone me?” [John 10:32]. This reflects what the Beloved Disciple declares in the prologue of his Gospel account: “He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him” [John 1:11].
Jesus’ rejection reaches its climax on Good Friday. Yet we need to reflect upon the plain fact that Jesus’ rejection continues today. His rejection, which the story of Jonah foreshadows, is shared in today by each faithful member of Christ’s Body who lives and breathes in this fallen world. At His Last Supper Jesus declares to His disciples, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first” [John 15:18].
Thursday of the First Week of Lent
Esther C:12,14-16,23-25 + Matthew 7:7-12
March 14, 2019
“…how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.”
When a Christian is a beginner in the spiritual life, most of his prayers are likely prayers of petition. As he grows in spiritual maturity, fewer of his prayers will be petitions. More of his prayers will be of the other three types of vocal prayer: contrition, thanksgiving and adoration.
However, is one of the goals of the spiritual life to no longer offer prayers of petition? Should you strive to reach the point where you no longer “need” to offer petitions? Would this even be possible?
In the secular culture that surrounds us, independence is prized. Standing on one’s own two feet is a hallmark of personal identity. But Christian growth is marked by becoming more like a little child. This occurs as one realizes one’s deep and abiding—indeed, everlasting—dependence upon God the Father. One doesn’t, strictly speaking, grow in dependence upon God, for one can never be anything but fully dependent upon Him. One grows, rather, in one’s awareness of this dependence, as well as one’s comfort in resting in His providential care.
Friday of the First Week of Lent
Ezekiel 18:21-28 + Matthew 5:20-26
March 15, 2019
“Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”
When you take up a passage of Sacred Scripture, remember that the passage may have several different meanings. At a single sitting, you would likely only ponder one particular meaning, so as to keep your focus. But after you’ve spent many months and years in prayerful reflection upon the Bible, as you come upon a passage that you’ve reflected upon before, you ought to consider whether there’s an additional meaning that you haven’t previously considered.
The Church has an ancient practice of looking within any particular Scripture passage for four different types of meaning, or “senses”. Not every passage will bear all four, but we need to look for all four when we take up any given passage. These four senses are: the literal, the allegorical, the moral, and the anagogical. Without explaining what all four of these are, simply consider today’s Gospel passage in regard to the last of these four senses, the anagogical.
Simply put, the anagogical sense of Scripture takes the literal meaning of a passage and considers what it reveals about “the Last Things”. The Last Things are Heaven and hell, death and judgment. So while today’s parable might seem at first hearing only to relate to how a Christian ought to act in this world, the anagogical sense shows how the same parable also applies to life after death. Reflect, then, on how Jesus’ words following the parable—“Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny”—teach us about the nature of God’s justice in requiring Christians who have been saved by God’s grace to undergo purification in Purgatory before being capable of sharing in the fullness of divine love in Heaven.
Saturday of the First Week of Lent
Deuteronomy 26:16-19 + Matthew 5:43-48
March 16, 2019
“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Jesus focuses our attention on how to love our neighbor. As a backdrop to His words today, we ought to keep in mind Jesus’ two great commands: to love God and to love our neighbor. We also need to remember His parable about the Good Samaritan, and its point concerning who exactly our neighbor is.
Jesus is teaching us not only not to hate our enemies, but to consider them our neighbors. To help us appreciate this, Jesus points to the impartiality of God’s treatment of human beings even on the natural level of life: “your Heavenly Father… makes His sun rise on the bad and the good”. So also His Son died and rose for the bad and the good on the supernatural level.
The last sentence of today’s Gospel passage sums up this section from the Sermon on the Mount: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Here we see Jesus drawing His two great commands ever closer. We cannot love our God any more than we love our neighbors. If I am excluding others from the definition of “my neighbors”, than to that extent I am excluding God from my life. This is so because God extends His love to every person. No person can ever be “God-forsaken”, but only “me-forsaken”. But if I forsake another, it’s not only that other’s loss, but mine as well.