Monday of the Second Week of Lent
Daniel 9:4-10 + Luke 6:36-38
March 18, 2019
But yours, O Lord, our God, are compassion and forgiveness!
Lent is a season of perspective. Our “great and awesome God”, as Daniel describes him, is infinite in all His qualities: beauty, simplicity, and mercy, to name only a few. God’s mercy is our great focus during this season.
God’s love for us is infinite, and when we sin even in the smallest way, we offend this infinite love. God’s mercy is an expression of his love. Some people love, but only up to a point. Many of us, perhaps, are the sort of person who cannot love once we are offended. We insist that the one who has offended us does not deserve our love.
Yet who of us deserves love? What is love if not a gift? God the Father shows us what real love is in offering us His gift of mercy as a means of reconciliation, in the very light of our rejection of His gift of love. God’s mercy knows no bounds. What of ours? Can we put our need to have mercy on others in perspective with God’s mercy towards us?
Jesus also speaks in the Gospel passage about perspective. He points out to us that the measure we use will be measured back to us. This is what we pray every time we recite the Our Father: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That word “as” is the fulcrum within this vital petition. Let us show mercy to the extent that we wish to receive mercy.
St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary
II Sam 7:4-5,12-14,16 + Rom 4:13,16-18,22 + Mt 1:16,18-21,24 [or Lk 2:41-51]
March 19, 2019
“Forever will I confirm your posterity….”
In the midst of our ascent to Calvary, we pause to take a deep breath and sing of “the favors of the Lord”. Like King David, we dare to chant that “through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness”. On this feast of Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary, all of our readings draw our minds to the enduring nature of the covenant between the Lord and His People.
On a day-to-day basis, most of us have difficulty even remembering the small things that we promise to do for others. Of course, all of the small promises that we make are concrete examples of the promises by which we have consecrated our lives to the Lord: first in baptism, and then—many of us—by means of more specific vows or promises.
This promise of oneself—this faithful handing over of one’s own earthly life to another—is the greatest covenant we can establish as individuals. It is by this that we become more than individuals. As such, we bow in homage before the Lord who wishes to make this covenant with every human person.
It is specifically as the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary that we honor Saint Joseph today. Today, in a manner of speaking, is a Marian feast. It is the spousal nature of Joseph’s life that mirrors in his earthly life the enduring fidelity of the Lord. From his place in Heaven, St. Joseph is the patron of the universal Church, that instrument through which the Lord wishes to make a covenant with each member of the human race, making each person a member of His divine Son’s Body. It is the Church that proclaims to the world yet converted the faithfulness of the Lord, and it is to the Church that the Lord promises that He will strengthen us in all our trials.
The life of Saint Joseph is one of silent fidelity to the Lord. We have in Scripture no words of St. Joseph recorded. Even the words that are spoken by others to St. Joseph are words that measure by measure call for ever-growing trust in the Lord’s plan. Step-by-step: that’s the only way to reach Heaven. As we continue to step up the path to Calvary, let us pray that Saint Joseph’s spousal trust and fidelity will be our own.
Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent
Jeremiah 18:18-20 + Matthew 20:17-28
March 20, 2019
Remember that I stood before you to speak in their behalf, to turn away your wrath from them.
Today’s First Reading is taken from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, whose prophecy echoes throughout the season of Lent. One of the hallmarks of the Book of Jeremiah is his account of how he must suffer in order to be a faithful prophet. As such, this hallmark reveals two points for the attention of Christians, though the second grows out of the first.
First, Jeremiah’s suffering as a prophet foreshadows the vocation of Jesus Christ. Jesus was not only a prophet, of course, but during His three years of public ministry, His prophetic preaching and prophetic miracles were a prime motive for those who sought His death. So we ought to listen again to the First Reading and imagine it as describing the suffering of Jesus.
Second, each Christian is called by God to live fully in Christ. This means that each Christian is called by virtue of his or her baptism to share in the three roles that Jesus exercised during His earthly life: the roles of priest, prophet and king. Each Christian, in his or her own way, is meant to speak and act prophetically. In this, we ought to keep in mind that a biblical prophet is not someone who predicts the future, but someone who reminds others—by word and example—of the demands of God’s Word.
Thursday of the Second Week of Lent
Jeremiah 17:5-10 + Luke 16:19-31
March 21, 2019
“‘… neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”
At first hearing, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus might fool us, in just the same way that the Parable of the Prodigal Son can fool us. When St. Luke the Evangelist narrates his account of Jesus teaching the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the evangelist makes clear that Jesus is teaching this parable to the scribes and the Pharisees.
So who in the Parable of the Prodigal Son symbolizes the scribes and the Pharisees? It’s not the Prodigal Son. Nor is it the Prodigal Son’s father, who prodigally—that is to say, lavishly—bestows mercy on his prodigal son. No, it’s the older son who symbolizes the scribes and the Pharisees: the older son who refuses to enter the feast thrown by the father for the prodigal son. So then, if we were to name this parable after the audience to whom Jesus preached it, we might well call this the “Parable of the Miserly Son”: that is, the son who was miserly when it came to showing mercy.
With that in mind, consider today’s Gospel passage. Here Jesus teaches what’s commonly called the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. But that name for the parable, like all the names of the parables, are modern inventions. Jesus never gave a name to any of His parables. But in the first line of today’s Gospel passage, the evangelist tells us that Jesus preached this parable to the Pharisees.
We need to remember that the same dynamic at work in the Parable of the Prodigal Son is at play here also. The Pharisees are not symbolized by either the rich man or Lazarus. Who in today’s parable symbolize the Pharisees? The five brothers of the rich man symbolize the Pharisees. When Abraham declares, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead”, the clear reference is to the Pharisees not being persuaded by Jesus’ future resurrection from the dead. Jesus wants the Pharisees to accept the graces that God offers, even if those graces come through simple and humble messengers.
Just as the rich man during his life on earth failed to lead his five brothers to God, so each of us has a choice about whether or not to be a messenger from God to others. Or in other words, each of us needs to be a human angel—metaphorically speaking—because the word “angel” literally means a “messenger”. Whether we intend to or not, we send messages to others all the time. But are the messages we send others of God’s kindness, mercy, compassion, and forbearing?
Friday of the Second Week of Lent
Genesis 37:3-4,12-13,17-28 + Matthew 21:33-43,45-46
March 22, 2019
“… the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
The person who lives within his emotions acts only according to those emotions. When a person’s emotions are the only norm of human behavior, any action is justifiable, even selling one’s own brother for twenty pieces of silver. Or thirty.
The Church, on the other hand, teaches us that as human beings we are created in the image and likeness of God, and that even though this image has been distorted by Original Sin, it is supposed to be at the center of the human soul, which is at the center of the human person.
The norm for Christian behavior is the Will of God, which we discern in our lives more clearly—most especially during the holy season of Lent—when we give ourselves to God in prayer, when we abandon our own will in penance, and when we give ourselves to others in charity. If the Will of God is to have an abiding presence within our human soul—in order to animate all of our thoughts, words, and actions—we must cultivate a place in our souls for the Holy Spirit to take root and bear fruit. We cannot take credit for these fruits; we do not claim them as our own. When God asks us to make a return to Him for all the good He has done for us, we do so immediately and humbly, recognizing that He is the harvest master, and we are his servants.
The landowner’s son in today’s Gospel passage is obviously a symbol of Christ, the Son of God rejected by those to whom he came, those who were his own. At the heart of Christ’s life was the Will of God. We need today to meditate upon the truth that we see and receive in Christ: that we exist because of the sheer love that God has for us, and that this love is expressed most perfectly in the sacrifice Christ offers us from the Cross.
Saturday of the Second Week of Lent
Micah 7:14-15,18-20 + Luke 15:1-3,11-32
March 23, 2019
“‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.’”
As we dig into the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we should be mindful that the title that modern editors have given this parable is distracting. When a child begins to hear Bible stories—when Grandma says to Jimmy, “This morning I want to tell you the Parable of the Prodigal Son”—Jimmy naturally thinks that the prodigal son is the focus of the story. While it’s certainly not false to call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it is distracting. To call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son distracts us from the joy of the father.
Although the father is more the focus of the parable than the son, the character of the son deepens our understanding of the father. But this prodigal son is—to put it mildly—an an unflattering and unattractive character. The younger son says, “‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’” In other words, this son is saying, “All you’re good for, Dad, is your money. I don’t want to wait until you die to get your money. Give it to me now, so that I can move on with my life: without you.”
This attitude towards his father is itself far worse than the son’s following choices, by which he wastes all that his father gave him. Nonetheless, the insensitivity and baseness of this son highlight the sensitivity and depth of his father, which shine forth in the second half of the parable.
The second half of the parable shows us why we ought to call it the Parable of the Prodigal Father. If the younger son is prodigal, so is the father, though of course in a different way. The word “prodigal” means “lavish” or “extravagant”. The son is extravagant in giving away money that is not his own, but the father is extravagant in giving away mercy from the wellsprings of his heart.
The joy of this father is the focus of Jesus’ teaching. That’s why he tells this parable to His disciples, including you and me. Yes, of course the prodigal son is a key figure in the parable. The parable wouldn’t make sense without him. But the focus here is not the sins of the son, but rather on the joy of the father.
When you transpose this parable to your own life, then, you need to recognize that God the Father’s joy is infinitely greater than your sins. A lot of Christians get caught up on this. Many Christians stay away from God because they do not believe that He is even more loving as the prodigal father. This may be due to the example set by their earthly fathers. This may be due to having committed a mortal sin of such depth that they don’t believe it possible for God to forgive them. Whatever the reason, they and we need to turn to the Father whom Jesus describes through this master parable.