Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent

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Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Isaiah 65:17-21  +  John 4:43-54
March 23, 2020

“Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”

The Fourth Sunday of Lent—sometimes known by the Latin name “Laetare Sunday”—is roughly the mid-point of Lent.  Before this mid-point, at the weekday Masses of Lent the Gospel Readings are taken from non-sequential chapters among the first three Gospel accounts.  For example, on the first four days of Lent, the Gospel Readings are taken from Matthew 6, Luke 9, Matthew 9, and Luke 5, respectively.

During the Fourth Week of Lent, the respective Gospel Readings are taken from John 4, John 5, John 5, John 5, John 7, and John 7.  If you notice a pattern, you see what the Church is up to.  In fact, this pattern continues through Monday of Holy Week, when the Gospel Reading is taken from John 12.

How do these chapters—from John 4 to 12—prepare us for the sacred events of Holy Week?  Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel Reading offer a clue:  “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”  Following the prologue of St. John’s Gospel account, the first half of the account is often called “The Book of Signs”.  In a better world, where people held stronger faith, signs and wonders would not be needed.  But with compassion for our human weakness, Jesus works signs throughout the chapters of John 4 to 12.  The signs point to an even greater work that Jesus will accomplish through the Sacred Triduum, which the Lord foretells in today’s First Reading:  “Lo, I am about to create new heavens / and a new earth”.

Lent 4-1

The Fourth Sunday of Lent [A]

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The Fourth Sunday of Lent [A]
I Samuel 16:1, 6-7,10-13  +  Ephesians 5:8-14  +  John 9:1-41

“… the Lord looks into the heart.”

+     +     +

references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this Sunday by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:

CCC 280, 529, 748, 1165, 2466, 2715: Christ the light of the nations
CCC 439, 496, 559, 2616: Jesus is the Son of David
CCC 1216: baptism is illumination
CCC 782, 1243, 2105: Christians are to be light of the world

+     +     +

A tiny baby is completely dependent upon its parents for giving it life and sustaining that life.  Yet we do not expect that baby to give thanks for what he or she receives.  In general, the younger a person is, the more his needs are met by others, and the less grateful he tends to be.  But as a child grows more independent and self-sufficient, we expect him to grow in gratitude.

Yet as odd as it might seem, the average adult is often tempted to return to the state of that little child who believes that he or she is completely self-sufficient and needs to give thanks to no one.  This happens when one focuses on material things and loses sight of the spiritual life.

If we grow not only older but also wiser, we begin to recognize how little in our lives comes solely through our own efforts.  In fact, the greatest maturity in life comes when we see that every talent and ability we possess is a gift from God that we no more deserve than the gifts a child receives at Christmas.

The prophet Samuel in the First Reading reminds us of this, that “God does not see as man sees, because man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.”  The Church chose this First Reading because “sight” is the theme that runs through all of the Sacred Liturgy today.  More to the point, the theme is blindness:  the lack of sight that derives from losing sight of God in one’s life.

In last Sunday’s Gospel Reading, Jesus drew an outcast into conversation.  The world of Jesus’ time and place looked upon this sinful Samaritan woman as someone to be avoided.  But Jesus saw in this outcast a heart which, though hardened, wanted to offer love to God.  Jesus drew that love out of her heart.

During these middle weeks of Lent, the Gospel Reading comes from Saint John’s Gospel account.  We ought to notice that in John, intermediaries (or “middlemen”) play an important role in hearing the Gospel, and consequently in people placing their faith in Jesus.

In John, it is not always Jesus Himself who inspires others to place their faith in Him.  Certain persons throughout John—such as the Samaritan woman from last week’s Gospel Reading, the blind man in today’s, and Mary the sister of Lazarus in next week’s—who bring people closer to Jesus.

In today’s Gospel Reading from John, the man born blind is one of us.  When Jesus approaches him, Jesus does not ask if he wants to be cured, and the blind man does not request that Jesus cure him.  This dynamic is rare within the four Gospel accounts, so we ought to attend to it.  Jesus simply walks right up to the blind man, and heals him with a completely unmerited and unrequested gift.

The gift itself, though, is not the chief point of the Gospel Reading.  John’s point is seen when we look at the response of people to this miracle.  Some are drawn to Jesus and begin to place their faith in Him because of the miracle He worked for the blind man.

However, others are Pharisees.  The Pharisees, like the Samaritan woman, have hearts darkened and hardened by sin.  But the Pharisees, unlike the Samaritan woman, refuse to open their hearts to the gifts God wants to place within their souls.  The Pharisees are blind.

When God works a miracle in their midst, the response of the Pharisees is to condemn the miracle-worker.  Through the course of this Gospel Reading, we see the man born blind become more courageous, though:  even he begins to confront the blindness of the Pharisees.

Hopefully each of us is a messenger as the man born blind was:  that is, an intermediary between God and other persons.  God wants to bestow His graces in our lives every day.  First we have to recognize how dependent we are upon God, and in how many ways we are blessed by Him.

Yet we must also be willing to tell others about God’s graciousness.  Sometimes, speaking of our faith in God’s goodness will bring others to recognize God working in their own lives.  Others, however, will only push God further from them, and may very well shun us, also.  In fact, this cost of discipleship may leave us alone at times with no one other than our Lord.

Lent 4-0A

Saturday of the Third Week of Lent

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Saturday of the Third Week of Lent
Hosea 6:1-6  +  Luke 18:9-14
March 21, 2020

“… for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled….”

Jesus cautions us in this morning’s Gospel passage.  Even as we pray to God, our words of thanks can easily turn in on ourselves.  The Pharisee did not give thanks to God for the gifts God have given him.  The Pharisee did not give thanks to God for the good that the Pharisee had been able to do for others.  The Pharisee gave thanks for himself, because in his own eyes he was “not like the rest of men.”

In the person of the tax collector, Jesus is teaching us of the primacy that humility plays in the spiritual life.  Before the tax collector can give thanks, he knows he must first beat his breast and ask pardon from God.  Unlike the Pharisee, the tax collector realizes that he is just like “the rest of men”.  In humility he pleads God for mercy.

Through this parable, Jesus is teaching us a basic lesson about the spiritual life.  In his own person, however, he teaches us something even more important.  Jesus himself was not at first “like the rest of men”.  Rather, “for us men and for our salvation / he came down from heaven: / by the power of the Holy Spirit / he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”  Before he came down from heaven he was true God; after the Annunciation, He was both true God and true man.

Before we give God thanks for our salvation, we plead to Him for mercy.  But before we plead to God for mercy, we give Him thanks for having sent His sent to become human, to show us how to be humble.

Lent 3-6

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

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Friday of the Third Week of Lent
Hosea 14:2-10  +  Mark 12:28-34
March 20, 2020

And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

When the scribe challenges Jesus to identify the prime commandment of God, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy the prayer known as the Shema.  This prayer, which is as important to Jews as the “Our Father” is to Christians, commands you when you pray it to “love the Lord your God with all your heart … soul … mind, and … strength.”  Consider this strength that Jesus is directing our attention towards.

Have you ever had the experience of praying to God for the strength—or the wisdom or perseverance—to accomplish some specific goal, only to hear silence from God in response?  “Where is God?” we ask.  “Why isn’t God here for me?”  If you ever feel like God’s not here for you, and that He’s standing remote and silent over there, at a distance, you might reflect on that distance between here and there.  Ask yourself, and then ask God, if maybe He’s wanting you to move from here to there.  Maybe where you are, isn’t where God wants you to be.

Relating that to the biblical virtue of strength, we have to get it through our heads that God is not going to give us the strength to accomplish a goal that He has no interest in us reaching.  It’s not as if we set the goals, and God gives us whatever we need to reach our goals.  If our goals are not God’s goals, we shouldn’t be surprised when we call on God, and hear silence on the other end of the line.

The Ten Commandments

St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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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, 2020

“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.

Holy Family - flight to egypt 05

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

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Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent
Deuteronomy 4:1,5-9  +  Matthew 5:17-19
March 18, 2020

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.”

Within today’s scriptures there is a tension between divine revelation and the human will.  In the First Reading, Moses declares, on the one hand, that divine revelation is given to us by God and must be accepted as is.  On the other hand, Moses advises the people to take care not to forget what they have seen with their own eyes and heard with their own ears.  Neither the Revelation of God which comes from Him nor our human experience of God is unimportant.

But for us who aspire to serve faithfully as His disciples, Jesus, as a faith-filled Jew, declares in today’s Gospel passage that everything we need to know has already been revealed.  At times if we feel bored, it is because we are tired and have stopped to rest, while the world has moved on.  If we feel that every day we are staring into the same old face of existence—that the world has ground to a halt—then it is surely we who have stopped moving.

When we follow God’s commands, we are not only like little children who are obeying their Father’s Word.  The commandments and other forms of God’s divine revelation are also a source of wisdom for us, offering insight into the mysteries of human life.  Whether we understand God’s ways completely or not, when we follow God’s commands, we become more like Him who gave them to us, because what God is describing in giving us His commandments is a description of Himself.  He is always faithful to those with whom He has made a covenant.  He is always merciful to those who call upon His Holy Name.

Lent 3-3

Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

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Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent
Daniel 3:25,34-43  +  Matthew 18:21-35
March 17, 2020

“So will your heavenly father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”

The Church, in which we share in the Body of Christ, is our truest home.  By right, we should feel most at home in church, because it is there that we celebrate the source of all forgiveness.  At the altar, the Church celebrates the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.  When the priest speaks in the name of Christ, speaking those words that Christ spoke at the Last Supper, we leave our normal home in time and space and are taken into that home where forgiveness was first given by the God-man.  We are transported into the presence of Christ’s eternal sacrifice:  the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, the Sacrifice which is the reason we can be forgiven.

But in our home within the Church, we find not only forgiveness.  In the Church, when we share in the Eucharist we are giving thanks not only for the forgiveness wrought by Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross.  We also give thanks for the fact that when we share fully in this sacrament, we receive not only a share in Christ’s forgiveness.  We receive a share in the life of Christ himself.  We receive not only the Forgiver’s forgiveness; we receive the Forgiver.

To receive forgiveness is to be restored to our former self.  But to receive the Forgiver means not simply that we’re restored to our former self, but that we’re raised from our state of sinfulness to a share in the life of the Forgiver’s Self.  We share in the life of Christ, and so are given the power to forgive others as Christ offers forgiveness:  to all persons, in all circumstances, for ever.

Lent 3-2

Monday of the Third Week of Lent

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Monday of the Third Week of Lent
II Kings 5:1-15  +  Luke 4:24-30
March 16, 2020

Then will I go in to the altar of God ….

Today’s Responsorial Psalm joins together parts of two consecutive psalms.  Both psalms are short:  Psalm 42 is twelve verses long, while Psalm 43 is only five verses.  Within these two psalms is a repeated sentence.  At the midpoint and the end of Psalm 42 and at the end of Psalm 43 the psalmist cries for what he seeks:  “Wait for God, for I shall again praise him, / my savior and my God.”  That these psalms are next to each other in the psalter and that they share this sentence suggests that we ought to pray them together.  That’s what today’s Responsorial does, although in a very abbreviated manner.

That thrice-repeated sentence—“Wait for God, for I shall again praise him, / my savior and my God”—gives this combined psalm (42-43) a hopeful character.  However, when we pray the entirety of both psalms, it’s clear that they form a lament.  While the psalmist is hopeful for what he seeks, he hopes amidst desolation.  This combination of hope and desolation makes these psalms fitting for Lent.

In the first half of today’s Responsorial, the predominant image is the psalmist’s thirst.  It is a thirst “for the living God”.  This thirst becomes our focus since it’s repeated within the refrain of today’s Responsorial.  The psalmist plaintively yet hopefully asks for what he seeks:  “When shall I go and behold the face of God?”

The second half of today’s Responsorial focuses upon God and how He will bring to pass what the psalmist hopes for.  The psalmist makes a hopeful plea to God:  “Send forth your light and your fidelity”.  God’s light and fidelity are the source of the psalmist’s hope, even amidst his desolation.  God’s light and fidelity are what will lead the seeker to God’s “holy mountain”, God’s “dwelling place”.

That is the place where the seeker shall “behold the face of God”.  There the seeker shall, in the last verse of the Responsorial, “go in to the altar of God, [and] give [Him] thanks upon the harp”.  This end, this goal of praise in His presence would be carried out by the psalmist upon the harp.  Christians, however, have a two-fold hope that differs from the psalmist.  The Christian hopes finally to see God face-to-face in Heaven in what the Church calls “the Beatific Vision”.  Yet even on earth the faithful Christian encounters God through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The words of these psalms make a fitting and beautiful meditation before Holy Mass begins, helping the Christian pilgrim to see what He seeks in Christ’s self-oblation upon the altar of God.

Lent 3-1

The Third Sunday of Lent [A]

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The Third Sunday of Lent [A]
Exodus 17:3-7  +  Romans 5:1-2,5-8  +  John 4:5-42

“Is the Lord in our midst or not?”

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references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this Sunday by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:

CCC 1214-1216, 1226-1228: baptism, rebirth of water and Spirit
CCC 727-729: Jesus reveals the Holy Spirit
CCC 694, 733-736, 1215, 1999, 2652: the Holy Spirit, the living water, a gift of God
CCC 604, 733, 1820, 1825, 1992, 2658: God takes the initiative; hope from the Spirit

+     +     +

The love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is what the Samaritan woman in today’s Gospel Reading is seeking.  Jesus knows better than she does what kind of thirst is in her heart.  She’s looked for love in many places, but has failed in her search.  Jesus wants to offer her the love that can only come from God.  He offers the same to us during Lent.

One of the guideposts that God has given to help us is the Ten Commandments.  The Ten Commandments, of course, fall into two parts.  In our whole life on earth, God really asks only two things:  to love God and to love our neighbor.

Yet there’s a reason that God put the First through Third Commandments before the other seven.  Just as prayer has to be the source of our good works, so following the first three commandments help us to follow the latter seven.  Giving God His due is needed to have a heart open to the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which in turn we are meant to share with our neighbor.

God’s First Commandment is:  “I am the Lord, your God. You shall not have other gods before me.”  This commandment forbids fashioning one’s own gods when God Himself does not meet our expectations.  In our own day, there is no end to the suggestions that the world makes about possible substitutes for God:  money, sexuality, power, etc.

One way to reflect on whether the things in our lives are challenging God for First Place is to imagine what our reaction would be if some thing was taken away from us or destroyed.  What if your home, along with all your vehicles, burned completely to the ground?  Would you be distraught?  Or would your response be like that of Job in the Old Testament, who recognized that every thing in his life was a gift from God that he did not deserve.  Would your response be like that of Jesus on the Cross, who in His complete poverty still chose to act out of divine love?

The Second Commandment calls us to respect our God in a unique way.  “You shall not take the Name of the Lord, your God, in vain.”  The name of a person represents that person.  Throughout the scriptures we see God giving new names to individuals as signs of their identities and missions among the People of God.

The name of God is All-Holy, just as God Himself is All-Holy.  To abuse the name of God is to abuse God Himself.  For Christians, there are only two valid ways in which to speak the Name of God:  first, for prayer; second, for leading another towards God in holy conversation, including teaching.

The Third Commandment concerns the fact that Christians are not only called to have a personal relationship with God, but are also to have a spiritual relationship with other Christians, and that together Christians are to worship God.  “Keep holy the Lord’s Day.”  Sunday is the day of the week on which Jesus rose from the dead, and because of this, Christians have always honored Sunday as the “eighth day” of the week, the day on which a new creation was established by God.

Every Sunday, Catholics are obliged by their baptismal promises to share in public worship at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Missing Mass is an offense against God’s love because the Mass is the form of worship He gave us at the Last Supper.  Jesus didn’t say at the Last Supper, “Play a round of golf in memory of me.”  He didn’t say, “Catch up on your sleep in memory of me.”  Jesus confirmed and specified the meaning of the Third Commandment at the Last Supper, telling us:  “Do this in memory of me.”

Lent 3-0A