Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

RSL banner

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent
Micah 7:14-15,18-20  +  Luke 15:1-3,11-32
March 14, 2020

“‘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.

Öèôðîâàÿ ðåïðîäóêöèÿ íàõîäèòñÿ â èíòåðíåò-ìóçåå

Friday of the Second Week of Lent

RSL banner

Friday of the Second Week of Lent
Genesis 37:3-4,12-13,17-28  +  Matthew 21:33-43,45-46
March 13, 2020

“… 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.

Lent 2-5

RESOURCES for the 3rd Sunday of Lent

RSL banner

The Third Sunday of Lent [A]
Exodus 17:3-7  +  Romans 5:1-2,5-8  +  John 4:5-42
March 15, 2020

“Is the Lord in our midst or not?”

+     +     +

click HERE to hear Scott Hahn’s reflection for this Sunday (2:59)

click HERE to watch Jeff Cavins’ reflection for this Sunday (4:21)

click HERE to read the homily of Monsignor Charles Pope for this Sunday

click HERE to watch the homily of Archbishop Charles Chaput for this Sunday (15:30)

+     +     +

click HERE to read Pope Francis’ 2017 Angelus address for this Sunday

click HERE to read Pope Benedict’s 2011 Angelus address for this Sunday

click HERE to read St. John Paul II’s 2002 homily for this Sunday

+     +     +

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

Samartian Woman at the Well - Veronese

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

RSL banner

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent
Jeremiah 17:5-10  +  Luke 16:19-31
March 12, 2020

“‘… 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?

Rich Man and Lazarus medieval

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent

RSL banner

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent
Jeremiah 18:18-20  +  Matthew 20:17-28
March 11, 2020

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.

Lent 2-3

Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

RSL banner

Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent
Isaiah 1:10,16-20  +  Matthew 23:1-12
March 10, 2020

“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?”

Lent 2-2

Monday of the Second Week of Lent

RSL banner
Monday of the Second Week of Lent
Daniel 9:4-10  +  Luke 6:36-38
March 9, 2020

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.

Lent 2-1

The Second Sunday of Lent [A]

The Second Sunday of Lent [A]
Genesis 12:1-4  +  2 Timothy 1:8-10  +  Matthew 17:1-9

“And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.”

+     +     +

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

CCC 554-556, 568: the Transfiguration
CCC 59, 145-146, 2570-2571: the obedience of Abraham
CCC 706: God’s promise to Abraham fulfilled in Christ
CCC 2012-2014, 2028, 2813: the call to holiness

+     +     +

Every year on the Second Sunday of Lent, the Church proclaims one of the Gospel passages recounting the Transfiguration.  This year we hear St. Matthew’s account.  To appreciate it, it helps to understand its place within St. Matthew’s entire Gospel account.  We should especially consider connections between the Transfiguration account and the passages before and after it.  Here, consider just the preceding passage.

In the eight verses immediately preceding this Sunday’s Gospel passage, “Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed”.  Not surprisingly, the newly minted “Peter” rebuked Jesus:  “‘God forbid, Lord!  This shall never happen to you.’”  But Jesus in turn rebukes Peter by referring to him with a very different name:  “‘Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me.’”

Yet Jesus didn’t stop there.  To extend His point, He declared:  “‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’”

Those eight verses are key to understanding this Sunday’s Gospel Reading.  Of course, those preceding verses sound very Lenten:  a prediction of Jesus’ Passion and Death, and the admonition to follow Jesus by taking up one’s own cross.  In fact, those prior eight verses might seem to be a better choice for the Gospel Reading on the Second Sunday of Lent.  Why, then, does the Church focus upon the Transfiguration every year on this Sunday?

Lent—like one’s entire life on earth—is a pilgrimage.  It’s long and difficult.  The Christian shouldn’t expect or seek a bed of roses.  However, in the midst of any pilgrimage there ought to be stations of rest and relaxation.  In the spiritual life, there are bound to be moments of consolation.  Spiritual consolations can be man-made or can originate from God.

The spiritual consolations that God sends occur in the spiritual life according to God’s Providential Will.  When these consolations occur in connection with one of the sacraments, they are graces above and beyond those normally communicated by that sacrament.  However, God gives some consolations independently of the sacraments and private prayer.

Spiritual consolations can buoy the Christian amidst the tempestuous waves of discipleship.  However, there is a stark danger here.

The Christian may be tempted to seek or cling to spiritual consolations rather than accepting them as gifts given according to God’s Providential Will.  Not surprisingly, Peter shows us in this Sunday’s Gospel Reading what not to do when this occurs.  He responds to the vision of God’s glory by stating:  “‘Lord, it is good that we are here.  If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’”  Jesus does not even respond to Peter’s suggestion, perhaps hoping that His silence will be instructive.

One of the greatest teachers of Catholic spirituality is St. John of the Cross.  His doctrine about the authentic purpose as well as the dangers of spiritual consolations directly relates to Sunday’s Gospel Reading.  In his book Ascent of Mount Carmel, St. John describes those who misunderstand the place of spiritual consolations:  “they prefer feeding and clothing their natural selves with spiritual feelings and consolations [than] to stripping themselves of all things, and denying themselves all things, for God’s sake.  For they think that it suffices to deny themselves worldly things without annihilating and purifying themselves of spiritual attachment” [Ascent II,7,5].

More pointedly, in his book Dark Night of the Soul St. John of the Cross writes an entire chapter about imperfections that arise from what he terms “spiritual gluttony”.  One example concerns the Most Blessed Sacrament and those who approach the Eucharist seeking consolations:  “they have not realized that the least of the benefits which come from this Most Holy Sacrament is that which concerns the senses, and that the invisible part of the grace that it bestows is much greater.  For in order that they may look at it with the eyes of faith, God often withholds from them these other consolations and sweetnesses of sense” [Dark Night I,6,5].

St. John of the Cross might be describing Peter in Sunday’s Gospel Reading, or us in our own spiritual lives, when he notes that “Christ is known very little by those who consider themselves His friends:  we see them seeking in Him their own pleasures and consolations because of their great love for themselves, but not loving His bitter trials and His death because of their great love for Him” [Ascent II,7,12].  What Jesus wants to give as utter gift we should respect in its “giftedness” and neither seek or expect it; instead desiring and seeking a share in Jesus’ Cross.

Lent 2-0A

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

RSL banner

Saturday of the First Week of Lent
Deuteronomy 26:16-19  +  Matthew 5:43-48
March 7, 2020

“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.

Lent 1-6