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 15, 2021

“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

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 13, 2021

“… 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

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

The Fourth Sunday of Lent [B]

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The Fourth Sunday of Lent [B]
II Chronicles 36:14-16,19-23  +  Ephesians 2:4-10  +  John 3:14-21

“But whoever lives the truth comes to the light ….”

Saint John the Evangelist lived these words:  “whoever lives the truth comes to the light”.  He not only wrote them in the third chapter of his Gospel account, from which today’s Gospel Reading comes.  His life reflected these words.  His life was an icon of these words:  “whoever lives the truth comes to the light”.

St. John the Evangelist is called “the Beloved Disciple”.  He’s called this because he was the only apostle to stand fast at the foot of the Cross.  Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus by selling Him for thirty pieces of silver.  The other ten apostles turned tail and ran.  Peter even lied about knowing Jesus.  But St. John the Beloved Disciple stood fast at the foot of the Cross.

While the other apostles saw the Cross as utter darkness, St. John saw the light.  John saw the Cross for what it really is.  We need to do the same during Lent.  We need to see the light that shines from the Cross.

There’s another fact that also distinguishes the Beloved Disciple from the other apostles.  He was the only apostle to die of old age.  That is to say, St. John was the only saintly apostle not to suffer martyrdom.  That’s why, on the feast day of every other saintly apostle, the priest, the tabernacle and the chalice bear red vestments:  to reflect the apostles’ blood, which they shed in witness to Jesus.  But on December 27th—the feast of St. John—the vestments are white, reflecting the purity of his faith.  St. John died an old man, in exile on the island of Patmos in the eastern Mediterranean.

So you might wonder whether these two features of St. John’s life are related.  In other words, was it God’s Providence that St. John was the only apostle to live to old age?  Was this so that he might have time, first, to pray and reflect on what he saw on Good Friday, and then to write down the truth of what he saw in five books of the New Testament:  his account of the Gospel, three epistles, and the Book of Revelation?

All the apostles saw Jesus risen from the dead, but only one apostle saw Jesus sacrifice His Body and Blood on the Cross.  Surely St. John’s perspective on Calvary influenced his account of the Gospel.  In his five New Testament books, St. John gave witness to the light of Christ:  that is, a witness to the power of Jesus’ crucifixion; to the light that shines from the Cross.

One of the unique features of John’s Gospel account is the extent to which he comments on the words and actions of Jesus.  These commentaries obviously were the fruit of his years and years of prayer, through to the end of a long life.

Take today’s Gospel Reading as an example.  This passage is eight verses long, but only two of them present Jesus speaking.  The other three-fourths of the passage are Saint John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, commenting on what it means to follow Jesus.  This commentary begins with one of the more famous verses of the Bible:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  Yet the passage doesn’t stop there, and neither should our reflection upon today’s Gospel passage.

This passage is not only about God’s love for us.  It’s also in turn about the love we must have for God.  The Beloved Disciple’s commentary speaks to the demands that the Faith places upon the shoulders of a Christian disciple:  “whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” 

These “works” of which St. John speaks are not just religious works:  works of stewardship that we do for our parish.  The Beloved Disciple is speaking about the whole of a disciple’s life and all of that life’s thoughts, words, and actions.  For God the Father claims the whole life of one who is baptized.  Being a devout Catholic means that one’s whole life is held up to the light of the Gospel as taught by God’s Church on earth.  Living the truth doesn’t mean spinning the truth, but submitting oneself to the truth with all its consequences, both earthly and eternal.

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent

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Thursday of the Third Week of Lent
Jeremiah 7:23-28  +  Luke 11:14-23
March 11, 2021

“… whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

Unity is one of the four marks of the Church.  When we recite the Apostles’ Creed, we profess that the Church that Jesus founded is one, holy, catholic and apostolic.  Today’s Gospel passage speaks about the general sense of unity in an intriguing way, yet also in a way that we can apply to the life of the Church.

Jesus’ words today are intriguing because He directly contrasts His own followers and those who follow Satan.  Jesus rhetorically asks:  “if Satan is divided against himself,

how will his kingdom stand?”  If you’ve ever pondered the course of salvation history, you might have puzzled over why God has given to Satan such great reign over mankind.  Why does God allow Satan to exist at all, much less to have such sway over human lives and human history?

We may not know until the end of time all the reasons for God’s providential allowance of evil within this world.  Nonetheless, Satan and his legions are divided, for it’s in the very nature of evil and those who serve evil to be self-centered and incapable of working towards unity in any lasting manner.  God is one, and those who serve God and sacrifice themselves for His holy will will become, by His grace, united to Him.

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 10, 2021

“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 9, 2021

“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 8, 2021

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

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

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

“‘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.

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