Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

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

“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

The Annunciation of the Lord

The Annunciation of the Lord
Isaiah 7:10-14;8:10  +  Hebrews 10:4-10  +  Luke 1:26-38

… the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel ….

In the person of Jesus Christ, God and man are united.  This is the good news that Saint Gabriel came to announce to Mary:  that she would bear in her womb the one through whom all human beings could find eternal life.  The profundity of this news overwhelmed Mary, and made her fearful.  What would this mean for her life?

Throughout the world and throughout history, human beings have sought to find meaning in their lives in many ways.  Similarly, human beings have always searched for love in their lives.  We know that there are many different things which people in the world call love, but Jesus Christ and the Church He established upon this earth clearly teach us that there is only one real type of love.  It is that love which over many years would lead Mary to Calvary.  Only this real love is strong enough to destroy death.

If Mary had understood the fullness of her vocation, she would likely have feared the annunciation of Saint Gabriel even more than she did.  Both the Annunciation and its consummation on Calvary are sacred events which call us to consider how God expects us to accept the Holy Spirit in humble submission to the will of God.  Mary is the greatest disciple of Our Lord.  Beyond her questions she says “Fiat”:  “let it be done unto me according to your word”She accepts the fullness of the Holy Spirit and bears the Body of Christ.  She is the model for us who strive faithfully to say, “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

Those who have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Baptism and have had them strengthened in Confirmation turn to Mary, asking her intercession during their journey towards Calvary, and asking for perseverance to pray beneath the Cross.  As each of us shares in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, may we be transformed in mind and heart, in order to bear the real love of Christ in the world:  in the midst of those around us who are seeking God more deeply in their lives, or who do not yet know Him.

Annunciation - Fra Angelico

Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

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

“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

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

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

St. Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

St. Joseph, Husband 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]

“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

Friday of the Second Week of Lent

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

“… 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

The Third Sunday of Lent [C]

The Third Sunday of Lent [C]
Exodus 3:1-8,13-15  +  1 Corinthians 10:1-6,10-12  +  Luke 13:1-9

“But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”

We’re all familiar with the practice of giving something up for Lent.  The saints show us how to complement that Lenten practice with the practice of doing something positive as well.  That is to say, in addition to what we “give up”, we need also to “take up”.  We need to take up added prayers and works of mercy.

Sacrifices, prayers, and works of mercy are, of course, commanded by Jesus Himself in the Gospel Reading of Ash Wednesday [Matthew 6:1-6,16-18].  Lent has a powerful ability to bring our spiritual life into focus through these three works.  However, there is a danger here that we need to be mindful of.

Lent lasts (roughly) forty days.  A year lasts (usually) 365 days.  Therefore, Lent is about eleven percent of the calendar year.  That’s not a large percentage.  Certainly, it’s something to be grateful for when we take Lent seriously and are active in works of sacrifice, prayer, and mercy.  But if Easter Week comes and all those works fall by the wayside, something is wrong.  God doesn’t want His People running at 11% capacity.

In other words, for the Christian, the works of sacrifice, prayer, and mercy should be a part of one’s daily life:  for 365 days a year, not forty.  It’s for this reason that Jesus cautions us:  “if you do not repent, you will all perish”.

The end Jesus speaks of here is a violent death:  not the suffering of martyrdom, but the suffering of hell.  Like the vinedresser in the Gospel Reading, God has given us another year in which to make the works of sacrifice, prayer, and mercy our own.  God has given us another year in which to see these three works as the discipline—the hoeing and the pruning—by which the Holy Spirit works in our souls.

Jesus is asking each of us to reform our lives.  Of course, it is a good practice to give up something we like for forty days in order to grow spiritually.  However, we must also consider ourselves to be like children who each year are given more chores and more responsibilities around the home.  Each new Church year should see each of us take more spiritual responsibility upon one’s shoulders.  The Season of Lent is merely the best time of the year to introduce these responsibilities.

This Sunday’s Second Reading draws our attention back to the Old Testament, back to the desert that stretched between Egypt and Israel, between the slavery of the Pharaoh and the freedom of the Lord.  Saint Paul, in preaching to the Christians in Corinth, is reminding them that they, like the Israelites of old, have been freed from slavery.  He is reminding them that they, too, are wandering through a desert.  He is reminding them that they, too, are seeking a place where they can rest in freedom.

When Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians, God the Holy Spirit inspired his words.  This is the same Holy Spirit who inspired the saints during their earthly days to pray for guidance and strength throughout their lives.  This is the same Holy Spirit who is guiding us through the desert of Lent.  This is the same Holy Spirit who is guiding us through the often difficult journey of our lives, and who brings into our lives a freedom that bars cannot confine, and that death cannot destroy.

God the Holy Spirit led all the Israelites of old under the same pillar of cloud.  God the Father fed all the Israelites of old with the same spiritual food and quenched their thirst with the same spiritual drink.  Nonetheless, though God guided all the Israelites, we know that God was not pleased with most of them, for “they were struck down in the desert.”

God was not pleased with most of them because they were never satisfied with what they had.  Most of them failed ever to express gratitude to God for what He had done for them as they journeyed through their desert.

We are foolish if we believe that we can journey through a desert without a guide.  We seek the Holy Spirit as guide and comforter during Lent, most especially through the Sacrament of Confession.  God through Confession graces us not only with forgiveness, but also with strength for works of sacrifice, prayer, and mercy.

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

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

“‘… 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

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent
Jeremiah 18:18-20  +  Matthew 20:17-28

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