Monday of the Second Week of Lent

Monday of the Second Week of Lent
Daniel 9:4-10  +  Luke 6:36-38
February 26, 2018

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Repeat these words of Jesus throughout the day:  “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  As you do so, be sure to pause for emphasis when you come to the two words in the middle line.  “…just as…”  These two words—as small as they are—remind us of something central to Lent, and to being a Christian.

God does not ask us to be merciful according to our own personal time-tables, or to the degree that we feel like being merciful, or towards those whom we’re ready to show mercy.  God asks us… now, to all who need mercy, to show mercy without measure.  This is how the Father shows mercy.

We hear a plea for the Father’s mercy in today’s Responsorial Psalm, the refrain of which is:  “Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins” [based on Psalm 103:10].  We give thanks during Lent that God the Father—through His Son—has not dealt with us according to our sins.  We ask the Lord during Lent to open our hearts to the Gift of Jesus’ Cross.

We see the Father’s mercy in the person of Jesus.  On the Cross, we see how merciful God the Father is.  So we beg God, through His grace, to help us be towards others just as merciful as Our Father is to them and us alike.

The Second Sunday of Lent [B]

The Second Sunday of Lent [B]
Gen 22:1-2,9,10-13,15-18  +  Rom 8:31-34  +  Mk 9:2-10
February 25, 2018

So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.

In today’s Gospel passage we hear of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  You and I can see clearly that it is a foreshadowing of the Resurrection.  Yet Peter, James, and John see things differently.

These three select apostles were invited by Jesus to see the reason for following Jesus of Nazareth.  At this point in their lives, the disciples had been following Jesus for quite some time.  Yet on this day when Jesus was transfigured, His suffering, death, and resurrection were still some ways in the future.

In following Jesus around, these disciples had already endured many trials, and yet they still weren’t sure where they were going with Jesus.  They surely weren’t expecting Jesus to die the death of a criminal on the Cross, much less rise from the dead.  Jesus’ transfiguration offered a hint of where they were headed.

But Peter, even having been chosen by Jesus to lead His Church, misunderstands the purpose of Jesus revealing His glory.  “Rabbi,” Peter exclaims, “it is good that we are here!  Let us make three tents.”  In other words, “Let’s pitch tent and stay awhile.”  Each of us is like Peter at times.  When we find a winning horse in life, we bet on it.  There are enough things in life that we’re unsure about.  Why should the disciples leave the mountain?  This was the greatest sight of Jesus they’d ever glimpsed.

However, as He does continually throughout the Gospel, Jesus corrects Peter.  Jesus basically says to him:  “You cannot stop on this mountain, because I am not going to stop.  You need to keep up with me.”  Jesus, of course, did keep right on moving.  He continued on the move to Jerusalem, because there lay the goal of His earthly life.  Jesus kept moving towards that Holy Week when He would be betrayed, arrested, and crucified at the top of Calvary, covered with the stain and tarnish of our sins.  For now, we see the disciples continuing to walk with Him.  But if they had fully understood what was coming during Holy Week, would they have continued to follow?

Sadly, we know that after the Last Supper—where Jesus handed over Himself to the apostles in the Eucharist—one of the apostles handed over Jesus to His enemies.  Most of the other apostles fled at Jesus’ arrest.  For them, the mount of Jesus’ Transfiguration was one thing, but the mount of His Crucifixion quite another.  Only St. John, the Beloved Disciple, stood with Jesus on both mounts.

Jesus is not to be worshipped as someone completely unlike us.  It is in His humanity, His “lowly flesh,” that He is glorified.  Likewise, it is in our humanity—through our many weaknesses—that we seek to grow in holiness.  We do not have to experience miraculous visions to follow Jesus faithfully.

Christ became human to free us from our sins, not from our humanity.  Underneath the stains and tarnish of the life of each of us, there lies the beauty of a human person—body and soul—created in the Image and likeness of God.  God has deemed your person—your self—worth saving from sin, and Christ was willing to purchase your self at the price of His own life:  at the price of His Body and Blood, soul and divinity.

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

Saturday of the First Week of Lent
Deuteronomy 26:16-19  +  Matthew 5:43-48
February 24, 2018

“But I say to you, love your enemies….”

Today’s Gospel passage is from the first third of the Sermon on the Mount.  This “inaugural address” is recorded (in full) only in Matthew, in chapters 5-7.  Today’s Gospel passage forms part of a series in chapter 5 of five contrasts between the commands of the Law and Jesus’ commands to love.  Each contrast uses a variation of the form, “You have heard that it was said….  But I say to you.”

The contrast presented in today’s Gospel passage is the last of these five contrasts.  You could easily argue that Jesus saved the hardest for last!  How are we to love our enemies?  The simple answer is:  “Like Jesus on Calvary.”

We might begin by asking how our enemies got to be our enemies in the first place.  Sinners gain enemies because of their sins.  So one way to shorten the list of our enemies is to sin less.

Jesus, of course, was sinless, but still had plenty of enemies.  In fact, Jesus had enemies for just the opposite reason that sinners do:  because of His unwillingness to compromise with evil.  To whatever extent we may, through God’s grace, bear holiness in our own lives, we too will win enemies.  These enemies we must love unto the Cross.

Friday of the First Week of Lent

Friday of the First Week of Lent
Ezekiel 18:21-28  +  Matthew 5:20-26
February 23, 2018

“You have heard that it was said….”

In today’s Gospel passage, from very early in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives His first example of the “New Law”:  the Law of Love, in contrast to Israel’s understanding of the Law of Moses.  The examples that Jesus gives in this section of the Sermon on the Mount have a consistent structure:  “You have heard that it was said….  But I say to you….”

As a background to today’s example, consider that our Christian Faith teaches that sins come only from the human will.  There are indeed sins that rise out of the soil of anger, fear, boredom, and other emotions.  But those emotions are not the sins.  The “sins of anger” (or “of fear”, or “of boredom”) are the choices that we freely make when we allow these emotions to dictate our thoughts, words, and actions (that is to say, when we match our actions to our emotions).

Consider carefully what Jesus says:  He does not say, “Whoever is angry with his brother is sinning.”  Jesus says that when anger is within a person, that person will be “liable to judgment”, meaning that the freely chosen actions that flow out of a person filled with anger will be judged.  That person may be judged innocent.  Regardless, a person with anger in his soul will be held liable for his choices, not only if he kills out of anger, but even if he speaks or thinks in anger.

Note also that emotions come and go, but our choices remain.  Among the many true “sins of anger” (again, free choices that flow from a soul experiencing anger), one of the more powerful is the free choice to “nurture” or “nurse” the emotion of anger.  In a normal human life, anger can leave one’s life just as quickly as it enters.  But often, a person wants to use this emotion as a source of what he falsely considers a form of “strength”.  This active nurturing of anger is a true and common sin.

With all this in mind, and in light of the Cross of Jesus Christ, we can today reflect on this question:  Do I ask God merely to take away my anger, or to help me act justly in the face of my anger?

The Chair of St. Peter the Apostle

The Chair of St. Peter the Apostle
1 Peter 5:1-4  +  Matthew 16:13-19
February 22, 2018

“Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven….”

Peter is one of those saints so important to the life of the Church that he has more than one feast day during the year.  Today is “the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter”.

The chair is a symbol of authority.  Jesus refers to this in Matthew 23:2-3, when He commands and warns the crowd and His disciples:  “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.  Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.”  Of course, Moses must have had an awfully big chair for all the scribes and Pharisees to be able to fit into it… unless this “chair” is metaphorical, referring to the teaching and judging office that Moses held in the Name of God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus declares to Simon:  “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”.  The name that Jesus gives to “Peter” is a second metaphor for an office of teaching and judging, but to drive the point home, Jesus uses a third metaphor by speaking of the “keys of the kingdom of Heaven”.

The “power of the keys” is used in many ways:  some are specific to the Office of Peter (that is, the papacy), while others are shared with those ordained to priestly ministry (for example, the Sacrament of Confession).  Jesus mediates the grace of His Death and Resurrection to us through the ministry of mere human beings.  These human leaders of the Church have been chosen by God, and so we pray for them, that they might always be faithful ministers of God’s grace.

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent
Jonah 3:1-10  +  Luke 11:29-32
February 21, 2018

“Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.”

In Catholic theology, typology is the study of types.  A type is something (usually, someone) who foreshadows or pre-figures some future thing.  A type of a person can foreshadow by means of some personal quality (for example, the physical strength of Samson might be said to foreshadow the spiritual strength of Christ; or the wisdom of Solomon, the Wisdom who is Christ).  A person who is a type can also foreshadow through the events of a narrative, as in today’s readings, where the narrative involving Jonah foreshadows the narrative of Holy Week.

Jonah foreshadows Jesus Christ.  We see many things about Jonah and the events surrounding him that point to Jesus.  But Jesus Himself mentions one thing in particular.  He mentions for whom Jonah was a sign:  “… Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites.”  So will Jesus Himself, he explains, become a sign “to this generation.”

So He is for our generation, also.  We can look back, then, to the Ninevites, as if looking in a mirror, and ask how our lives might be reflected in theirs.  The Book of the Prophet Jonah is, in fact, very short.  It is only four chapters long, and the chapters are 16, 11, 10 and 11 verses long, for a total of just 48 verses!  Take some extra time over the next day, then, to read all 48 verses of the Book of Jonah.

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent
Isaiah 55:10-11  +  Matthew 6:7-15
February 20, 2018

“If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.”

When we look at the Our Father in the context of Saint Matthew’s Gospel account, it’s striking that the first topic that Jesus discusses after handing over this prayer to His disciples is the forgiveness of sins.  This is not surprising, but it is striking.  The Our Father is sometimes considered to be a compendium of the Gospel.  So then, after giving us the “treasury” of the Lord’s Prayer, the Lord begins to teach by discussing the reality of sin.

Challenge those who dismiss either Lenten penance, or the Christian belief in sin itself.  But recognize, at the same time, that Jesus’ words following today’s Gospel passage point us not only beyond our own sins, but even point us beyond the divine Love that we see when we look at the crucifix.  Jesus points us outwards, to “those who trespass against us”.  As Christians, we are defined not by our own sins, nor even—in the end—only by God’s love.  In the end, we are defined by the manner in which we turn to others and forgive them as we have been forgiven by God the Father, by means of the very love by which He has forgiven us.

Monday of the First Week of Lent

Monday of the First Week of Lent
Leviticus 19:1-2,11-18  +  Matthew 25:31-46
February 19, 2018

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus describes a real, future event:  the Last Judgment that will take place at the end of time.  To describe this future event, He uses the metaphor of sheep and goats.  Then Jesus describes the difference between these sheep and goats.  This difference is one of the most important teachings of the Gospel.

Historically, there have been many disputes between Protestants and Catholics about the role of faith, and the role of good works, in the life of the Christian.  By which of them do we enter heaven?  The Catholic Church, from the first century, to the sixteenth century, to today, has taught that—if you make it to Heaven—it will be because you bore both faith and good works.  Each is indispensable, not only for personal salvation.  Each of them is indispensable for the perduring of the other.  Faith does not perdure unless it is manifested through good works, while works without faith do not lead to eternal salvation.

Jesus’ description today of the Last Judgment—which He spoke two days before the Passover during Holy Week [see Matthew 25-26]—makes it seemingly impossible to deny the role of good works in the Christian’s entrance into Heaven.  Nonetheless, beyond any disputes that might still go on today, we need before disputing the meaning of the Christian Faith simply to live the Christian Faith.  Jesus calls us to live the Christian Faith by seeking Him in the disguise of the poor, in all the forms that poverty takes.

The First Sunday of Lent [B]

The First Sunday of Lent [B]
Genesis 9:8-15  +  1 Peter 3:18-22  +  Mark 1:12-15
February 18, 2018

“Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

Do you ever feel that you’d enjoy a retreat from the hectic nature of life?  Consider the word “retreat”.  It has both positive and negative connotations.  In a positive sense, especially when we speak of a place as a retreat, we’re speaking of a place of relaxation and rest.  But when we use the word “retreat” as a verb, it implies some sort of weakness and defeat, at least temporarily.

Lent, as a season of our yearly Christian life, is a retreat in both senses.  Today’s brief Gospel passage is only four verses long.  In the first verse we hear:  “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert”.  Reflect on the two Persons mentioned in this verse.

“The Spirit” is, of course, the Holy Spirit:  the Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity.  There are many ways to describe the Holy Spirit.  One of the more famous is to describe the Holy Spirit as the Love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father.  The Father and the Son are, in fact, “one in being” or “consubstantial”, in and through this very exchange of divine love.  Their reciprocal, mutual Love for each other (that is, Each giving Himself to the Other) is the Third Person of the Godhead.

It is this divine Love that “drove Jesus out into the desert.”  That might seem odd to say, that it was divine Love that drove Jesus into an intensely hot, arid place where for almost six weeks He faced temptations from the devil.  How can such a driving force be seen as Love?

One of the verses written by “the disciple whom Jesus loved” clarifies this truth.  In his first letter, St. John the Beloved Disciple declares:  “In this is love:  not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us, and has given us His Son as a sacrificial offering for our sins.”   Here is the heart of Lent and Easter:  the primacy of God the Father’s Love.  Before any love of ours for God—in fact, in the face of our choice to positively reject God’s love—God the Father made a choice to send His Son down from Heaven, into this world of sin, in order to be a sacrificial offering for our sins.

God the Father loves you, not in spite of your sins, but in and through your sins.  God the Father, out of love for you, sent His Son into this world.  The goal of this mission was for the Son to be crucified on Good Friday, so as to open the gates of Heaven for you.  For His part, Jesus accepted in Love the mission His Father gave Him:  the mission to be a sacrificial offering on the Cross.  It’s this Love that drove Jesus into the desert, and to the top of Calvary.  The Son’s total acceptance of, and self-identification with His Father’s love for you as a sinner led to that truth which we heard St. Paul proclaim in the Second Reading on Ash Wednesday:  “For our sake [the Father] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God in Him” [2 Corinthians 5:21].

Lent is a retreat with Jesus into the desert of Jesus’ love for us:  the love in which Jesus becomes our sins.  On the one hand, this is a retreat in the negative sense, because it’s an honest admission of our human weakness and even defeat, at least temporarily.  But we also retreat with Jesus into the desert because He is our Captain.  This is the positive sense in which Lent is a retreat.  Lent is a blessed time, even a joyful time, because here, in the desert, we are with Jesus.  His Presence here makes this time in the desert a thing of beauty.

This desert is for your soul what fire is for gold:  a purification.  The love of your life is meant to be one with God the Father’s Love, just as Jesus’ Love is one with the Father’s Love.  The Holy Spirit is meant to be the driving force of your life, driving you each day into the missions on which the Father sends you, even those that are deserts in your earthly life.

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Saturday after Ash Wednesday
Isaiah 58:9-14  +  Luke 5:27-32
February 17, 2018

“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.”

The older we get, the more often we find ourselves visiting the doctor.  The older we grow, the more types of doctors we visit, for ailments of different parts of our bodies.  But the average Joe, when he begins to sense a serious sickness, weighs in his mind two counter-balancing dislikes.  He weighs the potential for the sickness becoming worse against the hassle of scheduling a trip to the doctor’s office, with all that entails both beforehand and afterwards.

Consider all this as an analogy to sin.  In today’s Gospel Jesus says that “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.”  In the three years of Jesus’ public ministry, Jesus often condemns the self-righteous, who don’t believe they need a doctor:  these are they who say regarding their spiritual lives, “I’m just fine!”

Jesus also shows, in His words and deeds, the need for a good shepherd to reach out to the lamb who is lame, lost or sick.  Maybe the lamb even avoids the shepherd and pulls away when it sees the shepherd coming towards him:  these are they who say, “Please don’t bother about little old me!”

The irony of today’s Gospel is that the self-righteous likely need Jesus more than do those whom they accuse of sinfulness.  We are all of us—sinful men, women and children—in need of a Savior, even one who shepherds us towards Calvary to find the remedy for sin and death.