Reflection for the Third Wednesday of Lent

“Glorify the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion. For he has strengthened the bars of your gates; he has blessed your children within you.”

God has strengthened Jerusalem against attack and has blessed those who grow within her walls. What a wonderful image! It becomes even more wonderful when we recognize that we visit the Heavenly Jerusalem each time we participate in the Mass! By our participation in the Mass, we allow God to strengthen us and to help us grow closer to him.

One of the ways that God helps us to grow is through his law. The law given to the Israelite people in Deuteronomy was one of the wonders of the ancient world. The reading today tells us that nations marveled at the intelligence and wisdom of Israel. No other kingdom had a law so just. God had designed the law to help Israel flourish. Sadly, the Israelites could never fully keep the law; therefore, they only partially experienced its wonder.

The law and the prophets—an ancient saying referring to all the Old Testament—were not abolished by Jesus. Jesus even says that not one iota—basically the dot on an ‘i’—of the law would pass away. The sacrificial elements of the old law are fulfilled through Jesus’s sacrifice on the Cross, so they no longer bind us. The moral elements of the law, however, were expanded and refined by Jesus in his ministry. Today’s Gospel, fittingly, comes from the Sermon on the Mount, where the moral code for all who are citizens of the Kingdom of God, that is, all the baptized, is given. This is the updated and refined law.

The antiphons we proclaim today are a perfect fit. At Communion, we said “You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence, O Lord.” (cf. Ps 16:11) God has indeed shown us the path of life: the new law, which we find most plainly in the Gospels. This path, the law, will lead us to great joy if we follow it. Let us remember to pray often to God, asking him as we did at the beginning of Mass today, to “Let my steps be guided by your promise; may evil never rule me.”

Today’s Readings: Dt 4:1, 5-9; Ps 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20; Mt 5:17-19

Reflection for the Third Tuesday of Lent

In the Gospel, Jesus tells a parable of a master who forgives a great debt. This servant, forgiven of his debt, then turns around and throws a fellow servant into prison for a much smaller debt. The master is displeased, and hands down a judgment in line with how the servant with great debt judged the servant with little debt.

We are the servants with a great debt. How we treat others, however, does not have to be as the servant with great treats others in the parable. Azariah recognizes this. He and two other Jewish men have been cast into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship and pay homage to false gods in Babylon. They pray a beautiful prayer amidst the flames, begging God to have mercy on them. They proclaim their trust and confidence in God, offering to Him everything that they have.

They end by asking God to bring glory to his name, which he does. The men are saved from the fire. The king of Babylon then proclaims that Israel’s God is not to be disrespected because of his great power. The three men, as well as the prophet Daniel, go on to be the most sought-after and intelligent men in the entire kingdom. By dedicating themselves to God, and acting in accord with his law, the men gave glory to God with their lives.

Let us be like Azariah, and offer ourselves to God, who has forgiven us a great debt—a debt we could never hope to repay on our own.

Today’s Readings: Dan 3:25, 34-43; Ps 25:4-5ab, 6 & 7bc, 8-9; Mt 18:21-35

Reflection for the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary

For the feast of Saint Joseph, it is fitting that the readings revolve around a theme of fatherhood. While little is written about St. Joseph, he is the model of a Christian father. Fruitfulness, stability and righteousness are highlighted in a special way.

A father is fruitful not only by having children, but by transmitting values and morals to others. He must, therefore, live a life of righteousness. A life of righteousness, where one listens to God and follows his commands, where one lives in accord with the natural law which God has given us, is the only life that will make a person truly happy; therefore, it is the only life worth trying to emulate. The father leads his family by his example, and he transmits his life and love to others most especially through his example. Notice that Joseph never speaks in the Bible. He leads, most of all, by example. He teaches Jesus as he grows through boyhood into manhood. He is the very model of true manliness.

To be a true model, one must be stable in their life. They cannot change their mind every few days about things. They form good habits. There is a rhythm to their life. They are able to invest themselves in what they do, because when they say “yes,” they mean “yes.” Joseph led a righteous life. He led by example and provided a stable home for Mary and Jesus. He protected them. Even though Jesus was his foster child, Joseph loved him, and was fruitful through Jesus, as any father is fruitful through his children.

In addition to these things, I would like to mention one other aspect of Joseph’s life worth imitating: his purity. Many images of St. Joseph contain a lily, which represents his purity. In the modern age, with so many sexual images and activities becoming commonplace, this virtue is becoming increasingly forgotten. Purity allows one to more fully give of his or her self. This can be in the context of marriage, where the spouses ideally give all of themselves to the other, (by this I mean that the ideal is to give their virginity to one another) or in other contexts. When the mind and body are full of sexual imagery, the person cannot focus on other things. They become constantly preoccupied by sexual thoughts and desires. It is a true shame that people see themselves as primarily sexual beings. Who we are, as human beings, is so much more than animals that have sex. We have a mind, with which we are able to see things no other material creature can see. We have a capacity, in our minds, for the infinite! We must aspire for this greatness! We cannot settle for material, worldly pleasures!

St. Joseph, ever chaste, led a full, happy life. In his death, he was surrounded by his family. No man could ever desire more.

So let us all imitate St. Joseph, the fruitful, the righteous, the stable, and the chaste.

Today’s Readings: 2 Sam 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16; Ps 89:2-3, 4-5, 27 & 29; Rom 4:13, 16-18, 22; Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a

Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent

About halfway through today’s Gospel, the woman at the well says to Jesus, “you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus responds to this in an interesting way,

“Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth.”

A lot is going on in these few sentences. Jesus affirms worship in Jerusalem, but then says that neither Jerusalem nor anywhere is where the worship will take place. But we know that true worship, even now, continues in a multitude of places on the earth. While this could be a prophecy of the destruction of the Temple, it can also be seen to contain more truths about true worship. The center of Jewish worship was the Temple. Non-Jewish worship was often centered around a particular place. Ancient peoples often believe mountains to be the places of the gods. The Psalms, which are both Jewish and Catholic prayers, often reference this idea of going up a mountain to worship. What Jesus is telling us is not that there will be no places of worship in this world, but that the true center of worship will no longer be here on earth. The true center of Christian worship is in the Heavenly Kingdom of God. The Mass in the West, the Divine Liturgy in the East, these are both participations in the Heavenly Liturgy. They are but images of the true glory of Heavenly Worship.

This worship requires us to know who we are worshipping. If God is not physically present on this earth, we must have some understanding of who he is in order to give him worship. This does not mean that we understand God: God is beyond our understanding. It means that our God is understandable. There is order, some sort of reason, to God at which we can grasp. The false gods of the pagans did not have this. They were given earthly forms so that people could form images in their minds, but their actions and behaviors were unreasonable. The stories of the gods were as often about their cruelty and strangeness as they were about their positive qualities. Furthermore, there was not a rationality to the religious system which allowed for rich, deep and complex thought. It allowed for many wonderful stories, and for much thought about human nature, but it was ultimately shallow. Often, the pagan gods take on aspects of human nature and the stories are formed more by human condition than by the nature of God.

The Jews, after hundreds of years of various journeys through the desert and exiles, had banished such thought from their minds. They had finally realized that God is one, that he is immaterial, and that there is an order to Him. Perhaps we do not understand, but there is a perceivable order. The Jews were chosen by God to spread this wonderful discovery to all the people of the world, but they failed their mission. Salvation still comes from the Jews through Jesus Christ and the Apostles, all of whom were Jewish. Jesus and his Apostles brought salvation to all mankind, by teaching us how to worship God in Spirit and Truth through the Eucharistic Sacrifice. It is a sacrifice in Spirit because it joins in the Liturgy of Heaven, and it is a true sacrifice because it is an anamnesis—a true memorial in which we make present what occurs in the past—of the Passion of our Lord.

This worship in which we participate then forms the basis of our entire lives. It is the water which Jesus promised the woman at the well. When we pray and offer ourselves to God totally, most perfectly through participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we receive this water that lasts through all eternity.

(Sorry this is late! – MS)

Today’s Readings: Ex 17:3-7; Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Rom 5:1-2, 5-8; Jn 4:5-42

Reflection for the Second Saturday of Lent

Today we hear two readings about repentance and mercy. The prophet Micah wonders at God’s mercy, marveling that he casts into the sea all our sins. In the ancient world, the sea often stood in place for a place of terror and death. In effect, what Micah is stunned by is that God, in some way, kills our sins. Our sins are washed away, and God showers compassion upon us.

This is exactly what happens in the story of the Prodigal Son, which we hear in today’s Gospel passage. We all know this story. What I would like to draw your attention to is the fact that the son who abandoned his family and his father recognized that he had sinned, then was willing to make repentance for it. He returned to his father, begging to be forgiven. His father could not contain his joy at seeing the son return. This is what happens in Confession. God is delighted to see us come back to him; however, we must make the turn back to God. We cannot expect God to forgive us if we aren’t willing to ask for his forgiveness. He wants to forgive us. He desires that we come back to him, and He is ready to welcome us with open arms.

We do not know the day or the hour in which our lives will come to an end, so let us make the turn toward God now, before it is too late! Let us run to God with all our strength, so that when we come home he may great us with open arms to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb!

Today’s Readings: Micah 7:14-15, 18-20; Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

Reflection for the Second Friday of Lent

God has a plan for everything. We don’t always see it. When Joseph’s brothers threw him into a well, then sold him to slave traders (for twenty pieces of silver) neither Joseph nor his brothers were probably thinking about God’s plan, or how these actions might fulfill it. Nobody expected Joseph to become Pharaoh’s right-hand-man in Egypt, who would save the people from famine. Joseph’s 11 brothers certainly didn’t expect that. The psalm today proclaims how unexpected this all was: Joseph had predicted the famine, and the Egyptians jailed him. When it came true, though, they released him and put the Pharaoh made him “ruler of all his possessions,” which includes the lands and peoples of the Egyptian Empire.

The parable in the Gospel today has a less happy ending. All those sent to retrieve the fruits of the land were murdered, even the landowner’s son. One way to understand the parable is that the agents and servants who were sent symbolize all the various prophets and holy men sent by God to help Israel reform. Each was rejected, and many were killed. Eventually, God’s son, Jesus, goes to the people of Israel and is crucified.

The descendants of Joseph and his brothers, the 12 tribes of Israel, did not learn the lesson taught in Genesis. They persecuted the one most beloved by the Father. They killed and tortured his prophets and servants. They were jealous and sought to destroy the one that they perceived as “more beloved,” but in the end only destroyed themselves. But God had a plan. Through the death of his Son, he saved all of humanity from death. He made it possible for us to follow him into eternal life with Him in Heaven.

It may be hard or impossible to see God’s plan, but that doesn’t mean it does not exist. It is sometimes good to take some time and reflect on how we ended up where we are today. When I look back at my life, I realize that God has been actively guiding me the whole time. Those times when I make sure to listen for his will and do my best to follow it—those are the times when I find that I am most at peace.

Today’s Readings: Gn 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a; Ps 105:16-17, 18-19, 20-21; Mt 21:33-43, 45-46

Reflection for the Second Thursday of Lent

One thing that has always struck me as odd about today’s Gospel is that the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus with cooling water, or to send Lazarus to his family. It could be that the rich man—who is never named—understands that he is helpless to do these things himself, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think that his desire for Lazarus to do these things shows that the rich man still doesn’t “get it.” He still wants other people to do all the work.

This would go right in line with the rich man’s way of life prior to his death and eternal punishment. In Jesus’s time, someone who wore purple had to get special permission from the emperor himself to do so and would undoubtedly be very rich. He also dined “sumptuously.” This tells us that the rich man had more material wealth than most people could imagine—someone like this would be one of the richest men in the world today—and did not share it with others who were, literally, lying at his doorstep. The rich man could have given Lazarus enough money for a lifetime and would not have even noticed; however, he did not.

The rich man suffered from the sin of greed. He always wanted more. More money. More clothes. More luxurious food. More servants to do things for him. He never looked outside of himself to the other to consider what someone else might need. The rich man turned his heart away from the Lord and in upon itself. All sin does this: all sin turns the person’s heart back in on itself. True love, in which a person desires to give of themselves to others, is perverted and becomes self-love, in which a person desires everything for his or herself and uses others in order to do so.

Jeremiah warns against this in the first reading. He tells us that the human who trusts in human beings and in created things is doomed and cursed. Only in God, Jeremiah tells us, can man have true hope. The Lord will reward each one per his or her deeds. Jesus tells us in the Gospels that we are called to be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is. The standard by which we are judged is a perfection. The only way we stand a chance is by opening our hearts to God and to others, so that we may love each other fully and truly, in a way that is proper to our relationship with the other.

The rich have a duty to help the poor, as the poor have a duty to help the rich. Spouses have a duty of mutual help. Other relationships have unique and special ways in which the persons involved are called to love one another. May we never forget to see every other person as a human person who is loved by God, and to treat them in accord with their value as God’s beloved child.

Today’s Readings: Jer 17:5-10; Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 & 6; Lk 16:19-31

Reflection for the Second Wednesday of Lent

You know that feeling where you must say something, but you know it is going to make everyone mad? You don’t want to do it, but it needs happen. I get that feeling a lot. Sometimes I will try to talk myself out of it, saying “they don’t really need to know that,” or “I’m sure they’ve already thought of this.” Other times, especially when I have to correct someone, I think, “God said ‘judge lest ye be judged,’” or “turn the other cheek.” Maybe if the other person is older and supposed to be much wiser than me, I might think, “I am not smart enough to correct this person, I am just a child.”

I think that Jeremiah probably came up with all these excuses, and probably more. The book of Jeremiah begins with Jeremiah trying to tell God he was too young and not ready to be a prophet. God replied, “Say not, ‘I am too young.’ To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver.” God had called Jeremiah to proclaim the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple to the people of Jerusalem: his job was to tell everybody “repent or you will all be exiled or killed, and everybody’s stuff will be destroyed.” This would be, to a Catholic in modern times, like someone saying “the Vatican, every government building, and every social media site on the internet will all be destroyed,” and not only will they all be destroyed, but anyone who survives gets to go live among a hostile population. It sounded ridiculous. No wonder the people were plotting to kill Jeremiah! They thought he was a nut job! It didn’t really cross their minds as to whether he might be right.

Jeremiah is troubled by the response of the people. He especially doesn’t understand why he is being “repaid with evil” for doing a good thing. He spent his entire life going where he did not want to go, and preaching to a people who would not listen. I’m sure many of us can relate to this. We do something good and receive bitterness, criticism, and hatred in return.

Jesus definitely knew what Jeremiah was going through. Jesus spent his life preaching of God’s justice, love, and mercy, healing the sick, casting out demons—all very good things to do—and he was repaid with torture and crucifixion. Through Jesus’s death, however, something amazing happened. Because of his sacrifice, Heaven was opened to humanity. His apostles followed him and became servants to all, and most even followed him to their own martyrdoms. Jesus went further though, and called all of us to follow him.

What is in common among Jeremiah, the apostles, us, and Jesus? Suffering. We all suffer. We suffer even when we do good. The apostles all suffered, and Jesus told them it was going to happen! He told them, in front of James and John’s mother, that they would share his chalice, the chalice of suffering. It doesn’t make sense. It hurts. But through our suffering, something we could never expect happens. We are drawn closer to God. We come to a greater realization of what is most important (trusting and loving God!) in our lives. When we see others suffer, we learn to have compassion and to recognize others as worthy of love. Most incredibly of all, we learn to offer our suffering to God. We learn to unite our suffering with the suffering of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Through the Cross our suffering is transformed into something new. It is transformed into a redemptive sacrifice for mankind.

So, in this time of Lent, either in our small and intentional Lenten sacrifices we make to grow, or in the large sufferings thrown at us, let us remember to unite our suffering with Jesus on His Cross. Let us make it a gift to God that will help redeem the world. It will be hard. It will be painful. But God can bring good out of even the worst situations.

Edited for grammar and structure on March 15, 2017.

Today’s Readings: Jer 18:18-20; Ps 31:5-6, 14, 15-16; Mt 20:17-28

Reflection for the Second Tuesday of Lent

The readings in Lent are a constant drumbeat. They call us repeatedly to look at our lives and to repent of wrong doing. They constantly remind us of the mercy of God when we turn to him. Today is no different. The first reading calls us to cleanse ourselves of sins, and that we will be washed as white as snow. It also contains a warning: if we do not repent, if we “refuse and resist, the sword shall consume [us].” The psalmist reminds us that God does not care about empty sacrifices and recitation of his laws: he wants us to love him, he wants our words of praise to be true. To God, a pleasing sacrifice is one where we offer him true praise, heartfelt thanksgiving, and real repentance. “He that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me; and to him that god the right way I will show the salvation of God.”

This is what Jesus addresses in the Gospel today. The scribes and the Pharisees offer empty sacrifice, empty praise. They do not mean what they do and say. They are in it for their own glory. Jesus reminds us that we must be what we say and do. In another place, we are told to “let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.” This Gospel is calling us to similar behavior. We must love one another. If we truly love one another, we will be willing—glad even—to serve one another.

Today’s Readings: Is 1:10, 16-20; Ps 50:8-9, 16bc-17, 21 & 23; Mt 23:1-12