In Exodus today, we heard the story of the burning bush. The bush was on fire, yet it was not consumed. This seeming contradiction is fascinating. Why was the bush on fire, and how was it not consumed?
In a very real way, the burning bush is a symbol of our souls. When God is present within our souls, when we allow Him to love us and work through us, our souls are lit afire with His presence much as the burning bush was. God, however, will never hurt us. He will not allow us to “fizzle out,” or going back to the burning bush: He will not allow us to be fully consumed.
Let us strive to live in the presence of God, so that he may light us on fire with his love.
In the Gospel today, Jesus warns us that we must make peace with our opponents before we bring our gifts to the altar. He tells us that while we are on the journey, we must settle with our opponent. If we do not, we will be thrown into jail until the full debt is repaid.
Our lives are a journey, during which we grow in our ability to love. St. Paul tells us that there is neither faith nor hope in Heaven: we can see God, therefore we do not need either; however, love remains. If we do not always work to grow in our capacity to love during our time on Earth, then in Heaven we will not reach the heights God planned for us.
On this journey, we have a traveling companion: God. God is always with us. Sadly, through original sin and our own sins, we have turned God into our opponent. He always loves us, and he always desires to be with us; however, we have turned him into an enemy in our minds. God is the one with whom we must settle. If we do not, and we reach the end of our earthly existence seeing God as our opponent, we will be handed to the judge. This judge—Jesus told us that the Father has given him this authority—will separate those going to Heaven, and those going to “fiery Gahenna.”
The full debt, however, must be repaid if we have made God into our opponent. The Gospel says that we will be handed over to the guard until this occurs. For those going to hell, this can never be repaid, as those going to hell have made God into their enemy forever. Those going to Heaven, however, have only partially made God their enemy. They have struggled to reconcile with God, but have done so imperfectly. This passage may also refer to the time spent in purgatory, where the soul is cleansed before it enters into eternal bliss with God.
This passage, ultimately, reminds us of our need to receive the sacrament of confession regularly. God has given us an easy way to reconcile ourselves with him. Confession may not be fun, because we have to admit we were wrong and that is often painful, but it reconciles us with God. It is how we can be sure we’ve reconciled with God. Sadly, our human condition will cause us to need this sacrament over and over again, but God will give it to us with great joy. God desires to give us mercy. As the scriptures tell us, God and his Angels rejoice greatly in Heaven over one repentant sinner.
In the readings over the last two weeks, the Church, has presented us with two paths: the path on which we follow the light and the path on which we are in the dark. Israel, the nation of God’s chosen people, was supposed to light the path for all the world to see. Every covenant God made with Israel was an attempt to get his people to fulfill their duty, but Israel repeatedly failed to upload the covenant and to shine brightly. Almighty God Himself had to come and shine His light for the world, so that we could follow him.
Today, the Gospel speaks of Judas’ betrayal. At the Last Supper, no one—except for Jesus—realized that Judas was “the bad guy.” In fact, most people probably assumed he was a pretty good guy. He followed Jesus around, and was even trusted with the money of the group. When Jesus reveals that one of the apostles will betray him, they don’t know who the betrayer will be. Who knows what might happen if the Temple Guard picks one of them up? They are all forced to ask themselves: will I betray Jesus?
We, too, can ask ourselves this question: will I walk into the light, with Jesus? Or, instead, will I head into the darkness, away from Jesus?
Judas chose to walk away from the light, following the way of the world, into the darkness.
The light is bright, and it is blinding. It may even give us some spiritual sunburn, but it is so much better than the dark. It can be difficult to stay on the path of the light.
Peter and the other apostles chose to walk into the light, but they had trouble staying on the path. Peter denied Jesus! This is a betrayal of Jesus too, but the difference is the reaction. Judas, walking in the darkness, despaired after betraying Jesus, and he hung himself. Peter, walking in the light, wept bitterly. The light exposed his fault, his weakness. The light burned the impurities out of Peter’s soul and purified him. The light exposed Peter’s faults, and allowed him to recognize his need to seek forgiveness.
Isaiah is another person who walked in the light. He set his face like flint toward God. He had no will but to follow God. He would not be put to shame, because Isaiah knew that following God was always the right decision—even when it is difficult. God will give us what we need if only we trust him. “The Lord God is my help,” Isaiah says. He knows that God will be with him in troubled times.
Let us strive to walk in the light. In the light, we may walk with confidence, because we know that God is always with us.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
I am often tempted to think that life would be so much easier if God would just come down and tell me what to do. The Old Testament seems to be full of these stories, where God simply dictates commands, laws and prophecies to people like Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Daniel, and Isaiah. If God was willing to tell these guys what to do, why won’t he just come and tell us what to do? Again, I am tempted to think that if God would work some spectacular miracle, and through some miraculous appearance witnessed by millions announced his will, the whole world would change.
But it wouldn’t.
After realizing this, I also remember something critical: God did tell us what he wants us to do. He didn’t just send a prophet to tell us, either. He sent Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity to tell us. God Himself came to Earth, and He told us what to do to have eternal life with Him. Not only did he tell us how to reach paradise, Jesus offered up his own life as a sacrifice to redeem all of us.
In today’s psalm, we pray, “Our soul waits for the Lord, who is our help and our shield. May your kindness, O Lord, be upon us who have put our hope in you.” We have put our hope in God, to lead us and to guide us. The Jewish people were waiting for the Lord to bring his mercy to them. They had no idea of the extent to which the Lord would go to shower his endless mercy upon us. His mercy delivers us from death, and preserves us always, fulfilling everything for which the psalmist prayed all the years ago—and for which we still pray today. God’s mercy has not dried up! He still showers it upon us every day.
The grace and mercy of God was “made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus,” Paul says. Jesus saved us from death and opened the gates of Heaven for all who love God. Paul reminds us that our journey will be difficult—just as Abraham’s was. We, however, will not be alone. Paul reminds us that God will give us the strength that we need for the journey. This journey, to a holy life, is what we are called to do in this part of our lives. God calls us all to himself, and while we are alive on this earth and in this way, he desires us to live holy lives, to live our lives devoted to God and all those things which are good. We are called to love our neighbor, and to love our enemy. We are called to offer up our time, our talents, and our treasures not just to serve our God, not just to serve our neighbor, but to serve all people. We are called to be good stewards of this planet, good stewards of our countries, good stewards of our communities, and good stewards of our lives. Everything we have—even our body—is a gift for God himself!
these gifts, of which we are called to be stewards, pale in comparison to the greatest gift God gave humanity. Through his Passion, Death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ destroyed death. The effects of this are enormous! The Transfiguration in the Gospel today gives us a tiny glimpse into what this means. Our God is a God not of the dead, but of the living. The prophets of the Old Testament are alive with God, who in his glory shines as brightly as the sun!
Such an idea, such a sight can be frightening. Especially when a voice from Heaven accompanies it, says “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” But Jesus tells us not to be afraid.
Why should we not be afraid? Through our Baptism, we have become sons and daughters of God. God loves us, and desires that we join him in Heaven for eternity. This will happen if we follow the will of God and live holy lives. We can do this because God gives us the strength to endure hardship so that we may do what is just and right. When we trust God, as Abram did, he does not abandon us. Just look at what happened with Abram. God says to him
“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.”
God eventually made the Israelite nation from Abraham’s descendants, which was great and very blessed, until they turned away from God. While Abraham’s name was still great, the people had ceased being a blessing. They did not go out and spread their blessings to the other communities of the earth. The Israelites had become a curse unto themselves. Then Jesus came. He took the curse onto himself and brought the Kingdom of God onto the earth in the Church. The Church, now, takes the place of the Israelite nation. Abraham is known as “our father in faith.” The Church has been blessed throughout the ages, because God has protected it from the assaults of the enemy. All the communities on earth have been blessed by the Church, because that is her mission: to be all things to all peoples, and to go forth to all the nations, spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, and baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Today’s Readings: Gn 12:1-4a; Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; 2 Tim 1:8b-10; Mt 17:1-9