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 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 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 Sunday of Lent

“Abram went as the Lord directed him.”

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!

Transfiguration - Raphaelthese 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

Reflection for the Eighth Tuesday of Ordinary Time

Today’s Readings: Sir 35:1-12; Ps 50:5-6, 7-8, 14 & 23; Mk 10:28-31

The readings today speak of sacrifices made to God and how he responds to them. I have two brief notes over these readings.

First: God accepts the sacrifice of the just one. It “enriches the altar” and “is most pleasing.” What is it that makes us just in God’s eyes? This is what the readings have been discussing recently, in fact. We should ponder how we behave and show our love for God, in whom love and justice are one. By our authentic and loving sacrifices of time, talent and treasure, we act justly toward God. We must also be just when we offer our sacrifice to God (which is done most perfectly by active participation in the Holy Mass) in order for him to look upon our sacrifices with gladness. One way to do this is to put our sufferings and desires, troubles and successes on the altar (in spirit, we can’t actually put these things on the altar!) every time we go to Mass, and offer them back to God every time we celebrate his Holy Eucharist.

Second: God repays those who offer pleasing sacrifice to him. “Jesus said, ‘Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age’.” And before that, the author of Sirach wrote that “the LORD is one who always repays, and he will give back to you sevenfold.” But God knows the difference between an unjust sacrifice and a just sacrifice—one done to earn benefits from God (“offer no bribes, these he does not accept!”) or one done out of love for God.

Reflection for the Memorial of St. Polycarp

Today’s Readings: Sir 5:1-8; Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 & 6; Mk 9:41-50

Today’s meditation includes quotes from the Office of Readings for St. Polycarp of Smyrna.

The line about salt always confuses me. How does salt lose its flavor? It seems to me that salt would have to change into something completely different to lose its saltiness.

Well… Perhaps that’s the point.

When I’m cooking spaghetti sauce and add too much salt, I have to add more of the other ingredients. There is nothing I can do to get rid of the saltiness except to dilute it with more tomatoes, more herbs, maybe even a little wine.

Jesus says that we are to be “salted with fire.” Fire often refers to testing and temptation in the Gospels. So, we gain our “flavor” by how we react and respond to the challenges God presents to us in our lives. We can lose this flavor by diluting our lives with everything else. By focusing on the wrong things, we become watered down and lose what makes us who we are. Spaghetti sauce needs salt to taste right. We aren’t fully ourselves when we water down ourselves with the wrong things either.

St. Polycarp of Smyrna is a perfect example of this. He never allowed himself to become lax in his faith or to turn from God. He was a man in love with God, and he was willing to die for that love. He was burned at the stake, and when the pyre was lit it did not have to stench from burning human flesh. Instead, it had a fragrance “like that of burning incense or some other costly and sweet-smelling gum.” Not only that, but “his body was like bread that is baked, or gold and silver white-hot in a furnace.”

Whenever we sacrifice for God, our sacrifices smell like sweet incense to God. We become like gold and silver that has been refined through fire. I am reminded of Psalm 51:

“For in sacrifice you take no delight,
burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice, a contrite spirit.
A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.”

Reflection for the Sixth Monday of Ordinary Time / Year I

Today’s Readings: Gn 4:1-15, 25; Ps 50:1 & 8, 16bc-17, 20-21; Mk 8:11-13

In the first reading, God prefers Abel’s sacrifice. A close reading shows that Cain eventually brought some of the fruits of his labor, while Abel immediately brought the best of his labor to sacrifice to the Lord. Cain is jealous. God asks Cain “Why are you so resentful and crestfallen?” God tells Cain that he must try harder and his sacrifice will be accepted, otherwise evil will overtake him. Cain decides to take option two, and kills Abel. God condemns Cain’s action, and further condemns anyone who might attempt to kill Cain. Already in the fourth chapter of Genesis, we are learning that God is a God of Life—not of death!

Today’s psalm ties in to the Genesis reading very wonderfully. The Israelites do not understand that God does not desire disingenuous sacrifice. We must offer our sacrifices to God because we love Him. The final verse of the psalm is, perhaps, the most poignant. “You sit speaking against your brother; against your mother’s son you spread rumors. When you do these things, shall I be deaf to it? …” This strongly echoes the first reading, where Abel’s blood “cries out” to God, except in this case it is not even physical death. Attacks on a person’s reputation are condemned. Our words matter, and a verbal attack can be just as strong or as painful as a physical attack.

So let us be like Abel, offering our best to God out of love, and trusting in God to provide for us.