Saturday, February 28, 2009

I Will Establish My Covenant With You

Reading 1 Genesis 9:8-15

God said to Noah and to his sons with him:
"See, I am now establishing my covenant with you
and your descendants after you
and with every living creature that was with you:
all the birds, and the various tame and wild animals
that were with you and came out of the ark.
I will establish my covenant with you,
that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed
by the waters of a flood;
there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth."

God added:
"This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come,
of the covenant between me and you
and every living creature with you:
I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign
of the covenant between me and the earth.
When I bring clouds over the earth,
and the bow appears in the clouds,
I will recall the covenant I have made
between me and you and all living beings,
so that the waters shall never again become a flood
to destroy all mortal beings."

Reading II 1 Peter 3:18-22

Christ suffered for sins once,
the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous,
that he might lead you to God.
Put to death in the flesh,
he was brought to life in the Spirit.
In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison,
who had once been disobedient
while God patiently waited in the days of Noah
during the building of the ark,
in which a few persons, eight in all,
were saved through water.

This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.
It is not a removal of dirt from the body
but an appeal to God for a clear conscience,
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
who has gone into heaven
and is at the right hand of God,
with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

Gospel Mark 1:12-15

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.

After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
"This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel."

Today’s First Reading from Genesis is the conclusion of the story of Noah and the Ark. It offers us an image of an almighty God, whose creation of the earth and all that is in it is founded in love, and who gives the people of the earth, Noah and all of his descendants, only one commandment: My dominion over you is founded in love. I brought you into being as an expression of my love. I sustain you out of love. I forgive your wrongdoing out of love. I invite you to abide forever in the world I have created for you. All I ask you in return is this: Love me with your whole heart, and your entire mind, and all your might; and love one another as I have first loved you.
In today’s Second Reading, Peter recalls God’s goodness in the days of Noah, how because of divine mercy, a few people were saved, eight in all, by floating in the ark upon the waters that covered the entire earth. He also reminds us that Jesus Christ, who was sinless, suffered in place of the sinful people of the earth. He even went down to the spirits who had been disobedient, to release them from the imprisonment they deserved because of their sins.

This, Peter reminds us, is an image of the waters of baptism, which is now the source of our salvation. In baptism, we are not bathed in water that cleanses our body from filth, or even from smudges and stains. The true purpose of baptism is to ask God to keep our minds and hearts (our conscience, to use the word Peter uses) clean and free from sin. The grace of God is not a right we earn by our good behavior, but a privilege granted by God’s love in creating us, won back for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus, who died to free us from the penalty due for our personal sins, and the sins of the whole world. That grace is confirmed in us by the action of the third Person of the Trinity, who through the Sacraments, especially of Baptism and Reconciliation, frees us from the penalty for our sins, strengthens our resolve to resist temptation, and inspires us to practice virtue, leading us to love God with all our heart, mind and might, and our neighbor as ourselves.

The Holy Spirit is also the first person mentioned in today’s gospel. Why did Jesus go out into the desert? You might think it was “the devil made him do it”, but no, it was the Spirit who “drove Jesus out into the desert, where he remained for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. Today, on the First Sunday of Lent in Year B of the three-year cycle, we read the gospel of the temptation of Jesus according to Mark, which is, typically, the reader’s digest version of the gospel.

Matthew’s gospel includes the details of the story of Jesus’ temptations, which I’m not about to mention in detail, but simply remind you that there were three specific temptations: Jesus was hungry, after fasting for forty days and nights, and the devil tempted him to change rocks into loaves of bread, to relieve his hunger. Then the devil brought him to the parapet of the Temple, and tempted him to throw himself down, “If you are the Son of God, He will send his angels to save you.” Finally, the devil brought him to a high mountain, showed him all the kingdoms of the world, which (he said) belonged to him. He promised Jesus the wealth of all those kingdoms, if only Jesus would worship him.

Jesus, who is the Son of God, and the eternally begotten of the Father, was not about to succumb to the wiles and snares of the devil, but this longer version of the Temptation Gospel reminds us that we are all subject to the same forms of temptation as Jesus was tested with: pleasure, power, and profit. The desire for pleasure can lead us to act unjustly toward others, for instance, other people’s spouses. The desire for power can lead us to act unjustly toward other people – for instance, people whom we supervise at work – or those we represent in government, whether in the city, county, state or nation. The desire of profit can lead us to act unjustly toward other people – for instance, those who depend on loans from our financial institutions, who are denied when we spend hundreds of dollars on dressers, cabinets, bathtubs and water closets in our executive suites.

I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at his counting table. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Levi got up, left everything there, and followed Jesus. Later in the day, Levi gave a banquet for Jesus at his house, and there were many tax collectors and other guests at the table with him. The Pharisees and scribes were complaining to Jesus’ disciples, saying: “Why does your teacher eat and drink with tax collectors and scofflaws? “ Jesus heard them, and answered: “People who are healthy have no need of a physician; sick people do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

The Greek word we translate as “repentance” in this gospel is metanoia. This word means “change”. It can refer to changing direction, choosing another path, turning around and heading in the opposite direction.

The First Reading, from the prophet Isaiah, tells us what that “other direction” is. His instruction reminds me of the list of works of mercy: Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked. Shelter the homeless. Visit the sick. But, the Prophet’s first instruction is not “Give bread”, but “Give YOUR bread.”

The mission of Jesus, as he told the Pharisees and scribes, was to call sinners to repentance, to express sorrow for their sins, and to change their lives. We are all sinners, some great, some small, some – perhaps most – in between. We all need the forgiveness of Christ, and the grace of conversion. We cannot afford to be judgmental about our neighbors – “There, but for the grace of God, go I”, St Philip Neri used to say. Perhaps, during this Lenten season, I can give back to God a little of what He has given me, and perhaps God’s powerful grace can transform me – if only I let Him.

Friday, February 27, 2009

What Are You Giving Up For Lent?

What are you giving up for Lent? Sister Marie Rose asked our fourth-grade class that question early one morning, and during recess, we continued the conversation. One of the boys said, “I’m going to give up girls, forever!” Another said, “Broccoli!” That started a litany of other food, mostly vegetables, like turnips and parsnips, or meats, such as liver and lamb. Then, some of the boys started saying that the liked whatever another boy disliked. The conversation turned into a discussion; the discussion became a debate; the debate, an argument; the argument, a fist fight. I don’t know what happened on the girls’ side of the school yard. I suspect it wasn’t very different – minus the fist fight.

Giving up a food you don’t relish in the first place is a rather childish way of approaching Lent, typical for fourth grades, but not very appropriate for grown ups. If we’re not in fourth grade, but in the fourth decade of life, as some of you are, or the fourth decade of priesthood, as I am, then it’s time, as Paul said, to “put away childish things”.

Today’s readings challenge us to rethink our ideas about fasting and other “penitential practices”. The prophet Isaiah raises a fundamental question: If you ignore the fast day altogether? If your fast day ends in quarreling and fighting? If you strut about the town with a large smudge of ashes on your forehead, peacock-proud that you’ve shown the world how pious you are? If you do any of these things, and others too numerous to list, ask yourself Isaiah’s question: Is your fasting truly pleasing to the LORD?

In today’s gospel the disciples of John the Baptist approached the question of fasting from the opposite perspective. They came to Jesus and asked, “Why we fast, and so do the Pharisees, but your disciples don’t? What makes your followers different?” Jesus, typically, answered their question with a question: “Would guests at a wedding be mournful, so long as the groom is still at the reception? The time will come when the groom will leave, and that’s the time they’re going to be mournful.”

That passage from Matthew’s gospel is easier to understand if you remember that wedding feasts in the Holy Land, like the wedding feast at Cana in John’s gospel, could last three or four days. The groom was the host, and he stayed with the celebration until the wine ran out. (At Cana, it disappeared early, but that’s another story.) But, Jesus had something else in mind, which the disciples didn’t know about. The day was soon approaching that he would be leaving, when the time came to accomplish the mission for which he was sent by the Father: the mission of redemption and reconciliation.

This is the mystery of our faith, and we are proud to profess it:
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Jesus left the wedding banquet after the Last Supper, returned on Easter morning, and left again for his eternal abode on the day of the Ascension. The question now is: What will we, his disciples, do until his return in glory?

The answer can be found in the First Reading:

Release those bound unjustly: Fast from ignoring injustice; speak up for someone who can’t.
Set free the oppressed: Fast from ignoring abusiveness; find a way to lift the burden.
Share your bread with the hungry: Fast from gluttony; give from your substance, not your excess.
Shelter the homeless: Fast from shutting out the rest of the world; open your door and your heart.
Clothe the naked: Fast from adding to your wardrobe; donate your “old clothes” when they’re still wearable.
Do not turn your back on your own: Fast from waiting for the other guy to make the first move; make the call that will heal a broken relationship.

Do this, and you will be ready to greet the risen Lord when He comes again!

Credit for Fasting Litany to Michelle Vander Missen, St. Monica, Indianapolis.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Take Up Your Cross, And Follow Me!

In today’s First Reading, from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses tells the Hebrews that they have a decision to make, as individuals, and as a nation. “Before you, you have life and prosperity, or death and doom. If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which he gave me on the mountain, and which I have brought to you engraved on stone tablets, you will live, and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are about to enter. Yet the choice is yours. You may turn away from Him, and harden your hearts against Him. You may decide to worship other gods, and follow the path they set before you. If you make that choice, I warn you now that you will perish.

I call upon heaven and earth today to bear witness: I have set before you life and death, a blessing and a curse. Choose life! Love the LORD your God. Heed His voice. Listen to His voice, and do His will. Then you and your descendants will life, and the land which the LORD swore that He would grant to your forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will be yours forever; you will be at peace with all of the nations that surround you, and you will enjoy the bounty of His blessing now, and forevermore.

Moses’ words to the people makes God’s promise clear: Following the path the LORD sets forth leads to life; turning away, to “worship other gods”, to act according to your own will, even if it is contrary to His will, leads to disaster and death.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to His disciples, warning them what was about to happen to him: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly, and be rejected by the leaders of the people, the priests, and the teachers. He will be put to death, and on the third day He will rise again.”
Then He said to them, echoing the words of Moses: “If any want to become my disciples, they must deny themselves, take up their cross every day and follow me. Whoever wants to save his life must lose it; whoever loses their life for my sake will save it. For, what does it profit them to gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit their own selves?”
We’ve all heard these words before, but the question is, have we paid attention to them? Although we might not say it plainly, or even think it clearly, if our thoughts, words and actions are not directed toward doing the will of God, then we are either headed down a road that leads to a “dead end”, or else we are idling in neutral. Either way, we are actually choosing death rather than life.

Choose life, then, even though it may mean taking up the cross. Remember, Jesus did not say “Take up my cross”, but “Take up your cross, and follow me.”

In this regard, Jesus’ invitation to each one of us to take up our cross and follow him with humility and trust, is particularly pressing. Although the cross may be heavy, it is not synonymous with misfortune, with disgrace, to be avoided on all accounts; rather, it is an opportunity to follow Jesus, and thereby to acquire strength in the fight against sin and evil. The way of the cross is the only way that leads to the victory of love over hatred, of sharing over selfishness, of peace over violence. Lent is truly an opportunity for a strong spiritual commitment based on Christ’s grace. (Pope Benedict XVI)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sound the shofar! Proclaim a fast! Call an assembly! Gather the people together.

In Jesus' time, there were two major periods of penance: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, marked the end of ten days of repentance before Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the New Year; Tisha b'Av, the ninth day of the month of Av, commemorates the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and the beginning of the Babylon captivity.  Once a month, there was also a day of penance, and once a week, the day before the Sabbah.  Whenver the ancient Hebrews did penance, they wept, they fasted, they lamented.  They also tore their garments as a sign of their contrition and their repentance.

In today's First Reading, from Joel, the LORD says:  "Come back to me with all your heart. Don't tear your garments, but rend your heart, and turn back to the LORD your God.  For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.  Even now, He might turn and repent, and leave a blessing.

Sound the shofar, the ram's horn.  Proclaim a fast; call a solemn assembly.  Gather the people together, from the elders to the children and the infants still nursing at the breast.  Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her bedchamber.  Let the priests, ministers of the LORD, weep before the altar and say, "Spare your people, O LORD; do not make your inheritance a reproach! Do not allow the gentiles to rule over them.  Why should the nations say, 'Where is their God?'"

The LORD was moved with compassion for his land; and he had mercy on his people.

Today's gospel could be divided into two colums:  IN SECRET, and TO BE SEEN.

Whenever you give alms, don't make a show of it, as the hypocrites do, so that people will praise them.  I tell you, they already have their reward.  Instead, give your alms in secret, so that even your left hand doesn't know what your right hand is doing. 

When you pray, don't stand on the street corners and in places of worship as the hypocrites do, so that people will take notice of them. They already have their reward.  When you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to the Father in secret; and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. 

When you fast, don't look gloomy, as the hypocrites do, who smear ashes on their foreheads so that people will know that they're fasting.  They also have their reward.  When you fast, wash your face, and anoint your head with perfumed oils, so that no one can see that you are fasting, but only your Father, who is in secret; and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

This gospel reminds us that whatever we do, whether giving alms, saying prayers, fasting or performing other works of penance, it must be done not as a response to God's love, not to gain God's favor, much less to impress others of our piety -- a truly hypocritical attitude.  Good deeds ought to reflect the relationship that exists between me and God, between a child and a loving Father.  Or else, especially in this penitential season, between that Father's only-begotten Son, who endured betrayals, sufferings, trials, and even death on a cross, so that we, his younger brothers and sisters, might share in his heavenly life.   During this Lenten season, invite Jesus into your own pain and suffering, your trials, your betrayals, as well as your joys.  Ask for the grace to feel shame and remorse because of your own brokenness, and that of the whole world, but in the same breath, ask for the grace of gratitude and thanksgiving for His redeeming and healing grace.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Commit your life to the LORD, and he will sustain you.

“What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about becoming a priest?” It was a young man, in his early twenties, who asked the question. But, young women thinking about entering the convent, young people who are thinking about getting married and those who are considering single life in the world ask basically the same question: “What advice do you have for someone who wants to serve the LORD?” In today’s first reading, Sirach, the writer of Ecclesiasticus, gives advice that fits all of these situations, not only for young folks, but for anyone.

If you aspire to be a servant of the LORD, prepare yourself for testing. Set a straight course, be resolute, and keep your bearings when disaster strikes. Hold fast to the LORD, never desert him. Bear the hardships that are sent to you; be patient when humiliated, no matter the cost. Gold is assayed by fire, and the LORD proves his servants in the furnace of humiliation. Trust him and he will support you. Steer a straight course, and set your hopes on him.

You who fear the LORD, wait for his mercy; do not turn away or you will fall. Trust him, and you will not lose your reward. Expect prosperity, lasting joy and mercy. Consider the generations who have gone before, and understand. Has anyone ever hoped in the LORD been disappointed? Has anyone who persevered in keeping his commandments been forsaken? Has anyone been neglected who prayed to him? The LORD is compassionate and merciful. He forgives sins; he comes to the rescue in time of trouble. He safeguards everyone who seeks him in truth.

In today’s gospel, Jesus and his disciples were traveling in Galilee. He did not want anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples, telling them, “The Son of Man is about to be handed over to men who will kill him, and three days later, he will rise again.” They didn’t understand what he was saying, but were afraid to question him.

They came to Capernaum, and once inside the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about along the way?” They were silent, for they had been arguing about which one of them was the greatest. He sat down, called the Twelve together, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all, and servant of all.” Then he took a little child into his arms, and said to them, “Whoever welcomes such a child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not only me, but the One who sent me.”

Every time Jesus spoke about his passion and death, his disciples were unable to understand what he was saying about himself, nor could they fathom the implications for themselves as his followers. We are a lot like them. We draw back at the mention of suffering, just as the disciples did, but Jesus insisted that it was necessary for him to suffer and die.

Jesus spoke about his death, and then he asked the disciples, “What were you talking about?” They didn’t answer, because their discussion was about which of them was going to be the greatest, after he was no longer among them.

Jesus sat with them and explained patiently. “Whoever wants to be first must be last, and servant of all.” There are some translations that say, “… must make himself last, and servant of all.” Reading this gospel, I can understand how difficult it must have been for the disciples to understand what Jesus was telling them. It’s easier for us, as we know how the story ends. I wonder how I would have reacted if I had been there. Would I have understood that this rabbi, this worker of wonders, was truly God? Obviously, we look at this gospel with hindsight, knowing what is going to happen during the Lenten season that starts tomorrow. But the slowness of the Apostle’s response – and their misplaced ambition –ought to give us pause. How can I, during the Lenten journey, put into practice the lessons in today’s readings?

Commit your life to the LORD, and he will sustain you.

Monday, February 23, 2009

If you are able, have pity on us and heal him.”

What is wisdom? It is the ability to discern relationships, to evaluate alternatives, to make judgments according to right reason. What is the source of wisdom? According to the scriptures, in particular the Book of Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus, the source of all wisdom is the LORD. What is the goal of wisdom? According to the same scriptures, the goal of wisdom is to learn to discern relationships, evaluate alternatives and to make judgments according to the will of God.

Who can count the sand on the seashore, the drops of rain? Only God can. What is the length of eternity, the height of heaven, the depth of hell? Only God knows.

To whom has the source of wisdom been revealed? To whom has the discipline of wisdom been explained? Who can understand the subtleties of wisdom? Who can discern the pathways of wisdom? If you have been following the thread, you will probably say that God is the answer to all of these questions.

That is true. There is only one truly wise, truly awe-inspiring one, seated on his eternal throne. There is only one all-powerful, all-knowing, truly wise and awe-inspiring source of wisdom: God seated upon his throne in the heavens. The LORD is the source of all wisdom. It is he who has created wisdom through the Holy Spirit. It is he who has poured forth wisdom upon all his works, upon every living creature, according to his goodness.

But it is not the whole truth. The closing words of today’s First Reading, from the Book of Sirach, are these: God has lavished his wisdom upon his friends. And we are his friends if we do what he asks of us. And all that he asks of us is to love him with all our heart, and mind, and might, and to love others just as God has first loved us. That is true wisdom, eternal wisdom, healing wisdom.

In today’s gospel, from the ninth chapter of Mark, we see Jesus come down from the Mount of Transfiguration together with Peter, James and John. As they approached the other disciples, they saw a great crowd and scribes arguing with them. When they saw Jesus, they ran up to him. He asked, “What were you arguing with them about?”

Before they could answer, a man approached Jesus. “Teacher, I’ve brought you my son, who is possessed by an evil spirit. When it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they weren’t able to.

“How long has this been going on?” Jesus asked. “Since childhood. It sometimes tries to throw him into the fire or into water to burn him to death or to drown him. If you are able to do anything, have pity on us and heal him.”

Jesus said, “If I am able? Everything is possible to someone who has faith.” The boy’s father replied, “I do believe. Help my unbelief.”

Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and said to it, “Deaf and dumb spirit, I order you to come out of him, and never enter him again!” The boy was thrown into convulsions, and began shouting. Then the spirit left him, and he fell to the ground, stiff as a corpse. That prompted the crowd to exclaim, “He is dead!” But Jesus took him by the hand, and he stood up.

When Jesus entered the house, the disciples asked him, “Why couldn’t we drive out the spirit?” He answered them, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

“If you are able,” the man said. Once we allow the word “if” to enter our thinking, all is lost. It is like a flaw in the seam between the side of a bucket and the bottom. No matter how tiny flaw, everything in the bucket is bound to leak out.

“If I am able?” Jesus replied. Does he think the man is hedging his bets? Or perhaps he was thinking that his son isn’t worthy of being healed.

What happens if there is no “if”? “Everything is possible to someone who has faith” says Jesus. Having faith is not a question of calculating alternatives, and accepting the one that seems most likely to occur. That’s not faith, it’s odds-making. At the track, or in the lottery, there are big winners and little winners, but the greatest profit goes to the house, not to the bettors. Faith is not a gamble, it is an attitude of confidence. Real trust is not blind; it is the outcome which is unseen; the trust is in the person who made the promise.

“I do believe. Help my unbelief”, says the man in today’s gospel. Is that contradictory? Maybe so, if our belief is isolated from our trust; if our faith is not united with our hope. Faith, in the sense of belief, is yes or no. I believe that the earth orbits around the sun, and not the sun around the earth. Copernicus was ignored because he could not demonstrate the truth of his theories. Centuries later, Galileo was silenced because the Doctors of the Law (not the Pharisees, but the Inquisition) were not ready to accept the truth of his observations. Trust, on the other hand, is a matter of degree. When we first straddled the seat of a two-wheeler, and grasped the handlebars, we were not ready to trust mom or dad – or in my case, Uncle Jim, who gave me my first bike, when they said, “Just practice, and you’ll learn. Trust me.” (Uncle Jim had daughters and no sons. Learning on a bike without a center bar is even tougher, or so I’m told, than learning on a “boy’s bike”. But the more I rode, the steadier I got. What was motivating me was not knowledge, not faith, but hope. I fell off the bike a few times until I got the hang of it.

It is by trusting that you learn to trust, and by trusting again that you learn to trust more. Trust (or faith and hope) does not lie fallow in the mind. It grows by exercise, with time. Boys and girls become men and women because they grow. Boys and girls, men and women, develop stamina – strength and endurance, because they exercise. That’s really how everything alive grows and develops.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Rise, Pick Up Your Bed, And Go Home.

Today’s First Reading is from Chapter 43 of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. In the verse before this reading, the Prophet reminds the People of what the LORD has done for them in the past: It was he who opened a path of dry land through the Red Sea, and caused the waters to return again so that the horses and chariots of the Egyptians got mired in the mud.

Now he says, “That was then, this is now. If you think that was marvelous, just wait until you see what I’m going to do for you now. Your ancestors, the people I formed for myself, credited themselves when times were good, and forgot about me when times were bad. Even now, you burden me with your sins and weary me with your crimes. But I am going to wipe the slate clean of your offenses, and forget all your sins. Not because you deserve to be forgiven, but for my own sake.

By these words, God sets in perspective the saving event which we are preparing to celebrate: the Redemption of the sinfulness not only of the children of Abraham, but of all the offspring of Adam, and the beginning of a new Covenant between the Creator and His people, a Covenant not based on the fear of punishment, but on love, as God’s people learn to obey God’s will, to love Him with all our heart and mind and might, and our neighbor as ourselves, not because we dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell, but because we have offended God our Father, who brought us into being as an outpouring of His love, who sent his only-begotten Son to atone for our sins, as an outpouring of His love, and who enlightens our understanding and strengthens our resolve to do what is best and avoid what is not so good by sending His Holy Sprit to guide us on the right paths for His name’s sake.

The Gospel of this Sunday before Ash Wednesday fits in with the transition from Ordinary Time to a time of penance and reconciliation, the Lenten Season. Jesus returns of Capharnaum, and the people begin to find out that he’s home again. Once more, so many of them gather at the house that the doorway is blocked. While Jesus is teaching, four men bring a paralytic on a litter. They can’t get in, because of the crowd, so they climb to the roof and remove enough of the tiles to allow them to lower the mat with the man lying on it into the room. Jesus looks at them, and says to the man on the litter, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” And the man is healed.

The men who brought the paralytic to Jesus were expecting him to be healed, just as Jesus had healed many sick people before. But Jesus is well aware that folks in Capharnaum and throughout Israel believe that sickness of the body is a sign of sickness of the soul – of sin. So, instead of saying, “Be healed”, he says, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Now, the scribes and Pharisees, who seem to be everywhere, catch the double meaning of the words of Jesus. “Who can forgive sins except God?” they ask themselves. Realizing what they are thinking, Jesus then tells the man to get up, to pick up his sick bed – the evidence of his paralysis, and go home. And that’s just what he does. Jesus is doing something new and different, and the observers take notice: “We have never seen anything like this!” That is certainly true. For the first time, Jesus reveals Himself as who He truly is, not merely a healer of bodies, a gift which was given to some of the prophets in earlier ages, but a healer of souls, a gift which belongs to God alone.

The coming days of Lent are a good time to allow Jesus to “do his thing” in us and through us. Which of us, when we are offended, thinks of saying, “I forgive you, even though I don’t feel like you ought to be forgiven”, because, in our heart of hearts, we recognize that God forgives us, even though we don’t deserve to be forgiven. We are the new creation which has been wrought by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, “Father, forgive them! They don’t know what they are doing.” We are not God, who alone is perfect. We are not angels, who have accepted that, as creatures, they are not perfect. We are human beings, and we are paralyzed, not by illness, but by guilt, that feeling that we don’t deserve to be forgiven. Jesus wants to heal us, but he can only do that if we let down our defenses, and take him at his word as he says to each of us, “Rise, let go of the paralysis of guilt, and return home.” May this Lenten Season be for each of us a joyful homecoming!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Teacher, It Is Good For Us To Be Here!

Today’s First Reading:

What is faith?

Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we cannot see. It is by faith that we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command. It is by faith that Abel offered to God a sacrifice more pleasing than his brother Cain’s was. It was by faith that Noah, after being warned about what was about to happen, built an ark to save his family. By trusting God he inherited the righteousness that comes from faith. (Hebrews 11:1-7)

Today’s gospel:

Six days later, Jesus took Peter, James and John with him to the summit of a high mountain. There, he was transfigured in their sight. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than any bleach could make them. Then Elijah and Moses appeared, conversing with Jesus.

Peter then said to Jesus, “Teacher, it is good for us to be here! Let us put up three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He really didn’t know what to say, because he and the others were terrified.

Then a cloud appeared, and overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what “rising from the dead” meant.

Then they asked Jesus, “Why do the scribes and teachers of the law say that Elijah must come before the Messiah comes?

Jesus answered: “Elijah will indeed come first, and set things in order. Then, why is it written that the Son of Man must suffer greatly, and be treated with contempt? Yet, I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, just as it was written about him.”

Sisters and brothers, the First Reading today reminds us that there are spiritual realities that we cannot fully understand, and we have to “take them on faith.” Mark’s source for his gospel was his mentor, Saint Peter, and there is something in this reading that suggests that it was a genuine experience. Mark writes, “He really did not know what to say, because he and the others were terrified.”

Even in our own experience, there are events that put our memories and our mental capacity to the test. It is not easy to describe events that occurred early in our own life. “Did that really happen? Did I just imagine it? Am I remembering it as it happened? “In life, memory, imagination, and symbolic representations of truths beyond our ken all come together. What we remember may be “enlightened” by what we wish had happened. Or, in other cases, it may be “darkened” by imagining that what occurred was worse that it actually was.

In what category do we put what Peter told Mark about what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration? The first element in answering that question is the fact that it comes directly, in Mark’s gospel, after the readings of yesterday and the day before. Those readings were questions about the identity of Jesus. Today’s reading is the answer: He is “the Father’s Son, the Beloved.”

We are in the presence of a great mystery, and mere words are inadequate to express it. Peter was overwhelmed with awe, and wished that the experience would never end. He suggested the building of three shelters to house the Lawgiver, the Prophet and the Messiah.

But this is merely a foretaste of the reality yet to come. Peter, James and John will first experience the Agony in the Garden. Peter will deny Jesus in Pilate’s Courtyard. James will flee. Only John will be there at the foot of the Cross of Jesus with Mary, His Mother. And eventually, they will see him rise into the heavens from another mountain top, where they will receive their mission to “Go out to all the nations and preach the good news.”

Saint Peter Damien, whose feast is celebrated today, reminds us of the effects of the Transfiguration in us:
Something is still needed before we can complete the payment of our debt, and deserve admission to the treasure-house of the eternal King. You ask what this is: the answer presents itself to me at once: obedience, love, joy, peace, patience and the other virtues. But I wish to put it more simply, so that it may stay more firmly in your mind. The words of the Apostle remind us: We bear in our bodies the death of the Lord Jesus”, so that eventually, we might share in his resurrection.” The human mind can never be utterly empty, but must be concerned always with some sort of love. Best it be surrounded completely by the wall of virtue, so that we might be carried beyond our surroundings, and above ourselves.” In brief, that we might be transfigured by our love for Christ, just as He was transfigured on the mountain, in the presence of his beloved disciples.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Lord, Make Me A Channel Of Thy Peace

In prehistoric times, the peoples of the part of the world we know as "the Middle East" or "Mesopotamia" (the land between the rivers), built skyscrapers called ziggurats.  The earliest examples of the ziggurat date from the fourth millennium BC; the latest, from the 6th century BC. 

Ziggurats were built in tiers, each narrower than the one below, of sunbaked bricks, with facings of fired bricks.  The number of tiers ranged from two to seven, with a shrine or a temple at the summit.  Access was provided by a series of ramps on one side of the structure, or a spiral ramp going upward from base to summit. 

The writers of Genesis, the "book of beginnings" were Jewish scholars -- philosophers and theologians -- captured by the Babylonians and brought to their chief city, Babylon, in what is now known as Iraq.  When they saw the ziggurats, by then several centuries old, and in ruins, they recognized that these "skyscrapers" once served as housing for many more people than would be able to live on the same area of land in single family dwellings.  They also realized what every civilization from then to now has learned, that such conditions allow a small number of persons to acquire power and money, at the expense of a great number of others.  They understood that violence, corruption, and all the crimes associated with slum districts would erupt from the ziggurats like lava from volcanos.

And so the writers of the eleventh chapter of Genesis composed a "myth", a story whose purpose it is to reveal a truth beyond the ken of historical account. Such behavior, they understood, rejects God's goodness, and strives to wrest from the LORD ultimate power over the lives of other human beings. 

The LORD said, "If now, while they are all one people, they behave like this toward one another, what will they be capable of later?  Let us then go down there and confuse their language, so that no one of them will be able to understand another." The LORD then scattered them over the whole earth, and the city of skyscrapers fell into ruins.

That place is called Babylon.  The word means "Gateway to the Gods" in the Akkadian language.  In the Hebrew Scripture, it is interpreted as Babel, from the verb balbal, which means "to confuse".  The word persists in modern tongues as well.  "Babble" in English, and "balbutier" in French, signify "to stutter and stammer, without making sense." 

Today's gospel stands in clear contrast to the attitudes expressed by the arrogant and haughty builders of ziggurats.  Jesus tells his followers that anyone who wishes to share in the peace and joy of God's reign must first deny all earthly ambition, all desire for pleasure, profit and power, take up the cross, and allow God to take charge, just as Jesus did,  "Yet, not my will but thine be done."  Rather than by relying on my intelligence, my talent, my social position, or my bank account to bring me success, I am challenged by the gospel, to "die to myself, so that the LORD Jesus might live in me."  That committment has been difficult to make in any generation; in this era of "fifteen minutes of fame", it seems totally absurd.  But if it is folly, it is "the folly of the Cross." 

That is the theme of a prayer often, but wrongly, attributed to Francis of Assisi.  The attribution is incorrect; the message is invaluable:

Lord, make me a channel of thy peace;
that where there is hatred, I may bring love;
that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
that where there is error, I may bring truth;
that where there is despair, I may bring hope;
that where there are shadows, I may bring light;
that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted;
to understand, than to be understood;
to love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Chapter 11, page 99. 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Get Behind Me, Satan! You Have Set Your Mind On Human Things, Not Divine Things.

As today’s Reading begins, the LORD blesses Noah and his offspring, saying:

Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth. All the beasts of the earth, the birds of the air, the creatures that crawl on the ground and the fish in the sea, everything that lives and moves will be your food. Just as I gave you the green plants, now I give you everything. Be fruitful, then, and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.

I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants, and with every creature on the earth. Never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth. This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature on the earth. I have set my rainbow in the clouds, to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

This reading from the book of Genesis offers us an image of an almighty God whose creation of the earth and all that is in it is grounded in love, and who gives to the people on the earth one precept: My dominion over you is founded in love: I brought you into being out of love; I sustain you out of love; I forgive your wrongdoing out of love; I call you to abide me forever in my kingdom. All I ask in return is that you love one another as I have loved you.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples mention various prophets who represent important aspects of the divine mission, but none of them truly touches upon the truth of who Jesus is. Then Jesus asks them another question, “Who do you say that I am?” It is Peter who responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Yet, when Jesus begins to reveal to his disciples what will be happening to him, his suffering and death, Peter began to rebuke him. “I am not going to let that happen to you, Lord!"  Christ’s self-image reflects the suffering, death and resurrection, but Peter’s image of the Messiah does not include suffering and death. So much that Jesus rebukes him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.”

It is not easy to accept that being a disciple of Jesus means following in his footsteps, and accepting that our path will lead inevitably to suffering and the cross. Three times today, I have been reminded of a dialogue between Jesus and Teresa of Avila. “Lord, why do you allow me to be treated the way people are treating me?” “Teresa, this is the way I treat my friends.” “Well, then! It’s no wonder you have so few!”

“If you would be my disciple, take up your cross and follow me”, Jesus said. Let us not forget: There is no crown without its cross.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Jesus told him, "Do not go back into the village."

When last we saw Noah, he, his wife, his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives, had boarded the ark, together with seven pairs of all of the clean animals, and two pairs of all the unclean animals. They stood on deck and watched the rain, until the waters on the earth were high enough to life the ark, and then they went a-sailing.
We now join Noah, his crew and freight, forty days later. The rain has stopped, and there is no land in sight throughout the earth. Noah opens a hatch and lets a raven fly out, to see if the waters were subsiding. The raven flew back and forth around the ark, but found no place to land. Seven days later, he sent out a dove, but the dove found no place to land, and returned to the ark. Another seven days passed, and he sent the dove out again, and this time, it returned with a twig in its beak, an olive branch with a green leaf on it. Noah waited another week, sent the dove out again, and this time it did not return. Noah and his family, together with all of the animals, left the ark and returned to the earth.

When last we saw Jesus, he was warning his disciples against “the leaven of the Pharisees”, and “the leaven of Herod”, that is, the tendency on the one hand to become so bogged down in rules and regulations that the supreme law of God is ignored: Love God with all your heart and mind and might and your neighbor as yourself.

Now Jesus and the disciples have gone to Bethesda, another town on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He is approached by people who are leading a blind man, and who beg Jesus to touch him, and heal him. Usually, Jesus performed these healings on the spot, but this time, he takes the blind man by the hand and leads him out into the countryside beyond the village. Jesus moistens his fingers with his tongue, touches the man’s eyes and asks, “What do you see?” The man answers, “I see people moving about; they look like trees walking.” Then Jesus lays his hands on the man’s eyes one more time, and he sees clearly. Jesus tells the man to go home, and not even go into the village.

At first glance, both of today’s readings tell us of the power and the goodness of God. He cleansed the world from sinfulness by the flood, yet did not destroy the human race completely, but gave us another chance. Jesus cured the man from his blindness, but gave him a warning what not to do next.

I am reminded of a saying I first heard long ago, about the dangers we encounter on our way toward the Kingdom: the world, the flesh, and the devil. About five thousand years ago, the world was in such turmoil that God inspired the writer of Genesis to warn the people of Israel by reminding them that, if God became angry enough, he could destroy the world once again. Not by water, but “by fire next time.” In the gospel Jesus cured the man’s blindness, and told him to stay out of the city. The devil doesn’t really need to act on his own behalf, you know. Our desire for pleasure, for profit, and for power – for the world and the flesh – will do the devil’s work for him, unless we heed Jesus’ warning to look both ways before crossing, if we’re down street, and to stay clear of the edge of the path, lest we fall into a ditch – or off a cliff – if we are strolling down a country lane.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Beware the Yeast of the Pharisees!

Today’s First Reading begins the story of Noah, a descendant of Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve. Many generations had come and gone between Adam and Noah, and the people of the world had once again become wicked, and the LORD proposed to wipe out from the earth not only the human beings he had created, but also the beasts and the creeping things, and the birds of the air. No mention is made of the fish, the whales and other water creatures, because the means by which the LORD would end his experiment of creation would be water. There would be a great flood that would cover the entire earth.

But then, the LORD remembered Noah, and decided to spare him and his family. He told Noah to build a boat, and to place in the boat seven pairs, a male and its mate, of every clean animal, and one pair of every unclean animal; likewise, seven pairs of all of the clean birds, and one pair of all the unclean birds. The primary purpose was to provide food for Noah and his family during the coming flood. Seven days later, the waters of the flood began to rise throughout the whole earth.

In today’s Gospel, the disciples of Jesus had forgotten to bring bread, and they had none, except for one loaf they had left in the boat.”Be careful,” Jesus warned them, “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” They wondered what he meant. One of them said, “It must be because we have no bread.” Aware of their discussion, he asked them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Don’t you remember? When I fed the five thousands with five loaves, how many basketfuls of leftovers did you pick up?” “Twelve”, they answered. And when I broke seven loaves and fed four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you collect?” “Seven.” Then he asked, “Do you still fail to understand?”

When I was a lad, there was a brewery in the town across the river, where they made Hampden Ale. On a windy day, the aroma of the yeast they used would waft around the houses and apartment blocks at both ends of the bridge. My mother baked pies and cakes, but her mother, my mémère, used to bake her own bread, and she also used yeast in that process. That may be one reason I prefer bread from a local bakery – or homemade bread, like my friend JG baked to go with the lasagna prepared by the Father Ed, of the Ukrainian Church across the river for JG, Fr Paul and Fr Charlie and myself.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus warns his apostles to guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod. In the parallel passage in Luke, this “yeast” is interpreted as hypocrisy. The word “hypocrisy” in Greek originally referred to playing a role on the stage. A hypocrite was simply an actor. The French playwright Molière wrote a play entitled Tartuffe (full title: Tartuffe, ou l’Imposteur – Tartuffe, or the Hypocrite) It was written and first performed in 1664 at the Palace of Versailles, and immediately censured by the outcry of the dévots (the “devout” people). The name has passed into many languages, used to denote a hypocrite, especially one who affects religious piety. Someone else once wrote that we out “to mix a leaven of charity” with our judgments.

Hypocrisy is virtue that is devoid of everything but external appearance. There is little mercy in Molière’s caricature of the religious bigot, no suggestion of hope. But Jesus repeatedly said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” But then he sat at table with them, became friends with a few of them. There were two Pharisees, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea standing with him at the foot of the Cross. He held upon the door of hope.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The LORD put his mark on him, to protect him.

At the end of our last daily reading, on Saturday, the LORD God banished the man and the woman he had created from the Garden of Eden, which he had created especially for them, and placed at the gates of the garden two cherubim with flaming swords flashing back and forth to prevent them from entering again.

After they left the garden, the man had relations with his wife, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. She said, “With the held of the LORD I have brought forth a man.” Later, she gave birth to his brother Abel.

When they grew up, Cain and Abel lived chose very different paths of life. Abel was a shepherd, Cain a tiller of the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some fruit of the land as an offering to the LORD, while Abel brought some of the firstborn of his flock. Cain was resentful because it seemed that the LORD looked more favorably on Abel’s offering than on his own. The LORD spoke to Cain. Why do you look downcast? Why do you feel resentment? If you do what is right, your gifts will be accepted. If you do not, then sin is a demon lurking at your door. It desires to possess you, but you can be its master.

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out into the fields”, and while they were in the fields, Cain attacked Abel and killed him.

Then the LORD called out to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know”, he answered. “Am I my brother’s guardian?” The LORD answered, “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground, which received your brother’s blood shed by your own hand. From now on, whenever you work the soil, it will no longer yield crops for you. From now on, you will be a nomad, wandering restlessly about the earth.”

Cain spoke to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear! You are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your sight. I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and those who wish to settle and plant crops will find me and kill me.”

But the LORD said, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, he will be avenged sevenfold.” Then the LORD put his mark on Cain, lest anyone kill him on sight.

Adam had relations with his wife again, and she gave birth to another son, whom she named Seth. “God has granted me another child”.

The conflict between Cain and Abel is a conflict between two disparate cultures – farming and ranching, and, two civilizations – nomads and city dwellers. As this is being written, people from throughout the Middle East and beyond have gathered to remember Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib, the grandson of the Prophet, at his burial place, the Mosque of Husayn at Karbala.

By some coincidence (if there are any in God’s plan), we have a President whose middle name is Hussein -- a different spelling of the name of the Prophet’s grandson – and who has spoken of his Muslim cousins in the family of his stepfather. On the other hand, some of his ancestors in his mother’s family were slaveholders, and (again by coincidence) his blood relatives include the latest former president and vice-president, as well as the vice-presidential candidate of the other major. party in the November election. It was a very small world, in the days when Adam and Eve had their three sons, and a violent one, even then. It is not a very much bigger one now, if genealogists can demonstrate that President Bush, President Obama and Governor Palin are all cousins. Let us pray that the cherubim can be removed from the gates of Eden, and the world can be a real family once again.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

“If you choose to, you can make me clean.”

In today’s first reading, the LORD speaks to Moses and Aaron: If someone has a swelling or a rash or a blotch on his skin that seems to be leprosy, he should be brought to Aaron the priest, or to one of his descendants who is a priest. Anyone with an infectious skin condition must wear torn clothes, and keep his hair uncovered, but hide the lower part of his face, and cry out “Unclean, unclean!” As long as he has the infection, he will remain unclean. He must live alone, outside the camp.

These are the first two verses of Chapter 13 of the Book of Leviticus, followed by verses 44 through 46. If you read the forty-two verses in between, you will learn that there are many types of skin infection which were treated like leprosy in Old Testament times. Even in the 19th and 20th centuries after Christ, people with skin diseases were isolated from the rest of the community, in leprosaria, such as the one on the Island of Molokai, in Hawaii, and at Carville, in Louisiana.

For the Hebrew people “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”, and we use the same expression. There was great attention paid to the washing of hands and feet, of plates and food. The Mosaic law specified that a leper had to keep a distance of 12 to 15 away from other people, and if the other person was downwind from the leper, the distance was 120 to 150 feet. No leper would dare to approach a rabbi on the street or in the synagogues of the towns in Judaea and Galilee. No, if someone who had been declared a leper believed that a cure had taken place, they were to go up to Jerusalem, and show themselves to the Temple priests.

Today’s gospel is taken from the first chapter of Mark. A leper approaches Jesus confidently to seek his help. “If you choose to, you can make me clean.” What followed was even more unorthodox: Jesus stretched out his hand, and touched him. The touch of Jesus’ hand healed him, not only of his disease, of his feeling that he was diseased, but his sense that that he was a disease. It healed his isolation, his loneliness, his despair, his belief that he cursed by God. Thanks to Jesus, he was not cursed, but cured.

Yet the story is not yet finished. Jesus tells the man to go to the Temple and show himself to the priest, as required by the Law of Moses, and to pay the stipend required in the scripture. He also told the man not to speak to anyone on the way.

Of course, the leper didn’t pay a bit of attention to that last part. He went off and shared the good news with everyone he met along the way. It seems that in every town, people learned of the leper’s healing, and Jesus had to stay away in deserted places. Still, people kept coming to him in droves from everywhere.

In the last chapter of the gospel of Mark, Jesus sends his disciples out into the world to proclaim the good news of salvation. He tells them of all of wonders they will perform in his name, including healing the sick. As disciples of Jesus, we have the capacity to be instruments of healing. Not only do we have a duty to pray for the sick and help them get effective medical care, but also to extend the presence of Christ to all whose lives are hurt and in need of a healing hand, a healing ear, a healing heart.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Where Are We Supposed To Get Food To Feed Them?

When we last saw Adam and Eve, in yesterday’s First Reading, they were hiding behind the trees in the garden God had made for them, ashamed that He might see them, because they were naked.

Today, God calls out to him:

Where are you?
I heard you in the garden, and I was scared, since I was naked, so I hid myself.

How did you find out you were naked? You must have eaten the fruit of that tree, the one I told you not to touch.
It’s not my fault! The woman you put here with me gave me fruit from that tree, so I ate it.

Then the LORD God turns to the woman:

Why did you do that?
It’s not my fault! The serpent tricked me, and so I ate the fruit.

Then the LORD God said: See! The man has become like us. He knows what is good and what is evil. So the LORD God banished the man and his wife from the garden.

In today’s Gospel, another great crowd of people had come to listen to Jesus. As the sun began to set, Jesus spoke to his disciples:

This crowd has been with us for three days, and they’ve had nothing to eat. If I send them away, some of them will collapse from hunger before they get home.
Where are we supposed to get food to feed them all? This deserted place is a long way from the town, where we could at least buy some bread.

Do you have any bread with you?
Yes, we have seven loaves. But that’s not enough to feed this crowd!

Jesus took the seven loaves, said a prayer, broke the bread and gave each of the disciples some of it to distribute to the crowd. They also had few fish, which He also blessed and asked them to share. Everyone there ate their fill, and when they were satisfied, the disciples picked up seven baskets of left over bread, after four thousand people had been fed.


Earlier today, I read a comment about this gospel by Nick Fagnant, who is the Student Life Director for the Encuentro Dominicano program at Creighton, a Catholic University in Omaha, Nebraska. I don’t know whether he’s related to the family of the same name who were my parishioners a few years ago.

Nick comments that, if we look at the First Reading and the Gospel, God seems to contradict himself. On the one hand, it seems to have been the LORD’s intention to punish all of humanity because of the actions of two people: to banish us from paradise, and force us to struggle to meet our most basic needs. On the other hand, Jesus is moved to compassion for the crowd who came to listen to him, and miraculously feeds four thousand hungry people with seven loaves of bread and a few fresh fish.

Nick did not have an answer for these questions, and neither do I. I am fortunate enough to live in a place where someone prepares three meals a day for me and the four other retired priests who live here. Every day except Saturday and Sunday, someone else makes our beds and vacuums the carpets in our bedrooms and sitting rooms. There is a chapel here where we say Mass, and we can go there at any hour of the day or night to spend some time along with the LORD. But downtown, there are half a dozen shelters each with room for forty to sixty homeless folks, sleeping on two and three tiered bunk beds, and there are still several hundred people sleeping in the parks every night, because there is no room for them in the shelters.


The world today is hungry, not only for bread but hungry for love; hungry to be wanted, to be loved. They’re hungry to feel the presence of Christ.

People are hungry for the Word of God that will give peace, that will give unity, that will give joy. But you cannot give what you don’t have. That is why it is necessary to deepen your life of prayer. Allow Jesus to take you, pray with you and through you, and then you will be a real, true contemplative in the heart of the world.

We are called to love the world. God loved world so much that he gave us Jesus. Today, he loves the world so much that he gives you and he gives me to be his love, his compassion, his presence.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Friday, February 13, 2009

They Hid Among The Trees, So the LORD Would Not See Them

Yesterday, we read of the man’s reaction when he woke up from a deep sleep, and saw the partner God had created for him. He said “At last! Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh!” The man and his wife were both naked, but felt no shame.

In today’s first reading, a new actor appears on the scene, a serpent cleverer than any wild animal God had created, a serpent that could talk. He spoke to the woman:

Did God really tell you not to eat from any tree in the garden?

Not at all. We can eat from all the trees in the garden but one, the tree in the middle of the garden. God said, “Don’t eat from that tree. Don’t even touch it, or you’ll die."

No, you won’t die. God knows that as soon as you eat the fruit of that tree, you’ll be like gods. Your eyes will be opened, and you will know what is good and what is evil.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree looked like it would be tasty, and she remembered that the serpent told her she would know what is right and what is wrong, she decided to take the fruit and eat it, then she gave some to the man, and he also ate it.

As soon as they ate the forbidden fruit, the man and the woman realized that what the serpent told them was true. Now they realized that everything had been right up all along, but no more, because they had done wrong. When they looked at each other, they saw that they were naked, and they were ashamed. So they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves, to hide their nakedness. Then they heard the sound of the LORD strolling in the garden, enjoying the evening breeze. And they went and hid themselves among the trees, so that the LORD would not see them.

In the family photo album, there is a snapshot of two brothers, and two sisters, splashing around in the bathtub as if they were in a wading pool. The baby must have been about a year and a half old, so the eldest had to be seven, and the other two were in between. They were having great fun. They didn’t have any clothes on, but it didn’t bother them; there was nothing to be ashamed of. Six years later, when they went swimming the city pool, you can be sure they were all wearing bathing suits. What was different? The eldest had entered his teens; the youngest was seven, and she had made her First Communion that May. In a word, they were old enough to know the difference between right and wrong. They were capable of being ashamed.

One thing that the serpent – who is not a snake, but a demon – says in this passage from Genesis 3, holds the key to understanding this mini-drama in the garden. The devil does not say “You will be like God”, but “You will be like gods.” The devil wants us to decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong, a prerogative that belongs only to the Creator. God, on the other hand, wants us to be like God. The way to achieve that goal is pointed out to us by Jesus in the gospel, “Become like little children.” Or, “Let go! Let God!”

Thursday, February 12, 2009

It Is Not Good For The Man To Be Alone.

When God made the heavens and the earth, even before any grass or shrubbery had begun to grow, God formed man out of the clay of the earth, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Then God planted a garden in Eden, in the east. God made all sorts of trees grow in the garden, trees beautiful to look at, with fruit good to eat. He put the man he had just made in the garden, and set him to work the ground and keep it in good order. God told the man: “You can eat the fruit of any tree in the garden except one: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Don’t eat from that tree, because from the moment you eat from it, you are surely doomed to die.

Then God said, “It’s not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion and partner for him.” So God formed from the clay all sorts of animals of the fields and birds of the air. He brought them all to the man to see what names he would give them. And whatever the man called each living creature that would be its name. So, the man named the cattle, and the birds, and the wild beasts, but none of them proved to be a suitable partner for him. So God put the man into a deep sleep and as he slept he removed one of the man’s ribs, and replaced it with flesh. God then used that rib to form a woman, and presented her to the man.

The man said: At last! Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh! She will be called “woman” for she was made from man. That is why a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife, and they become one flesh. Both of them, the man and his wife were naked, but they felt no shame.

Because yesterday’s reflection was devoted to Pope Benedict’s message for the World Day of the Sick, today’s reflection includes both Wednesday and Thursday’s First Reading, from the book of Genesis. As a parish priest for nearly forty years, I have celebrated more marriages than I can count. As a Tribunal official for more than thirty, I have participated as an advocate, a defender of the bond, and a judge over more annulment case than I can count. On the one hand, I have seen and shared in the joy of the newly married couples; on the other hand, I have heard and sympathized with the sorrow of those whose marriages have failed. The number of marriages I have witnessed on behalf of the Church, and later acted as an officer of the Tribunal after the divorce is another number I can’t count.

Marriage is the only sacrament of the Church that finds its origins in the story of creation found in the first book of Holy Scripture. It is a story about oneness: This is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. It is a story of innocence: The man and wife were naked, but unashamed. But it is a story which is only just begun, in this passage from Genesis. Tomorrow, we will consider another part of the story, which will end with the man and his wife hiding themselves among the trees in the garden, because they were ashamed, and did not want the Lord God to see them naked.

I have learned, in nearly four decades of priestly ministry, that married couples experience joy and sorrow; pleasure and pain; fullness and emptiness. But the fulfillment of these relationships, even those which are sublimely successful, will not be achieved until the spouses are united once again in the second paradise, the Heavenly Kingdom. In the meantime, let us pray for married couples, that they may realize that they are cooperators in the work of the Creator. Let us pray for couples whose marriage is troubled, that they will cooperate with the graces granted to them by the Spirit to heal and strength their bond. Let us pray for men and women whose marriages have ended in separation and divorce, that they might realize that they are called to unite their sorrow and suffering with the work of redemption wrought in Gethsemane and on the Cross by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On Sickness And On God's Healing Love

Earlier this week, I received an e-mail from my brother-in-law, Dr. Richard A. Watson, reminding me that Wednesday, February 11, 2009, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, is also the World Day of the Sick. He also forwarded to me excerpts from the address Pope Benedict XVI delivered on Sunday, February 8, before praying the midday Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

Today’s reflection will be presented not by me, but by the Holy Father.

Dear brothers and sisters,
Today the Gospel presents us with Jesus, who having preached on the Sabbath in the synagogue of Capernaum, cured many ill people, beginning with Simon’s mother-in-law. Entering his house, he found her in bed with a fever and immediately, taking her by the hand, he healed her and had her get up. After sunset, he healed a multitude of people afflicted with all sorts of ills.

The experience of the healing of the sick occupies a good portion of the public mission of Christ and it invites us once again to reflect on the meaning and the value of illness in every situation in which the human being can find himself. This opportunity comes also because of the World Day of the Sick, which we will celebrate next Wednesday, February 11, liturgical memorial of the Virgin Mary of Lourdes.

Despite the fact that illness is part of human existence, we never manage to get used to it, not only because sometimes it comes to be burdensome and grave, but essentially because we are made for life, for complete life. Precisely our “internal instinct” makes us think of God as plenitude of life, and even more, as eternal and perfect Life. When we are tested by sickness and our prayers seem in vain, doubt wells up in us and, filled with anguish we ask ourselves: What is God’s will?

It is precisely to this question that we find an answer in the Gospel. For example, in the passage of today we read: “He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him.” (Mark 1:34). In another passage from St. Matthew, it says: ‘He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people” (Matthew 4:23).

Jesus does not leave room for doubt: God – whose face he himself has revealed – is the God of life, who frees us from all evil. The signs of this, his power of love, are the healings that he carries out: He thus shows that the Kingdom of God is near, restoring men and women to their full integrity in spirit and body. I refer to these healings as signs: They guide us toward the message of Christ, they guide us toward God and make us understand that man’s truest and deepest illness is the absence of God, who is the fount of truth and love. And only reconciliation with God can give us true healing, true life, because a life without love and without truth would not be a true life. The Kingdom of God is precisely the presence of truth and love, and thus it is healing in the depths of our being.

Thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit, the work of Jesus is prolonged in the mission of the Church. Through the sacraments, it is Christ who communicates his life to the multitude of brothers and sisters, as he cures and comforts innumerable sick people through so many activities of health care service that Christian communities promote with fraternal charity, thereby showing the face of God, His love.

It is true: How many Christians all over the world – priests, religious, and laypeople – have given and continue giving their hands, eyes and hearts to Christ, true physician of bodies and souls!

Let us pray for all the ill, especially for those who are most grave, and who can in no way take care of themselves, but depend entirely on the care of others; may every one of them be able to experience, in the solicitude of those who are near to them, the power of the love of God and the richness of his grace that saves us.
Mary, Health of the Sick, pray for us.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

And On The Seventh Day, God Rested From All That He Had Done

On the first four days, God had separated light from darkness; earth from sky; dry land from seas and lakes. Then he put trees, plants and grasses on the earth, the sun, moon and stars in the sky. The fifth day is devoted to living beings: birds in the air, whales, fish and all sorts of swimming creatures in the seas; cattle, creeping things and wild animals on the earth. Then, on the final day of creation, God made creatures in his own image: human beings, male and female. He gave them dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the creatures that move on the earth. Thus were the heavens and the earth and their entire array completed. On the seventh day, since he had finished the work he had been doing, God rested. He blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all that he had accomplished.

In the Hebrew tradition, the seventh day, the day of rest, (in Hebrew, Sabbath) is the day the Romans called Dies Saturnis (Saturday). There was also a twelve-month Sabbath every seven years, and an an even more jubilant festival every fifty years. In the Christian tradition, because Jesus rose from the dead on the day the Romans called “Dies Solis” (Sunday), our Sabbath is a day later than the Jewish Sabbath. As we learned in reading the Letter to the Hebrews, we are people of a New Covenant, and we have a new Sabbath because we are not bound to the laws of Moses, or to the interpretations of the Pharisees , the Temple Priests and the Teachers of that law. Sunday is our day of rest.

But is it? These days, it seems to be no Sabbath, no day of rest at all. It all began right here with a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court: Gallagher, Chief of Police of Springfield, Massachusetts, et. al. v. Crown Kosher Super Market of Massachusetts, Inc., et al. These days, all of us, regardless of our religious affiliation, find it easy to use Sunday as a time for catch-up work, for diversions from our “day job”, often at the expense of going to church together as a family, making the day a special time for the family to spend time together. In the city where the abolition of “blue laws” was initiated, churches of all denominations, including our own, have reduced the number of Sunday Masses, because there are so few worshippers in the pews. Cities which used to have a dozen Catholic parishes, now have closed or merged them into half as many.

In a week and a half Lent will begin. It is a season when we are called to assess our lives, be aware of our weaknesses, and ask the Lord for pardon and for strength. One way of achieving that goal and of strengthening our family bonds is by spending time together, starting by worshipping as a family with other the members of the family of God who form our parish. Let us not, as Jesus reminds us in the gospel, ignore God’s commandments but cling to human traditions.

Monday, February 9, 2009

In The Beginning God Created . . . And Wherever He Went, He Healed.

A Reading from the Book of Genesis
Chapter I

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters. 3 And God said: 'Let there be light.' And there was light. 4 And God saw the light and it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

6 And God said: 'Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.' 7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.

9 And God said: 'Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear.' And it was so. 10 And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters called He Seas; and God saw that it was good. 11 And God said: 'Let the earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit-tree bearing fruit after its kind, wherein is the seed thereof, upon the earth.' And it was so. 12 And the earth brought forth grass, herb yielding seed after its kind, and tree bearing fruit, wherein is the seed thereof, after its kind; and God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.

14 And God said: 'Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth.' And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; and the stars. 17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, 18 and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.

Today’s First Reading is one of the most familiar in the entire Bible. I have chosen today not to paraphrase it, but to present it in full, in the translation at , the Mamre Institute in Jerusalem. It is, of course, a mythical account, in both proper sense of that word, a story told to illustrate a truth that goes beyond understanding, and a story of an event to which there are no eye-witnesses. Even understanding that its meaning is metaphorical rather than historical, it is a majestic and poetic account of God’s dominion over the created universe.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark
Chapter 6

53When they had crossed over, Jesus and his disciples landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.

Wherever Jesus went, people would gather around him. They would sit for hours on end on the hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee (also known as Lake Gennesaret). They would bring the halt and the lame, the sick, both of body and of spirit, and he would heal them.

From some perspectives, it might seem that the story in Mark’s gospel of Jesus healing the sick is far removed from the poetic depiction of the creation of the universe in Genesis. Then again, the two accounts are more closely related than we might perceive at first glance. In Genesis, God makes the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them. God creates life, and sustains his creatures in life. In Mark, we see Jesus revealing God’s love for his people as he goes about bringing health to those who are sick, and even those who touched the fringes of his cloak were cured. This is the wondrous mystery at the heart of Christianity: Why did God create the universe and all that is in it? Why did God choose to take on human form and human flesh in the Incarnation? The answer is given to us by Saint Augustine: God created us, and the universe in which we live, for the purpose of redeeming us.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Reading From the Book of Job

The book of Job is a dramatic poem, which consists of a series of conversations which deal with the question of the suffering of the innocent, and of retribution.

The first conversation, in Chapter One is between God and Satan:

What have you been up to lately?
The usual, roaming about the earth, looking for someone to pester.

Have you noticed my servant Job? There is no one quite like him on earth. He is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.
It’s no wonder! You’ve put a wall around him, and his household, his flocks, and everything he owns. But, give me some time with him, and he will surely curse you to your face.

All right then, everything he has is in your hands, with one exception: I will not allow you to take his life.

And so, the devil went off to do to Job everything that he could to get him to curse God.

Today’s First Reading is taken from Chapter Seven, after six chapters of everything that has befallen Job since the LORD gave the Tempter power over him. And it is clear that Job is at the very end of his tether.

Life on earth is drudgery. The property owner is no better off than the hired help. I’ve had to put up with months of misery, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve had a good night’s sleep. When I go to bed, I toss and turn, until the sun comes up. My life passes by more quickly than the shuttle in a weaver’s hand. They are coming to an end without hope. My eyes will never see happiness again.

That’s where today’s First Reading ends. But I can not go on until I have moved ahead from verse 7, the last verse the reader proclaimed, to verses 20 and 21, at the end of the chapter:

Why have you made me a target? How have I become a burden to you? What have I done? How have I sinned? I sense that my end is near, and I want you to pardon my sins, whatever they are, so that I can be at peace with you before I go to the grave.

You see, Job, like many of us, looks at pain, suffering, misfortune of any type, as a sign of God’s anger, his punishment for our sins – or, if we’re a bit more enlightened, as a purification, a cleansing of our sinfulness, not like a lady’s beauty bar with lotions and emollients but like those gritty industrial strength cleansers you might see over the sink in the auto repair shop.

Getting right to the point, let’s go back to the beginning of the story of Job. The devil is roaming about the world, seeking someone to devour. And it is the LORD who points out Job, challenging the devil to have his way with Job. And the devil takes the challenge, expecting that, when he’s finished with the man, God will have lost the game. Fact is, God knew the outcome before the game was started. The devil doesn’t need to be reminded who is going to win, in the long run, he’s known that from Day One. The “moral of the story” isn’t about Job at all, but about you and me. No mater how bad things seem, if we can look to the LORD and say, I don’t understand why I’m having all this trouble. I really don’t know if I’ve done something wrong. But if I have, I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I know you love me, and I want to love you and to do right. Help me make up for my sins. With your help, I’ll do better from now on.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Be Not Afraid! I Go Before You Always. Come, Follow Me!

In Mark’s gospel, Chapter 6, Jesus sends the Twelve out two by two, instructing them to preach a gospel of repentance. When they returned, they reported to him that they had driven out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil, and they were healed. Then, because so many people were coming and going in the town, he said to them, “Come with me to a quiet place, so we can rest awhile”. So, fishermen that they were, they got into a boat and rowed off to a deserted spot on the opposite shore of the lake.

In the book of Exodus, we read that the way from Egypt to the Promised Land was through the Desert of Sinai, which is, now as then, one of the most barren and lonely places on the earth. You might recall that it took forty years for the People to get to the place God had promised to Abraham and his descendants. During those four decades, they had nothing to eat but manna (the word literally means “What’s this?”) It’s no wonder that they yearned for the “good old days” when they were slaves in Egypt. At least then, they were well fed! The book of Deuteronomy, which was written later than Exodus, tells us more clearly what the LORD’s purpose was, when he sent his people out into the desert: before his people could enter the promised land, they first had to learn that “man does not live on bread alone, but by what comes from the mouth of God.” (Deut. 8:3) That learning cannot be achieved merely by listening to a teacher, even if the teacher is Jesus himself.

Learning how to cross the desert is rather like one of the first lessons you and I learned when we were children: how to cross the street. Phase one is not putting one foot in front of the other, right – left, right –left, until we reach the other sidewalk. It is not even taking Mommy’s (or Daddy’s) hand before taking that first step. The initial phase of the process of learning how to cross the street is to place our trust in Mommy or Daddy when they reach down with their palm open, and say, “Take my hand, and don’t be afraid.” The first phase of crossing street, crossing the desert, or crossing the span of life’s events between birth and death, however long that journey might be, is the lesson taught in that song (I can’t call it a hymn) from the 60s, that begins “You will cross the burning desert . . . “ The title, and the message is “Be not afraid! I go before you always. Come, follow me, and I will give you rest.”

Before Jesus sent his first twelve disciples out into the world to preach and teach the gospel, he invited them to a deserted place, and taught them to trust Him wherever He might lead them. Soon, we will begin this year’s Lenten Season, and we will be reminded day by day and week by week that He led Peter, James and John to the summit of the Mount of Transfiguration, before He brought them with Him to the Mount of Olives, and before all of them but John did not accompany Him to Mount Calvary. I can’t tell you where he will lead you between now and your resurrection. But I can promise – no, I can remind you of His promise – that wherever He leads, you will be escorted by armies of angels, by invisible armies of angels. So, trust Him. And Be Not Afraid!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Do Not Neglect Hospitality, For Through It Some Have Entertained Angels

Yesterday, I read about a high school student, the younger sister of the fellow who was telling the story. During her senior year, she applied for a scholarship at a major university. The final step in the application process was an interview with a trustee of the university. As she entered the office building where the meeting was to take place, she saw an older man kneeling in front of an office door, a couple of screws in one hand, and a screwdriver in the other. As he was leaning into the door, his trousers had slipped below his waist exposing the waistband of his skivvies, leaving a bit of his anatomy exposed.

The girl’s first impulse was to walk swiftly by and continue down the hallway to the office where her interview was to be held. But, sensing that the custodian might need a hand, she stopped, picked up a screw from the floor, gave it to the man, and offered to help. He declined the offer, and she went on her way, and soon was seated in the anteroom of the office. A few minutes later, she was called into the office and, must to her surprise, the man behind the desk was the one who had been fumbling with the door latch. He greeted her, thanked her again for helping him, and informed her that there was no need for her to be interviewed, as he knew all he needed to know about her, and then, he offered her the scholarship.

Today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us not to neglect hospitality, for through it some have unwittingly entertained angels. We can find happiness in the most commonplace of activities, so long as we remember to treat others as we would ourselves be treated. We are all sons and daughters of the LORD, let brotherly love prevail.

Based on a Daily Scripture Reflection from St. Monica Parish, Indianapolis, by Bob Einterz

Thursday, February 5, 2009

O God, We Ponder Your Mercy. Great Is the LORD, And Wholly To Be Praised!

In Deuteronomy, chapter 9, it is written that when Moses came down from the mountain, with the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, he saw that the people had turned away from the way the LORD had commanded, and made an idol cast in the shape of a calf. He became so angry that he took the two stone tablets and threw them to the ground, breaking them to pieces before their eyes. Then he fasted for forty days and forty nights in reparation for the sins of the people. He feared the anger of the LORD, for he was angry enough to destroy the people.

Today, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews recalls fear and trembling Moses felt before going back up to the summit of Sinai to receive a second set of stone tables with the law of the LORD inscribed on them. He suggests that his readers, Hebrew disciples of Jesus, might have the same fear of the LORD that their ancestors had thousands of years before. But then, he speaks to the Hebrew disciples of Jesus, who no doubt have learned to fear God’s wrath because, as children, they learned that respect for authority means fear of authority, be it the police officer on the beat, the teacher in the classroom, or mommy and daddy at home.

We, the disciples of Jesus, have no reason to be afraid of the LORD, he tells his readers – then and now – because Jesus, the mediator of a New Covenant, has shed his blood, a more perfect sacrifice than the blood of Abel, to take away all reason for fear. When we approach the mountain where God dwells, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God, we will be welcomed by thousands of angels in joyful assembly, and the spirits of the just who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith.

But we do not need to wait until we leave this world for a more perfect one to enjoy the presence of the LORD in our lives. Even today, Jesus, our Redeemer and our Brother, gives us peace and reassurance not to be afraid, but to remember that the LORD our God is a God of love, who sent his only-begotten Son to redeem us from the burden of our sins, and sends the Holy Spirit to direct our thoughts, words, and actions in the direction that will most surely lead us to the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven. But more than that, our loving Father recognizes that we, as human beings, are not perfect, and cannot become perfect, since only God is perfect. He knows that, as imperfect creatures we struggle with pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth. God forgives us and gives us grace to resist temptation, and to avoid sin. And he reminds us, throughout the Scriptures, that one of the first and most critical steps in this journey toward the summit of the holy mountain is to forgive ourselves for being imperfect, and to live each day as followers of Jesus, hoping and praying that we might be closer to him tomorrow than we were yesterday.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Don't Miss The Message Because You Dismiss The Messenger!

Today’s First Reading from Hebrews reminds me once again of my conversations with Father Arthur.

You have been struggling against sin, and you have tried to resist temptation. But you seem to have forgotten the words of encouragement addressed to you as children:

Do not make light of the LORD’s discipline. And do not lose heart when he rebukes you. For the LORD disciplines those whom he loves; he chastens everyone he accepts as his child. (Prov. 3:11-12)

Endure hardship as discipline, since God is treating you as his children. For what loving father would fail to discipline his child?

When it is administered, discipline seems painful, not pleasant. But later, it brings a harvest of righteousness, and of peace, for those who have learned from it. So, strengthen your feeble hands and your weak knees. Try to stay on the smooth part of the path, so that you don’t bruise your feet or sprain your ankle. (Prov. 4:26)

Make every effort to be at peace with everyone, since love of neighbor is holiness without which no one will see the LORD.

Today’s Gospel, on the other hand, is quite a different story.

When Jesus left the territory of the Gerasenes, where he had raised the daughter of Jairus, he returned to Nazareth, together with his disciples. On the Sabbath, he went to teach in the synagogue, and many of those who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this fellow learn these things?” they asked. “Where did he get such wisdom, that he can even work miracles?” Isn’t he the son of Mary, and kin to James, Joseph, Jude and Simon? Doesn’t his whole family live here in this town?” They took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “No prophet is without honor, except in his own hometown, among his kin. He could not work wonders there, except to lay hands on a few sick folk and cure them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Both the First Reading and the Gospel of the day reflect truths of the human condition. We would like to get good grades in school, but we don’t like to study. We would like to be strong and healthy, but we don’t want to eat right or exercise. We would like to be sinless, but we don’t want to practice the spiritual discipline which is just as necessary for spiritual growth as study is for intellectual growth, and exercise for physical growth and development.

The gospel describes the barriers that pride sets up against the work of God in our midst. Jesus observes that a prophet is not honored in his native place. When our pride is wounded, we become resentful. That seems to be why the people of Nazareth resent Jesus. Who does he think he is, anyway? He’s just a carpenter’s son. And their resentment prevents them from perceiving who he is, and who his Father is. You and I do that, too. We miss the message because we dismiss the messenger.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Who Touched Me?

While Jesus was speaking to a large crowd gathered at the lake side, near Capharnaum, a man named Jairus, one of the synagogue officials, came up to Jesus, fell to his knees, and pleaded, “My little girl is dying. Please come and lay hands on her so that she will be healed and live.

Jesus went with Jairus, and the crowd followed them. In the crowd, there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for a dozen years. She visited a number of doctors, spend a great deal of money, but she got no better – in fact, her health deteriorated further. She came up behind Jesus and touched his cloak, thinking to herself, “If I just touch his cloak, I will be healed.” Immediately, her bleeding stopped, and she felt in her body that she had been healed.

Jesus turned around and asked, “Who touched me?” The disciples said, “You see the crowd pressing in on you, how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’“ He looked around to see who had done it. The woman, knowing what had happened, came and fell down before him, and in a frightened and trembling voice, told him what had happened. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

Then some people came from the synagogue official’s house and told him, “Your daughter has died. Don’t bother the rabbi any longer.” Overhearing them, Jesus turned to the official and said, “Don’t be afraid, just have faith.”

Jesus allowed no one to follow him into the house but Peter, James and John. When they entered the house Jesus saw people weeping and wailing loudly. He said, “Why are you making such a commotion? The child is not dead; she’s asleep.” They laughed at him. Then he asked them all to leave, and took the child’s parents with him into the room where she lay. He took her by the hand and said, “Talitha, cum”, which means, “Little girl, get up.” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk around. Jesus told the people that no one should talk about what had happened. Then he told her parents to prepare something for her to eat.

A meditation : How the woman with the hemorrhage might have prayed

At that time, I was alone. There was no one I could turn to for support. I was unable to pray or to read, being terrified by so much fear and trepidation wondering whether the devil would deceive me. I felt anxious and weary. I did not know what to do with myself. I’ve felt this way some times, many times, but never to such an extreme. I remained in that state for about four or five hours. There was no consolation for me, not from here, and not from heaven. The LORD has allowed me to suffer, and to fear a thousand dangers.

My Lord, you are my true friend, and such a powerful friend! You never stop loving those who love you. Everything on earth praises you, LORD of the universe. Who will tell the world how faithful you are to your friends. All things fail, but you, LORD, never fail.

O my God, who has the understanding, the learning, and the now words with which to praise your deeds as my soul understands them? All else fails me, LORD; but if you sustain me, I will not fail you. Let learned men rise up against me; let all created beings persecute me; let the devils torment me. LORD, you never fail me, for I already have experience the gain that comes from the way you resuce those who trust in you alone.

Teresa de Jesus