Monday, March 27, 2017

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent

(Isaiah 65:17-21; John 4:43-54)

The fourth Sunday of Lent marks a threshold.  No longer will the weekday readings call for prayer, fasting, and forgiving.  Now they center on the life that Christ promises.  The gospel book changes as well.  For almost four weeks one of the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) was used.  Now the Gospel of John presenting Jesus as “the resurrection and the life” is opened for work.

Jesus seems perturbed with the royal official when he says, “’Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.’”  He is wary of people’s faith that is based solely on the miraculous.  Jesus is encouraging the man to believe so that he may have eternal life.  As a matter of fact, the official does so without seeing the miracle take place.  Only the next day does he learn that his son recovered from his “near death” condition. 

Jesus has also given us new life.  Many of us were dead spiritually.  We thought too much of money, food, and prestige to appreciate life’s true meaning.  The disciplines of Lent have hopefully reoriented us correctly.  Now we look forward to experiencing the fullness of life. We should expect not just balance in our daily activities but the joy and peace of caring about one another.  Heaven or eternal life consists precisely in this.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

(Hosea 14:2-10; Mark 12:28-34)

People today often ask, “Who is the greatest?” or, “What is most important?” They believe that if they walk in the footsteps of the greatest person who ever lived or seek what is most important in life, they will not end up disillusioned.  The gospel shows that people of antiquity asked the same kind of questions.

The man asks Jesus, “Which is the first of all the commandments?”  It is sometimes said that the first commandments for Jews is to “be fruitful and multiply.”  But Jesus does not concern himself with clever answers here.  He goes right to the heart of the matter.  The first commandment, he says in, “’You shall love the Lord your God.’” And the second greatest commandment is to “’love your neighbor as yourself.’” 

Many of us have difficulty loving God.  Some even say that to love our neighbor is to love God.  Although the two commandments may sound much alike, there is a critical difference.  God is the greatest good – the creator and sustainer of all things.  In faith we know that He exists as the One who loves us despite our many faults.  Because He tells us to love our neighbor, we make the effort to do so.  Even though our neighbors may hurt us, we love them by wanting what is best for them.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent

(Jeremiah 7:23-28; Luke 11:14-23)

Almost twenty-five years ago Pope St. John Paul II proclaimed a “New Evangelization.”  He said that it would be directed not only to the nations where Jesus is unknown and to Christians who have lost a living sense of their faith.  It would also go out to those who practice the faith!  All people -- good and bad alike -- need to hear God’s call to reform.  Taking His word into account, many who have thought of themselves as good will have to make a new appraisal.  Both Scripture readings today focus on this last group. 

In the first reading Jeremiah laments the reality of his day.  The people of Jerusalem are paying lip service to God.  They may go to the temple, but they do not practice love of God and neighbor that the law tries to instill.  In the gospel Jesus shows compassion when he enables a mute man to speak.  The people around him, however, refuse to acknowledge that Jesus’ power comes from God.  They say to the contrary that he heals because he is in league with the devil.  The passage ends with Jesus condemning those who deny his goodness. “…whoever does not gather with me,’” he says, “’scatters.’”

During the season of Lent, especially, we are being called to a true examination and conviction of self.  We may not be the biggest sinners, most of us at least, but we do gossip and curse others (while driving).  We fail to see the sufferings others undergo and often exaggerate our own challenges. There is plenty of room for improvement which must be made if we are to experience eternal life.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

(Deuteronomy 4:1.5-9; Matthew 5:17-19)

Fifty years ago the words law and order had a connotation of severity.  Politicians, sensing public disgust with civil unrest, promised “law and order” if elected.  Today, however, perhaps because of a popular television show with that title, law and order has a more congenial tone.  This change parallels the development of the term law that is seen in the readings today.

The Book of Deuteronomy presents the law as the lifeline of Israel.  Its purpose is to regulate the ways of the people to conform to a public vision of holiness.  It emphasizes the importance of remembering and teaching to posterity the code.  Jesus says that he comes “to fulfill,” not to change and much less to abolish, the law.  He goes beyond outer behavior to inner motives so that people may truly become holy.  It will seem to some that Jesus is exhorting strictness, but that view is narrow-minded.  Jesus means to liberate the human heart from attachments to worldly desires.  In this way people can freely and easily live holy lives.

It is our purpose in Lent to be freed from excessive worldly attachments.  In part this comes about by our efforts to abstain from material goods and to assist those in need.  It also requires prayer – constant and sincere – that the Holy Spirit displace the material desire with a desire for genuine holiness.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

(Daniel 3:25.34-43; Matthew 18:21-35)

Protestants often criticize the Catholic practice of confessing to a priest.  They ask, “Why do you have to tell your sins to a man?  It is God who forgives sins.”  Yes, certainly sins offend God, and He alone can forgive them, but Jesus has given his apostles authority to carry out this function (Matthew 18:18).  There is a further reason.  When a Christian sins, she or he does harm to the Church which is entrusted with the mission of announcing God’s love to the world.  Gossiping, viewing pornography, or cheating on taxes hinders the deliverance of this message.  The readings today present examples of a sincere confession and what proves to be a faulty one.

The first reading pictures Azariah, one of the three Jewish youths chosen to serve the king of Persia, expressing contrition for the sins of his people.  As the prophets tell, God desires such a contrite heart more than sacrifices.  The servant in the gospel parable sounds like he has undergone a change of heart as he pleads with his master for an extension of his debt, but actually he has not.  If he were sincere, he would show the same understanding to a fellow servant who is indebted to him.

All Catholics should go to Confession during Lent whether or not they are in mortal sin.  The Sacrament of Reconciliation humbles us to admit that we make mistakes -- sometimes grave ones -- that divert us from the path of holiness.  Also significant, Reconciliation reminds us that religion is not just a personal affair between God and me but a communal enterprise in which all of us have a role to carry out.