Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday

(Joel 2:12-18; II Corinthians 5:2—6:2; Matthew 6:1-16.16-18)

“Margaret, are you weeping…” Gerard Manley Hopkins begins one of his famous poems.  The author is about to contemplate death.  “It is the blight of man,” he says.  It is also our starting point in Lent.

Signs of deaths become evident as we grow old.  We lose our vigor, our beauty, and our memory.  The ashes put on our foreheads today confirm what seniors know with increasing alarm.  Our bodies will turn into dust.  We need to ask ourselves, “Am I living in accord with the hope I have for salvation from non-existence?”

The Church proposes the season of Lent to realign ourselves. Now is the time to make every effort to live so that we might share in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  We pray to God for help.  We let go of distractions from our purpose.  And we assist the needy as our sure way of overcoming death’s blight.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Sirach 35:1-12; Mark 10:28-31)

What Americans call “Mardi Gras” is known as “Carnival” in other countries.  The words refer to an extended period of reverie just prior to the beginning of Lent.  People consume quantities of alcohol, pastries, and meats (from which “Carnival” is derived)—foods from which many will soon abstain.  They often wear masks to promote a sense of solidarity by hiding individual identities.  Although it is sometimes celebrated to excess, Mardi Gras does underscore the seriousness of what is to follow.  Likewise, today’s gospel also anticipates Lenten commitment.

Peter tells Jesus that he and the other disciples have left everything for Jesus.  Only Jesus is worth such a sacrifice.  He brings peace to the world by providing not just a rule of life but the spiritual energy to carry it out.  As he implies at the end of the passage, following him means giving up all pretensions of personal importance.  At the same time it delivers all that is of eternal importance.

By now we should have a firm resolve to take advantage of the forty days of repentance and sacrifice beginning tomorrow.  In accord with the tradition we might have in mind a favorite food from which we will abstain.  We also might have promised to seek the Lord in a project among the poor or disabled. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Sirach 17:20-24; Mark 10:17-27)

Jesus sounds contentious in today’s gospel as he challenges the man from the beginning.  True, God alone is completely good, but humans do share in God’s goodness.  Evidently Jesus wants to shake the man out of any kind of complacency.  This is certainly his impact on the disciples when Jesus tells them that it is harder for the wealthy to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.  In both instances Jesus’ frankness sounds like Ernest Hemingway’s when asked how one can become a great writer.  It is said that Hemingway responded, “You got to have a built-in, 100 percent fool-proof crap detector.”

But Jesus does not mean to spurn the man who wants to inherit heaven.  Indeed, the passage is very clear.  He loves the man which moves him to revise his one-size-fits-all response to give a tailor-made answer.  This man with such a great thirst for eternal life needs dispossess himself of his riches for the sake of the poor and join Jesus’ disciples.

It is not that rich people must impoverish themselves to inherit eternal life.  It is not even that all people must walk with Jesus.  But we must discern what God is asking of us and do it.  Sirach is on the mark when he writes, “…pray to the Lord, and make your offenses few.”

Friday, February 24, 2017

Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Sirach 6:5-17; Mark 10:1-12)

In today’s gospel Jesus both takes away the male prerogative to divorce and aligns marriage with the original intent of creation.  He also reverses the consequence of original sin.  At their judgment God tells Eve that she will be dominated by Adam.  Now by forbidding divorce, Jesus returns at least some of the equality between the two.  He seems to have a twofold purpose in this bold move: to save women from the ignominy of divorce and to urge husband and wife to become the best of friends.

The reading from Sirach indicates the value of such a relationship.  A “best friend” listens to one’s venting to help the person figure out the meaning of life’s vagaries.  A friend also protects one from the consequences of rash action by proffering wisdom when the person is angry or confused.  Many friendships are only as deep as water on a tabletop.  They coax the partners to avoid responsibility and then offer platitudes when the situation turns stressful.

We want to encourage our young to look for spouses who will be true friends.  Too often men marry women more for their attractiveness than for their virtue.  Women often look for men for much the same reason as well as their capacity to provide life’s comforts.  These values are out of line with the Kingdom Jesus preaches.  If our young are to live as Jesus would have them, they will take as much care in finding the right spouse as a Fortune 500 corporation in choosing a CFO.  They will search for a person who is -- most of all – faithful, honest, caring, and wise. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Sirach 5:1-8; Mark 9:41-50)

Along with the comfortable images we use for God, today’s Scripture readings offer a couple that are not appealing.  Sirach mentions God’s anger and Mark’s Jesus speaks of punishment for sin as eternal fire.  How are we to reconcile these very different characterizations of God?

We have to avoid thinking of God as a human person like ourselves.  He is not friendly one day and distempered another.  He remains always as Jesus describes Him – loving.  Indeed, because of His love for us, He wants us to become more loving ourselves.  His “anger” is not an emotion, which is attributable only to humans.  Rather it is a way of projecting human frustration when a son or daughter disappoints a father. “Eternal fire” also need not be taken literally.  It is the absence of God when all is said and done.  It is never knowing peace but always being subject to the vagaries of the here and now. 

God offers us a way to Himself in Jesus.  The Savior’s words give us a roadmap to eternal life.  His death and resurrection provide us the wherewithal to follow it.  Becoming loving like the Father we will also be happier, kinder, and gentler.  We will have become the kind of people God has always intended.