Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wednesday of the First Week in Lent

(Jonah 3:1-10; Luke 11:29-32)

In his Confessions St. Augustine relates how he had two mistresses.  As he became aware of his call to holiness, he knew that he had to let go of sexual desire.  Augustine begged God, “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.”  He made the break when he randomly read a passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “…But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the desires of the flesh.”  The conversion was as dramatic as that of the Ninevites after hearing the preaching of Jonah in today’s first reading.

The story of Jonah is more of a fable than real history.  There is no record of a mass conversion in Nineveh or even a city so large that it would take three days to transverse.  But the point is clear: people are called to repent from sinful ways.  In the gospel Jesus laments that the people of his time refuse to repent with his preaching.  Even though he displays wisdom greater than Solomon’s and virtue greater than Jonah’s was thought to have been, people still do not respond favorably.  They only seek a sign to prove his legitimacy.

During Lent we are being called to give up sinful ways.  For some this means giving Internet pornography a definitive “no.”  Others may have to stop lying or to become more attentive to the needs of the poor.  Yes, it is hard but we have not only the incentive of eternal life but also the support of the whole Church.  Repentance, after all, is not a one in a million need.  Everyone is called to it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

(Isaiah 55:10-11; Matthew 6:7-15)

Today’s first reading is taken from the end of the second part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  It shows God about to act on behalf of His people mired in Babylon.  No more will they have to bear insults and prejudice from their overlords.  God will send them home to Jerusalem with the utterance of His word. 

In the gospel Jesus assures his disciples that the Father is ready to assist them as well.  Their prayers do not inform God of their needs nor catalyze Him to act.  Rather their prayers prepare them to receive humbly what God is about to give.  In 2010 thirty-four Chilean miners were trapped after an underground explosion.  They were of different faiths and no faith, but they began to pray together.  “We are not the best of men, Lord,” they prayed, “but have mercy on us anyway.”  All the miners survived the ordeal.

Lent is time to relearn how to pray.  We come to God humbly knowing that He can help us in our need.  We look to Him as our loving Father ready to give us what we request.  And we pray diligently, not allowing our minds to wander or our hopes to wane.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Monday of the First Week in Lent

(Leviticus 19:1-2.11-18; Matthew 25:31-46)

In the urge to give as much assistance to as many people as possible, helpers sometimes miss what is most important about a work of mercy.  If they do not treat people in need with respect, they may even being doing them harm.  Respect literally means to look twice.  It is to see in the other not just another man or woman in need but a human person with feelings, ideas, and relationships.  In light of today’s gospel, respect means to see the person in need as a substitute for Christ.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society makes respect a priority.  It heartily recommends that provisions not be handed to the needy in centers of distribution but be brought to the places where they live.  In this way not only do real needs become apparent but also a sense of concern is conveyed.  Truly helpful relationships are fostered because the people involved develop more than a superficial knowledge of one another.

It is usually not hard for us to provide services to the needy.  Sometimes, indeed, we receive remuneration for doing so.  But what the Lord wants of us in assisting the poor is to treat them as we would treat him.  That is, we are to respect them by attending to their emotional and spiritual as well as their physical needs.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Friday after Ash Wednesday

(Isaiah 58:1-9a; Matthew 9:14-15)

Some always question whether fasting is a worthwhile activity.  After all, if it does any good, the benefit is not readily seen.  Many even advisenot to fast during Lent but to do something of more obvious merit.  Today’s first readings indicates that helping the oppressed is what the Lord wants most of all.  But the gospel hints, at least, that giving up food is sometimes required.

Why is fasting a good thing to do?  Three reasons have been long proffered in favor of fasting.  First, fasting takes one’s attention from lustful objects and demonstrates one’s self-control.  It is true – the more we think of food, the less will our minds wander to sex.  More importantly, however, fasting raises one’s mind to God.  The distress it causes makes one naturally look to God for relief.  Finally, fasting is an act of penance which satisfies for sins.  As the Letter to the Colossians says, one can join his or her suffering to Christ for the benefit of the Church.  A fourth reason for fasting may be added.   One can show love for God by refraining from what he or she enjoys.  A man shaved his head when his wife was undergoing radiotherapy for cancer as an expression of solidarity with her.  So people can think of their fasts as a way to express solidarity with Christ in the desert.

All adult Catholics are required to fast during Lent.  We should not eat any meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of the season.  We should also refrain from eating more than three times on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  In these ways we show ourselves as members of a community on the way to renewal.  Few people would say that these mandated practices comprise a great challenge.  We might also augment our fasting by, for example, abstinence from sweets or alcohol.  Such sacrifice will not hurt us  Quite the contrary, they will likely enable us to emerge even stronger from the Lenten journey.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

(Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Luke 9:22-25)

“Choose life.”  We have all seen bumper stickers with this anti-abortion message.  No doubt, people who feel burdened by an unexpected pregnancy find the message ironic.  To them life means not taking on the responsibility of birthing a child so that they may pursue personal ambitions.  Life, then, is one of those simple words with a range of meanings. 

In the reading from Deuteronomy today, Moses exhorts the Israelites to “choose life.”  He has in mind God’s righteousness that promises to benefit both individual and community.  By following God’s commandments not only the present generation but also future ones will thrive.  As is his custom, Jesus radicalizes Moses’ message.  He tells his disciples that life comes when they lose their lives for his sake.  This loss surely entails some sacrifice of personal ambition and may require prematurely letting go of biological life.  But these are small forfeitures in comparison to the promise of happiness in eternal life.

Made at Baptism and renewed in every Eucharist our choice has been for Jesus’ way to life.  But have we been faithful to that selection?  During Lent we test ourselves and make all necessary adjustments.  We should foresee ourselves securely on the road to full life by Easter.