Monday, March 2, 2015

Monday of the Second Week of Lent

(Daniel 9:4b-10; Luke 6:36-38)

The man gives God thanks every day.  When he was a youth, he was always in trouble.  He couldn’t stay out of fights.  He was convicted of assault and battery as well as using drugs.  He did a couple of prison terms and was facing a thirty-five year sentence.  Then he was shown mercy.  He credits God, but certainly a judge had something to do with his being given another chance.  In this case the risk proved imminently worthwhile.  The man has turned his life around, married and is raising a family, has a small prosperous business, and is giving back to God as a youth minister.  Jesus recommends such mercy in today’s gospel.

When Jesus says that his disciples should not judge, he does not mean that they wear rose-colored glasses.  No, they are to determine right from wrong, but they are not to condemn others unduly.  Quite the opposite, they should be ready to forgive for any good reason.   Jesus then promises that their mercy will be rewarded not just in kind but with greater abundance.

It is sometimes difficult to forgive because we see it as a betrayal of justice.  Jesus would certainly agree that mercy without justice leads to dissolution just as strictness without justice can end in despotism.  As responsible people, we must promote and model righteous living.  We do that by forgiving whenever we sense a reasonable possibility for reform and renewal.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday of the First Week of Lent

(Ezekiel 18:21-28; Matthew 5:20-26)

At a recently held male spirituality retreat many of the participants were recovering alcoholics.  They had decided previously to give their lives to a “Higher Power” as Alcoholics Anonymous prefers to call God and now were deepening their commitment.  Although alcoholism is evidently as much a physical as a moral condition, AA at least does not deny some responsibility on the part of alcoholics. They must recognize that they have hurt others by their habit and take responsibility for not falling into the condition again.  Today’s readings portray such people as saints.

Ezekiel announces the Lord’s will as the salvation of sinners.  It does not free them from responsibility but urges them to reform.  Their reward, it says, will be “life.”  In the gospel Jesus teaches his disciples that they must seek forgiveness from those they have offended for their altar sacrifice to be worthy.

It is not easy to recognize our sins and even harder to seek the forgiveness of others.  Yet both chores are at the heart of Christian faith.  If we are going to walk with Jesus, we must act so that our sins are forgiven.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(Esther C:12.14-16.23-25; Matthew 7:7-12)

Rabbi’s Harold Kushner best-seller When Bad Things Happen to Good People pictures an almost impotent God who helps people by inspiring them to work together.  Prayer to such a deity, it claims, gives one occasion to think about what must be done to improve the situation herself.  The book seems to say that any hope that the situation may be modified that goes beyond human will and perhaps chance is wishful thinking.  Is there any way to reconcile such thinking to the Scripture readings today?

Jesus assures his disciples in today’s gospel that God listens to prayers like an indulgent father attends to the pleas of his children.  Queen Esther in the Old Testament selection demonstrates the proper stance vis-à-vis the Lord as she throws herself to the ground in supplication.  In both cases God is considered as the real cause of change.  Both readings claim that God can be counted on for assistance.

“Then why are not all prayers answered?” some will retort.  This is an earnest question which may be called “the mystery of God’s silence.”  Its answer is steeped in tradition although it will not satisfy everyone.  It insists that we must acknowledge God in faith even though we will never understand all His ways.  Just as He has been actively present to us countless times, He can withhold any recognizable response.  Still we can be sure that He has heard our plea and will act on our behalf although when and how may not be forthcoming.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wednesday of the First Week in Lent

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

Enter into almost any doctor’s office, and you will be asked for a sign.  The attendant will want to see your insurance card guaranteeing the doctor will be paid.  You can tell the person that you have plenty of money to cover the doctor’s fee, but he will not believe you.  In today’s gospel Jesus chastises the people for a similar lack of faith.

The people want Jesus to produce miracles on demand before they believe in him.  Jesus is telling them that this is not God’s way.  He says that just as the Ninevites believed Jonah’s prophecy that God was ready to destroy them, Jews should believe his message.  Of course, Jesus wants them to reform for a very different reason.  Rather than touting God’s wrath, Jesus is saying that God is at hand dispensing mercy.

 It is hard for many of us to trust.  Perhaps we have been abused by someone we once loved.  But, as Jesus indicates, there is plenty of reason to do so.  We have life and likely more than enough to eat.  We probably have had at least one parent who would have died for us and friends who are willing to help meet our needs.  These are all signs of a sort indicating God’s presence.  But some still hold out saying that they require miracles on demand before they will believe. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

(Isaiah55:10-11; Matthew 6:7-15)

When Isaiah speaks of God’s word going forth from His mouth, he is using the term figuratively.  Word is more than a vocal sound with a definite meaning; it is a figure of speech standing for all truth about God.  For this reason Jesus is called the “Word of God.”  When we see Jesus, we see God.  This does not mean that we can know everything about God who will forever remain a mystery.  In a sense, but in an infinitely greater way, as we cannot know everything even about any person even our spouses for fifty years, we will never come to know all about God.

In today’s gospel Jesus reveals what is most important to us about God.  When he urges us to call God “Father,” he is telling us that although God created the universe, He still cares for us individually with the tenderest of loves.  Jesus also reminds us, “like father, like son”: as we expect God to pardon our sins, we should forgive others theirs.

Many of us pray the “Our Father” throughout the day.  We do well to make it our last words as we go to sleep at night and the first words on our lips in the morning.  In this way we will never forget that God is at hand to help us and that we are made to be like Him.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Monday of the First Week in Lent

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

A few weeks the Vatican announced that it is arranging free haircuts and shaves for street people in Rome.  Already a section of St. Peter’s colonnade has been sectioned off for showers and toilets for these poorest of the poor.  Now the Church is also providing a space for barbers to come on their day off to provide their services.  It is not so much that Pope Francis thinks “cleanliness is next to Godliness” but that he knows caring for the poor is God’s will.

The first reading today is part of the “holiness code” of the Old Testament.  Its emphasis on justice shows that religion in the Jewish tradition demands more than prayer and asceticism.  Jesus pushes the idea to its extreme.  He tells his disciples that they reverence him when they serve the needy.

The poor surround us.  They are not necessarily begging on street corners.  They may be serving us breakfast or cutting our lawn.  We must not look pass them.  Quite the contrary we need to see in them a reflection of Jesus.  In a way like taking the body and blood in the Eucharist, meeting their needs provides access to eternal life.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday after Ash Wednesday

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

Fasting – Isaiah in effect denies it in the first reading today, and Jesus delays it in the gospel.  There is, therefore, cause to wonder about its worth. 

Physicians often require patients to fast before undertaking various kinds of medical procedures.  Of course, people needing to lose weight regularly fast for salutary reasons.  Religious traditions, despite the reservations of the readings today, have long considered fasting a way to purification.  Not only does it allow the body to purge itself of contaminants, but it signals a victory over one’s desires.

Although the practice almost mocks the meaning of the term, Catholics are bound to fast only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  That is, on these two days we are not allowed to eat between meals.  But individual, more strenuous fasting is encouraged.  Skipping a meal and even passing an entire day without eating can express genuine love for the Lord.  We must remember, however, the fasting that pleases God most.  As today’s reading from Isaiah proclaims, God wants us to work so that all people may be free.  That is, we are to free the poor from excessive want so that their fasting may be a willful act of love and not an inescapable necessity.