Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Tuesday of the Third Week in Lent

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

There is a problem in Jesus’ parable.  If one is to forgive continually, then what should the master do when the wicked servant asks forgiveness a second time?  Should he not pardon him?

We can bet that Jesus would say “no” to the proposition.  Forgiveness turns on the genuineness of the guilty party’s contrition.  The servant shows that his sorrow is a sham since he refuses to show mercy. In traditional terms, he lacks a purpose of amendment. 

We sometimes worry about the sincerity of our own intentions when we find ourselves always confessing the same sins.  Does God forgive us?  We must never underestimate God’s mercy.  It is deeper than the ocean.  But God is also that discerning as well.  He knows when we intend to change our ways.  But He also knows that bad habits are difficult to break and affords us many opportunities to make amendment.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Monday of the Third Week of Lent

(II Kings 5:1-15ab; Luke 4:24-30)

The man told the superior of a religious community that he would give him $100 to have a private mass said for his family on Christmas Day.  It was a time when $100 would be like $500 today. The priest wondered if he was being bribed to give a special privilege.  He rejected the offer.  The man should take his family to the community mass on the holyday with the rest of the people.  A similar offer is implied in today’s first reading.

Naaman takes a fortune with him when he visits Elisha.  Evidently he thinks that he can buy a favor from the prophet.  He does not realize what kind of God Elisha serves.  He does not know that God wants justice not gifts.  Naaman cannot fathom that God’s prophets as well are not to be impressed by wealth.  However, he comes to know by his cure that the God of Israel is greater than all others gods.  He learns that God only desires submission to his gracious will.

We too must take care not to place exaggerated importance on money.  We certainly need it to live in modern society.  Also, we can use it to serve others.  But in the end, we too will realize that money fails to bring the happiness it promises.  Always more beneficial is a heart determined to love God above all and others as His children. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Friday of the Second Week of Lent

(Genesis 37:3-4.12-13a.17b-28a; Matthew 21:33-43.45-46)

Parents of drug addicts sometimes tell the sad story of how they had to lock their doors on their addicted children.  After repeated instances of having their household treasures stolen to support a drug habit, they said, “Enough is enough,” and refused their troubled children entry into their homes.  In today’s reading from Genesis we hear the story of Joseph’s brothers treating him with even greater disdain than some drug addicts manifest toward their parents.

Not all his brothers conspire to kill Joseph.  Rueben, the eldest of the lot, suggests that they hold him prisoner while he figures out how to send him home safely.  Another brother, Judah, seems to have a similar sentiment, but his suggestion to sell Joseph to Ishmaelite traders may just be a way to turn a profit.  In sum, the motive of all the brothers, save Rueben, is treachery.  They exemplify the dark side of humanity in crying need of renewal.

We are coming to the middle of Lent.  Hopefully, we have noticed by now that our motives are sometimes not just mixed but can be perverse.  Perhaps we dislike seeing friends and family members receiving credit.  Perhaps we show cruelty to people when we know that we can get away with it.  Now is the time to repent of this wrongfulness and to beg God’s grace.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

(Jeremiah 17:5-10; Luke 16:19-31)

As in yesterday’s readings, those of today feature contrast.  The first reading, again from Jeremiah, contrasts the person who puts final trust in human beings and the one who trusts above all in God.  The former will find his life withering as friends naturally or maliciously forget old acquaintances.  But God does not forget those who remember Him as the passage testifies.

The gospel relates the famous parable of Lazarus and the rich man.  The rich man ignores the beggar at his door.  He concerns himself with fine clothes and sumptuous meals.  But his pursuits have no permanent consequence.  He will be forgotten in eternity which is indicated by his name not mentioned in the entire story.  Meanwhile Lazarus, the beggars, enjoys eternal life in the bosom of Abraham.  Was he merciful to others on earth?  Evidently, yes, he was as God is merciful to those who show mercy.

 Of all times during the year Lent is the season for us to show mercy.  No doubt there are suffering people in all of our lives that we have been meaning to assist but have never found the time to do so.  As the Scripture reads, “Now is the favorable time; now is the day of salvation.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent

(Jeremiah 18:18-20; Matthew 20:17-28)

“The Repentant Magdalene” is a painting by the French master Georges de La Tour.  It shows a young woman in flirtatious clothing.  She sits at a table with a mirror, a lighted candle, and a skull.  She is obviously pondering which way she will proceed in life.  Will she continue drawing attention to herself so that might enjoy worldly pleasures?  Or will she follow the light of the world who calls her to self-denial?  This contrast resounds in the readings today.

Jeremiah is constantly plagued with rejection.  Not only is his call to reform spurned, but his life is threatened.  Yet he maintains an intimate relation with God whose message he speaks.  In the gospel the contrast is starker.  Jesus shares with his disciples the destiny that awaits him in Jerusalem.  He will be handed over, condemned, mocked, scourged, and crucified before rising from the dead.  Immediately afterwards the mother of James and John approaches Jesus with the request that her sons be given places of honor in his kingdom.  She evidently has not heard what Jesus has said about suffering.

During Lent we cannot miss Jesus’ call to take up our crosses behind him.  Yet the pleasures of the world continue to attract our attention.  They are not bad in themselves but often can be misleading.  We must choose which way we are to follow.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Tuesday of the Second Week in Lent

(Isaiah 1:10.16-20; Matthew 23:1-12)

Abraham Lincoln was once accused of being two-faced.  He confronted the detraction by telling his audience: “If I had another face, do you think I would be seen wearing with this one?”  Calling another two-faced is a way of criticizing her as duplicitous.  Jesus is implying this criticism of the Pharisees in today’s gospel.  His evaluation has stuck.  Today being pharisaical means being duplicitous.

But the Pharisees were not necessarily bad people.  In fact, Paul says with pride that he was once a Pharisee.  They were men intent on living the precepts of the Law.  However, some Pharisees in Jesus’ day were more intent on being seen as living the Law than actually doing it.  Some of these accused Jesus of not obeying the Law while he was the one who lived it most implicitly.  He made no show of being merciful and pious but dedicated himself to the ways of God to the point of death.

In today’s passage Jesus exhorts us, his disciples, to follow his ways and not those of corrupted Pharisees.  He wants us to be coherent in what we do.  If we profess to love others, then we should be willing to help them.  If we mean to teach our children what is right, then we must act righteously.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, apostle

(I Peter 5:1-4; Matthew 16:13-19)

Pope Francis has alarmed many with his prediction that he will not serve very long as Bishop of Rome.  Although he appears strong, he has only one lung.  What is more, he is already in his eightieth year.  Nevertheless, he expends himself by going out of his way to be with the little people who matter so much to God.  He exemplifies as well as any other pope since those who were martyred in the first three centuries, the lesson of today’s first reading.

The passage underscores the pope’s and, indeed, all priests’ need of humility.  It expressly says that they are not to lord it over the faithful.  That kind of behavior would give counter-testimony to Christ who humbled himself to the point of undergoing unjust execution.  Nor are they to seek favors for their work as this would undermine their credibility.  On the positive side, they are to eagerly look after and encourage the faithful.  After all, only joyful care-giving will capture hearts for Christ.  Especially the Vicar of Christ, for whom there is no retirement plan, will necessarily wear himself out with such responsibilities. 

Pope Francis gives of himself so generously as an example to the rest of us.  He wants to encourage us to be humble and to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the needy.  Admittedly he sets the bar high, but we also are strengthened by Christ to serve one another. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Friday of the First Week of Lent

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

The elderly couple just lost their middle-age son.  Although they were deeply caring parents, they were not emotionally distraught.  When asked how they felt, they responded that they were at peace because their son had just returned to the sacraments after a long absence.  They were just grateful that God called him home in the state of grace.  Certainly the couple’s faith reflects Ezekiel’s oracle of today’s first reading.

The passage manifests the working of divine justice.  It describes God’s mercy obliterating one’s past sins upon repentance.  Discomforting to many, however, it goes on to damn the person who leaves the virtuous path.  The prophecy seems too rigid as it implies that a single indiscretion can obliterate a lifelong pursuit of virtue.  In fact, the passage considers this question but then dismisses it.  It implies that the person was not pursuing good for God’s sake but to achieve earthly reward.  God wants people to do what is right in response to his love.

The reading provides a sobering lesson for us.  We must not only do the right thing but do it for the right reason.  When we act out of love for God, we assure ourselves of His blessing.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Thursday of the First Week of Lent

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

Skeptics will use gospel passages like the one in today’s Eucharist to demonstrate the folly of prayer.  They will say something like, “Lord, give me a million dollars.”  Because they never receive the fortune, they conclude that God does not listen to prayers.  Of course, they misunderstand what Jesus is saying.

Jesus’ premise is that we go to God as His children.  He wants us to develop a relationship with God that is as close as the one many enjoy with their natural parent.  One man recalls how his father was the finest person he ever met.  He said the father was not educated but intelligent and, more than that, truthful and caring.  Trusting that God is eminently like this, we will find Him responsive to our petitions. 

We develop a filial relationship with God by showing Him gratitude for all that we have.  We thank God even for our own handiwork because it can be ultimately traced to Him.  Then we ask God for what we need.  We will do it humbly because we recognize that He has already blessed us abundantly.  We will find our prayers answered as surely as the sun rises.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent

(Jonah 31-10; Luke 11:29-32)

Liberal newspapers focus on inequality as the greatest domestic threat.  They constantly report a growing income gap between rich and poor.  Now they say that life expectancy between the two groups is also widening significantly.  They tend to overlook, however, other evidence of moral decline.  They are not especially concerned about drug use and pornography.  If they examine all the evidence, they could hardly but conclude with Jesus in today’s gospel.  They would have to admit, “…this generation is evil...”

Jesus is pictured as reacting to the people’s rejection of him.  Although he heals the sick and preaches with compelling stories, he cannot form a mass movement of disciples.  When he dies, his apostles will convert myriads of pagans into believers.  At the end of time descendants of these converts will show the Jewish people that they were wrong to ignore Jesus.

We like to think of ourselves as faithful followers of Jesus, but we may be imposters.  To be true disciples we have to pay him more than lip service and even than attendance at weekly Eucharist.  We truly follow Jesus when we seek out the troubled and assist them carry their burdens.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

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

People speak of “storming heaven.”  They mean that they will say prayer after prayer until they receive what they request.  Evidently they think of God as remote and apathetic to human need. Perhaps they have the wicked magistrate of the Lucan parable in mind.  But Jesus is clear in that image that God is much better than the corrupt judge.  In today’s passage from the Gospel of Matthew he gives us a truer way to approach God.

Jesus tells his disciples that the way to secure answer to prayers is to forgive others’ offenses.  There may be something circular at play here.  If one can forgive others’ sins, that person seems to have already achieved sanctity – the final aim of all prayer.  But there is more to prayer than that.  Prayer connects a person with God so that her mind expands to see God’s will.  She gives up her narrow view of reality and finds God working in more efficacious ways.

Saintly theologians say that we cannot alter God’s will.  At the same time they encourage us to pray.  They say that prayer changes us.  That fact alone improves the situation for all.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Monday of the First Week in Lent

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

The Scripture readings today strike a balance between negative and positive actions.  Leviticus emphasizes the former with a list of “You shall not(s).”  The gospel, on the other hand, accentuates the positive.  It predicts Jesus reminding the nations at the end of time that they are being judged on what they did for the little people of the world.  If they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited the imprisoned, they will be judged worthy of salvation.

We might ask which is more important, to avoid doing what is wrong or to do what is right?  In medicine, at least, an answer to this question seems to emerge.  The Hippocratic Oath, which physicians have taken for centuries, clearly sides with the need to avoid evil.  After promising to offer dietetic measures to heal the sick, budding physicians swear not to do a series of evils: hasten death, induce abortion, and molest patients or householders whom they visit. 

It is fair to conclude that avoiding harm is essential but insufficient.  If love is the supreme virtue, it entails that we act positively toward others.  If we cannot do anything directly to support them, then we should at least pray that their needs be met.  During Lent we redouble efforts to examine our lives daily with two questions in mind.  We ask ourselves, “What evil have I done today?” and “What good have I failed to do?”

Friday, February 12, 2016

Friday after Ash Wednesday

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

Abraham Lincoln’s “Second Inaugural Address” has been acclaimed as his greatest speech.  Yet it criticizes the nation in a way that would be unthinkable today.  It says, “(God) gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came.”  This means that as both northern and southern states profited by slavery, God has now punished both sides.  But the speech goes beyond recalling the sins of the nation.  It also hints of reform by indicating the resolve to settle the costs of the war “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”  However so much the “Second Inaugural” demonstrates Lincoln’s skill as an orator, it shows him as a prophet in line with Isaiah in today’s first reading.

The prophet declares God’s frustration with the offerings of the people.  He sees them as manipulative of God’s love, not submissive to God’s dominion.  He chastises the people for quarrelling over whose sacrifice is sufficient rather than showing communal remorse for sins committed.  But the tenor of the prophecy is ultimately not negative.  It also describes the sacrifice that pleases God.  It calls the people beyond individual displays of asceticism to communal solidarity with the suffering. 

We might ask ourselves then if any fasting is desirable.  The answer to the query should be self-evident.  Not only does the Church prescribe an acceptable fast for Lent, but Jesus indicates its appropriateness in today’s gospel.  But we must remember not to fast to show off individual ability to endure hardship.  No, we fast to recognize our common need for God’s mercy.