Monthly Archives: February 2016

Thursday, 2nd Week of Lent

Lent 1
Readings
The rich man In Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is so absorbed in himself and his “good” life that he sees nothing else, not the poor man at his door nor his own inevitable death. Other parts of scripture, like Psalm 49, point to the same blindness: “In his riches, man lacks wisdom; he is like the beasts that are destroyed.”

The warning is not just for the rich, however. The same psalm calls for “people both high and low, rich and poor alike” to listen. A small store of talents and gifts can be just as absorbing and make us just as shortsighted as a great store of riches. The parable is not just a warning to the rich. We can be absorbed in a small room. Whether we have much or little, we have to see the poor at our gate.

We also have to see a life beyond this one as our destiny; what we do and how we live here will count there. There will be a judgment.

But Jesus‘ parable offers another reminder. God has given us a sign in his resurrection from the dead that we have been called to share in his risen life. A great gift has been given. Like the sign of Jonah, some will not believe it, but Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, places this joyful mystery before us again.

May God give us grace to believe in it.

 

Lord, I see only so far, I live for the day

my vision is all on what’s before me,

Give me eyes to seek your kingdom

and desires to have it come.

Wednesday, 2nd Week of Lent

Lent 1

Mt 20,17-28

We usually think that Lent is a personal journey, but that’s not all it is. Lent is a time for the church and the world  to be renewed.

“We” are going up to Jerusalem, Jesus says to his disciples in Matthew’s gospel and they follow him to the place of challenge and reward, to be renewed by the graces of his paschal mystery.
On the journey, the mother James and John saw an opportunity for herself and them. “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.” She’s looking for power and prestige.

Jesus reminds her that his followers are not to be served, but to serve. It will cost them and not make them rich, for “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The mother’s request for power won’t be the last request disciples of Jesus make.  It’s a temptation most of us share. The church has always been beset by members using its resources and power for themselves. That’s why Jesus’ words are so important to hear during Lent. Service of others is a good part of the cross we should bear.

Writing to his brothers and sisters after his mother’s death, Paul of the Cross urged them to love and serve one another: “Obey one another, especially the younger toward the older although with you there should be no seniority. Be humble, wait upon one another, console one another. I particularly recommend that you respect your sisters much, showing them all possible deference, treating them charitably, and assisting them in all their needs.” (Letter 21)

Make me one who serves,
like you, O Lord.
At the table of life,
let me bend down to wash the feet of others;
help me give my life for them.

Tuesday, 2nd Week of Lent

Lent 1
Matthew 23,1-12
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” according to Lord Acton, the 19th century British historian. There’s a tendency for those in power to use it for themselves and their own aims.

The Jewish Christian communities that Matthew originally wrote for, according to experts on Matthew’s gospel,  were closely connected to the Jewish communities of their day, and as an emerging minority  felt pressured in the religious rivalry between the two groups  that followed  the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Jewish Christians pointed to their Jewish neighbors as examples of Jesus’ early warnings about abuses of power. That anti-Jewish polemic appears  in Matthew’s gospel.

But would they also see abuses of power in themselves and their own communities? Abuse of power is in every society, secular or religious, and it’s found on all levels, not just in those on top. It affects the most ordinary relationships. Would Matthew’s readers (and we who read his gospel today} see it in their own church and in their own actions?

St. Paul of the Cross was no modern social critic and had no grand design for reforming the society of his day, but he did see temptations of power in people with authority over others, like Thomas Fossi whom he directed many years. Fossi, married and a successful businessman, tended to try to run other people’s lives, especially his own family’s.

Paul frequently urged Fossi to stop being bossy. He offered himself as an example, when Fossi wanted Paul to be his spiritual director:“You make me laugh…saying that you want me to take charge of you. You don’t even know me. I don’t want to be in charge of anyone, nor have I ever thought of being a director, neither yours or anyone else’s. If I thought I knew how to direct others, I would be a devil in the flesh. God deliver me from it…I want to serve everyone and to offer sometimes some holy advice, based on holy truth and on what the spiritual masters say–to anyone who asks it of me.”

Lord,
lead me away from temptations of self-importance,
as if my ideas, my vision, my convenience matter most.
You came to serve and not to be served.
Show me how to wish for what’s best for others
and save me from being a know-it-all.
Show me my faults,
and then take them away.

2nd Sunday of Lent

To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:

 

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This Sunday we read about the mystery of the Transfiguration from the gospel of Luke who says explicitly that Jesus and his disciples “went up onto the mountain to pray.” Luke sees prayer as the way into great mysteries. Lk 9,28-36

“While Jesus is praying” his face is changed in appearance, his clothes become dazzlingly white and Moses and Elijah talk with him. He also sees Moses and Elijah appearing in glory speaking of “his passage which he is about to fulfill in Jerusalem.”

Luke’s account anticipates  the later Emmaus story when the risen Jesus recalls to his disciples on the road what the prophets said of his death and resurrection, his passage into glory.

But it’s prayer that the evangelist wants us mostly to remember. Prayer gives us the gift to see things from God’s perspective rather than from our own. As Jesus and his disciples prayed on the mountain, human reason and experience bowed before a greater light and power. After falling “into a deep sleep” the disciples briefly experience God’s glory before they continue on their journey to Jerusalem.

As he guided people in prayer, St. Paul of the Cross told them to pray faithfully and regularly. Moments of transfiguration were waiting. The Holy Spirit was calling them to a high place to meet God.

“Prayer is not to be made according to our ideas, but directed by the

Holy Spirit. It’s best to begin your prayer on the mysteries of the holy Passion, for that

is the gateway. “I am the door, and no one comes to the Father except through

me.” But when the soul gets lost in the immensity of the Divinity and caught in

the vision of the Infinite Good in faith and fed by love, it should remain that way.

It would be a serious mistake to turn away to anything else.”

(Letter 764)

Lord Jesus,

lead me to that mountain,

that bright mountain

‘where God instructs us in his ways

that we may walk in his truth.’

Teach me to pray.

Friday Thoughts: Black Ashes, Red-Hot Coals

marc-chagall-the sacrifice-of-isaac-1966 detail

Marc Chagall, “The Sacrifice of Isaac”, (1966), detail

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 When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.”

Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord.

—John 21:4,9-10,12

———

When is it that we break-fast?

Perhaps it is at morning Mass, when the long night of daily winter is slowly burned away by “the dawn from on high”.

Perhaps it is there, at the altar of our Lord, at the breakfast table of our one united body, that we come to see the Crucified Christ truly risen and waiting for us, “standing on the shore”.

We take so much for granted, so much we just assume is already prepared, without giving much thought to just how much goes into each meal. But we are in good company, Peter and the rest of the apostles, like us, come to a meal already in progress.

And just as Jesus called the apostles to a new morning meal, He calls each one of us each new day to a meal prepared ahead of time—in fact it was ordained a long, long time ago—for even upon those hot coals which the apostles approached two millennia ago, fish were already waiting.

It is to this ongoing meal that He asks all apostles to bring their fish, their most recent catch—to add to the fire—to the feast ever being prepared for those still yet to come.

The Fisher of Men, who calls others to become fishers as well, asks His disciples to contribute not only their earthly catch but the eternal offering of themselves.

But who is it that we find already lying upon the charcoal fire, upon the table of the Lord, waiting for us each morning as we approach the altar with our daily catch?

Is it not all those who have walked in faith before us? Is it not the communion of saints, the cloud of witnesses, the community of believers?  Is it not those who pray in silence this very day for the conversion of sinners, the salvation of souls, the release of those in purgatory, the return to a unified Church?

Is it not those who suffer each and every day for the sake of Christ?

We will never really know exactly who, at least not while we walk within these “earthen vessels” we call bodies—not while we continue our pilgrimage through this valley of tears and wage our military-like mission against the powers of darkness.

We will never know while here on earth just how many fish are laid upon the fiery altar each new day, just how many join Jesus in His one perfect offering, just how many “share in his glory” because they “share in his suffering”.

But God does know, and he orchestrates it all. He knows exactly how many, and who. He misses not a tear, not a moan, not the slightest prick of a pin. He knows each and every one of His silent, unknown martyrs—those whose suffering “completes” what is “lacking in Christ’s afflictions”.

The Mystery. The Love. The Wisdom of the Cross. The Grandeur of God’s Salvific Plan. Praise be to God. Praise be to Christ Crucified and Risen. Praise be to the Holy Spirit: “O font of life! O fire of love!”

Let us then join the breakfast feast.

And let us not only eat but add to the meal.

Let us offer up all our “prayers, works and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world…”

And let us dare to wonder with true childlike joy and adoration. Let us wonder who it is that is already laid upon those ancient coals as the apostles approach that gloriously simple meal on the shining shore of a most placid sea.

Is the fish already in place Jesus Himself? Jesus who is priest and sacrifice and altar?

Yes. Of course it is Him.

But perhaps it is someone else too.

Perhaps among that first batch of fish is also the first follower of Christ: the first to surrender all “possessions”, the first to pick up the cross daily, the first to follow Jesus through the completion of His Passion.

Yes, perhaps it is Mary, His mother, His first disciple…our mother and the queen of all apostles. And perhaps it is also that “upright” man whom Jesus Himself saw as a father, the “righteous” Joseph who suffered so much in the name of Jesus. Perhaps that first batch contains all three: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, that most blessed of families—The Holy Trinity “made flesh”—The One Triune God dwelling in a humble hut in a little town named Nazareth.

In that sense, perhaps that first batch of fish is also you and me, your family and mine—and perhaps then “our” little “sacrifice” is already being offered up, right here in each of our “humble” homes and within the boundary lines of our own “Nazareths”.

Perhaps that first batch is waiting to be joined to all other offerings, to be joined together with all the other individuals and families that are called to be a “living sacrifice”.

Perhaps that first batch is within each one of us and is longing to be united to the one true sacrifice—the sacrifice of God’s crucified love, eternally offered upon the white-hot coals of God’s infinite charity.

———

Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a gold censer. He was given a great quantity of incense to offer, along with the prayers of all the holy ones, on the gold altar that was before the throne. The smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with burning coals from the altar, and hurled it down to the earth…

—Revelation 8:3-5

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—Howard Hain

Thursday, 1st Week of Lent

Lent 1

Matthew 7,7-12

Does God answer prayers? A question often asked. Some say God–if there is a God-doesn’t pay attention to us at all. We’re on our own. No one’s listening and no one cares.

Certainly, Jesus believed his Father listens and cares. He trusted him and asked him for things and taught us to pray as he did. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane reveals a trust that’s unfailing. Over and over he asks that his life be spared. “Father, let this cup pass from me.” He knocked and the door opened; the answer came, yet not as he willed, but as His Father willed. “An angel came to strengthen him,” to accept that answer.

His experience is a model for us as we pray for things. Ultimately, God gives good gifts to his children, but according to his will; he knows what we need. He gave his only Son the gift of new life, yet he had to first pass through death.

St. Paul of the Cross recognized the mystery surrounding petitionary prayer. Ultimately our prayer is answered, but often enough in mysterious ways that’s hard to understand. Our faith is tested when we pray for things.

“I thank the Father of Mercies that you are improved in health, and you say well that the Lord seems to be playing games. That’s what Scripture says: “God plays on the earth,” and “My delights are to be with the children of men.” How fortunate is the soul that silently in faith allows the games of love the Sovereign Good plays and abandons itself to his good pleasure, whether in health or sickness, in life or in death!”
(Letter 920)

Lord,
I ask, I seek, I knock.
Let me never tire of prayer.
Hear me
and let it be done
according to your will.

Wednesday, 1st Week of Lent

Lent 1
Luke 11,29-32

The Sign of Jonah.

Jonah, starting out, wasn’t much of a sign. He was just a frightened man fleeing from the task God gave him–to preach repentance to the great city of Nineveh.  He couldn’t stop the sailors who thought he cursed their ship from throwing him overboard. He would have been finished if the whale didn’t swallow him and vomit him onto the shore at Nineveh.

That kind of arrival was a sign to the Ninevites. Who wouldn’t listen to someone who came from the belly of a whale? The Ninevites listened to Jonah and begged for God’s forgiveness.

In Jesus, a greater than Jonah is here. He came announcing death, and then resurrection from the belly of the earth. That’s  his great word, his message of hope, his sign of love for us. We hear it during lent and proclaim it to the world. Like the people of Nineveh we should listen to him.

The promise of resurrection and union with God proclaimed by Jesus was at the heart of  St. Paul of the Cross’ preaching and entered  the smallest piece of advice he gave. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, leads us to his Father’s Presence, where death is no more and we have eternal life. Even now, we make that journey in prayer.

“Now when love leads you– you who are nothing– into his sheepfold, the bosom of the Eternal Father, shouldn’t you obey? The gentle Jesus, speaking of his elect, says: ‘Father, where I am I will my servant to be.’ We remain with him, united to him in pure and holy love. there ‘in the bosom of the Father’ and there feed on love, and love divinizes us.” (Letter 1033)

Lord,
I believe in the sign
that lifted you up to bless us,
the sign of your Cross.
You are our resurrection and our life.
Bring us to that place you have prepared for us.
Amen.