Saturday, February 17, 2018

First Sunday of Lent

Catechism Links[1]

CCC 394, 538-540, 2119: The temptation of Jesus
CCC 2846-2949: “Lead us not into temptation”
CCC 56-58, 71: The Covenant with Noah
CCC 845, 1094, 1219: Noah’s Ark prefigures the Church and baptism
CCC 1116, 1129, 1222: Covenant and sacraments (especially baptism)
CCC 1257, 1811: God saves through baptism

“The Temptation of Christ” 
by Tintoretto, 1579-81


Reading 1: Genesis 9:8-15

Commentary on Gn 9:8-15

In this passage God establishes and seals his covenant with the earth in the person of Noah, using, as an eternal symbol, the rainbow. In this covenant, God once again gives humankind dominion over all His creation. He further promises not to destroy the earth using a great flood. The requirements placed upon Noah and his sons, which fall upon all of their descendants as well, are found in the opening verses of this chapter (see text and commentary of Genesis 9:1-13)

"After the unity of the human race was shattered by sin God at once sought to save humanity part by part. The covenant with Noah after the flood gives expression to the principle of the divine economy toward the 'nations', in other words, towards men grouped 'in their lands, each with [its] own language, by their families, in their nations'." [5]

CCC: Gen 8:20-9:17 2569; Gen 9:8-16 2569; Gen 9:9 56
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9

R. (cf. 10) Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.

Commentary on Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9

Psalm 25 is an individual lament. The sinful psalmist prays that “your ways” be made known. This request directs us to repentance and ultimately guides us to justice. In the first strophe of this hymn, we hear support for our belief that God answered the prayers of our ancient ancestors. Their trust was justified. The song continues as an individual prayer asking for guidance and salvation.

Reading II: 1 Peter 3:18-22  

Commentary on 1 Pt 3:18-22  

St. Peter appeals to a Church under persecution for faithfulness to the baptismal call to holiness. This part of his didactic discourse focuses on the eternal nature of Jesus’ redemptive mission. The Apostle recalls that Christ suffered and died (in the flesh – he being truly human) and remains alive and present in the spirit, free from human weakness (see also 1 Corinthians 15:45).

This dialogue next links the image of the salvation of Noah (Genesis 9:1-15) “saved through water,” with the baptismal bath that frees the Christian from sin. That purifying event wipes away every sin to free the conscience from guilt, and allows the baptized to live as God’s children.

CCC: 1 Pt 3:18-19 632; 1 Pt 3:20-21 845; 1 Pt 3:20 1219; 1 Pt 3:21 128, 1094, 1794
Gospel: Mark 1:12-15

Commentary on Mk 1:12-15

The events described in this passage from St. Mark’s Gospel occur immediately following Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by St. John the Baptist. This selection is the shortest of the three synoptic accounts of the event (see also Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13).

“The same Spirit who descended on Jesus in his baptism now drives him into the desert for forty days. The result is radical confrontation and temptation by Satan who attempts to frustrate the work of God. The presence of wild beasts may indicate the horror and danger of the desert regarded as the abode of demons or may reflect the paradise motif of harmony among all creatures; cf Isaiah 11:6-9. The presence of ministering angels to sustain Jesus recalls the angel who guided the Israelites in the desert in the first Exodus (Exodus 14:1923:20) and the angel who supplied nourishment to Elijah in the wilderness (1 Kings 19:5-7). The combined forces of good and evil were present to Jesus in the desert. His sustained obedience brings forth the new Israel of God there where Israel's rebellion had brought death and alienation.” [6]

It is noteworthy to observe that all of the synoptic Gospels show Jesus not beginning his public ministry until after the active ministry of St. John the Baptist has ended. The “Voice” decreases while the “Word” increases.

CCC: Mk 1:12-13 538; Mk 1:12 333; Mk 1:15 541, 1423, 1427

As our Lenten journey begins we hear of the beginning of Jesus' public ministry following his days of trial in the desert.  Symbolically, we are to follow the spirit into the desert as well.  Like the Lord himself we are invited to take stock of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. 

From the ten thousand foot level, our desert does not bear much resemblance to the wastelands that Jesus encountered.  He faced the physical solitude of barren wilderness, inhabited only by wild beasts.  St. Mark’s description, although terse, implies a place fraught with danger, physical and spiritual.  Spiritual danger because Satan, we are told, tempted him in this place of solitude and hostile forces.

We can see, in our own circumstances, analogous forces arrayed against us.  We may not face “wild beasts,” but we do live in a dangerous world and face forces beyond our control that can cause us physical harm.  These forces range from the vague but real threat of attacks on our homeland to the more intimate and urgent threat cause by individuals who are driven to steal and kill by impulses provided by the same Evil One who also encouraged the weak-minded to kill Christ those many years ago.

We are also confronted by temptation from Satan who, while not described in the account given today, nonetheless uses fair sounding arguments to lead us down paths that end in our own spiritual destruction.  The very advances in technology that God allows the tremendous potential in his creation to explore become tools for the Fallen One.  He uses every good thing to evil purpose and we must constantly guard ourselves and those weaker from the worst of these opportunities to become victim to him.

Fortunately for us, we have been given added armor against the worst ravages of this malevolent spirit’s attacks.  In baptism an indelible change was made in the very essence of our being.  The fallen nature of our humanity, evidenced by God’s epic punishments  ̶  the expulsion from the Garden and the Great Flood from which only Noah and his family survived  ̶  was changed through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  In the baptismal bath of which St. Peter says “It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience” we are set free from sin, the shackles Satan would put upon us.  We are sanctified and made holy; the gift of grace through the Holy Spirit becomes indwelling.

Armed against evil in this way we are given this season of Lent to inspect that armor.  We look to see that no chinks have appeared and refortify ourselves with prayer, fasting, and charity.  We meditate upon our circumstances to insure that no new threat has appeared for which we are unprepared.  Thus we begin our own journey with a reassessment of the perils that lie ahead.  We gird our belts and strengthen our resolve in Christ Jesus who is our guide and hope.


[1] Catechism links are taken from the Homiletic Directory, Published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 29 June 2014
[2] The picture used is “The Temptation of Christ” by Tintoretto, 1579-81

[5] CCC 56
[6] See NAB footnote on Mark 1:12-13

Friday, February 16, 2018

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

(Optional Memorial for Seven Founders of the Order Of Servites, Religious)

“The Tax Collectors” 
by Marinus Roejmerswaelen, 1550


Reading I: Isaiah 58:9b-14

Commentary on Is 58:9b-14

This selection from Isaiah in the post-exilic period is part of the second in a series of poems. The Prophet continues exhorting the people to understand that God desires a spirit of compassion and generosity. He tells the people that if they follow this course they will be greatly rewarded and will receive rich blessings from God.

In verses 10-14 Isaiah explains what it means to keep the Sabbath day holy. Again, following this command brings the faithful rich rewards from God.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 86:1-2, 3-4, 5-6

R. (11ab) Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.

Commentary on Ps 86:1-2, 3-4, 5-6

Psalm 86 is an individual lament. It asks for mercy from God. The psalmist sings of an afflicted life, and asks God to give his servant relief. The song indicates the faithfulness of the singer, even in times of distress.

Gospel: Luke 5:27-32

Commentary on Lk 5:27-32

The story of the call of St. Matthew in Luke’s Gospel immediately follows Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees that culminated with the cure of the paralytic lowered through the roof. “A man named Matthew: Mark names this tax collector Levi (Mark 2:14). No such name appears in the four lists of the twelve who were the closest companions of Jesus (Matthew 10:2-4Mark 3:16-19Luke 6:14-16Acts 1:13 [eleven, because of the defection of Judas Iscariot]), whereas all four list a Matthew, designated in Matthew 10:3 as 'the tax collector.'"

The evangelist may have changed the "Levi" of his source to Matthew so that this man, whose call is given special notice, like that of the first four disciples (Matthew 4:18-22), might be included among the twelve. Another reason for the change may be that the disciple Matthew was the source of traditions peculiar to the church for which the evangelist was writing. [4] It is much more focused on the reaction of the Pharisees than the same story in Matthew (Matthew 9:9). The message, however, is clear. Jesus came so that we (who are all sinners) might understand that God’s love is for sinners as well.

CCC: Lk 5:30 588; Lk 5:32 588

As we struggle to understand what our faith calls us to do and to be in the world, one of the most difficult areas to put into practice is our attitude of compassion.  You might think to challenge that statement saying, “I am always compassionate.”  But, in Jesus, the depth of compassion goes much deeper than what most of us can accomplish consistently.

God tried to convey the need for those who follow him to show compassion and consolation to those less fortunate from the beginning of his revelatory work with humankind.  The Book of the Prophet Isaiah demonstrates this. In the first reading the prophet extols the Hebrews to “…remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted.”  He calls on the people to show compassion to the poor and the downtrodden.  If they do this consistently they become a light in the darkness; a people God will abundantly reward as only he can.

Jesus takes that notion to a higher level with his example in the Gospel of St. Luke.  Following his call of a controversial disciple, St. Matthew, he chooses to dine, not in the pious halls of the Pharisees, but with tax collectors.  When those zealous Pharisees complain that he has sullied himself by doing so, he tries once more to explain the meaning of compassion, of loving one’s neighbor.  We can see how much this must disturb them. Later they will engage in the plot to have the one who is compassion incarnate put to death.

The lessons taught by Isaiah and Jesus are very clear for us.  We are to extend the loving hand of compassion and generosity to those who are less fortunate.  The Lenten discipline of almsgiving is clearly expressed today.  We may not be able to take in the homeless or the afflicted, but we must not ignore them, avert our eyes so we do not see them, or rationalize that we cannot help.  We are reminded that when we perform acts of mercy and charity in God’s name, the Lord is glorified and “He will renew your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden.


[1] The picture is “The Tax Collectors” by Marinus Roejmerswaelen, 1550

[4] See NAB footnote on Matthew 9:9

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Friday after Ash Wednesday

“Chained Prisoner” 
by Francisco de Goya Y Lucentes, 1806-12


Reading I: Isaiah 58:1-9a

Commentary on Is 58:1-9a

This passage is from what is known as Deutero-Isaiah. It was written in the latter part of the Babylonian exile (700 BC). The prophet begins this passage with a recounting of God’s call to him and his mission statement: “Tell my people their wickedness, and the house of Jacob their sins.” Better is the Jerusalem Bible translation: “Proclaim their faults to my people, their sins to the House of Jacob,” or the Revised Standard Version [Navarre] “…declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.

Isaiah’s lament continues as he chastises the people for missing the point of their fasts of atonement. They perform the rituals and follow the law but then violate the spirit of God’s Law by being uncaring and cruel to each other.

Finally the prophet explains the spirit of the law, what that is, and how it is to impact their actions. He closes with a description of the reward for following the spirit of God’s Law: “Your integrity will go before you and the glory of the Lord behind you. Cry, and the Lord will answer; call, and he will say, ‘I am here.’”

CCC: Is 58:6-7 2447
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 18-19

R. (19b) A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.

Commentary on Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 18-19

Psalm 51, the most famous of the seven penitential psalms, repeats the sentiment expressed in Isaiah regarding the need for heartfelt repentance on the part of the faithful. It goes on to emphasize the need for forgiveness. The final strophe is parallel to Isaiah’s description of the acceptable fast in Isaiah 58:6-7.

CCC: Ps 51:6 431, 1850; Ps 51:19 1428, 2100
Gospel: Matthew 9:14-15

Commentary on Mt 9:14-15

Jesus is challenged by the disciples of John the Baptist and asked why his disciples do not keep the ritual fasts of Pharisaic Law. (According to the apostolic response in their early teaching documents, the early Christians were to fast on different days than the Jews. “But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites; Matthew 6:16 for they fast on the second and fifth day of the week; but do ye fast on the fourth day and the Preparation (Friday).” Didache (8.1)[4])

The Lord responds with the analogy of a marriage banquet where there can be no mourning as long as the bridegroom is present.  He refers, of course, to his own presence and the need for fasting only after he is gone.


One of the characteristics of our Lenten celebration is that we feel the requirements of our faith press more firmly upon us. In scripture today we first hear the Prophet Isaiah exhort us to adopt an interior fast, as opposed to a simple exterior expression of repentance by abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent, as we are required to do. The Lord expects us to undergo a spiritual fast that expresses itself in actions pleasing to God.

To make certain that we recognize the need to adopt this discipline, the Gospel reminds us of the rationale the Lord uses to explain this: his own presence. Jesus explains the reason his disciples are effectively “dispensed” from fasting is that while he is still with them, mourning his loss is inappropriate. It is the same logic we apply during Lent on the Lord’s Day – Sunday. We do not fast nor are we required to follow the discipline of self-denial we have established for the other days of the week during the Lenten Season. Sundays we are with the Lord in the Eucharist. How can we mourn when we rejoice at his solemn presence?

We return to Isaiah’s exhortation on this first Friday of the Lenten Season. God commands us through his prophetic words to adopt the attitude of Christ (although the author would not have known it was Christ’s attitude he was describing).

He asks for actions that are very specific:

“This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.”

How, one might ask, can we “…release those bound unjustly”? Or “set free the oppressed”? Have we not bound others in our anger, have we not oppressed others with our ambition or greed? We are called to look at our motives and see there the results of our own actions. And this is not limited to those with whom we work or go to school; rather the first place we look to release those bound unjustly and free the oppressed is within our own families. It is there that the yoke rests more heavily and the bonds cut most deeply. It is also there that forgiveness is most difficult and reconciliation most painful.

As for “sheltering the oppressed,” “clothing the naked,” and “not turning your back on your own,” these gifts of time and charity are easily associated with what we are called to be as Christians living in an unforgiving community in difficult economic times. Our special attention is directed there during this season of our fast.

Today, indeed, we feel the weight of the discipline of our faith pressing upon us. We pray that our strength is equal to the task and ask the Holy Spirit to add strength to our own.


[1] The picture is “Chained Prisoner” by Francisco de Goya Y Lucentes, 1806-12

[4] The Didache was written in the first or second century A.D. and was recommended by Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 265-c. 340)