Friday, February 29, 2008

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

Readings for Friday of the Third Week of Lent[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1
Hosea 14:2-10

In listening to Hosea we must always remember that in this prophetic work an ongoing analogy is playing out using the backdrop of an unfortunate marriage. Hosea’s prophecy paints Israel as an unfaithful wife (seduced away by idolatry and hardened by ignoring the poor) and God as the jealous husband who wants her back in spite of her faults. The language used today, at the very end of the book, has that flavor to it. The selection can be summed up with; in spite of your sins, come back to God.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 81:6c-8a, 8bc-9, 10-11ab, 14 and 17
R. I am the Lord your God: hear my voice.

Psalm 81 is a prophetic liturgy. The voice is a priest speaking in God’s name. We hear in it the Lord’s promise of compassion and the warning to listen to God and turn back to Him.

Mark 12:28-34

In the dialogue with the scribe Jesus quotes the opening verse Shamá (hear), the principle response to the covenant with God – the Father demands unconditional love from His people. Jesus goes on to incorporate a more inclusive element by saying; “The second is to love your neighbor as yourself.” While both concepts were present in the tradition of the time, the combination is originally with Jesus – something new. In following Jesus’ new teaching, the scribe earns praise from the Lord; “You are not far from the kingdom of God."


A number of years ago I learned to play (poorly) what is called the most difficult and complex board games in the world – Go. Two players attempt to capture the largest part of the game board by lying down black and white stones. What makes Go so difficult is its simplicity. The game only has three rules and is played on a nineteen by nineteen grid board. There are so many different options that it boggles the mind.

The reason I mention the game and its difficulty based upon simplicity is the same is true of the “First Commandment” that is presented in scripture today. It sounds very simple – love God and love your neighbor. The complexity and the difficulty come with the equally simple word – Love.

First we separate love into the two major Greek definitions; eros and agape. Looking at the boundary between them is like looking at the picture I have included today. At some point they come close, intense non-erotic love can be dangerous and I suspect, misinterpreted. Expressions of it in, for instance Victorian England, where women frequently hugged and kissed today would be interpreted as potentially scandalous and quit likely as erotic love. For our purpose today let’s put eros away, it is not what the Lord was talking about.

So we now focus on jus agape, familial love, love of a plutonic nature. How we define that in today’s culture is also complex. For the sake of our discussion, let’s define it as; caring more for the other person interests than one’s own. It is simplistic but it will work for purposes of understanding what Jesus was talking about when he left us the First Commandment.

If we are to place God’s interests in front of our own, we must first, at least at a high level, figure out what God wants. We believe that God wants us to love him. We have been told countless times. Well that was sort of circular, so we go to the other things we know have pleased him – our success pleases him – the good we accomplish in His name reflects on him, just as what our children accomplish reflects upon us. And when we fail, when we fall, that has the opposite effect. (Although, our new understanding is that in our failures, God finds an opportunity to reenergize our love by lifting us up and showing us again his love for us.)

We could go deeper on the first part but let’s get to the second – love our neighbor as our self. Using our definition, that would mean putting the interests of our neighbor before our own. On the surface that does not sound very easy or even wise (if we consider the greedy nature or some of our neighbors). We must therefore consider this from a slightly more complex definition of our neighbor’s interests. Our neighbor’s best interests are to embrace God and that, in turn, will make him happy. We must believe this because the Lord is the source of eternal life and it is only through Him our neighbor can achieve the ultimate reward.

We must, as a consequence of our belief, lead our neighbor to God through our example and invitation. We must, in a loving way, help our neighbor understand God in this way. And that is why what the Lord asks us to do is so difficult. Using the Lord’s example of humble love for all mankind, we are to live that life that will bring all those we meet to join us in loving God.

My head hurts now just trying to get my arms around this, so we will pray today for understanding how God wants us to please him and how we in turn must bring others to do the same.


[1] After Links Expire
[2] The picture used today is “Heavenly Love and Earthly Love” by Giovanni Baglione, 1602-03

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent

Readings for Thursday of the Third Week of Lent[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1
Jeremiah 7:23-28

In this oracle, the Prophet Jeremiah, speaking with the voice of God, reminds the people that the Lord desires fidelity from them and they are not listening. The prophet’s plea echos that of Moses heard yesterday in
Deuteronomy 4:1. In this passage we see Jeremiah referring to man’s fallen nature (not quite Original Sin) as he points to “the hardness of their evil hearts”

In the final verse of this passage we hear something echoed in the Gospel today; “Faithfulness has disappeared; the word itself is banished from their speech.” The people rejecting the “word” would seem to predict rejection of the Messiah, the Word made Flesh.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Psalm 95 is a song of thanksgiving familiar to all of those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours. It is used as the Invitatory (the invitation to prayer) each morning. In the final strophes we see it relate to Jeremiah’s prophetic argument, reminding us how our fathers grew stubborn in the wilderness (of the Exodus) when at Meribah and Massah they challenged and provoked God.

Luke 11:14-23

In the Gospel from St. Luke we find Jesus, in spite of his miraculous cure of the mute, being rejected by the people. The accuse him of representing a false God – Baal (the Jewish people nicknamed Baal – Beelzebul “Lord of Flies”).

In response to the crowd asking for a “sign”, Jesus (basically equating that false belief in Baal with Satan) forcefully rejects that notion. He sees in their request for a sign the desire to see a different kind of sign – a sign that would validate their view of what the Messiah should be – kingly and powerful in secular rule.

Jesus attacks their logic by saying that no kingdom could stand if its servants attacked each other. He makes it clear that by attacking evil he demonstrates that he comes from God. He goes on using analogy to say that God will always conquer evil (God is stronger than the strongest evil) and further, rejecting God’s Son amounts to standing on the side of evil.


We are given two pieces of scripture today that speak to the battle that rages between light and darkness. The path we walk has many branchings and we have to make daily decisions about which way to turn. How often the way that seems easiest, most pleasant, and most rewarding is the wrong way.

We see in scripture that we are being called to decide – who do our actions say we follow? We profess that we follow the one Lord with our mouths, just as the people of Jeremiah’s day. But God asks more than “lip service”. He calls us; Christ calls us to stand up and be counted through our actions.

When we hear in the Gospel how he is challenged, we understand that it is easy for us to stand with those ancient Jews and ask God to be what we want him to be. We ask him to show us a sign that the easy course is best; we rationalize that, since God loves us, He must want us to accept the apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We must ask ourselves who offers us that apple.

Too often the way that feels the best is the wrong way. Too often that which looks or feels the best is the wrong choice. And how do we choose? If that which seems most fun, or easiest, or feels best is the wrong choice how do we know what to choose?

We must come back to the motives of Jesus himself. Why did he cure the person possessed of the mute demon? Did he do it to show off? Did he do it to make people love him? Did he do it because he could – because he had the power? No, Jesus cured the person because he loved that person. Loving people is the hardest thing we do. It is the very hardest thing we can be asked to do. Loving the way Jesus does places that person’s well being and happiness in front of our own.

When the Lord cured the mute, do you think he didn’t know the people around him would try to use the action against him? He did not cure that person because it increased his popularity. In fact it gave his attackers ammunition to use against him. We are called to walk with the Lord in this way. We have used the phrase before – we now use it again – How would Jesus love?

Today the message is clear, the Gospel even summed it up for us; “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” We reach out and grasp that Holy Spirit within us and pray that we will be strong enough stand with him, to love as the Lord does.


[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “Get Behind Me, Satan” artist and date are UNKNOWN (initials only A.P.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

Readings for Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1
Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9

This passage from Deuteronomy marks the end of the historical part of the book and the beginning of Moses’ presentation of the law and statutes. He addresses the whole people telling them that unless they follow the statutes which he is about to present, they do not receive what God promises the faithful, in this case the land of milk and honey. While the promise of Moses was the inheritance of the literal (the land), God’s later promise was of a kingdom not of this earth.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem

This section of Psalm 147, a psalm of praise, gives us the second of three strophes contained therein. In this section, the psalmist praises God’s rule over nature and the seasons (winter; “…He spreads snow like wool; frost he strews like ashes.”) It concludes with another aspect of the "word" of Yahweh: His "ordinances" are for Israel alone

Matthew 5:17-19

In this early encounter between Jesus’ mission and the Law of Moses we are told that Jesus came to “fulfill” the law, to bring it to perfection in the messiah. He supports the rabbinical teaching of the time which separates the 613 individual precepts of the law found in the Pentateuch into “great and small” based upon their seriousness when he refers to breaking the least of the commandments.

The passage is concluded in almost Mosaic style by saying that those who follow the law will be great in heaven. This draws a distinction from those who would break the law being least in heaven in the previous sentence.


What strikes us most immediately in Wednesday's readings is the link between Moses giving the Law to the Hebrew People and his instructions to them to be faithful to it and Jesus who comes to fulfill it. It is pretty easy to see how Jesus came to fulfill what the Prophets had been saying for the 2,000 years of Hebrew history. There were enough clues in the Old Testament scriptures to lead us to understand that statement before he (Jesus) made it. What takes more thought, though, is how he came to fulfill the Law.

The reason that is a difficult question for us is that, to us, the Law is a set of rules that guide behavior. We must first understand the view of the Hebrews concerning the Law if we are to realize the immense import of the statement Jesus made when he said; "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill." The statement from the commentary really helps us here:

"The Law was thought to be the summary of all wisdom-human and divine, the revelation of God himself, a complete and a secure guide of conduct and endowed with a sacramental assurance of good relations with God." (Jerome Biblical Commentary on Mt 5:17)

When we look at his statement through this lens, we understand. What Jesus said in that short statement was; he came to reveal the living God. He came to provide the path to the Lord God; the Logos (Word) made flesh.

It takes divine revelation to a new level once we see that the Law Moses presented was more than just rules. The question that understanding stimulates in us is; if the law of Christ was more than rules for the early Christians, what should it be for us today?

If we accept Christ's word as being the "sacramental assurance of good relations with God", what place must the word assume in our lives? The “word” is not only a guide to our actions but our hearts; not only our thoughts but our prayers. Today we pray that God’s Law, fulfilled in Christ, will be expressed by our actions.


[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “Moses” by Guido Reni, 1600-10

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

Readings for Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1
Daniel 3:25, 34-43

The reading from Daniel is the Prayer of Azariah (Abednego) one of three companions to Daniel that were thrown into the furnace at the command of King Nebuchadnezzar because they would not worship the idol made of gold he had made.

Azariah’s prayer is for the whole people of Israel, who are in dyer straights. He prays (You may recognize some of the final verses as being included in Offertory Prayer in the Mass.) that God accept a humble and contrite heart in lieu of the traditional animal sacrifice required of their tradition at that time.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 25:4-5ab, 6 and 7bc, 8-9
R. Remember your mercies, O Lord.

Psalm 25 is an individual lament. The sinful psalmist prays that “Your ways” be made know. This request directs us to repentance and ultimately justice.

Matthew 18:21-35

We begin this rather lengthy Gospel passage with the discourse on “Forgiveness”. Peter asks the question that paraphrases one asked in the book of Genesis by Lamech (
Genesis 4:24.). He is looking for guidance in the form of a finite amount of forgiveness and in answer receives the command that forgiveness must infinite (represented by the multiples of seven and 10).

To emphasize this need for forgiveness, the Lord launches into the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. The moral of this particular parable is the measure we use to judge others is the same measure that will be used by God to measure us when we come before him. Here is how the Jerome Biblical Commentary sums up that parable:

The model is the forgiveness of God, which knows no limit; and neither should man's forgiveness. If man does not forgive, he cannot expect forgiveness; if he does not renounce his own claims, which are small, he cannot ask God to dismiss the claims against him.”


Today the Lord charges us to look at forgiveness. We start by hearing Azariah (We recall that all three of the young men thrown into the furnace by Nebuchadnezzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, had been renamed from Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) praying that God would be merciful and look at the true love for God and contrition in the hearts of his people. The psalmist prays that God’s way might be made known to him, and Jesus tells us that God’s way is infinite mercy and forgiveness.

We must therefore ask ourselves what we need to be forgiven for and who we need to forgive. It is part of the way of Lent that we should do our very best to find the answers to those questions for our own good. We cannot have the Lord’s peace without it.

Have you ever known a person who was hurt by another (physically or emotionally) that could not find forgiveness for that act or actions? If you have, did you see how that anger and resentment or even hatred ate that person’s soul from the inside? Did you notice how that emotion festered and colored every part of the person’s life; other relationships, activities, and even life pursuits.

It has been observed that revenge or retribution (the inverse of forgiveness) is the driver for most violent crime. It is, in its most widespread form the reason for racial and religious violence, including the sectarian violence we are seeing in the Middle East. That is not to say that forgiveness if not present in Islam – that is not the case. Rather a culture of vengeance has grown up in the region that is self perpetuating – vengeance spurs more vengeance, spiraling out of control. The same forces caused the feuds in Appalachia (the Hayfields and McCoys).

At a more personal level, those same emotions of hatred; a drive for vengeance, are self destructive. They change our very core from one in harmony with God to one at odds with him. The person who cannot find forgiveness is one who can never find peace. That is why it is so important for us to follow Christ’s command and forgive as we are forgiven.

We recall as we walk this way of Lent that our Lord did not just command us to forgive but, in his own ultimate sacrifice, forgave those who, in their ignorance, committed the gravest sin ever known. We hear his voice today as he uttered: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Today we look inside and find any place where we still cling to anger, the desire for retribution, or hatred and we cast it away, offering that act of forgiveness to God and asking that, when we come before him, he will show us that same measure of mercy.


[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “The Crucified Christ” by Pieter Pauwel Rubens, 1810-11

Monday, February 25, 2008

Monday of the Third Week of Lent

Readings for Monday of the Third Week of Lent[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1
2 Kings 5:1-15ab

This story of the conversion of Naaman through Elisha’s office as Prophet has some interesting historical and ritual material. First, it is ironic that the King of Aram, which was an antagonist of Israel, would send one of their key people to Israel. That is why the King of Israel tore his garments, assuming the unreasonable request was made in order to provide a reason for physical hostilities.

Next we see Elisha not coming out of his house to instruct Naaman, but sending word to him. He did so because to come into the presence of one with leprosy would have caused him ritual impurity. Clearly Naaman did not know this, since he complained about it. Finally, the Jordan River, from a hygienic perspective, is not as good as the clear springs of Damascus. It is at the best of times muddy. The requirement that Naaman plunge himself into the water seven times is significant in that the number seven is, in Hebrew numerology, the perfect number symbolic of completeness. The healing accomplished was to bring Naaman to confess there is no God but God (in Israel).

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 42:2, 3; 43:3, 4
R. Athirst is my soul for the living God.

Psalms 42 and 43 are hymns of praise and express longing for God’s presence. The use of the deer (hind) longing for water links nicely back to the reading from Kings where water and the allusion to Baptism was used to bring belief out of unbelief.

Luke 4:24-30

The Gospel passage today places Jesus at his home town speaking in the synagogue. The people there were questioning his authority since they knew him as a child and knew his family. What we see here is his response to their questioning his status and authority.

We understand why the people were upset when we consider that, in his analogy explaining why he could accomplish no works from God, he used Elijah going to a widow in Sidon (not Israel) and Elisha curing Naaman (a Syrian not an Israelite). This would have placed Jesus on a par with the great Prophets, blasphemy in the eyes of his old neighbors. Perhaps even more upsetting to the people would have been that their God would not reveal himself because of their lack of faith.


What guidance shall we take away from our scripture today? Clearly, the story from Kings of Naaman being cured through the intersession of Elisha links us directly to Jesus in Luke, challenging the people in his hometown synagogue. And the story there tells us that Jesus was rejected, not because the people did not know who he was, they knew him too well.

For people who delve deeply into scripture there is a clear warning here. When we break things down too far we easily forget that the whole is something totally holy while the parts may seem ordinary. Perhaps that is the lesson for all of us. Try this; let’s take a few words and define them.

And: conjunction (used to connect grammatically coordinate words, phrases, or clauses)
Body: noun, the physical structure and material substance of an animal or plant, living or dead.
Eat: “to take into the mouth and swallow for nourishment”
Is: verb, to exist or live
My: pronoun, the nominative singular pronoun, used by a speaker in referring to himself or herself.
Take: “to get into one's hold or possession by voluntary action”
This: pronoun (used to indicate a person, thing, idea, state, event, time, or remark)”

Taken as their definitions describe them they are words, pieces of grammar, ordinary and used in many contexts and circumstances. However, when they are arranged in a certain order and under certain circumstances they take on an entirely different significance; “Take this and eat, this is my body.”

That same message speaks to faith in general. Some time back there was a book on the New York Times Best Seller List. It was written by a notable atheist scientist and titled “God, the Failed Hypothesis” It is unfortunate but true that some scientists who delve so deeply in to the physical world, loose the wonder and cannot understand the miracle of what they study.

There is another deeper truth as well. Faith, a free and unmerited gift of the Father provides a foundation for understanding. Without faith, the extraordinary may seem confusing and evidence of God’s involvement in our lives is hidden. Faith itself provides us with confidence and confidence allows the miracle to take place. Like the child learning to ride a bicycle with their father’s help. At some point the father lets go without the child’s knowledge and the child continues to ride. But when the child looks back and sees that the father is no longer holding them up, they fall. We must know that the Father is always holding us up or we will fall.

It is a good lesson for all of us. Let us pray that we keep that innocent perspective that allows us to see God and through that sight, receive His blessing.


[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture today is “The Prophet Elisha and Naaman” by Lambert Jacobsz, c. 1615

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Third Sunday of Lent

Readings for the Third Sunday of Lent[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1 Exodus 17:3-7

This passage continues the journey of the Hebrews in the desert following their departure from Egypt. Here they complain bitterly against Moses for having taken them to a land with no water and the hardship causes them to doubt that God is with them. In response to this challenge, God provides yet another miracle as he commands Moses to take his staff and strike the rock at Horeb reveling a spring of water. The place was later named Massah . . . Meribah: Hebrew words meaning respectively, "the (place of the) test," and, "the (place of the) quarreling."

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

This part of Psalm 95, commonly used as the invitatory psalm for the Liturgy of the Hours, is a song of thanks giving. In these strophes the incident at Meribah is remembered and God’s underserved mercy proclaimed. The community is rejoicing that the Lord is God and that he has brought us salvation in spite of our forbearer’s obstinacy. We are encouraged to listen to the Lord, even if what we are asked is difficult.

Reading II Romans 5:1-2, 5-8

This section of Romans is nicely set in place by the NAB footnote: “Popular piety frequently construed reverses and troubles as punishment for sin; cf
John 9:2. Paul therefore assures believers that God's justifying action in Jesus Christ is a declaration of peace. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ displays God's initiative in certifying humanity for unimpeded access into the divine presence. Reconciliation is God's gift of pardon to the entire human race.”

Gospel John 4:5-42

The story of the Samaritan Woman, told in its entirety provides several theological points. First, the fact that Jesus came this way implies his broader mission, not just to the Jews but to the whole world. The fact that, upon meeting the Samaritan woman he asked for a drink is significant in that Jews would have never have considered drinking from the same vessel as a Samaritan woman who would have been considered ritually unclean.

The discourse with the woman is instructive, providing rich imagery of water and spirit recalling the gifts given in Baptism. At the same time we see the recognition that Jesus is the Messiah (although the Samaritans would have had a different expectation of the Messiah, thinking more in the lines of a prophet like Moses (
Deut 18:15).

The conclusion of the story demonstrates the clear perception by those who encounter Christ that he is the Messiah. This revelatory presence is noted in the concluding verses of the story as the Samarians exclaim “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world."

John: 4:5-15, 19b-26, 39a, 40-42

In this shorter version of the story of the Samaritan Woman part of the dialogue is omitted that revolves around the primacy of the Jews in receiving God’s word. There is also omitted the Lord’s description of the woman’s past life and the encounter with the Lord’s disciples and his decision to stay.

Presented in this form the story focuses more on the identity of Christ and less on his universal mission.


Because we heard it last, the story of the Samaritan Woman at the well can overpower the other Sacred Scripture given today. The theme that seems to run through the Old Testament reading about Massah and Meribah and the Gospel is the water theme. In both cases God gave living water to those who challenged Him.

We note that the water given to the “stiff-necked” Hebrews at Horeb was a sign that God was with them. We see in the story of the Samaritan Woman, the water offered to her was symbolic of faith that once given would give everlasting life. We can feel the similarities and the differences if we place these two encounters with God side by side.

Perhaps the most significant similarity is that, in both cases, God’s presence was needed either for life in the literal sense or life in the spiritual sense. In both cases God was asked for water, in both cases, though the request was not merited, God responded.

As always we see the Word of God as both an invitation and a promise. The promise in this case is that if we need God’s indwelling strength all we need to do is ask. We do not need to presume we have done anything to merit God’s saving help. Rather we know that we are undeserving. If the Jews in the desert, who had already seen God’s mighty hand part the sea for them to leave Egypt; had seen the pillar of fire that kept them safe from Pharaoh’s chariots, could question whether God was with them and still receive water in the desert, how much more can we who work hard to remain faithful expect? If Jesus offered the Samaritan Woman, married five times and living with still another man, could be offered the faith and salvation of God, how much more can we who try to live by his statues expect?

That is the promise; what then is the invitation? The invitation is to be like Christ in our love and generosity to others; even others who do not share or appreciate our values. Each day we are given the opportunity to demonstrate our faith. We are asked for help by those whom society might call “undeserving”, and we are challenged by those who see our faith and beliefs as superstitious nonsense. Each day we are invited to respond to these challenges with faith and compassion. Each day we can choose to offer living water to those who are in need.

As we reflect today about the gifts of water and spirit, let us pray that what flows in us may become a fountain, giving God’s gift to those who are in need.


[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture today is “Christ and the Samaritan Woman” by Bernardo Strozzi, c. 1631

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

Saint Polycarp, Bishop, Martyr

Additional Information about St. Polycarp

Readings for Saturday of the Second Week of Lent[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1
Micah 7:14-15, 18-20

This is the very end of the Book of the Prophet Micah. In the previous chapters he has chastised and condemned the excesses and corruption of Jerusalem and Samaria (rich exploiters of the poor, fraudulent merchants, venal judges, corrupt priests and prophets). Now at the end, he presents the Lord’s forgiveness and mercy to those who return to him.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.

Continuing the theme of forgiveness, Psalm 103 is a song of praise to God for his mercy. It recognizes both God’s mercy and our need, as sinners, for it.

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

The topic of repentance and forgiveness comes to a climax with St. Luke’s Parable of the Prodigal Son. The imagery is instantly clear that this is to be an analogy. The father in the story represents God and the Prodigal Son us, if we repent our sins. Interestingly, the older brother is also us when we do not forgive those who have also sinned.


Today we are asked, by scripture, to reflect upon one of the major themes of Lent, repentance and forgiveness. It has been said that we, as Catholics, mourn our faith. Those who say such things were probably looking only at this facet of our journey. Because reflection, contrition, and confession of our sins is one of the most difficult parts of our faith tradition, many of the sects that have formed since the schism that was the “Reformation” have chosen not to incorporate that deep self evaluation into their practices.

The message we take away from the scripture today is both personal and communal. First, we recognize that God loves us, not only in spite of our sins, but including our sins. He accepts that, while we fall and rise, fall and rise, we are trying to get to him and for that we receive his mercy. If we are truly honest about the grace of God, we understand that when we fall, it is the Lord who lifts us up. Our journey to him is a human journey supported by a loving Father.

The Prodigal Son was not welcomed home and then punished. He was not welcomed home and then put to work as a servant. He was welcomed home by a loving embrace that spoke of unconditional acceptance.

As we said in the commentary, the story casts us in the role of that returning son. We are accepted home and loved by the Heavenly Father when we repent and return. But, we are also cast in the role of the faithful older brother who is jealous because he had never understood the intense love His Father had for him. Our daily gift is that, when we are faithful, we bask in the Father’s love. We forget that sometimes and it is only when we fall that we fell the Father’s strong arms lift us up.

Another hard part for us in this continuing role of the “Older Brother” is that we are chided too, like he was by his father; “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again.” We are asked to embrace those who have wronged us, rejoice because they have turned away from actions that have harmed us. We are asked to be merciful as God our Father is merciful.

Let’s pray today for both forgiveness and strength to forgive.


[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “Return of the Prodigal Son” by Guercino, 1619

Friday, February 22, 2008

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter


Additional Information about the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter[1]

Readings for the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1
1 Peter 5:1-4

St. Peter, the first Bishop of Rome writes to those who have been appointed to lead local Christian communities. He provides a view of leadership consistent with Christ’s teaching and contradicting the Jewish Leadership style which was authoritarian. He exhorts the Presbyters or Elders to offer their service as a gift to God and provide leadership through their example of humility.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 23:1-3a, 4, 5, 6
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Continuing the theme of shepherding the flock we have the most popular Psalm in all of Holy Scripture. While the theme of Shepherd is mentioned in the first strophe, the psalm really speaks to the peace given to those who follow, even into the “dark valley”.

Matthew 16:13-19

St. Matthew’s story of how Jesus asked about what people were saying about him has a profound impact on the Church. Here, when challenged by Jesus with the question, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon answers, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” The second title is not present in St. Mark’s version of this encounter. It adds an understanding that Jesus is not just the Messiah, but also the Son of God.

Given this response, Jesus confers upon Simon a new name “Kephas” which comes from the root Aramaic word Kepa or “Rock”. When translated into Greek it came out Petros and from there to Peter. The name, however, becomes the foundation for the Church and Peter, as a consequence of this exchange is given Christ’s authority, an authority that is passed down through Papal Succession to Pope Benedict XVI today.


The Gospel today tells the story of how Jesus first conferred a new name and title upon St. Peter. It was because Peter had been open to the Holy Spirit and was moved to give Jesus his true title; “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” In recognition of the Spirits outpouring, Jesus pronounced Simon – “Rock” and then handed to him the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. These same keys are passed from Pontiff to Pontiff and now reside with our Pope Benedict XVI.

Peter also provides the Church with a model of leadership that echoes Christ’s teaching – the shepherds of the Church are to lead through humility by their example of holiness. That example now comes from our Bishop and Priests to us. As we continue our Lenten journey we look to the Chair of Peter and his successors and see there the faithful shepherd broadcasting God’s love and forgiveness and as sheep, we follow the Lamb of God through them.


[1] The picture today is “The Chair of St. Peter” from the Vatican Archives, photographer and date not cited.
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

Saint Peter Damian, Bishop, Doctor

Additional Information about St. Peter Damian[1]

Readings for Thursday of the Second Week of Lent[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1
Jeremiah 17:5-10

This passage from Jeremiah is part of the wisdom sayings (Sapiential Sayings). The first uses opposition or comparison imagery to demonstrate that the wise person trusts in God while the foolish one trusts in his own strength or the help of others. The psalm below borrowed this imagery to portray the true heart of faithfulness.

The second saying describes the root of evil, the human heart whose secret plotting is transparent to God.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6
R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

This wisdom psalm follows the same theme as that expressed in Jeremiah (above). The focus is to look to God for guidance and not to trust only in the counsel of men.

Luke 16:19-31

The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man (some ancient texts name him "Nineveh") is found only in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus addresses this story to the Pharisees who were known to be fond of money. In this context we need to understand that all Jewish land owners were considered to be tenants of Yahweh, the landowner, and owed a tax to God’s representatives, the poor.

The rich man’s great sin was ignoring the suffering of Lazarus and when they both had passed from this life to the next, the rich man suffering torment begged Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers. The “punch line” that follows must have been especially harsh for the Pharisaic audience - 'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.'" This last statement, of course, is also alluding to his own rejection by the scribes and Pharisees even after his own resurrection.


It is easy for us to see the consistent message in scripture today; trust in God, listen to Him and follow His commandments. Jeremiah blasts us with wisdom saying; “Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings”. He is supported by the psalmist who says; “…they (the wicked) are like chaff which the wind drives away” using the same image. The bottom line there – the good person follows God, the person who trusts in themselves is condemned.

We are then presented with the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man. We can easily identify the rich man as one who puts his faith in his wealth while Lazarus is taken to the bosom of God. The Rich Man begs Abraham to save his brothers from the same fate he is enduing and receives a “no” answer “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.'" This amounts to a cliché “Ignorance of the Law is no excuse”.

Given to us as a story it is easy to see where Lazarus went wrong and to shake our heads knowingly. “Ah, if only he had helped Lazarus in life, he would not have ended up in torment.” How many times have we walked past Lazarus? How many times have we looked the other way to avoid seeing someone in need? How many times have we said; “I will pray for you” when we should have said “How can I help?”

Yes, it is easy for us to see what Lazarus should have done. It is not so easy to put that into practice in our own lives. Today our prayer is to ask God to help us see “Lazarus” when we meet. We pray that we will have the strength of faith and of will to provide help for those who truly need it and, in so doing, follow in the footsteps of the Saints, like St. Peter Damain who we remember today.


[1] The picture used today is “Sts. Benedict, Thecla, and Damian” by Giovanni Buonconsiglio, 1497
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent

Readings for Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1
Jeremiah 18:18-20

Today’s scripture comes from that part of Jeremiah referred to as “Oracles in the Days of Jehoiakim” The good king, Josiah, has died and with him the reforms Jeremiah was supporting. Now, in Jeremiah’s time, idolatry is creeping back in and the prophet is becoming unpopular. We hear the forces gathering against him in this reading. We also hear him pray to God that he might be remembered for his faithfulness.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 31:5-6, 14, 15-16
R. Save me, O Lord, in your kindness.

Psalm 31 is a lament in the face of adversity. Placed here, it could be a continuation of Jeremiah’s prayer from the first reading, asking for protection from those who would persecute.

Matthew 20:17-28

St. Matthew’s Gospel reading gives us the third and most detailed description of the coming passion. Emphasizing the lack of understanding of this event, James and John have their mother ask Jesus to elevate them to places of honor in his kingdom. The Lord questions the two, asking if they can drink the cup he will drink (accept the fate of martyrdom). When they answer in the affirmative, the Lord almost pronounces their acceptance as a sentence of death.

The squabbling that occurs between the disciples following this exchange prompts the Lord to define Christian leadership again, saying that those who would lead must be servants; they cannot be like the scribes and Pharisees.


The common thread running through scripture today is not a happy one for those of us who claim the call to discipleship in the Lord. First we hear one of God’s great messengers, the Prophet Jeremiah. He is hearing plots against himself and it is clear from his prayer the he takes them seriously and fears for his very life. The psalm supports this feeling, that the faithful are constantly encountering fierce opposition.

Finally, in the Gospel, the passage opens with Jesus stating in clear terms that “the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death”. Even his own disciples, who, being schooled in the Hebrew Scriptures, would have seen this pattern in prophecy, did not understand what was about to happen.

The examples make it clear. Persecution of God’s faithful happened in Jeremiah’s time six hundred years before Christ, and it happened to Jesus as he said it would. He told Zebedee’s sons that they would follow him in death for their faith. We don’t have to be hit over the head too many times to guess that our path, followed faithfully, will be met with significant resistance.

Are we to expect an easier time? Perhaps, we live in a society that is, for the most part, somewhat benign. Benign unless we get too ambitious and try to actually change the hearts of others. If we do that outside the comforting walls of the Church we see quickly the resistance that waits for us. If we try to push in that direction (as Christ encourages us to do) with those steeped in secular values we quickly see that what we do spiritually is only acceptable to them if we keep it out of their view.

As we continue our Lenten journey we reflect upon this call to holiness. We are reminded that it is a difficult path because we must place our own interests behind those of others. We are called to serve our brothers and sisters if we wish to follow the Lord’s example. And, we are told that if we take that service to the world, the world will most likely resent and hate us. Change is always painful.


[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture today is “Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of the Jerusalem” by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1630

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

Readings for Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1
Isaiah 1:10, 16-20

This reading from the very first part of Isaiah contains one of what are called the “Law suit” oracles. They are so called because they are framed the same way as charges brought before Jewish courts were published. In this reading the charge leveled at his audience (probably at a feast day) is a reference to Sodom and Gomorrah.

The command the prophet brings is for the people to wash themselves clean, not in the physical sense but in the spiritual sense. Repent from the sin and return to God’s way. Note here the sin is not simply spiritual but of actions. In the same way, repentance is required through action not merely prayer.

The reading concludes with the consequences of the choices before them. If they accept the penitential role and return to God, they will be forgiven and good things will be theirs. If, on the other hand, they do not, eternal death awaits them.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 50:8-9, 16bc-17, 21 and 23
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.

Psalm 50 has what is known as a “Prophetic Liturgy” structure. It was probably used as part of one of the Hebrew feasts (most likely dealing with the renewal of the covenant - Feast of Tabernacles?).

In this selection, although sacrifice is mentioned, it is more the sincerity of those offering homage to God that is in question. (“Why do you recite my statutes, and profess my covenant with your mouth, though you hate discipline and cast my words behind you?”). The psalmist calls the people to authentic action that will merit God’s salvation.

Matthew 23:1-12

The Gospel continues the theme of authentic worship (that is worship that changes the actions of the faithful). Matthew gives us Jesus discourse that upholds the Law of Moses and at the same time chastises those who misuse it. He describes in detail how the scribes and Pharisees burden the people with ritual but do not practice that same law.

The selection concludes with an interpretation of Christian leadership which is one of humility and compassion rather than one of prideful superiority.


Once again today we are given scripture that has a consistent theme that should be very clear to us. We are told that our worship must be authentic, not just for others to see, but from the heart. Further we are told that what we profess must be visible in our actions.

In the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah we hear the prophet calling the people to repentance. We note with interest that the call to repentance is not asking for prayers of sacrifice or worship. It is asking for actions; “Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.”

Then we move into Psalm 50. Again we hear the prophetic tones – “Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you…” It is for insincerity that God takes offense. It is the one who with one side of their mouth proclaims their love of God and on the other professes their hatred for another. We cannot have it both ways. Either we love the Father and our neighbor, or we are like the hypocrites.

To put icing on the cake (For our friends in Canada and Michigan, icing is: a sugary toping placed on deserts, not: the hockey penalty for shooting the puck the length of the ice touched first by the opposition.), the Lord paints a clear picture of the authentic example of faith by contrasting the actions of the scribes and Pharisees. He says clearly that if worship is made a burden, we’ve missed something. If our response to the law does not result in love of God and man, we have become seriously misguided.

Today our prayer is this; that we live our faith in a way that expresses God’s love for us and for those around us. We ask the Holy Spirit for the strength to accomplish this task, because it is difficult. Make us worthy, Lord; to be called your disciples as we continue to empty ourselves of all that displeases you.


[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “Woe to Teachers of the Law and Pharisees” by James Tissot, 1886-96

Monday, February 18, 2008

Monday of the Second Week in Lent

Readings for Monday of the Second Week in Lent[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1
Daniel 9:4b-10

We find in this reading from Daniel a prayer of repentance. This is not an individual prayer, but a prayer of the whole people. In addition to enumerating the failings of the people it also asks for compassion and forgiveness.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 79:8, 9, 11 and 13
R. Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.

Psalm 79 is a lament over the destruction of the Temple. This passage is a plea for compassion and help while repenting from their sins (“Deliver us and pardon our sins for your name’s sake.”).

Luke 6:36-38

The Lord takes a quote from the Old Testament and twists it just slightly (In the OT the phrase frequently used is “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (e.g. Leviticus 19:2) He goes further to tell the people that they need to stop judging or condemning but to forgive. He concludes by saying that: “For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” In other words, the standard against which you judge others will be used on you.


The scripture today paints a tenant of our Lord almost in terms of one used in mathematics. You may remember from your early days in school the Reflexive Property: “This property shows us if two expressions are set equal to one another, it does not matter in which order they are presented. (If a = b, then b = a).” If we forgive each other the Lord will forgive us, God forgives us therefore we forgive each other.

Sorry that just sort of snuck out, but the key we are given today is crucial to our understanding of the mind of Christ. To understand Him we must understand forgiveness. Forgiveness is not just a word and it is even more than a single action. It is very complex and has at least two distinct levels.

Let’s look first at the forgiveness Daniel asks for in the first reading. This prayer was not in the original Hebrew text of Daniel (scholars tell us that the grammar used is much better than the older original). The prayer was inserted because it was implicit in the act of repentance that requested forgiveness from God. The language with which it is addressed, however, could have been sent to a banker about a loan, forgiveness by the numbers. When we as individuals ask for God’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness we expect something much more personal.

In contrast, when someone we do not know does something wrong to us and we forgive them, we do so on a conditional basis. We forgive them, but we don’t need to like them and we sure as heck are not going to trust them in the same situation any time soon.

When someone close to us, say a family member does us an injustice and asks for forgiveness, depending on the seriousness of our violation of trust, we may forgive them as we do a stranger, with conditions, or we may forgive them as one we deeply love, without conditions. Unconditional forgiveness is what we ask for and expect from God. Unconditional forgiveness can only be given if the faults of the other are clearly and deeply known by the one who is forgiving and there is a level of acceptance along with forgiveness. This type of forgiveness is most frequently seen in our lives by the forgiveness of a loving parent for the failings of one of their children.

It is important that we also see the option of not forgiving. It happens. As hard as we might like to be the perfect image of the forgiving Jesus, we all harbor some level of anger directed at persons or institutions which have dealt with us unfairly. In the worst cases, these little “hates” are almost cherished and nurtured. In such situations they can grow, take on a life of their own, and become all consuming. In these most extreme examples of un-forgiveness it is easy to see the internal destruction they can cause.

This self destruction is especially true when it takes place in the context of a personal relationship such as within a family or between spouses. It is for this reason that we should begin searching out our own little “hates” first as they pertain to familial relationships. Allowed to fester, these unworthy and sinister feelings will be the most painful, long lasting, and most difficult hurts to mend.

Today our prayer is one of repentance for our past failings. We ask the Lord for unconditional forgiveness and ask to be readmitted to His grace. As we utter this prayer we hear, if we listen carefully, his words come back to us; “…the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”


[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “Christ on the Cross” by El Greco, 1585-90

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Second Sunday of Lent

Readings for the Second Sunday of Lent[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1 Genesis 12:1-4a

The genealogy of the Hebrew generations that ended with Abram and his wife migrating to the land of Ur (
Genesis 11: 27ff) sets this reading as a formal introduction. Abram (later Abraham) is chosen by God to become a great leader of people in holiness.

The blessing provided here is discussed at some length in the notes on this section: “Shall find blessing in you: the sense of the Hebrew expression is probably reflexive, "shall bless themselves through you" (i.e., in giving a blessing they shall say, "May you be as blessed as Abraham"), rather than passive, "shall be blessed in you." Since the term is understood in a passive sense in the New Testament (
Acts 3:25; Gal 3:8), it is rendered here by a neutral expression that admits of both meanings. So also in the blessings given by God to Isaac (Genesis 26:4) and Jacob (Genesis 28:14).”

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
R. Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.

Psalm 33 is a song of praise and thanksgiving. In these strophes the sense of God’s adoption of his chosen ones is expressed as the singer rejoices in the interdependence of the people and God’s love.

Reading II 2 Timothy 1:8b-10

St. Paul encourages Timothy to be outspoken for the sake of the Gospel which was entrusted to him through the “imposition of my hands.” He also tells his protégé not to worry because redemption is a free gift of Christ, not won by personal deeds.

Gospel Matthew 17:1-9

This is St. Matthew’s account of the transfiguration of Jesus. This event, recounted in all three of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) confirms Jesus is the Son of God. While some scholars point to this as possibly inserted here as a post-resurrection redaction, modern thought is that, because of Old Testament images and Jewish non-canonical apocalyptic images expressed in the brilliant light, white garments and overshadowing cloud, that the event is appropriately placed in Jesus timeline.

In this account especially we are reminded of the Baptismal event as God’s proclamation is the same as that recounted as Jesus came up from the Jordan “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."


Our focus during the beginning week of the Lenten Season has been to get into our personal discipline. We may have struggled a little as we refocus our prayer on penitential journey. The time table seems so compressed because of how early the season has come this year. Given the readings from Sacred Scripture we are given today we feel like we need to hurry to catch up with our internal transformation – the emptying theme of the first half of Lent.

We hear at the beginning how Abram was selected by God to become the great patriarch of the Hebrew people. It seems clear from the context within which this event occurs that the genealogy from the previous chapter must have been developed to fill the gap between the collective memory of the tower of Babel and the appearance of Abram. We get the feeling of God’s adoptive reach extended as we hear how God’s plan is expressed.

Through all of sacred history the touch points are brought out as we fast forward to the Transfiguration event in St. Matthew’s Gospel. In it we find two other great figures also selected by God to play roles in His plan of salvation, Moses and Elijah. The epic time scale of God’s love is kind of bookmarked with the appearance of these patriarchs with Jesus as he is once more identified as God’s Son – the final intervention by the Father to reveal his plan for us.

It is almost like the “Readers Digest” version of salvation history placed in front of us. And what is the goal this action is pointed at? One method used in business to see where a company is headed is to look at the major decisions it has made in the past. By taking all of these significant points out and letting them speak for themselves we can see an overall direction or character. We can do the same with the “touch points” given in salvation history today.

God’s creation was documented in the first part of Genesis. It was clear how he struggled with his human creation. At times we marvel at his patience as His obstinate creation seemed bent on ignoring every good thing the Father tried to place in its path. Finally he selects Abram to start on the long journey of revelation. It was clear that our grasp of His plan would take eons to be perceived. Along that path he placed heroic figures; Moses the giver of the Law, and Elijah preeminent among the Prophets guiding the people toward an understanding of the Father’s plan.

Finally, when it must have appeared that his children were once again going to miss the point, He sent his only Son to complete the work started at the beginning of creation. The tableau placed before Jesus disciples on that mountain was indeed revelatory. Here was Jesus of whom God said; “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, listen to Him.” They see with him Moses symbolizing the Law and Elijah symbolizing the Prophets coming together with him, in him. Jesus is the ultimate revelatory event. We see in microcosm his plan from the beginning to that point in time and see also where it is pointing.

Christ is God’s love poured out for us. His presence then and now directs us to that state where we too can grasp the total of God’s vision for us and see the peace His kingdom.

Back now to the present, what are we to be pursuing with our Lenten discipline? This on-going attempt on our part to transform ourselves is spurred forward by a reminder of the great plan the Father has for us. If we were tentative in our efforts in the first week, these reminders of the plan the Lord has for us should stimulate us to greater action through prayer, fasting, and alms giving.


[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “The Transfiguration” by Pietro Perugino, 1498

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

Readings for Saturday of the First Week of Lent[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1
Deuteronomy 26:16-19

This reading from Deuteronomy is the final agreement in Moses’ Covenant. In it the Israelites are told that for their part they must always follow God’s commandments and statutes. For his part, the Lord has made them his special possession, favored above the other nations he has made.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 7-8
R. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!

An acrostic poem; each of the eight verses of the first strophe (aleph) begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet; each verse of the second strophe (beth) begins with the second letter; and so on for all 22 letters of the alphabet.

The entire work is in praise of the Law, and the joys to be found in keeping it. It is not "legalism" but a love and desire for the word of God in Israel's Law, which is the expression of the Lord's revelation of himself and his will for man.

Matthew 5:43-48

This reading continues what was started yesterday. Jesus takes the commandment to love thy neighbor and gives it a deeper meaning. He goes further and strengthens this commandment including ones enemies in that list of those to be prayed for and loved.


It is amazing how many things Jesus changed when he came. If we think about it, God, Yahweh, had had not only a relationship established with the Hebrew peoples, but a covenant (several actually) for thousands of years. A national identity had developed around that relationship. The Old Testament is all about the racial experience of God. We see it established in the first reading from Deuteronomy with the conclusion of the covenant of Moses.

The Hebrews viewed Yahweh as "God of Justice". If something bad happened to a person, a group, or even the whole of the nation, it was because they had failed to live up to God's expectations. They recognized God's omnipotence but failed to see the underlying purpose for his outreach. This developed over years and is chronicled through the books of the Law (of which Deuteronomy is one), the Prophets, and the rabbinical writings that reflected on the scripture.

Now comes Jesus, at a time when the Hebrew race had been conquered, again, and were under the rule of the greatest empire since Alexander. Into this rebellious time comes the Son of God proclaiming the Kingdom of God. More astonishing still, he preaches a message of peace and love. He tells his followers that not only do they need to follow the Law of Moses, but they must understand that the relationship with God, his father, was one of heart, not just rules. He told them (and us) that it was His will that the letter of the law be seen in the new light of compassion ("But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father")

This was not the "God of Justice" the Hebrews had come to know. They had missed something fundamental in the characteristics of their God (our God). He loves us. He loves us so much he revealed himself to us in his only Son. Talk about epiphany.

Is it any wonder then, with Jesus redefining our relationship with God and the Laws he passed on to us through the Prophets, that the religious rulers of the Jews did not like him? How much easier is it to follow the laws of the Old Testament than the Laws of the New Covenant? How much easier is it to love just our friends and families than it is to love our enemies as Christ tells us? It is the difference between having a father who loves you and one who treats you like property.


[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “Christ” by El Greco, 1590-95

Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday of the First Week of Lent

Readings for Friday of the First Week of Lent[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1
Ezekiel 18:21-28

The Prophet Ezekiel begins this passage by saying that if an evil person turns away from their sins they will earn redemption. Speaking for God, he says that the Lord does not enjoy punishing those who disobey, rather he rejoices when repentance leads to redemption.

The reading continues saying that if a virtuous person falls into sin and turns from the righteous path, that person will die because of his sin.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-7a, 7bc-8
R. If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?

Psalm 130 is a song of lament. The psalmist cries out to God to hear the voice of the one who calls and to forgive the sins they have committed. The third verse, which is also the refrain sums up the lament saying if there is not forgiveness all will fall because all have sinned.

Matthew 5:20-26

This passage is the first of six examples in St. Matthew’s Gospel of conduct demanded of the Christian disciple. The first three, including this one today, takes a commandment of Mosaic Law and deepens the meaning. Here the Lord takes “You shall not Kill” to a new level. He reminds the disciples that they must not only avoid the impulse to physically act against another person but must also change their outlook in such a way that their thoughts do not take them into sin.


We are held to a higher standard! To this point in our Lenten journey we have been given the basics of discipleship. Now as we come to the end of our first week, we see that even in those areas were we have been doing a good job, we are asked to take it to the next level.

The Prophet Ezekiel starts us by saying that if we turn away from sin, God will give us life. He then reminds us of a very disturbing truth. If we back slide after living a life full of virtue, we do not achieve the reward, in spite of all the good we may have done. (As an aside, what does this say to our evangelical brethren who claim that once they have been saved they are always saved?) Ours must be a constant process of conversion, always turning away from sin.

Putting two concepts together, as Christian disciples, we find we are on a set of narrow stairs that go only up. The Lord pushes us; “Take the next step.” He tells us. “Your righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees.” (He speaks of those who only follow the letter of the Law.) If we even think of turning back we fall. Of course in that analogy, there is a railing we can hold on to, the Lord. If we feel ourselves sliding we can quickly reach out a grab hold of that safety line and keep our balance.

Consider for a moment how unusually this precept is, in the entire world. In almost all of the non-Christian world, vengeance is not only permitted but is an expected reaction. Hatred of one’s neighbor is an accepted and even taught response perceived injustice. Power over others is embraced as wholly good. And today, we are told; “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment”.

We are held to the highest standards. What we are asked to do today is take the next step. Where ever we are on that long stair, we need to look at our lives and decide what that next step up might be. If we say, “I already am praying and doing my best to help those I meet.” Perhaps the next step is to actively look for those who need our help. If we are praying for those we know, the next step may be to pray for those we don’t know. There is always that next step, and today we are asked to take it.


[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “Jacob’s Dream by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1726-29