Monday, March 06, 2017

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

(Optional Memorial of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs)

“Prayer on the Mount of Olives” by Hans Multscher, 1437
Reading I: Isaiah 55:10-11
Commentary on Is 55:10-11
This reading represents the conclusion of Isaiah’s exhortation about the New Jerusalem. In these few verses we hear how the word of God must be soaked up by the faithful, as rain is soaked up by the earth. Once it is absorbed it produces the desired result. Similar thought is expressed in the Gospel of St. John in his exhortation on the Eucharist (John6:32) as the Word come down from heaven.
“The Word comes from God, but it can be heard only when it is soaked up in human life and spoken with human accents. Deutero-Isaiah (Deutero-Isaiah refers to the second half of the book, written during the Babylonian exile.) explains world history, particularly the sacred history of Israel, through the deep, omnipotent presence of the Word (cf. Wisdom 8:1; 2 Corinthians 9:10). M.-E. Boismard attributes to this text the immediate origin of the Johannine theology of the Word (St. John's Prologue [Westminster, 1957] 100). We hear its echo in John's doctrine of the Eucharist-the Word come down from heaven and received as bread (John6:32, 35).”[4]
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 34:4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19
R. (18b) From all their distress God rescues the just.
Psalm 34 is a psalm of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance. The psalmist, fresh from the experience of being rescued (Psalm 34:5, 7), can teach the "poor," those who are defenseless, to trust in God alone. The just cry out to the Lord and he hears them and rescues them.
Gospel: Matthew 6:7-15
Commentary on Mt 6:7-15
This Gospel passage from St. Matthew actually interrupts the pattern in the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus is clarifying the spirit of the Law regarding almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. In the presentation of the Lord’s prayer, St. Matthew differs from the presentation by St. Luke (Luke 11; 1-4) in which the Lord was asked by the disciples how to pray. This passage begins by telling the disciples: “do not babble like the pagans.” This may also be critical of the Jewish tradition of presenting long lists of petitions to God for help. The idea is the same: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
The prayer in St. Matthew has seven petitions (compared to six in St. Luke). The first three are synonymous, asking that God’s ultimate reign at the Eschaton be brought to fulfillment. The request for “daily bread” has a couple of possible meanings beyond the obvious. It may be related to the petition in Matthew 6: 31-33 (“So do not worry and say, 'What are we to eat?'”) and it may also be referring to the Messianic banquet of the Eucharist. Using this interpretation, the fourth petition continues the intent of the first three.
The fifth petition, “…forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” is, in spite of the denominational tradition, best translated as “debts.” In St. Luke’s version, the word used is “sins,” an easier word for non-Jewish readers. Regardless of the transliteration, the precondition for forgiveness given is that we forgive others.
…Lead us not into temptation” is not likely intended to mean our daily encounter with “evil” or the “evil one.” St. Matthew would agree with St. Paul, that God would easily avoid the evil of the world (1 Corinthians 10: 13). Rather the likely meaning would be that we not be led to a great test, that is, despair at the tribulations of the Eschaton (the end times). Similarly the final petition, “…deliver us from evil,” also would focus on the Christian hope of salvation rather than damnation.
CCC: Mt 6:7 2608, 2668, 2776; Mt 6:8 443, 2736; Mt 6:9-13 1969, 2759, 2759; Mt 6:9 268, 443; Mt 6:10 2632; Mt 6:11 1165, 2659; Mt 6:12 2845; Mt 6:14-16 2792; Mt 6:14-15 2608, 2841
We can take the reading from Isaiah at face value and understand that the Prophet was saying that his prayer would not be like sand thrown into the wind, that his prayer, his dialogue with God, would bear fruit like rain falling on the crops.  Likewise, in the psalm, we give thanks to the Lord for hearing us in our distress.  What does he hear?  He hears our prayer.  Prayers uttered at strange moments, at painful moments, even prayers uttered profanely and unintended are heard. (Think of that the next time you hit your finger with a hammer!)
Scripture brings us to closure on prayer with the story from Matthew about Jesus teaching his disciples to pray using the Lord’s Prayer as a pattern.  We begin by giving thanks and praise to God for all his works and all his kindness both now and in eternity.  Then we ask for what we need each day, including forgiveness and asking for mercy as we promise to be merciful. 
The focus remains the same.  We are called to be a people of prayer.  Whether structured like the Liturgy of the Hours or short and simple like: “God help me, a sinner,”  we need to be in constant communication with God.  It is the Lord that provides us continual guidance. It is the Lord who leads us down right paths, and it is the Lord who speaks to us in the silence of our heart.  It is silence that we often forget.  We must spend time listening to what God intends to tell us  as Fr. Pat Egan is fond of saying, “without bullying God into listening to what we want him to say.”
As we continue to grow in discipleship today, we remember that we are called to pray constantly.  We ask for the strength to do just that.

[1] The picture is “Prayer on the Mount of Olives” by Hans Multscher, 1437
[4] Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, Inc.© 1968, 22:49 pp. 380

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