Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Salvation in the Way that Jesus Saves

Today's first reading, Dt 4: 1, 5-9, and the Gospel, Mt 5: 17-19,  speak about the law.  Jesus tells his disciples that he has come, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  He challenges the Pharisees for being legalistic, as legalism can kill the spirit. Love and compassion are above legalistic adherence to a law for the law's sake. An example would be a family member encouraging another family member recovering from pneumonia, for instance,  to stay home on a Sunday morning and take care of him/herself, not risking one's recovery by attending a liturgy on a Sunday morning.   A legalistic person might tell the family member that she/he  is well enough to attend Mass and must do so, obeying the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath.

Laws are made for our well-being and safety, not human beings made for the preservation and adherence to laws. The laws are there to protect us, to make us whole, to strengthen us spiritually and morally. Jesus knows the importance of laws and says to his disciples:  I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven."

Every time I obey the commandments, I am glorifying, honoring, praising God and God is strengthening and healing me. By my obedience, I am growing in grace and holiness, in endurance and wisdom, in intelligence and hope. In Dt 4: 1, 5-9, the author of this book encourages us to "observe [the commandments] carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statues and say, 'This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.' For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?" 

May you and I have the wisdom and the intelligence to follow God closely, fulfilling the law as Jesus did, bringing it to fulfillment by our love, our compassion, our mercy, our forgiveness of ourselves and others.  It is through our obedience that we will grow in our knowledge of the Lord, our God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit--and truly grow in bringing the law to fulfillment for the good of others and our own good.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Prayer for Deliverance

In today’s first reading, Daniel3: 25, 34-43, “Azariah stood up in the fire and prayed aloud: ‘For your name’s sake, O Lord, do not deliver us up forever, or make void your covenant. Do not take away your mercy from us, for the sake of Abraham, your beloved, Isaac your servant, and Israel your holy one, to whom you promised to multiply their offspring like the stars of heaven, or the sand on the shore of the sea….So let our sacrifice be in your presence today as we follow you unreservedly; for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame. And now we follow you with our whole heart, we fear you and we pray to you. Do not let us be put to shame, but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy. Deliver us by your wonders, and bring glory to your name, O Lord.”

Lord, today, I stand up in the “fire” of a cancer ravishing the body of a loved one.  I cry aloud to You, O Lord: “For your name’s sake, do not deliver this young woman to the cancer within her that is aggressively taking possession of so many areas in her body. For the sake of her parents, her siblings, her grandparents and great grandparents—living and deceased—and all of her relatives, both living and deceased, show her your mercy.  “Let the sacrifices [she and her family have made in dealing with this uncaring disease] be in your presence today, as [she has, throughout her short lifetime] followed you with her whole heart, [as has each of her family members].  [She and her family] reverences you and prays to you. Do not let [her] be put to shame, but deal with [her] in your kindness and great mercy. Deliver [her from this cancer, according to God’s will] by your wonders, and bring glory to your name, O Lord.”

Monday, March 20, 2017

Nudged by Angels, God's Messengers

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus and husband of Mary, Mother of God. Joseph, like Mary, is specially chosen to be Jesus earthly foster father, as Mary is specially chosen to be Jesus’ Mother, having conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Mary becomes pregnant with Jesus during her betrothal to Joseph and before she and Joseph lived together.   Joseph agonizes over what to do, as he does not want to expose her and risk that she be stoned to death by the authorities of his day. So, being a just man, kind and compassion ate, he decides to divorce Mary quietly. “Such was his intention,” Matthew tells us in today’s Gospel, Mt. 1L: 16, 18-21, 24a, “when, behold, the angel of the Lord appear to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’”  On awakening, Joseph does as the angel commanded.

Joseph witnesses to the faith of a righteous man, a man willing to sacrifice for the sake of others!  How willing am I to make sacrifices for others or how attentive am I to the messengers God sends into my life to alert me to an action I need to take to protect others in danger of being harmed by another, whether that harm is death itself or the result of decisive action that could lead to an unnecessary death. Why? Because they might die of an otherwise treatable illness for which they cannot afford recommended medication or treatment for lack of insurance lost by the appeal of the ACA. Or a message to do that which would reconcile one to one’s spouse or children but which is ignored because it “cost” too much for one’s pride to swallow!  Or a choices I regret not making: “If only I had been there for her/him,” “if only had been more attentive, perhaps my son/my daughter would not have run away,” “if only I had helped my son/my daughter get the help he/she needed, things might have turned out differently.” “If only I would not have enabled my son/my daughter to act irresponsibly (I assumed responsibilities that were theirs, as adults to assume), he/she would have begun to make adult choices.”  Is it possible, that, at the end of the day, these regrets, or any others, are part of having ignored the Spirit’s nudges, unlike Joseph?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Gospel Challenge

In today’s Gospel, Luke 16: 19-31, the evangelist presents the story of Dives and Lazarus. Dives,  a rich man,  ignores the needs of Lazarus, a poor, very ill man who sat outside the gates leading to the rich man’s property.  Dives  is deaf to the cries of the poor and blind to their needs, using all of his wealth for himself and his family. Both men die! Dives, by his sins against the poor, has shut the door to enjoying God’s presence in eternity and ends up in eternal torment, while Lazarus enjoys eternal bliss at Abraham’s side.  Dives begs Abraham: “’Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’  Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus…received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’”

Who am I in this story? Dives or Lazarus? Am I rich financially and using those riches only for myself or am I financially strapped, not knowing how I will provide for my family’s needs for food, shelter, medical care, education, clothing and thus dependent upon those who are better off to be generous in sharing of their riches? Also, am I rich or poor spiritually, socially, and intellectually? With which talents has the Lord blessed me?  Do I share my riches—my joy, my faith, my hope, my love, my caring, my compassion, my  upbeat personality? Do share my talents—whatever I am good at because of professional training or natural talent? Do I share my giftedness—and we are all gifted--with others, or hoard my gifts and blessings for personal use only, for my own comfort here on earth,  ignoring the needs of others, not caring that their rights are being violated by me or anyone else?

Furthermore, I might ask myself:  Am I building  “a kingdom” for myself here on earth and for
me alone?” Or am I concerned that everyone has what he or she needs to provide for their families and for themselves and that I, when possible, share of my wealth, whatever that might be? In other words,  am I preparing myself to enjoy God’s kingdom in heaven that is reserved for those who are mindful of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized of our societies and who use their gifts to serve others and to make the world around them a better place? Am I a “Dives” or a “Lazarus”?  

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Being a Disciple of Jesus

In today’s first reading, Jeremiah 18: 18-20, we are told about the people of Judah’s plot to kill Jeremiah: “Come, let us contrive a plot against Jeremiah. It will not mean the loss of instruction from the priests, nor of counsel from the wise, nor of messages from the prophets. And so, let us destroy him by his own tongue; let us carefully note his every word.”   Jeremiah asks God to spare him this kind of suffering:

                Heed me, O Lord,
                And listen to what my adversaries say.
                Must good be repaid with evil
                that they should dig a pit to take my life?
                Remember that I stood before you
                To speak in their behalf,
                to turn away your wrath from them.
Obviously, Jeremiah is a prefiguration of Jesus. Throughout Jesus’ public ministry, the scribes and the Pharisees plotted to put Him to death by his own words.  ”Carefully, [H]is every word” was noted.   Like Jeremiah, Jesus begs His Father to take note.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, “he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, this hour might pass him by. ‘Abba, Father! For you everything is possible. ‘Take this cup away from me. But let it be as you, not I, would have it.”

How willing, when I encounter suffering, am I to pray: “Abba, Father! For you everything is possible. Take this cup away from me. But let it be as you,  not I, would have it”?

In today’s Gospel, Matthew 20: 17-28, Jesus tells the Twelve that they are on their way up to Jerusalem. “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

You and I, throughout our life time, also are on our way to Jerusalem.  And, like the Twelve, we don’t always get it (See today’s Gospel)!  Sadly, we could, like them, still be clamoring for first place, for places of privileges, for special favors that put us above others, as in the case of James and John, who, through their mother, begged to be given special privileges in Jesus’ kingdom, which at that point they still believed would be an earthly one!

For what am I clamoring? Do I realize that, as a follower of Jesus, I, too, am going up to Jerusalem, where, through the process of dying and through death itself, I will be raised to a new life of grace, a life where good triumphs over evil, where I am put in right relationships with God, self and others, where there are no more tears or suffering,  and where sin will not prevail?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Call to Conversion

In today's first reading, Isaiah 1: 10, 16-20, the prophet says to us and to the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, "Listen to the instructions of our God...Wash yourselves clean! 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."

Isaiah is speaking to us as individual persons, as individual families, as church,  as a nation, as civic and as social entities. As an individual, whom have I wronged? What are the misdeeds, the evil, that I have done that needs correction?  Whose pleas for mercy, for understanding, for forgiveness and help in time of need have I ignored?

As a family, are there individuals who are being wronged, abused--verbally, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually?  What wrongs within the family need to be addressed? Whose pleas within the family need to be acknowledged and dealt with patiently, compassionately, lovingly?  Who within the family needs to be accepted, forgiven, welcomed?

As a nation, as politicians, as governors, as senators, as members of the Department of Justice, as members of the Pentagon, as members of the President's Press Core, of the Cabinet, of the National Security Advisory Team, as the President himself, Isaiah says to each of you: "Wash yourself clean! Put away your misdeeds...; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim; redress the wronged [immigrants, refugees, uninsured], hear the orphan's plea, [the pleas of vulnerable males and females forced into the sex trade, into slave labor, into drug trafficking] defend the widow [defend minorities, the vulnerable, the uninsured, the poor, oppressed and marginalized of our societies]."  

God, through Isaiah, goes on to say: "Come now, let us set things right,...Though your sins be like scarlet, they may  become white as snow; though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool. If you are willing, and obey, you shall eat the good things of the land; but if you refuse and resist, the sword shall consume you; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken!" That sword could be the sword of selfishness, narcissism, envy, jealousy, greed or any other sin that ultimately brings us death: the death of love and generosity, the death of honesty, the death of forgiving, the death of mercy and compassion. A hardness of heart sets in. A blindness and a deafness takes possession of us and we are then unable to tune into the voice of the Lord.  We then live in darkness. Is that what we truly desire?

ARE WE LISTENING TO THE PROPHET ISAIAH? And, if we are, what changes need to take place so that each of us and each entity of our nation, family, church, civic community becomes an obedient servant of God?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Acknowledging our Wrongdoing

Today's first reading, Daniel 9: 4b-10, presents the following prayer:  Lord, great and awesome God, you who keep your merciful covenant toward those who love you and observe your commandments!  We have sinned, been wicked and done evil; we have rebelled and departed from our commandments and laws.  We have not obeyed your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, your [ancestors], and all the people of the land. Justice, O Lord, is on your side; we are shamefaced even to this day: we, the men  [and women] of Judah [of the U.S.A.], the residents of Jerusalem [citizens of the U.S.A.] ...."    

Without knowing it, perhaps, we are sinning by our choice to build walls between ourselves and other nations, by deporting undocumented immigrants, separating children from their parents, by increasing the wealth of the wealthy at the expense of the poor, possibly denying 10s of millions of people health insurance, by perpetuating lies in efforts to hide our own sinful behaviors, by pushing forth our own promises to assumedly  win accolades for keeping our promises when those violate the rights of others.

Daniel goes on to say in later verses of today's first reading:  O Lord, we are shamefaced, like our kings, our princes, and our [ancestors], for having sinned against you! But yours, O Lord,  our God, are compassion and forgiveness! Yet we have rebelled against you and paid no heed to your command, O Lord, our God, to live the law you gave us through your servants the prophets.

Those laws still hold today! The lack of compassion on the part of those governing this nation and those who support their executive orders and legislation is a disgrace.  Have mercy on us and on them, Lord, for "they know not what they are doing" (Jesus' words from the cross)!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Choice of Virtue or Sin

Today’s readings,  Ez 18: 21-28 and Mt. 5: 20-26, both address the importance of choosing virtue, of righting the wrongs we have done towards others and ourselves, of turning away from sinful attitudes towards others and ourselves—of letting go of our resentments and our grudges that we hold against one another or against ourselves, of no longer holding others or ourselves in disdain.  Ezekiel tells us that if a sinner, turns away from all the sins he [she] has committed, if he [she] keeps all [God’s] statues and does what is right and just, he [she] shall surely live, he [she] shall not die.”  On the other hand, if a virtuous person “turns from the path of virtue to do evil, the same kinds of abominable things that the wicked…does, can he [she] do this and still live? None of his [her] virtuous deeds shall be remembered, because he [she] has broken faith and committed sin….”

Those are strong words and, from time to time, each of us is both the sinner and then, again, the virtuous and repentant one. From time to time, each of us turns away from sin to virtue and then, again, away from virtue to sin.  With the psalmist in today’s responsorial psalm, we pray:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to my voice in supplication.
If you, O Lord, mark iniquities,
Lord, who can stand?
But with you is forgiveness,
that you may be revered.
I trust in the Lord;
my soul trusts in his word.
My soul  waits for the Lord
more than sentinels wait for the dawn.
Let Israel [let each of us] wait for the Lord.
For with the Lord is kindness
And with him is plenteous redemption;
And [God] will redeem Israel [and each of us]
From all their [our] iniquities.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

What Esther Teaches Us about Prayer

In today’s first reading, Esther C: 12, 14-16, 23-25, Esther prostrates herself from morning until evening,  first acknowledging God as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob and then blessing God.  Do I, when I come into prayer, first acknowledge who God is and bless God, praising and thanking God for who God is? Or do I begin prayer telling God what I want from God?  If the latter, that approach to God is significantly different from what Esther teaches us about prayer!

Esther comes to God at one of the lowest points in her life.  She is an orphan, having been taken away from her family and forced to join the king’s harem.  Her people, the Jews, are about to be systematically killed by the king’s orders and she feels responsible to intercede on their behalf (Word Among Us, Lent 2017, p. 29).  However, the king has not invited her to enter his presence and she will need to do so minus that invitation. She could be risking her life in doing so and also because the king does not know that she is a Jew! 

Esther turns to God in prayer in this darkest of moments in her life. To what do you and I turn when at the lowest points of our lives? And when we turn to God, do we do so by first acknowledging who God is and second by blessing God with words of thanksgiving and praise?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Message from Jonah

In today’s first reading, Jonah 3:1-10, Jonah enters the city of Nineveh.  He delivers God’s message to this city, telling the residents that “[f]orty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.”  The people took heed of Jonah’s message, believing that, in truth, God would destroy their city because of its wickedness. A fast was proclaimed.  The “great and small put on sackcloth.” The king and his nobles issued a decree, saying: “Neither man nor beast, neither cattle nor sheep, shall taste anything; they shall not eat, nor shall they drink water. Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God; every man shall turn from his evil way and from the violence he has in hand. Who knows, God may relent and forgive, and withhold his blazing wrath, so that we shall not parish.” And God “repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.”

The U.S.A. is Nineveh!   Do we, as a nation, not need to repent of and turn away from “evil…and from the violence” being leveled upon immigrants, refugees,  the unborn, and persons who are victims of human traffickers, drug traffickers, and of the slave industry?  Do we not need to rethink government proposals to line the pockets of the rich, to create more billionaires and to perpetuate the arms race? Is it possible that millions of people may be without health insurance and millions of immigrants may be deported (a deportation that may separate children from their parents) all because of the high probability of false information upon which many legislative actions are being promulgated? Are we citizens of the U.S. not in danger of believing lies that are broadcasted over and over again and which will likely bring disaster to ourselves and our neighbors?

Is it possible that unless we sincerely repent of our wrongdoing, cry out to the Lord for mercy and forgiveness and right our wrongs, that we, like Nineveh, could be destroyed?

Monday, March 6, 2017

God's Instructions of Being Holy/Whole in His Sight

Today’s first reading, Leviticus 19: 1-2, 11-18, begins with the Lord asking us to “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy” and then spells out ways in which we are not holy, namely, when we:

·         Steal, rob others of their rights, engage in fraudulent behaviors
·         Lie in any way, swear falsely, spread slanderous statements against anyone
·         Use God’s name disrespectfully
·         Curse the deaf and put stumbling blocks in front of the blind
·         Render unjust , dishonest judgments towards anyone
·         Show partiality toward the rich and famous as well as toward the weak and vulnerable
·         Do nothing when another’s life is in danger
·         Bear hatred in our hearts  towards anyone
·         Seek revenge and hold grudges

Lord, how unholy am I, how much in need of your mercy and forgiveness from you and others.
Dorothy Ann,   (your name), as “the height of heaven above earth, so strong is [God’s] faithful love for… [you] who [reverence the Lord].  As the distance of east from west, so far from [you] does [God] put [your] faults. As tenderly as a [loving, caring, forgiving] father treats his children, so Yahweh treats [you, his daughter/son]; [God] knows of what [you] are made, [God] remembers that [you] are dust."

Thank you, Lord, for your merciful, caring restorative justice, loving me into eternity, loving me into right relationships with you, others and myself.  Thank you for being merciful and understanding of my human nature, its downfalls and weaknesses, its sinfulness and efforts to do what is right before you, to “be holy as You are holy.”

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Kind of Fasting God Asks of Us

In today’s first reading, Isaiah 58: 1-9a, the prophet puts forth challenges concerning our fasting.   We may give up this or that, priding ourselves on all that we are sacrificing while continuing our “quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw.”  “The fasting,” which the Lord wants, Isaiah tells us, is “releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.” Who am I, for instance,  holding in the bonds of oppression: not talking to them, not acknowledging their presence, holding a grudge against them, gossiping about them, withholding forgiveness?  Who within my family am I scorning? With whom, in my family, am I fed up and about whom I am saying:   “I’ve had enough of your _______________________"?  Have I treated anyone unjustly? Have I damaged relationships by being selfish, deceitful or jealous?

With whom do I need to reconcile?  How might I improve relationships with those with whom I live the closest? How might I make a difference in my marriage, in my relationship with my children or grandchildren, nieces and nephews, in-laws,  in my relationship with my fellow religious or fellow priests and/or religious brothers, with the priests serving in my parish? 

When we fast from that which makes life difficult for others, then, Isaiah tells us, “your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for help, and [God] will say: Here I am!”

What are you doing special during this Lenten season that corresponds to what the Lord wants of you?

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Making Right Choices

Choose life, we are asked in today’s first reading, Dt. 30: 15-20, by turning your hearts to the Lord, listening to God and not allowing yourself to be “led stray and adore and serve other gods.”  Moses reminds the Israelites that he has “set before[the]  life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.  For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land that the Lord swore he would give to your fathers/[mothers] Abraham [and Sarah], Isaac [and Rebecca], Jacob [and Leah and Rachel].”

The questions you and I need to ask ourselves are: Am I choosing life? Am I choosing blessing? Am I choosing to love the Lord, our God, with my whole heart, mind, soul and will?  Am I heeding God’s voice and holding fast to the Lord? Or am I making choices that are not life-giving? Am I holding fast to promises that are not in line with what God is asking of me?  Am I serving idols, non-gods, God-substitutes? Am I seeking security in wealth, money, an accumulation of material things, sex—running from one relationship to another and another and giving sacrificial love to no one? 

In today's Gospel, Luke 9: 22-25, Jesus says to us:  If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily..."  Am I refusing to take up the cross of serving others, making sacrifices for others in my love for them,  of being faithful to the vows I have taken in marriage or in religious life?