Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Presence of Evil

In today's first reading, Jeremiah 11: 18-20,  the prophet realizes that he, "like a trusting lamb led to slaughter had not realized that [his enemies] were hatching plots against [him]."  "I knew their plot because the Lord informed me; at that time you, O Lord, showed me their doings."  As with Jeremiah, so, too, with Jesus.  Men blinded by personal ambitions felt threatened by Jesus and plotted his death.  His wisdom was too much for them. The Truth of his teachings were feared.

What happened to Jesus and to Jeremiah happens to us to this very day. Sometimes we are the one's plotted against and sometimes we are the ones doing the plotting.  Jealousy and pride can continue to consume people as they build  their ego "dynasties" or protect "dynasties" already built! Evil is born in these situations, as we witness our government leaders and leaders of other nations plotting evil against those who they see as threats.  No one is safe in these evil schemes.  People, "like a trusting lamb, [are being] led [to the] slaughter."

With Jeremiah, let us say to the Lord: [T]o you I have entrusted my cause!" Let us, also, entrust to the Lord the cause of those who have become the latest victims of the jealous rage of those building ego "dynasties". And finally let us answer the question: Am I involved in plotting evil against anyone?  Am I, have I, slaughtered anyone by  slanderous, deceitful words that led to unjust job losses or the loss of their reputation?

Friday, March 16, 2018

As with Jesus, so with Us

In today's Gospel, John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30, we learn that Jesus did not want to go to Judea because the Jews were out to kill him.  However, given the fact that his brothers went up for the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, he also went to the city but in secret.  Some people recognized Jesus and raised the question: "Is he not the one they are trying to kill?" Yet no one attempted to seize Jesus. "Could the authorities," the bystanders wondered, "have realized that he is the Christ?" Can't be, they reasoned, because we know where Jesus has come from and, "[w]hen the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from."  Jesus, hearing the conversation, cries out:  "'You know me and also know where I am from.  Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.' So they tried to arrest him, but no one laid a hand upon him, because his hour had not yet come."

"His hour had not yet come."   Whatever Jesus did, He did with the Father, as He and the Father are one.  "I do nothing except what the Father asks me to do," Jesus says to us in another passage in John. And the time of showing the depth of God's love by the ultimate sacrifice of pouring out His life on the cross had not yet arrived.

Having been baptized unto Jesus' death and having rose to a new life with Christ,  we are Christ's ambassadors sent into the world, also, by the Father to reveal the depth of God's love.  Like Jesus, we reveal the Father's love by a self-emptying, sacrificial love in our service of others. We reveal who God is by loving others as we love ourselves. God's love radiates through us, also, when we are  patient, compassionate, forgiving,  and obedient to what the Spirit is asking of us each moment to bring forth he best in others and in ourselves.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Merciful, Forgiving God

In today's first reading, Isaiah 49: 8-15, the Lord says to us through the prophet Isaiah: "Along the ways [you] shall find pasture, on every bare height shall [your] pastures be. [You] shall not hunger or thirst, nor shall the scorching wind or the sun strike [you]; for he who pities [you] leads [you] and guides [you] beside springs of water. I will cut a road through all my mountains, and make  my highways level...." 

Today I scorched others by my impatience and anger. The "sun" of my hot temper "burned" others, as I found myself in a position of powerlessness and helplessness.  I reacted like a child having a temper tantrum when not getting his/her way. When I entered into prayer this afternoon and told God how frustrated I was with myself, God made my "highway  level."  God "took pity on me and [led me to] springs of water."  He "cut a road mountains" of pride.  The Scripture passage  "Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart" came to my mind.  The Lord also reminded me that He does not condemn me and asked me not to condemn myself either.

What a grace this was for me, as I usually "beat" myself up mercilessly when I do wrong, as my need for perfection rears its head!  Over and over again, I need to come to the "springs of water" and let God smooth out my mountains of pride!  What about you?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"Stirring the Pool of Life-giving Water"

In today's Gospel, John 5: 1-16, Jesus goes up to Jerusalem and finds blind, lame, and crippled persons going down to the Bethesda pool. The first person to enter the pool when the waters are stirred up is healed. Jesus notices a man there "who had been ill for thirty-eight  years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, said to him, 'Do you want to be well?'"  He answered: "'Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on the way, someone else gets down there before me.'  Jesus said to him, 'Rise, take up your mat, and walk.' Immediately the man became well, took up his mat and walked."

Jesus noticed the man's inability to get to the pool first and, knowing that he had been ill for a long time, had pity on him. He asks him: "Do you want to be well?"  Jesus asks us the same question. "Do you want to healed" of that which  holds us back from being made whole, of becoming well so that we, too, can participate fully in life around  us!  What is crippling us? Do we know? And do we want to be healed?  Just sitting around, when other options are possible, is an option but there are other ones if we accept Jesus' invitation!

What is holding you and I back from the pool of graces available to us on a daily basis?  What prevents us from "stirring the pool" that will give live to others and to ourselves?

Monday, March 12, 2018

Getting to Know Jesus and Taking One's Needs to Him

In today's Gospel, John 4: 43-54, Jesus returns to Galilee, frustrated that he was not received in his hometown, saying: "...[A] prophet has no honor in his native place."  Experiencing the indifference and hostility of his hometown, Jesus goes to Galilee, where He is welcome. He actually returns to Cana of Galilee, where he performed his first miracle in changing water into wine. A royal official from Judea approaches him and begs Jesus to heal his son who, in Capernaum, is at the point of death. Initially, Jesus responds with a reproach: "Unless you people see signs and wonders you will not believe."  The royal official simply says to Jesus: "Sir, come down before my child dies." Go,  "your son will live."  On his return home, the royal official learns that his son actually began to recover at the very moment that Jesus said: "[Y]our son will live."

There are several learnings here. First of all, we learn that Jesus is a human person like us. Jesus experienced all of the emotions you and I experience when we are rejected, ignored, and/or treated with indifference. Jesus could feel frustrated and, also,  taken advantage of, as when he complained that people just wanted to "see signs and wonders."  Second of all, we learn that Jesus reads hearts, as with the royal official. The royal official did not approach Jesus just to see a sign. He knew that Jesus healed people and would heal his dying son! Third of all,  we learn that Jesus is a God of compassion and love. He cared for and about the royal official and his dying son!  He cares about us and our families, too.  Fourth of all, we learn the importance of approaching Jesus with our needs and doing so with faith!

As we reflect upon this Gospel, I also suggest that we ask ourselves the following questions: If I were a resident of Jesus' native town, if Jesus entered my  home, would I be indifferent to Him? Would I want him to leave or, much worse, want to "throw him over a cliff", as the people had attempted to do when he preached in the synagogue he attended as a child?

As we reflect upon the royal official'  faith, however, I suggest we ask ourselves the following questions: How do I relate to God? Do I approach God with a humble faith?  Or am I simply curious, wanting to see "signs and wonders"?  Am I a person who has heard about Jesus and the work He has done and does, but simply remain distant from Him, not taking time to get to know Jesus and His works and His compassion for me and my needs and those I care about?

If you want to grow in your faith, I suggest spending time in prayer, personal and communal, liturgical and familial; picking up the Bible and reflecting on passages that resonate with you. Also helpful is reading books that nurture your hunger and thirst for God.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Heeding God's Words, God's Voice, God's Commands

In today's responsorial psalm, God says to us: "If today you hear [my] voice, harden not your hearts."  In the first reading, Jeremiah 7: 23-28, the Lord says to the Israelites and to us: Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people. Walk in all the ways that I command you, so that you may prosper."  Saddened, God tells us that "they obeyed not, nor did they pay heed. They walked in the hardness of their evil hearts, and turned their backs, not their faces, to me....This is the nation that does not listen to the voice of the Lord, its God, or take correction. Faithfulness has disappeared; the word itself has banished from their speech." Is that also true of you and me? Is that true of our nation, our country, our city, our society, our family, our religious communities, our parishes?

Satan, a fallen intelligent angel, roams the world seeking souls to devour. In no way does He want us to listen to God's voice. He and those angels who followed him did not!  They lost their home in heaven and no way want us to achieve that goal!  May we take heed of God's voice directing us, guiding us, beckoning us to do God's will, keep God's commandments, listening to the prophets in our midst, some of them children used by God to direct us toward the good.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Closeness of our God

In today's first reading, Dt 4:1, 5-9, Moses asks the people:  "[W]hat 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?" And we, today, can say to our children and grandchildren, our nieces and nephews, our grandnieces and grandnephews: "Who, like us, has a God who walked among us here on earth,  fulfilling the letter of the law in loving his neighbors, eating with outcasts, forgiving sins, raising the "dead" to life, curing illnesses and diseases of all kinds, who accepted all peoples as equals?   Who, like us, has a God (Jesus Christ, the second person of the Blessed Trinity) who showed us how to love God unreservedly, trust God totally and say yes to God even to the point of death on the cross?  Who, like us, has a God who walks with us, talks with us, counsels us, guides us, lives within us, and who strengthens us on a daily basis to follow His ways of justice and peace, forgiveness and mercy and unconditional love for all peoples regardless of their race or creed, gender or nationality, or cultural backgrounds? Who, like us, has a God who fulfills the law and brings each one of us to fulfillment, as well?

Do I, do you, know this God personally? Do we take time to get to know God by reading and reflecting upon the Scriptures, by spending time in personal, communal, familial prayer? Do we take time to dwell in solitude listening to the Lord speak to us, flooding us with peace, calming our fears, purifying our hearts and enlightening our minds?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Living for God Alone

In today's first reading, Daniel 3: 25, 34-43, Azariah stands up in the fire, into which he and two others were thrown because they refused to obey the king's order that would have violated their beliefs, and prays: "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. For we reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation, brought low everywhere in the world this day because of our sins....[W]ith contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received....[L]et our sacrifice be in your presence today, as we follow you unreservedly; for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame....Deliver us by your wonders, and bring glory  to your name, O Lord."

This prayer as applicable to our nation today, as it was to the nation of Israel. As of old, God looks with mercy and love upon us. With Azariah, we pray: "With contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received. Let our sacrifices to do what is right be in your presence, as we follow you unreservedly; for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame. Deliver us by you wonders from sinking into deceitful ways and corrupt decisions that increase hardships for others around us and beyond us.  We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen."

Monday, March 5, 2018

Openness to God at Work in the Ordinary

In today's first reading, 2 Kings 5: 1-15b, we encounter Naaman, the army commander of the king of Aram and a man afflicted with leprosy.  We are told that Naaman is highly respected by his master, for through him the Lord brought victory to the Arameans.   In that military victory over Israel,  a little girl was captured and made a servant to Naaman's wife.  This little girl says to Naaman's wife: "If only my  master would present himself to the prophet in Samaria, ..., he would cure him of his leprosy." The faith of a little girl!  Do I have the faith of a child?

The little girl's master sends Naaman to the king of Israel. The king reacts angrily when Naaman approaches him. His fear and his pride get in his way--what will he say? will he fail? will he look like a fool? "Am I a god with power over life and death,"  he asked.  Is the king of the Armenians "looking for a quarrel with me!" Where is this king's faith?  In reflecting on my responses to challenges, how does my fear and pride block me from acting in positive ways?  Are there times when I conclude that people are just out to pick a fight with me when that is absolutely not  true?

The prophet Elisha hears that the king tore his garments in anger and confronted him. "Why have you torn your garments? Let him come to me and find out that there is a prophet in Israel."  Then there is Naaman who reacts angrily when the prophet sends a messenger to him and he is given the following instruction: "Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean."   
Naaman is insulted that 1) the prophet did not come out of his house and talk to him in person and 2) that he is asked to wash seven times in the Jordan River.  Ever bulk that you were not treated as "royalty," as someone of importance deserving a personal interview and a dramatic response to your need for help? "Wash seven times in the Jordan?  You kidding me! We have rivers in my own country!"  Ever walk away from a situation out of pride, refusing to follow a suggestion that, as for Naaman, could have brought you amazing results of God's mercy and compassionate, understanding love? Without humility, we easily deny ourselves hidden graces and blessings such as Naaman experienced.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Our Bodies: Temples of the Holy Spirit

In today's Gospel, John 2: 13-25,  Jesus goes up to Jerusalem.  As Jesus enters Jerusalem, He approaches the Temple area and is outraged that the people have turned it into a marketplace and are also cheating people who are purchasing animals for sacrifice. He "made a whip out of cord and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, 'Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace.'"  When the Jews challenged Jesus' authority and asked "'What sign can you show us for doing this?' Jesus answered: 'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.'"

The Temple to which Jesus is referring is His body, which they will crucify on Good Friday. Three days later, Jesus will rise from the dead. Like Jesus, we, too, are to treat our bodies as sacred. Our bodies, Temples of the Holy Spirit, will also be risen from the dead, as death has no power over us anymore than it had power over Jesus' body.

As with the material Temple in Jerusalem, our bodies are not to be abused. They are not to be sold for pleasure or for profit. We are holy in God's sight! We are His dwelling place, out of which flows graces that transform us and others so that God's presence in us radiates through our actions in such a way that all things are made new and give the honor and glory of God!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

God's Delight in Us

In today's first reading, Micah 7: 14-15, 18-20, Micah prays as follows, asking God to reveal Himself as our Shepherd: "Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance, that dwells apart in a woodland, in the midst of Carmel.  Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old; as in the days when you came from the land of Egypt, show us wonderful signs." Micah then asks: "Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance; who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency, and will again  have compassion on us, treading underfoot our guilt."  In today's Gospel, Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32, Jesus reveals the nature of God in the parable of the Prodigal Son.  He reveals a God who "removes guilt and pardons sin," "delights in clemency", is compassionate, loving, and caring, a God who waits for our return when we go astray, when we choose a path that leads to destruction, even death of the body and the spirit.  With great delights, God receives us back into His Presence, rejoicing and celebrating our coming back to our senses and living a life of justice, love, peace, honest and right relationships with others, ourselves and our Creator God.  No one is more excited when we choose rightly by turning away from evil to do good than God, our constant companion, our Guide, who lives within us, works through us, and hovers over us with Love!

May we come to this realization and work unceasingly to become our best selves, reaching our potential to live like Jesus lived!  Our goal here on earth is to be totally transformed by grace so that our being made in the image and likeness of God is never in doubt!

Friday, March 2, 2018

An Instrument in God's Hands

In today's first reading, Genesis 37: 3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a, we are presented with the story of Joseph, the youngest son of Israel whom Israel loved above all his sons and treated him as his favorite child.  Joseph's brothers grew to hate Joseph and, when Israel sent him to join them in the pasture where they were tending the sheep, they plotted to kill him. Reuben talked them out of doing so and suggested they sell him to Ishmaelites passing by on their way to Egypt. In the Gospel, Mt 21: 33-43, 45-46, we are given the parable of a landowner who planted a vineyard and leased it out to tenants.  At the time of the harvest he sent his servants to collect the produce.  The tenants beat some of the servants and killed others. So the owner sent his only son, believing that he would be respected and the produce given to him. "No!" They also killed the son.

We may respond in disbelief! However, how often have we, behind another's back, spoken ill of another person. Though we may not have plotted to commit murder, we may have "murdered" that person with harsh words and and damning judgments!   Concerning today's Scriptures, we know that God brought good out of both situations. Ruben saves Joseph from being put to death by his brothers and, in turn, Joseph, who was sold to the Israelites on their way to Egypt,  saved his brothers and his father from dying of starvation during a severe famine that hit that area. The son killed by the tenants in the parable Jesus tells the Pharisees is a foreshadow of Jesus being put to death on Calvary.

The questions I need to ponder are: Who am I in these Scripture readings? Israel playing favorites? Joseph who is given special treatment and thus hated by others denied the same favors? one of Joseph's brothers jealous of others, speaking ill of others, plotting against others? Am I a Reuben who intervenes for the sake of others? Am I one of the tenants intent on stealing the produce entrusted to me by another and resorting to whatever it takes to get what I want?  Or am I an upright, honest person, following Jesus' example?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Listening and Responding Caringly

In today's Gospel, Luke 16: 19-31, Jesus tells the Pharisees the story of "a ricman...dressed in purple garments and fine linen [who] dined sumptuously each day. ...[L]ying at his door was a poor man Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the craps that fell from the rich man's table."  Both men died. The rich man ends up in eternal torment while Lazarus entered heaven.  The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers to pay attention to the poor. Abraham refuses, telling the fallen rich man that his five brothers have Moses and the prophets. They should listen to them. "Oh, no, Abraham," the rich man responds, "if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent."  Abraham responds: "If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead."

Someone has risen from the dead who is Jesus the Lord. Am I listening to Him? Do I pay attention to the small, whispering voice within me guiding me, urging me, encouraging me to respond to the needs of the poor in my midst? The "poor" could be the homeless man/woman standing on a street corner, a fellow parishioners suffering from a terminal or chronic illness, the helpless child in one's home, an infant who is crying out of hunger or sleeplessness or needing a diaper change, a spouse who is exhausted from the demands of caring for toddlers all day. The Spirit may alert me to stop for groceries on the way home from work or some other errand on behalf of the family. Am I listening? Am I responding or do I simply ignore that small, quiet voice, as, most likely, the rich man did when he passed Lazarus by the gate of his mansion!