5 Lent: March 25 / 26, 2023
Is your word – my word? Let’s see if it is. . .
Jesus stands outside the stone-cold tomb where Lazarus’ body has been lying for four days.
And in spite of the warnings there will be a stench – and the affirmation of the fact that Lazarus has been dead for four days – significant – because the Jews thought the Spirit of a person hovered over them for 3 days after their death – the indication being Lazarus’ was REALLY dead - -and his spirit is long gone. . .
In spite of this – Jesus boldly cries out in a loud voice: “Lazarus: come out!” And Lazarus did come out of the tomb - still tied hand and foot with burial cloths – and Jesus says to those standing around: “Untie him and let him go.”
Jesus called Lazarus forth to NEW LIFE - which gives me my word, or rather words for the week: NEW LIFE.
Because not only does Jesus call Lazarus forth to new life - -he continually calls us – not just during these 40 days of Lent - -and the 50 days of Easter – isn’t nice that Easter lasts longer than Lent? That the feasting lasts longer than the fasting??
Jesus calls us forth to new life now – and throughout our lives.
We are constantly called through the process of conversion - day after day - week after week - year after year – over a lifetime – to always be willing to embrace NEW LIFE – to leave the past behind and commit ourselves to becoming more and more like Jesus.
It is a calling – we have to be willing and able to hear Jesus say: come out! So we have to be listening – the word for the first Sunday of Lent.
And then we have to be open to the help and support of others as “Jesus said to them: Untie him, and let him go” - the word for the 2nd Sunday of Lent = support: who is going to help unbind us as we come out of the tomb??
So through the support of others and quite possibly through the challenges of those we may not alway agree with or be friends with – the Samaritans we meet along our journey of life – so the word for the 3rd Sunday of Lent = engagement.
Even by our engagement with – and quite possibly the engagement we NEED with those who are different from us - who stretch us a bit, who get us out of our comfort zones – we have to be unbound – we have to release our former ways of thinking, acting, judging, criticizing, being and behaving – not because we want to – but because we have to – if we want to enjoy NEW LIFE.
And of course we have to be willing to affirm the fact that Jesus, the one we worship – actually achieves these things within us through the power of the Holy Spirit: not us doing these things on our own.
And so here is the picture for the week: NEW LIFE! Which is about to burst forth for us as we move into spring.
And here are some things to reflect on:
Are we always ready to be drawn to something bigger than ourselves – or are we content to stay in our set ways – the confines of our dark tombs?
How is Christ calling each of us to “come out” to new life?
And what do we need to let go of in order to enjoy the new life Christ is offering us?
Who is Christ placing in our lives to “untie us and let us go?” Or would we rather hang out with those who bind us with their prejudices, hates, misunderstandings, and cruel words often coming in forms of jokes?
How are we different now than when we began this Lenten journey?
And how can we all be a little different by the time Pentecost rolls around – and what will we need to do to get there?
NEW LIFE – isn’t something we all want?? And eventually, through the grace and mercy of God - we will all one day enjoy new life which will last for all eternity.
4 Lent: March 18 / 19, 2023
As Jesus passed by – he saw a man blind from birth.
Jesus smeared clay on the blind man’s eyes and said to him, “go and wash in the pool of Siloam–” where the sick of Jerusalem often bathed, hoping for a cure.
So at this point, after his engagement with Jesus – the man was still blind. It wasn’t until he DID wash in the pool of Siloam that he was, indeed, able to see.
I think it is interesting to note the man did not attribute his cure to the healing waters of Siloam – but he attributes his cure to Jesus: “he put clay on my eyes, and now I see.”
And the blind man who could not see – continues to give credit to Jesus – as the source of his cure – even though his neighbors and the Pharisees tried to criticize Jesus and to discredit the man’s testimony about Jesus.
No this nameless man – remained faithful to Jesus and says at the very end of the Gospel, “I do believe Lord,” and he WORSHIPED Jesus.
And that’s my word for the week [which may not be your word] WORSHIP: the act of ardent, humble devotion.
And this is the picture. [Woman with upraised arms in prayer]
And this is what I want you to reflect on:
Who or what do we worship in life?? Now of course we all want to say – why of course, Jesus – or we would not be here right?
But is that truly the case?? Could someone watch to see how we spend our time, our talent, and our treasure – and say, yes – that person has Christ as the center of their lives. . .
Worshiping Jesus – is a fine answer – as long as what we see, hear, and do HERE - does effect what we do and say the rest of the week – how we live our lives, how we make our decisions, how we spend our time, talent, and treasure. . . we can’t put in the time on Sunday – and not walk the walk the rest of the week — and say that we truly worship Jesus!
When we are somewhat successful in our professions, our relationships, our life in general – do we always give the credit to God – or do we think we do these things completely on our own??
Are we pulled away from focussing on Jesus by our neighbors, our work, our other commitments in life??
Who – or what – do we worship in life?
Ponder these things – and then read the Gospel for next Sunday to discover your word that may – or may not – be my word for next Sunday. . .
3 Lent: March 11/12, 2023
What’s your word for today which captures the meaning of the Gospel for you?? And then see if we are anywhere close when I get around to telling you my word for the day. . .
Once upon a time, in one of my former parishes, which will remain anonymous to protect the innocent. . . There was a couple that I just did not see eye to eye with.
Politically, we were at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Theologically, we were totally different.
Socially, we would never move in the same circles.
As far as I knew, we had no common interests whatsoever – except our faith.
But, lo and behold, one day - an invitation for dinner was extended by them – and I thought – why not?
I had no idea how we were going to keep a conversation going through the evening. And I thought I would be miserable – and kicking myself for being so crazy as to accept this invitation. But at the time, I was willing to try.
And at the end of that evening we spent together – I was actually surprised that I had somewhat of a pleasant time!
Oh, I knew better than to think we would now be close friends – or even that I would ever want to repeat the experience – but at least we got to know each other better – I would like to think we understood each other a little more –
And each of us could have a little less animosity – and a little more respect for each other.
At the end of the evening – I still knew Jesus’ command of loving even your enemies was a tough nut to crack — but I at least knew for sure it’s possible to dislike your enemies a little less – without too much difficulty.
And this all came about because of a conversation – an interaction – an engagement.
In our Gospel today – Jesus had all the reasons in the world not to converse with this woman at the well – and she had just as many reasons not to talk to him either.
Morally – they were certainly at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Socially – well, in their patriarchal society – a man would never speak to a woman – especially when they were alone in a public place.
They were certainly pushing the boundaries!
Religiously – Jesus was a Jew and she was a Samaritan – and there was mutual animosity between these two groups which went back 100s of years – for on their release from the Babylonian Captivity – the Jews rebuilt the holy Temple in Jerusalem without inviting the Samaritans to help –
and so not feeling welcome in Jerusalem – the Samaritans built their own places of worship – and were shunned ever since.
So a woman who comes to perform an ordinary task on an ordinary day – soon finds herself in an extraordinary conversation – one which would change her life.
For Jesus wants something more than water. Jesus wants this woman’s faith. So he probes and questions, demonstrating his prophetic knowledge of her life and his willingness to satisfy the deepest thirst in her heart.
Jesus offers her LIVING WATER. He is that water, the one who can so fill those who receive him – that they will never be thirsty, lifeless, or aimless again. Jesus wants her to drink him in.
And she does – and soon – she acts just like a disciple – carrying the good news of what happened to her to others – and inviting them to come and see this man called Jesus.
An ordinary task, on an ordinary day – leads to an extraordinary conversation which changed more than just two people’s lives — all because two people were willing to let their guard down – and have a conversation – an interaction – and engagement. . .
And that is my word for the week: ENGAGEMENT– the act of entering into conversation with another.
And this is the picture.
[Young couple sitting on a railroad tracks facing each other - talking]
So who do you most need to have a conversation with this Lent?
Who are you at opposite ends of the political /religious/ social /economic spectrum with –
Who do you continue to judge or avoid – that if you just let your guard down and have a conversation / an interaction / an engagement with — you might come to understand each other a little more – and each of you could have a little less animosity – and a little more respect for each other??
This person could be someone in your family, someone you work with, someone in the neighborhood, someone you meet on the street or in the grocery store – maybe even someone at Church . . .
Who do you most need to have an engagement with – a conversation with – this Lent?
Then make the call. Have the conversation. Engage one another in dialogue – and make the world just a little less hostile and a little more pleasant place. . .
Darren Poke writes a blog called “Better Life Coaching” which I follow. Here’s Darren’s take on this. He writes:
The world seems very angry at the moment.
People are angry at each other.
They’re angry and suspicious, fearful and distrusting.
Let’s change that. Let’s build bridges and not walls.
Let’s engage with those who are different from us. Let’s forgive those who have hurt us.
Let’s take an interest in the perspective of others. Let’s laugh with others — not at them.
Let’s soften our tone with those who disagree with us. Let’s open our arms to those who have been hurt.
Let’s encourage those who have lost hope.
Let’s change the world and make it a nicer place for everyone. . . one conversation at a time.
I think Jesus would agree.
2 Lent: March 4 / 5, 2023
So I hope you did your homework. I hope you read the readings for today – especially the Gospel – and have found your one word description for this week. Now let’s see if we agree on the choice. . .
At this point of our reading from St. Matthew's Gospel today -- chapter 17 (??) Jesus and his disciples have been through a lot together.
1st of all, Jesus has called each of them by name to come and follow after him. They listened – and responded to the call.
And Jesus has told them several times about the demands of being a disciple -- usually tough stuff - like even loving your enemies!
And Jesus has tried to teach them how to pray, how to put others first, and how they must keep God at the center of their lives.
And the disciples have seen Jesus cure lots of people, calm a storm, and confront the Scribes and Pharisees in their hypocrisy.
And Jesus has even given the disciples a trial run to go out on their own -- to proclaim the kingdom of God -- and they did all right, coming back to him with great success stories.
But even though Jesus and the disciples have already been through a lot together -- it pales in comparison to what is to come.
For after this transfiguration moment – Jesus sets his eyes on Jerusalem – and it is one fast journey to the cross.
IF Jesus can stay focused on what he needs to do, and hopefully get the disciples to stay focused on what they need to do -- they will be able to get through inconveniences, set-backs, road blocks, pain & suffering -- on the road to eternal life.
So in order to stay focused -- Jesus chooses NOT to spend time alone -- as he did last week in the desert --but he chooses to take his three closest disciples: Peter, James, and John -- up the mountain with him.
And there they encounter, actually converse with, the Gospel tells us -- with Moses and Elijah --meaning they spend time interacting with the law and the prophets -- that is, the Jewish Scriptures.
So Jesus knows what awaits him -- suffering and death. He knows it’s not going to be easy. And so this time on the mountain is an intense period of preparing for things to come -- and hopefully a time to dispel the worries and fears of Peter, James, and John --and further prepare them for what they will have to face.
We know this was time well spent for Jesus -- for as the Eucharistic prayer will say today: "he did disdain, that is reject,
to be nailed for our sake to the wood of the cross."
And it must have worked somewhat for Peter, James, and John --for right before going up the mountain, Jesus tells the disciples what was coming down the pike -- his suffering and death -- and all of them protested, especially Peter, who said: "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you."
But shortly after this mountaintop experience -- Jesus tells them a second time what is coming, and although this time they were "overwhelmed with grief" -- there were no cries of protest, no out-right denials of the possibilities --
so the disciples are at least beginning to wrap their minds and hearts around the future -- although all but John will scatter and hide when the time of crucifixion comes.
So that brings me to my word for the week -- which may not necessarily be your word. My word is SUPPORT.
Jesus went to the mountaintop with Peter, James, and John – to soak up their SUPPORT --and the support of the Jewish Scriptures -- the law and the prophets, and ultimately the support of God ----- so that he would not disdain the wood of the cross.
The desert is a place for quiet -- a place for listening. . . But the mountaintop, accompanied by your closest friends -- is a place for SUPPORT.
And here is the picture --
And -- this is what I leave you to reflect on:
Who do we soak up support from -- especially when we have something difficult to face?
Do we spend any time with the law and the prophets -- that is the scriptures -- before we make a major decision --or even a minor one -- in our lives?
Who walks with us on our journey of life?
Who do we hang out with -- people who lift us up - or people who drag us down?
Who holds our hand, gives us comfort or encouragement - helps us to choose the right path – and helps steer us in the right direction?
As one author said: find a group of people who challenge and inspire you and support you. Spend as much time as you can with them – and it will change your life.
So ponder these things – and then be sure to spend some time with Moses and Elijah – that is the Scriptures for next Sunday – and find your word.
1 Lent: Feb. 25/26, 2023
So here we are: the 1st Sunday of Lent. And this will be our plan for today and the next 4 Sundays.
Several weeks ago, I began reading and reflecting and praying about the Gospel Readings for this season.
After letting things percolate for a few days - I went back and read the Gospels again - this time looking for just one word that I thought captured the meaning or lesson for each Sunday.
So part one of the Lenten plan is to present one word -- for each Sunday. One word for YOU to reflect and pray about for the week.
Part two of the plan was to look for a picture that gave an image of that one word -- an additional thing for you to reflect and pray about for the week -- just in case you are a visual person rather than an audible person.
So one word -- one picture for each Sunday of Lent. . .
So that's the plan. The process for every Sunday will be for me to tell you how I arrived at my word.
Then to show you the picture that captured the essence of that word for me. For like they say: a picture is worth a 1,000 words. . .
And then I will leave you with a couple of things to reflect upon for the coming week: all so that we can get through this season of change and conversion and growth – through its roadblocks, set –backs, hardships and distractions – because change is never easy --- all so that we can have new life as we celebrate the great feast of Easter.
Now my word -- may not be your word. So feel free – and in fact feel challenged – to read the Gospel before you come to Mass next Sunday – the Gospel as well as the other two reading are always listed on the front of the bulletin --- and see if you can come up with just one word that captures the meaning of the Gospel for you –
or try to guess what my word will be. . . See how many times, if any -- we can land on the same the word. . .
So -- the first Sunday of Lent - as always we go to the desert with Jesus.
The desert is a very quiet place. It's one of those places that are so quiet -- you can hear your own heartbeat and detect your own breathing.
And the desert can be a very lonely place -- there's nobody else there but you. And so you have to learn how to be comfortable with just being by yourself -- a hard thing for many people to do: being by oneself:
with no distractions, no noise, no sounds -- just the quiet-- and then //// then in that quiet - the voice of God can speak to you.
The psychologist Carl Jung said years ago: "noise, busyness, and the crowds in our life -- are not the work of the devil --- they ARE the devil --
And I add – they are the devil -- tempting us, just as the devil tempted Jesus -- to NOT pay attention to what God may be trying to tell us and call us to be.
Yes all of those things: noise, busyness, crowds -- that is always being with someone and never being alone -- keep us from nurturing the quiet we need in our lives -- and keep us from becoming comfortable with just being by ourselves –
with no distractions – all of which can keep us from listening to God.
So, I think to have a productive Lent -- one that can inflame us with new hope.
-one that can purify our hearts and minds.
-one that can dispel the darkness of our hearts -- and bring us new life in the light of Jesus Christ --
we have to deal with the noise, the busyness, the crowds in our lives -- so we can LISTEN to the voice of God speaking to us.
We can't have a productive Lent without going to the desert. And we can't have a productive Lent without creating moments of quiet in our lives so that we can LISTEN to where God wants to lead us.
And so the word of the week is LISTEN -- and here is the picture --
And here is what are offer you to reflect upon this week: What are you going to do this LENT - to enter into the desert -- so that you can listen to the voice of God. . .?
How are you going to control the noise --- lessen the busyness -- and avoid the crowds -- so that you can better listen to God – so you can discern where God wants to lead you and what God is calling you to do ???
Remember: noise, busyness, and the crowds in our life are not the work of the devil: they ARE the devil – the devil tempting us, just as Christ was tempted in the desert.
The devil is tempted us to pay attention to the world, or what we want – keeping us from listening to God: So how are you going to change that this Lent?
7 Ordinary: 18/19 February 2023
So Jesus, the master teacher, continues his Sermon on the Mount today: teaching us how to be faithful and intentional disciples.
But before we get to Jesus' lesson for the day: for the past few weeks we have been hearing from another master teacher: St. Paul in his first letter to the Church in Corinth.
Paul has been urging the members of this young church to avoid the "wisdom of the world."
Scripture scholars have helped me to understand the "wisdom" of the ancient Roman society the Corinthians would have faced:
It was decadent: pleasure ruled.
It was self-centered: take care of yourself, have as much fun as you can - and let everyone else take care of themselves.
And it was corrupt: do anything you must do to get ahead - even if means betraying friends, neighbors, or even family.
So if St. Paul was writing to the Church of St. Patrick in our day- what would he classify as today's "wisdom of the world?" Is it much different than ancient Rome?
A quick look at what is fed our minds and hearts on television will give us a quick read on the wisdom of our North American world.
Afternoon soap operas and evening dramas consistently highlight marital infidelity and taking revenge on offended parties.
Participants and audiences go crazy about guessing the correct price of a dream vacation on numerous game shows -- and how about the show named: Family Feud. . .
24 hour news channels certainly give us the message its okay to put people down with whom we disagree. Even get aggressive with them if we need to.
It's easy to find adults working into a frenzy about a bad call or some slight given a sports team or player. Not only on tv – but in games their children are playing in. . .
Even cooking channels give us chefs leaving the kitchen in despair and enraged -- after being chopped from competition.
And who could ever achieve the life of Jersey, the Kardashians, or Desperate Housewives. . .
The wasteland of television certainly reveals something about the wisdom of our world -- and I haven't even touched commercials that tell us we can have much better lives if we lost some weight, drove the right car - and used the right dish soap –
as long as we don't put it in the dishwasher!!
Instead, like with the Corinthians -- Paul would insist that we embrace the wisdom of God, most clearly present in the sacrificial love found in the cross of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Now on to Jesus, who, as he did last week, gives us some examples of how we can embrace his new law of love-- given to us in the Beatitudes.
Jesus speaks first about responding to violence: after all, the meek will inherit the land - and the peacemakers will be called children of God. . .
So the Law found in the Old Testament says: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But Jesus says: when someone strikes you on your right cheek – turn the other one as well.
Now Jesus in telling us to turn the other cheek: is not telling battered women, or anyone else, to continue putting up with abuse.
Rather, he is telling us to find creative ways to respond to insults and injuries. Turning the other cheek gives the violent person a chance to reconsider their past action before they do it again.
Next, Jesus' advice involves a little humor. If a poor person is taken to court because someone wants their tunic --- they should give over their coat as well:
standing there naked the action just might embarrass the one who is trying to take advantage of a weaker person.
Roman soldiers often humiliated Jewish residents by forcing them to carry their packs for a mile.
If then, a Jew freely offers to carry the pack for two miles -- he or she demonstrates that they depend on God, not on the power of the rude soldier.
Jesus continues the radical nature of discipleship by urging those who follow him to be generous to those who want to borrow and not worrying about repayment.
Jesus also gives us probably his most challenging way of embracing the cross. The Old Law says you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemies – but Jesus new law says: love your enemies.
He's not talking about having warm feelings for terrorists who want to murder or spread mayhem.
Jesus is calling us to want the best for everyone, even for those who hate us.
Jesus then calls us to be perfect, not in the sense that we will be morally faultless in our daily conduct -- although that would be a noble thing:
but he is calling us to be perfect in the sense that we try to love as God loves: indiscriminately, generously, and with abandonment.
Yes it is easy to love those who will return our favors or invite us to dinner after we invite them to our table. But we all know it is more difficult to love when we know we will never be repaid in any way.
In rejecting the wisdom of this world -- Jesus isn't asking us to become doormats. Nor does St. Paul - whom no one would consider a doormat!
St. Francis of Assisi taught us the way of being a channel of God's peace. And Martin Luther King proved that responding in non-violent ways was the best way to secure civil rights.
The same was true of Mahatma Gandhi.
It is much more difficult to embrace the wisdom of the cross than to embrace the wisdom of the world which often promotes violence, hatred, betrayal, greed, and misunderstanding.
But IF we have the courage to embrace the wisdom of the cross-- then we will truly be holy and the temple of God.
We have done many things in this Church building to enhance our worship space. . . But the real temple dwells not in this building --but in this parish community -- in each one of us -- especially when we take seriously the wisdom of the cross and trust in the transforming love of Jesus Christ –
who died not just for the righteous -- but for everyone.
Through our embracing the cross – we become holy just as God is holy. A good thought to carry with us into Lent – where new life awaits us
6 Ordinary: February 11/12, 2023
So we continue to read from the Sermon on the Mount - which began with the Beatitudes aa couple of weeks ago. And we will finish up next week - right in time for Lent. . .
I hope I don't shock you with the fact that Lent is right around the corner. And it's probably good that we hear almost all the Sermon of the Mount before Lent begins -- as this is the most intense and comprehensive teaching on following Christ that St. Matthew gives us in all of his Gospel. So good food for thought to carry into Lent.
St. Matthew is writing his Gospel for Jewish Christians - he quotes more from the Jewish Scriptures than the other 3 evangelists.
In his Gospel, Matthew wants to demonstrate to his Jewish audience that Jesus is the new Moses -- giving a new Law.
That's why he has Jesus giving this teaching from a mountain, rather than a plain, as does St. Luke in his Gospel.
Much as Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the Law, the 10 Commandments, from God, Jesus gives the new Law from a mountain-side.
And so Jesus presented not 10 -- but 8 beatitudes: eight attitudes which those who follow the new law of love---must put into practice in their lives.
Those who practice these attitudes will be like salt and light -- as we heard last week -- they preserve and enlighten themselves and so those around them.
Today, as Jesus continues his teaching, he addresses the question which would have been on the minds and hearts of the original Jewish readers of this Gospel: HOW DOES THE OLD LAW OF MOSES RELATED TO THIS NEW LAW OF LOVE WHICH JESUS GIVES?
Jesus answers by stating that he has not come to abolish the Law of Moses -- but to fulfill it. Then he gives six specific examples. We hear the first four today -- and surprise, surprise--- will hear the other two next Sunday.
So if we are to become intentional disciples of Jesus and provide salt and light to our world --- we need to reflect on each of the examples and change our behavior if needed -- which is what Lent is all about. . .
The 5th commandment of the Law of Moses forbids murder. But Jesus wants to lessen the chances of that even being a possibility -- by avoiding anger.
Now Jesus is not talking about our human emotion of anger, which we all share.
He is not referring to the healthy ways in which we need to express that human emotion.
No, Jesus is talking about deep seated resentments and hatreds and prejudices which can consume us and damage and destroy human relationships.
That's why we give each other the sign of peace before receiving Christ in the Eucharist - it's a way of saying that we are willing to work on reconciliation with those against whom we may be holding grievances.
The 6th commandment of the Law of Moses forbids adultery. So does Jesus.
However, he also wants to make sure things don't get to that point by warning against the danger of making a person into an object of desire.
Which is why pornography is so dangerous -- it encourages the type of lust which Jesus warns against.
The Law of Moses DID allow for divorce. However, because of the patriarchal society of the time -- only husbands could file for a divorce - and not even have to give a reason.
The wife had absolutely no rights. Once her husband got rid of her - she could be forced into another marriage or even into prostitution in order to survive.
Jesus calls married disciples to a higher standard. And to this day, the Church continues to teach that only death can end a valid bond of marriage.
We do not regard divorce as a way ending a marriage which was validly entered into with full consent. And so the Church urges married couples to do everything possible to repair any damage to a marriage.
The Law of Moses regulated the social system of Jesus' day. A person of lower social status swore an oath to a patron - who cared for them and watched over them and protected them.
While we don't have such a system today -- our peers or our business interests might put us at odds with Gospel values. So Jesus tells us as his disciples - we must always tell the truth and fulfill our oaths to God alone.
In his Sermon on the Mount: Jesus clearly raises the bar of expectations for us, his disciples. Jesus' new law deepens the wisdom which Sirach describes in the first reading.
God has clearly shown forth his love for us in allowing his Son to be sacrificed on the cross. This love is extended to everyone.
But as Sirach points out -- God never forces love upon us -- God always gives us a choice.
We can ignore that love and do whatever we want.
OR, we can choose to imitate that love by living Christ's new commandment to love one another as he has loved us.
Living as faithful and intentional disciples of Jesus involves making life-changing choices to accept God's mysterious wisdom made present in the cross.
Living as faithful and intentional disciples-- doesn't just involve making one big choice for the direction of our lives -- it also involves embracing that wisdom in the choices we make every day.
And in making these daily choices, we live out the Gospel message -- and provide hope in our darkened world – which definitely needs the light of Christ to brighten it.
In living out the Gospel message: day in and day out: WE BECOME SALT AND LIGHT.
4 Ordinary: 28/29 January 2023
Ho-hum many of us probably thought as I read the Gospel - and might have thought – here we go again with those Beatitudes. . . maybe even with a yawn.
I think the problem with the Beatitudes, this first part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – is that we have heard them so many times – that we’ve probably never really stopped to think about them – and then have probably never really understood them. . .
In 2020, hard to believe 3 years ago now – Pope Francis gave a series of talks over the course of 3 months – when he explained in detail, the meaning of each of the Beatitudes.
Those talks are worth reflecting on and you can find them by putting: Pope Francis’ catechesis on the Beatitudes Into your computer’s search engine.
We don’t have time to go into a lot of the details that Pope Francis covered – so instead, I want to lead you through a guided meditation based on Pope Francis’ thoughts.
You may remember we did this a couple of year ago with another Gospel.
A guided meditation is a process where someone else – that would be me – leads you through a reflection –by making statements to get your mind and heart moving in a certain direction to achieve the purpose of relaxation – or a better understanding of a concept or idea.
So although you may be a little more relaxed or less stressed when we are finished – our goal is to achieve a better understanding of the Beatitudes.
So here we go. We start by closing our eyes and just relaxing: doing our best to release the tensions we all carry –by – Breathing in – and breathing out:
Trying to center ourselves in our hearts. And trying to open our ears and our hearts to listen attentively.
So we breath in – and breath out. Trying to think of nothing other than our breathing. And the peace that comes upon us.
Breathing in – and breathing out. Resting and relaxing in the presence of the Lord.
Breathing in and Breathing out.
And Jesus began to teach them by saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The Gospel invites us to peer into the depths of our heart, to see where we find our security in life – so we can configure ourselves to Jesus who, though rich, made himself poor.
So we need to be responsible with our gifts of time and money – and be grateful for what God has given us - and share them generously with others.
Breathing in and out – resting in the Lord.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
The worldly person ignores problems of sickness or sorrow in the family or around them. We avert our gaze. The world has no desire to mourn; it would rather disregard painful situations or cover them up or hide them.
We must not ignore someone who could use our comfort this day. We must pay attention to the pain of others.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
These are strong words in a world where we constantly pigeonhole others on the basis of their ideas, their customs and even their way of speaking or dressing. Ultimately, it is the reign of pride and vanity, where each person thinks he or she has the right to think they are better than others.
Jesus warns us many times about judging others. Those who are meek accept others for who they are and where they are – and only then can love them into being better people.
Breathing in and out – relaxing in the presence of the Lord. Releasing our tensions and random thoughts.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Experience shows how easy it is to become mired in corruption, ensnared in the daily politics of this for that, where everything becomes business or political. How many people suffer injustice, standing by powerlessly while others divvy up the good things of this life?
We must use our power or position today - at either at work, in society, or in our families to make sure all people may be raised up to a new hope. Our eyes must be opened to the needs of others so that we do not benefit to the neglect or cost of others.
Breathing in and out – centering our hearts on the Lord. . .
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Be merciful, even as God is merciful. Judge not and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.
We must avoid, even in small ways, seeking revenge against someone who has wronged us. We must comfort those who labor and are burdened.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Nothing stained by falsehood has any real worth in the Lord’s eyes. God flees from deceit, and rises and departs from foolish thoughts.
We must not let our prideful or impure thoughts lead us to unloving actions. And we must all stand as living witness to truth, peace, and justice.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
We ourselves are often a cause of conflict – or at least of misunderstanding. For example, I may hear something about someone and go off and repeat it. I may even embellish it the second time around and keep spreading it. . .
And the more harm it does, the more satisfaction I seem to derive from it.
We should always use our words to build people up – rather than tear them down. For spreading gossip causes conflict and misunderstanding - and if we do it for our own benefit or pleasure: it is sinful.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven.
In living the Gospel, we cannot expect everything will be easy, for the thirst for power and worldly interests often stands in our way.
We must not neglect our call to holiness in favor of an easier way of living. When others treat us unfairly – we should not allow ourselves to become bitter or lash out in anger or defensiveness.
So we open our eyes - and end by praying:
Lord Jesus - you have given us these Beatitudes as a way of focusing ourselves: our thoughts, our words, our actions – on the kingdom of heaven.
May the prayer we have engaged in here - always effect the way we live our lives when we leave this place. We ask this in your name. AMEN!
2 Ordinary: January 14/15, 2023
Many years ago, I was spending a few days with a friend of mine in Austin, Texas. After a full and lengthy meal - he had to go off to a meeting - and even though he told me not to bother - I decided to do the dishes.
After clearing the table and loading the dishwasher – I looked for some soap to put in the dishwasher. Not finding any, I thought the next best thing would be to just to use regular dish-washing soap - so I put a capful or so in.
After reading for awhile, I came out to check on the progress of the washing cycle – and found soap suds all over the kitchen floor.
I learned two things: a little bit of dish soap goes a long way — and to never put it in the dishwasher. . .
A little bit goes along way. Or perhaps another way of saying it – little things can lead to great things. . .
And I think that’s the message of today’s scripture readings. . . Little things can lead to great things. . .
When the prophet Isaiah arrived on the scene – the nation of Israel and its people were not doing very well.
The surrounding more powerful nations often picked on tiny Israel and - due to their own trust issues and infidelity to God – God allowed the chosen people to be bullied and enslaved as a result of their own sins - even though God loved them dearly.
Our first reading reminds us that God can do great things with very little – for God never has or ever will - abandon God’s people: God will raise Israel up to become a “light to the nations, that God’s salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
Likewise in our second reading: St. Paul is reminding the young Church in Corinth that although right now they are small in number and in power – they are called to be holy - and God will use them to do great things.
Then there is John the Baptist - who lived as more of a hermit with questionable fashion and dietary habits – then as a spokesperson for God.
But God used this obscure desert dweller to put the Pharisees in their place – the people on notice – and the Lord Jesus on his Mission.
The point of all this? We might get up in the morning, look in the mirror – and see everything that we are lacking. We may well wonder what we have to offer those in our lives and those in our part of the world.
But God doesn’t see us that way. As we have been professing in our Christmas Creed the last several weeks:
If you believe the one who proclaimed the love of God to be invincible, and whose cradle was a mother’s arms, who looked at persons and made them see what God’s loves saw in them, who by love brought sinners back to purity,
and lifted human weakness up to meet the strength of God – then say AMEN!
God doesn’t see the way we see. God doesn’t focus on what we seem to lack but on our capacity to love.
God sees all God designed us to be and all that we can become by the help of grace.
May favorite blogger: Darren Poke, puts it this way:
It’s easy to look at the success of others and think that they are a rare breed of person and you could never have the impact that they have.
It’s easy to look at your skills and capabilities and think that you don’t have much to offer.
It’s easy to look back at your track record of mediocre results and think that this is your future destiny as well.
It’s easy to listen to the critics who don’t believe in you, allowing their voices to become the ones you listen to the most.
But let me encourage you today – to NOT underestimate your potential!
You have the potential to develop your unique skills to an elite level.
You have the potential to roll up your sleeves and work hard toward meaningful goals.
You have the potential to positively influence and inspire the people around you.
You have the potential to change the world!
The moment we all realize this and start taking action— we give ourselves the chance to turn our potential into a phenomenal reality.
God doesn’t see the way we do. God doesn’t focus on what we seem to lack but on our capacity to love.
God sees all God designed us to be and all that we can become by the help of grace.
We are greater than we can ever imagine. We can become a saint - a true light to the nations - and all God needs is our YES! So what is our answer going to be??
Mother of God: Dec. 31/Jan. 1
On Christmas we heard these wonderful words which brought about our salvation: “While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son.”
I have been called into delivery rooms shortly after a baby has born – but I have never been present for the birth of a child.
I can well imagine, though – the last thing a mother or a father wants after sometimes a very lengthy delivery – is what happens to this young couple right after the birth of their sacred child:
“The shepherds (definitely in the plural) went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant- lying in a manger.”
Next week we will hear of the three wisemen or magi (again, definitely in the plural) who were “overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary, his mother.”
From these Scriptures we know that Mary and Joseph and Jesus – had a lot of visitors. All of them invited by God in some way –but probably a pain and an inconvenience for the Holy Family with a new baby in the house.
Perhaps we felt the same way about some of the visitors and guests we encountered during these holydays. . .
It is almost inevitable each year that Chrsitmas time can become a very stressful time.
Christmas often gathers family and friends. Sometimes the most difficult relationships of our lives all coming together in one place at one time.
Who among us, in our experience of Christmas, did not have some difficult experience with someone?
A word was said meanly. An old wound was re-opened. Someone was going through a hard time and was coping very badly.
We rediscovered how much someone really drives us crazy. And O the things that can annoy us!
And alcohol - intended as a traditional holiday element to add cheer – can make everything worse.
Christmas is about the Love of God coming into the world to be the light in the midst of the world’s darkness. Christmas is about the invitation to receive the light of Christ into our own hearts and to let that light shine in us and through us as it did in Jesus.
To be a disciple of light, we have to let go of the darkness and let the light into our hearts.
We have to forgive. We have to be patient. We have to try to understand and accept others for who they are and where they are.
We have to love the way Christ loved.
And the only way we can do all this is to continue to let the healing grace of Christmas touch us.
Since we do not get to celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on a Sunday this year – the price of Christmas being on a Sunday – perhaps it will do us well to reflect on these words of Pope Francis. The Holy Father said in one of his Sunday Angelus addresses:
We are invited to open ourselves to the light of Christ and bear fruit in our lives - to get rid of the behaviors that are not Christian.
This path of life begins in Baptism when we are illuminated by Christ. Through our Baptism we are called to carry ourselves as children of the light - with humility, patience, and mercy.
The Sacrament of Baptism demands a choice- firm and decided, to live as children of the light and to walk in the light of Christ.
What does it mean to walk in the light? It means first of all abandoning all the false lights of the world like the cold and foolish light of prejudices against others.
Another false light which is so seductive is self-interest.
Pope Francis concludes by praying:
May the blessed virgin Mary, who first welcomed Jesus, the light of the world – grant us grace to welcome again this Christmas season the light of faith and rediscover the inestimable gift of Baptism.
And may this enlightenment transform us – both in attitudes and in actions - starting from our poverty of littleness, to be bearers of a ray of Christ’s light.
Mary knew the poverty of littleness of which Pope Francis speaks quite well. She knew that innocence is born in poverty and suffers greatly in trying to be faithful to the way of Christ.
And it is why she kept all the greetings and gifts and commotions, and disturbances, and annoyances her many postnatal visitors brought to her – reflecting on them in her heart.
So as we celebrate this feast, and begin a new year:
May the Lord bless and keep us. May the Lord let his face shine upon us and be gracious to us. May the Lord give us the grace we need - to bear the light of Christ into the darkness of world. AMEN!
Moments in time...