Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fifth Week of Lent: Wednesday

FIRST READING (Daniel 3:14-20, 24-25, 28)
King Nebuchadnezzar said to them, "Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image which I have set up?

Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image which I have made, well and good; but if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace; and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?"

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up."

Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was wont to be heated. And he ordered certain mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He said to his counsellors, "Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?" They answered the king, "True, O king."

He answered, "But I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods."

Nebuchadnezzar said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set at nought the king's command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God."

GOSPEL (John 8:31-42)
Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."

They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say, `You will be made free'?"

Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me, because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father."

They answered him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would do what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God; this is not what Abraham did. You do what your father did."

They said to him, "We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God."

Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.much to judge; but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him."

They did not understand that he spoke to them of the Father. So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him."

As he spoke thus, many believed in him.

What saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego from the fiery furnace? It was their obedience to God's will. They were willing to suffer death rather than disobey their God. God was with them in the fiery furnace and he rewarded them for their faithfulness. Jesus came to do the will of his Father in heaven. He was not spared the cross which he willing embraced for our sake. His obedience reversed the curse of Adam's disobedience. The Father crowned him with victory over sin, death, and Satan. Jesus shows us the way to true freedom and victory - by freely submitting our heart, mind, and will to an all-merciful, all-loving, and all-wise God. What the Father offers us in exchange is a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans14:17). The happiest, freest people are those who delight in God. Their joy is the pleasure of doing the Father's will. Do you know the joy of obeying God and trusting in his life-giving word?

The world presents us with a false notion of truth and freedom - "truth is relative so I choose my own criteria for what is true" and worldly freedom means "I can do whatever I please - regardless of what God or others might think." This is really a mask for slavery to one's passions and unruly desires. Jesus offers his disciples true freedom - freedom from slavery to pride and arrogance, disbelief and ignoranc, selfishness and greed, hatred and revenge, fear and anxiety, despair and depression, and a host of many other hurtful desires and addictions which cripple our lives. The good news is that Jesus Christ has truly set us free from sin and its destructive force in our lives. How is this possible? Through the gift and power of the Holy Spirit we can choose to renounce sin and we can yield to God's grace which enables us to walk each day and each moment in Christ's way of love and holiness.

A disciple is a follower and a listener. If we want to follow Christ and live as his disciples, then we must listen to the words of Jesus, with a humble and teachable spirit. As we listen with faith and obey with trust, Christ himself gives us grace - the enabling power of his Holy Spirit - to live, think, and act in the truth of his word. Do you believe in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to change your life and to set you free to walk in Christ's way of love and holiness? .
(From Don Shwager's Website)

Good Jesu,
fountain of love:
fill me with thy love,
absorb me into thy love,
compass me with thy love,
that I may see all things
in the light of thy love,
receive all things
as tokens of thy love,
speak of all things
in words breathing of thy love,
win through thy love
others to thy love;
be kindled, day by day,
with a new glow of thy love,
until I be fitted to enter
into thine everlasting love,
to adore thy love
and love to adore thee,
my God and my all.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882)

Fifth Week of Lent: Tuesday

FIRST READING (Numbers 21:4-9)
From Mount Hor the Hebrews set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food."

Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.

And the people came to Moses, and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us."

So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live." So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

GOSPEL (John 8:21-30)
Jesus said to the Pharisees, "I go away, and you will seek me and die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come."

Then said the Jews, "Will he kill himself, since he says, `Where I am going, you cannot come'?"

He said to them, "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he."

They said to him, "Who are you?" Jesus said to them, "Even what I have told you from the beginning. I have much to say about you and much to judge; but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him."

They did not understand that he spoke to them of the Father. So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him."

As he spoke thus, many believed in him.

Do you know the healing power of the cross of Christ? When the people of Israel were afflicted with serpents in the wilderness because of their sin, God instructed Moses: "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live" (Numbers 21:8). The bronze serpent points to the cross of Christ which defeats sin and death and obtains everlasting life for those who believe. The result of Jesus "being lifted up on the cross" and his rising and exaltation to the Father's right hand in heaven, is our "new birth in the Spirit" and adoption as sons and daughters of God. God not only redeems us, but he fills us with his own divine life and power that we might share in his glory. Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit that we may have power to be his witnesses and to spread and defend the gospel by word and action, and to never be ashamed of Christ's Cross. Are you ready to witness the truth and joy of the gospel to those around you?

While many believed in Jesus and his message, many others, including the religious leaders, opposed him. Some openly mocked him when he warned them about their sin of unbelief. It's impossible to be indifferent to Jesus' word and his judgments. We are either for him or against him. There is no middle ground or neutral parties. When Jesus spoke about going away he was speaking about his return to his Father and to his glory. His opponents could not follow him because by their continuous disobedience to the word of God and their refusal to accept him, they had shut themselves off from God. Jesus warned them that if they continued to refuse him they would die in their sins. Jesus' words echoed the prophetic warning given to Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 3:18 and 18:18) where God warns his people to heed his word before the time is too late. God gives us time to turn to him and to receive his grace, but that time is right now.

To sin literally means to miss the mark or to be off target. The essence of sin is that it diverts us from God and from our true purpose in life - to know the source of all truth and beauty which is God himself and to be united with God in everlasting joy. When Adam and Eve first sinned, they hid themselves from God (Genesis 3:8-10). That is what sin does; it separates us from the One who is all loving, all-wise, and all-just. Jesus went on to explain that if people could not recognize him in his word, they would have the opportunity to recognize him when he is "lifted up"on the cross of Calvary. Jesus pointed to the atoning sacrifice of his life on the cross as the true source of healing and victory over the sin of the world. The sacrifice of Christ's life on the cross for our sins is the ultimate proof of God's love for us. God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). To fail to recognize Jesus and where he came from is to remain in spiritual darkness; to believe Jesus and his words is to walk in the joy and light of God's truth. There are certain opportunities in life that come and do not return. Each of us is given the opportunity to know and to accept Jesus Christ, as our Lord and Savior. But that opportunity can be rejected and lost. Life here is limited and short, but how we live it has everlasting consequences. Do you take advantage of the present time to make room for God so that your life will count for eternity?

(From Don Shwager's Website)

And . . . if you have time . . . read this passage from St Leo the Great, which is set for the Office of Readings today.

"Our understanding, which is enlightened by the Spirit of truth, should receive with purity and freedom of heart the glory of the cross as it shines in heaven and on earth. It should see with inner vision the meaning of the Lord's words when he spoke of the imminence of his passion: The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Afterward he said: Now my soul is troubled, and what am I to say? Father, save me from this hour. But it was for this that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your Son. When the voice of the Father came from heaven, saying, I have glorified him, and will glorify him again, Jesus said in reply to those around him: It was not for me that this voice spoke, but for you. Now is the judgement of the world, now will the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself.

"How marvellous the power of the cross; how great beyond all telling the glory of the passion: here is the judgement-seat of the Lord, the condemnation of the world, the supremacy of Christ crucified.

"Lord, you drew all things to yourself so that the devotion of all peoples everywhere might celebrate, in a sacrament made perfect and visible, what was carried out in the one temple of Judea under obscure foreshadowings.

"Now there is a more distinguished order of Levites, a greater dignity for the rank of elders, a more sacred anointing for the priesthood, because your cross is the source of all blessings, the cause of all graces. Through the cross the faithful receive strength from weakness, glory from dishonour, life from death.

"The different sacrifices of animals are no more: the one offering of your body and blood is the fulfilment of all the different sacrificial offerings, for you are the true Lamb of God: you take away the sins of the world. In yourself you bring to perfection all mysteries, so that, as there is one sacrifice in place of all other sacrificial offerings, there is also one kingdom gathered from all peoples.

"Dearly beloved, let us then acknowledge what Saint Paul, the teacher of the nations, acknowledged so exultantly: This is a saying worthy of trust, worthy of complete acceptance: Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners.

"God's compassion for us is all the more wonderful because Christ died, not for the righteous or the holy but for the wicked and the sinful, and, though the divine nature could not be touched by the sting of death, he took to himself, through his birth as one of us, something he could offer on our behalf.

"The power of his death once confronted our death. In the words of Hosea the prophet: Death, I shall be your death; grave, I shall swallow you up. By dying he submitted to the laws of the underworld; by rising again he destroyed them. He did away with the everlasting character of death so as to make death a thing of time, not of eternity. As all die in Adam, so all will be brought to life in Christ."

May the cross of the Son of God,
who is mightier than all the hosts of Satan,
and more glorious than all the angels of heaven,
abide with us in our going out and our coming in.
By day and by night, at morning and at evening,
at all times and in all places,
may it protect and defend us.
From the wrath of evil men,
from the assaults of evil spirits,
from foes visible and invisible,
from the snares of the devil,
from all low passions that beguile the soul and body,
may it guard, protect, and deliver us.
And the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be upon us and remain with us always. Amen.
(An Indian Christaraksha prayer)

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Fifth Week of Lent: Monday

FIRST READING (Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-63)
There was a man living in Babylon whose name was Joakim. And he took a wife named Susanna, the daughter of Hilkiah, a very beautiful woman and one who feared the Lord. Her parents were righteous, and had taught their daughter according to the law of Moses.

Joakim was very rich, and had a spacious garden adjoining his house; and the Jews used to come to him because he was the most honored of them all.

In that year two elders from the people were appointed as judges. Concerning them the Lord had said: "Iniquity came forth from Babylon, from elders who were judges, who were supposed to govern the people."

These men were frequently at Joakim's house, and all who had suits at law came to them. When the people departed at noon, Susanna would go into her husband's garden to walk.

The two elders used to see her every day, going in and walking about, and they began to desire her. And they perverted their minds and turned away their eyes from looking to Heaven or remembering righteous judgments.

Once, while they were watching for an opportune day, she went in as before with only two maids, and wished to bathe in the garden, for it was very hot. And no one was there except the two elders, who had hid themselves and were watching her. She said to her maids, "Bring me oil and ointments, and shut the garden doors so that I may bathe."

When the maids had gone out, the two elders rose and ran to her, and said: "Look, the garden doors are shut, no one sees us, and we are in love with you; so give your consent, and lie with us. If you refuse, we will testify against you that a young man was with you, and this was why you sent your maids away."

Susanna sighed deeply, and said, "I am hemmed in on every side. For if I do this thing, it is death for me; and if I do not, I shall not escape your hands. I choose not to do it and to fall into your hands, rather than to sin in the sight of the Lord."

Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and the two elders shouted against her. And one of them ran and opened the garden doors. When the household servants heard the shouting in the garden, they rushed in at the side door to see what had happened to her.

And when the elders told their tale, the servants were greatly ashamed, for nothing like this had ever been said about Susanna.

The next day, when the people gathered at the house of her husband Joakim, the two elders came, full of their wicked plot to have Susanna put to death. They said before the people, "Send for Susanna, the daughter of Hilkiah, who is the wife of Joakim." So they sent for her. And she came, with her parents, her children, and all her kindred.

But her family and friends and all who saw her wept.

Then the two elders stood up in the midst of the people, and laid their hands upon her head.And she, weeping, looked up toward heaven, for her heart trusted in the Lord.

The elders said, "As we were walking in the garden alone, this woman came in with two maids, shut the garden doors, and dismissed the maids. Then a young man, who had been hidden, came to her and lay with her.We were in a corner of the garden, and when we saw this wickedness we ran to them. We saw them embracing, but we could not hold the man, for he was too strong for us, and he opened the doors and dashed out. So we seized this woman and asked her who the young man was, but she would not tell us. These things we testify."

The assembly believed them, because they were elders of the people and judges; and they condemned her to death.

Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and said, "O eternal God, who dost discern what is secret, who art aware of all things before they come to be, thou knowest that these men have borne false witness against me. And now I am to die! Yet I have done none of the things that they have wickedly invented against me!"

The Lord heard her cry.

And as she was being led away to be put to death, God aroused the holy spirit of a young lad named Daniel; and he cried with a loud voice, "I am innocent of the blood of this woman."

All the people turned to him, and said, "What is this that you have said?"
Taking his stand in the midst of them, he said, "Are you such fools, you sons of Israel? Have you condemned a daughter of Israel without examination and without learning the facts? Return to the place of judgment. For these men have borne false witness against her."

Then all the people returned in haste. And the elders said to him, "Come, sit among us and inform us, for God has given you that right."

And Daniel said to them, "Separate them far from each other, and I will examine them."

When they were separated from each other, he summoned one of them and said to him, "You old relic of wicked days, your sins have now come home, which you have committed in the past, pronouncing unjust judgments, condemning the innocent and letting the guilty go free, though the Lord said, `Do not put to death an innocent and righteous person.' Now then, if you really saw her, tell me this: Under what tree did you see them being intimate with each other?" He answered, "Under a mastic tree."

And Daniel said, "Very well! You have lied against your own head, for the angel of God has received the sentence from God and will immediately cut you in two."

Then he put him aside, and commanded them to bring the other. And he said to him, "You offspring of Canaan and not of Judah, beauty has deceived you and lust has perverted your heart. This is how you both have been dealing with the daughters of Israel, and they were intimate with you through fear; but a daughter of Judah would not endure your wickedness. Now then, tell me: Under what tree did you catch them being intimate with each other?" He answered, "Under an evergreen oak."

And Daniel said to him, "Very well! You also have lied against your own head, for the angel of God is waiting with his sword to saw you in two, that he may destroy you both."

Then all the assembly shouted loudly and blessed God, who saves those who hope in him. And they rose against the two elders, for out of their own mouths Daniel had convicted them of bearing false witness; and they did to them as they had wickedly planned to do to their neighbor; acting in accordance with the law of Moses, they put them to death. Thus innocent blood was saved that day.

GOSPEL (John 8:1-11)
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

Early in the morning he came again to the temple; all the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?"

This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.

And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her."

And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.

But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.

Jesus looked up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again."

Today’s readings move me every time I hear them. They stir up a lot of different emotions. The first reading reminds me of how much I abhor injustice and lies. The two elders, whom people revered because of their wisdom, knew that their word would carry more weight than that of the righteous woman, Susanna. They knew that their reputation would serve as a perfect cover for their accusation and lies. Their lust and power could overcome their “conscience” with impunity. Susanna recognized that she was in a “no win” situation. She chose to trust in the Lord, to trust Him with her predicament. I must admit that I would find it difficult to let go of my “rational” brain and to trust God in such a precarious situation. I often find that I rely on my own problem solving capabilities rather than to rely on the power of prayer. I often forget how powerful it can be to share my problems with the Lord. Susanna was saved because she believed that justice would prevail.

John’s Gospel reminds me of how easy it is to judge others and how easy it is to condemn others for some action. As a psychologist, I teach my students about the “fundamental attribution error.” Individuals tend to attribute invariable dispositions or traits to people’s action while underestimating the impact of situational factors. We are quick to judge others. To make us feel better, we tend to judge others as inferior to our own selves. We see ourselves as “better than average.” This better-than-average effect is helpful in keeping our self-esteem and self-concept intact. However, it also assumes that others are worth somewhat less than us, that they may be acting wickedly while we would refrain from doing the same. Jesus made explicit what we typically do not see: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It is so much easier to judge others than to be honest with ourselves. This story goes to the heart of what it means to be human. We are sinners; we are imperfect and rather than look inwards and ask for forgiveness, we look outward and judge others. I pray that I will not judge others, that I will work toward a just world, and that I will see the light, “even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death.” I pray that I will trust the Lord, for He is at my side.

(Isabelle Cherney - From the Creighton University Website)

O God, your inexhaustible grace enriches us with every blessing.
Give us the gift of abandoning our old life and becoming new,
to be ready for the glory of your heavenly kingdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fifth Week of Lent: Sunday

FIRST READING (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
"Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbour and each his brother, saying, `Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

SECOND READING (Hebrews 5:6-9)
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.

GOSPEL (John 12:20-33)
Among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."

Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus.

And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honour him.

"Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? `Father, save me from this hour'? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify thy name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."

The crowd standing by heard it and said that it had thundered. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him."

Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."He said this to show by what death he was to die.

We continue our spiritual Lenten journey toward the Easter glory. The bread of the Word that we break and share in the Sunday assembly nourishes our faith and strengthens our commitment to participate in the priestly sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world. We are grateful because in him is the gift of the “New Covenant” inscribed by the Spirit of love in the flesh of our heart, inspiring us to a deeper and interior commitment (cf. Jer 31:31-34). The radically new covenant-love relationship with God springs forth from the self-giving passion and death of Jesus, “the little grain of wheat that falls on the ground and dies, producing much fruit” (cf. Jn 12:20-33).

This Sunday’s passage from the letter to the Hebrews (Heb 5:7-9) intensifies our contemplative gaze upon the passion of the Christ for it gives us a remarkable insight into the priestly character of his sufferings. This reading helps us to appreciate the life-giving meaning of the Servant-Son’s obedient stance. It inspires us to a spirit of conversion and thankfulness for the infinite goodness and eternal salvation that flow forth from the priestly sacrifice on the cross. This remarkable text expresses the paschal glorification of Christ with new depth because its shows its connection to priestly mediation.

The Jesuit biblical scholar Albert Vanhoye, a foremost authority on the letter to the Hebrews, comments: “For Christ the path leading to the priesthood was a path of humility and suffering, a path of effective solidarity with human weakness. His priestly office consisted of prayer and supplications emerging from a situation of distress, and they were accompanied by a loud cry and tears. In this way Christ’s whole passion is presented as a priestly action that assumes human anguish in the presence of death and transforms it into an offering of prayer. This prayer was offered to God with reverent submission. Jesus did not pretend to impose his own will on God; instead, he let his Father choose the best solution. This is the reason why he was heard. The divine solution did not consist in preserving him from death; it transformed his sufferings and death into the instrument of definitive victory over evil and over death itself. Distorted by sin, human nature had to learn obedience so that it could forever be reintroduced into God’s intimacy. Since Christ was a Son he did not need this painful learning for himself, yet he accepted it because of his generous solidarity with us. Thus he became the perfect man, fully worthy of being accepted and even enthroned at God’s right hand, and he did that for the sake of all since perfection was the fruit of his complete solidarity with us.”

The following charming story circulated through the Internet illustrates the great consequence of a sacrificial act. “The Necklace” gives us a glimpse of the positive value that resulted from Christ’s priestly act of self-giving sacrifice and the abundant grace poured upon those who obey the Father’s benevolent will.

The cheerful little girl with bouncy golden curls was almost five. Waiting with her mother at the checkout stand, she saw them, a circle of glistening white pearls in a pink foil box. “Oh, Mommy, please, Mommy! Can I have them? Please, Mommy, please?” Quickly the mother checked the price of the little foil box and then looked back into the pleading blue eyes of her little girl’s upturned face. “A dollar ninety-five. That’s almost $2.00. If you really want them, I’ll think of some extra chores for you and in no time you can save enough money to buy them for yourself. Your birthday’s only a week away and you might get another crisp dollar bill from Grandma.”

As soon as Jenny got home, she emptied her piggy bank and counted out 17 pennies. After dinner, she did more than her shares of chores and she went to the neighbor and asked Mrs. Mc James if she could pick dandelions for ten cents. On her birthday, Grandma did give her another dollar bill and at last she had enough money to buy the necklace.

Jenny loved her pearls. They made her feel dressed up and grown up. She wore them everywhere, Sunday school, kindergarten, even to bed. The only time she took them off was when she went swimming or had a bubble bath. Mother said if they got wet, they might turn her neck green.

Jenny has a very loving Daddy and every night when she was ready for bed, he would stop whatever he was doing and come upstairs to read her a story. One night as he finished the story, he asked Jenny, “Do you love me?” “Oh, yes, Daddy. You know that I love you.” “Then give me your pearls.” “Oh, Daddy, not my pearls. But you can have Princess, the white horse from my collection, the one with the pink tail. Remember, Daddy? The one you gave me. She’s my favorite.” “That’s okay, Honey. Daddy loves you. Good night.” And he brushed her cheek with a kiss. About a week later, after the story time, Jenny’s Daddy asked again, “Do you love me?” “Daddy, you know I love you.” “Then give me your pearls.” “Oh, Daddy, not my pearls. But you can have my baby doll. The brand new one I got for my birthday. She is beautiful and you can have the yellow blanket that matches her sleeper.” “That’s okay. Sleep well. God bless, little one. Daddy loves you.” And as always, he brushed her cheek with a gentle kiss.

A few nights later when her Daddy came in, Jenny was sitting on her bed with her legs crossed Indian style. “What is it, Jenny? What’s the matter?” Jenny didn’t say anything, but lifted her little hand up to her daddy. And when she opened it, there was her little pearl necklace. With a little quiver, she finally said, “Here, Daddy; this is for you.” With tears gathering in his own eyes, Jenny’s Daddy reached out with one hand to take the dime store necklace, and with the other hand he reached into his pocket and pulled out a blue velvet case with a strand of genuine pearls and gave them to Jen

He had them all the time. He was just waiting for her to give up the dime store stuff so he could give her the genuine treasure. So it is, with our heavenly Father. He is waiting for us to give up the cheap things in our lives so that he can give us beautiful treasures. (Lectio Divina)

Loving Father,
we thank you for the gift of the New Covenant,
sealed in the blood of your Son Jesus Christ.
He is the little grain of wheat
that falls into the ground and dies
to produce the abundant fruits of salvation.
His “reverent submission” to your saving will
earned for us our eternal salvation.
Help us to be intimately united
with the priestly sacrifice of your Servant-Son on the cross
and thus share in his ultimate victory over death and sin.
By his redemptive passion
and the renewing power of the Holy Spirit,
transform the suffering and anguish
that we encounter in our daily life
into the joy of Easter.
May we always live as true children of the New Covenant,
now and forever. Amen.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Fourth Week of Lent: Saturday

FIRST READING (Jeremiah 11:18-20)
The Lord made it known to me and I knew; then thou didst show me their evil deeds.

But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. I did not know it was against me they devised schemes, saying, "Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more."

But, O Lord of hosts, who judgest righteously, who triest the heart and the mind, let me see thy vengeance upon them, for to thee have I committed my cause.

GOSPEL (John 7:40-53)
When they heard these words, some of the people said, "This is really the prophet."

Others said, "This is the Christ." But some said, "Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the scripture said that the Christ is descended from David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?"

So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

The officers then went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, "Why did you not bring him?" The officers answered, "No man ever spoke like this man!"

The Pharisees answered them, "Are you led astray, you also? Have any of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, who do not know the law, are accursed."

Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, "Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?"

They replied, "Are you from Galilee too? Search and you will see that no prophet is to rise from Galilee."

They went each to his own house

When I get up in the morning I enjoy a cup of strong coffee (some called it “liquid tar”), watch BBC News on TV, and then drive to Creighton listening to NPR. I like a structured life and following a daily routine. Perhaps most of us do. In general, such habits are positive. They relieve us from thinking about each and every little step we take during the day. We simply follow the routine without having to spend a lot of time and energy thinking what we should do next! Click HERE to continue reading . . .

guide us in your gentle mercy,
for left to ourselves
we cannot do your will.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Fourth Week of Lent: Friday

FIRST READING (Wisdom 2:1,12-22)
Ungodly men reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves, "Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange.

"We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father.

"Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God's son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected."

Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hope for the wages of holiness, nor discern the prize for blameless souls.

GOSPEL (John 7:1-2,10,25-30)
Jesus went about in Galilee; he would not go about in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill him.

Now the Jews' feast of Tabernacles was at hand.

After his brethren had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.

Some of the people of Jerusalem said, "Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? Yet we know where this man comes from; and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from."

So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, "You know me, and you know where I come from? But I have not come of my own accord; he who sent me is true, and him you do not know. I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me."

So they sought to arrest him; but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come.

What can hold us back from doing the will of God? Fear, especially the fear of death, can easily rob us of courage and the will to do what we know is right. Jesus met opposition and the threat of death with grace and determination to accomplish his Father’s will. Jesus knew that his mission, his purpose in life, would entail sacrifice and suffering and culminate with death on the cross. But that would not be the end. His “hour” would crush defeat with victory, condemnation with pardon and freedom, and death with glory and everlasting life. He willingly suffered and went to the cross for our sake, to redeem us from sin and to restore our relationship with God the Father. Saint Augustine of Hippo says: “Our Lord had the power to lay down his life and to take it up again. But we cannot choose how long we shall live, and death comes to us even against our will. Christ, by dying, has already overcome death. Our freedom from death comes only through his death. To save us Christ had no need of us. Yet without him we can do nothing. He gave himself to us as the vine to the branches; apart from him we cannot live.”

No one can be indifferent with Jesus for long. What he said and did – his signs and wonders – he did in the name of God. Jesus not only claimed to be the Messiah, God’s Anointed One. He claimed to be in a unique relationship with God and to know him as no one else did. To the Jews this was utter blasphemy. The religious authorities did all they could to put a stop to Jesus because they could not accept his claims and the demands he made. We cannot be indifferent to the claims which Jesus makes on us. We are either for him or against him. There is no middle ground. We can try to mould Jesus to our own ideas and preferences or we can allow his word to free us from our own ignorance, stubborn pride, and deception. Do you accept all that Jesus has said and done for you with faith and reverence or with disbelief and contempt? The consequences are enormous, both in this life and in eternity.
(From Don Schwager's web site)

Eternal God,
who art the light of the minds that know thee,
the joy of the hearts that love thee,
and the strength of the wills that serve thee;
grant us so to know thee,
that we may truly love thee,
and so to love thee
that we may fully serve thee,
whom to serve is perfect freedom,
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Fourth Week of Lent: Thursday

FIRST READING (Exodus 32:7-14)
The Lord said to Moses, "Go down; for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, `These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'"

And the Lord said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people; now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; but of you I will make a great nation."

But Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, "O Lord, why does thy wrath burn hot against thy people, whom thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, `With evil intent did he bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou didst swear by thine own self, and didst say to them, `I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.'"

And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people.

GOSPEL (John 5:31-37)
At that time: Jesus said to the Jews, If I bear witness to myself, my testimony is not true; there is another who bears witness to me, and I know that the testimony which he bears to me is true. You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony which I receive is from man; but I say this that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.

"But the testimony which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness to me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen; and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe him whom he has sent.

"You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

"I do not receive glory from men. But I know that you have not the love of God within you.

"I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.

"How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

"Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; it is Moses who accuses you, on whom you set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?"

Do you know the joy of the gospel and a life fully submitted to Jesus Christ? Jesus' opponents refused to accept his divine authority and claim to be the only Son from the Father. They demanded evidence for his Messianic claim and equality with God. Jesus answers their charges with the supporting evidence of witnesses. The Mosaic law had laid down the principle that the unsupported evidence of one person shall not prevail against a man for any crime or wrong in connection with any offence he committed (see Deuteronomy 17:6). At least two or three witnesses were needed. Jesus begins his defense by citing John the Baptist as a witness, since John publicly pointed to Jesus as the Messiah and had repeatedly borne witness to him (see John 1:19, 20, 26, 29, 35, 36). Jesus also asserts that a greater witness to his identity are the signs he performed. He cites his works, not to point to himself but to point to the power of God working in and through him. He cites God as his supreme witness.

Jesus asserts that the scriptures themselves, including the books of Moses, point to himself as the Messiah, the promised Savior. The problem with the scribes and Pharisees was that they did not believe what Moses had written. They desired the praise of their fellow humans and because of that they were unable to recognize and understand the word of God. Their pride made them deaf to God's voice. God reveals himself to the lowly, to those who trust not in themselves, but in God. The Lord opens the ears of those who are eager to hear his voice and he fills their hearts and minds with his love and wisdom.

Saint Augustine of Hippo says: "As Christians, our task is to make daily progress toward God. Our pilgrimage on earth is a school in which God is the only teacher, and it demands good students, not ones who play truant. In this school we learn something every day. We learn something from commandments, something from examples, and something from sacraments. These things are remedies for our wounds and materials for study." Are you an eager student of God's word and do you listen to it with faith and trust?
(From Don Schwager's web site)

O my God, I give myself to thee.
I trust thee wholly.
Thou art wiser than I –
more loving to me than I myself.
Deign to fulfill thy high purposes in me whatever they be;
work in and through me.
I am born to serve thee,
to be thine,
to be thy instrument.
Let me be thy blind instrument.
I ask not to see,
I ask not to know –
I ask simply to be used.
Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Annunciation of the Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary

FIRST READING (Isaiah 7:10-14)
The Lord spoke to Ahaz, "Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven."
But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test."
And he said, "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

SECOND READING (Hebrews 10:4-10)
It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired, but a body hast thou prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure.

Then I said, `Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,' as it is written of me in the roll of the book."

When he said above, "Thou hast neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings" (these are offered according to the law), then he added, "Lo, I have come to do thy will." He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.

And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

GOSPEL (Luke 1:26-38)
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.

And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!"

But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.

And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end."

And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?"

And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible."

And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."

And the angel departed from her.

"You have heard that you shall conceive and bear a Son; you have heard that you shall conceive, not of man, but of the Holy Spirit. The angel is waiting for your answer: it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for the word of pity, even we who are overwhelmed in wretchedness by the sentence of damnation.

"And behold, to you the price of our salvation is offered. If you consent, straightway shall we be freed. In the Word of God were we all made, and lo! we die; by one little word of yours in answer shall we all be made alive.

"Adam asks this of you, O loving Virgin, poor Adam, exiled as he is from paradise with all his poor wretched children; Abraham begs this of you, and David; this all the holy fathers implore, even your fathers, who themselves are dwelling in the valley of the shadow of death; this the whole world is waiting for, kneeling at your feet.

"And rightly so, for on your lips is hanging the consolation of the wretched, the redemption of the captive, the speedy deliverance of all who otherwise are lost; in a word, the salvation of all Adam's children, of all your race.

"Answer, O Virgin, answer the angel speedily; rather, through the angel, answer your Lord. Speak the word, and receive the Word; offer what is yours, and conceive what is of God; give what is temporal, and embrace what is eternal.

"Why delay? Why tremble? Believe, speak, receive! Let your humility put on boldness, and your modesty be clothed with trust. Not now should your virginal simplicity forget prudence! In this one thing alone, O prudent Virgin, fear not presumption; for although modesty that is silent is pleasing, more needful now is the loving-kindness of your word.

"Open, O Blessed Virgin, your heart to faith; open your lips to speak; open your bosom to your Maker. Behold! The Desired of all nations is outside, knocking at your door. Oh! if by your delay he should pass by, and again in sorrow you should have to begin to seek for him whom your soul loves! Arise, then, run and open. Arise by faith, run by the devotion of your heart, open by your word. 'And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord : be it done to me according to your word.'"
(From The Homilies of St Bernard (Hom 4,8-9) as given in The Divine Office, Volume 1.)

Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is All everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
So, faithful Virgin, yields himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though he there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet he'll wear
Taken from thence, flesh, which death's force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in his mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
Whom thou conceiv'st, conceiv'd; yea, thou art now
Thy Maker's maker, and thy Father's mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shut'st in little room
Immensity, cloistered in thy dear womb.
John Donne (1572 – 1631)

Monday, March 23, 2009

4th Week of Lent: Tuesday

FIRST READING (Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12)
The angel brought me back to the door of the temple; and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar.

Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me round on the outside to the outer gate, that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side.

Going on eastward with a line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep.

Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the loins.

Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through.

And he said to me, "Son of man, have you seen this?"

Then he led me back along the bank of the river.

As I went back, I saw upon the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. And he said to me, "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the stagnant waters of the sea, the water will become fresh.And wherever the river goes every living creature which swarms will live, and there will be very many fish; for this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes.

"And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing."

GOSPEL (John 5:1-16)
There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Bethzatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed.

One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?" The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me."

Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your pallet, and walk." And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked.

Now that day was the sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who was cured, "It is the sabbath, it is not lawful for you to carry your pallet." But he answered them, "The man who healed me said to me, `Take up your pallet, and walk.'" They asked him, "Who is the man who said to you, `Take up your pallet, and walk'?"

Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.

Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you."

The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.
And this was why the Jews persecuted Jesus, because he did this on the sabbath.

Do you want to grow in holiness and be like Christ? Ezekiel prophesies that a "river of life" will flow from God's throne in the Temple. This water will transform everything it touches, bringing life, healing, and restoration. Jesus offers himself as the source of this living water which he will pour out upon his disciples in the gift of the Holy Spirit. The signs and miracles which Jesus performed manifest the power and presence of God's kingdom and they demonstrate the love and mercy God has for his people. In the pool at Bethzatha we see an individual's helplessness overcome by God's mercy and power. On this occasion Jesus singles out an incurable invalid, helpless and hopeless for almost forty years. He awakens hope when he puts a probing question to the man, "Do you really want to be healed?" And he then orders him to "get up and walk!"

God wants to free us from the power of sin and make us whole. But he will not force our hand against our will. The first essential step towards growth and healing is the desire for change. If we are content to stay as we are, then no amount of coaxing will change us. The Lord manifests his power and saving grace towards those who desire transformation of life in Christ. The Lord approaches each of us with the same probing question: "Do you really want to be changed, to be set free from the power of sin, and to be transformed in my holiness?"
(From Don Schwager's web site)

Spirit of holiness,
divine breath which moves the universe,
come and renew the face of the earth.
Awaken in Christians a desire for full unity,
that they may be for the world
an effective sign and instrument
of intimate union with God
and of the unity of the whole human race.
Come, Spirit of love and peace!
(Pope John Paul II)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

4th Week of Lent: Monday

FIRST READING (Isaiah 65:17-21)
Thus says the Lord: "Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.

"I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the child shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit."

GOSPEL (John 4:43-54)
Jesus Jesus departed to Galilee. For he himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.

So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast, for they too had gone to the feast. So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine.

And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill.When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.Jesus therefore said to him, "Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe."

The official said to him, "Sir, come down before my child dies."

Jesus said to him, "Go; your son will live." The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went his way.

As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was living. So he asked them the hour when he began to mend, and they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him."

The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live"; and he himself believed, and all his household.

This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.


"This was the second sign that Jesus performed." -John 4:54

In John's Gospel, seven signs (miracles) are recorded "to help you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, so that through this faith you may have life in His name" (Jn 20:31). These signs, worked by Jesus, are:

1. changing water into wine at a wedding (Jn 2:1-12),
2. a remote healing of a royal official's son (Jn 4:46-54),
3. curing a man who was ill for thirty-eight years (Jn 5:1ff),
4. multiplying the loaves and fishes (Jn 6:1-14),
5. walking on the water (Jn 6:19),
6. giving sight to the man born blind (Jn 9:1ff), and
7. raising Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11:1ff).

After Jesus' first sign, His disciples began to believe in Him (see Jn 2:11). Then, many began to believe in His name when they saw the signs He was doing (see Jn 2:23). However, Jesus recognized an innate problem with working signs: our sinful human nature. He observed: "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you do not believe" (Jn 4:48). Many people either looked for more and more signs (Jn 6:30) or misinterpreted the signs because they were not seeking the truth (Jn 9:16). The end result was: "Despite His many signs performed in their presence, they refused to believe in Him" (Jn 12:37).

So Jesus gave a once-for-all final sign: the sign of the cross. Jesus, God Himself, set aside His power (Jn 18:6, 11), stretched out His arms, was nailed to a cross, suffered in agony, and died to atone for our sins. He rose from the dead in power and majesty, and gave us the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22). This sign had power. This sign broke through the hard hearts. "Lift high the cross!"

Teach us, good Lord,
to serve thee as thou deservest;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil, and not to seek for rest;
to labour, and to ask for no reward,
save that of knowing that we do thy will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
St Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556)

Another Bus . . .

Saturday, March 21, 2009

4th Week of Lent - Sunday

FIRST READING (2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23)
All the leading priests and the people likewise were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations; and they polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem. The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place; but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, till the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, till there was no remedy.

And they burned the house of God, and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burned all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its precious vessels. He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfil the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfil seventy years.

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, `The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up.'"

SECOND READING (Ephesians 2:4-10)
God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

GOSPEL (John 3:14-21)
Jesus said to Nicodemus: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

"For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

"And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God". Then they saw the signs which he did; but Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man.

When I first read through the readings for this week, I was struck by one phrase found at the end of the second reading, from St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians. The particular translation I used came from the Jerusalem Bible. It read: We are God's work of art. Other translations, like the one we use at Mass, use the term handiwork of God. Is it handiwork or work of art? The word used is the Greek word, poiema. This same Greek word is used in the Greek translation of the Book of Genesis when it describes God as creating the heavens and earth. So, we are God's creation. To continue reading this reflection click HERE.

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,
that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit,
that I always may be holy. Amen.
(St Augustine of Hippo 354-430)

Friday, March 20, 2009

3rd Week of Lent: Saturday

FIRST READING (Hosea 5:15-6:6)
Thus says the Lord: "In their distress they seek me, saying, 'Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn, that he may heal us; he has stricken, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his going forth is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.'

"What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.

"Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings."

GOSPEL (Luke 18:9-14)
Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others:

"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.'

"But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!'

"I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

We can learn a lot from the two men in today's reading who went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee did everything right from a theological perspective, but he was not acceptable to God. The tax collector seemed to do everything wrong, but he went home justified before God. Let us consider why that was so.

Pharisees were an accepted renewal group within the Jewish faith that believed the right things, even by later Christian standards, such as the eternal life of the human spirit and justification by faith. They believed God looked at the intentions of the heart rather than mere fulfilment of external ritual of the law, although they were strict about external fulfilment.

Pharisees even had right beliefs about the Messiah. They knew where and when he would be born. They knew he would teach as no man had taught before. They knew he would be rejected by the religious leaders. They knew he would die by Roman crucifixion. They knew he would rise on the third day and give his Spirit to all nations, not just the Jews. They knew all this, yet still did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.

The Pharisee was proud not to be a tax collector, who was usually a Jew who betrayed his people by working for Rome and who indulged in immoral living funded by riches gained by cheating his own people. Yet the tax collector in today's reading went home from the temple justified because he knew he was a sinner who needed mercy. He made no pretence of holiness. He simply confessed his sin and honestly begged God's forgiveness whereas the Pharisee made an art of hiding behind theology.

Do we have the honesty of the tax collector in confessing our sins? Or do we use theology to cover our sin? Be honest before God. Admit your sins and thank Him for your successes. Don't hide either. Then you will be justified by God.

(from John Michael Talbot's Blog)

Lord our God,
great, eternal, wonderful in glory,
who keepest covenant and promises
for those that love thee with their whole heart;
who art the life of all,
the help of those that flee unto thee,
the hope of those who cry unto thee;
cleanse us from our sins, secret and open,
and from every thought displeasing to thy goodness,
cleanse our bodies and souls, our hearts and consciences,
that with a pure heart and a clear soul,
with perfect love and calm hope,
we may venture confidently and fearlessly
to pray unto thee. Amen.

From the Coptic Liturgy of St Basil

Thursday, March 19, 2009

3rd Week of Lent: Friday

FIRST READING (Hosea 14:1-9)
Thus says the Lord: "Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to him, 'Take away all iniquity; accept that which is good and we will render the fruit of our lips. Assyria shall not save us, we will not ride upon horses; and we will say no more, "Our God," to the work of our hands. In thee the orphan finds mercy.'

"I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. I will be as the dew to Israel; he shall blossom as the lily, he shall strike root as the poplar; his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon.

"They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom as the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

"O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress, from me comes your fruit.

"Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them."

GOSPEL (Mark 12:28b-34)
One of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?"

Jesus answered, "The first is, `Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, `You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

And the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbour as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."

And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And after that no one dared to ask him any question.

If we are to understand the meaning of the scribe's question and Jesus' response, we need to bear in mind the following. In the Judaism of Jesus' time there were two opposite tendencies.

On the one hand there was a tendency to endlessly multiply the commandments and precepts of the law, creating norms and obligations for every minimal detail of life. On the other hand there was the desire to look underneath this suffocating congeries of norms to find those things that really count for God, the spirit of all the commandments.

The scribe's question and Jesus' response are situated in this approach to the essentials of the law, in this desire not to get lost in the thousand other secondary precepts. It is precisely this lesson about method that above all we must learn from today's gospel. There are things in life that are important but not urgent (in the sense that nothing will happen if we let them slide); and vice versa, there are things that are urgent but not important. The danger is that we will systematically sacrifice the important things to pursue those that are urgent but often secondary.

How do we avoid this danger? A story will help us understand how. One day an old professor was asked to speak as an expert to some large North American corporations on personal time management. He decided to try an experiment. Standing before a group ready to take notes, he pulled out from under the table a large, empty glass vase. He placed a dozen tennis-ball-size rocks in the vase until it was full. When he was not able to add more rocks he asked those present: "Does the vase seem full to you?" and they all answered "Yes!" He waited a moment and then asked: "Are you sure?"

He again bent down and pulled a box full of pebbles from under the table and carefully poured the pebbles into the vase, moving the vase a little so that the pebbles could reach the rocks at the very bottom. He asked: "Is the vase full this time?"

His audience, having become more prudent, began to understand and said: "Perhaps not yet." "Very good!" the old professor replied. Again he bent down and this time picked up a bag of sand and poured it into the vase with care. The sand filled all the spaces between the rocks and the pebbles.

He then asked again: "Is the vase full now?" And they all answered without hesitation: "No!" "Indeed," the old professor said and, as they expected, took the pitcher of water from the table and poured it into the vase up to the brim.

At this point he looked up at his audience and asked: "What great truth does this experiment show us?" The bravest of the group, reflecting on the theme of the course - time management - replied: "This shows us that even when our schedule is full, with a little effort we can always add some other task, some other thing to do."

"No," the professor answered, "It's not that. The experiment shows us something else. If you don't put the big rocks in the vase first, then you will never be able to put them in afterward."

There was a moment of silence and everyone took in the evidence for this affirmation.

The professor continued: "What are the big rocks, the priorities, in your life? Health? Family? Friends? Defending a cause? Accomplishing something that is close to your heart?

"The important thing is to put these big rocks on your agenda first. If you give priority to a thousand other little things - the pebbles, the sand - your life will be filled with meaninglessness and you will never find time to dedicate yourself to the truly important things.

"So, never forget to pose this question to yourself: 'What are the important things in my life?' Put these things at the head of your agenda."

Then, with a friendly gesture the old professor bid farewell to his audience and left the room.

To the "big rocks" mentioned by the professor - health, family, friends - we need to add two others, which are the biggest of all, the two greatest commandments: love God and your neighbour.
(Fr Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Papal Household, Zenit 6th Nov, 2006)

Look, O Christ,
upon our sin-stained consciences,
and cleanse them with thy precious blood.
Look upon our divided hearts,
and heal them by thy redeeming grace.
Look upon our languid spirits;
kindle in them he fire of thy perfect love;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.
William Booth (1829-1912)

St Joseph, Husband of the Blesed Virgin Mary

FIRST READING (2 Samuel 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16)
The word of the Lord came to Nathan, "Go and tell my servant David, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. When he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.'"

SECOND READING (Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22)
The promise to Abraham and his descendants, that they should inherit the world, did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants - not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of us all, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations" - in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations; as he had been told, "So shall your descendants be."

That is why his faith was "reckoned to him as righteousness.

GOSPEL (Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24a)
Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away. 20 But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.

“He was chosen by the eternal Father as the trustworthy guardian and protector of his greatest treasures, namely, his divine Son and Mary, Joseph's wife. He carried out this vocation with complete fidelity until at last God called him, saying 'Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.'

“There is a general rule concerning all special graces granted to any human being. Whenever the divine favor chooses someone to receive a special grace, or to accept a lofty vocation, God adorns the person chosen with all the gifts of the Spirit needed to fulfill the task at hand.

“This general rule is especially verified in the case of Saint Joseph, the foster-father of our Lord, and the husband of the Queen of our world, enthroned above the angels. He was chosen by the eternal Father as the trustworthy guardian and protector of his greatest treasures, namely, his divine Son and Mary, Joseph's wife. He carried out this vocation with complete fidelity until at last God called him, saying "Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord."

“Remember us, Saint Joseph, and plead for us to your foster child. Ask your most holy bride, the Virgin Mary, to look kindly upon us, since she is the mother of him who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns eternally. Amen."
(from a sermon by Saint Bernardine of Siena)

What emanates from the figure of Saint Joseph is faith...Joseph of Nazareth is a "just man" because he totally "lives by faith." He is holy because his faith is truly heroic.

Sacred Scripture says little of him. It does not record even one word spoken by Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth. And yet, even without words, he shows the depth of his faith, his greatness.

Saint Joseph is a man of great spirit. He is great in faith, not because he speaks his own words, but above all because he listens to the words of the Living God. He listens in silence. And his heart ceaselessly perseveres in the readiness to accept the Truth contained in the word of the Living God.

We see how the word of the Living God penetrates deeply into the soul of that man, that just man. And we, do we know how to listen to the word of God? Do we know how to absorb it into the depths of our human personalities? Do we open our conscience in the presence of this word?
Pope John Paul II (from Daily Meditations)

Almighty God,
at the beginning of your plan to save the human race
you entrusted your Son to Joseph’s care.
By his intercession
may your Church be a constant faithful guardian
of your saving mysteries.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

3rd Week of Lent: Wednesday (St Cyril of Jerusalem)

FIRST READING (Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9)
Moses spoke to the people, saying: "And now, O Israel, give heed to the statutes and the ordinances which I teach you, and do them; that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, gives you.

"Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land which you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them; for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, `Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.'

"For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?

"Only take heed, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children's children."

GOSPEL (Matthew 5:17-19)
Jesus said to his disciples, "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

"Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

In today's Gospel we listen to the Lord saying:
"Do not think that I have come to remove the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them".

Jesus Speaks about the purpose of the law. He teaches us that the Old Testament is part of the Divine Revelation.

First, God made Himself known to men through the Prophets.

When Jesus spoke of Heaven and earth passing away, He did not mean a literal end of the universe. The Jewish listeners knew Jesus was referring to Isaiah, which is God's Promise to create a new Heaven and earth by sending the Messiah. They didn't know it yet, but the passing away of the old was going to happen when Jesus completely fulfilled the true meaning of the Law.

And just as a good Jew knew the Scriptures and put them into practice, we Christians should frequently meditate, if at all possible, every day, upon the Scriptures.

God wants from man a response of love, expressed upon the fulfillment of His Teachings: "If you love Me, keep My Commandments".

To keep God's Commandments means that we truly love Him through our deeds. Love is not only a feeling; love is also deeds, deeds of love, to live the double instruction of charity.

Jesus also teaches us the malice of scandal: "Whoever breaks the least important of these Commandments and teaches others to do the same will be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven". Because, as St. John says, "the man who says, 'I know Him' but does not do what He commands is a liar and the truth is not in him".

He shows us how important good examples may be, "whoever obeys God's Commands and teaches others to do the same will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven".

These thoughts are from Deacon Dennis Frazier.

For a reflection on St Cyril go HERE.

Lord, I believe in you: increase my faith. I trust in you: strengthen my trust. I love you: let me love you more and more. I am sorry for my sins: deepen my sorrow.

I worship you as my first beginning. I long for you as my last end. I praise you as my constant helper, and call on you as my loving protector.

Guide me by your wisdom, correct me with your justice, comfort me with your mercy, protect me with your power.

I offer you, Lord, my thoughts: to be fixed on you; my words: to have you for their theme; my actions: to reflect my love for you; my sufferings: to be endured for your greater glory.

I want to do what you ask of me: in the way that you ask, for as long as you ask, because you ask it.

Lord, enlighten my understanding, strengthen my will, purify my heart, and make me holy.

Help me to repent of my past sins, and to resist temptation in the future. Help me to rise above my human weakness and to grow stronger as a Christian.

Let me love you, my Lord and my God, and see myself as I really am: a pilgrim in this world, a Christian called to respect and love all whose lives I touch, those in authority over me or those under my authority, my friends and my enemies.

Help me to conquer anger by gentleness, greed by generosity, apathy by fervor. Help me to forget myself and reach out toward others.

Make me prudent in planning, courageous in taking risks. Make me patient in suffering, unassuming in prosperity.

Keep me, Lord, attentive in prayer, temperate in food and drink, diligent in my work, firm in my good intentions.

Let my conscience be clear, my conduct without fault, my speech blameless, my life well-ordered.

Put me on guard against my human weaknesses. Let me cherish your love for me, keep your law, and come at last to your salvation. Teach me to realize that this world is passing, that my true future is the happiness of heaven, that life on earth is short, and the life to come eternal.

Help me to prepare for death with a proper fear of judgment, but a greater trust in your goodness. Lead me safely through death to the endless joy of heaven. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Attributed to Pope Clement XI (1670-1676)