Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Today's readings and reflection

FIRST READING  (Isaiah 55:10-11) 
Thus says the Lord: "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it."

GOSPEL  (Matthew 6:7-15) 
At that time: Jesus said to his disciples: "In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

"Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.

"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."

For some helps to understanding the Lord's Prayer go HERE to an Orthodox Prayer website.

The following meditation is by Don Schwager HERE:
Do you believe that God’s word has power to change and transform your life today? Isaiah says that God’s word is like the rain and melting snow which makes the barren ground spring to life and become abundantly fertile (Isaiah 55:10-11). God’s word has power to penetrate our dry barren hearts and make them springs of new life. If we let God’s word take root in our heart it will transform us into the likeness of God himself and empower us to walk in his way of love and holiness. 

Let God’s word guide and shape the way you judge and act
God wants his word to guide and shape the way we think, act, and pray. Ambrose (339-397 AD), an early church father and bishop of Milan, wrote that the reason we should devote time for reading Scripture is to hear Christ speak to us. “Are you not occupied with Christ? Why do you not talk with him? By reading the Scriptures, we listen to Christ.” 

We can approach God our Father with confidence
We can approach God confidently because he is waiting with arms wide open to receive his prodigal sons and daughters. That is why Jesus gave his disciples the perfect prayer that dares to call God, Our Father. This prayer teaches us how to ask God for the things we really need, the things that matter not only for the present but for eternity as well. We can approach God our Father with confidence and boldness because the Lord Jesus has opened the way to heaven for us through his death and resurrection. 

When we ask God for help, he fortunately does not give us what we deserve. Instead, God responds with grace, mercy, and loving-kindness. He is good and forgiving towards us, and he expects us to treat our neighbor the same. God has poured his love into our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:5). And that love is like a refining fire - it purifies and burns away all prejudice, hatred, resentment, vengeance, and bitterness until there is nothing  left but goodness and forgiveness towards those who cause us grief or harm.

The Lord’s Prayer teaches us how to pray
Consider what John Cassian (360-435 AD), an early church father who lived for several years with the monks in Bethlehem and Egypt before founding a monastery in southern Gaul, wrote about the Lord’s Prayer and the necessity of forgiving one another from the heart:

“The mercy of God is beyond description. While he is offering us a model prayer he is teaching us a way of life whereby we can be pleasing in his sight. But that is not all. In this same prayer he gives us an easy method for attracting an indulgent and merciful judgment on our lives. He gives us the possibility of ourselves mitigating the sentence hanging over us and of compelling him to pardon us. What else could he do in the face of our generosity when we ask him to forgive us as we have forgiven our neighbor? If we are faithful in this prayer, each of us will ask forgiveness for our own failings after we have forgiven the sins of those who have sinned against us, not only those who have sinned against our Master. There is, in fact, in some of us a very bad habit. We treat our sins against God, however appalling, with gentle indulgence - but when by contrast it is a matter of sins against us ourselves, albeit very tiny ones, we exact reparation with ruthless severity. Anyone who has not forgiven from the bottom of the heart the brother or sister who has done him wrong will only obtain from this prayer his own condemnation, rather than any mercy.”

Do you treat others as you think they deserve to be treated, or do you treat them as the Lord has treated you - with mercy, steadfast love, and kindness?

“Father in heaven, you have given me a mind to know you, a will to serve you, and a heart to love you. Give me today the grace and strength to embrace your holy will and fill my heart and mind with your truth and  love that all my intentions and actions may be pleasing to you. Help me to be kind and forgiving towards my neighbor as you have been towards me.”

From Bishop Kallistos Ware's 1999 retreat, "Sacraments of Healing":
Fasting is one way in which the body participates in prayer. Fasting is not simply the observation of certain rigid rules and dietary restrictions. The real purpose of fasting is the renewal of prayer and of our personal relationship with God and our fellow humans. To fast and simply become ill-humoured defeats the whole purpose of the exercise. "What is the purpose of not eating meat," asks Saint Basil, "if instead you devour your brother or sister?" Through fasting, through learning to do without certain foods you take for granted, through eating more simply, we renew the participation of our bodies. The body is the messenger of the soul. The purpose of fasting is to give us freedom for prayer. Lent is a school of freedom, a season freeing us from dependence on physical power. Indeed through fasting we are able to see the beauty and wonder of the food that we eat. Fasting helps us not to take food for granted.

Look down upon your household, O Lord,
and grant that our souls,
chastened by the mortification of the flesh,
may glow in your sight with the desire for you.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, youry Son,
Who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God world without end. Amen.


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