Friday of the Third Week of Lent

Today's readings[display_podcast]

“You are not far from the kingdom of God.” That, to be honest, has to be an extremely reassuring comment. To know that you’re on the right track, that your thoughts and heart’s desires are in line with God’s will, that would be a wonderful thing to know. And today’s Scriptures give us the roadmap for finding that reassurance.

Step one is repentance. The prophet Hosea wrote of Israel’s repentance. Israel, as a nation, as we well know, had turned away from the God of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They had turned to the false gods of their neighbors and had worshipped idols. Hosea’s prophecy had been all about calling them back, urging them to return to the Lord who loved his people and yearned for them like a spurned lover. In today’s first reading, Hosea prophecies the promise that God will accept back his wayward lover and will restore the people of Israel to his own loved possession.

Step two is to hear the voice of God. “If only my people would hear me,” the Psalmist says, “and Israel walk in my ways, I would feed them with the best of wheat, and with honey from the rock I would fill them.” God longs to fill his faithful people with everything that they need to sustain life and live their faith. All they have to do is hear his voice, to follow his commands, and walk in his ways. This hearing the voice of God requires a steadfast faithfulness that will not be enticed by strange gods or flashy idols. There is a single-mindedness that is called for here: the faithful are called not to hear God as one voice among many, but to hear God alone.

And step three is love. In today’s Gospel, Jesus famously boils the commandments down to two: love of God and love of neighbor. Again, there is an underlying single-mindedness: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Love of God and neighbor isn’t a third or fourth priority, if you ever get around to it. Love is prime: love is the first inclination of the heart, thought of the mind, and action of life.

What does it take for us disciples to be not far from the Kingdom of God? It takes a Lent of repentance, a desire to hear and meditate on God’s Word and his presence in our lives, and then to love like there was nothing else to do in the whole world. Maybe we’re not there yet, all of us, as we approach our Easter joy. But at this mid-point of Lent, maybe we can come a little closer by asking God for the desire to change our hearts.

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent

Today's readings [display_podcast]

Today's Scriptures address another one of the ways that we fallen human beings tend to avoid the truth. Today we see that the issue is one of obfuscation, trying to confuse the facts. It's a case of "the best defense is a good offense" and so we attack the truth wherever we see it addressing our lives and our mistakes.

The prophet Jeremiah takes the nation of Israel to task for this in today's first reading. These are a people who have heard the truth over and over. God has not stopped sending prophets to preach the word. But the Israelites would not listen. They preferred to live in the world, and to attach themselves to the nations and their worship of idols and pagan gods. They had been warned constantly that this was going to be the source of their demise, but they tuned it out. They "stiffened their necks," Jeremiah says, and now faithfulness has disappeared and there is no word of truth in anything they say.

Some of the Jews are giving Jesus the same treatment in today's Gospel. Seeing him drive out a demon, they are filled with jealousy and an enormous sense of inadequacy. These are the men who were religious leaders and they had the special care of driving away demons from the people. But they chose not to do so, or maybe their lukewarm faith made them ineffective in this ministry. So on seeing Jesus competent at what was their special care, they cast a hand-grenade of rhetoric at him and reason that only a demon could cast out demons like he did.

We will likely hear the word of truth today. Maybe it will come in these Scriptures, or maybe later in our prayerful moments. Maybe it will be spoken by a child or a coworker or a relative or friend. However the truth is given to us, it is up to us to take it in and take it to heart. Or will we too be like the Jews and the Israelites and stiffen our necks? No, the Psalmist tells us, we can't be that way. "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts."

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

Today's readings [display_podcast]

There's something about us human beings that just doesn't like to be told what to do. We don't like rules and regulations, we frown on laws that curtail our freedoms, we turn up our noses at religious precepts which inform our actions. And so we look eagerly for someone or something to come along and wipe them all away so we can do whatever we want. Now, I'm not saying we are all criminals, but even the most law-abiding among us wants to be freed from rules that constrain us when that constraint is inconvenient or burdensome.

And so, I think, the Jews had that same sort of longing going on when they looked to Jesus. They wanted Jesus to be a Messiah of their own making. They wanted him to free them from oppression – which he would – but also to bring Israel to glory and let them lord it over the nations – which, of courses, he would not. Most of all, they wanted to be freed from the six-hundred-plus regulations of the Law and live on their own terms. And that was not in Jesus' game plan.

Not a single iota of the law would pass away, because he came to bring the law to its fruition. Therefore, blessed are we when we obey the law and teach others to do so. And when we ignore the law, well then, we are ignoring God himself, the wise one above all other gods who gives us this whole law.

Certainly, we are not constrained by some of the nitpicky parts of the Jewish law, but the heart of them is still in the heart of us. We follow the Ten Commandments, we remember that God is God and we are not, we worship God alone. Those commandments form the basis of who we are as a Christian people; they are the law that Christ came to fulfill and underscore. To the extent that we live that Law, the world may in fact be moved by our wisdom to follow Christ as well.

Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

Today's readings [display_podcast]

The book of Daniel the Prophet is one of my favorite books of Scripture. If you haven't read that book, that would be your homework today. It won't take terribly long, but be sure you read it from a Catholic edition of the Bible because other editions won't contain the whole thing.

The story goes that Azariah, Hannaniah and Mishael were in the king's court along with Daniel. They had been well-educated and cared for, and in turn advised the king on matters of wisdom and knowledge. They were better at doing this than anyone in the king's court, except for one thing. The king, who worshiped idols, had crafted an idol that each person in the kingdom was to bow down and worship several times a day. But Azariah, Hannaniah and Mishael were good Jews and would only worship God alone. So they were bound up and cast into the fiery furnace, to their certain demise.

Now you may know this as the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, which were the names the king gave them when they entered his service. If you know the story, then you know the flames did not harm them, and an angel appeared in the furnace to protect them. During that time, Azariah prayed the beautiful prayer we have in our first reading. He acknowledges that his people have been sinful, but prays that God would deliver them because the people currently have no prophet or anyone who could lead them. God's deliverance of Azariah, Hannaniah and Mishael from the fiery furnace is a symbol of God's planned deliverance of the people from their captivity, which in turn is a symbol of God's deliverance, through Jesus Christ, from our captivity to sin.

We forgiven and delivered people have to be people of forgiveness, though, as we hear in today's Gospel. Our own redemption is never complete until we untie the others in our lives whose sins or offenses against us we have bound up. Until we forgive from our hearts, we will never really be free from the bondage of sin.

Monday of the Third Week of Lent

Today's readings [display_podcast] 

Why is the human heart so much opposed to hearing the truth and acting on it? I remember as a child I used to hate it when my parents would tell me something and turn out to be right. If the truth be told, I probably still struggle with that a little today. Who wants to hear the hard truth and then find out that it's absolutely right? The pride of our hearts so often prevents the prophet from performing his or her ministry.

The message of Lent, though, is that the prophets – all of them – whether they be Scriptural prophets, or those who spoke the truth to us because they want the best for us – all of these prophets are right. And our task during Lent has to be to give up whatever pride in us refuses to hear the voice of the prophet or refuses to accept the prophetic message, and instead turn to the Lord and rejoice in the truth.

The prophets of our native land – those prophets who are closest to us – are the ones we least want to hear. Because they know the right buttons to push, they know our sinfulness, our weakness, and our brokenness. And we desperately want to avoid being confronted with all that failure. Yet if we would hear them, then maybe just like Naaman, we would come out of the river clean and ready to profess our faith in the only God once again.

Athirst is my soul for the living God – that is what the Psalmist prays today. And that is the true prayer of all of our hearts. All we have to do is get past the obstacles of pride and let those prophets show us the way to him. Then we would never thirst again.

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Something that often gets overlooked in this very familiar parable is that both of the sons are sinful. We take it on faith that the youngest is sinful: taking half of his inheritance before his father is even in the grave, living a life of dissipation and sexual excess, using up all that money in a short time, content to eat among the swine which no good Jew would even think about touching, and finding himself very, very broken. But the so-called good son is sinful too. On his brother’s return, he refuses to go into the house to welcome him back, and takes his father to task for showing mercy and love. Failure to forgive is itself sinful.

Both sons are sinful in their own way. Both need the father’s love and mercy and forgiveness. And both receive it. Far from the way a proper Jewish father would act, he runs out to meet both sons where they are. Protocol would have them come to him, and not he to them. He comes out twice, once to meet the younger son who is on the way back to him, and once to meet his older son who refuses to come to him.

But as it stands, the younger son is more likely to receive forgiveness. Why? Because he is content to be on the way to his father and put himself at his father’s mercy. The older son isn’t even aware that he needs to be forgiven. He puts himself above his younger brother as the sinful black sheep of the family.

But Jesus cautions us in so many places that we cannot be so immersed in others’ sins that we miss seeing our own. That’s the message for us today. Wherever we are, whoever we are, whatever we are, we need God’s mercy and forgiveness. And he is faithful in giving it. All we have to do is agree to come into the house.

Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, apostle

Today’s readings | Today’s feast

Today we celebrate the feast of the Chair of St. Peter the apostle. This is a feast that commemorates Jesus giving the servant authority of the Church to St. Peter, as we heard in today’s Gospel. This is a special day of prayer for the Pope, the successor of St. Peter among us.
Peter & the Keys

It’s important to remember that Peter was not chosen because he was perfect, but instead because he was faithful. Even after he denied Jesus, he turned back and three times professed his love. In today’s Scripture, he proclaims that Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One, the One who comes in God’s name. Making that proclamation is the task of the Church in every place, and in every age. We disciples are called to faithfulness, just as Peter was, and we are called to witness to the authority of Christ in every situation: in our Church, yes, but also in our workplaces and in our homes. With the Lord as our shepherd, there is nothing we shall want in any situation.