Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Have you ever had to deal with people working against you?  Most of us have.  Most of us have experienced people spreading lies about us, trying to get others to work against us.  And today we find ourselves in good company.  Today’s readings find the prophet Jeremiah, king David and Jesus all in that same boat.

A prophet’s job is never easy; nobody wants to hear what they don’t want to hear.  So for Jeremiah, things are getting dangerous: people want him dead.  The same is true for Jesus, who is rapidly approaching the cross.  David finds that his enemies are pursuing him to the point of death, like the waters of the deep overwhelming a drowning man.

But all of them find their refuge in God.  Jeremiah writes, “For he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!”  David takes consolation in the fact that “From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.”  And for Jesus, well, his time had not yet come.

When we are provoked like they were, how do we respond?  Is our first thought to take refuge in God, or do we try – usually in vain – to solve the problem on our own?  If we don’t turn to God, we will sooner or later find those waves overwhelming us, because there is always a limit to our own power.  But if we turn to God, even if things don’t improve on our own timetable, we will always find refuge and safety in our God: there will be strength to get through, and we will never be alone.

The Annunciation of the Lord

Today’s readings

Fear keeps us from doing all sorts of things the Lord wants for us. If we would truly let go of our fear and cling to our God, just imagine what he could do in us and through us. Ahaz was King of Israel, a mighty commander, but yet was so afraid of God and what God might do that he refused to ask for a sign. He would prefer to cut himself off from God rather than give himself over to the amazing power of God’s presence in his life. Because of that perhaps, he never lived to see the greatness of God’s glory.

But his weakness did not disrupt the promise. In the fullness of time, God’s messenger came to a young woman named Mary and proposed to accomplish in her life the sign that Ahaz was too afraid to ask for. She too was initially afraid, pondering what sort of greeting this was. She was also confused, not knowing how what the angel proclaimed could possibly take place in her life.  Our reaction to God’s will for us is quite often the same, isn’t it?

The difference, though, was that Mary heeded the initial words of the angel that have resounded through Salvation history ever since: “Do not be afraid.” And, thanks be to God, Mary abandoned her fear and instead sang her fiat, her great “yes” to God’s plan for her, and for all of us. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” These words are reminiscent of what the Psalmist sings today: “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.”

And we know what happened from there. Mary certainly wasn’t confident that any of that could be accomplished through her own efforts, but she absolutely knew that God could do whatever he undertook. Nothing would be impossible for God, and she trusted in that, and because of that, we have the great hope of our salvation. We owe everything to Mary’s cooperation with God’s plan for our salvation.

And so the promise comes to us. We have the great sign that Ahaz was afraid of but Mary rejoiced in. We too are told that God can accomplish much in our own lives, if we would abandon our fears and cling to the hope of God’s presence in our lives. Can we too be the handmaids of the Lord? Are we bold enough to say, “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will?” All we have to do is to remember the first thing the angel said to Mary: “Do not be afraid.”

The Word from Father Pat

May this water receive by the Holy Spirit
the grace of your Only Begotten Son,
so that human nature, created in your image,
and washed clean through the sacrament of Baptism
from all the squalor of the life of old
may be found worthy to rise to the life of newborn children
through water and the Holy Spirit.
Blessing of Baptismal Water, Easter Vigil Mass

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

One of the wonderful things about Lent and Easter is that these holy seasons help us to understand just what it is that we believe about the necessity of Baptism.  Because if Baptism is just a nice little ritual that precedes a family party, it’s hardly of any consequence, indeed it’s not necessary at all.  And if that’s true, Lent and Easter aren’t really necessary either.  But if we truly believe that Baptism is the integral washing away of our sinfulness so that we may be made worthy of the life of heaven, then there’s nothing that should get in the way of it, and these holy days are of utmost importance.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve begun taking a look at the texts for the celebration of Holy Week.  As you know, the new Roman Missal re-translated everything, including all of the texts for those holy days.  What is disconcerting, but also in some ways refreshing, about the new translation is that it doesn’t beat around the bush about our need for Baptism.

Looking at the text above, from the Blessing of Baptismal Water on the Easter Vigil, the text speaks about the new life the Baptized receive.  Nothing too shocking about that.  But notice how it refers to the life before Baptism: “from all the squalor of the life of old.”  Well, that seems a little harsh, doesn’t it?  Really, squalor?

It’s not so different from the language of the Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation: “This is the night that even now, throughout the world, sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices and from the gloom of sin, leading them to grace and joining them to his holy ones.”  Worldly vice and the gloom of sin are hardly things we want to think about, but we all know they’re there, and the only chance we have of being delivered from them is by being united to Christ through Baptism.

So yes, squalor is part of the human condition.  If humanity weren’t in such disarray, Christ would never have had to die on the Cross.  But thank God he did, or we’d be mired in that squalor for all eternity.  God forbid.

People are often taken aback by the language of Ash Wednesday, that leads us into this holy season: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  Dust?  Yes, that and squalor!  “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”  Repent?  Yes, we all need to repent from the gloom of sin and worldly vices.

Catholic theology is based on the premise that we pray what we believe.  So the words of Lent and Easter might come across as a little harsh on the human condition, but that’s only because the human condition is actually pretty harsh, left to itself.  Thanks be to God it isn’t ever left to itself: Baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ makes possible deliverance from all that dust and gloom and squalor and vice.

I’ve found myself bristling a bit at some of the new language.  Thank God!  I need to bristle and come to new awareness of the awesome deliverance that we celebrate during the holy days and the real gift that is our Baptism.  All that bristling will make the “Alleluias” of the Easter season that much more poignant!

Yours in Christ and His Blessed Mother,

Father Pat Mulcahy

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of Mary, foster father of Jesus Christ

Today’s readings

On today’s feast, we celebrate the faithfulness of Saint Joseph. When he became betrothed to Mary, he got more than he could ever have bargained for. It certainly would have been easy to divorce her quietly when the news of her pregnancy became known, and it certainly would have been difficult to continue the relationship under those circumstances. Yet, he heeded the word of the angel in his dream, and was faithful to God’s will for him. His faithfulness preserved the heritage of Jesus, so that he would be born of David’s line.

And so we owe much to Joseph and his willingness to act on his faith in God’s word.  We know that he was part of the ancestral line that extended from the beginning to the birth of Jesus, but Joseph probably didn’t.  We know that he was the strong family leader who made possible the growth of his foster son and the protection of his holy family, but Joseph probably didn’t.  There was a lot of the big picture that Joseph didn’t get to see; he acted in faith on the little messages he received in dreams.  I wonder if any of us would be so willing to make that leap of faith.

Joseph was the faithful father who protected Mary and Joseph, taught him the faith as a good father would, and taught him his craft.  He is the patron of fathers, of workers, and of the universal Church, among others.

When we find faithfulness difficult, we can look to Joseph for help. Through his intercession, may our work and our lives be blessed, and may we too be found faithful to the word of the Lord.

The Word from Father Pat

How could we sing the song of the LORD
in a foreign land?
Psalm 137

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

This quote from Psalm 137 may seem like a quaint reminiscence from history, but I think it is actually a foundational aspiration of the spiritual life, and as such, a worthy aspiration for Lent.

One of the important principles of this life is that we are not home yet; we are wayfarers in this world.  Our life is a journey back to our God who made us for himself, and, as Saint Augustine says so well, “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee (God).”  And so it is with a great sense of longing, and perhaps a little frustration, that the psalmist cries out, “How could we sing the song of the LORD in a foreign land?”

For the Jews, the place for true worship was the Temple in Jerusalem.  And so, when they were exiled to Babylon, not only did they lose their homes and their land, but also, in a sense, their relationship with God.  They could not have true worship in a foreign land, so no matter how much they were urged to do so by their captors, they couldn’t sing the Lord’s song.

For us, the experience is different of course, but in some ways also similar.  We too are not where we should be, and please God, not where we will be.  We are on this journey we call life, and we long to bring that journey along side the road our God lays out for us to lead us back to him.  That way has us travel, particularly during Lent, along the Way of the Cross.  We know that there is so much that we have to scourge out of us, nail to the cross and die to.  But it’s easier not to journey along that road.

And so we follow other paths.  These lead us far away from where we were made to be.  They put us in that foreign land that is so far from the kingdom God promised us.  This land is so filled with distractions that we rarely have time to think of God, let alone worship him in spirit and truth.  And so it would be well for our souls to cry out, “How could we sing the song of the LORD in a foreign land?”

Lent is an opportunity for the journey back.  There is nowhere we can go that is beyond the reach of our God.  All we have to do is take his hand and be pulled up out of the waters that engulf us, be pulled back to the right path and take up the journey once again.  It won’t be an easy journey; it never is for people of faith.  Jesus had to experience his Good Friday before he came to Easter Sunday, and so will we in this life.  But we never have to travel this road alone.

If you’ve found that Lent hasn’t been what you hoped it would be, it’s not too late to take our Lord’s hand and head the right way.  There is still time for fasting, almsgiving and prayer, and no matter how late it may be, these will still be food for our journey.  This week we have our parish mission, with opportunity for confession after the mission on Monday and Tuesday.  It is my prayer that you will find this week a helpful one if you need to turn your Lent around.

And may we all one day together sing the Lord’s song in the Land he has made for us!

Yours in Christ and His Blessed Mother,
Father Pat Mulcahy

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent

Today’s readings

This week, the Scriptures have been warning us not to avoid the truth.  Today is no exception.  Today we see that the way we tend to avoid truth is often through obfuscation, trying to confuse the facts.  It’s a case of “the best defense is a good offense,” where 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: a scathing indictment of the people God chose as his own.

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 religious leaders; they had the special care of driving away demons from the people.  But they couldn’t:  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 from these Scriptures, or maybe later in our prayerful moments.  Perhaps it will be spoken by a child or a coworker or a relative or a 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.”

Monday of the Third Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Why is the human heart so 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 – are speaking truth.  The prophets of Scripture speak Truth to us in an elevated way, of course.  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.  That’s how it was for the people of Jesus’ home town.  But we also desperately want to avoid being confronted with truth.  Yet if we would open our ears to hear and our hearts to understand, 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.

The Word from Father Pat

“The Word from Father Pat” is the name of my bulletin column.  I’ll be posting these from time to time.

“Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I have been enjoying, as I often do, the Scripture readings that we have during Lent.
These readings tell us what it’s all about, with regard to our faith. They tell the story of
our salvation, as God intervened numerous times into human history to guide us, direct
us, and bring us back to him. I am delighted by the message of how persistent God is,
how even when it looked like humanity had gone far away, we still weren’t so far away
that God could not reach us.

Because if that’s the message about us as a people, then it rings true for us as individuals
as well. Sometimes we think that we have missed the boat, or jumped off it, with regard
to faith. Some people think they cannot be loved by God because of who they are, or
more often, because of what they’ve done. And these readings during Lent tell us how
absolutely wrong that kind of thinking is!

Today’s readings tell us about God doing new things in us and around us. Jesus
overturns the money-changers’ tables because that kind of commerce wasn’t necessary in
the new economy of salvation. People didn’t have to buy animals for sacrifice, because
Jesus was to be the sacrifice par excellence, the Lamb who would take all of our sins
away.

And before that, there is the law. The psalmist often sings about how wonderful the Law
is, how other peoples didn’t have gods so wonderful as to provide a roadmap of how
to live in harmony with God and others. We see those ten commandments, which we
learned once, hear about now and then. But the thing is, the commandments are not a
thing of the past: they are the basics of our lives of faith.

So if you haven’t looked at the ten commandments in years, now is the time to re-read
today’s reading (Exodus 20:1-17). If you’ve long since forgotten them, a great Lenten
spiritual practice might be to re-memorize them. If you don’t think they apply to you or
your life, reflect on them, and reflect on whether your life has followed or strayed from
those commandments. Because they are the basic framework for a life of faith.

The first three commandments, as we are taught, deal with our relationship with God.
The next seven deal with our relationship with other people. This mimics the greatest
commandment of all, as Jesus proclaimed it: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with
all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and
your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

Lent is always a great time to get back to basics; to look at our lives and see if we’ve
forgotten anything we’ve been taught; to reflect on how we have lived our faith and

where we’ve strayed. Because God wants us back. His words are spirit and life. There
is no way we’ve fallen so far that he can’t reach us.

Yours in Christ and His Blessed Mother,
Father Pat Mulcahy

The Third Sunday of Lent [B]

Today’s readings

Most of us have probably experienced at least one time in our lives when it seemed like our whole world was turned upside-down.  Maybe it was the loss of a job, or the illness or death of a loved one, or any of a host of other issues.  It probably felt like the rug was pulled out from under us and that everything we believed in was toppled over.  Kind of like the table in front of the altar, like the story we just heard in the Gospel.

You may have heard the interpretation of this rather shocking Gospel story that says that this is proof that Jesus got angry, so we shouldn’t feel bad when we do.  That sounds nice, but I am, of course, going to tell you this interpretation is flawed.  First of all, there is a big difference between the kind of righteous indignation that Jesus felt over the devastation of sin and death that plagues our world, and the frustration and anger that we all experience over comparatively minor issues from time to time.  It might make us feel better to think that Jesus acted out in the same way that we sometimes do, that he felt the same way we do about these things, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.

So feeling better for being angry isn’t the theme of this reading, or the intent of today’s Liturgy of the Word.  And I do think we have to take all of the readings as a whole in order to discern what we are being invited to experience.  Our first reading is extremely familiar to us all.   The ten commandments – we’ve heard them so often, violated them on occasion, perhaps we don’t even think they’re relevant any more.  But the mere fact that they are read at today’s Mass tells us that the Church says they are.  And while every one of them is certainly important, one of them stands out as having top billing.  And that one is the very first commandment: “I, the LORD, am your God … you shall not have other gods besides me.”

That one commandment comprises the whole first paragraph of the reading, a total of thirteen lines of text.  I think that means we are to pay attention to it!  It’s the commandment that seems to make the most sense, that it’s the most foundational.  We have to get our relationship with God right and put him first.  But this commandment is rather easy to violate, and I think we do it all the time.  We all know that there are things we put way ahead of God: our work, our leisure, sports and entertainment, and so many things that may even be darker than that.  Don’t we often forget to bring God into our thoughts and plans?  Yet if we would do it on a regular basis, God promises to bless us “down to the thousandth generation!”

Saint Paul is urging the Corinthians to put God first, too.  He complains that the Jews want signs and the Greeks want some kind of wisdom, but he and the others preach Christ crucified!  We are a people who want signs.  We almost refuse to take a leap of faith unless we have some overt sign of God’s decision.  And we are all about seeking wisdom, mostly in ourselves.  If it makes sense to us and it feels right to us, it must be okay to do.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  We get tripped up in our own wisdom and sign-seeking all the time, then we wander down the wrong path only to end up several years down the road, wondering where it all went wrong.

And then we have the really challenging vignette at the end of the Gospel reading.    Jesus knows how long it took to build the temple.  But he wasn’t talking about the temple.  He was talking about his body.  His body is the new Temple, and that was the Temple that would be torn down and in three days raised back up.  Because Jesus is the new Temple, none of the money changing and animal selling was necessary.  It was all perfectly legitimate commerce for the old temple worship.  But worshipping the new Temple – Jesus Christ – would require none of that, and so he turns it all upside-down.

It’s not easy to put God first.  It’s not easy to glory in Christ crucified.  What a horribly difficult and unpopular message to have to live!  But that’s what we are all called to do if we are to be disciples of Jesus, if we are to yearn for life in that kingdom that knows no end.  Glorying in Christ crucified, putting God first, that’s going to require that some time or another, we are going to have to take up our own cross too, and let our entire lives be turned upside-down.  God only knows where that will lead us: maybe to a new career, maybe to a fuller sense of our vocation, maybe to joy, maybe to pain.  But always to grace, because God never leaves the side of those who are willing to have their lives turned upside-down for his glory.

There’s no easy road to glory.  You don’t get an Easter without a Good Friday.  Jesus didn’t, and we won’t either.  Our lives will be turned upside-down and everything we think we know will be scattered like the coins on the money-changers’ tables.  But God is always and absolutely present to those who pray those words the disciples recalled:

Zeal for your house will consume me.

Monday of the Second Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Aren’t the Lenten readings challenging?  They’re supposed to be.  They speak of what it means to be a disciple.  We have to be willing to have our whole world turned upside-down; to do something completely against our nature; to let God take control of the life we want so much to control.

“For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”  I don’t know about you, but that scares the heck out of me.  Because there have been plenty of times when I’ve failed to give someone a break.  The measure I sometimes use ends up being a bar set pretty high, and I would sure hate to have to leap over that bar myself.  But that’s what Jesus is saying will be our measure.

Because the measure of compassion is the compassion of God himself.  He is our model, He is who we are to strive for, His example is how we are to treat each other.  But when we do that, it means we can’t judge others.  It means that we have to see them as God does, which is to say that we have to see Jesus in them and to see the goodness in them.  And that’s hard to do when that person has just cut you off in traffic, or has gossiped about you, or has crossed you in some other way.  But even then, we are called to stop judging others and show them the compassion of God.

“Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.”  That is the prayer of the Psalmist today.  We are given the promise of forgiveness, but we are also warned that if we do not forgive others, we will not be forgiven either.  The measure with which we measure will in turn be measured out to us.  I don’t know about you, but I’m going to look really hard for a small ruler today.