Monday of the Second Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel reading is one that gives me pause, to say the least.  The whole notion of the measure that we use will be the measure that God uses to measure  is more than a little a little scary. Think about it: how often do we fail to give people a break? How often do we forget that the person who just crossed us may be having trouble at home, or might be facing the illness of a loved one, or any number of things.  Those mitigating circumstances may not excuse bad behavior, but they may explain a lapse in judgment.  God gives us grace when we go through those things; we should do no less.


We confess our sins and long to be forgiven, just like Daniel did in today’s first reading. And our God longs to forgive us those sins. But God’s expectation is that the mercy he has shown us will be the mercy we show to others.  We are called to the same perfection that is present in God himself.  The crux of that perfection is love and mercy.  We know what it looks like, because God has given those to us.  We then need to imitate that in our lives.


If we would pray with the Psalmist today, “Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins,” then we should be willing to let go of the sins others have committed against us.  It’s not easy, but the letting go frees us in much better ways than vengeance ever could.


“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”


Monday of the Thirty-second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s gospel reading deals with a major theme of Jesus, and that is sin and forgiveness.  That was why he came here to earth, as we well know, and today he tells us why, while sin can run rampant, it will never have the final say.

“Things that cause sin will inevitably occur,” he says.  And don’t we know how right he is!  Anyone who has had to deal with some pattern of sin knows how futile it can sometimes be to battle it.  Just when you think you have made progress, something or someone comes along, presses the wrong button in us, and – just like that – we are back in our sins again.  The inevitability of sin is one of the scourges of this present life, and it is the root cause of so many of the ills that plague us, ills like depression, disease, war, terrorism, death – all these and many more owe their very existence to the inevitability of sin.

Sin has to be rebuked.  We have to be open to accountability, and to the warning of our brothers or sisters to get us back on the right track.  Kind of like when my doctor told me that my asthma would get a lot better if I lost a little weight.  I didn’t like hearing that, but I knew he was right, and if I want to be able to breathe better, I need to listen to him.  So when a brother or sister urges us to turn away from sin, blessed are we when we are open to their counsel.

But as inevitable as sin is, Jesus tells us, it never gets to have the final word.  Forgiveness does.  Mercy does.  Love does.  If a brother or sister “wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him,” Jesus tells us.  Because that’s what he is about.  The only thing Jesus came to do was to forgive sins.  That’s what opens to us the gates of heaven and the promise of eternity.  And our job is to keep those gates open for each other, even if we have been wronged seven times in a day.

Sin is rampant and it can dog us day in and day out.  But it doesn’t get to mar our eternity.  Not if we let Jesus do the one thing he came to do: to forgive our sins.  And of course, that means we have to forgive as we have been forgiven as well.

The Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The thing is, you know, the Pharisee was quite right. His righteousness was beyond reproach. He has been innocent of greed, dishonesty and adultery. He has been more pious than even the law requires. Fasting was only required once a year, on the Day of Atonement, but he fasts twice a week. Tithes were only required to be paid on one’s earnings, but he pays them not only on his earnings, but also on all of his possessions, basically, he paid the tithe on his total net worth. He was probably quite right about his own righteousness, and he may well have been right about the failures of righteousness in the tax collector as well.

And, in those days, tax collectors were despicable human beings. They worked for the Romans, were in league with the foreign occupation. They were told what they had to collect, and whatever the collected over and above that was theirs to keep. Now certainly, they were entitled to some income, so a modest markup would have been understandable – that was how they were paid. But mostly the modest markup was far from modest, and bordered on extortion. The tax collector in our parable today does not deny that he has participated in those activities. He does not even pray about anything he has done except for one thing: he has sinned. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” he says.

Both of these men were right in what they said about themselves. From an objective point of view, they have presented themselves honestly before God and everyone. So what’s the problem? Where has the Pharisee gone wrong and how did the tax collector end up justified?

It’s pretty easy to see what went wrong when we step back and look at the nature of their prayers. The Pharisee uses the word “I” four times. It’s all about him. The tax collector does not use the word “I” at all; he uses the word “me.” What’s the difference? Grammar lesson here: “I” is the subject, “me” is the object. So, for the Pharisee, it was all about what he had done through his own righteousness, and not about what God had done or could do. For the tax collector, it wasn’t about him at all. He acknowledges his sinfulness and asked God to have mercy. And that’s the second difference. The tax collector asks for something, namely mercy, and receives it: he goes home justified. The Pharisee asks for nothing, and that’s just what he gets: nothing.

So I think today’s Liturgy of the Word is asking us a very important question: have you been aware of your need for a Savior? Because sin is exhausting. Anyone who has struggled with sin, or a pattern of sin, in their lives can tell you that. Those who have been dragged down by any kind of addiction or who have tried to work on a character flaw or striven to expel any kind of vice from their lives often relate how exhausting the sin can be. Sin saps our spiritual energy, weakens our resolve to do good, and causes us to turn away in shame from family, friends, and all those whose spiritual companionship we need in order to grow as Christians. That’s just the way sin works.

But today’s Liturgy gives us very good news. Sirach says in today’s first reading that “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right, and the Lord will not delay.” We see that very clearly in the parable in today’s Gospel. The lowly tax collector cannot even bring himself to raise his eyes to heaven. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” he says. It is the perfect Act of Contrition. He acknowledges his sin, he prays for God’s mercy. And God responds. He can go home justified.

Just like the Pharisee and the tax collector, we have come to this holy placed to pray today. What is our prayer like?  Are there sins that have become a pattern for us? Do we have addictions that need to be worked out? Have we failed in some way in our daily life? What dark corners of our lives desperately need God’s light and God’s mercy? In what ways do we need a Savior? Have we asked for God’s mercy, or have we been like the Pharisee, asking for nothing and receiving exactly that?

Pray the tax collector’s prayer after me: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Tuesday of the Twenty-eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“Let your mercy come to me, O Lord.”

I love that there were short verses for the psalm today, and we got to repeat this refrain from the Psalmist over and over.  If you think about it, and if you really enter into it, it becomes a kind of mantra, a way to center ourselves and open ourselves up to the Lord in this Eucharistic celebration.

“Let your mercy come to me, O Lord.”

Because we are all in need of the Lord’s mercy, aren’t we?  Whether it is sinfulness, addiction, illness or infirmity, anxiety, worry about a family member, uncertainty about a job or the economy as a whole, we all have to realize that so much of the time we are in desperate need of the Lord’s love and mercy.

“Let your mercy come to me, O Lord.”

And we come to the point that we know that the only thing that can help us is the Lord’s mercy.  We may have tried so many times on our own to cure ourselves or make the pain go away or focus on the positive or not cause waves, we know that of ourselves, ultimately, we are unable to fix the things that really vex us.  Sin takes hold, circumstances beyond our control confound us, powerlessness causes frustration.  And then, all of a sudden, we remember the One we were trying to hide from, or with whom we didn’t want to bother with our troubles.  But in the face of our own powerlessness, we must turn to the one whose power can overcome all.

“Let your mercy come to me, O Lord.”

And so that powerlessness eventually, inevitably intersects with the loving power of our merciful God, who desires so much more for us than we would settle for.  And then we really do let God’s mercy come to us.  Because it was always there in the first place; never withheld.  We had just to let it come to us, had to be open to it, had to be in the place where we could receive it and come to the point where we could acknowledge our need for it and our gratitude for receiving it.  And when we at last arrive there, and that mercy comes to us, how overwhelmed we can be, how transformed, how loved we can feel, how cared for.  God’s mercy is always there, we have just to let it come to us.

“Let your mercy come to me, O Lord.”

Thursday of the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

One of the greatest sins there is, I think, is the sin of not letting go.  And, if we’re honest, I think we all do it, all the time.  I know I do.  Whether it’s an long-standing argument with a loved one, or a touch of road rage, or demanding what we think we’re entitled to have, we can be real good at holding on to things.  It’s pretty much the original sin: as soon as Adam and Eve found out they couldn’t have the forbidden fruit, they couldn’t let go of it until they had it.  The reason I think it’s the greatest sin is that this is the sin that doesn’t let God in: when we’re grasping on to things, we’re not reasonable; when we’re grasping on to things, we can’t let go and let God be God.

Today’s Gospel parable is about the danger of not letting go.  The servant had no reason to expect his master to forgive his debt.  He had, in fact, run up that debt, and it was his to pay.  The problem is, he could never pay it.  The master had every reason to turn him over to be imprisoned for the rest of his life, or until he paid off the debt, whichever came first.  But the master was moved with pity and didn’t just give the servant more time to pay up, but instead he wrote off the debt in its entirety.

One would think that the servant would be so overjoyed, that he would forgive others the same way.  But he isn’t.  He comes across a fellow servant who owed him a paltry sum, and hands him over to be imprisoned until he can pay the debt.  So naturally, the master finds out and revokes his own mercy.  If that servant had just let go of what he was holding on to, he would have been more than alright.  But he couldn’t do it.

The debt we owe to God is ridiculously large; we’ll never be able to repay it.  But we don’t have to because through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our debt has been forgiven.  In its entirety.  We can’t be like the wicked servant.  The joy that we have in celebrating our forgiveness in this Eucharist has to help us to let go of what we are hanging on to, or it’s no help to our salvation.

Maybe we can pause today as we offer our gifts and offer to let go of something so that others can be set free too.

Lent Penance Service

Today’s Gospel: John 3:14-21

The only thing God wants to do is to forgive sinners.  Period.  That’s what our Gospel reading tells us very plainly today: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”  And so, in Jesus Christ, we have absolutely everything that we need for the forgiveness of sins, except one thing. In Jesus Christ, we have our God who became man. We have in Christ the Saving Sacrifice, his life poured out on us to take away the penalty of our sins and nullify the sting of our death. Not only that, but Jesus Christ strengthens us with the gift of his Holy Spirit, who enlivens in us the desire to be close to our God and to put our sins behind us. That Holy Spirit gives us the grace not just to know and confess our sins, but also the grace to avoid the sin ahead of us. In Christ, the way to forgiveness is open. We have all we need – except one thing.

And that one thing is the thing that must come from within us, namely, repentance.  Because once we repent of our sins, turn away from them, and confess them, we can then accept God’s grace and mercy, and become a new people, marked by faith hope and love. But repentance is a choice that’s up to us; it’s a habit we have to develop, because it’s not a habit that we see demonstrated much in our world. Our world would rather take mistakes and put a positive “spin” on them so everyone saves face. But that’s not repentance. Our world would rather find someone else to blame for the problems we encounter, so that we can be righteously indignant and accept our own status as victims. But that’s not repentance. Our world would rather encounter an issue by throwing at it money, human resources, military intervention, lawsuits or legislation. But that’s not repentance.

The problem, as our Gospel tells us this evening, is that the world prefers the darkness of sin and ignorance and death over the glorious light of God’s grace and forgiveness, and mercy.  It’s insanity, but that’s the sad truth of our world.

So, quite frankly, if we are ever going to learn the habit of repentance, we are going to have to look elsewhere than the evening news. World leaders are no help at all, and even if the media were to see an example of repentance, I’m not sure they’d give it much play. So where are we going to get the inspiration to live as a repentant people? These Lenten days, we might look at the wayward son’s interaction with the Prodigal Father, or perhaps the woman at the well who left her jug behind to live the new life. We might look at the woman caught in adultery or even at the “good thief” crucified with Jesus. All of these got the idea and turned from their sin toward their God and received life in return. This is the habit of repentance that we have been called to develop in ourselves.

Brothers and sisters, sin enslaves us and makes exiles out of us. Sin takes us out of the community and puts us off on our own, in a very empty place. That exile might look something like this:

  • We ignore the needs of the poor and exile ourselves from the full community;
  • We judge others and thus draw a dividing line between ourselves and those we judge;
  • We lie and are no longer trusted by others;
  • We refuse to forgive, and are trapped in the past, not willing to respond to the present;
  • We cheat, steal and abuse the rights of others and thus offend the right order of the community;
  • We act violently in words and actions and thus perpetuate forces that splinter and violate the human community;
  • We withdraw from their church and diminish the community’s ability to witness to God and serve others.

The exile of sin is heartbreaking, but it doesn’t have to be that way for us. The Liturgy of the Word throughout the Lenten season has been showing us the way back. We have the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit to inspire us with desire for communion with our God. We have the grace and mercy poured out on us through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And we have the grace to do that one thing that’s missing; to develop that habit that makes us one with our God – that habit of repentance that brings us back no matter how far we have wandered or how many times we have turned away. Our God can still reach us in exile and he can still bring us back to the community, if we will but let him. The only thing our God wants to do is to forgive sinners.  Not just once, not twice, but as many times as we fall and as often  as we turn away – so long as we repent and turn back to him.

And that’s why we’re here tonight. God is aching to pour out on us the grace of his forgiveness and to bring us to his peace beyond all of our understanding, and we have chosen to come and receive it. We have chosen to be a people marked by faith, hope and love. We long to develop that habit of repentance which allows us to receive the new life God has always wanted for us. The only thing God wants to do is to forgive sinners.  So let us now as a community of faith examine our conscience and repent of our sins.

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Susanna’s story is one of the most eloquent in the Old Testament Scriptures, in it we see the wisdom of the prophet Daniel, as well as the mercy and justice of God. But sadly, we also see in this story the fickleness of the human heart and the evil and treachery that makes up some of our darker moments.

This reading calls us to right wrongs, to be completely honest and forthright in our dealings with others, to seek to purify our hearts of any wicked intent, and most of all to seek to restore right relationships with any person who has something against us, or against whom we have something. Our prayer this day is that God’s mercy and justice would reign, and that God’s kingdom would come about in all its fullness.

Fourth Sunday of Lent [C]

Today’s readings

At the heart of it, Lent is about two things.  First, it’s about baptism.  That’s what the participants in our RCIA program are reflecting on these days, and two of them are preparing to be baptized at our Easter Vigil Mass this year.  And baptism leads us to the second purpose of Lent, which is conversion: forgiveness and reconciliation and grace.  Baptism is the sacrament that initially wipes away our sins and gives us grace to be in relationship with Jesus Christ, who leads us to the Father.

Jesus paints a picture of a very forgiving Father in today’s Gospel, so this story is of course perfect for Lent, when we ourselves are being called to return to God.  Now, I don’t know about you, but when I heard this story growing up, I was always kind of mad about what was going on.  I guess I’d have to say that I identified myself with the older son, who tried to do the right thing and got what seemed to be the short end of the deal.  But that’s not what the story is about.

We of ten call this parable the parable of the Prodigal Son, but I don’t think that’s right because I don’t think the story is about the son – either son – at least not primarily about them.  And the word “prodigal” does not mean what we think it means.  I think when we hear that word, we think prodigal means “wayward” or something, because we are relating the word to the younger son’s actions.  In fact, the word “prodigal” means something like “wildly, rashly, incredibly extravagant.”  It’s related to the words “profuse” or “prodigious.”

So the prodigal one here, I think, is the Father.  First of all, he grants the younger son’s request to receive his inheritance before his father was even dead – which is so presumptuous that it feels hurtful.  Kind of like saying, “Hey dad, I wish you were dead, give me my inheritance now, please.”  But the Father gives him the inheritance without ill-will.  Secondly, the Father reaches out to the younger son on his return, running out to meet him, and before he can even finish his little prepared speech, lavishes gifts on him and throws a party.  So it is the Father who is prodigal here, not the son, not either of the sons.

There is a tendency, I think, for us to put ourselves into the story, which is not a bad thing to do.  But like I mentioned earlier, it’s easy to identify with the hard feelings of the older son sometimes.  But let’s look at these two sons.  First of all, I’ll just say it, it’s not like one was sinful and the other wasn’t – no – they are both sinful.  The younger son’s sin is easy to see.  But the older son, with his underlying resentment and refusal to take part in the joy of his Father, is sinful too.  It’s worth noting that the Father comes out of the house to see both sons.  That’s significant because a good Jewish father in those days wouldn’t come out to meet anyone – they would come to him.  But the Father meets them where they are and desperately, lovingly, pleads with them to join the feast.

So, both sons are sinful.  But remember, this is a parable, and so the characters themselves are significant.  They all symbolize somebody.  We know who the Father symbolizes.  But the sons symbolize people – more specifically groups of people – too.  The younger son was for Jesus symbolic of the non-believer sinners – all those tax collectors and prostitutes and other gentile sinners Jesus was accused of hanging around with.  The older son symbolizes the people who should have known better: the religious leaders – the Pharisees and scribes.  In this parable, Jesus is making the point that the sinners are getting in to the banquet of God’s kingdom before the religious leaders, because the sinners are recognizing their sinfulness, and turning back to the Father, who longs to meet them more than half way.  The religious leaders think they are perfect and beyond all that repenting stuff, so they are missing out.

So again, it’s good to put ourselves in the story.  Which son are we, really?  Have we been like the younger son and messed up so badly that we are unworthy of the love of the Father, and deserve to be treated like a common servant?  Or are we like the older son, and do we miss the love and mercy of God in pursuit of trying to look good in everyone else’s eyes?  Maybe sometimes we are like one of the sons, and other times we are like the other.  But the point is, that we often sin.

But our response has to be like the younger son’s.  We have to be willing to turn back to the Father and be embraced in his mercy and love and forgiveness.  We can’t be like the older son and refuse to be forgiven, insisting on our own righteousness.  The stakes are too high for us to do that: we would be missing out on the banquet of eternal life to which Jesus Christ came to bring us.

For us, this Lent, this might mean that we have to go to confession.  Even if we haven’t been in a long time.  We have confessions at 4pm for the next two Saturdays, and on Saturday the 27th, we also have confessions at 6pm.  We also have our parish penance service on Tuesday the 30th at 7:30 … those are all on the front of the bulletin.  Lent is the perfect time to use that wonderful sacrament of forgiveness to turn back to the Father who longs to meet us more than half way with his prodigal love and mercy.  So don’t let anything get in the way of doing it.  If you haven’t been to confession in a very long time, go anyway.  We priests are there to help you make a good confession and we don’t yell at you, don’t embarrass you – we are there to help you experience God’s mercy.

We are all sinners and the stakes are high.  But the good news is that we have a Prodigal God, who longs to meet us more than half way.  All we have to do is decide to turn back.

Monday of the Second Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Aren’t the Lenten readings challenging?  But this is 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 are plenty of times when it just about kills me 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.  That is our model, that’s what we’re to strive for, that’s 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 the 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 to your neighbors, 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.

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