Thursday, March 31, 2011

4th Sunday of Lent, April 3 2011 (Cycle A)

Today's Readings, Psalm and Gospel passage
Everyone loves an underdog.  We are usually reminded of this at this time of year when the national collegiate basketball tournament is going on.  There are usually one or two teams that come "out of nowhere" to upset some of the more well known powerhouse teams, with their vintage recruiting classes and posessing popular acclaim.

Today we hear in our first reading about how David became king.  David a true underdog, who was the shepherd boy and the least of his brethren.  So much so that he was an afterthought of his own Father when Samuel came to anoint the new King of Israel.  "He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold and making a splendid appearance.  But, not as man sees does God see, the Lord looks into the heart."  The Lord knew that David was capable of being a heroic figure and at the core of his heart knew that his place was to live as a servant of the Lord.

Isn't it ironic, that 3500 years after David walked the earth, Michelangelo was staring at a piece of marble that was marked for discard because it was flawed.  Yet the great sculptor took the rock and found the beauty within it to create the famous statue, "The David".  As if God helped Michelangelo look past the flaws, the ones that the men see and into the heart of the precious stone.  Because of what Michelangelo did with its flaw critics universally acclaim its beauty and significance.  They say the statue signifies two things: David is poised and ready to strike yet passive and relaxed.
Today we hear about the miracle of the blind man given sight in John's Gospel.  The man who stood by and begged all these years and was ignored by the Pharisees because he was "unclean" and flawed.  

He is given the remedy by the true Messiah, who fashions his ointment out of the earth, reminding us of how man was created.  Jesus sends him then to a purification bath, honoring the established law.  But the Pharisees refuse to believe that this is a divine healing and then condemn it because it was done on the Sabbath.

Today's scripture reminds us that God works in unforeseen ways.  God's grace is overflowing as long as we use our eyes of faith to see.  The  blind man is healed and the Jewish leaders are caught up in his supposed sinfulness and then how the remedy violates the sabbath laws.

Today we are called to be open to faith and to see the things of God with new vision.  David is called and relies on God to give him the strength to be courageous and lead.  He remains faithful and mindfully humbles himself before God which is the true testament to his greatness.  How far have the Pharisees fallen when all they can do is look for the "technicality" to beat down the grace of the Messiah's work.

We are like the blind man who no longer is in the dark.  He and we are given the blessing to "see" the world in a different way.  Afterward, we are called to recognize the origin of the gift, the sacrificial Messiah; to give praise where praise is due.  Then we can realize that our faith is a gift, and if we are open to its graces, then it is no longer I who see, but Christ who sees through me.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Third Sunday of Lent, March 27, 2011 (Cycle A)

Link to Todays Readings, Psalm and Gospel

Thirst.  Today we hear some about being thirsty and needing water.  First in our reading from Exodus, the chosen people "grumble" to Moses about the lack of water in the desert.  Then in the Gospel the Samaritan woman fetches a drink of water for Jesus from Jacob's well.

The Gospel story of the Samaritan women has much depth.  First, we must understand that it was forbidden for Jewish leaders to interact with Samaritans.  This is because the Jews and Samaritans were rivals from the time of the Exodus, in the 6th Century B.C.  Most all of the Jews were killed or driven off into exile by the Babylonians.  Somehow the people of Samaria escaped being exiled.  Upon their return, the Jews and Samaritans no longer had a common history, and became adversaries.

Secondly, a Jewish man, a rabbi in this case, Jesus, would also not be permitted to converse with a women.  Gender divisions were very deep and well known at the time of Second Temple Judaism.  In fact, during the seasonal pilgrimages "up" to Jerusalem during the feasts, men and women would travel separately.

Nonetheless our Lord asks the women for a drink because he thirsts.  He thirsts yes for water but also for her soul as he gently corrects her poor choices of moral behavior and reveals himself as Lord to her.  This is an indication of how wide spread the Gospel message is intended.  She runs back home to inform her village.  We can see from the disciples reactions how radical this idea is, that salvation comes from the Jews yet is for all.

Later in John, at the cross, our Lord will say again, "I thirst" (Jn 19:28).  He does so to indicate to us in a timeless fashion that he thirsts for our love, so He can instill in us His grace.

Lots of times our inner faith is likened to a inner vessel or reservoir; it is at varying stages of fullness throughout our spiritual lives.  St. Paul reminds us today in Romans that hope, a theological virtue, does not disappoint.  He says it is like the love of God that has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.  Namely at our Baptism and Confirmation.  These are good images that depict our inner reservoir longing to be filled with the Holy Spirit, our true tonic.  His reference to hope leads us to consolation.

The image above is one that you would see at any of the Missionaries of Charity foundations, Mother Theresa's order.  She realized that His thirst was insatiable, that he wanted to drink us up in His love so as to fill our reservoirs with His love.  Mother Theresa certainly showed a profound and extraordinary response to his invitation by her devotion to Him and His little ones through her service to the most marginalized of society.

Today those who will be received into the Church at Easter receive their first scrutiny.  The purpose of this prayer is to help them prepare to receive the Spirit at Easter in its fullest.  Let us then join our prayers to theirs that their thirst will be satisfied by His love and His grace; that hope in Him and His resurrection does not disappoint.  Let us join them as we receive his sacrificial offering, his body to feed us and his blood to quench our thirst as we move in this world towards our eternal calling, life forever with Him in heaven.

Second Sunday of Lent , March 20, 2011 (Cycle A)

Link to today's Readings, Psalm and Gospel

When in the Holy Land, there is a profound sense of mystery.  One of the reasons for this is the reason our seminary Rector, Monsignor Peter I. Vaccari has given.  He said that the "land" is the fifth Gospel.  What he is insinuating is that once you walk the land, see the "wadis", canyons, desert as well as the "fertile plains", everything changes with respect to your study of scripture.  You can make an "Application of the Senses", one of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  You can imagine the places that Jesus (and other biblical characters) visited, walked and talked about.
Info on "The Spiritual Exercises"
You can see (I hope) from this aerial picture of Jerusalem, the "City on a Hill" that the fertile plain of Jerusalem stands out from the surrounding Judean desert.  The reason for this is that there are many underground springs feeding the soil of the plateau on the city that King David built, 3000 years ago.  This makes it a giant oasis in the desert and undoubtedly an important piece of land to possess, notwithstanding its spiritual significance.

It was the place that Abram (later Abraham), the subject of the today's first Reading from Genesis encountered the priest-king Melchizadek, offering him 10% of his wealth for his sacrificial blessing (Genesis 14:17-24).  It was the place that God directed Abram to go, leaving behind his relatives and friends for an uncertain future, a future guided by his eventual covenant relationship with YHWH (FAITH).  This would be a relationship of mutual trust that sprang the great Judeo-Christian era that we live in today.  Abram became Abraham, the father of our faith and our first Prophet.

In our Gospel from Mathew, we hear about the "Transfiguration".  Jesus is changed on Mt. Tabor.
Mount Tabor (Hebrew: הַר תָּבוֹר‎‎, Arabic: {جبل الطور }, Greek: Όρος Θαβώρ) is located in Lower Galilee, at the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley, 11 miles (18 km) west of the Sea of Galilee, in Israel.

On this important site Jesus is changed into what some scholars call his "glorified body".  This is what his heavenly body looks like, "His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light" (see today's Gospel).  Here Sts. Peter, James and John hear the heavenly Father's voice, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”  This scared them.  Jesus tells them to not be afraid and then orders them to be silent.

How will we be transfigured this Lent?  Will we react to the Gospel in a new way, or when Easter arrives will we fall back into our "old ways".  Let us make an attempt then this Easter to follow him more closely by ingraining some of our Lenten practices into our daily habits, rather than simply discarding them.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

1st Sunday of Lent, 13 March 2011 (Cycle A)

Link to Todays Readings, Psalm and Holy Gospel

We pause for a moment to pray in solidarity for the tragic victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.....especially for the untold number of friends and relatives in the NY metro area who are suffering.........for the dead, Requiem et Pacem.!

Imagine a perfect world.  Easier yet, imagine what our own perfect world would look like.  Perhaps, if you like luxury cars, one day you would look out your window and find your "dreammobile" sitting in your driveway with a big red bow on it.

Perhaps your dream world would be no dishes to clean.  You could have a wonderful banquet with all of your favorite guests, living and dead, celebrity or long lost friend; any makeup whatsoever that you could dream of.

The kids would always play "nice", and bring home straight "A" report cards to boot.  College funds?  Forgettaboughtit...........full scholarship to the best "Ivy League" schools.

Oh yes, and the family dog.  What dream could be complete without the family pet.  He/She never sheds, never "begs" for food and takes care of cleaning up after themselves.  'Nuff said.

That image for us, whatever we conjure could be the Garden of Eden.

 Jacob de Backer ca. 1555, Antwerp, Belgium - ca. 1585, Antwerp, Belgium School: Flemish

 The Garden of Eden is the subject of our first reading from Genesis and is a simple way of presenting paradise to us, in a way that we can understand today as easy as early biblical man could thousands of years ago.  The point is that Adam and Eve, our first parents, had it all.  They lived in a beautiful garden, surrounded by interesting creatures and had wont for nothing.  God was in their midst and he gave them perfect freedom and just one simple rule to follow: do not eat of the "Tree of Knowledge".  Why?  Because it would corrupt them and ruin their perfect relationship with Him forever. 

As we move into our first full week of lent..........first let us recall our mortifications: fasting, penance and almsgiving.  Let us renew our resolve.  If our resolve is weak than let us completely renew our resolve by taking a different approach this week.  If we gave up sweets and this has failed then let us promise to pray more every day (rosary, novena, quiet time set aside for private prayer).  If prayer hasn't worked than perhaps almsgiving: let us volunteer at the "soup kitchen" or habitat for humanity one weekend.  You get the point.  Mortify ourselves to be in stronger communion with Him, the Christ.

Finally (I have to be brief today), let us remember that Christ renews all things in us.  All things!  

St. Paul explains to us in the proclamation from Romans today that Jesus literally reverses the effects of Original Sin.  What Adam has failed in doing (or not doing) Christ has succeeded in accomplishing.  "It is finished (complete)", we hear Our Lord say in John's Gospel, when he hands over His Spirit and dies on the cross (Jn 19:30). 
Bible Quote Here

 Jesus' perfect obedience nullifies Adams perfect disobedience, therefore we are called to salvation by his eternal, profound act of charity; this alone merits our call.  There is nothing you or I can do to merit eternal salvation, the heavenly kingdom or our "Garden of Eden" ourselves.  God did it for us.  Then, now and forever.  

We need only to love Him beyond all else, and learn to live in communion with him and each other.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Great Lenten Blog

My brother seminarians have a great site (also in the "My Blogs" section to the right)
Journey Towards Easter
Happy Lent!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ash Wednesday

Miserere mei Domine:  Have mercy on me, God, in your compassion blot out my offense (Psalm 51)
Link to today's Readings, Psalm and Gospel

Ash Wednesday is a very interesting day in our Catholic liturgical year.  It is one of our busiest days yet it is not an official "holy day of obligation."  Each parish usually has many opportunities for the faithful to receive "ashes" both after Mass or at other liturgies (and sometimes in between).  When we approach to receive our ashes from the minister, we hear one of two proclamations, “remember that dust you are, and to dust you shall return,” or "repent and believe in the Gospel."  These are important "invitations" for us to consider for Lent, to which we will return to shortly.

In today's first reading from the Prophet Joel, we hear:

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.

Our God is communicating through Joel*, who at least 500 years before Christ (B.C.), that we must deny ourselves to understand our merciful God.  YHWH is communicating an important message through Joel that we are all called to holiness, that this is achieved through God's grace and our cooperation.  Our cooperation begins with prayer, fasting and alms-giving.  That is why later in the passage we hear Joel say, "Blow the trumpet in Zion! Proclaim a fast."  How can it be that a fast, depriving ourselves of sustenance can be something to be proclaimed?

For an answer we turn to St. Paul who in today's reading, a proclamation to the Church in Corinth, says we are called to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor 5:20).  For us to be ambassadors to the One who is God and the One who is sinless and perfect, than we must enjoin to purify ourselves by sanctification. 

In our Gospel from St. Mathew, we hear that we are to pray to God privately.  Our Lord is making a profound statement about how humility is a virtue and pride is a vice.  He says this to counter the Pharisees who loved to pray and lament in public exposing their pride and lacking humility.  They were filled with sinful pride.  St. Augustine (late 4th early 5th C), when defining the seven "Deadly Sins" (not official Dogma, but helpful here) called Pride the worst.

Pride is evil and drives man to do evil things.  Think about some of the contemporary tragedies in the news.  Dictator autocrats are falling from power in the mid-east region.  Here in the U.S. we are still recovering from the great financial crisis of 2008, the worst since the tragedy of the Great Depression, 75 years ago.  And even our local baseball team, The Mets cannot escape the wrath of the great Madoff,  Ponzi Scheme caper.

The tragedies go beyond these events.  This is so because we have seen these things before.  Dictator types seem to always re-emerge in another marginalized nation to grab power with the "solution".  The Great Depression spawned legislation to prevent financial meltdown like ours from occurring again, until these laws were repealed in the 1980s and 90s.  This allowed our banks and financial institutions to become "too big to fail"; hence trillions of dollars in tax payer funded "bail-outs".  Every licensed financial broker must know how to recognize "Ponzi Schemes" to pass their licensing exams.  Yet somehow the "loopholes" are exploited.

These things are pure evil.  They recur because they appeal to our greatest vice, pride.  Unfortunately, St. Augustine was right, these sins can be deadly. 

Part of what Lent represents for us is solidarity in prayer.  We pray in petition for our own sanctification: that we may become more obvious of our misdeeds.  We also pray for the sins of the world.  Things like the obvious: dictators who oppress the marginalized
and here locally the health of our government and our economy.  Our prayer is a petition to God to make things right by relieving the suffering of the world.  He does this through our collective human conscience.

On Ash Wednesday we are signed with ashes for at least two good reasons.  First, we are signed with the Cross.  This is the mark of our salvation.  This is our identity as Christian.  This is the means for our expiation; our share in the heavenly kingdom guaranteed by Christ for those who turn to him and away from sin and evil.

Second, we are signed with ASHES.  This is because our mortal bodies will become dust once we are dead.  It is a reminder that we are human, that we are predisposed to sin (Original).  But the good news that the Gospel teaches us that we are redeemed by the Son of God, our Savior and our Messiah who gives us His seven sacraments to counter those "deadly" seven vices.

Ultimately we are called to the heavenly kingdom instead of our earthly abodes.  But one reason that He put us here is to help Him in our tiny ways (gifts and blessings) to bring others to the light.

So this Ash Wednesday we are invited to be signed in Christ.  Get your ashes early if you can.  Wear them proudly on the center of your foreheads.  You will be surprised how much respect you will garner for Him, and how He will shower you with grace.  And I would bet that you might even encounter a stranger who asks where he/she can get ashes for themselves, an amazing grace!  It is amazing what can happen when we trust in Him who is, "The Way, the Truth and the Life" and shows us the only way to the Father's kingdom, where there are many, many rooms for all who seek it (Jn 14:2-6).

*Joel (Hebrew: יואל‎) was a prophet of ancient Israel, the second of the twelve minor prophets and the author of the Book of Joel.
Joel: wikipedia

Saturday, March 5, 2011

9th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A (Last Sunday Before Lent)

Link to Today's Scripture
Dt 11:18, 26-28, 32, Ps 31:2-3, 3-4, 17, 25, Rom 3:21-25, 28

Many years ago there was an "ad campaign" on TV; I remember seeing it as a young boy.  Apparently there was a real problem with public littering on our streets and in our cities.  The public service commercial showed an American Indian, or Native American Chief, in full regalia walking around.  He looked ashamedly at all these trash pits along the sides of our roads.  After seeing people dispose of their trash by throwing it out of their moving cars he turns to the camera.  With a face that seems expressionless, he continues to turn into view and you see the "hook".  There is a profound sense of sadness about this man, this no longer brave and courageous warrior chieftain.  He is crying, judging by the tear streaming down his cheek.

It was a brilliant campaign, and I can remember still being little and noticing these abandoned lots where there was much trash.  I got the point.  And seemingly so did the target audience because the litter problem seemed to dissipate; it is not quite the problem today that it once was, at least that is my perception.

We begin with this image to draw our attention to our collective conscience, as a society and our individual consciences as people of God.  Regardless of our ethnicity, creed or color; we are all people that are created by God.  We are, as Ezekiel says (11:19), created with a clean heart, and God's natural law is written on it.

Today’s readings are similarly connected with this thread.  We, as people of the Judeo-Christian tradition have received God as revealed to man in His sacred word, and then eventually as Jesus Christ the Word made Flesh.

First we hear from Moses, the great Prophet of the Jews, extol his people to live by the commandments.  If they shun "the law" then they will be cursed.  Our Psalmist extols us to ask God to be our rock, our foundation the stable ground under our proverbial feet.  St. Paul tells us, perhaps in his greatest Epistle (Romans) that Christ has completed the eternal sacrifice for us.  No longer do we need to make our own sacrifice.  The only necessity is to trust in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ who had Faith in the Father's will.  That faith now is his testimony to us to believe in his paschal sacrifice which satisfies and justifies our eternal reward: the heavenly kingdom.

In Mark, Jesus tells the disciples not to "fake it"; that will get them no where.  They are to genuinely live the Gospel and not be showboats.  This is a thinly veiled rebuke of the Pharisees and Sadducees who liked to publicly profess their faith and then privately treat the law with contempt, especially in their treatment of those marginalized by their gender, physical handicap or lack of wealth (widows).

Instead he says our testimony of faith in him, by listening to and conforming to His teaching (as difficult as it is) will rise to heaven.  He alludes to the Psalmist we heard earlier by using the metaphor of building a house on rock or sand.  We all know that rock makes the best foundation.  Just look at the sturdy NY skyline built on the bedrock of Manhattan Island.  Jesus is the eternal rock, the foundation of our faith and it is He who assures us of our place in heaven.

We are shifting from Ordinary Time into Lent, beginning next Wednesday, Ash Wednesday.  Lent is a time for penance: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  These are necessary steps for our sanctification, or purification.  We remember how often Jesus went off alone to pray in the Gospels, especially after his Baptism in the Jordan by John (the Baptist).  He spent 40 days in the desert, praying, fasting and was tempted by the devil three times (Mt 4:1-11).  In fact this is next weeks Gospel, the first Sunday of Lent.

Why is our fasting important?  Why should we take our Lenten penance seriously?  Why do we deny ourselves "meat" on Fridays?  Why do we fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday?

One reason is because that is what we do as Catholics, it is our unique identity.  The Jews fast on Yom Kippur, their day of atonement and mortify themselves (give up electricity and their cars, etcetera ....) on the Sabbath.  Muslims fast during their holy month of Ramadan.  But there is a difference for us....

We do this ultimately in solidarity with Him, Jesus Christ, who is God.  He became man for us, for our salvation.  This is a great act of Love by the Triune God who needs nothing, not even our response.

Then the Son, as man, subjected himself to the most dreadful death imagined by the harshest perceivable means.
This is not "Catholic Guilt" or its formal definition, Jansenism (a declared heresy).  This is how much God loves us by sending his Son out of love for you and me so we may believe in God through the actions of the Son, to live by his teaching bringing all who we encounter closer to Him (Jn 3:16f).

Let us then take this Lent seriously.  It is a time for mortification.  A time for healing.  It is the place where we clear out the things of our being that block our ability to love Him, and each other.  If we do it well we learn (again) that are only true yearning is God, and He is our ultimate joy and fulfillment.

Then again, this year on April 24, we remember that He rose from the dead.  Calling us to new life, eternal life in heaven with Him...and all the Angels and Saints, who praise and glorify God, where there is only joy, and pure and brilliant light, the light of God forever, perfect LOVE.  Amen.