Friday, February 24, 2012

1st Sunday of Lent, B

Link to Today's Readings and Gospel
King David showing remorse for his sinfulness

Today is  our first Sunday of Lent, our annual 40 days of preparation for the glory of Easter.  We hear in our first reading about a new covenant with God that will be shown by the sign of a rainbow, that miraculous and mysterious work of God through nature.  God had to cleanse his people from their un-repentant sinfulness, their irreversible concupiscence that had gone to far.  

In 1st Peter we hear that Christ's profound purpose is to lead us to God.  Christ comes down from heaven to lead us to God through our sinfulness and our purification.  He remains with us today in the Spirit, as he promised that he would never abandon us.  The water of baptism recall's Noah's Ark and it's saving power from the floods that wiped out the world and it's inhabitants.

We heard what is perhaps my favorite prayer and my favorite Psalm twice in the first three days of Lent, Psalm 51 (including Ash Wednesday) -- Miserere mei Domine -- The first stanza goes:

Have mercy on me in your kindness, Lord
In your compassion, blot out my offense.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.

This beautiful poem (hymn) is attributed to King David, the great Israeli King who lived 1000 years before Christ and from whom Jesus descends.   The setting for this beautiful, penitential act is the following.

David is King and Israel is secure from all its enemies and outside invaders.  While his army is out campaigning David sees from his roof the beautiful but married Bathsheba bathing on her roof.  He sends for her and sleeps with her, impregnating her.  She sends him a message alerting him to this fact.

He tries to cover up their affair but her husband will not return to his bed, instead showing loyalty to the King and remaining as his guard.  David is faced with a dilemma.  He will be exposed as an adulterer.

He has a choice to make and chooses wrong.  He has Uriah killed on the battlefield and then takes Bathsheba as his wife.  Nathan sees the wrong (he is the King's prophet) and tells David a parable so that the scandal will be exposed to him.

The greatness of David might be attributed to many things: his just rule, his military might or his elevation of the chosen people of God to the status of great nation.  However, I believe we venerate David (as do our Jewish brothers and sisters) because of his kind heart.  

King David had a repentant heart as seen by the words of Psalm 51.  He realizes his weakness, his frailty and turns to God for forgiveness.  He takes measures to make recompense, he fasts and mourns and puts himself at the mercy of God.  He prays for forgiveness and tries to do good by the widow Bathsheba taking her as his wife.

In our Gospel today we hear of Jesus, who is Lord and God, going to prepare himself for ministry in the Desert.  Jesus reminds us all why it is important to retreat into solitude and fasting to garner spiritual strength.  He allows angels to minister to him while being tempted by the evil one.  He emerges perhaps physically weaker but spiritual stronger to resolve to do the will of his Father.  Mark announces at the end of this passage that "This is the time of fulfillment, to repent and believe in the Gospel."  Thus Our Lord's earthly ministry begins.

We must to learn from King David that prayer, fasting and almsgiving are important practices of Christian virtue.  We must prepare ourselves as does The Christ to foster oneness with the Lord God.  We must recognize that we live in the time of fulfillment and so order our lives to the Gospel.  As is said to us on Ash Wednesday, "Repent and believe in the Gospel."  We need not await any other signs such as Noah's rainbow.  

We begin Lent knowing that the awaited Messiah, the Son of God and the son of David has come and calls us to conversion.  He will come again at the end of time to judge the living and the dead.  He is the fulfillment of all scripture and prophesy, the long awaited Messiah of the House of David.  David who as all powerful King could have ignored Nathan and done nothing.  Instead he repented recognizing that God is Lord of all our lives, especially those with much power.

There is nothing left to make us complete except to turn toward our Lord and believe in the Gospel.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

7th Sun OT Cycle B

Today's Readings

Few are not moved by the image of friends who go to great lengths to see us healed.  At the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, where I studied for the priesthood, there is a great wooden Raredos behind the altar.  It depicts scenes from the New Testament and in one panel is the scene of the paralytic being lowered through the roof.  It is my favorite of the twenty panels, because like the image above, the men can clearly be seen going to great lengths to help their downtrodden friend.

This week the entertainment world was (again) stricken with sad news, the death of Whitney Houston.  By my un-official count that would be about a half dozen "pop-stars" dying under mysterious circumstances, with drug and alcohol abuse providing the haze.  Most recently there was Heath Ledger, Brittany Murphy, Amy Winehouse and now Houston among others.  The news report said Whitney was carousing at rehearsals but did not appear to be herself.  The suggestion would be that she was under the influence of "something".  This despite the widely known fact that she is a substance-abuser in "recovery".

In our Gospel there are many good lessons for meditation.  There is the popularity of Christ so early in St. Mark's Gospel.  There is the faith in The Christ that he can heal.  There is the discourse between Our Lord and the Pharisees regarding his authority to forgive sinners.

For me, in light of another tragic "hollywood" death, it is the length in which the paralytic friends go to, to put their friend within Christ's reach.  They first take apart the roof, then fasten the man in rope and then gently lower him down the roof to be healed.

Where was Whitney's friends and family in her hour of need?  Why was she allowed to go on abusing substances?  Why were the others allowed to "expire" before their time?  Does anyone in the Hollywood set care or are they just happy that there has been a spike in record sales?

My friends we are called to be more than bystanders to those who we love as they make train wrecks of their lives.  We are called to bring them to help and loving forgiveness.

Let this week's events and our Gospel be a lesson for us all.  Christ is our High Priest and Divine Physician.  We would do good to resolve, now and in the future, to be the intervening agent in the lives of those who cannot help themselves. Like those who helped the paralytic meet Christ, we too can do ordinary things that will have extraordinary value in others lives by bringing them to the healing hand of God.  He, who makes all things new and is capable of reconciling us all.

To do so we only need to ask for His help and His strength.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, B

Jesus heals the leper and returns him to society.

Today we hear in the first reading of the Levitical law regarding the handling of those afflicted with Leprosy.  They must make themselves obvious in manner and appearance, present themselves to the priest and dwell apart from others.  This is a failed expression of the law because these people are marginalized and does not witness to the exemplary manner that the children of Israel are called to; in fact it does not distinguish the Chosen People from the actions of ordinary pagans.

St. Paul exhorts us to imitate Christ in all things by showing glory to Him.  Doing so will benefit all.

In the Gospel we have an ironic twist.  By healing the leper, Jesus becomes the outcast, having now to remain on the outskirts of villages.  At his cure, the leper returns to society after the prescribed ritual cleansing by the priest.  

In our nation today we Catholics may feel a bit like lepers.  Our government has initiated wide sweeping "healthcare reform" that thumbs its nose at religious liberty and freedom of conscience.  We must support these unpopular measures or face serious fines, perhaps criminal charges.  

This strategy is the epitome of "radical secularism", a phrase coined by none other than our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.  The government is saying in a way that we will not be undeterred in marginalizing religious belief and rights, despite that constitutional protections afforded such.  Radical secularism purports    that religious beliefs are best kept private out of the public realm where they can challenge relativistic moral "values".  

Pope Benedict XVI has said (in Light of the World) that radical secularism is the greatest evil existent in the world today.  It attempts to overshadow the objective Truth of our faith: that all life is sacred, created in the image and likeness of God and has an inviolable right to life.  This is enshrined in the deposit of faith and our U.S. Constitution.

Some have said the modern "secularists" want us Catholics out of education, health care and social services.  This is despite the good we do; as St. Paul said, "To the benefit of all".  This stance against us is despite the fact that we are the largest private educator in the U.S., the largest private health care network and social service agencies.  And we refuse no one!

The current issues and Gospel message of today show us that we have much work to do.  We must object strenuously to these affronts by politicians on religious liberty and freedom of conscience.  We must contact our senators and representatives and vote with our conscience next fall.  It is no longer the time to act on our emotions and vote for the popular choice.  Instead we must invoke real change by the power of our voices and our votes.  

Failing this, we will mimic the leper we hear about in the OT Leviticus reading and be banned to the margins of society.  Instead we can go to Christ who heals and restores us to our rightful place as advocates for all in the public square.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

5th Sunday OT, Cycle B, February 5, 2012

Today's Readings and Gospel

Saint Peter's house in Capernaum, the site of today's Gospel passage.

Today our scripture begins with the Lamentations of Job.  Job was a faithful servant of YHWH but lost everything: his family, his fortune and lastly his health for no apparent reason.  We must not forget that the children of Israel believed that misfortune was a curse and punishment from God.  Here Job wonders why he has found this undeserved fate.

Saint Paul remarks to the Corinthians, the wealthy Church in Asia-Minor, that he has given all to God and expects nothing in return.  This is said in contrast to Job.  Paul empties himself like Christ so he may be all things to all people which will, through God’s grace, save some of them.  He does this because this is his calling.  Remember that Paul once persecuted Christians until he encountered Christ on the road to Damascus.  He knows true discipleship comes with no strings attached.

In the Gospel, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law.  Here our Lord travels with his first companions (who we heard about two weeks ago when he called them from their labor as fisherman) to labor in the vineyard of the Lord.  Peter’s mother in law is completely healed and restored to health which is depicted by her eagerness to be a good hostess.

Later we see Jesus healing all who came to him, literally the entire town.  Once again we see in Mark that the demons are not permitted to speak by Jesus.  Even they are obedient to God despite their lowliness.  This is called the Messianic Secret in Mark; it’s purpose is to allow the Son of God to be gradually revealed to the disciples.  This is so they may embrace him fully and not be shocked or misled as they have been by false prophets offering instant gratification.  How many times we too are lured into the shallowness of instant gratification in this consumerist society in which we live.

Finally Our Lord, goes to pray alone.  In the silence of the pre-dawn morning he communes with His Father in heaven.  There he learns that he should continue to spread the good news, now beyond Capernaum to all of the Galilee region.  This is His mission so that all may learn the good news of salvation, never resting his laurels or building himself an earthly abode.  Instead he moves onward and eventually upward to his only abode in heaven.  But first much work is to be done and ultimately he will give his life as the perfect sacrifice, an oblation made for the many who will come to recognize His messiahship.

Today as we ponder these sacred readings, we can reflect:
  • That we too, like Jesus need to devote time to prayer to learn the Father's will for us.
  • That God does not direct suffering to us as Job eventually finds out.
  • That Jesus came for all to be saved.  St. Paul understood this and we should too.
What do we need to let go of so that we may fully receive Christ in our lives?  What can we do to prepare to greet him as our companion every day of our lives?  Prayer, penance and devotion?