Monday – Naaman
Naaman was highly insulted. He had come all this way to Israel in the hope of finding a cure for his leprosy. First off, the Israelite king hadn't known what to do for him and even thought that his arrival was some kind of Assyrian trick intended to pick a fight. Naaman was slightly annoyed by the whole matter.
Then the king had sent him along to some fellow named Elisha who was supposed to be a great and powerful prophet. Naaman had arrived at Elisha's door in splendor, complete with a show of fine horses and chariots. He wanted to make a good impression after all. But the prophet wouldn't even see him! He just sent Naaman a message: “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean.”
Now Naaman was really miffed. What kind of advice was that? He was looking for a miracle, not a bath! If he wanted to go swimming, there were plenty of rivers in Assyria. He didn't have to come all the way to Israel for that. He was ready to turn around and go straight home, cure or no cure.
Then some of Naaman's servants approached. “My father,” they began, somewhat hesitantly, “if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it?" So, they continued, why not give this idea a try? Naaman had to give them credit for daring to even ask him such questions, but he also had to admit that they were right. He had, after all, been expecting some difficult task, something that would earn his cure somehow. He would have been more than willing to have done such a thing. Maybe, just maybe, the washing the river thing seemed too easy. It poked at his pride.
So Naaman followed the prophet's command. He washed in the Jordan River seven times, and when he came out, he was both dripping wet and completely healed. He also had a brand new perspective. He believed that Israel's God was indeed the only God, and he realized that this God wanted obedient followers much more than proud show-offs. Naaman went home a new man in more ways than one.
Tuesday – The Take and Give of Forgiveness
In today's Gospel, we listen as Jesus tells a parable about the take and give of forgiveness. That's right...take and give, not the other way around.
The main character in the parable is a servant who is in debt to his king. He can't pay, and he knows it, so he goes to the king to beg for mercy. “Be patient with me,” he pleads, “and I will pay you back in full.” The king looks upon his groveling servant with compassion and forgives his entire debt. The servant leaves the king's presence free and clear; he has received a marvelous gift.
As quick as he is to reach out and take the king's forgiveness, however, the servant is not willing to give the same pity to anyone else. Just after leaving the king, he comes across a fellow servant who owes him a little bit of money. One would think that he would graciously tell the man to forget about the matter, thereby extending the same forgiveness he had just received. But he doesn't. Instead, he grabs his fellow servant, starts to choke him, and demands that he pay back every penny. The fellow servant cries out for mercy in the same words the first man had used to speak to the king, but this time they don't work. The fellow servant ends up in prison.
Witnessing all this, the other servants are extremely disturbed, and they report back to the king, who is naturally upset by the matter. After all, he had just forgiven this servant a large sum of money, and now he hears that this person refused to do the same for someone else's small debt. He calls the servant into his presence, and this time things aren't nearly so pleasant. “You wicked servant!” the king exclaims. “I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” The time for mercy is now long gone, and the servant ends up in the hands of the torturers.
The servant brings his fate on himself, of course. He is so willing to take, but he is not willing to give. Do we do the same?
Wednesday – Don't Forget
In today's first reading, Moses essentially tells the Israelites, “Don't forget everything that God has done for you.” Don't forget how He heard your cries when you were slaves in Egypt. Don't forget how He brought down plagues on the stubborn Pharaoh. Don't forget how He passed over your firstborn sons and saved them from death. Don't forget how He led you out of Egypt in a fiery cloud. Don't forget how He parted the Red Sea and then let it fall back over the pursuing Egyptians. Don't forget how He made a covenant with you and gave you a Law. Don't forget how He fed you with manna and made water flow from a rock for you to drink. Don't forget how He defeated your enemies and led you to the land He had promised.
We, too, must not forget what God has done for us. Every day we ought to take a few minutes to recall the blessings God has poured out upon our lives. This practice will give us confidence, for God does not change. What He has done in the past, He will continue to do. We just have to remember His blessings, recognize them, and receive them with grateful hearts.
Sunday, February 28, 2016
Thursday, February 25, 2016
Thursday – Barren or Fruitful?
Are you barren or fruitful in your spiritual life?
Are you like the man in the first reading who turns away from God and trusts in human beings? This man is as barren as a bush in a lava plain or a desert or a salty wasteland. He will not bear the fruits of faith, hope, and love because he rejects God's gifts. He will only wither without the grace that only God can provide.
Or are you like the man who trusts in God and puts his hope only in Him? This man will flourish like a tree beside a fresh and flowing stream. His roots go down so deep into the living waters of God's grace that even the drought of earthly suffering will not make his leaves and branches droop and fade. He has no fear of what might happen in this life, for he knows that God will care for him tenderly and bring him home to Heaven. Therefore, he produces the good fruits of love and mercy.
Barren or fruitful? We each have a choice. Which will it be?
Friday – A Man Sent Before
Joseph was quite young when he went to Egypt, and he certainly didn't go voluntarily. His own brothers sold him into slavery for a mere twenty pieces of silver. Joseph's life wasn't easy for quite a long time. He rose to prominence in the household of an important Egyptian but then ended up in prison when the Egyptian's wife accused him of a crime he didn't commit.
But God didn't forget Joseph. Even in prison, he revealed his management skills and was soon running the place and interpreting dreams for other prisoners. His God-given gift in that area was what eventually got him out of jail.
One night the Pharaoh had a strange dream that he just couldn't figure out...something about seven fat cows and seven thin cows and then seven plump ears of grain and seven blighted ears. He couldn't make heads nor tails out of it, and it troubled him. The Pharaoh's cupbearer had been in prison with Joseph, and Joseph had actually interpreted a dream for him once, so the servant told the Pharaoh about this Hebrew he once knew who had a knack for figuring out difficult dreams. The Pharaoh sent for Joseph at once.
Under God's guidance, Joseph told the Pharaoh that his dream foretold seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine. Joseph, ever the practical man, also had a plan to help Pharaoh prepare for those imminent years of famine: collect one-fifth of the crops during the productive years and put them in reserve; then there would be plenty to eat during the lean years. The Pharaoh loved the idea so much that he made Joseph his right-hand man.
In almost an instant, Joseph rose from the very bottom of the heap to the very top, second only to Pharaoh himself. Joseph was an excellent administrator, and he fit nicely into Egyptian life, but he never forgot his roots. One day, in the midst of the famine, his brothers showed up to buy food. They didn't recognize Joseph, of course, for he looked like a typical Egyptian vizier. Joseph knew them, but he wasn't about to tell them who he was. Further, although he had already forgiven them, he skillfully led them through a series of tests and trials that brought them to repentance for their sin of selling him in the first place and to a much greater love for each other.
When Joseph finally revealed his true identity, his brothers were pretty nervous. Joseph, however, was quick to reassure them that he bore no grudge. In fact, he recognized God's hand in everything that had happened. God had sent him on ahead to make sure that his family (and indeed much of the Middle East) would not perish in the time of famine but would be able to carry on the covenant that God had made with them. God had a plan; Joseph was His chosen instrument. And Joseph was content with that.
Saturday – God Delights in Mercy
God delights in mercy. He wants to forgive His people. He longs for us to turn to Him with contrite hearts. It pleases Him greatly to wash a repentant sinner clean and wrap him up in love. He desires nothing more than to have all of His children safe at home with Him for all eternity.
Take a few moments to reflect on this great truth, and then turn to God to receive the mercy He so delights to bestow.
Sunday, February 21, 2016
Monday – You are the Christ
It was an amazing proclamation: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Simon must have been shocked to hear those words coming from his own lips. His very next thought may well have been, “Huh? What? Where did that come from? Wow.”
Jesus knew Who had given His fisherman friend such a revelation. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah,” He replied. “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My heavenly Father.”
Jesus and His Father had a plan for Simon. He was to be the rock upon which Jesus would build His Church, the vicar of the King, who would hold the keys to the Kingdom and have the authority to bind and loose. Therefore, Simon needed to know the truth. That's why the Father placed this knowledge in his heart and on his lips. That's why he exclaimed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Tuesday – Going through the Motions
People can be really good at going through the motions of religion. In today's Psalm, we hear God remark that His people's sacrifices are always before Him. They recite His laws and talk about His covenant. But they don't follow the laws nor keep the covenant, and their sacrifices are meaningless because they don't offer them with their hearts.
The Pharisees of the Gospel are also experts at going through the motions. They love to give orders and weigh down their followers with a multitude of customs. They thrive on being seen and honored and greeted with titles. They wear special clothing to indicate their status. Everything they do is designed to make them important. But they don't truly worship God. Their practices are empty, their titles unimpressive in the end, their honor fleeting, and their status merely earthly.
These two readings are designed to make us ask ourselves some important questions. Do we merely go through the motions of worshiping God? Is Mass merely a routine? Do we actually follow God's law in both our day-to-day choices and our major moral decisions? Are we really in a covenant with God; are we really His children? What are our motives when we pray or serve others? Are we just trying to bolster our reputation? Are we just looking for honor? Or do we truly give God all of our praise, our love, and, most importantly, ourselves?
Wednesday – Out to Get Him
Jeremiah had ever reason to be paranoid. People really were out to get him. The residents of Judah and Jerusalem were troubled by the prophet's message. They simply didn't like being told that they were wrong, that they weren't worshiping God in the way He wanted to be worshiped, that they were sinning. So they decided to eliminate the problem. They would get rid of Jeremiah...permanently.
“Come,” they said to one another, “let us contrive a plot against Jeremiah.” It wouldn't be any great loss really, they told themselves. They would still have the priests and the teachers, the ones who tended to tell them what they wanted to hear, but this nuisance prophet wouldn't trouble them any longer.
Jeremiah recognized their scheme and turned to God for help. “Must good be repaid with evil,” he asked, “that they should dig a pit to take my life?” He reminded God that he had even prayed for these people that they might not feel His wrath. He was only trying to help them, and now they were turning on him.
Jeremiah was certainly not the only person to ever feel like the world was out to get him (and be right about it). He foreshadowed Jesus in this, for Jesus, too, made His complacent contemporaries so uncomfortable that they wanted to, and did, kill Him. We, too, often experience such animosity and betrayal from others, especially when we challenge their core beliefs and behaviors. But like Jeremiah and Jesus, we are called to be light for the world, to shine into dark corners, and to proclaim God's word and God's way to all people, even if they don't accept them.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Thursday – Esther's Prayer
Queen Esther was in the worst position anyone could ever be in. The king, on the advice of a jealous courtier, had decreed that all the Jews were to be annihilated in a single day. He didn't realize that his own queen was one of those sentenced to death.
Esther's adopted father, Mordecai, asked her to go before the king and plead for the lives of her people. There was, however, a bit of a problem. Anyone who entered the king's presence without being summoned was liable to instant death unless the king extended his scepter to that person. Esther had not been invited into the throne room, but she had no choice. To save her people and herself, she had to approach the king.
She understood, though, that she couldn't do it on her own. She needed divine power to back her up. So she prayed. She placed herself completely in God's hands. Remembering her Lord's great deeds in the past, she asked Him to help her now. She begged Him to be with her and put just the right words in her mouth to convince the king that the Jews were innocent. “Save us from the hand of our enemies,” she pleaded, “turn our mourning into gladness and our sorrows into wholeness.”
God answered Esther's prayer. The king graciously extended his scepter to the queen when she entered into his presence. He accepted her invitation to a banquet, and he encouraged her to present her petition. When he realized that his queen and her people were in grave danger, he became furious. He quickly executed the courtier in question and issued a second decree that the Jews were not to be disturbed. By trusting in God and relying on His help, Queen Esther saved her people.
Friday – It's Not Fair!
“The Lord's way is not fair!” So said the Israelites. They were upset because God gave second chances to sinners who changed their ways but punished “good people” who sinned. This just didn't jive with their ideas of right and wrong. They were slow to forgive those with a reputation and equally slow to censure the “better sort” who were breaking the moral law.
God replied with a question: “Is it My way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” Even someone with a long string of virtuous behavior can fall into sin and suffer its consequences. That person risks eternal death if he does not repent. On the other hand, a person with a long string of sins is always welcome to turn away from wickedness and seek God's forgiveness. That person will find what he seeks and live.
So which way is truly fair? God's or man's?
Saturday – Love Your Enemies
In today's Gospel, we hear what are probably some of the most challenging words Jesus ever said: “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you...”
Love your enemies. How can we do that when we feel like we can't even stand the sight of them? This kind of love, however, isn't about emotion. It's not about approving of people's behavior or choices. It doesn't even really require that we like the other person.
Instead, this love demands that we will the absolute best for other people, even our enemies, and do everything in our power to help them achieve that absolute best. This love challenges us to step out of ourselves, to let go of our ideas, and to see our enemies as beloved children (or potential children) of God. This love expects us to give freely of ourselves to help others, even those we would rather not deal with at all.
This self-giving love must always include prayer. We must lift our enemies up to God and ask Him to bless them.
Is this difficult? Does it sometimes seem impossible? Of course. That's when we need to ask God for His grace to assist us. He never requires anything of us that He won't help us do. Even if we can't rely on our own strength in this area, we can certainly rely on His. With God's help, we can indeed love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
Sunday, February 14, 2016
Monday – Dare to Be Holy
Do you dare to be holy?
Do you dare to have faith in God? To believe in His self-revelation? To realize that He has a plan for your life? To trust Him to do exactly what is best for you? To surrender yourself into His arms?
Do you dare to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself? To respect the persons and property of others? To be honest? To speak positive words rather than negative? To let go of grudges and forgive?
Do you dare to hope? To anticipate eternal life with God? To long for Him above all else?
Do you dare to pray? To enter into an intimate relationship with God? To praise and worship Him? To thank Him? To intercede for others? To ask for your needs? To share your joys and fears? To confess your sins? To talk to God as you would to your best friend?
Do you dare to obey? To accept and abide by God's objective moral law? To speak, think, and act as a child of God? To follow His will rather than your own?
Do you dare to be different? To say “no” to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil? To be set apart for God, consecrated for His purposes?
Do you dare to be holy?
Tuesday – Your Father Knows
“Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” These words from Jesus could spark several different reactions. Some might think, “Well, why pray at all then?” Others might feel a little worried that God knows so much about them. Still others might be comforted that they have such a loving God Who pays close attention to them and cares for them so much.
These words are meant to remind us that when we pray, we are praying more to get Someone than something. While God wants us to ask Him for everything we need and even things we desire, while He wants us to intercede for others, while He wants us to thank Him for all His blessings, while He wants us to praise and worship Him, He mostly just wants us. He longs for us to give ourselves to Him fully, like trusting children who cast themselves into their Father's arms. He desires our prayers to be, above all, acts of self-giving love for the God Who gave Himself completely for us.
So when we pray, we must always remember that our Father knows what we need, and what we need most of all is Him.
Wednesday – Repentance Works!
The people of Nineveh recognized a warning when they heard one. Jonah was only one day's walk into the city, proclaiming his message of “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,” when the people woke up and smelled the proverbial coffee. They realized that Jonah was a prophet, and they decided that it was much better to believe him than take the risk of being wiped off the face of the earth.
So they repented. Everyone from the king down to the lowest stable boy and even the animals fasted, prayed, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes as a sign of their renunciation of their sins. “Who knows,” the king concluded, “God may relent and forgive, and withhold His blazing wrath, so that we shall not perish.”
He was right. The Ninevites ended up as living proof that repentance works. God immediately acknowledged their contrite hearts and forgave them with great love.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Thursday – A Choice
“I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.” Every day we face a choice. Life or death. The blessing or the curse. Obedience or sin. Love or apathy. God's path or our own way. Following Christ or following the crowd. The eternal perspective or the worldly mindset.
Lent is a good time to reflect on our choices. Which direction are we heading? Are we willing to let go of the world and gain Heaven? Will we save our lives in the short term only to lose them for eternity?
Moses offers us some good advice as we face our daily decisions during this Lent and always: “Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding His voice, and holding fast to Him.”
Friday – Contrition and Humility
God will not turn away from a heart that is contrite and humble. So the Psalmist assures us in today's Responsorial Psalm. But what does it mean for our hearts to be contrite and humble before God?
The Hebrew words for humble and contrite here are shābar and dākāh. They both have overtones of brokenness. The former signifies being broken into pieces. A humble heart is a broken heart, a heart that sees itself for what it really is: bowed down under the weight of sin and totally dependent on God for everything it has and everything it is. Humility means being in touch with reality.
The latter word, dākāh, is even stronger. It indicates being totally crushed. A contrite heart recognizes the horror of its sinful state and longs for God's mercy. It realizes that it cannot go on without God's healing love, and it throws itself at God's feet.
And God responds. He will not turn away from a contrite and humble heart. Instead, He raises up that heart, forgives it, heals it, cleanses it, restores it, and wraps it in His loving arms.
Saturday – A Watered Garden
Lord, make me a watered garden. Pour out the living water of Your Holy Spirit into my soul to refresh me, heal me, cleanse me, and strengthen me.
With Your grace, let me grow the roses of love, the lilies of purity, the gardenias of joy, the carnations of cheerfulness, the irises of faith and hope, the lilacs of humility, the chrysanthemums of truth, the hyacinths of sincerity, the wisteria of steadfastness, and daisies of innocence.
Allow me, Lord, to reflect Your beauty to the world, that fresh greenness of life that You provide in such abundance, the light that radiates down from Heaven.
Lord, make me Your watered garden, a place where You can rest and an image of Your love. Amen.
Sunday, February 7, 2016
Monday – God's Dwelling Place
In today's first reading, King Solomon is thrilled to be dedicating the new Temple that he had built for God. He wanted to make sure everything was just right. The priests carried the Ark of the Covenant up from its temporary home and placed it in the Holy of Holies. They also put the sacred vessels in place and sacrificed large numbers of oxen and sheep. It was a very special day.
And then something amazing happened. A cloud descended. Dark and light at the same time, the cloud spread through the whole Temple. As the priests dashed to safety, Solomon watched open-mouthed. He recognized this cloud. He had never seen it, but he had heard of it. It was the shekinah, the same cloud that had led the Israelites out of Egypt, the same cloud that settled on the meeting tent Moses had built in the desert, the same cloud that both concealed and revealed God's presence so long ago.
Now Solomon called out, “The Lord intends to dwell in the dark cloud; I have truly built You a princely house, a dwelling where You may abide forever.”
But Solomon missed the point. Yes, God was present in the cloud. Yes, God would dwell in the Temple. Yes, God would remain with His people Israel. But God would not be limited to one place or one time. Solomon had no way of knowing what the future would hold, but one day the Almighty Power that he witnessed in the shekinah would dwell incarnate in human flesh, God-made-Man, Jesus Christ. He would one day dwell under the appearance of bread and wine as food for those who love Him. He would one day dwell in the souls of His people, closer to them then they would be to themselves, filling them with love as He once filled the Temple with that dark cloud.
Tuesday – You Hypocrites
The Pharisees longed for purity, to be set apart for God, to do everything just right in order to please Him and teach others to be holy. So they kept up their appearances. They created more and more rituals, more and more traditions, more and more rules, all with the hope of satisfying God.
They didn't realize what was really happening. Their rituals and traditions and rules started taking on a life of their own. The desire to get things just right externally overshadowed the reason for all the regulations and practices. God faded into the background as the Pharisees sought to perfectly control their own lives and the lives of their fellow Jews.
Then Jesus stepped onto the scene. “You hypocrites,” He called the Pharisees, who were busy criticizing His disciples for failing to wash their hands before a meal. “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites,” He exclaimed, “as it is written:
This people honors Me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from Me;
In vain do they worship Me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.”
This people honors Me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from Me;
In vain do they worship Me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.”
The Pharisees no longer cared about God. All they cared about was their pride, which was fed as they raised their rules higher and higher, confusing divine law with human standards. This was not worship, at least not worship of God.
Jesus continued with a specific example of the Pharisees' hypocrisy. God's law, He reminded them, commanded all to honor their fathers and mothers. But the Pharisees thought they had found a loophole. All they had to do was call qorban, and they no longer had to support their aging parents. The money that would have gone to that duty was now “dedicated” to God.
God, Jesus implied, certainly didn't want the Pharisees' money. He wanted obedience; He wanted love; and He wanted His people to love each other.
The Pharisees had descended far from the purity they claimed to desire. They were all about show and power, and Jesus made it quite clear that He had no time for such hypocrisy.
Wednesday – Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving
Yesterday we listened in as Jesus chastised the Pharisees for concentrating so much on external practices and rules that they neglected God. Today as we begin Lent, Jesus warns us to avoid getting caught up in the same pattern even as He invites us to increase our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Our external Lenten disciplines are designed to reflect and help us deepen internal realities, especially our relationship with God. He must be at the center of everything we do. All our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving must be firmly focused on Him and on our love for Him and for others.
That being said, Lent is a good time to try something new. Start a prayer journal. Pray a Rosary every day. Listen to more Christian music. Give up something pleasant but unnecessary. Give up some time to a good cause by volunteering at a local charity. Donate to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a homeless shelter, or another organization that provides direct assistance to the poor. The possibilities are endless. Just make sure that God remains front and center no matter what.
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Thursday – Praise and Worship
Do you ever tell God how wonderful He is? Do you ever stop to reflect on His almighty power and amazing love? Do you ever praise and worship Him simply because He is God?
Today's psalm invites us to do just that. “Blessed may You be, O Lord,” the Psalmist exclaims as He reflects on God's eternal Fatherhood.
“Yours, O Lord, are grandeur and power, majesty, splendor, and glory.” God is sovereign. He reigns supreme. He is exalted over all. Everything belongs to Him. He shines with an unimaginable light, and He holds power and might in His hands. He is transcendent, so far above us that we can't grasp Him with our limited human minds. We are left in awe at His magnificence.
But as transcendent as God is, He is also immanent. He is closer to us than we are to ourselves, and He showers us in His loving care. The Psalmist declares, “..it is Yours to give grandeur and strength to all.” God is more than willing to share His gifts and His grace with us. After all, He made us in His own image and likeness. In fact, He gives us Himself, His very indwelling presence in our souls.
Now that is indeed cause for praise and worship!
Friday – Relecture
Today's first reading from Sirach is a prime example of the Biblical practice of relecture. Relecture essentially means “re-reading,” but it has deeper connotations of reflection, interpretation, and application. The Israelites were constantly re-reading and reflecting on salvation history. They interpreted it in new ways and applied it to their own times and circumstances. They understood that God always had a message for them in His Word.
Today's first reading, then, is a relecture of the life of King David. Sirach holds him up as a model of courage, prayer, worship, and repentance, and he invites his readers to reflect on their own lives to determine if they, like David, live in a constant, loving relationship with God.
We can and should experience this kind of interaction with God's Word each day. After all, the Bible is God's love letter to His children, to us. He wrote it through His human instruments that He might communicate with us in a way we can understand. He wants us to read it, study it, meditate on it, and pray it constantly. So take Him up on His offer. You won't regret it.
Saturday – Come Away
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” Jesus invited His disciples to rest in His presence. He calls us to do the same.
Sometimes it's necessary to recharge our spiritual batteries, and we can do so best by immersing ourselves in God's loving presence, away from distractions and the cares of the world.
Jesus longs to be alone with us. He wants us to rest in His arms and allow Him to comfort and strengthen us. He desires to shower us with love and to help us grow in intimacy with Him.
So let us accept His invitation for at least a few minutes every day: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”