Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Reflection for the 4th Week of Lent, Part 2

Thursday – “Your People”

The Israelites had messed up, big time. They had made a golden calf and worshiped it. In their hearts, they were still in Egypt even though God had miraculously led them out and freed them from slavery. Now they wanted to go back.

Moses was up on the mountain with God when the Israelites fell back into idolatry, so he didn't know what was going on. But God did, and He told Moses, “Go down at once to your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, for they have become depraved.”

Notice how God said “your people.” The Israelites abandoned God. They turned their backs on the Almighty One Who saved them to worship a stupid, grass-eating animal. So God was perfectly within His right to disown them. They didn't want to be His people any longer. 

God didn't stop there. He also threatened to destroy the Israelites, and they deserved it.

But, of course, God didn't disown or destroy Israel. He never really intended to do either, but He wanted to urge Moses to intercede for his fellow Israelites. And Moses did.

Perhaps Moses didn't want to take responsibility for the people (who would?), or perhaps he was really starting to love them and care for them as God did. In any case, Moses prayed, and God answered, and the sinful people were spared.

Friday – His Hour Had Not Yet Come

It wasn't time yet. His hour had not yet come. Jesus had more to do before He went to the cross. So the Jewish authorities could not touch Him, not yet. He could stand in the Temple area and teach. He could make inflammatory statements like “You know Me and also know where I am from. Yet I did not come on My own, but the One who sent me, whom you do not know, is true. I know Him, because I am from Him, and He sent Me.”

But the Jews couldn't arrest Him. People needed to hear His message first. They needed to be aroused from their spiritual slumber. They needed to know the truth.

One day in the not too far future, Jesus would go to the cross for the salvation of the world. But as yet, His hour had not yet come.

Saturday – Each to His Own

Debates, even arguments, were breaking out all over Jerusalem. Some thought Jesus was a prophet. Others thought He must be the Messiah. Still others believed that couldn't be true because the Scriptures said nothing about the Messiah coming from Galilee.

The guards couldn't arrest Jesus, for His hour had not yet come, but even they were intrigued by Him. “Never before has anyone spoken like this Man,” they said.

Most of the Pharisees were dead set against Jesus, but Nicodemus wondered. He wanted to hear more. It was only fair to listen first and then decide. The others scoffed at him.

“Then each went to his own house.” Each went his own way. Their physical separation mirrored the separations of opinion they had just been experiencing. They could not agree. They could not stay together. They could not find the truth, so they stopped trying. They stopped discussing. They closed up and left. They walked away, each to his own. And in doing so, they turned their backs on each other, on the people, and on Jesus.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Reflection for the 4th Week of Lent, Part 1

Monday – The Desperate, Faithful Father

The man was desperate. He may have been a royal official, but that made no difference now that his son was so ill. When he heard that Jesus was in Capernaum, he decided he would make the journey and ask for His help. He didn't know what the other officials would say if they found out. He didn't even know if Jesus would help him. But he had to try.

At first, things didn't look so good. In response to his plea, Jesus merely commented, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” Maybe He was trying to make some kind of point, but the official could think only of his poor little boy. “Sir,” he said again, “come down before my child dies.”

This time Jesus looked at him with a gaze that seemed to penetrate to his very soul. “You may go,” He said suddenly, “your son will live.”

The official believed Him. He was surprised at the strength of the faith and trust that coursed through him. Later, he couldn't even remember if he had thanked Jesus or not; he was so intent upon getting home to his son. His servants met him on the way with wonderful news: his boy would live. The official asked them when the fever had left the child and received the answer he was expecting. His son had begun to recover at about one o'clock the previous afternoon, at the very moment Jesus had told the desperate, faithful father that his son would live. Somehow, he wasn't surprised.

Tuesday – Healing Water

The pool of Bethesda had long been rumored to have healing powers. The sick came there every day, hoping for a cure if only they could find their way into the water when it was stirred up.

One poor fellow seemed to have the worst luck with that. Someone always beat him to it. He was getting so tired. After all, thirty-eight years was a long time to be sick. He couldn't help feeling a little annoyed when a Man came up and asked him, “Do you want to be well?” Well, of course he did! Why else would he be coming to Bethesda every day, year in, year out.

The last thing he expected the Man to say was “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” But the moment he heard those words, something changed inside him. He felt himself growing strong, and suddenly he decided that he could obey that command. And he did! He got up, picked up his mat, and walked. Then he turned around to thank Man but couldn't find Him. He looked down at the pool of Bethesda and mused that he had found a new kind of healing water.

Wednesday – Even If...

Even if a mother could forget her child, God will not forget us.
Even if everyone else is unfaithful to us, God will keep His covenant.
Even if we can find no comfort anywhere else, God will comfort us.
Even if darkness surrounds us, God will provide light.
Even if we don't know where to go, God will guide us.
Even if all seems hopeless, God will teach us to rejoice.
Even if we lack everything, God will give us all we need.
Even if we are scorned by everyone, God will wrap us in His love.
Amen.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Reflection for the 3rd Week of Lent, Part 2

Thursday – One Stronger

In today's Gospel, Jesus points out that when a strong, armed man guards his possessions, they tend to be pretty safe...until, that is, one stronger arrives. This stronger one overcomes the other, takes away his arms, and liberates his possessions. The victory belongs to the stronger one.

That stronger one is, of course, Jesus. The first strong, armed man is the enemy. He might seem strong; he might carry fearsome weapons to guard his possessions, the human souls he claims as his own. But Jesus is stronger. He can easily overcome the enemy, throw his weapons in the trash heap, and free the captive souls.

Therefore, we must stay close beside Jesus, the stronger One, Who will always protect us.

Friday – No Strange God

God justly demands that we worship Him alone. He is our Creator, our Father, our Savior, the One Who loves us beyond all telling, the One Who showers His grace upon us. He deserves our total devotion, our whole hearts, our entire selves.

So we must have no strange gods, nothing that strives to take His place in our worship and in our minds and hearts. We might think of idols here, “gods” of wood or stone or metal, and decide that this command doesn't apply to us. But other things can become strange gods, too: money, possessions, fame, honor, some particular goal, even another person. We can worship these, and give them our devotion, our hearts, and even ourselves.

We must not do this. We must worship God alone and none other. So may it be. Amen.

Saturday – The Annunciation

Mary was so young, but she was totally focused on God. Her prayer was perfect communion with Him. She had given herself completely to Him to remain a virgin forever.

It's easy, then, to understand her confusion and fear when Gabriel appeared to tell her that she will have a son. She believed him, of course, for she knew the truth when she heard it. But she wondered how this would happen, and she didn't hesitate to ask.

Gabriel, in turn, didn't hesitate to explain that the Holy Spirit would come down upon her, and Mary accepted his explanation. Again, she recognized the truth.

Then she said yes to God's request, for that's what it was: a request. God would not force her; she must make the choice for herself. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” And it was.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Reflection for the 3rd Week of Lent, Part 1

Monday – Joseph's Courage

St. Joseph was a courageous man. When he thought that Mary, his betrothed, had cheated on him, he still wanted to protect her from public scorn. He had the courage to renounce his own rights, and the criticism that might come upon him should the matter become known, to make sure Mary was safe.

Then, when he found out the truth in a dream, Joseph had the courage first to believe that the dream was real, meaningful, and true (a lesser man might have denied this) and second to obey the angel's command. Joseph took Mary as his wife. He had the courage to let go of his opinions and ideas and embrace God's.

Indeed, St. Joseph was a very courageous man.

Tuesday – Seventy-Seven Times

How many times must we forgive those who have wronged us? Peter wants to know. Must we forgive even as many as seven times? Peter clearly thinks this much forgiveness was enough for anyone and those who require more of it could be given up as lost causes.

But Jesus has other ideas. No, He tells Peter, not seven times but seventy-seven times. The Greek text actually suggests something even more dramatic: seventy times seven times.

In other words, Jesus says that we are to forgive a huge number of times, a number much more than we would want to or feel necessary. In Greek parlance, this number actually doesn't refer to any particular number at all but is symbolic of completeness, even limitlessness. We are not to place any maximum on our forgiveness. We are to forgive without restriction.

Why does Jesus say this? Shouldn't there be at least some limit on forgiveness, especially for people who don't show enough remorse to restrain themselves from sinning again? Jesus knows, and wants us to understand, that forgiveness is more about the forgiver than the forgiven. Forgiveness means letting go of the past and moving forward. Forgiveness means letting go of the pain and accepting healing. Forgiveness may not affect the forgiven at all, but it has an immense effect on the forgiver who is freed by embracing forgiveness.

That is why Jesus tells us to forgive seventy-seven or even seventy times seven times.

(Information about Greek vocabulary comes from http://www.biblehub.com/.) 

Wednesday – Do Not Forget

“However, take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live...”

With these words, Moses warns the Israelites not to forget the wonders God has performed for them. They had witnessed all of the plagues God sent upon the Egyptians. They had rejoiced over the rescue of their first born sons on Passover. They had seen the Red Sea split in two and allow them to cross over on dry land. They had stood by the mountain when God appeared in a cloud. They had followed that cloud day and night across the desert. They had eaten the miraculous manna that God sent as their food.

Miracles upon miracles. The Israelites had seen them all, yet they still tended to forget them, especially when things got tough, when things started going wrong, when things didn't pan out the way they wanted.

Don't we do the same? We quickly forget God's blessings when we face trials. We fail to remember the miracles God has showered down on our ancestors and even on ourselves. We dismiss all His loving care. We ignore His grace.

And then, like the Israelites, we sometimes fall into sin. So do not forgot.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Reflection for the 2nd Week of Lent, Part 2

Thursday – Probing the Mind and Testing the Heart

God knows us well, very well, much better than we know ourselves. As He tells us through the prophet Jeremiah in today's first reading, He is an expert at probing the mind and testing the heart.

God digs down deep within us, right to the very core of our being. He pokes and prods and often makes us uncomfortable, but that's because he wants us to realize important truths about ourselves, about our world, and about Him. He shows us what we have and what we lack. He lets us struggle with mysteries and experience the sorrow and pain of guilt. He introduces us to ourselves and reveals Himself to us.

And He does all of this because He loves us more than we can ever imagine even in the depths of our minds and hearts.

Friday – The Wicked Tenants

The landowner in Jesus' parable has every right to the produce of his vineyard. After all, he planted it. He put up its hedge. He set up the wine press and built the tower. He did the work, and he owned the land. The produce belonged to him even though he was willing to share it.

But the wicked tenants would have none of that. They wanted to keep all the produce for themselves. Perhaps they figured they deserved it, for they had tended the plants and harvested the crop. But they forgot that the vineyard didn't belong to them. They weren't the ones who had created it or planted it. Their job was important, but it wasn't everything.

The tenants didn't stop with a mere denial of the landowner's right to his produce. They became violent with the servants the landowner sent to collect what was rightly his. Some they beat, some they stoned, and some they even killed. Finally, the landowner gave them one more chance to do the right thing; this time he sent his son.

But the tenants killed the landowner's son. Strangely, they thought that if the son were out of the way, the vineyard would be theirs by inheritance. It was the worst thing they could have done, and the son's murder sealed their condemnation. Even Jesus' audience of chief priests and Jewish elders recognized that the landowner would “put those wretched men to a wretched death” and find some new tenants who would be willing to give him his fair share.

But the chief priests and elders didn't realize that Jesus was really talking about them. They were the wicked tenants who refused to give their Landowner, God, His due. They were the ones who had beaten, stoned, and killed the Landowner's servants, the prophets. They were the ones who failed to recognize that Jesus Himself was the Landowner's Son. They would be the ones to put Him to death, and unless they repented, they would be the ones to suffer the Landowner's wrath.

Saturday – Forget Not


“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.”
Forget not the grace He pours out upon you.
Forget not the blessings He showers down at every moment.
Forget not the sacraments through which He comes to meet you.
Forget not His Word through which He speaks to you.
Forget not His law by which He guides you.
Forget not the love He has for you.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.”
Amen.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Reflection for the 2nd Week of Lent, Part 1

Monday – We Messed Up

“We have sinned, been wicked and done evil; we have rebelled and departed from Your commandments and Your laws.”

Let's face it; we messed up. The prophet Daniel freely admits it, and so should we. None of us is perfect, far from it in fact. We have sinned. We have disobeyed. We have selfishly followed our own paths and ignored God.

And God has every right to punish us. In fact, He has every right to wash His hands of us completely, to leave us to our devices, to the consequences of our sins.

But He doesn't do that. He does, of course, punish us for our wrongdoing but only to correct us and reform us and bring us back to righteousness. And He lets us experience the consequences of our sins for the same reason. We need to learn how serious sin is and how much damage it causes. But God never leaves us. He never turns His back on us. He doesn't give up on us.

Instead, He continually offers mercy and forgiveness to repentant hearts. He has compassion for us, His weak, messed up little children, and He picks us up, dusts us off, and sets us back on our way, ready to do it all over when we mess up again.

Aren't we blessed that God doesn't deal with us as we deserve but according to His great love?

Tuesday – Humility

In today's Gospel Jesus tells us that “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Modern hearers tend to have some misconceptions about what it means to be humble. Humility doesn't mean putting yourself down. It doesn't mean thinking that you're worthless or that your life has no meaning.

Not at all. Humility is simply being in touch with reality. It means knowing that God is God and you're not and acting accordingly.

Humble people acknowledge that without God, they can do nothing and would be nothing at all. They recognize that everything good comes from God, including their lives and their right choices and their loving deeds. They rely on God's grace to support them in everything and to give them the power and strength they need to live the way God wants them to live. Humble people put God first and themselves last with other people in between.

God deals with humble people by raising them up, filling them with His grace, and setting them on the firm foundation of His love. Those who fail to be humble, however, have a different experience. God often knocks them down a few pegs so they can learn that the world does not revolve around them. But He humbles them not to hurt them but so they can get in touch with reality and begin acting accordingly. Then they, too, will be humble, and then God will exalt them.

Wednesday – A Little Scheme


The people of Jerusalem and Judah were up to something. Their little scheme was almost complete. They just had to listen closely, and then they'd have him, caught by his own words. That pesky prophet Jeremiah didn't stand a chance.

Jeremiah made them too uncomfortable. He reminded them of things they would rather not think about, things like duty and sin, things like responsibility and punishment. They were content with their lives, and they certainly didn't want to be shoved out of their comfortable existence by Jeremiah.

So they would get rid of him. They would catch him saying something really bad about the priests or leaders or even something that could be interpreted as blasphemous. Then they could accuse him and have him executed. He would bother them no more. It wouldn't be any great loss, they told themselves.

But Jeremiah was on to their little scheme, and much more importantly, so was God. The people could plot all they wanted, but God had a message for them, and Jeremiah would keep right on delivering it whether they liked it or not.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Reflection for the 1st Week of Lent, Part 2

Thursday – Do to Others

Jesus' summary of the Law and the prophets is simple but not easy: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”

We all know how we want to be treated. We long for love, for understanding, for respect, for dignity, for justice, for comfort, for support. We desire to be valued as unique individuals with our own talents, abilities, goals, fears, and needs.

But how willing are we to treat others as we want to be treated? Do we recognize in others what we wish them to recognize in us? Are we prepared to give them what we so crave? How well do we obey Jesus' command?

Friday – Who Can Stand?

“If You, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?”

Who, indeed, can stand if God holds our sins against us? Who can appear before Him guiltless? Who is worthy to see Him face to face? Who is deserving of His grace?

No one.

But God doesn't hold our sins against us. When we repent and confess, He forgives us. He welcomes us into His presence. He pours out His grace upon us.

Why?

Because God loves us. Because He wants to save us. Because He is Mercy in person. Because we belong to Him and He longs to gather us to Himself forever.

Saturday – Peculiarly God's Own


In today's first reading, Moses tells the Israelites that they are to be a people peculiarly God's own.

The translation of “peculiarly” here doesn't quite capture the depth of the Hebrew word segullah. This word literally means property or possession with overtones of some special jewel or treasure that is greatly valued and carefully kept.

The Israelites, then, are to be God's treasure. So are we. God values His people as His own special jewel, and He guards and protects us. We belong to Him alone, and He cares for us. We are peculiarly God's own, and isn't that wonderful? 

(Information about Hebrew vocabulary comes from http://www.biblehub.com/.)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Reflection for the 1st Week of Lent, Part 1

Monday – Why Be Holy?

God gave the Israelites a message through Moses: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.”

Why should we make an effort to do the right thing? Why should we be devout and prayerful? Why should we strive for a life of faith, hope, and love? Why should we be holy? Because God is holy, and we are to be like Him.

We are made in the image and likeness of God. We are His children whom He has adopted into His covenant family. We are set apart as God's own. As our God is, as our Father is, so must we be: holy.

Lord, make us holy now through Your grace that we may reach the perfection of holiness in Heaven. Amen.

Tuesday – Delivered


“I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”

I seek You, Lord. I pray to You. I ask You for Your mercy and grace. I diligently inquire into Your Word. I take care to investigate Your truth. I call upon You for help.

And You answer me, Lord. You hear my every prayer. You pay attention to me. You testify to Your love for me. You help me and support me. You dwell with me, closer to me than I am to myself. You pour out Your grace upon me.

And You deliver me from all my fears. You rescue me from danger. You snatch me out of harm's way. You preserve me for Yourself. You protect and defend me. You save me from danger.

Lord, I seek You, and You answer me, and You deliver me from all my fears. Thank you.

Wednesday – Behind the Fast

When Jonah strode through Nineveh announcing, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,” the residents of the city took him seriously, and they proclaimed a fast. It wasn't a little, easy fast either, like cutting back on a couple meals or foregoing a favorite food. It was a major, serious fast. All the people, from the king all the way down to the poorest beggar, put on sackcloth, sat down in ashes, and refused to eat or drink anything at all.

But there was more to the Ninevites' fast then these external actions. There was something else behind the fast, something deeper, something greater. The people of Nineveh turned away from evil.

This internal shift, which was expressed by external penance, made all the difference in the world for the Ninevites. God saw the sincerity of their repentance, and He forgave them. He did not carry out the punishment He had planned. He didn't need to. The Ninevites had already changed their ways and their hearts.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Reflection for the Week of Ash Wednesday, Part 2

Thursday – A Choice

Moses sets a choice before the Israelites: “Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.”

Life and prosperity will follow from obedience to God and His commandments. If the Israelites walk in God's ways, if they love Him, if they turn their lives over to Him and to His plans, then they will receive His blessings.

If, however, they disobey, if they worship other gods, if they reject God and refuse to listen and harden their hearts, then they will be courting death and doom.

The same choice lies before each and every one of us. Which will we choose? Life or death? The blessing or the curse?

Friday – A Heart Contrite and Humbled

In today's psalm we learn that if we offer God “a heart contrite and humbled,” He will not spurn it. What does this mean? What does this kind of heart look like?

The original Hebrew helps us understand. The Hebrew word translated here as “contrite” is dakah. It literally means “crushed” or “collapsed” or even “crouched.” A contrite heart is crushed under the weight of sin, collapsed with weakness, and crouched down in shame. This heart knows its true state. It recognizes that it needs the healing and wholeness that only God can provide, and it drags itself before Him to plead for mercy.

The Hebrew word for “humbled,” shabar, has similar overtones. It literally means “broken to pieces,” “shattered,” “smashed,” or “demolished.” A humbled heart is shattered by sorrow for sin. It realizes that sin has broken it into little pieces, destroyed it, torn it apart. It knows that it needs to be put back together again and that only God can do it.

Lord, give us a heart contrite and humbled to offer to You, and help us to trust that You will not spurn that heart but heal it, make it whole, and draw it close to You. Amen.

(Information about Hebrew vocabulary comes from http://www.biblehub.com/.)

Saturday – The Physician

“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.” Jesus came to be that Physician and to heal those plagued and weakened by the disease of sin. Our job is to recognize that we are sick, that we are sinful, that we need the Divine Physician to heal us. Our job is to turn to that Physician, to present ourselves to Him with open, repentant, humble hearts, and to accept His remedies. Our job is to submit to His treatment, to embrace any pain it may involve, and to firmly resolve never again to fall into the sickness of sin.

Divine Physician, by Your grace may we who are sick humbly receive Your healing touch that we may become and remain spiritually healthy. Amen.