March 18, 2017 – Saturday in the 2nd week of Lent

Saint for the day: St. John Ogilvie (c. 1579-1615)

Scripture readings for today’s liturgy:

Micah 7:14-15, 18-20    –    Psalm 103    –    Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

“Yes, I shall arise and return to my father.”

 One of the “perks” that we get during Lent is the fact that the Church chooses the readings and pairs them up in ways that help us on our journey. In the ordinary time of the year we are usually going sequentially through various books of the Bible but in Lent the Church jumps around to give us specific readings that speak more directly to our struggle to follow the Lord more perfectly.

So, we hear the reading from Micah about how the Lord shepherds us and watches over our well-being. In the Gospel we are given the familiar parable of the “Prodigal Son” – which some commentators think should really be called, the “Prodigal Father.” No matter. What is important for us to see in this story is the unconditional love that God has for each of us no matter how badly we stray from His goodness. It might be good for us to read over the story and see how each character presented has some aspects that apply to our own lives. We are very much like the younger son who wants to step out on his own and not have to live a life of working the farm. But we also have many of the aspects of the older brother who begrudges the fact that he has never once turned away from his father. Resentment like this can kill the life of grace in us. We’re back to square one: God gives us free will and we can choose how we live out our lives. The beauty that we see in this story is that the father doesn’t ever say, “I told you that it would be stupid of you to run off like that.” Instead, he becomes lavish and throws a party. The key to this whole story is the fact that the son ends up saying, “What am I doing eating out of the pig trough when I have a father who will kill the fatted calf for me?” We need to swallow our pride and hear the words of that song, “Come back to me with all your heart.   Don’t let fear keep us apart.”

But be careful. Don’t fall into the trap of resentment like the older brother but join in with the party – “for this brother who was lost has been found.” Amen!

March 17, 2017 – Friday in the 2nd Week of Lent

Saint for the day: Patrick (c. 386 – 461) Co-Patron of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

 Scripture readings for today’s Liturgy:

Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a   –    Psalm 105  –    Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46

 “God writes straight with crooked lines!”

This isn’t the first time I’ve quoted the above passage so it seems that it fits to so many of the situations that we encounter in our journey in following Jesus.  Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Patrick and because I’m writing this reflection  from the Archdiocese of San Francisco, even on a Friday in Lent, we are dispensed from the Lenten  Laws of Fast and Abstinence.  Still, the Church sticks with the regular Lenten Scriptures and, so, today we are treated to “Joseph and Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.” And our Gospel puts it all into perspective and ties it together – still in this “crooked lines of God” manner that sees Jesus being handed over to be crucified that we might have life.

Once again, we have to be careful not to let familiar stories sway us from the essence of what’s going on: the means that God ordained for all time that His only begotten Son would be the price of our salvation.  “Wait, wait,” we might say. Let’s try to figure out a better way to bring this about. After all, you’re God and you could do this in any way you wanted.  And therein lays the truth: we’re not dealing with some “pie in the sky” kind of God who miraculously floats down from His place in Haven to touch our lives and save us. Our God – our Savior – is right there in the trenches with us as we struggle to follow Him. And, just like Jesus, we suffer humiliation at the hands of our friends and those whom we thought would never turn on us.

Bottom line: if we endure with Him He will stay with us. It reminds me of the Israelites getting to the edge of the Red Sea and complaining to Moses who tells them, “you only have to be still. Stand firm and fear not. You will see what God will do to save you.”

But most of us squirm around and try to find a way out on our own. STAND FIRM. FEAR NOT! God hasn’t forgotten you. “Let Him write your story – straight, with His crooked lines!” Amen!

 

March 16, 2017 – Thursday in the 2nd Week of Lent

Saint for the day: Clement Mary Hofbauer (12/26/1751 – 3 – 15, 1820)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Jeremiah 17:5-10    –    Psalm 1    –    Luke 16:19-31

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock…”

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells the story of the rich man and poor Lazarus laying outside the door. The setting is familiar and paints a picture that we can easily grasp. However, the rich man remains nameless while the poor beggar gets a more familiar name – a name that we associate with the Lazarus who was the friend of Jesus and whom He rose from the dead. This comparison would have been known to the early Church and so the story is all that much more pointed: the nameless rich man sitting at his table comfortably behind his locked door oblivious to the needs of the poor who are all around.   Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone open I will come in a sup with you and you will be blessed.” (Revelation 3:20) Our response, also from the Gospels, is often, “but when did we see you hungry or poor or homeless… and not assist you?” (Matthew 25:44)

There is nothing glamorous about being poor. Poverty is a damn curse and this story tries to point out how blind we can be to needs that are right at our doorstep. We don’t have to go to some third-world country to find people in need. God puts them right at our door. We just have to get up from our fancy tables and open for them and just give them a cup of water to quench their thirst.

This is our challenge during Lent: to not close our eyes and doors to those In need. “This is the fast that I find acceptable: to look after widows and orphans; to lift the yoke that burdens the poor; to bring sight to the blind.” (Matthew 25:44) Let us not be blind to all the needs around us during this Lenten Journey. Amen!

March 15, 2017 – Wednesday in the 3rd Week of Lent

Saint for the day: Louise de Marillac (August 12, 1591 – March 15, 1660)

Jeremiah 18:18 -20    –    Psalm 31    –    Matthew 20:17-28

“Mother! Please!”

Who of us doesn’t have the experience of our mothers wanting the best for her sons. And “Mrs. Zebedees” is no exception. But the reality of this Gospel passage is on a totally different level. Even though this Gospel has her asking the question Jesus’ response is directed to the two boys: you don’t know what you’re asking.” I am reminded of the “Martha, Martha” passage where Jesus says that “Mary has chosen the better part and it shall not be taken from her.” What is “the better part?”

Mary has chosen to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His teaching. The Zebedee Boys want to bypass that stage and go directly to the top but Jesus pulls them back to the reality that the “top” in His understanding is the Hill of Calvary and the Cross. “Can you drink the cup that I am about to drink?” Even Jesus had trouble with that: “Father, let this cup pass … but not my will but thine be done.”

The Bottom Line, again, seems to be putting our relationship with Jesus in its proper order: we hear Him call us and we stumble along to follow. But we must first take the time to sit at His feet and listen to his words – some of which don’t fit into our concepts of success: “if you wish to be first you must be the servant of all” and “who would save his life will lose it.”

Try “random acts of kindness” if you want to know the fullness of following Jesus. Do something for someone in need without any thought of what you might get out of it. Forget about dying for Christ. Just try being nice to that person who rubs you the wrong way. That’s the first step to real holiness and one of the goals of Lent. Amen!

March 14, 2017 – Tuesday in the 2nd Week of Lent

Saint for the day: Maximilian (274 – March 12, 295)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Isaiah 1:10, 16-20     –    Psalm 50    –    Matthew 23:1-12

“Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled…”

 None of us has a very good comprehension of this subject of “humility.” We most often equate it with a kind of groveling, breast-beating, “Woe is me” stance. This is nowhere near what the scriptures had in mind. True humility gives us the ability to honestly see ourselves in relation to the people around us and to seek the good of others more than good for ourselves. “Give and it shall be given to you overflowing, packed down and pressed into the folds of our garment.” We just heard those words yesterday so they should still be ringing in our ears.

Fr. Richard Rohr says of humility: “we are called to be Gods. But we have to realize that we are Gods who poop (but he usually uses another word.) The true definition of the word, “Humility” has its roots in the Latin word, “humas” which translates “earthly.” Remember the words of Ash Wednesday, “you are dust (humas, dirt) and into dust you shall return. But be careful. I’m not suggesting that we are junk. We’re made in the image and likeness of God but we are still “of the earth.”

The irony of this is that most of us spend a great amount of energy trying to present ourselves as something different than what we really are. Lent gives us the chance to look closely at our lives and see where we need to adjust the focus to make it clearer and we do this by giving of our selves and building up the people that God has thrown into our lives. If all of us spent more time lifting the burdens off the shoulders of the oppressed our world would be a much better place and, on the rebound, each of us would realize that God has lifted us up in the process. “… the one who humbles himself will be exulted!” Amen!

March 13,2017 – Monday in the second week of Lent

Saint for the day: Leander of Seville (c. 534 – March 13, 600 or 601)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Daniel 9:4b – 10    –   Psalm 79    –    Luke 6:36-38

“What goes around … comes around!” 

It’s important for us to have an honest assessment of what our lives are all about. We might not have to grovel as much as the reading from Daniel indicates but, for sure, we have to own up to what we have – and have not done – in following the Lord. Today’s Gospel puts it out there in plain black and white: “the measure you measure with will be the measure that is used for you, yourself.” It’s an amplification of the Lord’s Prayer: judge and you will be judged; forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be lavished upon you and piled up to overflowing in the folds of your garment.

On the surface we might be able to say, “I can deal with that” but if we look more closely at things like how we judge we might have a harder time. I know that I have a tendency to order everything according to my perceptions as if Daniel’s way was the only, true way to do something. My close friends used to say, “Daniel, God hasn’t died and left you to run the world. “ Perhaps it would be better if we just tried to give others a chance to shine. Give without strings. Give expecting nothing in return. You’d be surprised at how well everything turns out even when you didn’t orchestrate everything yourself! Amen!

 

March 12, 2017 – Second Sunday of Lent

Today’s Blessed: Angela Salawa (10/9/1881 – 3/9/1922)

 Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Genesis 12:1-4    –    Psalm 33    –    2 Timothy 1:8b-10    –    Matthew 17:1-9

“ … then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’” (Matthew 17:5)

 On this 2nd Sunday of Lent it’s obvious that the Church wants to remind us that we are on a journey. A journey that will take us away from our known surroundings and kinfolk and lead us into a new land. This kind of movement to find a better land seems to part of the normal, human existence and something that people of every age have had to experience. Just look at the front pages of any of today’s newspapers to see stories of this quest, which is usually not all that pleasant! But there are two sides to this “coin of journey:” Most of the time when we move about we usually take most of our old, familiar stuff with us. Think, for a moment back to the Exodus Story: they didn’t even have time to wait for the bread to rise! The Gospels, too, share this urgency: “Take nothing with for the journey… the Lord will provide for you!”(Luke 9:3)

 Today’s Holy Gospel, with the account of the Transfiguration is a spectacular experience for the disciples and they react the same way we probably would have done: they want to lock in on the experience. They got the part about following Jesus but then, they want to freeze it in a moment that’s already passed. It’s always a thin line that separates a spectacular event from slipping into just being an historic museum piece that we venerate rather than an experience that we take with us. You can see this happening anywhere in the world where some, supposed, miracle has taken place. Many people run all over the place trying to catch on to some miraculous event forgetting that anything like that is a means to an end and not an end in itself.

The first thing that we need to remember is that the Gospels – as they are presented to us – were written down only after the early church had come to grips with all that Jesus had said and done in the brief three years of his public ministry. For all practical purposes they were recalled backwards: from the resurrection, back through the crucifixion and death; they remembered this Transfiguration experience, all the healings and miracles, etc. And it was thus that they finally had that “now, I see and understand.”

 When Jesus is transfigured, he appears conversing with Moses and Elijah; at the crucifixion he is between two thieves and the conversation is one of forgiveness and salvation. To the ‘good thief’ Jesus says those saving words, “This day you will be with me in paradise!” (Luke 23:43)

 In a few weeks we’ll be celebrating Holy Week and on Good Friday we’ll approach the Cross of Christ in reverence. As you come forward, remember the words we say just before receiving the Eucharist: “Lord! I am not worthy …the good thief said, ‘we deserve our punishment …but only say the word and I shall be healed!”

 That’s as close as we can come to paradise in this world so listen to what the Lord is saying to you. Any encounter with Jesus – as our Lenten Journey teaches us – will lead to the Hill of Calvary with Jesus’ words, “If you want to save your life you must be willing to give it up for the sake of the Kingdom!” (Matthew 16:25)

March 11, 2017 – Saturday in the 1st Week of Lent

Saint for the day: John Ogilvie (1559 – March 10, 1615)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Deuteronomy 26:16-19    –    Psalm 119    –    Matthew 5:43-48

“Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect, says the Lord.” (Mt. 5-48)

 Each year during the time of Lent the Church uses many and various means to bring us back to our original call. We hear the original call of God’s people in and through the Exodus. We are reminded that God desires that we become His people and honor Him as the one, true God. This is the ideal and we can easily see that the Israelites didn’t always hold to that commitment. And that’s where we come into the picture. We’ve read the whole script. We know how the story ends. We know what we’ve been called to. Yet we end up being no smarter than the Israelites and, time and time again, we choose false God’s and Golden Calves.

But God never gives up on us. When the disciples ask Jesus how many times they must forgive – “seven times?” But Jesus surprises them by telling them, “no, not seven times but seventy times seven!” That’s how often God calls us back.

But He doesn’t call us in a vacuum. He calls us from where we’re at and reminds us that we will only be fully forgiven to the extent that we are willing to forgive others. The S & Ps were great at pointing the finger at the faults and shortcomings of others and they kept everybody in little, safe boxes most often out of reach of God’s love and mercy.

Let’s not forget, however, that all of us have that potential to be like the Pharisees and we have to be careful not to forget that Jesus tells us, “to the extent that you forgive – that same measure will be used for you.” “All have fallen short of the Glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

March 10, 2017 – Friday in the 1st Week of Lent

Saint for the day: Dominic Savio (April 2, 1842 – March 9, 1857)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Ezra 18: 21-28    –    Psalm 130    –    Matthew 5:20-26

“Come away to a quiet place and pray.”

 In these early days of Lent it’s no getting around the fact that we are called to an assessment of our interior life with the promise from Ezekiel, “if the wicked man turns from his wickedness and asks for forgiveness he shall surely live.” In the Gospel, Jesus – pointing at the ever-present Scribes and Pharisees – warns us that if our piety goes no deeper than that of the S & Ps we’re in trouble.

I remember back in my high school days when I helped out at church on Saturdays a class mate friend, who wasn’t always very connected to church, surprisingly showed up for confession. When he came out I must have said something about my surprise at seeing him here for confession. His flip response was, “well, I hope that keeps my mother off my back.”

Change of heart must be more than mere lip service or it will mean nothing. The thing that bothered Jesus about the S & Ps was that they were hypocrites. Their lives were “all for show and not for go.” How can we avoid this very common trap and experience real conversion?

I think it begins with the pattern that Jesus shows us over and over in the Gospels where He urges the disciples to “come away to a quiet place and pray.” If we don’t have that deep, personal relationship with Jesus in the quiet of our hearts we will never be able to honestly know His deep and lasting forgiveness.

As I sit here in the dark of our small chapel in the early hours of the morning I am both deeply aware of God’s presence and my own frailty. Strange, that in the dark and quiet I am more able to be aware of my own continuing need for God’s mercy and forgiveness. We can’t confront our own need for God’s forgiveness if we are always busy in the market places of our world. “Come away to a quiet place” and Jesus will show us His love, mercy, and forgiveness. Amen!

March 9, 2017 – Thursday in the 1st Week of Lent

Saint for the day: Frances of Rome (1384 – March 9, 1440)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Esther C: 12 — 25    –    Psalm 138    –    Matthew 7:7-12

“A clean heart create for me, O God; give me back the joy of your salvation.”

At the outset I find that this ‘prayer of Esther’ in not in all bibles due to some discrepancies between the Greek and Hebrew texts. Why the Church then picks something that won’t be found in all bibles is beyond me especially when fundamentalists would have a heyday saying things like, “see Catholics add and subtract things from the bible!”

So… instead, we focus on the Gospel which reminds us how to pray. We say, as Jesus taught us, “give us our daily bread” but we always have a tendency to want to hoard some for tomorrow. What the Lord is trying to teach us in this prayer is that He will be there for us in all our needs. In Old Testament fashion the “manna” didn’t last beyond the day it fell to the earth. There was no possibility to save or hoard. it They had to trust in God to meet their needs.

To be able to pray as Jesus we must trust God totally and somehow get “into the mind (presence) of God.” God never fails to give us what we need. Our problem is that we often pray and ask for what we want. And that’s not always how we should pray.

The Gospel ends with a play on a familiar proverb: “What goes around comes around” by saying, “treat others as you would have them treat you.” We should be glad that this doesn’t always come true since we often don’t treat others in good ways. I again quote Richard Rohr who quotes the “Shema Israel” “Love the Lord God with all your strength and your neighbor as yourself.” He says, since many of us don’t love ourselves that it’s good that we don’t follow the “Shema” until we have come to that point where we really do see ourselves as lovable. Something to think about! Amen!