March 8, 2017 – Wednesday in the 1st Week of Lent

Saint for the day: John of God (March 8, 1495 – March 8, 1550)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Johnah 3:1-10    –    Psalm 51    –    Luke 11:29-32

“Remember your compassion, O Lord, and your merciful love, for they are from of old. Let not our enemies exult over us. (/Today’s Entrance Antiphon: Psalm 25:6, 2, 22)

What are “signs” for me? Signs give me information that helps me find my way & get to where I am going. I don’t need signs when I am confident about my direction and my goal. I don’t need signs to find my way home since it is so familiar to me. I needed signs the first time I came here by myself . Now that I “know the way” I don’t even pay attention to any signs. Jesus says, “No other sign will be given except the sign of Jonah.” What is this “sign of Jonah” – a pre-figuring of the resurrection? Even though most of us know – intellectually – about the resurrection we don’t really know about it experientially. Therefore, we need signs to get us there. One of the benefits of the Lenten season is that the Church can skip around and give us scriptures passages out of sequence but that can have greater impact on our journey. We would have heard these scriptures in other years since they are assigned to Wednesday in the 1st week of Lent. What Jesus does with this is chide us because we always want signs or proofs that our perception is the correct one. This might be the fundamental point of our going through lent each year: to challenge our presumptions. Redeem us, O God of Israel, from all our distress. Amen!

March 6, 2017 – Monday in the 1st Week of Lent

Saint for the day: Mary Ann of Jesus of Paredes’ (Oct. 31, 1618 – Mary 26, 1645)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Leviticus 19:1-2, 11 – 18    –    Psalm 19    –    Matthew 25:31-46

“Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.” (Today’s Psalm Response: Ps. 51)

 Today the Church gives us two more “bookends” to help us on our Lenten journey: the Ten Commandments from Leviticus up against the Gospel which puts it in the context of how we actually follow the Ten Commandments.

 Here’s the “law of God” but you must put it into a practical application of actually doing and fulfilling what the law requires. So, we’re back to square one in that it’s not enough to have fulfilled all the precepts of the law if we don’t put it into action in our day to day living and following Jesus.

 “The World” gives us a false picture of success in that it would claim that we are successful when we get to the top. When we’ve amassed great accomplishments in our life. The Gospel, on the other hand, tells us that we will be judged on what we did with that “one talent” that was giving to us. Most of us live in a false fear of God and bury the gifts that He has given us and say, “When did we see you …. And not come to your aid?”

 “This, then, is the fast that I desire: to lift the burden on the backs of the poor; to bring sight to the blind; to care for widows and orphans.” The drop of water given to a thirsty person can end up being our ticket to Heaven. St. Therese said, “picking up a pin can be a means of saving a poor soul.” Forget about trying to save the world. Leave that to Jesus. Just try to bring a measure of light and hope to that one person who is right at your elbow. Amen!

March 7, 2017 – Tuesday in the 1st Week of Lent

Saints for the day: Perpetua and Felicity (died: 203)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Isaiah 55:10-11    –    Psalm 34    –    Matthew 6:7-15

“Becoming a prayerful person”

Today the Church gives us two more “bookends” to help us in our journey in becoming prayerful people. In Isaiah we hear that “my word which goes out shall not return to me void until it has done all that it is supposed to do.” And the Gospel tells us n0t to multiply our words like the pagans do. So, how do we make sense out of what we are hearing in today’s liturgy?

Perhaps if we start at: “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the Word was God.” In Genesis we read, “and God said, let there be light. And so it was. And He Said, ‘It is good.” Then Jesus tells His disciples that He is the “Light of the World” so that we can walk without stumbling or falling.

So, if God has said all there is to say how do we enter into that scene with our prayers? Are we supposed to change God’s mind? Do we think that we mortals can see a better picture of things than God can?

As I sit here in the dark of our Chapel in the early hours of the morning trying to come to grips with this subject of “prayer” I think that I will have to land on some kind of an understanding of what it’s all about.

For that reason, I go back to those opening words of the Bible: in the beginning all was a formless void … and God said, ‘Let there be LIGHT.’” And we know that Jesus is that light so our prayer should be, “Lord, bring me into your light that I might see you more clearly and follow you more dearly. Then, all of a sudden it’s not simply a matter of telling God what we need but of being in His light that brings meaning to our journey no matter what we what we are going through or experiencing. Amen!

 

March 5, 2017 – 2nd Sunday of Lent

Saint for the day: John Joseph of the Cross (1654 – 1734)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1 – 7 – Psalm 51   – Romans 5:12 – 19 – Matthew 4:1-11

“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.” (Today’s response verse for Psalm 51)

 If we had to have one “banner saying” for the entire season of Lent, the above verse from today’s Responsorial Psalm could easily fit the bill. There are two other thoughts that are whirling around in my head: “Let’s start from the very beginning…” and “Haven’t we done this before?”

 To start with, the “response verse” above, might better be spoken, “Be merciful, O Lord for we SINputting it in present/perfect tense, rather than simply looking at it as something that is done and over with.

Secondly, the holy scripture reading from the beginning of the Book of Genesis takes us all the way back to paradise and the story of the fall of Adam and Eve. And this is put up against the Holy Gospel of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness before the start of his public ministry. And the one important difference between them and Jesus, was that He was “tempted, like us, in all ways but sin!” (Hebrews4:15)

 In the “Genesis temptation” Eve is wooed into biting the apple (which she shares with Adam) and “…their eyes were immediately opened …” and what happened? “they realized that they were naked!” Their innocence was lost and something that God intended to be a beautiful gift was forever changed. I’m sure that we all have experiences of seeing little children in their innocence come running out the bathroom – stark naked after their evening bath – shouting, “Daddy, daddy, look at me! I’m all clean!”

 And so we spend the rest of our lives struggling to return to this paradise lost. I think that one of the lessons that we always need to learn (maybe over and over again) is that we are constantly confronted with situations where we think there is nothing wrong with just taking a little bite from this attraction or that. Remember – and I’ve said this many times before – St. Thomas Aquinas says that we never choose evil because it is evil; but because we fool ourselves into thinking it’s really not all that bad!

In the Gospel, Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness fits into three general categories: a quest for physical satisfaction. “Turn these stones into bread.” The apple was sweet tasting and has remained that way even after the fall. Perhaps that’s why we have to be so careful about what we think is “no big deal” that ends up being the cause of our falling. Notice, again, that I put this into the present/perfect tense.

The second temptation that Jesus faced is the challenging of God to do some outlandish act to “prove” God’s care and protection. I’ll let you take a moment to think about the ways in which you try to make deals with God: “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

 The last temptation that we hear about in today’s Holy Gospel is “false worship” and none of us should have any trouble identifying the things in our lives that we make into gods. In today’s world where anything is OK the last line of today’s Holy Gospel is very important: “It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” (Matt 4:10)

Your homework? Look up the “Anima Christi” prayer which is a good way to begin each of these “Lenten Days” along with the Morning Offering. In our present world we need all the help possible to avoid temptations that banish us from God’s Love. Amen!

March 4, 2017 – Saturday after Ash Wednesday

 

Saint for the day: Casimir (1458 – 1483)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Isaiah 58:9 -14    –    Psalm 86    –    Luke 5:27-32

 “There, but for the Grace of God, go I.”

 It’s so easy for us to take on the “Gospel slant” and paint the Pharisees as the bad guys and leave it at that. What we forget in taking this stand, is that many of the things that Jesus chided the Pharisees about are traits that are found in our own lives.

 We need to remember that the very word, “Pharisee” means “separated ones” and they went to extreme measures to keep themselves “separated” from anything that was not following the strict, Jewish law – as they interpreted it

Now here’s where we have to be careful and not just point our fingers at these “bad guys” while at the same time forgetting that we, too, have a bad track record of doing the same thing that Jesus calls the Pharisees on.

In the reading from the Prophet Isaiah we hear how our “light” can shine when we take part in bringing about peace and justice to those who are poor and afflicted. These are familiar words that Jesus repeats throughout the Gospels. Pharisee-like people need to keep the poor and downtrodden “in their place” otherwise they wouldn’t have anything to squawk about. I am reminded of the saying, “blowing someone else’s candle out doesn’t make your candle any brighter.

Our challenge in this Lenten time could be that of putting real effort into bringing the “Light of Christ” into those dark areas of our world and not forgetting that there are “dark areas” in our lives, as well. Jesus says it over and over, “I have come to call sinners to forgiveness.” That’s you and me. “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

March 3, 2017 – Friday after Ash Wednesday

Saint for the day: Katharine Drexel (11/18/1858 – 3/3/1955

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Isaiah 58:1-9    –    Psalm 51    –    Matthew 9:14-15

“The Lord heard and had mercy on me; the Lord became my helper.”

 It’s just “happenstance” that the above scripture verse – today’s ‘Entrance Antiphon’ as we begin our Mass, comes on the day when the Church remembers St. Katharine Drexel – a ‘society women’ of her day – who founded a community of women religious with the express ministry of educating Indians and Colored people. I don’t know if the Church gave her this date – knowing that it would often fall within Lent when we are being bombarded with Jesus’ words exhorting us to take care of those who have nobody else to care for them. Listen closely to the first Scripture reading from Isaiah and you’ll hear the words that Jesus used when He told His followers what kind of “fasting” pleases God. This is especially relevant to us as we begin our Lenten Journey which so often takes a path where we give up – this or that – extravagance as if God really cares whether or not I put sugar in my coffee or give up desserts. Pay close attention to this scripture from Isaiah and you’ll see a kind of outline of what pleases God and brings with it His promise, “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!” (Isaiah 58:9) And just in case we didn’t pick up on Jesus own words, today’s Holy Gospel repeats a variation of that theme in the context of a wedding banquet at which the guests are not to fast but, rather, to celebrate “the bridegroom’s presence;”

For many of us “old-time Catholics” – who weren’t always given much awareness of things like fasting and prayer – we were often left in a quandary about the essentials of things like the Lenten Fast. I can remember how my own parents approached the Lenten Fast during a time when they were part of a weekly Folk Dance group. My father would announce at the end of dinner that he would not say the “grace after meals” because he and my mother were going to a weekly Folk Dance group that served “desserts” at the end of their dancing and he would make that the end of he and my mothers dinner! Imagine how silly that sounds to us today, but there were many things that were done like that. So, thanks be to God that the Church has given us clear guidelines – mostly based on the Scriptures that we hear during Lent – as to how to more perfectly make this annual journey. Just listen to the Holy Scriptures that are given to us in these days and try to see how you can focus on getting closer to your own, personal following of Jesus. Amen!

March 2, 2017 – Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Saint for the day: Agnes of Bohemia (1205 – 1282)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Deuteronomy 30:15-20    –    Psalm 1    –    Luke 9:22-25

“The choice is ours: choose life!”

 In this reading from Deuteronomy Moses tells the people, “behold: I set before you life and prosperity; doom and death. Choose life!” Yet all of us have no real choice to stay alive and so we have to ask, “what does this really mean?”

 I consider it a privilege that I have been able to witness the birth of one of my God sons and the death of one of our older friars. Both of these events were a mixture of pain and struggle yet there is always the time after when we look at the new life that has fought to get into this world and rejoice. In the same way, the death of this friar made all of us gathered around anxious for him to be “birthed” into paradise. When he finally gasped his last breath we were able to rejoice that he was finally free of all pain and struggle.

 None of us can choose the time of our birth and none of us can determine when we die. Birth into this world and birth into the next are often shrouded in pain and struggle.

 So, what does Moses mean when he tells us to “choose life.” Birth and death are the bookends of all of our lives. Choosing “life” has to mean that we take some care about the time between those bookends. That is the time when we have much more control yet many don’t exercise that “gift” and fret away our lives in meaningless activities.

Today’s Gospel tells us that if we want to save our life we must be willing to have it taken away from us. Just as none of us can remain in the comfort of our mother’s womb none of us can add one day to our life here on earth. We ultimately must move on.

 Lent gives us the opportunity to take this reality to heart. What are we doing to make the best of the life we’ve been given? How are we using this very brief time that we have to make some difference in our own lives and the lives of those around us? Forget about giving up sweets! Focus on the world that rubs elbows with us and try to make just one person’s life a little easier even if that person seems to be a jerk! Maybe that’s the only cross you have to pick up today! Amen!

March 1, 2017 – Ash Wednesday

Click on the following “link” to read   Ash Wednesday About today’s liturgy:

Ash Wednesday About today’s liturgy:

Saint for today: David of Wales (died March 1, 589)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Joel 2:12-18    –    Psalm 51    –    2 Corinthians 5:20 – 6:2    –    Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Today’s Reflection originally appeared on Ash Wednesday in 2012 but it includes a good story around the subject of “giving up” and how that can really change things when that is done with a good motive. My hope is that it will be a means of your seeing how what you give up really can change lives.

“Come back to me with all your heart … remember, you are dust and into dust you shall return.”

 Here we are, again at Ash Wednesday, ready to begin another Lent and we hear the same readings that we hear every year. We’re given no options but rather forced to listen to familiar Scriptures with new insight. How are we to begin our Lenten Journey in a way that draws us closer to God while turning our thoughts away from introspection – just me and God – to having a real concern for a Gospel call to care for widows and orphans and relief for captives?

Lent has to be more than a marathon exercise to see how little we can live with or how much penance we can endure. Our fasting needs to be more than just doing without something. It has to free us to more clearly see what we are drawn to.

The ashes remind us of our own mortality and the fact that we will all, one day, come face to face with our creator who will not ask us if we lived a “clean life” or said all our required prayers or followed all the rules but rather, how did we relate to the people who were part of our lives or who came to us for some kind of relief. At this point many of us will say, “When did I see you … (here we can fill in any of many choices of words) and not respond?”

In my younger years when I was a chronic smoker I gave up smoking every Ash Wednesday and usually began again on Ash Thursday! Finally, one year, an older priest friend who had almost given up hope of God’s willingness to heal him of his pain told me to hold on tightly to my faith and belief in God because it was so easy to loose that gift when confronted with serious pain.

I left the room and went straight to the Chapel, knelt down and prayed, “Lord, you know how many times I’ve tried to quite smoking and failed to make it even one day. This year, let me offer it up for my priest friend so that he can be filled with your joy.” That’s all I said. I got up went to my room and now, more than 45 years later I’m still free from that addition. Years later, when I met up with that older priest and told him what I had done so many before he broke into tears and embraced me with his thanks saying, “I don’t think I could have made it this far if you hadn’t done that for me.! Now all I need to do is work on some of the other things that still keep me captive. Maybe that’s why we do this “Ash Wednesday thing” over and over again! We still have a ways to go before we get it right. But it can’t be just me and God. It has to be me coming face to face with the God presence in those who might have lost their faith and hope in a God who loved them to His death. Amen!

February 28, 2017 – Tuesday in the 8th Week of the Church Year

Today’s Liturgy: Shrove Tuesday the day before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent.

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Sirach 35:1-12    –    Psalm 50    –    Mark 10:28-31

“The Lord is one who always repays, and he will give back to you sevenfold. But offer no bribes, these he does not accept!” (Sirach 35:30)

 The quote above holds a lot of wisdom for us in that it lays it square on the line: “Yes! God gives in abundance for those who desire to follow Him. But we have to work hard at making our following of Jesus be free of any kind of coercion or bribe. But most of us who live in a “dog-eat-dog” kind of world have to struggle with making our love of God be pure and not tainted with conditions.

Peter’s response to Jesus in today’s Holy Gospel is common to all of us: “What about us? We’ve left all to follow you. What’s in it for us?

 The answer might not be totally the one we wanted: “… you will receive a hundred times more… in this present age … along with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.” (Mark 10:30)

 The “hundred fold” comes but not as we expected – “But many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

 This is not an easy task no matter which way you try to cut it. But don’t worry about trying to be a philanthropist … just give way to the person who cuts you off at the intersection. Or, let somebody go ahead of you in the buffet line even though you can see that there’s only one of those “goody-goody things” left.

But don’t do that thinking, “I’ll let them go first” on the basis that they might bring out something much better! That’s what Sirach says is “bribing God.” And that’s where “Gospel Love” – the unconditional type – is needed. And the only way to achieve that kind of love is to realize that God loved you first. Warts and all! Once we realize that, we’re on the way. And all of a sudden, we’re seeing the blessings of God in abundance. But you can’t turn that around or it just won’t work. Amen!

February 27, 2017 – Monday in the 8th Week of the Church Year

 

Saint for the day: Gabriel of our Lady of Sorrows (1838 – 1862)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Sirach 17:20-24    –    Psalm 32    –    Mark 10:17-27

The following “Reflection” was originally written in May, 2013 while I was still in Africa but getting ready to come back to the US. I often look back to reflections that are saved on the computer from 2008 until the present to see if I have made any progress in my following the Lord Jesus. So, here it is!

The young man in today’s Holy Gospel is the ”everyman” for us who want to know what we need to do to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. The answer he gets from Jesus, however isn’t what he wanted to hear. For me, as I get closer and closer to the date for me departure from Kenya, this Gospel hit me square in the face and I slump back sad, “because I have many possessions” collected in my almost eight years serving as a Dominican missionary.

As I sort through the “stuff” stashed in boxes and on bookshelves in my small room each item reminds me of some endeavor or project that I was involved in and that accomplished a good end and helped people on their journey toward the Kingdom. That’s not a bad thing. Jesus, Himself, used “visual aids” to drive home what He was telling His followers. “Look at the lilies of the field…” Or the image from today’s Holy Gospel, “It will be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle…”

 As word gets around that I am leaving Kenya and returning to my home Province in the US I’m getting notes from people telling me of the various ways in which I helped them in past situations. Most of these comments don’t involve things or objects but ways in which I spoke or said something that helped them to continue on their own, personal journey.

One of the things that I harp on with our young friars here in Kenya is the admonition not to put too much focus on getting a “job” or a particular “ministry.” I tell them, “Just focus on becoming a good Dominican – prayerful and loving – and the rest will just naturally fall into place.

Now, after saying all this, I still have to go back to my room where there are stacks of “things” that I’ve collected over the eight years being in Africa. How do I sort through all of this and still hear the words of Jesus in today’s Holy Gospel: “don’t let your possessions take possession of you. If you can walk away from these “things” you’ll have treasure in Heaven.”

I’m sure that we all have a long way to go in this regard. And I hope that this encore reflection still speaks to something in your own, personal journey to the kingdom. Amen!