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Monthly Archives: February 2015

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Today’s Readings Isaiah 58:9b-14  Luke 5:27-32

USCCB Podcast of the Readings:
ccc.usccb.org/cccradio/NABPodcasts/15_02_21.mp3

 The first part of Isaiah 58 (our first reading today) tells of the real manner of fasting. Fasting is not simply weight loss. Fasting is not getting into condition. Fasting is not proving our self-control. We give up in order to sacrifice, to worship God. And part of the giving up is to give to others. Today’s reading continues the theme: We shall be heard if our fasting and sacrifices benefit others. In other words, fasting and almsgiving are two sides of the same coin. During Lent, our self-denial must benefit others or it is not truly self-denial. Sharing our bread with the hungry, providing for others’ needs: this is the kind of fasting that gains the Lord’s attention to our prayers.

1-6   The gospel is the call of Levi (Matthew). The good people were scandalized that Jesus went to the home of a sinner to eat. His answer should be ours: Sick people need a doctor; well people don’t.

The Church’s deliberate choice to link these two readings, then, has significance. Sometimes I think the responsibilities described in the first reading are reserved for people better than me. But that’s not the case. Christ did come to eat with us sinners. Even today, he shares a Sacred Meal with us in the Holy Eucharist. But Levi wasn’t getting off easily. By eating with Christ he was committing himself to the challenges described in the first reading. He was giving himself entirely to God.

When our faith and putting others first becomes more than an extracurricular, it becomes a vocation, we reap more benefits than we ever intended.

your light will rise in the darkness, and your shadows become like noon..” –Isaiah 58:10

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Posted by on February 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Friday after Ash Wednesday

Today’s Readings Isaiah 58:1-9  Matthew 9:14-15

USCCB Podcast of the Readings:
ccc.usccb.org/cccradio/NABPodcasts/15_02_20.mp3

Doing good deeds for others accomplishes much more than we gain by fasting from delicious foods.

Today’s readings challenge us to re-consider our notion of fasting. We are called to a radical shift from our private discipline of forgoing “macaroni and cheese” to a public response which involves action and risk. It is also an invitation to bring healing to our world.
God speaks in the Isaiah reading to us and says, “Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me – it is the Lord who speaks –to break unjust fetters and undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke, to share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor, to clothe the man you see to be naked and not turn from your own kin? Then will your light shine like the dawn”

If we accept God’s challenge to be partners with God in the healing of the world, we are also invited to fast from our own personal habits and patterns which may be keeping us from God. Fasting from anger, resentment, criticism, selfishness, not loving ourselves, indifference or apathy can bring our lives and relationships more in touch with the peace that God has offered and which was modelled in the life of God’s son, Jesus. We are then prepared to reach out to others and while we are setting them free of their oppression, we are also being set free by them.

Happiness can be manufactured to some extent, and usually only for short periods; but joy is a stroke from beyond. Joyless religion may be the profoundest denial of God. If there is no joy in it, it’s all your own work, so what need have you of God? If the Resurrection is not visible in you, then you are preaching death without resurrection. One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy, and it is mentioned next after love in St Paul’s list, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22). If you had no love in you, you could hardly claim to be a Christian; likewise joy (and all the others). These fruits are the fingerprints of the Holy Spirit.

Joy does not come from avoiding pain and sorrow; on the contrary it is possible only when we have gone into the heart of our pain and sorrow. We have to go into the heart of it and experience a certain transformation, the characteristic shift that is the sign that the ‘chemistry’ of the Gospel is working. If we avoid the process nothing happens; we would have to continue all our lives to avoid it. That way there is no joy, only endless desperate flight.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Today’s Readings Deuteronomy 30:15-20  Luke 9:22-25 USCCB

Podcast of the Readings: ccc.usccb.org/cccradio/NABPodcasts/15_02_19.mp3

In today’s first reading, the Church uses the instruction of Moses: God has set before us the way of life and the way of death. If we keep the way of the Lord, we shall have life; if we reject his commands, we shall incur death. The Church, through Moses, urges us always to choose life.

The hope offered in Deuteronomy is appropriately supplemented by the message of suffering that we find in the Gospel of Luke. Christ chose life and still he suffered; to be a disciple of Christ includes suffering. We cannot expect to be freed from every kind of suffering just because we have chosen the path of life. Like Christ, his disciple “must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me.” But this should not be a cause of distress since Jesus also says, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Jesus offers us a message of hope. In being his disciples we can expect suffering, but we can expect a hope that leads us through it, nearer to him, nearer to the fullness of life that we have chosen.

Here on the second day of Lent, many of us might be thinking of what we might “give up” for Lent.  It’s an old custom and a good one, and if we began it as children, we might remember giving up chocolate, television or desserts.  But as we grow older, we might be looking for something with more meaning to it.  This Lent might be a time to “give up” something that will make us different persons 40 days from now.

Doing anything faithfully and faith-fully for six weeks will change our lives and the lives of others around us.  It is part of what God is inviting us to this Lent: a chance to make myself a better person and a chance to connect each day with God.

Jesus asks today, “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?”  For the next six weeks of this Lenten season, we can truly find ourselves by giving up our own needs and desires and focusing on the lives of others.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Ash Wednesday

Today’s Readings Joel 2:12-18  2 Corinthians 5:20 — 6:2  Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

USCCB Podcast of t he Readings:
ccc.usccb.org/cccradio/NABPodcasts/15_02_18.mp3

1-1When I was in school, I remember Ash Wednesday as a melancholy day.   But nearly 40 years later, a look at today’s readings changes my perspective and seems to invite us into a hopeful joy.  God invites us to “return to me with your whole heart” and we ask God in return to “create a clean heart for me and a steadfast spirit renew within me.”

Rather than being melancholy, Lent invites us into a deep joy, for we are known by God as imperfect people but we are loved by God as forgiven.  The deeply forgiving love God extends to us is like an invitation to renew our relationship with God. Yes, it might be a period of simplicity, paring down and clearing away the things that are getting in the way between us and God.  Lent can be a time to take a clear-eyed look at ourselves and honestly see who we are, just as God does.  But it’s a time of great hope, as we realize how much God longs for a relationship with us.

An honest look at ourselves as flawed creatures of God doesn’t mean we give up. Rather we can rejoice in knowing that there is nothing we have done, no act or way of life, no hidden sin so deeply tucked away in our souls, that God does not forgive in us.

The next six weeks are a time to spend with one who loves us so much, who forgives and comforts us.    Today many of us will have our foreheads marked by a cross of ashes.  It is a shocking symbol of our own mortality and of the sacrifice Jesus made for us with his death.  It is also a public marking that reminds us – and others – of God’s message to us, “I created you for myself and gave you my only son to free you from sin and death.  Even now, I am calling you, drawing you closer to myself so that someday, I can celebrate with you a never ending banquet of love.”

The ashes on our forehead are more than a symbol of our own mortality. They are a sign of God fighting for our freedom from this world, liberating us from the clutches of so many things that drag us away from God. Today Jesus is calling us to himself in an ever-deeper way, inviting us into his endless forgiveness and asking us to return to his loving embrace.  With tears of joy, we can accept his outstretched arms.  When I was a boy my sense of Ash Wednesday was that we were lost.  Now I see that we are found!

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Sixth Week in Ordinary Time Tuesday

Today’s Readings Genesis 6:5-8; 7:1-5, 10  Mark 8:14-21

USCCB Podcast of the Readings:
ccc.usccb.org/cccradio/NABPodcasts/15_02_17.mp3

The story of the great flood is a composite narrative based on two separate sources interwoven into an intricate patchwork.  The setting is that mankind has become steeped in sin and immorality.

God, described in very human terms, regrets not only the creation of human beings but of all the “animals, creeping things and birds of the air” as well.  Though morally innocent, the animal world, as creatures under human corrupted rule, shared in being judged.

Saying that God ‘regrets’ is a human way of expressing the fact that tolerance of sin is totally incompatible with his sanctity.

There is one human exception to the universal corruption.  Noah was a good man, who “had found favour with the Lord”.  The destruction to come will, through him, become a reconstruction.  Noah and his family will become a righteous remnant which will survive and regenerate, paving the way for the appearance of God’s people in the person of Abraham.

We need to remember that we are not dealing here with a historical event but with a myth.  Myths play a very important role in human life and culture.  A myth is basically a story which expresses a deep truth that cannot really be expressed in any other way. The message is clear: God protects the virtuous and punishes the wicked.  There is indeed punishment for sin but it flows out of the sinful acts themselves.  Evil is destructive; good is nurturing and growth-inducing.  Evil brings division; goodness brings peace and harmony.

The apostles’ lack of understanding is a favourite theme of Mark’s (6:52; 7:18; 8:17-18; 9:10,32; etc.).  Jesus sounds like an impatient teacher today: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember?”  He uses the same language that he uses when battling with the Pharisees!

Mark uses the expression “the yeast (or leaven) of the Pharisees.”   In the parallel passage Luke interprets this as hypocrisy (12:1).  The word ‘hypocrisy’ comes from Greek and means ‘acting a part on the stage’.  Then it came to mean pretence, especially pretence to virtue.

Every person has a capacity for good and evil; everything we use we can use for good or evil purposes.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Sixth Week in Ordinary Time Monday

Today’s Readings Genesis 4:1-15, 25  Mark 8:11-13

USCCB Podcast of the Readings:
ccc.usccb.org/cccradio/NABPodcasts/15_02_16.mp3

Like Jesus, we have to walk away from the argument.

1-2    In the short gospel, Jesus says that an evil generation looks for a “sign.” The Pharisees had a list of “signs” which they expected the Messiah to fulfill. No matter how many miracles Jesus does, they still want one of their “signs.” In the parallel passages in the other gospels, Jesus says that no sign will be given — except the sign of Jonah.  In one gospel, this “sign” is the conversion of a pagan people. In another, it is the death and resurrection of Jesus.

But here, Jesus simply says, “no sign.” That is a good lesson for us.

Have you ever tried to help someone who would not listen to what you were really saying? They only heard what they wanted to hear, if anything at all. Usually, it’s something that gives them an excuse to disbelieve you.

That’s probably how Jesus felt in today’s Gospel story. The Pharisees’ reason for requesting a sign was not motivated by a hope that Jesus was the Messiah. They were asking for an argument. If they truly wanted to believe in him, they would have been converted by the many previous signs they had already witnessed.

Let us be content with our faith.  Like Jesus, we have to walk away from the argument. Our words are not helping them.

It’s not easy to walk away from an argument when we’re trying to help. It hurts to see people continue to suffer from the lies and misconceptions they believe. That’s okay; we’re not supposed to like it — we care. But walking away is not quitting. We’ll continue to pray for  them, and  show by our lives the truth of our words. Jesus died and rose for our justification. No sign of his victory is needed, and there is no further sign that the end of the world is coming. Watch, pray, and have faith.

Original sin is not confined to Adam and Eve. It affects the entire human race. Originally, the story of Cain and Abel was completely separate from the creation stories. (This explains how Cain could go to a faraway country and find a wife.) The story was added to the story of the Fall to show that sin becomes worse and worse: Brother kills brother.

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46, 1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1, Mark 1:40-45

USCCB Podcast of the Readings:
ccc.usccb.org/cccradio/NABPodcasts/15_02_15.mp3

Today’s First Reading gives us context for the Gospel, revealing the transformative nature of Jesus’ reaction and action towards the leper.

In the Old Testament, leprosy is depicted as punishment for disobedience of God’s commands (see Numbers 12:12-15; 2 Kings 5:27; 15:5)

Considered “unclean” – unfit to worship or live with the Israelites, lepers are considered “stillborn,” the living dead (see Numbers 12:12). Indeed, the requirements imposed on lepers in today’s First Reading – rent garments, shaven head, covered beard – are signs of death, penance, and mourning (see Leviticus 10:6; Ezekiel 24:17).

So there’s more to the story in today’s Gospel than a miraculous healing.

There are two seemingly impossible requests in this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 1:40-45). The first one comes from a man afflicted with leprosy. The second one comes from Jesus.

At the time of Jesus, those suffering with leprosy and other associated skin diseases were treated like those with today’s Ebola virus. Because there was no cure and people feared contagion, those branded as lepers were isolated, avoided, and shunned. Yet impelled by some hope that perhaps the one who was driving out demons and healing the sick could do something for him, the leper in Sunday’s Gospel dares to break the law forbidding him any interaction with the healthy.

1-2“If you wish, you can make me clean.” Anyone hearing the leper’s plaintive request would have thought the man was asking the impossible. In response, Jesus breaks the taboos of his day. He touches the man, risks infection, incurs ritual impurity, and amazingly restores the man to health. Jesus heals the man and in doing so allows him to return home to his family, relatives, and friends.

Jesus frees someone from the “death sentence” of leprosy. He does what his contemporaries would have thought impossible.

Jesus then informs the man. “See that you tell no one anything.” Perhaps Jesus made that request because he did not want to be known primarily as a healer but rather as a preacher and teacher. But no matter the reason, it was an impossible request. The man’s relatives and friends would obviously notice his physical cure. Furthermore, how could the man keep silent about the wonderful thing Jesus had done for him.

Asking the cured man to be silent would be like asking a man who had fallen wildly in love to say nothing, or requesting a woman who had won the Mega Millions top prize to keep it to herself, or asking a teenager cured of cancer to act as if nothing had happened. Impossible! Even if such people never spoke a word, their good fortune would positively radiate from their faces.

Imagine that Jesus were to tell us what he told the man in this Sunday’s Gospel, namely, to say nothing about what he has done for us. Sadly, we might have little trouble fulfilling that request since we often fail to appreciate the amazing things Jesus does for us.

In Baptism, Jesus frees us from the “leprosy” of original sin and brings us into a relationship with him. In Confirmation, he gives us his Spirit to inspire us to make wise choices in life. In the Eucharist, he unites us with himself in a “holy communion” of friendship and love. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he forgives our sins and allows us to move beyond our past. In the liturgy, he speaks to us through the scriptures. And through the Church, he supports and embraces us through our fellow Christians.

If we realized the amazing things Jesus Christ does for us, we would act like the man in Sunday’s Gospel. We would not be able to keep silent.

As Paul describes in the Second Reading, Jesus did not seek his own benefit or well-being, but the benefit of the many, of the community, of this man, that he might be saved, and his dignity be restored.

Let us not be afraid to reach out and touch those who are in need of compassion, care, and healing. Let us bridge the gaps and cross the boundaries. Let us listen. Let us embrace. Let us recognize the dignity and worth of everyone.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2015 in Uncategorized