The first reading of today’s mass, coupled with the responsorial psalm call for a long prayerful consideration. How many people in the world today beg for that “time of favor” when the Lord will rescue them! Do I ever yearn for that time for myself?
Accompanied with all of those who suffer, I shall spend extra time today joining my prayer with theirs, contemplating the dialogue between distressful Zion and the Lord, focusing on the last few lines: “Can a mother forget her infant…”
How did Jesus answer that question? How did he demonstrate the assertions in the responsorial psalm? To learn the answer I shall go to the Gospel of John and read all of chapter 10. And if possible I shall do this before the Eucharist. It is here where the dialogue becomes more meaningful, more personal. Lord, increase my devotion to the Eucharist each day.
“Do you want to be healed?” is the question Jesus poses to the sick man in today’s Gospel. It is the same question he poses to each of us. We are reminded that we cannot heal ourselves. Only he can heal us. He is the master of the impossible.
In the first reading, we have a description of water flowing from the temple. Water is the symbol of grace flowing from the Heart of Christ. I shall pray to Jesus today to give me this water in abundance to heal me, to strengthen my faith.
I shall reflect that the waters of baptism healed me from Original Sin and that the word of Christ that healed the sick man is also the word spoken over the bread and wine in each mass. The Eucharist is the Word of God that heals.
So what’s the conclusion? I resolve today to pray for those preparing for baptism at the Easter Vigil Mass and I shall spend special time before the Eucharist begging the Lord’s forgiveness for me and for all who seek healing, especially for those who do not know how to seek it or where to find it.
In today’s Gospel Jesus gives me a few lessons about prayer and faith. I will pretend I am the official. My son is dying far from where I am. I seek out Jesus to cure him. So, prayer is having a desperate need for something and expressing that need, not covering it up.
In the Gospel Jesus gives an objection to the official’s request. He seems to want to change the topic of conversation. The official is not put off; he persists, renewing his request. He teaches me perseverance in prayer deepens my faith, purifies it.
Next, Jesus tells him his son is cured. How does he know he is cured? He doesn’t see him. But he is convinced because Jesus tells him so. That’s true faith, believing in what I do not see at the moment, but having confidence in Jesus who hears my desperate pleas. That’s prayer; that’s faith.
The first reading invites me to reflect that I am progressing toward the happiness of heaven; thanks to the purification Jesus gives my faith and prayer here on earth.
Question: What is he Lord telling me in today’s Gospel? Answer: I was born blind. But at my baptism I entered the world of light enabling to me to see how Christ continues to work with me and with others, improving our sight.
Also, he tells me that Lent is the time when I can improve my vision. It is the time that prepares me for the Holy Saturday night Mass that celebrates Jesus who conquered the darkness that shadows the world in which I live. He tells me I must be a bearer of light to all who come into my life. Am I ready to accept it? I’ll re-read the Gospel to see.
I notice the blind man was brought little by little to see. Then he had to answer questions about how he obtained his sight. The questions clarified who it was that so blessed him. Result: When he met Jesus again, the encounter was more intimate because the person of Jesus had become more real. The cured blind man became a man of faith.
Has Jesus become more real to me during the past few years of my life? Have the challenges I’ve met regarding faith made my encounter with him more intimate, more trusting?
I will pray today for light to see better his face.
Solemnity of the Annunciation
In the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours, a letter from St. Leo the Great is included for the Solemnity of Annunciation. It is a beautiful letter that expresses well the tension within the mystery of the Incarnation: that God takes on human nature and flesh in order to save humanity. One of his descriptions for the event of the annunciation stood out to me. He describes it as the “condescension of compassion.” Condescension is not a pejorative term. Literally, the word means to “come down.” God does not come to condemn but to suffer with humanity in the sin we have introduced into the world. This coming of compassion would not have come into the world if it not were for Mary. Mary’s “yes” enabled God to take on our human nature and fulfill his Mission.
With a mystery so profound in our Christian tradition, I do not think it will be of much profit to write about it. Rather, I have included and adaptation of St. Ignatius’s meditation on the Annunciation from the Spiritual Exercises. When you have a quiet moment this day, pray with imaging the scene in your mind’s eye. Ask yourself: what would possess God to save humanity? What would possess Mary to say “yes”?
Hear what the persons on the face of the earth are saying, that is, how they are talking with one another, how they sneer and blaspheme, etc.;
Hear what the Divine Persons are saying, that is: “Let Us work the redemption of the Human race,” etc.; and then what the Angel and Our Lady are saying; and reflect then so as to draw profit from their words.
What are the Angel and Our Lady doing? See the Angel doing his duty as ambassador, and Our Lady humbling herself by giving thanks to the Divine Majesty. Watch as she says “yes” to the Angel. What are the movements in her heart? Reflect in order to draw some profit from each of these things.
An unhelpful depiction of the Christian mystical life floats around in the Christian subconscious. The image runs like this: for someone to be truly holy, he or she must slowly become divorced from concern of the world. The paradigmatic example, in this depiction, is the hermit. He has removed himself from most social contact with the world, and he has time to focus on God alone. To some extent, each of us Christians have judged ourselves against what we see as a mystical “high bar.”
Our Gospel passage debunks this depiction of the mystical life. Jesus teaches us that the love of God is the greatest commandment we ought to follow. Giving our whole self in return to God is an act of gratitude to the one who has made creation for us to enjoy. The second greatest commandment is the love of neighbor. These loves are not mutually exclusive. In our Christian vocation, the two grow in us correlatively because we become like the one we love. In the activity of loving, we open ourselves to be concerned with another more than ourselves. When we love God, we become like God. We take on God’s concerns and God’s vision of the other persons in our lives. The apex of Christian mysticism is not other-worldly visions but seeing our world in another way.
The marks of our Lenten season echo the mutual growth of both love of God and neighbor. With our prayers and fasting, we recognize that God is the source of every gift we have received; everything that we are has come to us from God. Almsgiving and service to our sisters and brothers who need assistance develops in us God’s loving gaze. The poor are the most intimate concern for God. We are invited to make a similar commitment. Let us pray that this Lenten season increase in us a love that integrates both the desires of our heart—for God and for one another.
How has your love of God grown during this Lent? Your love for neighbor?
Jesus states a binary situation at the conclusion of our Gospel passage today. “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” I am usually skeptical of binary thinking. With an “us” versus “them” dichotomy, we end up splitting the world into divisions that prevent mutual understanding. Do not get me wrong me, binary thinking is good in some cases, like thinking there are objective moral goods and evils. A shadow of binary thinking is that it prevents discernment and adaptation from happening for a particular person or case.
Jesus’ statement induces a conscious or unconscious worry in Christians. Spiritual directors and confessors hear it when people come to them explaining how they are worried to get on God’s bad side. The feeling is that a person is either for God by living the perfect moral life or against God through committing sins. The foretaste of the eternal punishment for sin is perpetual misery in this life.
If we all are honest with ourselves, there is some part in each one of us that is against God and some part that is for God. As human beings, we constantly fall into instances where we have a divided will—we simultaneously will what we know is good for us and not good for us. God’s grace in our hearts heals our will and unifies it. We pray for our will to be integrated with God’s dream for us, a parent’s wish for the fullness of life for her child.
The binary that Jesus offers us exhorts us to whole-heartedness. The scene reminds me of the scenes in movies when an army captain tries to rouse courage in the troops before the final battle. The battle ground for us is the places within our hearts that want to fight God and not surrender to grace. If we want to see someone who is against Jesus, we need to look no farther than a mirror at ourselves. If we want to see someone who is for Jesus, look in the mirror again. Let us make our prayer this day to ask God to help us surrender those places of our heart that want to resist God.
How have I surrendered to God’s grace this Lent? Where do I feel my will is divided.
Our Gospel passage is a conundrum to both Scripture scholars, and likewise to the ordinary Scripture reader. The confusion arises because what Jesus exhorts us to do we, as a Church, simply do not do. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary comments, “No major Christian church requires observance of all 613 precepts of the Old Testament law, ethical and ceremonial, but only the ethical commands such as the Decalogue and the commands to love God and neighbor” (p. 641). The precepts of the Mosaic Law, beyond the Ten Commandments, formed the standards for religious holiness in Ancient Israel. Under the Law, to be holy and one with God was to follow all His precepts.
Early Christians were divided over the status of the mosaic law. Jewish-Christians or Christians who Judaized, i.e. non-Jewish Christians who wanted to live like Jews, thought that the Mosaic law was not abolished with Jesus. Rather, the Mosaic law had to be followed completely by Christians.
St. Paul believed God was leading the Church in a different direction. Paul wrote painstakingly in his epistles about how faith in Jesus is the true fulfillment of the Law. For Christians, to be virtuous is to follow a person: Jesus. The evangelist John summarizes it well when he describes Jesus as the “way, the truth, and the life.” The interpretation that continued in the Church was Paul’s focus on the spirit of the Law, rather than adherence to the Mosaic Law. This is an ancient debate that has a current application in our Lenten practices.
The radicalism of Paul’s claim is that we human beings are fulfilled only when we are in a relationship with Jesus. We might follow every Church precept, law or discipline out of obedience to what we think is right, but if we do not do it with Jesus we are missing the mark of our Christian vocation. Every Lent, the Church asks to be intentional with our prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. These are avenues to remind ourselves of our need and dependence on God; also, our acts of service and charity show us the dependence of God on us to care for His people. Whatever we commit to do this Lent, let it be with the intention to follow Jesus and not a Church rule to obey. Church rules lead us to meet Christ already in ourselves, in our Church, and the poor in our world.
How do my Lenten commitments allow me to encounter Jesus?
Quotation taken from The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, eds. Raymond Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, & Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990), 641.
St. Thomas Aquinas in his work, On Evil (or, De Malo in the original Latin) describes that the sin of pride comes in four characteristic ways. The first form of pride is when a person over exaggerates her talents and gifts, claiming to better than she actually is. You hear it at any point when the person shows how little she had to work on an objectively hard task. The second form is when a person does not recognize the gifts or talents he has received as coming from God. A person continually grateful to God embodies the view of John 15:5, “for without me you can do nothing.”
The last two forms of pride seem at work in the forgiven yet unforgiving servant today. The third form is when a person has received a gift from the Lord because she deserved it. Think of a time when we have received a gift, and we have justified our reception of it because our past good actions. The last form of pride that Aquinas mentions is when a person has received a gift from the Lord but desires that no one else has it; he continues to feel special for being the only recipient.
These two latter forms of pride combine in regards to the servant’s experience of mercy. The pardoned servant felt he deserved mercy but not the servant who owed him money. We quickly fall into this trap too. When we come up with the best excuses for our actions, they are sometimes identical to the actions we become angry with another for doing. Also, the pardoned sinner is unaware about the mercy of nature. The best type of gifts are those that when we give them away they increase rather than decrease. Love grows when given away. Mercy is also the same. When we receive mercy from God, we may become an agent of the very mercy we have received. Hoarding mercy for ourselves misrepresents the gratuity in which we have received it. We can make mercy to seem unattainable for others who are desperate for a sense of God’s love for them.
Mercy is a basic human need in our fallen state. We need frequent reminders of God’s continual mercy for us. It does not come because we have done penance, as if we could deserve mercy from our acts. Instead, we receive mercy out of God’s goodness to freely give what we could never earn. Let us pray that the Lord helps us to be merciful as we have received mercy.
When was a time I felt the Lord’s mercy? Where have I felt a challenge to be merciful to another?
Here is a Catholic Trivia Question: How many times does Joseph speak in the New Testament?
For the importance Joseph had in raising Jesus, we know very little about him. We know that he was going to be discreet for Mary’s sake and divorce her quietly once she became pregnant during their engagement. He needed the help of a vision from an angel to overcome his fears in taking Mary back into his life. Also, he was just as dumbfounded as Mary when they realized Jesus was still at the temple in Jerusalem. Beyond these events, we can only guess what he is like. The evangelists seem to stress that the most important contribution Joseph gives to the Church are not his words, but his example.
He must have been a dedicated father to Jesus for him to grow in wisdom and age. He helped provide for his family’s material needs. I would not be surprised if Jesus learned how not only to be a carpenter but a fellow human being from watching Joseph at work, at home, in public interacting with others. His life shows to the Church the power of silent acts of self-giving that often do not get written down. God offers us more invitations to serve outside the light of center stage than to be the center of attention. When our service is highlighted, we have to be prayerful in reflecting if our service is highlighted because we have striven for it to be so. Our egos are buffeted through the praise of others, and service becomes more about ourselves than about others. Joseph reminds us of the goodness of quiet, humble service.
Human history, our personal histories too, are full of individuals who are not remembered in its pages but contributed to its progression. During this season of Lent, let us remember how the Lord and the people the Lord has put in our life have loved us in many small and subtle ways. Let us also pray for the gift to contribute likewise to others if it be for God’s greater glory and not our own.
How has the Lord, or people in your life, loved you quietly and in small acts? When, where, or to whom have you been called by God to live like St. Joseph?