Sunday, February 28, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Lent - March 6, 2016

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First Reading Commentary
The "reproach of Egypt" is a reference to the uncircumcised which would have been a humiliating experience for the Israelites held in captivity there and made to be slaves in a foreign land. 

The historian Josephus interpreted Gilgal to mean "liberty" but a more popular rendering is "rolled away" which links it to the Hebrew translation which reads as: "This day I have rolled away from you the reproach of Egypt." 

The manna ceases the day after the Passover which is a prophecy about Christ's Crucifixion that also occurred the day after the Passover.  But the old is superseded by the new and Christ's celebration of the Passover on Holy Thursday is when the true Manna is instituted.

Second Reading Commentary
Imagine that you've just been hired as a paid ambassador for Christ and your salary is your sole income to provide for your necessities in life.  In order to have some sense of job security, would you need to change anything about how you currently live your life? 
Lent has a way of bringing about some uncomfortable questions for reflection.  Confession can be considered a job performance review of self worth but the good news is that once you've completed this review you get to keep your job and the Boss will consider you a most valuable employee. 

Priests alone sacramentally reconcile us to God but as ambassadors of Christ, we all have a responsibility of showing the way to reconciliation.  To be called a new creation in Christ is the direct effect of grace on the soul.  Saint Paul's appeal is for all of us but is also surely a wake-up call for the Corinthians who are not reconciled to God.  Paul words about Christ being made sin is intended to have a shock value.  The Father allows the Son to be punished like a sinner "so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."  It's really an incomprehensible, lopsided exchange of gifts.  We give to God our sins and He gives to us the crown of glory.

Gospel Commentary
What’s the difference in value between an old, tarnished quarter and a brand new, lustrous quarter?  There is no difference; they’re both worth twenty-five cents.  In God’s Eyes there’s no difference between someone who’s in a state of grace and a tarnished soul.  Both are infinitely loved by Him; both are valued as His child.  Our Lord's perfect love is not somehow less than perfect for the wounded soul.  The condition of the soul, however, should be a personal concern since damaged goods need to be repaired; and a soul in mortal sin without any concern for it is a choice to be separated from God.  Henry Nouwen, a Catholic priest and author of over thirty books, who also spent time as a missionary in Latin American countries working with the handicapped, once said: "We are all handicapped; some are more visibly handicapped than others." 

In the parable of the prodigal son, that which was lost has been found.  It would be improper to think that this Gospel is aimed only at those who are not serving the Lord or not walking with Him.  Every one of us is a sinner; therefore, every one of us is in need of repentance.  It is very arrogant of the Pharisees and scribes to complain about who Jesus dines with, for they fail to cast out the beam in their own eye.  It's always easy to reflect on a biblical passage and place ourselves in that scene by making ourselves the good guy.  But for Lent it may be a fruitful plan to become the bad guy because, let's face it, sometimes we are. 

Like the father in this parable, why is it so much easier to apply mercy to one's own children or even a spouse, but yet among mere acquaintances and co-workers, acting like a Pharisee, scribe, or the complaining older brother seems more like the norm?  Among us as individuals, these types of interrogative reflections will probably bring many different answers. 

In this parable, certainly the father represents our Lord Who runs out to embrace His wayward people who desire to come back to Him.  Notice the representation of the love that comes from our Lord; He embraces the penitent even before the confession of sin.  Perhaps less obvious but still evident though, is that our Lord is also represented by the younger son who haphazardly disperses his father’s estate.  Christ very freely offers the riches of His Father’s Kingdom to each and every one of us regardless of how undeserved we are. 

The older son in the parable is placed there as a caution to us.  He’s the one who thought his father’s forgiving and receptive attitude towards his younger brother was very unfair.  As Jesus tells us, there is rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repents (cf. Luke 15:7).  No one really knows beyond doubt who is in heaven but curiosity might make one wonder how many souls are there that lived corruptible and immoral lives.  To those of us who make every effort to follow the path of our Lord, it’s tempting to consider this unfair.  Saint Paul, however, asks the question: "Who has ever given Him [the Lord] anything so as to deserve return?" (Romans 11:35).  Also, in that same letter are the words: "As sin reigned through death, grace may reign by way of justice leading to eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 5:21). 

In life, perhaps there’s that someone who always plucks your last nerve.  The depths of God’s mercy are so unfathomable that it’s difficult to understand because it’s not always so easy for us to forgive.  The Sacrament of Penance is where we can find the Father embracing His child, welcoming him/her back home.  There is always hope even to the most hardened of sinners. 

Oscar Wilde said: "Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future."  Someday we will all meet our Lord face-to-Face.  He may wish to celebrate a feast because what was once lost has been found; or He may say: "You are here with Me always; everything I have is yours."  One scenario is not better than the other.  In either case, there is cause for rejoicing!  But our disposition or attitude towards whether or not to be reconciled is consequential.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Third Sunday of Lent - February 28, 2016

First Reading Commentary
Moses, who prefigures Jesus as a deliverer of God's people, is not out for a Sunday stroll across the desert to the slopes of Horeb with Jethro's flock; he is headed to higher ground to find some grass which in the plain had died and vanished.  Horeb is called here "the mountain of God" in anticipation of God's manifestation of Himself. 
There is something here for the spiritual life: In the desert, that is, alone at prayer, souls long for the higher ground – the spiritual mountain of God – to experience that closeness to God, that intimacy, which is incomprehensible.  This is a very deep immersion in prayer where God's language of silence speaks that which only the heart can understand.  Those who are granted this higher gift of prayer are able to sort of get out of the way of themselves by emptying all the thoughts and concerns, good or bad, which occupy the human mind and heart.  This emptying of oneself allows the fully surrendering soul to be filled up with the Holy Spirit Who prays in and through the soul because we human beings do not know how to pray as we ought (cf. Romans 8:26). 
The Name I AM WHO AM which is a translation of the Hebrew ehyeh aser ehyeh (אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה), is as mysterious as Almighty God Himself.  These mysterious words portray God as "Being Itself" and are linked to the Name of Yahweh.  The Tetragramatton, a Greek term meaning, "word with four letters" is a reference to the Hebrew name for God which identifies the Hebrew letters as: heh, vav, heh and yodh.  Reading that as Hebrew is read, from right to left, what is revealed are the letters Y-H-V-H.  You've probably already deciphered the Name of "Yahweh" in those letters.  It has been translated as: I AM WHO AM – I AM WHAT I AM – I AM BECAUSE I AM – I AM THE BEING, as well as other titles; and the scholarly arguments as to what it literally means have been going on for centuries but most can at least agree that it reveals God as Eternal. 
There's a Jewish tradition which states that the four letters are a representation and that God's proper Name, which was only known to the high priest, actually consisted of seventy-two letters.  The Name YHVH was considered so holy by the people of Israel that it could not be read aloud except by the high priest in the temple for fear of taking God's Name in vain and thus was usually replaced with either Adonai (Lord) or Elohim (God). 
Its true pronunciation is also a mystery.  Josephus, an ancient Jewish historian, who belonged to a distinguished priestly family, knew the correct pronunciation but wrote that it would be unlawful for him to reveal its proper pronunciation because it was considered too holy to say out loud.  With the destruction of the second temple in 70 A.D. the use of the Name slowly passed out of existence and its proper pronunciation would soon become a mystery. 
Moses sees God in the appearance of a burning bush and after his life had passed, would see Jesus Transfigured on the mountain as proclaimed in last weekend's Gospel.  While it can be said that these are remarkable gifts to receive, one has to wonder if Moses would have passed on both in order to have one chance to consume the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. 
Norma McCorvey, the former Jane Roe of Roe vs. Wade had a conversion experience and is now a pro-life Catholic.  She wrote in her book, Won by Love: "I started getting cold chills right before I went up for my first Holy Communion."  It's a good idea for us to reflect on our own preparation and frame of mind as we step up to the Blessed Sacrament.  Consider that God has a proper Name which is too holy to be uttered, a mountain with a burning bush that is so holy that sandals must be removed and on this same mountain Moses needs to hide his face; and during the Transfiguration the three apostles are also overcome with fear.  These are encounters with and reactions to holiness; and yet the holiest gift that we have in the Eucharist is sometimes, sadly, received lackadaisically. 
We are indeed standing on holy ground at Mass and the gift of the Eucharist is indeed the holiest and greatest gift this life will ever know.  Our Lord sees our afflictions and hears our cries and strengthens us by nourishing us with His very Self.  There can be no greater encounter with holiness than that.

Second Reading Commentary
If you remove the tactfulness that Saint Paul uses in this Reading, then the brusque message here is that Paul does not feel secure in his own salvation - and neither should we.  As harsh as that may sound, recall God's words: "Be converted to Me with all your heart, in fasting and in weeping and mourning.  Rend your hearts, not your garments and turn to the Lord your God" (Joel 2:12-13).  Certainly those words are banner words for the season of Lent but returning to the Lord is not a one time process – it is ongoing. 
Lent's arrival on the liturgical calendar every year is a strong reminder of how ongoing conversion is.  Penance is a lifelong endeavor; a simple belief in God is not enough.  A mere belief in God without conforming to His will suggests a desire to do it "my way" and many of those ways could very well be, as Saint Paul points out, evil.  The Sacrament of Penance not only offers the opportunity to turn to God but should also instill in the penitent a certain sense of humility because in all likelihood the turning away from God, that is, sin, will occur again.  Thus the Sacrament does not encourage an arrogant "standing secure" attitude but rather a humble, ever-growing love and trust for God as well as gratitude for His ever-flowing, endless ocean of mercy.
Gospel Commentary
History is a little hazy about the Galileans that were killed by Pilate.  There was, however, a sect of Galileans who considered it unlawful to pay taxes to foreigners, namely the Romans; they also taught that no other man should be addressed as "lord" which would have been an insult to the Romans because of Caesar.  Many scholars have concluded that this particular group of Galileans is the sect that is referenced here in this Gospel.  Our Lord's explanation of these Galileans not being "greater sinners than all other Galileans" intimates something about Almighty God's allowance of suffering as a means of purification in order to prepare souls to receive the crown of incorruptibility; and perhaps those who inflict such punishment as well as those who were slaughtered without ever repenting could be represented here as witnesses of their own future final judgment. 
How sad it must be for our Lord when He Who is Love cannot exercise His mercy because of obstinate hearts to the bitter end.  Consider what God said through His prophet: "My indignation shall rest in you and My jealousy shall depart from you; and I will cease and be angry no more" (Ezekiel 16:42).  But even in at least some of those cases God does pull out all the stops, so to speak, by means of chosen souls who have suffered on behalf of humanity.  There have been souls who intensely suffered on behalf of other souls.  When something of the physical body is wounded, miraculously other parts of the body try to compensate.  The same is true for the Mystical Body of Christ.  The wounds of obstinate souls can be compensated for by cooperating souls.  These extraordinary souls, because of their deep commitment to the spiritual life, have learned to conform to Christ's example of self-sacrifice.  Some examples of such souls are Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, Saint Rose of Lima, and Saint Gemma Galgani.  All cooperators of God's mysterious plan of salvation are co-workers in the work of redemption but some souls are involved to a more acute degree.  Of course, only God knows which troubled souls are the beneficiaries of such acts of self-sacrifice and labors of love.  When dealing with matters of eternity anyone who is currently living, or souls in purgatory or even those who are yet to be born could be the recipients of such a merciful gift. 
Saint Gregory explains the parable of the fig tree: "Each one, inasmuch as he holds a place in life, if he produces not the fruit of good works, like a barren tree encumbers the ground; because the place he holds, were it occupied by others, might be a place of fertility." 
Take notice in Scripture of the multiple opportunities that God offers for repentance – and who knows when every possible chance has been exhausted.  On the Cross, for example, Jesus embraces the repentant thief; but what is perhaps even more consoling and full of hope is that Jesus doesn't condemn the other thief (cf. Luke 23:39-43).  In this case, our Savior's silence or lack of condemnation should speak to our hearts and convey the message that the other thief's opportunities for repentance had not been exhausted. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

No Peace with Vice

Many complain that they are unapt for contemplation and spiritual life, but their own negligence and sloth is the cause. They carry always about with them a heavy burden of unquiet thoughts filled with labour and vexation; but if you desire to enjoy Me have no peace at all with any vice. Banish from you all unprofitable discourses, cares, and businesses which yield no benefit at all to your soul. And never apply your mind to the thinking of any other matter, nor trouble yourself with any other affairs, but such as tend to My honour, the salvation of your own soul, or the commodity of your neighbour, that you being thus alone, and in this fort retired within yourself, may be possessed with Me, Who will never be matched with any other companion.

~ Alloquia Iesu Christi ad Animam Fidelem, by Lanspergius ~

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Second Sunday of Lent - February 21, 2016

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First Reading Commentary
Abram, who would later be called Abraham, is known as the “father of faith”.  In this Reading, God makes a covenant with Abram which promises descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky as well as a possession of land. 

Notice the similarities with this Reading and the Annunciation story (Luke 1:26-38).  God's covenant with Abram would play a part in the Almighty's Divine plan of what would be many, many years of salvation history leading up to the New and Everlasting Covenant which was proposed to Mary by the angel Gabriel.  Both Abram and Mary trusted in the Lord and accepted His will for them. Abram and Mary both ask how their respective covenants will take place and in neither case is the question to be understood as a question of doubt, but merely an inquiry as to how the events will come to light.  Both covenants begin with an unlikely birth.  Abram's wife Sarai (Sarah) was barren but gave birth to Isaac; and Mary, who of course, was a Virgin, gave birth to Jesus. 

The birds of prey which swooped down on the carcasses may have been instigated by the evil one since it is a certainty that God's covenant with Abram would not be in the devil's best interest since it would eventually lead to the salvation of humanity by Christ's Sacrifice. 

A trance fell upon Abram which was probably, as termed in mystical theology, an ecstasy in which Abram would have been informed of some of the eventual occurrences in salvation history.  A vision of Israel's oppression, being kept in bondage by Egypt may account for the terrifying darkness which enveloped Abram; and more than likely he would've also seen that it would be four hundred years of captivity before the Promised Land is gained. 

The flaming torch which passes between the split pieces of the sacrifice is a symbol of the Divinity.  Abram also would have passed through it which is a sign that the covenant has been ratified.

Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul's reference to those who are occupied with earthly things could almost make one believe that in our age of secularism this letter was written recently instead of nearly two thousand years ago.  Paul does write, however, that he is in tears for those who are enemies of the Cross of Christ. 

This is a lesson for us to love and continually pray for those who have chosen similar paths of destruction.  For the season of Lent, this is a great letter to remind ourselves of our commitment and re-commitment to serving Christ.  We have so much to look forward to.  Our citizenship is in heaven; therefore, our lowly bodies will be changed to conform to Christ's glorified Body.  Even now, we are witnesses and living examples of the spiritual transformation that occurs when committed to Christ.  Saint Paul is an outstanding example of this; a former enemy of the Cross who would end up shedding tears for those who remained that way; a former persecutor of the Church who would be persecuted for tirelessly laboring for the Church; a man who knew how to hate but his conversion would have him loving even those who arrested and beat him.  Saint Paul's example demonstrates that being fully committed to Christ doesn't guarantee an easy life, but those who carry their cross with Christ have a sense of peace no matter how heavy that cross may become. 

This letter to the Philippians is a love letter encouraging us all to stand firm in the Lord.

Gospel Commentary
During Lent we are encouraged to make prayer a primary endeavor which hopefully will lead to a lifelong priority. 

The Venerable Bede points out that since Christ ascended the mountain both to pray and be Transfigured, it is a lesson to us that we must dwell in heaven by our thoughts and apply our minds to continual prayer.  Anyone who is serious about the spiritual life longs for Jesus to take them up the spiritual mountain, the higher rungs of the spiritual ladder.  The psalmist writes: "Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord; or who shall stand in His holy place?" (Psalm [23] 24:3). 

Saint Peter proclaims: "Master, it is good that we are here."  Indeed, but being there can also be spiritually painful for human creatures as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux explains: "If sometimes a poor mortal feels that heavenly joy for a rapturous moment, then this wretched life envies his happiness, the malice of daily trifles disturbs him, this body of death weighs him down, the needs of the flesh are imperative, the weakness of corruption fails him, and above all brotherly love calls him back to duty. Alas!  That voice summons him to re-enter his own round of existence."  This is when love bursts through the boundaries of human love and enters the realm of celestial love. 

The figures of Moses and Elijah, who have already traveled the journey of this life, now see what they longed to see in mortal life, a privilege that is given here in this Gospel to Peter, James and John.  These three disciples and the mystics of the Church have experienced love at a frightening level -- frightening because it is far beyond the limits of the human experience.  It also introduces a different aspect of human suffering beyond the usual physical infirmities and mental stress that we usually associate with suffering; and considering heightened love as a form of suffering while applying it to what the Church teaches about redemptive suffering can take the entire subject to a transfiguring level.  On a more comprehensible level, virtually every human person within the age of at least semi-self sufficiency has had some experience with 'loving until it hurts'; it most often comes in parental love, spousal love or perhaps being the offspring of a suffering parent. 

The figures of Moses and Elijah also represent the Law and the Prophets; and, of course, Jesus is the fulfillment of both.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church adds: "Only on the mountain of the Transfiguration will Moses and Elijah behold the unveiled Face of Him Whom they sought; the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shines in the Face of Christ, crucified and risen" (CCC 2583).  Saint Cyril explains that Moses and Elijah conversing with our Lord reveals that Jesus is also the Lord of the Old Testament. 

Poor Peter, so overwhelmed, asks to make three tents.  The reason he did not know what he was saying is that he was proposing to place Jesus on an equal level with Moses and Elijah.  That is to say, he was improperly ranking together the Lord of all with His servants; or another way of putting it is that Peter was mistakenly identifying the Creator and His creation as equals.  Peter, of course, was not intentionally doing this; he was just caught up in the moment and scared.  Another reason has to do with getting a taste of heaven.  An Ambrosian hymn contains the Latin words sobriam ebrietatem – sober intoxication.  Nicholas Kempf explains this in his Expositiones Mysticæ Cantica Canticorum: “When hearts have been moved to jubilation of this sort, the things that result within the spirit cannot be put into conventional and customary words. Just as people drunk with wine lose the ability to talk in a normal fashion, so the bride drunk with sober intoxication speaks in a way intelligible not to anyone and everyone, but only to lovers loving in a similar way. So too, after tasting the sweetness of glory, Peter did not know what he was saying.” 

Thomas à Kempis is quite clear about Christ's singular exaltedness as he writes in the 'Imitation of Christ': "Thou alone the Most Exalted and Most Glorious above all things!" 

A Voice is heard from a cloud saying: "This is My chosen Son; listen to Him."  Once again, just like at the baptism of Jesus, the Father reveals the Son.  The text goes on to explain that once the Voice of the Father had spoken, Moses and Elijah had vanished; only Jesus remained.  Perhaps this occurred so that there can be no misunderstanding as to which of the three the Father proclaimed to be His Son. 

The Transfiguration manifests the Divinity of Jesus.  It also provides us with a preview of our glorious future, a future of eternal joy and peace, a future of forever beholding our Lord's Face, a future in our heavenly homeland. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

First Sunday of Lent - February 14, 2016

First Reading Commentary
The Israelites are offering their firstfruits and proclaiming the love and mercy of God by contrasting their former nomadic existence with the joy of possessing their own country; a "land flowing with milk and honey." 
Gratitude for God's abundant love and kindness is the theme to be underscored here.  Lent is a time for serious prayer, reflection and meditation; a time for penance, a time to remind ourselves of the importance of God in our lives.  Serious sin makes us like nomads.  It separates us from our heavenly Father and from the family of God which we have in the Church.  The Sacrament of Penance restores it.  This overwhelming display of our Lord's love and mercy deserves all the gratitude we can muster, especially when considering the times that we're not so loving and not so merciful. 
This Reading is symbolic of our Lenten journey.  Like the wandering Aramean we are also strangers in a foreign land.  The Israelites cried out to the Lord, Who heard their cry and freed them from bondage, guiding them along the way during their Exodus.  We have also been freed from our bondage to sin and death by the Sacrifice and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  By becoming Man, we are reminded that our God not only guides us along the way but also experienced our labor, toil and affliction first hand. 
At the end of our forty days we rejoice in our Savior's victory at Easter, the day our Lord destroyed that which kept us in bondage.  Sundays are not included in the forty days of the Lenten disciplines.  Instead they are weekly reminders of the glorious Easter mystery. 
By His Resurrection Jesus has gained for us, not a land of milk and honey, but a promised new life of eternal joy and peace.  When the journey of this life is traveled faithfully, the light at the end of the tunnel reveals the beatific vision – the unimaginable joy of what eye has not seen nor ear has heard (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:9).

Second Reading Commentary
"Brothers and sisters: What does Scripture say?"  As we begin this Season of Lent, what a marvelous invitation to prayerfully study the pages of Scripture.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called a meeting of the Synod of Bishops in October of 2008.  The theme was: "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church."  The Holy Father said he hoped that meeting would help Catholics realize the importance of the bible. 
A simple confession of belief in Jesus coupled with a belief in the heart is not a no strings attached, free pass for getting into heaven.  Confession with the lips is not simply a belief in the Person of Christ; it's also a belief in everything He taught by word and deed. 
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the Name of "Jesus" contains all: God and Man and the whole economy of creation and salvation.  To pray "Jesus" is to invoke Him and call Him within us.  Jesus is the Risen One, and whoever invokes the Name of Jesus is invoking and welcoming the Son of God Who loved them and gave Himself up for them (cf. CCC 2666).  Thus the profession/heart formula is a practice of faith in daily life. 
Saint Paul tells us that Jesus enriches "all who call upon Him."  That's a thought which would be very difficult to exhaust in meditation.

Gospel Commentary
Certain numbers in Scripture are symbolic.  Even when a literal understanding applies, there still is often a symbolic representation as well.  Forty is symbolic of a long period of time in which there will be difficulties and temptations to try to overcome; but it also represents a time of preparation to receive graces which will flow from the Hand of God.  Noah was in the ark as rain poured from the heavens for forty days and forty nights (cf. Genesis 7:4---8:6).  The Israelites wandered through the desert for forty years to get to the Promised Land.  Moses went up the mountain to be with God and was there for forty days and forty nights (cf. Exodus 24:18).  There are other examples in Scripture where the number forty is prominent. 
In this Gospel Jesus spends forty days in the desert.  You know the old saying: You can't arrive at Easter Sunday without getting through Good Friday first.  A period of struggle followed by a reward would seem to be God's infallible plan for eternal bliss; why else would a Cross, an apparatus used for severe punishment and execution, be a sign of eternal salvation?  No pain, no gain may be the universal plan, but it's a plan that man has tried to avoid with great fervor since the fall of humanity. 
Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit and is led by the Spirit.  Certainly our own baptism fills us with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is led to the desert.  The Church, guided by the Spirit, leads us to the desert every year to prepare for Easter.  The desert is certainly a very real place but it also can be representative of what has happened to humanity.  Man was created in the splendor of glory and dwelled in paradise; but man turned away from God and fell from grace and now that garden of paradise is a barren desert. 
One would have to think that this Gospel is recorded solely for our benefit.  The devil trying to overcome God with temptations is surely a lesson in futility.  The love of God for His people is evidenced here as the God of Paradise and Perfection humbles Himself and enters man's lowly desert and confronts the very distraction which turned man away from His Creator and His God.  The outcome of our Lord's visit to the desert finds the devil's strategy and tactics unsuccessful, unlike his encounter in Eden. 
Jesus withstanding the temptations of Satan, though, shouldn't come as a surprise to any Christian; therefore, our Lord withstanding the tempter's attacks really isn't the point of this Gospel.  What is likely occurring here is that Jesus is identifying the real enemy to us.  We have been baptized and are sent to spread the Good News; but belonging to God as His very own children and carrying out His plan for us will certainly bring opposition.  Opposition most often comes under the guise of flesh and blood and other forms of created beauty which appeal to our fallen, therefore, weak nature.  But Jesus is showing us who is hiding behind flesh and blood, and all those alluring temptations.  While the devil can hide from us he can't hide from our Lord and in this Gospel story Jesus exposes the father of lies and brings him out into the open desert. 
There are two sides to Lent: on one side it is a time for acknowledging the occasions we have succumbed to enticing ideas and have turned away from God; but on the other side it is a determined resolve to do penance and gracefully remain in the Bosom of our Lord. 
During these forty days, much like the Israelites, we will journey through the desert together and look forward to the Promised Land of Easter.  And like Christ, one should be encouraged to go into the desert alone, a place set aside for personal prayer and silence.  While alone in the desert our Lord's garments are wedged between a pair of clasped hands in prayer so that when the tempter arrives, faithful endurance will prevail causing him to depart. 
Scripture reads: "Resist the devil and he will fly from you" (James 4:7).  Our Holy Father of happy memory, Saint John Paul II, defined Lent as a time for "intense prayer" and for "serious discernment about our lives" and our figurative desert is the place to do both. 
In Saint Matthew's version of the temptation in the desert, after Satan tempts Jesus to turn a stone into bread, our Lord's response of, "One does not live on bread alone" is continued with "but by every word that proceeds from the Mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4).  On a translation note, in Saint Luke's Gospel the Latin Vulgate does include the words which translate as "but by every word of God" even though it is absent from the liturgical text.  The bread that doesn't satisfy is the manna that was given to the Israelites (cf. Exodus 16).  It's interesting, though, that in this exchange between our Savior and the devil there are three words which are synonymous with Jesus.  He is the "Stone" which the builders rejected (cf. Psalm [117] 118:22, Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11, 1 Peter 2:4; 2:7), He is the "Bread" of life (cf. John 6:35; 6:48), and He is the "Word" of God (cf. John 1:1).  And this spiritual diet of Word and Bread are exactly what we receive respectively at Mass from the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Laying Down Our Lives

On this feast of Saint Blaise, his martyrdom was the theme for the Carthusians at Matins. Here is the short lesson from Saint Augustine that the monks reflected on.
* * * * * *
The Son of Man has come not to be served, but to serve, and to give His own life as a ransom for many (Saint Matthew 20:28). Consider how the Lord served, and see what kind of servants He bids us to be. He gave His own life as a ransom for many; He ransomed us.

But who among us is able to ransom anyone? We have been redeemed through His Blood and we were ransomed from death by His death and His humility; and we who lay prostrate were raised up by His humiliation. And yet we, too, have a duty to contribute our meager offerings to His members, for we have become His members. He is the Head; we are the body.

In his letter, the apostle John exhorts us to follow the example of the Lord. Christ said: Whoever wishes to be the greater among you will be your servant, just as the Son of Man has come not to be served but to serve and to give His own life as ransom for many (Saint Matthew 20:27-28). Thus this is the model that the apostle advises us to follow when he says: Christ laid down His life for us; so we, too, ought to lay down our lives for our brothers (1 Saint John 3:16).

After His Resurrection our Lord asked: Peter, do you love me? And Peter replied: I do love You. The question and the answer were repeated three times. And each time the Lord added: Feed My sheep. In other words, if you want to show that you love Me, then feed My sheep. What will you give Me if you love Me, since you look for everything to come from Me? Now you know what you are to do if you love Me: Feed My sheep. Thus we have the same question and answer once, twice, three times. Do you love Me? I do love You. Feed My sheep. Three times Peter had denied in fear; three times he confessed out of love. By his replies and his profession of love, Peter condemned and wiped out his former fear. And so the Lord, after entrusting His sheep to him for the third time, immediately added: When you were a young man, you would gird yourself and go wherever you wished. But when you are old, another will gird you and take you where you do not wish to go. This He spoke signifying by what death he was about to glorify God (Saint John 21:19). Thus He foretold Peter's own sufferings and crucifixion.

By this the Lord suggested that feed My sheep meant suffer for My sheep.