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.
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.