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Lectionary 221: Straight Talk

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Lectionary:  221.  Thursday after Ash Wed. March 2. Deuteronomy 30:15-20. Psalm 1:1-2,3.4.6.  Luke 9:22-25:

All of our readings take the direct approach today.  Moses tells us, to choose life; to bless rather than to curse.  These direct statements help us to understand that the covenant of God made with Israel and for all who believe in God that this covenant is most important for our relationship with God and with one another. It is a perfectly clear prophetic message from one of the greatest of leaders and prophets, Moses.  To love the Lord means that God promises a long life in this passage. The context centers on the covenant of loving-kindness and mercy, and forgiveness.  It was given on Mount Sinai.

For me, Deuteronomy is the book of covenantal love in the Hebrew Scriptures just as John’s Gospel is likewise a total love commitment to the person of Jesus as our way, truth, and life.  Moses’ last will and promises to the people are found in Deuteronomy giving that final book a special place in closing the Torah.  John’s Gospel is also the final Gospel among the four.

Psalm 1 is a favorite of mine. It ,too, is very direct in how we are to live meditating on God’s word and avoiding evil.  As an opening psalm for the rest of the psalms it is a book of wisdom.  In pondering over the word of God a special Hebrew word is used. It can mean to mull over, to ruminate to ponder over  God’s word which leads to blessedness or happiness. (verse 1).  Meditating and pondering over enables us to make the right decisions in life and choose the way of righteousness, not wickedness, which is like chaff blown by the wind.

Luke’s Gospel is the Gospel focused on Jesus’ parables of compassion as well as his saying which emphasize compassion.  Today we hear, however, a much stronger saying that tells us we must die to self in order to live for God.  We take up our cross daily in order to enter into the mystery of Jesus’ suffering and death leading to new life through his resurrection.  Like the other Evangelists Luke mentions the mystery of the cross on three solemn occasions.  We cannot miss the message he gives us about our cross and his.  This Gospel bids us to enter into this mystery in the present moment. Amen.

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Lectionary: 220: Ash Wednesday

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Lectionary for Ash Wednesday, #220.  Wednesday, March 1, 2017:  Scripture: Joel 2:12-18. Psalm 51: 3-4,5-6, 12-13. 14.17. II Corinthians 5:20-6:2. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18:

Ash Wednesday is here. Jesus asks us to face it with a joyful countenance just as the wise Sirach suggested yesterday.  No gloomy faces or negative approaches to this rich season of graces.  Being positive will help others to enter into this season with some joy rather than thinking about what to “give up.”

Let us follow Joel, the prophet’s clarion call and message: “Return to me, the Lord, with all your heart.” For me that is rather encouraging.  I need to take time to pause and reassess where I am on the journey toward God while following Jesus.  Your heart and mine were created by God and ultimately they are to return to God, the giver of life.  By walking with Jesus we are more than returning to God.  We are making progress toward the kingdom which is actually here among us through Jesus’ presence and that of the Holy Spirit our guide.  Yes, prayer, almsgiving, and fasting are helpful for this journey, but it is our heart and its desires that the Lord wants of us.

Psalm 51 is a beautiful psalm for our Lenten journey.  The liturgy will bring it to us several times during this season.  We can profit from it for it gives us the spirit of a joyful return to the Lord after having missed the mark by sinning.  God’s loving-kindness and compassion are the core message of this penitential psalm. The transparency of the person who prayed this psalm shows a crushed heart reaching out for the mercy of God in such an honest confession of sin that both in the synagogue and the Church the psalm touches the heart of the one praying it. Incidentally, the seven penitential psalms of the Church are Psalms: 6, 32, 38, 51, 101, 130 and 143. These are worthwhile Lenten prayers.

Paul prods us on with these words, “Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation! We are able to be the holy ones of God, Paul tells us, if we respond to the graces God gives us. To recognize the graces we need to begin our prayer while calling to mind the presence of God.

Jesus then takes us into the journey with him by showing us the joyful way of embracing fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.  We are to be humble about these acts of love and penance and perform them without being gloomy or showing off how holy we think we are!  There is a certain silent secrecy about performing these primary suggestions for Lent.  Our countenances are to be smiling and open not sad and sorrowful.  When we look into the mirror in the morning we should see Jesus summoning us to follow him during this grace-filled season. Amen.

Lectionary 348: Righteousness = wholesomeness

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Lectionary 348.  Scripture: Feb.28. Sirach 35:1-12. Psalm 50: 5-6,7-8, 14.23. Mark 10:28-31:

Recently a friend asked me what is the meaning of the word “righteousness” in the Bible?  This morning as I read Sirach, I realized he was describing what righteousness is in the context of the wisdom he possessed as an inspired writer. The content of the passage is what my own research on righteousness led me to this conclusion.  His description is clear and unified in the situations and examples he provides for the reader today.  I found the attributes and characteristics of righteousness presented in a coherent manner and was led to see something similar in the New Testament in Paul’s hymn of love.  Moffat, a biblical scholar, calls this hymn a portrait of Jesus.  I see it also as a portrait of the righteous ones.  (I Corinthians 13:4-8).  Together these two readings give us a good look at what it means to be righteous.

Above all it is good not to associate this biblical word with self-righteousness. It is this latter attitude that sometimes confuses us when we see the simple word righteousness in our readings.  Both Joseph and Mary were described as righteous persons in the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke.  These two persons should give us two living examples of persons who have what Paul and Sirach describe as righteousness.

From a scholarly point of view the word is predominant in the Old Testament and is used over 300 times.  The New Testament uses the word for righteousness (dikaios) for persons 79 times with Matthew leading with his 17 times of mentioning such persons while using dikaios to describe them.   In correlating it to the Old Testament it is the spirit of the covenant which is expressed in the words tsadiqah and mishpat as well as hesed and rachamim; all of which are used in the human dimension of the covenant Israel had with God. These words mean justice, good deeds, loving-kindness, and deep feelings of mercy.  All of these biblical words deal with our relationship to God and God to us. One friend of mine says covenant righteousness is best expressed as the equivalent of loving-kindness (hesed) with God and neighbor.

If you have the time and patience to read Psalm 119 to the end, you will have another portrait of righteousness illustrating the ways in which it is lived out daily. I like this Psalm and recently read a commentary on it to help me appreciate it more.  St. Paul’s hymn of love could be considered the New Testament’s way of putting Psalm 119 into practice in what is contained in its 176 verses.

In an excellent and contemporary Dictionary of Theological Interpretation, I appreciated the article on Justice by Vincent E.Barcoto.  In one of his statements he hits the core of righteousness which should help my friend to understand its significance: “An aim toward understanding biblical justice (dikaios) in such a way that one hears from God and honors God in practice requires a perspective that places humans beneath the divine.” (DTI, p.415).

Some of my other thoughts on the meaning of righteousness led me to see that humility, integrity, absolute truthfulness, and charity are ways of understanding it. In addition, Vatican II has a chapter on the call to universal holiness which would also be helpful for seeing it in a community and church dimension.  I believe by living in the presence of God while be guided by the Holy Spirit will help us to see that his term fits in well with the doctrine of the Communion of Saints. Amen.

Lectionary 347: Say Yes

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Lectionary: 347.  Scripture for Feb. 27. Sirach 17:19-27. Psalm 32: 1-2,5.6.7. Mark 10:17-27:

Jesus looked on him with love.  This is said in Mark’s Gospel who rarely speaks of love. John is just the opposite as most of his Gospel is about love and faith in the person of Jesus.  There are four portraits of Jesus in our Gospels; they differ and they are intended by the individual Evangelist who manifests his theology through the way Jesus is presented.   Mark, as we know, is the Evangelist of the Passion Narrative and of the Cross. Discipleship is very radical in this Gospel and often Jesus is found correcting his disciples’ mistakes.  That is why I was struck by the statement that Jesus loved this person who observed the commandments all his life. What more did he need to do to inherit or enter the kingdom of God?  Fair enough, for we all want this in our journey of life now and at its end.

I noticed that the commandments which were mentioned by the man are those dealing with his neighbor.  His love for God is implied even though the other three and the fourth commandment are not mentioned. The narrative tells us he was not able to follow Jesus for he was well off in the goods of this world and could not detach himself from them.  He was not able to take up the cross and follow the Lord.  Was he saved?  Certainly, for he did keep the commandments.

The disciples questioned Jesus about this event and were shocked about his need to give up all his possessions which for them was a sign that God blessed him and favored him.  Jesus explained this was not a question that could not be answered for giving up possessions is possible with the help of God.  St. Francis would do this later and so many holy and good people have always done this to follow Jesus more closely.   We all have the capacity to follow Jesus if we have been baptized and strengthen that initiation with our faith.  It does not mean leaving the world or taking vows.  This is a commitment of the heart that makes us relate to Jesus in all dimensions of life even those that are likened to dying on the Cross for Jesus.

The man, we are not told whether he was young or old, went away sad and  followed his own manner of living by not giving up his riches. We do not know whether this later changed as he aged.  To take up the Cross with Jesus he could not do. The disciples learned much from this incident and despite their failures so often mentioned by Mark they continued with Jesus even to the Way of the Cross. With God this was not impossible.

Jesus looks on us each day with love. We have a chance to detach ourselves from those things and persons that distract us from returning that love that God has for us.  Love demands a radical response to God’s love for us.  It may depend on how we love others, including enemies.  The man who observed those commandments that deal with the other shows that he was beginning to learn how to really love God in return.

Lent begins in two days. On Ash Wednesday we are reminded that like Job we come from God naked and return to God in our nakedness.  God loves us and has creted us from the dust of the earth and we will return to it.

This Lent we can do more than observe the commandments.  We can respond each day to the love God and Jesus give us each day.  Rather than concentrating on what to give up by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving or generosity, maybe we should return the love that God shows us each day of our life. God’s love is there for the taking.  We just need to be open to feel, see, and experience this love while carrying our crosses without complaining.  Lent may seem a difficult season for many of us, but the love of Jesus is with us as we journey with Jesus each day.  Let us remember “nothing is impossible with God.”  Amen.

Lectionary 83: Tenderness

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Lectionary 17:  Scripture:  Feb.26. Sunday (8th, A).  Isaiah 49:14-15. Psalm 62:2-3,6-7, 8-9.  I Corinthians 4:1-5. Matthew 6:24-34:

Pope Francis frequently uses the word tenderness in his writings as well as in his preaching.  Isaiah, the noble priestly prophet, declares that God shows great tenderness even surpassing that of a mother for her child. If she would neglect or abandon her child, God never would.  Most of us are familiar with God holding us a child in his hand in many of the paintings and statues that capture God’s tenderness that Isaiah has handed on to us in several passages. God will never abandon us nor forget our needs. We are to trust in God’s promises and God’s care for us throughout our lives.

Psalm 62 is very consoling hymn  and continues the prophetic passage with its prayer like composition.  This is a psalm of absolute confidence in God. “My soul in stillness waits, for in God alone is my salvation.”  Just as we are led to think of a mother holding her child in her arms as Isaiah suggests, so our soul rests in God. This psalm is so focused that it helps us to remember to place ourselves in God’s presence at the beginning of our prayers. We know that God alone can really help us in our struggles for God is our Redeemer. We lift up our hearts to the God of mercy and tenderness who will prevent us from falling into discouragement and lack of hope.  We need only to be alone with God and wait in the stillness of our hearts.

Paul declares he has a clear conscience. He boasts only in the Lord which means he sees the Cross as his hope and salvation. Only this has he to know. His writings show us that he did experience the cross and thus and is a model for our own boasting in the Lord and the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our conscience is clear when we realize that God knows our inmost thoughts and desires. Like Paul we pray continuously without knowing this is prayer.

Jesus assures us that we are to trust in God and live simply in the presence of God. We are valued more than all of creation by God who loves us as only a parent could.  God cares so much for all of creation, but especially for us. Jesus says, “Will not God provide much more for you, O weak in faith.  Your heavenly Father knows all that you need. Seek ye first his kingship over you, his way of holiness, and all these things will be given you besides.” Amen.

Lectionary 345: Children

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Lectionary : Scripture:  Feb. 25:  Sirach 17:1-15. Psalm 103: 13-14, 15-16, 17-18.  Mark 10: 13-16:

Many people are a bit shocked when they see the passion and emotion of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.  These are part of our humanity which Jesus possessed to the fullest.  In our story about the disciples preventing the children from coming to Jesus we learn that Jesus was outwardly upset with their doing this.  The Scripture uses the word “indignant” in the translation I read from the lectionary.  Passion and emotions are basically good when used for the right reason and purpose.  Jesus wanted to show the people and the disciples that the simplicity, openness, and trust of children is what makes them models for what it takes to be in the kingdom of God. One should never prevent a child from coming to Jesus!

His love and affection for children offers us an example of not only how we should live our lives but also the responsibility we have for those who depend on God alone because of their needs.  Good parents can be like Jesus in this respect and good educators are those who are aware of the needs of their little ones.  Most students do need this type of help besides the strict academic discipline they need to meet the demands made upon them.

Our world has neglected children and even abused them in so many ways:  wars, terrorism,  trafficking, and allowing them to go unnoticed as they fade away through starvation and lack of protection.  The disciples’ actions are nothing in comparison to the harm done to children today.

The passage recalls the incident where Jesus has children surrounding him and protects them while saying those who hurt or abuse them should have a millstone around their necks.  We are familiar with the horrendous sexual and physical abuse that children undergo even in the richest of countries.  Jesus words keep ringing in our ears, “Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a little child will not enter the kingdom.”  After the most primitive needs are met these children need the benefits of a sound education especially for the poor and the neglected ones.

This childlike way of life was exemplified by St. Theresa of the Child of Jesus whose little way has helped many of us to grow in the dispositions and virtues that a child has innately. Where along the line do we lose this way of walking on the journey of life toward the kingdom?

Our Psalm speaks of children who experience the compassion of God who enacts justice toward them, the orphan, the widow, and the stranger.

Lord, have mercy on us.  You are meek and humble of heart and you are waiting for us to return to your open arms as the little children did in the Gospel today. Amen.

Lectionary 345: Love and Marriage

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Lectionary 345.  Scripture:  Feb. 24. Sirach 6:5-17. Psalm 119:12.16.18.27.34.35. Mark 10:1-12:

Sirach speaks about the value of  true friendship and offers some practical advice on whom to consider as our more intimate friends.  Care has to be taken and much discernment. His examples are worthwhile for looking into our own relationship with others. We are advised to look at our own friends to discern which ones can be trusted with more personal sharings.  Some are not what he would call true and trustworthy friends. Special friendships are precious and have to be worked with and developed.

I found one verse in our Response that fits what Sirach is speaking about in his words of practical down-to-earth wisdom:  “Give me discernment that I may observe your law and keep it with all my heart.”

Jesus speaks of marriage and how husband and wife are one in the flesh. It fits in with the theme of friendship since in Catholic sacramental marriages one strives to have one’s husband or wife as one’s “best friend” with whom one may share what is most confidential and intimate in one’s life.  I personally admire such marriages that demonstrate such love in a beautiful and edifying manner. Jesus is telling us that they are seen as one in the flesh (and one in the Spirit). Bishop Martin Sheen who ministered to many married people and movie stars always said: “It takes three to make a marriage. The husband and wife and God.”

What joy it is to see such a relationship in a married couple.  It strengthens those called to marriage and is helpful and edifying for those who choose to be single or vowed in a chosen way of life in community with others.

I as a religious learn much from such dedicated married people. They strengthen my own call to love, to live simply and honestly, and to respect the dignity of those with whom I live and minister to. Of course, careful discernment is necessary for entering such marriage or in embracing a vowed life with others in community.  I like what Jesus recalls from Genesis, “Let no one separate what God has joined.”

Today’s meditation made me recall my mother who celebrates her anniversary of death, Feb. 24, 1986.   Amen.