A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday & Weekday Liturgy

 

BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (Series 18, n. 10)

Week 4 in Ordinary Time: February 2-8, 2020

 

 

(The pastoral tool BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD: A LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY & WEEKDAY LITURGY includes a prayerful study of the Sunday liturgy from various perspectives. For the Lectio Divina on the liturgy of the past week: January 26 – February 1, 2020 please go to ARCHIVES Series 18 and click on “Ordinary Week 3”.

 

Below is a LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY - WEEKDAY LITURGY: February 2-8, 2020.)

 

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February 2, 2020: THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is the Light of Salvation”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Mal 3:1-4 // Heb 2:14-18 // Lk 2:22-40

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 2:22-40): “My eyes have seen your salvation.”

 

The February 2003 issue of Reader’s Digest features the story of Norma Super and her daughter, Dani, who became lost while hiking through the mountains straddling the Wyoming-Colorado border.  The possibility of saving the mother and daughter was bleak, for no one lost for more than five days in that wilderness had ever been found alive. The seventh day was dawning when Aleta Walker and her friend Diane Holycross set out to find them somewhere in the Zirkel Wilderness, moved by a strange gut feeling that mother and daughter might still be alive. The author, Peter Michelmore, described the saving encounter between the rescuers and the lost campers: “Norma splashed her face with icy creek water. Black spots fluttered in front of her eyes. She shook off the dizziness and trudged on to a meadow sprinkled with blue and pink flowers. ‘There’s something white there,’ said Dani, pointing ahead. They hiked on, watching. ‘It looks like a horse.’ They walked closer. Norma could make out two horses now. Two people on horseback. She broke into a run, pushed by adrenaline through the bog as mud sucked at her boots. One hundred feet from the riders, she saw that they were women. ‘Are you Norma Super?’ one called. Norma collapsed. On her knees and weeping, she said, ‘Yes’.”

 

Today’s Gospel (Lk 2:22-40) depicts a saving encounter in the temple of Jerusalem: the meeting between Jesus and the two figures of messianic expectation, Simeon and Anna. This redemptive event is commemorated by the Church in a celebration known as the “feast of the Encounter”. Now called the “feast of the Presentation of the Lord”, it is a prolongation of the Christmas mystery.  Celebrated forty days after the birth of Jesus, it presents his “epiphany” or “manifestation” in the temple as the Messiah and Savior. Moved by the Holy Spirit, Simeon recognizes in Jesus the Messiah promised long ago. The prophetess Anna, advanced in years and dedicated to the worship of the Lord in the temple, testifies to the people about the arrival of redemption in the person of Jesus. The child brought to the temple for consecration in obedience to the Mosaic prescription (cf. Ex 13:15) is the “light of revelation to the Gentiles” and the “glory for the people of Israel”. Indeed, in God’s saving plan, the light of salvation must shine on all the peoples of the world.

 

The beautiful ceremony of the lighting and blessing of candles at the beginning of the Mass of the feast of the Lord’s presentation underlines the joy and life-giving encounter with Christ as the “light of the nations”. This liturgical ritual has a paschal connotation. The authors of the book, Days of the Lord, the Liturgical Year remark: “The acclamation of Christ as Light is a prelude to that which will flow unrestrained in the liturgy of the Easter vigil. The Encounter with God coming among us, in his Son made human, has its prolongation and fulfillment in the encounter that the Risen Christ is preparing for us at the end of our earthly pilgrimage, in a Pasch like his.”

 

 

B. First Reading (Mal 3:1-4): “There will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek.”

 

Today’s Old Testament reading (Mal 3:1-4) is about the coming of the Lord into the temple – the Lord whom we greatly seek. Against the backdrop of this prophetic reading, we see the coming of the Lord Jesus into the temple as the fulfillment of the divine promise of purifying intervention and salvation. The infant Jesus is carried by Mary and Joseph into the Jerusalem Temple, in which many years later he would proclaim the Good News, cleanse its sacred precincts from thieving merchants, and declare his body as the Temple of new worship “in Spirit and truth”.

 

The following story is a modern-day “encounter” with the Lord in his temple (cf. C.J. Herrmann, “The Visit” in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories of Faith, ed. Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, Cos Cob: CSS, 2008, p. 6-9).

 

Slowly I walked down the aisle of the empty church. It had been a while since I’d stopped for a visit. After many years of attending Catholic schools I’d slipped into the category of “lapsed”. Whatever spiritual juice I’d felt as a young boy growing up had evaporated years ago.

 

I looked around before slipping into a pew and kneeling down. It was pretty much the same as I remembered. I glanced up toward the altar and noticed the flickering candle that symbolized God was present, though invisible. “So”, I whispered, “maybe you’re here and maybe you aren’t. We’ll see.” Somewhere along the line I’d lost faith in whatever had sustained me in my earlier days.

 

I blessed myself, sat back on the hard wooden pew, gazed ahead and continued to address the God whose presence I doubted. “Anyway, if you’re really here, I need your help. I’ve tried everything I can think of. Nothing works. I feel totally helpless. I have no idea what else I can do. I’m thirty-three, healthy and fairly successful. You probably know all this. But I’m lonely. I have no one to share my life with, no special woman to love, no one to start a family with. My life feels empty, and I have nowhere else to go. I’ve taken eighteen seminars in as many months, learned how to access my feelings, release past hurts, complete old relationships, communicate my needs, understand and respond to what my partner wants. But I’m still alone. I can’t seem to find the right woman, the one who feels right deep inside. What am I missing?”

 

I sat still, listening. There was no reply to my question, no still small voice. Just the occasional car horn outside, or the sound of a bus passing by. Just silence. I shrugged. Continuing to sit quietly, I let the silence wash over me.

 

Day after day, I repeated this routine. I sat in the same pew, on the same hard bench, uttering the same plea to a flickering candle, in the same silence. Nothing changed. I was as lonely as I had been on day one. There were no mystical answers, no hidden messages.

 

I continued to live my life, managing to laugh and have some fun. I went on dates and enjoyed myself, whether I was dining out, dancing or at the movies. I also prayed. Day after day, I took an hour away from my regular activities, emptied myself and asked the same questions again and again.

 

One morning about six weeks later, I awoke and knew that something had shifted. I looked around. Something about the slant of light through the clouds, the fragrance of newly bloomed jasmine, the warm beach breeze, was different. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, but I felt it. On my way home that afternoon, I stopped by the church as usual. Instead of my usual whining, I knelt and smiled at the candle.

 

Then I conveyed my thoughts to God. “I’m not quite sure what happened, but I feel different. Something has shifted inside. I don’t feel lonely anymore. Nothing’s changed ‘out there’, but it all feels completely different. Would you happen to know anything about that?”

 

Suddenly, I was struck by the foolishness of the question, and I laughed out loud. My laughter echoed off the high ceilings and the stone walls, and then there was silence once more. But even the silence felt different. It no longer conveyed a feeling of emptiness and desolation. On the contrary, it radiated a wonderful serenity and tranquility. I knew in that moment that I had come home to myself. I felt full, complete inside. I bowed my head, took a deep breath and exhaled.

 

“Thank you”, I whispered. “I have no idea what you did but I feel this happiness comes from you. I know that. I haven’t done anything new or different. So I know it’s not from me. Who else could it be from?”

 

I continued to sit in the silence, alone, content, happy. Then I spoke again to God. “I surrender to not knowing. I surrender to you being in charge. I surrender to my life being an expression of your will instead of my will. And I thank you for this feeling, this change or transformation or whatever it is.” (…)

  

 

C. Second Reading (Heb 2:14-18): “He had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way.”

 

The sacrificial character of the Messiah, yearned for by the people in need of redemption, is underlined in the Second Reading (Heb 2:14-18). Christ’s complete identification with us as a suffering Messiah and High Priest is presented to us by the author of the letter to the Hebrews: “He had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people.” At the presentation of the Lord Jesus in the temple, his priestly ministry has begun but attains full realization through the sacrifice of the cross. The liturgist, Adrian Nocent, comments: “The cost of the cross was shared by the mother, whose soul – according to Simeon’s words – was to be pierced by a sword, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare.”

 

The feast of the presentation of the Lord in the temple is also a Marian feast. It celebrates a saving event centered on Christ in which Mary played a vital role of collaboration in the divine plan. In total obedience to the will of God, Mary brought her first-born son into the temple that he may be consecrated to the Lord. The emphasis of the feast is not on Mary’s ritual purification; but rather, on the consecration of the Lord Jesus to the messianic plan as the Savior and “light of all the nations”. 

 

The sacrificial dimension of the saving destiny of Jesus and his mother Mary continues to live on in time and space through his disciples. Here is an example (cf. Senator Ronan Mullen, “Knew He’d Die a Martyr” in Alive! November 2014, p. 4).

 

On a rainy day in Rome recently I visited the Basilica of San Bartolomeo all’Isola, a typically beautiful Italian church on an island in the middle of the Tiber. I didn’t go there by accident. I wanted to see a relic of Shabbaz Bhatti, the Pakistani Catholic and government minister who was assassinated in Islamabad on 2 March 2011.

 

Bhatti was appointed Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs in November 2008. He accepted the post on behalf of the “oppressed, down-trodden and marginalized” of Pakistan, for the “struggle for human equality, social justice and religious freedom”, and “to uplift and empower religious minority communities”.

 

He committed himself to reforming the country’s controversial and intolerant blasphemy laws and he launched a national campaign to promote interfaith harmony. He proposed laws against hate speech and hate literature, introduced comparative religion as a curriculum subject, and promoted quotas for religious minorities in government posts. In July 2010, he brought together the leaders of all faiths in Pakistan, himself leading the National Interfaith Consultation.

 

But in all this he knew he was courting trouble. He had received death threats since 2009 after speaking in support of Pakistani Christians attacked in the 2009 riots in Punjab. Bhatti also supported Asia Bibi, the illiterate farm worker who was sentenced to death for “blasphemy”. Taunted by her work colleagues, she had dared speak up for her faith in Jesus Christ. (Bibi still languishes in a Pakistani prison.)

 

Bhatti foretold his own death, and recorded a video to be released in the event of his death. “I believe in Jesus Christ”, he said, “who has given his own life for us, and I am ready to die for a cause. I’m living for my community, and I will die to defend their rights.”

 

In January 2011, the governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, was assassinated by his security guards because he too opposed the blasphemy laws and defended Asia Bibi. Two months later, it was Bhatti’s turn to die for the truth. As he travelled to work from his mother’s home, his vehicle was sprayed with bullets because he was a “known blasphemer”.

 

The Basilica of San Bartolomeo, run by the Sant’Egidio Community, commemorates Bhatti among the 20th and 21st century martyrs. In chapel after chapel in the basilica you see artifacts from their lives: here a cross, there a rosary, in another an item of clothing. And one of the first things you see in entering the Church is a Bible, in Arabic, once owned by the Pakistani Minister.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

What is the significance of today’s feast of the Presentation of the Lord for you personally?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

(cf. Opening Prayer of the Mass, feast of the Presentation of the Lord)

 

All-powerful Father,

Christ your Son became man for us

and was presented in the temple.

May he free our hearts from sin

and bring us into your presence.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, forever and ever.

            Amen.   

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“And suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek.” (Mal 3:1)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Participate consciously and actively in today’s Mass and in the “Blessing of Candles and Procession”. Light the blessed candles and use them in your personal prayer. Endeavor to encounter Christ the Light of the nations, especially in the poor and needy who claim your love and compassion.

 

 

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February 3, 2020: MONDAY – WEEKDAY (4); SAINT BLAISE, Bishop, Martyr; SAINT ANSGAR, Bishop

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Breaks the Power of Evil … He Comforts the Afflicted”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

2 Sm 15:13-14 // Mk 5:1-20

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mk 5:1-20): “Unclean spirit, come out of the man!”

 

In today’s Gospel reading (Mk 5:1-20), the description of the Gerasene demoniac whom Jesus will exorcise is horrifying. He continually gashes himself. He breaks the chains and smashes the irons on his feet to inflict more harm upon himself. The power of evil that possesses him is a “legion” (literally six thousand foot soldiers, plus horsemen and some technical personnel). He is beyond control and is alienated. He drives himself to self-destruction. The demoniac lives in a state of death, dwelling among the tombs, the place of death, and on the hillside wilderness, symbol of desolation, loneliness and danger.

 

Jesus of Nazareth, who has just tamed the sea, meets the self-destructive Gerasene. In an act of compassion, he liberates him from evil powers. The liberated Gerasene, who is not chosen to belong to the “twelve”, is sent by Jesus to his family to witness to them the kindness of the Lord. The healed Gerasene becomes a missionary to the Decapolis (“Ten Cities”), populated by the Gentiles. He prepares the place for Jesus’ return (Mk 7:31) and ministry of healing to non-Jews. Indeed, the Good News is meant for all peoples and the immense power of Jesus is for the liberation of everyone from the power of sin and evil.

 

The following ministry of a Franciscan priest gives a glimpse into what we can do today to liberate our brothers and sisters from self-destruction and death-dealing situations (cf. Father Larry Dunphy, “Jail Ministry: Holiness in an Unlikely Place” in The Way of St. Francis, July-August 2010, p. 11-16).

 

I also found out that there was need for a Catholic priest at the county jail … I estimate that there are about 1,000 men and women in the jail … When I first started, I only had three or four men to visit. They were not ready for Communion and it took me more than a year to get clearance to celebrate Mass. Initially we just talked. This is where I get the most satisfaction. They told me some of their stories, and they asked questions – some of which were rather challenging. I was surprised to learn that one of them had been a daily communicant “on the outside”. The numbers gradually increased. Sometimes a person on the outside would request that I visit a resident.

 

One of the residents on my list early in my tenure was in the section reserved for those considered the most dangerous. At first I was not allowed to visit him. He was over six feet tall and very strong, and the officers were obviously afraid of him. After several requests, we finally were able to visit, while an officer stood about three feet away and watched. I discovered this man was spiritually quite hungry. He spent most of his time reading the Bible and praying. Eventually the officers allowed me to sit in a locked classroom alone with him … Though in his early twenties, he was looking at life in prison without parole. He told me that he felt he was in prison for a reason, so that he could help others spiritually. He planned to use his prison time to try to help others find a way to Christ … This man told me that he felt so much better after visiting with me, that he was able to be calmer and more able to control his tendency to violent anger.

 

 

B. First Reading (II Sm 15:13-14, 30: 16:5-13): “Let us take flight or none of us will escape from Absalom. Let Shimei alone and let him curse for the Lord has told him to”

 

The reading (II Sm 15:13-14, 30; 16:5-13) proves that evil begets evil. King David, who in the past wove a fabric of passion and murder in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah, is now himself a victim of evil and injustice from his own son, Absalom. No one in Israel is as famous for his good looks as Absalom. He has no defect from head to toe. His hair is thick and heavy. But Absalom is astute, aggressive and self-seeking. He launches a rebellion against David and the gravity of his threat forces King David into flight from Jerusalem. Humiliation and betrayal mark David’s sorrowful journey. Shimei, who belongs to the same clan as Saul’s family, brings on David the greatest public humiliation, but to David none of the cursing and stoning compares with the pain of Absalom’s rebellion. David, refusing Abishai’s offer to behead Shimei, accepts his lot patiently, hoping that the Lord will notice his misery and grant blessing to take the place of the curse he now endures.

 

The plight of David evokes the via dolorosa of Jesus and many others through the ages. Here is an example of their ordeal (cf. Omar Periu, “Opportunity” in A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul, ed. Jack Canfield, Deerfield Beach: Health Communications, Inc., p. 288-289).

 

Every fiber of my small, seven-year-old body was fearfully shaking as we walked through the Customs and explained the purpose of our trip. “We’re vacationing in Miami” I heard my mother say as I clung to her dress. Even though I heard those words, I knew we would never be going home again.

 

Communism was quickly tightening the noose around the free enterprise system in Cuba, and my father, a successful entrepreneur, decided it was time to take his family and flee to a land where freedom, promise and opportunity still thrived. Looking back now, it was the most courageous decision I’ve ever seen anybody make.

 

Castro’s regime was watching my father very carefully, making it necessary for my mother to bring my brother and me first. My father met us a few weeks later. Miami International Airport overwhelmed me. Everybody was speaking in strange words that didn’t make sense to me. We had no money, no family – nothing but the clothes on our backs.

 

Within a few months, we were on a church-sponsored flight to Joliet, Illinois, via Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. A burst of cold air greeted us as we walked out of the terminal into the still talked-about winter of 1961. It had snowed nearly four feet, and amidst the blowing drifts stood a young priest by a large International Suburban, waiting to take us to our new home. This was absolutely amazing for a Cuban boy who had never seen snow.

  

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Are there evil tendencies that possess us and prevent us from becoming the person God intends us to be? What are they, and what do we do about them? Do we pray to Jesus for liberation?

 

2. Do we turn to Jesus in moments of trial? Like King David in his ordeal, are we gracious in suffering?

 

  

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Lord Jesus,

deliver us from evil.

As you liberated the Gerasene from evil powers,

free us from sinful tendencies and vicious addictions

that lead to self-destruction.

Let your blood-bath on the cross cleanse us.

May we proclaim your mercy to all the nations.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

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All powerful God,

you are our refuge and strength.

Deliver us from evil.

Like King David in his ordeal,

let us be gracious in our afflictions.

Grant us victory over our tormentors.

We give you glory and praise, now and forever.

Amen.

 

  

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

           “The man began to proclaim what Jesus had done for him.” (Mk 5:20) //“The Lord will look upon my affliction.” (II Sm16:12)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

By your acts of compassion, bring the liberating power of Jesus to those who are in oppressive situations, e.g. those dealing with substance and drug abuse, the victims of sexual violence, etc. // Imitate King David in being gracious in his suffering.

 

 

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February 4, 2020: TUESDAY – WEEKDAY (4)

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Breaks the Power of Death … He Comforts the Sorrowing”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

2 Sm 18:9-10, 14b, 24-25a, 30 – 19:3  // Mk 5:21-43

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mk 5:21-43): “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”

 

Today’s Gospel (Mk 5:21-43) presents two women who were in the clutches of death: a twelve year old sick girl who died physically and a bleeding woman who died virtually for twelve years. The woman hemorrhaging for twelve years was considered unclean by Jewish law and thus experienced a social death with all the separation and desolation it entails. The compassionate Jesus manifested great power in healing the bleeding woman and in raising Jairus’ twelve-year-old daughter to life. The two women experienced a “resurrection” event - a passage from death to life. Jesus the Healer, who broke demonic powers, has power to destroy death and raise us to new life. The courageous faith of the bleeding woman and the indomitable trust of Jairus inspire us to trust in Jesus. In every death-dealing situation, Jesus Savior exhorts us, “Do not be afraid; just have faith!”

 

The following beautiful story testifies that resurrection events and miracles continue to happen if only we have faith and trust in Jesus (cf. Brian Thatcer, M.D. “The Greater the Sinner, the Greater the Mercy” in Amazing Grace for the Catholic Heart, ed. Jeff Cavins, et. al. West Chester: Ascension Press, 2004, p. 186-190).

 

On September 9, 1995, the fruit of our healed marriage was born – John Paul. He was special from the start. At his birth, he struggled with life; turning blue and unable to breathe. We prayed intently and John Paul soon stabilized and fully rebounded. A friend distributing Holy Communion walked into the room and said, “Wow, what happened? I can really feel the presence of God.”

 

I understood in my heart how God had truly blessed us. My three oldest, Andrea, thirteen, Bryan, eleven, and Patricia, eight, did not always fully understand the changes from being doctor’s kids to children of one dedicated to a simple life of service to God. And yet they surely benefited from the renewal of our marriage and my commitment to fatherhood as a holy vocation.

 

In early November, fourteen months later, I returned home from a conference in the early morning hours. That evening a Mass was going to be celebrated in our home. In spite of very little sleep, I awoke early to take care of some outside work. I stepped onto our back patio, opened the gate to our swimming pool, and walked out to the backyard. Young Bryan suddenly yelled from the front for help starting the lawnmower. After helping him, I was reminded that it was time to drive Andrea to swim practice. We jumped in the car with Patricia and hurried off.

 

While on our way, I received a call on my cell phone from Bryan. “Dad”, he said in a strained voice, “John Paul is dead. Someone left the pool gate open.” Susan had found John Paul lifeless; he was not breathing and did not have a palpable heartbeat. As a trained nurse, she was already administering CPR in an effort to pump life back into John Paul’s little fourteen-month-old body.

 

I told the girls what had happened and we immediately said a Hail Mary together. The rest of the drive was spent in tears and silent prayers. “Jesus, have mercy on John Paul and me”, I cried. Guilt overwhelmed me as I envisioned my helpless little boy bobbing up and down in the pool, all because I left the gate open. John Paul had been a part of my healing – a child promised for Susan and me. “Jesus, why would You take him from us now?” my heart cried.

 

Then, as I frantically had to wait at a red light, I was suddenly hit with the scripture story from Genesis of Abraham being asked to offer his son, Isaac, up to God. “God, are you asking me for my son?” I asked, my heart breaking. It was the moment of truth for me. I had been preaching trust in God’s Divine Mercy for four years. God was calling me to a deeper trust. I wanted my little boy to live. I loved him with all my heart. Could I accept God’s will if it meant never holding John Paul again in my life?

 

“Jesus”, I prayed. “I trust in You, in all situations. I submit to Your will, whatever that means.” I told God that I did not understand why He would take John Paul from us at this time, but that I offered my son back to Him. I also thanked God for the time He had given us with John Paul. I told Jesus that I placed my trust in Him and wanted only that His will be done. I reflected on the deep trust of Abraham as he was told to sacrifice Isaac. I felt a deep sense of peace after that.

 

When we arrived at the house, the emergency squad had also gotten there. Although John Paul was bloated and unresponsive, Susan felt a slight pulse after doing CPR. I was ecstatic. There was still hope! Upon arriving at the hospital, I called my sister who lives in another town and asked her to pray for John Paul that night with her prayer group. Over the next thirty-six hours, John Paul’s mental clarity improved hourly. Within two days, he was released, totally normal!

 

 

B. First Reading (II Sm 18:9-10, 14b, 24-25a, 30-19:3): “My son Absalom, if only I have died instead of you.”

 

The reading (II Sm 18:9-10, 14b, 24-25a, 30-19:3) depicts the deep mourning of King David for the death of his son Absalom. It does not matter that Absalom has usurped David’s throne and has waged a war against him, as a lenient father he wants to spare the life of his dear son. Thick hair caught fast in the oak tree and hanging in midair, the rebel Absalom dies at the hands of Joab, David’s general. Oblivious to the king’s request and out of political expediency, Joab plunges three spears into Absalom’s heart and lets his soldiers finish killing the victim. David’s cry conveys the depths of his grief: “My son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son!” Instead of victory songs and rejoicing, David’s victorious troops return to the city sullen and subdued. When David allows his grief to go beyond bounds, Joab rebukes him and contends that he is insulting the very people who have saved his life. David comes to his senses and responds to the threatened loss of support by forcing himself to greet the people.

 

King David’s deep grief at the death of a loved one is not an isolated case. But the death of a loved one who has been surrendered to Jesus entails grace and spiritual comfort as the following story suggests (cf. Denise Wicks-Harris, “The Courage Not to Fight” in A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul, ed. Jack Canfield, Deerfield Beach: Health Communications, Inc., p. 174-175).

 

Christmas Day came. Family arrived and we celebrated. Wilson was propped up on pillows on the pullout sofa, his hand resting on one of the presents. There was a faraway look in his eyes that couldn’t be penetrated, not even by the train set we surprised him with, though he managed to smile and ran the train around the track twice. He fell asleep from the effort.

 

I sank into a chair next to him. From the kitchen came the clatter of pots and pans, and the smell of ham, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy. Wilson opened his eyes and immediately his face searched for mine, as if to confirm that he hadn’t left me yet. I finally admitted it. My son was dying.

 

On January 12, a gray wintry day, I carried Wilson from his bed to the living room sofa. There I bundled him up for his last trip to the hospital. He looked around at each piece of furniture, each picture on the wall, the doorway, the kitchen table and the dishes drying in the sink, soaking himself in memories. “Jesus loves you”, I said, praying that Wilson would know it. Really know it.

 

At the hospital my own strength was about gone, and as day stretched into night I felt strangely numb and detached, almost in shock. Doctors, nurses, family drifted in and out, urging me to sleep, telling me they’d wake me if anything happened – “anything” being the moment of death. The next morning came. Wilson was thirsty, but he couldn’t swallow. The soft drink dribbled out of his mouth. As the day progressed he couldn’t talk. I remembered a line from his favorite song and could still hear him at church, handsome in his suit, singing for all his worth: “When I’m sick and can’t get well, Lord, remember me … Do Lord, oh do, Lord, oh do remember me, way beyond the blue.”

 

Please Jesus … it was dark again at a quarter to five, and suddenly Wilson became alert, opening his eyes and looking right at me. “I’m going home, Mom.” How could I explain to him that this was impossible? “Wilson, Mommy can get oxygen for you, but you can’t go home with the IV.” “No, Mom. I mean I’m going home to be with Jesus.” Home. He was calling heaven home. Gone was his dread of leaving me and all else he knew he felt connected to. Wilson’s eyes are now focused beyond me. “Jesus is coming to get me. Okay, Mom?”

 

Jesus Himself coming to take Wilson home. “Yes, Wilson”, I said. Fifteen minutes ticked by. My son’s eyes closed. His breathing grew more labored. Then stopped. The doctor came in, leaned over and checked his pulse. “He’s gone”, the doctor said gently, touching me. Involuntarily I screamed and grabbed my son by the shoulders. Wilson opened his eyes and started breathing again, a pleading look on his face, as if to say, “Let me go … home.” In my mind I could see Jesus waiting. “It’ okay, honey. You can go now. Mommy’s all right.” He smiled, stopped breathing and walked home with Jesus.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. In death-dealing situations, do I put my trust in Jesus and cling to his words, “Do not be afraid; just have faith”?

 

2. How do we react to the death of a loved one? Do we turn to God to help us in our grief?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

O Jesus, we trust in you.

You exhort us, “Do not be afraid; just have faith”.

Strong is your love and great is your power.

In death-dealing situations we turn to you for help.

In our affliction, we stretch out our hand to touch you,

believing that in you we will be healed.

You break the power of death.

You are our life and resurrection.

We give you thanks and praise, now and forever.

Amen.

 

***  

O Jesus,

You are our merciful Savior who removed the sting of death.

We pray for the faithful departed

and invoke your comfort upon the bereaved.

We love and adore you, now and forever.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“Do not be afraid; just have faith.” (Mk 5:36) //“The king was grieving for his son.” (II Sm 19:3)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Pray for those who are in death-dealing situations that they may courageously trust in God. By your acts of charity to the sick and the dying, allow Christ’s power over death to shine. // Bring the comfort of the Lord to the bereaved and pray for the souls of the faithful departed.

 

 

*** *** ***

February 5, 2020: WEDNESDAY – SAINT AGATHA, Virgin, Martyr

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Was Rejected by His Own … He Suffered the Consequences of our Choices”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

2 Sm 24:2, 9-17 // Mk 6:1-6

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mk 6:1-6): “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place.”

 

The following story narrated by Anthony de Mello in his book, The Song of the Bird, illustrates poignantly the irony contained in today’s Gospel reading (Mk 6:1-6). 

 

Nasruddin earned his living selling eggs. Someone came to his shop one day and said, “Guess what I have in my hand.” “Give me a clue,” said Nasruddin. “I shall give you several: It has the shape of an egg, the size of an egg. It looks like an egg, tastes like an egg, and smells like an egg. Inside it is yellow and white. It is liquid before it is cooked, becomes thick when heated. It was, moreover, laid by a hen.” “Aha! I know!” said Nasruddin. “It is some sort of cake!” 

 

            It is ironic. The expert misses the obvious. And it was also with irony that the neighbors of Jesus of Nazareth missed the obvious. They thought they knew every detail about him. In purporting to have complete knowledge of his personal data, they ended up showing their ignorance. Their knowledge of “the carpenter, the son of Mary” was superficial. Their prejudice prevented them from believing and responding to the Christ, the Son of God. 

 

In today’s reading (Mk 6:1-6), we come face to face with the mystery of a resisting and unbelieving heart. Mark’s narrative illustrates the human possibility and reality of closing one’s heart and mind to the Prophet of truth and Savior of the world. It is ironic that the saving Lord, who would be the object of Peter’s faith declaration: “You are the Christ.” (Mk 8:30) and the centurion’s climactic confession at the foot of the cross: “Truly this man was the Son of God.” (Mk 15:39), was not welcomed by the neighbors of Jesus. According to Mark, “they took offense at him”. They were prejudiced by the utter ordinariness of his background. Disappointment and rejection are part and parcel of the mission of Jesus, as well as of his disciples and the Church. 

    

 

B. First Reading (II Sm 24:2, 9-17): “It is I who have sinned, but these are sheep; what have they done?”

 

The reading (II Sm 24:2, 9-17) should be understood against the sacred author’s assertion that Israel’s sinfulness has provoked the wrath of God. David’s foible is a means to bring about God’s plan of chastisement and gracious mercy. King David has ordered a census of all the tribes of Israel. David is, in effect, setting himself over and against his people and is putting his trust in political-military strength and not in God. A royal census serves two purposes, both oppressive: for taxation and for military draft. The military commander Joab tries to dissuade David, but fails. Joab and his officers thus obey the king’s order and travel throughout the country, counting the total number of men capable of military service.

 

After the census, David’s conscience pricks him and he deeply regrets his impulsive act. Sent by the Lord, the prophet Gad presents the king with three forms of expiation: three years of famine, three months of being pursued by enemies and three days of pestilence. David must choose one. He could have chosen being the victim of a military offense which has a lesser impact on the people, but he prefers to save his own skin. Articulating a “pious” reason, David irresponsibly chooses the pestilence which is the most intense and complete punishment for the people of Israel. At the end of the havoc, David laments: “It is I who have sinned; it is I, the shepherd, who have done wrong. But these are sheep; what have they done? Punish me and my kindred.” The Lord God, speaking through the prophet Gad, orders David to offer sacrifice. The Lord answers his prayer and the epidemic in Israel is stopped. The place where David offers the sacrifice, the threshing place of Araunah, a Jebusite, is the place where David’ son Solomon will build the Temple.

 

Today’s First Reading presents David, God’s anointed one, as one with human weaknesses like us. It recounts David’s failure as shepherd of God’s people and his remorse for having wronged them. But it also shows David’s sensitiveness to grace and his ability to recognize his faults and to do penitence.

 

The heroic stance of Saint Agatha is in sharp contrast to the cowardice and ill-choice manifested by King David when confronted with aversive choices. Here is a profile of the valiant Christian saint taken from the Internet.

 

SAINT AGATHA – BIOGRAPHY

 

Honored since ancient times, Saint Agatha is included in the canon of the Mass. St. Agatha’s family lived in Sicily and were very rich and important. Young, beautiful and rich, she lived a life dedicated to God. St. Agatha refused marriage proposals from all the men who asked. Quintian the magistrate believed himself to be of high enough rank to be worthy of her affection, but she refused him also.

 

When Decius announced the edict against Christians, Quintian tried to profit by Agatha’s sanctity; he planned to blackmail her into sex in exchange for not charging her for being a Christian. She still refused him. He then turned Saint Agatha to a brothel, but she refused to accept customers. After rejecting Quintian’s advances, she was beaten, imprisoned, tortured, and St. Agatha’s breasts were crushed and cut off. She told the judge, “Cruel man, have you forgotten your mother and the breast that nourished you, that you dare to mutilate me this way?” God gave her the relief she needed in the form of a vision of Saint Peter who then healed her wounds.

 

Imprisoned further, then rolled on live coals, she was near death when an earthquake struck. In the destruction, the magistrate’s friend was crushed, which frightened the magistrate and he fled. Bravely, Saint Agatha thanked God for an end to her pain, and died.

 

Catania, Sicily is the location of the martyrdom of Saint Agatha as well as her birthplace. She is their patron saint. Legend says that carrying her veil, taken from her tomb in Catania, in procession has averted eruptions of Mount Etna.

 

Saint Agatha is the patron saint of Malta. They prayed for her intercession which saved Malta from Turkish invasion in 1551. Saint Agatha’s Feast Day is February 5. She is the patron saint of Ali, Sicily; bell founders; breast cancer; bakers; Catania, Sicily; against fire, earthquake, eruptions of Mount Etna; jewelers; martyrs; natural disasters; nurses; Palermo, Sicily; rape victims; single laywomen; sterility; torture victims; volcanic eruptions; wet nurses; Zamarramal, Spain.

  

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. How deep is our faith in Jesus? Is it deep enough to allow him to be effective in our midst? Did we ever close our heart to his saving presence and inspiration?

 

2. When confronted with aversive choices are we ready to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the greater good?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO 

 

 Lord Jesus,

your co-citizens were scandalized by your humble “roots”.

Your neighbors were prejudiced because you were “merely” a carpenter,

and they knew you “simply” as the son of Mary.

You were not able to perform mighty deeds in Nazareth

for their lack of faith.

Lord, have mercy on us.

Jesus, help us to have true faith in you.

You are the true prophet who speaks the word of life.

We welcome you in our hearts.

Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening.

 

***

Lord Jesus,

teach us to make the sacrificial “choices”

that lead us to your kingdom.

Forgive us for our wrong “choices”

that have wrought suffering on others.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“He was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mk 6:6) //“It is I who have sinned; it is I, the shepherd.” (2 Sm 24:17)

 

  

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

  

Pray for all missionaries that they may carry out their mandate with absolute trust in God and apostolic zeal. Be a missionary to a person close to you and in need of the healing power of the Gospel. // Assume the practice of daily examination of conscience to help you make the proper choices for the Kingdom.

 

*** *** ***

 

February 6, 2020: THURSDAY – SAINT PAUL MIKI AND COMPANIONS, Martyrs

  “JESUS SAVIOR: He Summons and Sends Out the Twelve … He Strengthens Them”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

1 Kgs 2:1-4, 10-12 // Mk 6:7-13

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mk 6:7-13): “Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out.”

 

The Burnham couple, Martin and Gracia, who were serving in the Philippines as missionaries, were captured by the dreaded Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group in Southern Philippines whose primary activities were kidnapping and extortion. Gracia survived 14 months of terror in the jungle. On June 7, 2002, Martin died and Gracia was wounded in the shootout that resulted from the rescue attempt made by the Philippine Army. Gracia’s testimony revealed that Martin had been a missionary through and through. Thousands of people – including senators and ambassadors - attended Martin’s funeral at Wichita, Kansas. Gracia remarked: “They admired him most, perhaps, for what he stood for, what we all try to stand for. Nothing complicated. Just a simple, whole-hearted goodness. His death had not been in vain. He showed me what strength was. Faith. Faith in yourself, in those you love, and in God to be present in every moment of your life.” The missionary, Martin Burnham, is a modern-day example of a disciple sent by Jesus, one who had kept faith in him and had shown the world that faith is the inner strength to conquer evil. 

           

Today’s Gospel reading (Mk 6:7-13) is about the Lord who sends and the mission of the disciples he sent. The origin of the missionary vocation is Jesus who prepares the apostles for this important moment. It is Jesus who calls them personally; it is he who selects the Twelve to be his companions. He sends them out to preach with the power to cast out devils. Tutored by Jesus and present with him as he heals many from sickness and evil, the Twelve are sent out with tremendous power bestowed upon them. The apostles respond to the sending with alacrity. The evangelist Mark narrates: “So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (verses 12-13). In the mission of the apostles, Mark underlines the potency of the Gospel, the power of action against the reign of evil. The task of those sent by Jesus is to bring the healing balm of forgiveness to those wounded by sin and to denounce evil, openly confronting it by appealing to the power of Christ.

  

 

B. First Reading (I Kgs 2:1-4, 10-12): “I am going the way of all flesh. Take courage and be a man.”

 

The reading (I Kgs 2:1-4, 10-12) depicts Solomon’s rise to kingship and David’s last instructions to him as royal successor. David advises his son to revere the Lord and to be faithful to the covenant. Only thus can it be guaranteed that a descendant of David will remain on the throne. The continuance of the Davidic dynasty depends on covenant fidelity. On his deathbed, David exhorts the newly anointed King Solomon to “take courage and be a man”. Solomon follows David’s counsel and ruthlessly eliminates potential conspirators. David dies and is buried in David’s city. Solomon’s royal power is established.

 

The courageous stance of a true man that King David wants his son successor to exhibit is exemplified in many martyrs and saints, among whom is Saint Paul Miki, whose memorial feast we celebrate  today (cf. Patricia Mitchell, “A Samurai’s Noble Death: The Witness of St. Paul Miki” in The WORD Among Us, February 1 – March 8, 2011, p. 59-64).

 

Paul Miki saw sparkling Nagasaki harbor coming into view. The six-hundred-mile trek from the Japanese capital of Kyoto through the cold and snow was nearly over. It had taken almost one month. Along the road, villagers jeered at him and the others who had been sentenced to die for their Christian beliefs. “Fools”, the shouted, “Renounce your faith.” Miki, who loved to preach, urged the people to believe in Jesus, the Savior who died for their sins. Not all were insulting the prisoners, however. Fellow believers encouraged and prayed for them, giving them the strength and courage to continue on.

 

Miki thought how odd it was that he was to die before his ordination as a priest. Now thirty-three years old, he has been a Jesuit brother in training for eleven years. His eloquent and fervent preaching has led to many conversions. Yet he would never celebrate Mass; never raise the consecrated Host in his own hands.

 

Flourishing Faith: His thoughts often turned to his family. Miki had been born and raised near Kyoto in comfortable surroundings, the son of a brave samurai. A fellow Jesuit, Francis Xavier, had come to Japan forty-eight years earlier, in 1549, and his message of a loving God had won over hundreds of thousands of Japanese. Miki’s parents converted in 1568, when Paul was four. They nurtured his faith and sent him to Jesuit schools; he never doubted his vocation to the priesthood.

 

The seeds planted by Xavier flourished, but only when it suited the reigning ruler. The military leader Oda Nobunaga allowed the missionaries to preach because he wanted to challenge the power of the Buddhist monks and he was interested in foreign trade. But the next ruler, Toyotumi Hideyoshi, became nervous as more and more Japanese turned to Christ. Christianity was a religion of foreigners, very different from Buddhism or the native Shintoism, which enshrined numerous minor gods. Japan feared conquest by the West. So Hideyoshi worried: What if these foreign missionaries came not to bring their God but their soldiers?

 

Blessed Are the Persecuted: In the fall of 1596, a Spanish ship crashed into the coast of Japan. While Japanese officials confiscated its cargo, an arrogant remark by the ship’s captain was interpreted to mean that missionaries intended to help Spain conquer Japan. Hideyoshi quickly ordered the arrest of several priests and laymen who had come from the Spanish Philippines to evangelize. He was convinced that a public bloodbath would put an end to this religion of the West. Although a native, Miki was among those who would serve as Hideyoshi’s warning.

 

On the day after Christmas in 1596, police came to the Jesuit residence in Osaka, and took Miki and two other novices. In prison, they were joined by six Franciscans and fifteen members of the Franciscan third order. A week later, the prisoners were led into the Kyoto public square, where the sentence was pronounced: death by crucifixion. Miki’s heart soared. What an honor to imitate his Lord! Each man then stood by Hideyoshi’s samurai as a portion of his left ear was cut off. It was Miki’s turn, and searing pain shot through his head – the first blood to be spilled for Christ. Then the forced march to Nagasaki began.

 

The Road to the Cross: Under a feudal lord, Nagasaki has become a Christian town, with Jesuits running schools, churches, and homes for the poor. As the caravan entered, thousands of Christians lined the streets. For the twenty-six prisoners (two more had been added to the group), it was like coming home! If Hideyoshi had intended the crucifixion to scare people away from Christianity, his plan was having the opposite effect. On the morning of February 5, Miki and the others were led up Nishizaka Hill. One side of the road, where common criminals were executed was covered with human remains; the other was covered with new, green wheat. The government official in charge of the executions had decided to give the martyrs a more decent killing field, and the wheat would be a carpet for their crosses.

 

Lying on the ground were twenty-six crosses, each one tailor-made for one of the martyrs. Seeing them, the prisoners began singing the Te Deum, the church’s traditional hymn of thanksgiving. Three youngsters in the group – thirteen-year-olds Thomas Kozaki and Anthony Deynan, and twelve-year-old Louis Ibaraki – raced ahead to find the crosses that fit their small frames. One by one, on their knees, the martyrs embraced their crosses – their way to perfection.

 

Soldiers tied them on with metal bands and ropes. Then the crosses were lifted and slid into holes in the ground – twenty-six stretching in a row from the bay to the road. The martyrs raised their eyes to heaven and sang, “Praise the Lord, ye children of the Lord.” The Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus of the Mass echoed down the hill. One of the prisoners chanted, “Jesus, Mary. Jesus, Mary”. The crowds of Christians joined in. Then, one by one, the martyrs were given a chance to renounce Christ in exchange for their lives. Each one loudly answered, “No”.

 

Song of a Samurai: Planted in front of Miki’s cross was the death sentence Hideyoshi had pronounced: “As these men came from the Philippines under the guise of ambassadors, and chose to stay in Kyoto preaching the Christian law which I have severely forbidden all these years, I come to decree that they be put to death, together with the Japanese who had accepted that law.”

 

Fastened to his cross, Paul Miki gave his defense and final address in the form of a samurai farewell song: “I did not come from the Philippines. I am Japanese by birth, and a brother of the Society of Jesus. I have committed no crime. The only reason I am condemned to die is that I have taught the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am happy to die for such a cause and accept death as a great gift from my Lord. At this critical time, when you can rest assured that I will not try to deceive you, I want to stress and make it unmistakably clear that man can find no way to salvation other than the Christian way. The Christian law commands that we forgive our enemies and those who have wronged us. I must therefore say here that I forgive Hideyoshi and all who took part in my death. I do not hate Hideyoshi, I would rather have him and all the Japanese become Christians.”

 

The guards listened, spellbound. Miki had shown he could remain a faithful Japanese, adhere to the samurai code of honor, and still give glory to Christ. Looking to heaven, he said, “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit. Come to meet me, you saints of God.” While embracing his culture and showing his warrior’s courage, he had gone beyond the samurai need to save face and avenge personal wrongs. By preaching love of enemies as his farewell, Paul Miki showed himself a faithful samurai of the greatest Lord of all.

 

The Legacy of Resurrection Hill: Two samurai guards stood at the foot of each of the crosses at either end of the line of prisoners. In one moment, each soldier plunged his steel-tipped bamboo spear into the victim’s breast, crossing over each other’s spear in the process. A guttural yell, a sudden thrust, the gush of blood. And it was over. When the gruesome deed was done, the Christians in the crowd pressed toward the crosses, soaking pieces of cloth in the martyrs’ blood and tearing their clothing for relics. Only with difficulty did the guards manage to keep them away.

 

A month later, a Jesuit missionary in Nagasaki wrote his superior that, even in death, the martyrs were still bearing witness to Christ: “These deaths have been a special gift of divine Providence to this church. Up to now our persecutor had not gone to the extreme of shedding Christian blood. Our teaching therefore had been mostly theoretical, without the corroborating evidence of dying for our faith. But now, seeing by experience these remarkable deaths and most extraordinary deaths, it is beyond belief how much our new Christians have been strengthened, how much encouragement they have received to do the same themselves.”

 

Today, some four hundred years after their deaths, the twenty-six martyrs of Nagasaki continue to inspire people. They are canonized saints now, and the place is a pilgrimage destination, with a church, museum, and bronze monument. Pope John Paul II visited the site in 1981 and named it “Resurrection Hill”.

 

On the eve of his execution, thirteen-year-old Thomas Kozaki, who was to die with his father, wrote a farewell letter to his mother. Full of simple yet steadfast faith, the power of this letter, like the power of the cross, has not diminished over the years: “Dear Mother: Dad and I are going to heaven. There we shall wait for you. Do not be discouraged even if all the priests are killed. Bear all sorrow for our Lord and do not forget you are now on the true road to heaven. You must not put my smaller brothers in pagan families. Educate them yourself. These are the dying wishes of father and son. Goodbye, Mother dear. Goodbye.”  

  

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. As Christian disciples today, are we as trusting in God as Jesus called his Twelve to be? What is the specific apostolic mission entrusted to us by Christ today? Do we believe in the Gospel – its power of action against the forces of evil?

 

2. Do we endeavor to be courageous and strong in the Lord?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Lord Jesus,

you have called us personally to yourself

 and given us the Gospel

with its power to overcome the forces of evil.

Give us the grace to proclaim repentance

and to heal the sick with the power of your love.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

***

Jesus Lord,

Give us the grace to be faithful to God’s commands.

Let us grow in full stature with you.

Make us strong and courageous in serving you

in our needy brothers and sisters.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

  

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out.” (Mk 6:7) //“Take courage and be a man.” (I Kgs 2:2)  

 

  

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Pray for all missionaries that they may carry out their mandate with absolute trust in God and apostolic zeal. Be a missionary to a person close to you and in need of the healing power of the Gospel. // That you may grow steadfast in the Lord resolve to find time for quiet prayer and the examination of the heart.

 

 

*** *** ***

 

February 7, 2020: FRIDAY – WEEKDAY (4)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is a Victim for Truth and Justice”

… He Is the Object of our Praise”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Sir 47:2-11 // Mk 6:14-29

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mk 6:14-29): “It is John whom I beheaded. He has been raised up.”

 

The death of John the Baptist narrated in today’s Gospel reading (Mk 6:14-29) foretells Jesus’ own death. Herodias is vengeful because John has confronted her illicit husband, Herod, with the unsettling truth: “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife”. Determined to put John to death and resorting to devious ways, Herodias instigates her daughter to ask for his head. The revenge is made possible by feckless Herod who tries to impress others during his birthday party. Though fascinated by John, whom he knows as righteous and holy, his braggadocio gets the better of him. He is deeply distressed. But because of the senseless oath he has made to the girl in front of the guests, he has to give her John’s head on a platter. Herod dispatches an executioner to behead the prophet. Herod’s birthday party thus becomes a bloody orgy. Evoking the death and burial of Jesus, the disciples of John come and take the body and lay it in a tomb.

 

The martyrdom of John the Baptist, which points to the ultimate witnessing of Jesus, invites us to share deeply in the paschal sacrifice of our Savior. Like John the Baptist, we too are called to manifest to the world the passion and death of Jesus, the victim par excellence for truth and justice. The following article circulated through the internet illustrates the need to continue our life witness for truth and justice, in the spirit of John the Baptist and our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Phillip Andrew A. Pestano graduated from Ateneo de Manila High School in 1989, entered the Philippine Military Academy, and became an Ensign in the Philippine Navy in 1993. He was assigned as cargo master on a Navy ship. He discovered that the cargo being loaded onto his vessel included logs that were cut down illegally, were carried to the ship illegally, and were destined to be sold illegally. Then there were 50 sacks of flour, which were not flour, but shabu – worth billions. Literally, billions. And there were military weapons which were destined for sale to the Abu Sayyaf.

 

He felt that he could not approve this cargo. Superior officers came to him and said: “Please! Be reasonable! This is big business. It involves many important people. Approve this cargo.” But Philip could not, in conscience, sign the approval.

 

Then his parents received two phone calls, saying: “Get your son off that ship! He is going to be killed!”  When Phillip was given leave at home, his family begged him not to go back. Their efforts at persuasion continued until his last night at home, when Phillip was already in bed. His father came to him and said: “Please, son, resign your commission. Give up your military career. Don’t go back. We want you alive. If you go back to the ship, it will be the end of you!” But Phillip said to his father: “Kawawa ang bayan!” (“I pity our people!”) And he went back to the ship. The scheduled trip was very brief – from Cavite to Roxas Boulevard – it usually took only 45 minutes. But on September 27, 1995, it took one hour and a half. When the ship arrived at Roxas Boulevard, Ensign Pestano was dead.

 

The body was in his stateroom, with a pistol, and a letter saying that he was committing suicide. The family realized at once that the letter was forged. They tried desperately for justice, carrying the case right up to the Senate. The Senatorial Investigation Committee examined all the evidence carefully. Then they issued an official statement, saying among other things: Ensign Phillip Pestano did not commit suicide. He was murdered. He was shot through the head, somewhere outside his stateroom, and the body was carried to his room and placed on the bed. The crime was committed by more than one person. In spite of these findings by the Senate, the family could not get justice. The case is still recorded by the Navy as suicide. (…)

 

Phillip Pestano died at the age of 24. He was scheduled to be married in January of 1996, four months after he was murdered. He was a martyr. A martyr is one who dies for the faith or for a Christian virtue. Phillip died for a Christian virtue – justice. It is not likely that he will ever be canonized, but he takes his place among the “unknown saints”.

 

 

B. First Reading (Sir 47:2-11): “With his every deed, David offered thanks to God Most High; in words of praise he loved his Maker.”

 

The reading (Sir 47:2-11) gives a summary account of the role of King David in salvation history. The Book of Sirach highlights his election by God, his exploits as a warrior and his initiatives in public worship in Jerusalem. King David makes vast contributions to the liturgy. In everything David does, he gives thanks and praise to the Lord Most High. With his whole being he loves his Creator and daily has his praises sung. He puts singers at the altar to provide beautiful music. He sets the times of the festivals throughout the year and makes them splendid occasions. Thus the sanctuary resounds with God’s praise all day long. The Book of Sirach also gives a character portrait of David, God’s “anointed”: a “forgiven sinner” to whom God gives “a covenant of kingship and a glorious throne in Israel”.

 

As in the case of the patriarch David, the Book of Sirach invites us to turn away from our sins to the practice of faith and the worship of God.  Like King David, we too are called to give praise and thanks that are pleasing to God. The following modern day account gives insight into the meaning of true praise and thanksgiving (cf. Poverello News, February 2013, p. 3-4).

 

Founder Mike (of Poverello House in Fresno) often helps homeless people with seemingly trivial things that are nevertheless very important to them. For example, he gives out bus tokens, or occasionally money, for transportation to verified appointments. He’s been doing this so many years for so many thousands of people that he thinks very little of it. (…)

 

Mike was surprised when one young man, who had graduated from the Resident Program, presented him with a rare gift. The participants in the program are given a small stipend to take care of needs that Poverello House doesn’t provide. Some of them buy personal items or cigarettes with the money; others use it to grab meals at fast food restaurants when they are out on pass. One of our stereotypical assumptions is that all of that money will be spent, either wisely or foolishly.

 

When the program graduate asked to meet him, Mike was curious. His first thought was that this fellow would hit him up for a loan, or some other request for help.

 

As it turns out, the young man returned all of the stipends he had received while in the program. Nervous about his new sobriety, during his stay here he never left the campus to go on pass, lest he be tempted to use drugs again. He saved every penny of his stipends, and returned all the money to Mike as a token of his gratitude for the help he had received from Poverello House. It was a very touching and significant gesture.

  

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Do I fight for truth and justice in the spirit of John the Baptist and our Lord Jesus Christ?

 

2. Like King David, do we turn away from sins to the practice of the faith and the worship of God? Do we make an effort to make our every deed an act of praise and thanksgiving to God?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Lord Jesus,

your cousin John the Baptist fully participated

in your mission of justice and truth.

Give us the courage to fight for the cause of justice and right.

Make us limpid and credible prophets of truth.

We trust in you, O loving Jesus!

We adore and serve you as our only Lord, now and forever.

Amen.

 

***

Loving Father, our Creator God,

you have filled us with the abundant riches of your grace.

You are the object of our praise and thanksgiving.

Let our whole being bless and thank you.

We adore and serve you as our only Lord,

now and forever.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

            The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.

 

“It is John whom I beheaded.” (Mk 6:16) //“With his whole being he loved his Maker and daily had his praises sung.” (Sir 47:8)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Study the “Catholic Social Teaching in the Public Square” and promote the principle of the right to life and the dignity of the human person in any way and in every way you can. // Today be conscious of the Lord’s goodness and abundant blessings he bestows and be very grateful and thankful.

 

*** *** ***

February 8, 2020: SATURDAY – WEEKDAY (4); SAINT JEROME EMILIANI; SAINT JOSEPHINE BAKHITA, Virgin; BVM ON SATURDAY

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Shepherds the Flock … His Is

an Understanding Heart”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

1 Kgs 3:4-13 // Mk 6:30-34

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mk 6:30-34): “They were like sheep without a shepherd.”

 

In 1995 I traveled about eight hours by bus to the rural town of San Antonio (in Zambales Province in the Philippines) to conduct a session on liturgical music for a parish group. San Antonio is situated at the foot of Mount Pinatubo. The volcano that was dormant for about five hundred years erupted violently on July 16, 1991. The devastated San Antonio was still full of sand and volcanic debris when I saw it. I heard vivid stories about the townsfolk’s terrible plight during the eruption. They scrambled in all directions to save their lives. They did not know where to go and were like sheep without a shepherd. My heart was moved for what they went through. In a mysterious way, I was participating in the compassion of Christ Master-Shepherd: “He took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34). 

 

The focus of today’s Gospel reading (Mk 6:30-34) is the Lord Jesus who shepherds. He shepherds the weary disciples returning from their missionary ministry, reporting to him what they had done and taught. Above all, he shepherds the large crowd of needy people hungering for the bread of his life-giving Word. Indeed, Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophetic promise reported in Jer 23:1-6 about God himself being the shepherd to his people.

 

Mark’s narrative describes the tender and loving response of Jesus to the pathetic plight of the pursuing crowd: “He began to teach them many things” (Mk 6:34). Indeed, the primary pastoral action and care of Jesus is to teach, that is, to nourish the hungry souls with the bread of the Word of God. The teaching ministry, which is a nourishing ministry, is the first and foremost task of Jesus Shepherd. He nourishes the crowd with the bread of the Word. He nourishes them with the saving message of God’s love. 

 

 

B. First Reading (I Kgs 3:4-13): “Give your servant an understanding hear to judge your people.”

 

The reading (I Kgs 3:4-13) tells us that Solomon’s proverbial wisdom is a gift of God. This young ruler of Israel – son of King David by Bathsheba – accedes to the royal throne in about 961 B.C. Solomon is initially an ideal king - a humble, benevolent ruler disposed to follow the divine will. In an eventful encounter with the Lord in a dream, Solomon prays for a discerning and understanding heart to be able to govern the chosen people efficaciously. The Lord God graciously responds to his prayer with the following words: “I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now; and after you there will come no one to equal you.”

 

The biblical scholar Alice Laffey comments: “The first part of Solomon’s reign is characterized by covenant fidelity to the Lord, by love and obedience. He worships at the best shrine and, from the abundance of prosperity with which the Lord has blessed him, he makes generous sacrifices to Yahweh. Often, as here, dreams occasion an encounter with Yahweh … In the ensuing dialogue, Solomon perceives himself as Yahweh’s servant and requests from the Lord an understanding heart by which to govern the people and to distinguish right from wrong. Yahweh responds generously. Solomon’s request will be granted, and, in addition, he will receive the standard blessings of covenant fidelity – riches and glory and a long life … Solomon’s reverence for the Lord, proven by his altruistic request, would merit him wisdom in addition to the usual covenant blessings. Solomon awakes from his dream and again sacrifices to the Lord.”

 

Christian discipleship is a loving labor of wisdom and the response of a discerning heart. Sandy Whiting’s story, “Perennial Blessings” published in the magazine Country Woman (June/July 2008, p. 51) gives insight into the meaning of a wise and compassionate heart.

 

Grandma loved earthy things with roots – like the fragrant geraniums she loving grew and found homes for. I walked by her house everyday on my way home from school. She always had a wave and smile ready for me. This particular afternoon, however, she frowned. I backed up a few steps and asked, “What’s the matter? Did the bugs eat your flowers?” Grandma stared at her geraniums and sighed. “That new family on the other side of the square … the Dunkles. They just lost their twin baby boys.” Being 10 and knowing little about life and less about death, I shrugged. “So? We don’t know them.” “We’re neighbors … and neighbors are family”, she said firmly. Perking up, she brushed the dirt from her hands. “Go call your mother and ask if you can run an errand with me, then meet me in the shed.” Minutes later, with Mom’s approval, I shoved open the shed door. “There you are,” Grandma said. “Help me find two pots – pretty clay ones.” (…)

 

Handing me a trowel, Grandma led me to the garden. “Dig up that pink geranium and plant it in the pot,” she said. “Don’t forget to put a few rocks in the bottom for drainage.” In minutes, I had one pink flower safely tucked into its new home. Grandma quickly finished potting hers. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s get these to the Dunkles.” Not bothering to knock, she placed the plants on the porch, slid a blue scrap of paper under one pot and turned to go. After that errand, I began noticing something unusual about Grandma’s geraniums. I’d count them when I passed in the morning. And by my return trip, there’d be two or three less. On shopping trips with Grandma, I’d hear folks speak of flowers appearing around town and speculate on who the “Geranium Lady” might be. When asked if we had any clues, I’d shrug and Grandma would just smile.

 

The years turned their pages … I married and moved away. Well, before I was ready, a call came with painful news that Grandma had passed. The trip back home was difficult as I wrestled with my grief, three restless children and one husband in the driver’s seat negotiating country roads. Finally, we pulled into a familiar dirt lane and rounded the curve to Grandma’s house. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Pots spilling over with red, pink, salmon and white geraniums covered the porch. Mother met me. “I don’t know who’s bringing them,” she said. “But every time I come out, there’s a dozen more.” Gently, I lifted a pot from the bottom step. Slipped beneath the sunset orange blooms was a faded blue note, written in Grandma’s own hand. “Only the body goes back to the earth. The soul blooms in greener pastures.” It wasn’t just the Dunkles who had figured out Grandma’s secret. The entire town knew. And now I did, too. Single acts of kindness are returned a thousand times over – perpetually blooming.

  

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. How do we respond to the plight of those who are weary and heavily burdened? Do we respond to them with the heart of the Shepherd? 

 

2. What is the stance of the young King Solomon before God? Why does he ask the Lord to give him an understanding heart? Do you pray to God to give you a wise and understanding heart?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Lord Jesus,

we respond to your invitation,

“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile”.

You shepherd us and our cup overflows with joy.

Give us your Shepherd’s heart that together with you,

we may alleviate the pain of the weary and heavily burdened.

We thank you, our Master-Shepherd

and follow you all the days of our life.

You are our loving Lord, now and forever.

Amen.

 

***

Lord Jesus,

give us the spirit of compassion

and a heart full of understanding

that together with you,

we may alleviate the pain of the weary and heavily burdened.

Great is your love.

We follow you all the days of our life.

You are our loving Lord, now and forever.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mk 6:34) //“Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart.” (I Kgs 3:9)

 

  

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

With the compassionate heart of the Shepherd, welcome those who are “like sheep without a shepherd” and share with them the bread of God’s Word. // Make an effort to introduce to your relatives and friends the laudable practice of Lectio Divina.

 

***

 

 

Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang  PDDM

 

 

PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI

SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER

60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314

Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323

Website: WWW.PDDM.US

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