A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday and Weekday Liturgy

 

BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (Series 12, n. 15)

First Sunday of Lent and Lenten Weekday 1: March 9-15, 2014 ***

 

 

(N.B. The pastoral tool BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD: A LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY LITURGY includes a prayerful study of the Sunday liturgy of Year A from three perspectives. For reflections on the Sunday liturgy based on the Gospel reading, please scroll up to the “ARCHIVES” above and open Series 3. For reflections based on the Old Testament reading, open Series 6. For reflections based on the Second Reading, open Series 9. Please go to Series 10 - Series 12 for the back issues of the Weekday Lectio.

 

Below is a LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY - WEEKDAY LITURGY: March 9-15, 2014. The weekday reflections are based on the First Reading. For the weekday reflections based on the Gospel Reading, please open Series 10.)

 

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March 9, 2014: FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT

“JESUS SAVIOR: In Him We Are Victorious”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7 // Rom 5:12-19 // Mt 4:1-11

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS

 

Fritzie Fritshall, one of the prisoners who survived the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz in World War II, spoke of what it means to be truly hungry: “How do I describe hunger to someone that has probably had breakfast and lunch today? Or even if you’re dieting, or even if you are fasting for a day. I think hunger is when the pit of your stomach hurts … when you would sell your soul for a potato or a slice of bread.”

 

Against this backdrop of human hunger, it is easy to understand the enormous struggle against Satan who tempts Jesus after the latter has fasted for forty days and forty nights in the barren, haunting desert (cf. Mt 4:1-11). When Jesus is most vulnerable and weak, Satan comes to challenge his core decision to be united with the saving will of God the Father, who has declared at the River Jordan: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). The devil’s threefold temptation assails Jesus’ baptismal commitment to obey the Father’s messianic plan. The temptation is meant to weaken his integral, filial love of God and pervert his mission as the loving Son and faithful Servant of Yahweh. Today’s Gospel passage is a great baptismal catechesis for catechumens and the already baptized. Lent is an opportune season to delve into the meaning of our baptismal consecration, which includes a victorious struggle against evil.

 

***

 

The spiritual journey of the Christian community at the beginning of the Lenten season is marked by both sadness and optimism. This Sunday’s liturgy confronts us with the mystery of sin, as well as with the reality of grace. In today’s First Reading (Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7), the primeval Adam and his wife Eve, mother of the living, experience the wiles of temptation and succumb to it. In the Gospel reading, Jesus – the Son and Servant of Yahweh - is likewise tempted. But in being radically faithful to God, Jesus is victorious over sin.

 

Celia Sirois comments: “The setting for the story of the fall of the old Adam is the garden the Lord God planted in Eden. It teems with life, with various trees to satisfy every hunger of soul and body. There, Adam is established as God’s son and servant. But when tempted, he lets his trust in his Creator die in his heart. And so it happened that through one person sin entered the world. The setting of today’s Gospel, the testing of the new Adam, is the desert, that place where every hunger goes unsatisfied. There the tempter engages Jesus in conversation, as he did Eve before. But Jesus, trusting absolutely in God’s word, withstands the devil’s wiles. And so it happened that through one person, God’s true Son, sin was overcome.”

 

The following excerpt gives us a glimpse of the dynamics of sin and grace (cf. St. Anthony Messenger, July 2007, p. 48). Jim Townsend is an example of one who is victorious over misery, brokenness and death-dealing situations - over despair and sin. In this Lenten season, he is an example of one who has learned to trust in the unconditional love of God and is victorious in Christ.

 

Bureau of Justice statistics show that well over 70 percent of U.S. prisoners return to jail within three years after their release. In light of this data, we may wonder if there is any hope that more than 2.2 million people in jail will return to society as contributing members. The story of Brother Jim Townsend, O.F.M. Capuchin, shows us that there is. His life story should give hope to all those who know and work with prisoners, including family members, who may have abandoned any thought that those caught in a life of crime can change.

 

Townsend knew mostly neglect and rejection as a youngster. Born in 1927, the Depression years hit his family hard, and he suffered the death of his mother while he was still a boy. While the details may differ, his background is not so very different from that of many prisoners today. Raised in an abusive household, he knew little precious love as a youngster. He ran into trouble early, ran away from home and spent time in a reform school, an orphanage and a juvenile facility – all by the time he was 14. These institutions did more punishing than reforming. Townsend finally found love and acceptance as a young man and his life seemed to change. He married in 1947 at 20, and his wife, Alice, loved him and cared for his deep needs. Then the unthinkable happened. Only six months after their marriage, Townsend took a hunting rifle and murdered her while she was taking a bath. In the early months of pregnancy, as her body changed and her desire for sexual relationship with her husband lessened, Townsend feared that Alice too was abandoning him. In anxiety, he snapped and killed her.

 

Life imprisonment was the sentence, first in Pennsylvania’s Western Penitentiary and then 13 years later in Rockview, in the central part of the state. The security level at Rockview was lower than that at Western, and Townsend’s plan was to work his way to a prison job where he could drive unaccompanied in a truck through the prison gate, never to return. He did all he could to achieve that job assignment, including participating in the prison religious program. He attended religious services and worked his way into a job cleaning the chapel. All the while, his heart was stone-cold against religion. He just played a game, not believing all that hocus pocus stuff about bread and wine. To get in good with the chaplain, he even went to confession and joined the Franciscan Third Order. But something mysterious began to happen. The words the chaplain spoke, the liturgies he attended and his presence among the holy things of the chapel such as the Blessed Sacrament and the Stations of the Cross began to make an impression – even though he remained unaware of it. God, whom Townsend referred to as Mr. Slick, never gave up on him. Nor did the chaplain.

 

The rest of the story is one of slow growth and change. After release from prison for good behavior, Townsend developed caring relationships with others, which led to further healing as he began to trust people and realize that he wasn’t worthless and unlovable as he thought of himself. It eventually led to his vows as a Capuchin Franciscan brother. Steady and determined growth in the knowledge of God’s life and love now sustains Brother Jim.

 

***

 

This Sunday’s Second Reading (Rom 5:12-19) helps us delve into the wonderful consequence of Christ’s fidelity. His unmitigated trust in the word of God overcomes the effects of sin and death wrought by the first Adam. Christ’s faithfulness to God enables him to offer alienated humanity the gift of reconciliation and reap the precious fruits of “grace abounding”. Indeed, Christ’s beneficence overturns the destruction caused by Adam’s disobedience and negation of God’s love.

 

The biblical scholar John Pilch comments: “Paul’s main interest is not to talk about sin or death, but rather to draw a contrasting picture of Adam and Christ, prominent figures of the beginning and the end time respectively. Adam is a type or prototype of the person to come, namely, Jesus, who would far surpass what Adam did. The world was changed by both of these individuals. Adam unleashed an active hostile force into the world (sin), which has the power to cause definitive alienation (death) from God, the source of all life … In contrast, Christ’s effect is starkly different. Through the gracious gift, namely, the redemptive death of Jesus Christ, uprightness and life super-abound for all individuals who accept him.”

 

The following story concerning the former Olympian and prisoner of war, Louie Zamperini, illustrates beautifully the Lenten message that God’s grace is greater than the power of evil or the effects of sin (cf. “Facing the Enemy” by Laura Hillenbrand in GUIDEPOSTS, January 2011, p. 52-57). Temptations to hate and despair can be overcome by letting the “seeds of faith” grow and by surrendering to the mighty love of God.

 

For the next two and a quarter years, Louie was a captive of the Japanese military. First he was held in a filthy cell, subjected to medical experiments, starved, beaten and interrogated. Then he was shipped to a prison camp in Japan, where he was forced to race against Japanese runners, winning even though he knew he’d be clubbed as punishment. He joined a daring POW underground, stealing food and circulating information to other captives.

 

It was in the prison camp that Louie encountered a monstrous guard known as the Bird. Fixated on breaking the famous Olympian, the Bird beat Louie relentlessly and forced him to do slave labor. Louie reached the end of his endurance. With his dignity destroyed and his will fading, he prayed for rescue. When the atomic bombs ended the war, the Bird fled to escape war-crimes trials, and Louie was saved from almost certain death.

 

He went home a deeply haunted man. He had nightmares of being bludgeoned by the Bird. Trying to rebuild his life, he married a beautiful debutante named Cynthia, but even her love couldn’t blot the Bird from his mind. He sought solace in running, but an ankle injury, incurred in POW camp and exacerbated by the Bird’s beatings, hampered him. Just as he was reaching Olympic form again, his ankle failed. His athletic career was finished.

 

Devastated, he started drinking. He had flashbacks: The raft of the prison camp would appear around him, and he’d relive terrifying memories. He simmered with rage, provoking fistfights with strangers and confrontations with Cynthia. He couldn’t shake the sense of shame that had been beaten into him by the Bird. Louie thought that God was toying with him. When he heard preachers on the radio, he turned it off. He forbade Cynthia to go to church. He drank more and more heavily. In time, Louie’s rage hardened into a twisted ambition: He would return to Japan, hunt down the Bird and strangle him. It was the only way he could restore his dignity. He became obsessed, trying to raise the money for the trip, but his financial ventures kept failing.

 

One night in 1948, Louie dreamed he was locked in a death battle with the Bird. A scream startled him awake. He was straddling his pregnant wife, hands clenched around her neck. His daughter was born a few months later. One day, Cynthia found him shaking the baby, trying to stop her from crying. She snatched the baby away, then packed her bags and walked out.

 

In the fall of 1949, Cynthia made a last effort to save her husband. She asked Louie to come to a tent meeting in Los Angeles, where a young minister named Billy Graham was preaching. For two nights, Louie sat in that tent, feeling guilty and angry as Graham spoke of sin and its consequences, and God bringing miracles to the stricken. On the second night, Graham asked people to step forward to declare their faith. Louie stood up and stormed toward the exit. But at the aisle, he stopped short. Suddenly he was in a flashback, adrift on the raft. It hadn’t rained in days, and he was dying of thirst. In anguish, he whispered a prayer: If you will save me, I will serve you forever. Over the raft, rain began falling. Standing in Graham’s tent, lost in the flashback, Louie felt the rain on his face. At that moment Louie began to see his whole ordeal differently. When he’d been trapped in the wreckage of his plane, somehow he’d been freed. When the Japanese bomber had shot the raft full of holes, somehow none of the men had been hit. When the Bird had driven him to the breaking point, and he’d prayed for help, somehow he’d found the strength to keep breathing. And that day on the raft, he had prayed for rain, and rain had come. Louie’s conviction that he was forsaken was gone, replaced by a belief that divine love had been all around him, even at his darkest moments. That night in Graham’s tent, the bitterness and pain that had haunted him vanished.

 

A year later, Louie went to Japan. He was a joyful man, his marriage restored, his nightmares and flashbacks gone, his alcoholism overcome. He went to a Tokyo prison where war criminals were serving their sentences. He hoped to find the Bird, to know for sure if the peace he’d found was resilient. But the Bird wasn’t there. Louie was told that the guard had killed himself. Louie was struck with emotion. He was surprised by what he felt. It was not hatred. Not relief. It was compassion. Louie had found forgiveness. Louie Zamperini’s life is a journey of outrageous fortune, ferocious will and astonishing redemption.

 

 

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

 

1. Do we believe that the Lenten season is a sign of grace – a sacred sign which renders present the saving value of Christ who fasted in the desert and victoriously asserted his total commitment to the Father’s saving plan?

 

2. What message can you glean personally from the story of the temptation and the fall of Adam and Eve at the Garden of Eden? What is the meaning of sin according to this story?

 

3. Do you believe that the grace won for us by Christ, by his obedience to the Father’s word, is superabundant and greater than the effects of sin? Do you resolve to embark on a profound spiritual journey of conversion this Lenten season?

 

 

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

 

Loving God,

we thank you for the gift of your Son Jesus,

the “new Adam” who is victorious over the Tempter.

He was faithful to you and obedient to your word.

In the sere desert of temptation,

he taught us the meaning of fidelity and inner strength.

He showed us how to trust in your provident care.

Heavenly Father,

you are kind, compassionate and forgiving.

When tempted to despair,

fill us with hope and strengthen us with your love.

Incline our hearts to your voice

and give heed to your life-giving word.

In this Lenten season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving,

fill us with healing love

and delight us with grace abounding,

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.

 

“At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” (Mt 4:1)

 

 

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

 

            Pray for those experiencing temptations and have succumbed to temptations. To help us participate more fully in Jesus’ victorious struggle against sin and evil, dedicate yourself to the classic Lenten trinomial program of PRAYER-FASTING-WORKS OF CHARITY.

 

 

***

March 10, 2014: MONDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (1)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Teaches Us to Love Our Neighbors”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Lv 19:1-2, 11-18 // Mt 25:31-46

 

  

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

 

Today’s weekday liturgy helps us to focus on almsgiving or “works of mercy” as a necessary Lenten practice. We will be judged on what we have done or failed to do for those who were hungry and thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, prisoners, those who, from the beginning of his ministry, Jesus declared blessed (Mt 5:1-12). Just as Jesus has identified himself with the needy, he likewise identifies himself with those who exercise works of mercy on their behalf. He recognizes as his own those who treat his “little ones” with compassion, the badge of belonging to the heavenly kingdom.

 

Lent is a privileged time to delve into the presence of Christ in the poor and vulnerable and our fraternal duty to care for them. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “If sometimes our poor people have had to die of starvation, it is not because God didn’t care for them, but because you and I didn’t give, were not instruments of love in the hands of God, to give them that bread, to give them that clothing; because we did not recognize Christ, when once more Christ came in distressing disguise.”

 

The works of mercy that are done as an exercise of love can be interpreted literally. But it must also be carried out creatively and with sensitivity to the “here and now” situations. The whole world has more than its share of the homeless and the hungry. We need to go beyond what is obvious. Indeed, there are thousands of ways to be of help and many more inspired efforts of personal giving.

 

The following article shows how to carry out creatively and sensitively the Lenten practice of almsgiving (cf. Jeanne Hunt, “Cleaning our Spiritual Closets” in ST. ANTHONY MESSENGER, February 12, 2012, p. 40).

 

6 Ways to Promote Selfless Giving

1. Volunteer at a nursing home. Take children with you and perhaps even the family pet. Many elderly people are lonely and love company.

2. Make a list of 40 people who would love to hear the sound of your voice. Call them, one person a day, and tell them that you love them.

3. Watch someone’s children so that he or she can have a break.

 4. Give 15 percent of your weekly salary to a family that has no income.

 5. Gather a group of friends and volunteer to do house repairs for single parents, elderly people or anyone in your parish who needs help.

6. Each day of Lent, practice a random act of compassion: Help someone to his or her car with groceries, give up lunch and give the money to a needy friend, clean up a mess that you did not make.

 

Service turns us into the hands and heart of Jesus Christ. By turning from self and serving others, we are becoming Christ’s living, breathing presence. This is what St. Augustine meant when he preached, “Become what you have eaten” (the Eucharist).

 

***

 

The living Word proclaimed in the liturgy challenges the faith community about the demands of Christian discipleship. Jesus teaches love for neighbors, which entails serving and caring for them in their need. The Old Testament reading (Lv 19:1-2, 17-18) provides a beautiful background to the Divine Master’s teaching to love our neighbors. True holiness demands that we be holy as God is holy by loving our neighbors in his “magnanimous” way. Listening to the voice of the Lord, we thus realize what holiness entails: overcoming hatred, wholesome fraternal correction, taking no revenge, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Indeed, the merciful God gently guides his chosen people on the path of holiness.

 

The liturgical scholar Adrian Nocent explains: “In this passage from the Book of Leviticus, an attempt is probably being made to establish proper social relations between members of the same clan … When all is said and done, we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The point of this saying is not that we are to cultivate similar emotions, but that we are to acknowledge our neighbor’s rights just as we want others to acknowledge ours, to respect others as we want others to respect us. The person who wishes to obey the Lord must be involved with his neighbor and must recognize the bonds that unite him to others.”

 

The following story gives insight into the meaning of Christian service of love and the social responsibility it entails (cf. Tammy Justice, “Sister” in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings, ed. Jack Canfield, et. al.  Cos Cob: Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, Llc, 2009, p. 1981-1982).

 

I don’t remember her name and would not recognize her if I were to pass her on the street. I don’t know if she is still living, as she was already elderly when I was a ten-year-old child some thirty years ago. But I do remember the kindness bestowed upon a group of underprivileged children by a stranger and the difference it has made in the life of one of those children. Me.

 

I remember the first time I saw her standing in the doorway of our small apartment. She was a petite, elderly woman who wore a long skirt, long wool coat and what I thought at the time was a hat reminiscent of the Roaring Twenties with its circular brim that lay flat against the head.

 

I could not hear what was being said as my stepfather, a man who liked no one, listened to her plead her case with such determination that I knew it had to be something she found of great importance. I was not told what was to happen that following Sunday.

 

A half hour before she arrived that Sunday, I was told to dress in my best clothes for I was going to church. She smiled brightly as I got into her car, the car of a complete stranger. I did not even know her name, but here I was, along with four others I recognized from our low-income neighborhood, on our way to church.

 

As we pulled into the parking lot, I remember how beautiful the old stone building was with its tall steeple and stained glass windows. The service seemed long, and not accustomed to the rituals of the Catholic Church, I felt out of place. But even as a child, I held a strong belief in God and felt at peace within those walls.

 

Once the service had ended, I expected to be taken home, but instead we headed in the opposite direction. We were taken to a small apartment with meager furnishings that portrayed a simple, unspoiled lifestyle. Two tables were set up with large boxes containing puzzles. As she made us hot chocolate, we were instructed to begin working the puzzles. It was a quiet time, free from the turmoil and constant criticism we would encounter when we returned home. And the soft words spoken by the woman we came to know only as “Sister” (I think she may have been a nun at one time) were a welcome comfort.

 

I came to look forward to Sundays. To hot chocolate, to puzzles that remained where we had left off the week before, and to the love I felt whenever Sister smiled at me.

 

Once our 1,000-piece puzzles had been completed, Sister no longer came to pick us up on Sundays. I was told she was ill and no longer able to travel. However, I wondered if perhaps it was time for her to “rescue” the next group of children. To give them hope that kindness still exists and can be found within those we call strangers.

 

I am forty-four years old now and have made it a point to show kindness to strangers when given the chance. I am told I am crazy and too trusting, but I know God will watch over me. I know Sister may not move amongst us now, but I hope she smiles when she sees that her efforts to reach out to those less fortunate continue in those whose lives she touched in that special way.

 

 

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

 

1. Do we make an effort to exercise the Lenten practice of almsgiving more meaningfully and creatively?

 

 

2. Do I endeavor to be holy as God is holy? Do I strive to love my neighbor as myself? Do I respond fully to the Christian call to holiness?  

 

 

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

 

Lord Jesus,

we thank you for the gift of Lent.

This season of grace forms us in the ways of charity

and teaches us the fraternal duty of almsgiving.

Make us sensitive to the needs of our brothers and sisters.

Help us to respond creatively with selfless giving.

Let our works of mercy

radiate in today’s troubled world your compassion,

the badge of nobility in your kingdom.

O loving Lord,

grant us the grace to be holy

in mind, heart, soul and body.

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 week. Please memorize it.

 

“Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25:40) // “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” (Lv 19:18)

 

 

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

 

Pray that the Christian call to holiness may be fully expressed in the service of love to our neighbors. Resolve to do a work of mercy each day, especially during the season of Lent, and ask the Lord for the grace to carry it out. 

 

***

March 11, 2014: TUESDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (1)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Teaches Us to Pray to the Father and to Trust in God’s Word”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 55:10-11 // Mt 6:7-15

 

 

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

 

We have memorized the Lord’s Prayer, but many times we pray it by rote. The season of Lent is a privileged time to delve into the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer and translate it into our daily life. Jesus teaches us that prayer is total surrender to his saving will. Saint Thomas Aquinas remarks: “The Lord’s Prayer is the most perfect of prayers … In it we ask, not only for all the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence that they should be desired. This prayer not only teaches us to ask for things, but also in what order we should desire them.” The first things we desire and pray for are divine glorification, i.e. the sanctification of the Father’s name, the coming of his kingdom and the accomplishment of his divine will. Only then could our petitions focus on human needs.

 

The Lord’s Prayer invites us to put absolute trust in the Father. The filial stance proposed by this model helps us to be ready, vigilant and more attuned to the divine will. To pray the “Our Father” is an exercise in self-surrender. It leads to spiritual maturity. The following “Cherokee Legend” gives insight into the complete trust and total vulnerability that the Lord’s Prayer requires in order to grow in faith.

 

Do you know the legend of the Cherokee Indian youths’ rite of passage? His father takes him into the forest, blindfolds him and leaves him alone. He is required to sit on a stump the whole night and not remove the blindfold until the rays of the morning sun shine through it. He cannot cry out for help to anyone.

 

Once he survives the night, he is a man. He cannot tell the other boys of his experience, because each lad must come into manhood on his own. The boy is naturally terrified. He can hear all kinds of noises. Wild beasts must surely be all around him. Maybe even some human might do him harm. The wind blew the grasses and earth, and shook his stump, but he sat stoically, never removing the blindfold. It would be the only way he could become a man!

 

Finally, after a horrific night the sun appeared and he removed his blindfold. It was then that he discovered his father sitting on the stump next to him. He had been at watch the entire night, protecting his son from harm.

 

***

 

The prophet Isaiah uses the image of the rain and snow that water the earth as a symbol of the efficacious power of God’s word. Indeed, the beautiful nature event of the rain and snow coming down from heaven to bring forth new life enables us to perceive the all-embracing providence of God. It inspires us to trust in the fruitfulness and vitalizing power of his saving word. In the context of the yearning of the Jewish exiles to return to their homeland and their longing for freedom that was as intense as a parched land, the word of God promising their return to Judah and the city of Jerusalem has a vitalizing power and efficacy that could be compared to the rain and snow watering the earth.

 

The following humorous experience illustrates how the word of God is present, alive and active in our life and reminds us that openness to divine grace should be our basic stance (cf. Rosanne McDowell in “Everyday Miracles”, COUNTRY WOMAN, June/July 2008, p. 57).

 

Some years ago, I was brushing my teeth and discovered a cavity in my wisdom tooth. In those days, my menus included more peanut butter than steak, so my budget simply had no room for a trip to the dentist. I trusted the Lord would help, but hoped He’d do it before my tooth became an emergency. Wistfully, I opened my Bible and read a passage at random. It was Psalm 81:10: “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” Thanks to an unexpected gift, I was soon able to visit the dentist. That experience taught me that God not only meets our needs, He does it with a sense of humor! 

 

 

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

 

1. Are we able to pray the Lord’s Prayer and mean what it says, especially the self-surrender?

 

2. What are the feelings and insights evoked in you by the rain and snow watering the earth to make it fruitful? Do you trust in the providence of God and the efficacy of his saving plan? 

 

 

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

 

Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name;

thy kingdom come;

thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread

and forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us;

and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

 

Loving Father,

we thank you for the rain and snow that water the earth.

They are a symbol of your benevolence

and the power of your Word.

In your Son Jesus, the incarnate Word,

you have watered the world with life and love.

Enable us to receive your Word

and make our hearts a “good soil” to make it fruitful.

We adore you and love you;

we thank you and serve 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.

 

“This is how you are to pray …” (cf. Mt 6:9) //“Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth making it fertile and fruitful … so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth.” (Is 55:10)

 

 

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

 

As you pray the Lord’s Prayer, offer to the heavenly Father the daily trials and difficulties you experience. Pray for the apostolate of Christian preachers that they may sow the seed of the Word of God effectively and bring about a harvest of goodness and conversion. By your service to the poor and the needy, allow the seed of the Word of God to bear abundant fruits.

 

***

 

March 12, 2014: WEDNESDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (1)

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Teaches Us to Perceive the Sign of Jonah”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Jon 3:1-10 // Lk 11:29-32

 

 

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

 

In light of the Lords’ Prayer, in which Jesus taught his disciples to pray for the advent of God’s kingdom, the demand of the unbelieving crowd for a “sign” is ironic, devious and out of place. They were asking for an awesome “sign” to confirm that Jesus’ power was coming from God. But no amount of miraculous signs could shed light on an unbelieving heart. The evil generation could not perceive that Jesus himself is the sign par excellence of the power of God. Like Jonah, the person of Jesus is a sign and means of salvation, though Jesus is a much greater sign than Jonah.

 

The season of Lent is a propitious time to delve into Jesus, the good news of salvation. He calls us to interior conversion and a radical turning away from sin. He destines us for a wondrous transformation through the way of the cross. He desires us to share in his Easter glory. Lent is a time to be more open to grace. The sacred time and space of Lent make us more sensitive and receptive to the wondrous sign of saving love, our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

The following charming story gives us a glimpse of the positive transforming effect of the Messiah “sign” (cf. Anthony De Mello, Taking Flight: A Book of Story Meditations, Image Books/Doubleday: New York, 1988, p. 51-52).

 

The Guru meditating in his Himalayan cave opened his eyes to discover an unexpected visitor sitting there before him – the abbot of a well-known monastery. “What is it you seek?” asked the Guru.

 

The abbot recounted a tale of woe. At one time his monastery had been famous throughout the western world. Its cells were filled with young aspirants and its church resounded to the chant of its monks. But hard times had come on the monastery. People no longer flocked there to nourish their spirits, the stream of young aspirants had dried up, the church was silent. There was only a handful of monks left and these went about their duties with heavy hearts.

 

Now this is what the abbot wanted to know. “Is it because of some sin of ours that the monastery has been reduced to this state?” “Yes”, said the Guru, “a sin of ignorance.” And what sin might that be?” “One of your numbers is the Messiah in disguise and you are ignorant of this.” Having said that the Guru closed his eyes and returned to his meditation.

 

Throughout the arduous journey back to his monastery the abbot’s heart beat fast at the thought that the Messiah – the Messiah himself – had returned to earth and was right there in the monastery. How was it he had failed to recognize him? And who could it be? Brother Cook? Brother Sacristan? Brother Treasurer? Brother Prior? No, not he; he had too many defects, alas. But then, the Guru had said he was in disguise. Could those defects be one of his disguises? Come to think of it, everyone in the monastery had defects. And one of them had to be the Messiah!

 

Back in the monastery he assembled the monks and told them of what he had discovered. They looked at one another in disbelief. The Messiah? Here? Incredible! But he was supposed to be here in disguise. So, maybe. What if it were so-and-so? Or the other one over there? Or …

 

One thing was certain. If the Messiah was there in disguise, it was not likely that they would recognize him. So they took to treating everyone with respect and consideration. “You never know”, they said to themselves when they dealt with one another, “maybe this is the one.”

 

The result of this was that the atmosphere in the monastery became vibrant with joy. Soon dozens of aspirants were seeking admission to the Order – and once again the church echoed with the holy and joyful chant of monks who were aglow with the spirit of love.

 

***

 

The Old Testament reading (Jon 3:1-5, 10), about the mission of the reluctant prophet Jonah to the “doomed” Ninevites, provides a meaningful backdrop to better understand Jesus’ messianic ministry. The Bible scholar Jean McGowan comments: “The very structure of the Book brings out the irony of a Prophet who benefits from the Lord’s mercy only to rebel because his mercy is extended to others. In the person of Jonah, the author satirizes those narrow-minded Israelites who, despite their long experience of the Lord’s mercy to themselves, begrudge the extension of his mercy to others. The author writes for those of his own day who yielded to the temptation of a covenanted people to limit God’s freedom. The application to our day is obvious.”

 

Against the somewhat comic background of the reluctant, obstinate prophet Jonah, the figure of the obedient Jesus as the true prophet, sent by God and anointed by the Holy Spirit to bring good news to the poor, becomes even more appealing. Totally committed to the Father’s will, Jesus Christ - the incarnation of the Gospel of God, is absolutely greater than the protesting Jonah, who was marked with parochialism and exclusivity.  Inwardly hoping that the Ninevites would remain in their evil ways and thus receive their just punishment from God’s wrath, the extremely prejudiced Jonah couched his message as a prophecy of doom: “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed” (Jon 3:4) and willfully omitted any reference to God’s mercy in his preaching lest those wicked people repent. In contrast, Jesus, who preached throughout Galilee, is not a bearer of doom, but of “good news” – the fulfillment of the divine saving plan and the coming of the kingdom of God.

 

The Christian disciples are called to be like the prophet “Jonah”, that is, to be a means of conversion for the “Ninevites” in our midst. The life of Blessed Anne Mary Taigi (1769-1837) shows how she became an instrument of conversion for the people around her (cf. “Blessed Anne Mary Taigi” in Our Sunday Visitor, December 2, 2012, p. 23).

 

A model woman, Blessed Anne Mary managed a large household in Rome for nearly five decades. She handled finances with little money, patiently cared for a difficult extended family and entertained a constant stream of guests. She did all this full of faith and good cheer.

 

At age 21, Anne Mary married Domenico Taigi, a servant in a Roman palace. They had seven children, two of whom died at childbirth. Early in her marriage Anne Mary experienced a religious conversion. She simplified her life, initiating practices of prayer and self-denial that she pursued the rest of her life.

 

Anne Mary took the spiritual lead in her family. The day began with morning prayer and Mass and ended with reading the lives of the saints and praying the Rosary. The Taigis had little of their own, but she always found ways of providing for those who had less. She also took in hard-to-get-along-with parents and her widowed daughter, Sophie, with her six children.

 

Domenico’s violent temper often disrupted the family. But Anne Mary was always able to calm him and restore peaceful relationships. In his old age, Domenico gave a touching tribute to his wife: “With her wonderful tact she was able to maintain a heavenly peace in our home. And that even though we were a large household full of people with different temperaments. I often came home tired, moody and cross, but she always succeeded in soothing and cheering me. And due to her, I corrected some of my faults. If I were a young man and could search the whole world for such a wife, it would be in vain. I believe that God has received her into heaven because of her great virtue. And I hope that she will pray for me and our family.”

 

We may imagine that becoming a saint requires heroics like founding a religious order or converting an aboriginal tribe. But Blessed Anne Mary shows us that the daily faithful care of a family requires more than enough heroism to make us holy.

 

 

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

 

1. Do I make a real effort to be sensitive, read and perceive the manifold Messiah “sign” around us? Do I welcome his saving presence in my life?

 

2. How do I assess my prophetic ministry in light of the work of Jonah and that of Christ? How do I share the message of the Gospel with others? What help do I extend to those who are especially dedicated to the ministry of evangelization in today’s world?

 

 

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

 

Lord Jesus,

you are the saving “sign” that surpasses Jonah.

You call us to conversion

and offer us the Gospel of salvation.

Your death on the cross is a great sacrament of salvation.

Lead us to Easter glory.

By our lives transformed,

make us limpid signs that point to you.

Give us the grace to help people love and serve you.

We welcome you and the heavenly kingdom you bring.

We love you, Jesus!

We wish to serve 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.

  

“Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.” (cf. Lk 11:30)

 

 

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

 

By your kindness and thoughtfulness to the people around you, enable them to perceive the Messiah “sign” that fills our world with hope. Pray for the conversion of sinners that they may renounce what is evil and turn to God in a spirit of repentance. Be a means of conversion for your family and all the people in your midst.

 

***

 

March 13, 2014: THURSDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (1)

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Teaches Us to Trust and Pray”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Est C:12, 14-16 // Mt 7:7-12

 

 

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

 

Today’s Gospel reading is very meaningful to me. When my 82-year old father was dying of cancer, I asked if there is any Bible passage he would like to propose to the priest for the celebration of the anointing of the sick. He said the one that says “Ask and you will receive … seek and you will find … knock and the door will be opened to you.” The priest from St. Edward Parish in Newark (CA), with pastoral sensitivity, used that Gospel at the Rite of the Anointing of my father. Our family received great comfort and inner strength from the celebration. My father died three weeks later. One beautiful legacy he left was his testimony of confident prayer and total surrender to the divine will.

 

Lent is a time for confident prayer. Jesus encourages us to approach God, our heavenly Father with trust and confidence. God the Father is always ready to give the blessings of the kingdom to those who seek him. The Divine Master teaches us the importance and efficacy of prayer. A human father, even with his imperfections, cares for his children. He will not give something harmful in answer to their requests for bread and fish. How much more, then, will our heavenly Father, the font of all goodness, provide what is good for those who pray to him and trust in him!

 

***

Lent is a time for confident prayer. Jesus encourages us to approach God, our heavenly Father with trust and confidence. God the Father is always ready to give the blessings of the kingdom to those who seek him. The Divine Master teaches us the importance and efficacy of prayer. His lesson on prayer finds a beautiful backdrop in today’s Old Testament reading about a valiant Jewish woman who has recourse to God in prayer. Queen Esther is depicted as prostrate on the ground, from morning until evening, praying for the salvation of her people. The prime minister, Haman, has plotted a pogrom against the Jews in the Persian Empire.  Faith in God triumphs and Queen Esther’s willingness to lay down her life eventually saves her people from destruction.

 

The prayer of Queen Esther is a confession of her total dependence on God as well as an avowal of divine righteousness. Her trust in God as her only help and protector buttresses her with courage to face even the ultimate sacrifice of laying down her life for her people. The courageous “even if I must die” stance of Esther continues to live on through history. The Irish martyr, Blessed Margaret Ball is a sterling example (cf. “Lives of the Saints: The Irish Martyrs” in ALIVE! January 2013, p. 15).

 

Margaret Bermingham was born about 1515 and grew up near the village of Skreen in Co. Meath. In 1530, aged 16, and six years before Parliament declared Henry VIII to be the supreme head of the Church of Ireland, Margaret married a Dublin merchant, Bartholomew Ball. A happy couple, they had many children, although, as was common in those times, only five survived into adulthood. Bartholomew, prosperous and influential in the city, was elected mayor of Dublin for the year 1553-1554. He died in 1568 leaving his widow and her children to look after his business and large household. The family retained its prominent and influential status. But trouble loomed.

 

Margaret was a devout and courageous Catholic and times were not only tough but also dangerous, given the hostility that now raged against the old faith. The Elizabethan reformers were relentless and ruthless in their zeal, and when Margaret’s eldest son, Walter, abandoned the Catholic faith, her heart was broken.

 

Then, in the 1580’s, came the Desmond Rebellion which cost the lives of the baker, Matthew Lambert, and his six companions, and Bishop Patrick O’Healy and Fr. Conn O’Rourke. It coincided with the election of Margaret’s apostate son Walter as Mayor of Dublin.

 

Margaret was wealthy and trained many young men and girls as servants. Many of them went into service and were in demand by other big households in the city. Margaret also gave shelter to priests who came into the city secretly to say Mass and administer the sacraments to the faithful Catholics who remained there. One of these, Fr. John Howlin, said of Margaret’s servants: “They were like students graduating from the best of schools. They won over for Christ not only their fellow men-servants and maid-servants, but very often their masters and mistresses as well.”

 

But all this was too much for Walter Ball. While he was no more than a businessman he tolerated his mother’s “illegal” activities. However, as Mayor, in the very year that the Desmond Rebellion spread into Leinster and erupted in Wicklow, on Dublin’s doorstep, he led the onslaught against the Catholics in the city.

 

Since his mother was one of the best known he mercilessly decided to have her arrested and thrown into prison. Margaret was now well into her sixties and suffering from severe arthritis. Unable to walk the streets to prison she was put on a hurdle and dragged there, subject to the ridicule of the crowds. She was imprisoned in the damp underground cells of Dublin Castle – where the young sons of the Northern chieftains, Red Hugh O’Donnell and Art O’Neill would be held hostage a few years later.

 

Every effort was made to persuade her to abandon her faith and sign the oath to the Queen. Had she done so she could have returned to the peace and comfort of her own home. They were wasting their time. Margaret was steadfast to the end. In 1584, after about three years in prison, she died from illnesses brought on by the conditions there.

 

 

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

 

1. Do we see the importance of prayer of petition? Do we trust in Jesus’ assurance of the efficacy of prayer?

 

2. Do we trust in the power of prayer? Like Queen Esther and Jesus, do we trust that God alone is our help and protection against adversity?

 

 

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

 

Jesus Lord,

thank you for teaching us to pray

and for encouraging us to pray to the heavenly Father

with a trusting heart.

We pray for the blessings of his kingdom.

We believe that we will receive abundant grace

for we have humbly asked for his love …

that we will find joy

for we have courageously sought his saving will …

and that we will enter heaven

for we have gently knocked at the door of his compassionate heart.

Thank you, Jesus,

for accompanying us through this season of Lent

with your wisdom and guiding light.

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.

 

“For everyone who asks receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Mt 7:8) // “Now help me, who am alone and have no one but you, O Lord, my God.” (Est C:14)

 

 

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

 

Make a prayer of petition on behalf of someone in need and in distress and complete this prayer with an act of surrender to the compassionate Father’s saving will. // When trials and adversities come, turn to God in confident prayer and ask for courage to overcome them.

 

***

March 14, 2014: FRIDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (1)

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Teaches Us that God Is Just and Is Forgiving”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Ez 18:21-28 // Mt 5:20-26

 

 

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

 

Jesus, the Divine Master, has a deep perception and comprehensive vision of the covenant law. He teaches that one could violate the prohibition, “Do not kill” not only in actual deed, but also in thought and word. The commandment against murder is violated when one inflicts physical, mental or spiritual injury on another. Anger, abusive language, evil thoughts are just as destructive and offensive as evil deeds. Hence, they must be managed, controlled and healed.

 

Lent is a time to heal and not to kill. We are called to reject violence and overcome sinful attitudes that could degenerate into “acted out” anger. Jesus summons us to spiritual maturity. We must therefore avoid rage, learn to manage our anger and be able to settle differences without violence. We must promote peace and healing by seeking reconciliation. The task of reconciliation is so impelling that it takes precedence over participating in temple worship. Moreover, disputes should be settled amicably to avoid further injury and the horrible punishments imposed by courtroom trials.

 

The following story illustrates an interior attitude that could result in peacefulness and reconciliation.

 

Two friends were walking through the desert. During some point of the journey, they had an argument and one friend slapped the other one in the face. The one who got slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, wrote in the sand: “TODAY MY BEST FRIEND SLAPPED ME IN THE FACE.”

 

They kept on walking until they found an oasis where they decided to take a bath. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and started drowning. But the friend saved him. After he recovered from the near drowning, he wrote on a stone: “TODAY MY BEST FRIEND SAVED MY LIFE.”

 

The friend who had slapped and saved his best friend asked him, “After I hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now, you write on a stone. Why?” The friend replied, “When someone hurts us we should write it down in the sand, where winds of forgiveness can erase it away. But when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it.”

 

Learn to write your hurts in the sand and to carve your benefits in stone.

 

***

 

The Old Testament reading (Ez 18:21-28) sheds light on the frustration and bitterness of the people in Israel who are relentlessly suffering from the onslaughts and domination of the Babylonians. Experiencing disaster upon disaster, the people cry out in confusion: “Whose fault is it?” Some of the more cynical may have repeated a proverb about children paying for their parents’ misdeeds: “Fathers have eaten green grapes, thus their children’s teeth are on edge” (Ez 18:1). Indeed, some of them are blaming others and even God for their misfortune. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God declares that his way is just and that each one is personally accountable for his or her actions. Indeed, the Lord’s way is beyond reproach. Today’s reading invites us to focus on the need to mend our sinful ways and to reinforce our personal options for our almighty and loving God.

  

The conversion of Wilton Wynn, a former TIME journalist, illustrates the life-giving choice of a person to enter into a deeper relationship with God. Wynn’s option for God has been inspired by Pope John Paul II.

 

After years of covering Pope John Paul II up close and personal, now retired TIME magazine Vatican correspondent Wilton Wynn converted to Catholicism. The reporter says it was all due to the Pope – who became his friend. Wynn, 84 – the same age as the Pope and once a non-practicing Baptist – recalled that when Pope John Paul II was elected in 1978 he was covering Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat, but he said he had a feeling that the new Pope “would be a real newsmaker … so I abandoned Sadat in favor of John Paul”, he told USA TODAY. (…)

 

The two became close and during their travels he discovered the Pope was reading his work. After he co-wrote a TIME cover story on the Pope’s visit to England’s Canterbury Cathedral in 1982, the Pope stopped by Wynn’s seat on the papal plane. “He reached out and took both of my hands and said, “You are a good journalist”. Wynn told the newspaper USA TODAY, “I felt like I’d won the Pulitzer Prize.”

 

In the late summer of 1985, before he retired for health reasons, Wynn took one last trip with the Pope to Liechtenstein. He recalled that the meeting rooms were so small that the reporters divided into teams called “pools” and shared their notes. “I wasn’t in the pool, so I went back to the hotel room to have a siesta. The phone rang. It was one of my colleagues saying, “Wilt, the Pope wants to see you.” I said, ‘Oh sure, and President Reagan called me this morning. And Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev a while ago. Now, the Pope.’ And I hung up and tried to get back to sleep.” Then he said his photographer came banging on the door saying, “Wilt, the Pope wants to see you.”

 

When Wynn saw the Pope he learned that John Paul II had stopped between meetings to give him a blessing for his retirement. “That was one of those times I just broke down. I wept. I can’t even remember what I said. I was overwhelmed.” Soon after, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls asked Wynn if he wanted to dine with the Pontiff. According to USA TODAY, Navarro-Valls had worked alongside Wynn as a correspondent and was aware that Wynn was thinking about becoming a Roman Catholic. That fall they had dinner together.

 

Wynn narrates: “The Pope came into the dining room wearing nothing but a white cassock, no headdress, no belt and he apologized to me for being so informal. The Pope had a few spoonfuls of his soup, and then pushed it aside, absorbed in the conversation. He was just so intense. I could see he was determined to make sure he was understood … He didn’t talk about my becoming a Catholic. He didn’t even ask what religion I was.” Wynn says he was bothered by the church’s opposition to certain kinds of lab research with human material, like embryonic stem cell research. “He said it is all based on the transcendent value of the human person. No human being must ever be treated as an object. That person is created in God’s image and therefore has infinite value.” Wynn says, adding that he left the dinner a changed man: “After dinner with the Pope, I said, ‘I believe’. I don’t care if it looks crazy or irrational. You don’t have to try to enforce this on anybody else, but you accept it and you do it, or you don’t.”

 

In April 1987, Wynn and his wife, Leila, a Protestant, joined the church together and a few days later, John Paul invited them to a Mass in his private chapel in the Vatican.

 

 

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

 

1. What does God’s command, “Thou shall not kill” mean to me? Did I ever break this command?

 

2. Do we endeavor to make our daily choices in life more consistent with the will of God? Are we aware that personal responsibility and the fundamental choice for God are life-giving for us and can inspire others to commit themselves to God?

 

 

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

 

O Jesus, Divine Master,

teach us the ways that lead to life.

In you, we learn the meaning of God’s command, “Do not kill”.

You call us to renounce violence

and all attitudes that inflict harm and injury.

Deliver us from evil thoughts, words and deeds.

Give us the grace to be kind and merciful.

Let us be reconciled with God

and with our brothers and sisters.

Help us to be responsible for our choices and our deeds.

We serve you, O 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.

 

 “Go first and be reconciled with your brother.” (Mt 5:24) // “Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” (Ez 18:25b) 

 

 

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

 

Make a serious effort to deal with explosive anger and rage within you. If needed, seek professional help. By your words, actions and deeds help the people of today to make responsible choices for God.

 

***

 

March 15, 2014: SATURDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (1)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Teaches Us to Observe the Covenant and Imitate the Father’s Perfect Love”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Dt 26:16-19 // Mt 5:43-48

 

 

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

 

In his paschal journey to Easter glory, the Divine Master teaches us that reaching out to people in caring and forgiving love fulfills the covenant and is true righteousness. Jesus interprets the “love of neighbor” command in a radically comprehensive way. The “love of neighbor” imperative includes love of enemies and those outside a traditional group and fellowship. Jesus uses the Father’s universal love and all-embracing providence as the standard and measure of loving. God graciously sends rain and sunshine to all his children, whether good or bad. Jesus exhorts us to imitate the Father’s perfect love. This love is said to be “perfect” because it is complete, whole, entire, undivided – and therefore includes even our “enemies” and “outsiders” or “foreigners”. Indeed, the “perfect” love of God is all-inclusive.

 

We are the children of God. We prove our family belonging by imitating the Father’s love for all. The holiness of our lives radiates the wholeness and completeness of his compassion for all. The Father’s perfect love obliges us to pray for our persecutors and treat with forgiving love those who have harmed us. In Jesus Christ, who revealed the deepest meaning of “perfect love” by his death on the cross, we find the healing strength to forgive.

 

Lent is a propitious time to delve into the Father’s call to perfect love. The following article gives insight into what perfect love entails (cf. Paul Gray, “Finding the Healing Strength to Forgive” in CARENOTES series, St. Meinrad: Abbey Press, 2011, p. 5-6).

 

On a summer morning in 2002, an armed man with unknown motives entered the quiet monastery of Concepcion Abbey in Missouri. He shot and killed two monks and seriously wounded two others before taking his own life in the abbey’s basilica. A few days later, in his homily during the funeral Mass, Abbot Gregory Polan urged the monastic community and all those present to join him in prayer not only for the dead and injured monks, but also for the gunman.

 

“When brutal deeds are enacted, it calls for heroic and radical forgiveness”, he said during the homily. “Such acts of violence as happened here … could only have come from someone in desperate need of help. Hatred, anger, and an unwillingness to forgive only keep us crippled and bound by the evils that surround us. If we endure evil and do not allow it to conquer us, we will share in the victory of Jesus Christ, in the hidden resurrection of Jesus.”

 

Small matter or large, whatever the extent of our hurt, we can be confident that we can forgive because Christ will be present, working in and through us. As we say frequently, “for God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26). That is not to say that forgiving should be quick and easy. It is a process – often long and arduous. The journey of forgiveness begins one day at a time. And it is necessary if we are to move on with our lives. To hold onto our hurts and grievances hurts us. As Bud Welch said, “Vengeance solves no problems.”

 

***

 Today’s Old Testament reading is about the covenant relationship that God establishes with his people Israel. A distinguishing element of the covenant is the Chosen People’s wholehearted observance of God’s commandments, statutes and decrees. The Lord and Israel are now bound to each other by a treaty. Israel believes exclusively in the Lord God and the Lord makes Israel as the only treasured people of God, holy to the Lord. The people assert their allegiance to God. Through Moses, God assures them of the blessings that come to the obedient. The Old Testament covenant will be superseded by the New Covenant that Jesus would inaugurate by the sacrifice of his body and the pouring out of his blood on the cross

 

As Christian disciples, we need to live by the covenant that he has ratified by the Lord Jesus’ life-giving sacrifice. Mary McEvoy, 17, a former Irish Dancing World Champion, shares her experiences of living up to the challenges of the covenant relationship with God (cf. “What God Means to Me!” in ALIVE! January 2013, p. 13).

 

I grew up in a Catholic family, learning the virtues and values that came with my faith. Like any other Catholic child, I was baptized, made my First Confession, First Communion and my Confirmation, aged 11. I’d say that my relationship with God began with my birth and was strengthened by these sacraments.

 

I’d like to think that I am your typical teenager who goes to school and likes to socialize with her friends. However, on the 16th November 2012, I went to Corrymeela in north Antrim with the Search youth organization for a retreat. I really feel my relationship with God came to the forefront of my life with that retreat.

 

In our secular society, driven by materialism, it is easy to forget God and our faith. With atheism growing and religion being pushed aside, many people, young and old, are disregarding their faith altogether. Unfortunately, I was beginning to do this myself, and so I believe that the Search weekend could not have come at a better time for me. With the help of the leaders and our spiritual director for the weekend, who gave some inspirational talks, my relationship with God was renewed and rejuvenated. I was reminded of how important my faith is to me, especially in this society when God is so easily forgotten. And I did forget him.

 

With school and my hobby, Irish Dancing, taking up so much time of my life, I drifted away from my faith and forgot the values that were important. During the weekend, I learnt so much. I learnt that being a Catholic is nothing to be ashamed of; that it is a privilege to have religious faith and to be a Catholic, especially in today’s society when those with faith are mocked. Because of this and the anti-faith movement that seems to be developing, I was beginning to lose my faith.

 

But over the course of the weekend I learnt that we all have a “God-shaped” hole in our hearts and that we have an infinite capacity for joy and happiness that can be filled only by God. I also learnt that faith is knowledge; it is not an alternative to knowledge. Jesus sacrificed his life so that we could live ours to the full, and as my relationship with him has strengthened, I realize this more and more. He is the center of our lives and at the heart of our faith and I now learn from his example of how to live. (…)

 

 

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

 

1. Do we try to imitate the Father’s perfect and all-inclusive love for all – even our “enemies”? Are we able to forgive them and pray for them?

 

2. How do we live out our covenant relationship with God? Do we realize that we are a people holy and consecrated to the Lord?

 

 

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

 

Lord Jesus,

you teach us the meaning of the covenant

and call us to imitate the Father’s love.

God sends the warming sun and life-giving rain to all.

In the same way, we wish to reach out compassionately to all.

Help us to contemplate the perfect love you revealed

by your sacrificial death on the cross.

And in your sacred passion,

may we find the healing strength to forgive.

Be with us as we journey and grow in divine love, day by day.

We love you 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 week. Please memorize it.

 

            “Love your enemies.” (Mt 5:44) // “You will be a people sacred to the Lord, your God, as he promised.” (Dt 26:19) 

 

 

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

 

Be gracious to anyone who slighted and/or hurt you and pray for the healing of the relationship between you and that person. During this Lenten season, give quality time to meditate on the Ten Commandments so that you may better put them into practice.

 

***

 

 

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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