A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday & Weekday Liturgy

 

 

BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (Series 15, n. 16)

Second Week of Lent: March 12-18, 2017

 

 

(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 of Year C from various perspectives. For the Lectio Divina on the liturgy of the past week: March 5-11, 2017, please go to ARCHIVES Series 15 and click on “1st Week of Lent”.

 

Below is a LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY - WEEKDAY LITURGY: March 12-18, 2017.)

 

*** *** ***

 

 March 12, 2017: SUNDAY – SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT

  “JESUS SAVIOR: He Is Transfigured in Glory”

 

 

BIBLICAL READINGS

Gn 12:1-4a // 2 Tm 1:8b-10 // Mt 17:1-9

 

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mt 7:1-9): “Jesus’ face shone like the sun.”

          

Elizabeth Sherill, a veteran writer who suffers from an arthritic neck, writes about an eventful meeting that she and her husband, John, had with Berendina Maazel, an 81-year old widow who needs a motorized wheelchair to move more than few steps (cf. “Berendina’s Dream” in Guideposts magazine, February 2005, p.10-12). At the age of 17, during the German occupation of Holland where she was born, Berendina became ill with a strange malady that left her in complete agony. Totally paralyzed for six months, she almost died in a looted ward where his father, a doctor, worked. Later diagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis, her vicious illness would never allow her to have a single hour free of pain, for all her life.

 

A gifted artist, Berendina is a tiny, bone-thin woman with a ravaged face, a crooked spine and terribly twisted hands. But there is a beauty about her, some quality that Elizabeth couldn’t define. When she asked Berendina, “How did you ever keep going?” The latter answered, “By hanging onto my dreams!” Her father told her that when God plants a dream, he also provides the strength to reach for it. Indeed, Berendina did not allow her malady to stifle her dreams. She did fulfill her dreams to go to art school, to work in her chosen field of stage design, to travel, and to get married. While recuperating at Los Angeles Orthopedic Surgery from yet another surgery, Berendina requested an aide to wheel her to meet the other patients. When she was brought to the children’s wing and saw the youngsters in wheelchairs, God gave her the biggest dream of all. The dream: to help provide the resources for handicapped children that had not been available for her. She fulfills this dream by painting and 100 % of the proceeds from her paintings benefit the work with children.

 

Elizabeth’s final narrative seems to be a modern day Transfiguration account. “Berendina’s studio is at the rear of the house, about as far as she can walk. Night had fallen while we talked, but when we entered the studio it was like stepping into the sunlight. Radiant landscapes, vibrant flowers, soaring birds! What was the special feeling in that room? Joy, certainly. Beauty. Wellness – not a hint that the painter of these canvases had ever suffered a moment’s ill health. Yes, the room was alive! Alive like the woman who for 64 years has looked through pain to her dreams.”

 

The Transfiguration account (Mt 17:1-9) proclaimed in the liturgical assembly a the Second Sunday of Lent is meant to illumine the Lenten spiritual journey of the Church toward the Easter glory. The liturgical scholar Adrian Nocent remarks: “The choice of this particular pericope is important, and we must dwell on it for a moment. Here the Church has her catechumens gathered before her. She has already introduced them to an austere life like that of Moses and Elijah. Now she takes them, along with the apostles, to the transfiguration. Christ will indeed be glorified, but he will reach that state by passing through suffering and death. The Church thus presents a program embracing the whole life of anyone who wants to enter the baptismal font and model his life upon that of Christ. Evidently, on the very first Sunday of Lent we find ourselves already at the heart of the paschal mystery, for this mystery can be summed up by saying that through his Cross Christ entered into his glory.”

 

The Gospel passage situates the wondrous event of Christ’s transfiguration on a high mountain (Mt 17:1). According to traditional opinion, this refers to Mount Tabor, but some biblical scholars favor Carmel or the visually appropriate Hermon. Still others, like John McKenzie and Benedict Viviano think that no localization is necessary. John McKenzie remarks: “It is far more probable that this mountain, like the mountain of the Sermon (Mt 5:11) has no geographical location. It is the symbolic mountain on which the events of Sinai are re-enacted in the life of the new Moses.”

 

According to Matthew’s account, Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James and John, the intimate circle of disciples who would be together with him in his agony at Gethsemani (cf. Mt 26:37). “His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light” (Mt 17:2). That his face shines like the sun evokes the incident when Moses comes down from the mountain of Sinai, carrying the two Tablets of the Testimony in his hands (cf. Ex 34:29-35). The skin on his face is extremely radiant after speaking with Yahweh. It shines so much that Aaron and all the sons of Israel would not venture near him. Moses would thus put a veil over his face when he has finished talking to them. Like Moses’ radiance resulting from his encounter with God on Mount Sinai, the brilliance of Jesus at the new mount of revelation emanates from the glorious God. Indeed, he is more than Moses, for Jesus is the brightness of the Father’s glory - the radiance of God himself. Transfigured on a high mountain, Jesus reflects and brings to fulfillment that brilliance promised in Is 60:1-3, 19-20: “Arise, shine out, for your light has come, the glory of Yahweh is rising on you … No more will the sun give you daylight, nor moonlight shine on you, but Yahweh will be your everlasting light, your God will be your splendor …”

 

At the transfiguration event, the clothes of Jesus become white as light. Martin Connell remarks: “In the Gospel of Matthew, one will not find a mention of white garments again until chapter 28, where the two angels at the tomb proclaim the Resurrection. In the rite of baptism for infants and for adults, the newly baptized are clothed with a white garment … as a participation in the life of Christ, who, in his Transfiguration and Resurrection, is living in the Church and the world … The garments of the newly baptized at Easter are white as light, as was your own baptismal garment when you were brought into the Church.”

 

Indeed, the brilliant garments of the transfigured Christ give us a glimpse of the radiance of the Easter morn. Moreover, the baptized whose sins are forgiven through the blood of Christ and rise to new life with him, are called to live their astounding vocation of radiating the saving light of Christ to the world and are challenged to live faithfully their baptismal consecration.

 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 556, underlines the implication of the Lord’ baptism and his transfiguration for our life: “On the threshold of the public life: the baptism; on the threshold of the Passover: the Transfiguration. Jesus’ baptism proclaimed the mystery of the first regeneration, namely, our Baptism. The Transfiguration is the sacrament of the second regeneration: our own Resurrection. From now on we share in the Lord’s Resurrection through the Spirit who acts in the sacraments of the Body of Christ. The Transfiguration gives us a foretaste of Christ’s glorious coming, when he will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body. But it also recalls that it is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.”

 

Finally, St. Augustine reiterates the necessity of total participation in Christ’s paschal mystery, which the mystery of Transfiguration entails: “Peter did not yet understand this when he wanted to remain with Christ on the mountain. It has been reserved for you, Peter, but for after death. For now, Jesus says: Go down to toil on earth, to serve on earth, to be scorned and crucified on earth. Life goes down to be killed; Bread goes down to suffer hunger; the Way goes down to be exhausted on his journey; the Spring goes down to suffer thirst; and you refuse to suffer?

 

 

B. First Reading (Gn 12:1-4a): “The call of Abraham, the father of God’s people.”

 

The Old Testament readings of the Sundays of Lent highlight important moments in the formation of Israel as a nation. The Old Testament passage read last Sunday from the book of Genesis about the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve in the primeval garden (Gen 2:7-9; 3:1-7) created the necessary backdrop for the appearance of heroic figures in salvation history – those who would promote the saving plan of the merciful, loving and gracious God. Today and in the coming Sundays, we shall listen to episodes in the lives of our forefathers Abraham, Moses and David, which are significant for our life as Church - the new Israel - the covenant nation formed by the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ.

 

This Sunday we hear God calling Abraham to be the father of nations and the patriarch’s marvelous, obedient response to the divine call. Through Abraham’s faith and trust in Yahweh’s benevolent initiative, humanity’s compulsive path to destruction is radically changed. The call of Abraham, the father of God’s people, and the transfiguration of Jesus, Abraham’s sterling progeny, inspire the Church to take greater cognizance of our own vocation to grace and glory. Our fascinating destiny is to be with God and be replete with his merciful and bounteous blessings of light, joy and peace through intimate participation in the paschal mystery of Jesus, the beloved and obedient Servant-Son of Yahweh.

 

The following story illustrates how Sandra Lee opened herself to future possibilities and painstakingly pursued her true destiny (cf. Sandra Lee, “Recipe for Success” in Family Circle, November 1, 2007, p. 83-88). Known for her best-selling Semi-Homemade cookbooks and food network show, Sandra had a tragic past, but succeeded in turning her tragedy into triumph. Like Abraham and Jesus, she trod the difficult path and responded to her vocation to grace and glory.

 

I was about two years old when my mother, Vicky, dropped my younger sister Cindy and me off at Grandma Lorraine’s house in Santa Monica, California, one sunny afternoon in 1968, promising to return shortly. We didn’t see her again for four years. Grandma Lorraine was the mother of my birth father, Wayne. Vicky and Wayne were typical high school sweethearts. They filed for divorce about two years after they said, “I do,” somewhere around Cindy’s first birthday. I started calling Grandma Lorraine “Mommy,” and Vicky became a distant memory.

 

Grandma Lorraine loved being in the kitchen. Some of my fondest memories are of baking with her. Grandma’s vanilla cake with butter cream frosting was my favorite. She also knew how to stretch a dollar better than anyone, mostly because she had to. She taught me to save money at an early age, opening my very own savings account when I was four … These were important lessons that would come in very handy a few years later. Grandma Lorraine reminded us what a gift life is and how important it was to embrace the joy in each and every day. She’d talk about all the possibilities that tomorrow could bring.

 

Not long after my sixth birthday, Vicky came back into our lives. She arrived with her new husband, Richard. Vicky and Richard tried to explain that they were our mom and dad, but I wondered why these strangers wanted to take us away. Slowly I adjusted to my new life in Marina del Rey. (…)

 

Richard was transferred to Washington State for his job as computer programmer, and everything changed. Vicky’s mood was becoming unpredictable and more volatile. Three years later Richard left Vicky, and at age 12 I became mom, sister, caretaker and homemaker of our family. There were six of us in the house – Richie and Johnny were born after we moved to Washington State – but I was the one looking after everyone. Vicky spent her days lying on the couch, taking pills and screaming at us. When the welfare check arrived, I’d bike to the bank to deposit it. Then I paid our bills to ensure our gas and electricity weren’t shut off. Next I’d use the food stamps to stock the kitchen as best I could. I was so glad Grandma had taught me how to cook and be frugal, because there was no other way for us to make it through. (…)

 

One morning before school, when I was 15, Vicky looked me in the eyes and said, “You are going to be so much more than I am when you grow up.” It was the only compliment I can remember her ever giving me. As usual I said nothing, but I couldn’t help thinking that I was going to be so much more than she in ways she couldn’t possibly imagine. I wanted to be the opposite of Vicky – kind, generous, supportive and nurturing, thoughtful and disciplined. I stared at her in disgust until I could no longer contain myself and said, “You’re right. I am going to be more than you.” The words stunned us both. She flew into an uncontrollable rage and grabbed me. Her punches were landing fast and hard – I could barely catch my breath. I lay there thinking this had to end or I would die. She beat me until she was done.

 

I called my boyfriend, Duanne, and when he arrived at the house, he took one look at me and said, “Go pack. You are not coming back.” I moved in with Duanne’s family until I could decide what to do next. I contacted Grandma Lorraine and she told me that Wayne and his girlfriend Patty were moving to Wisconsin and would love to have me live with them. I left for Wisconsin on June 30, 1982, three days before my sixteenth birthday … I discovered I had a knack for putting together business outlines and marketing plans and decided to pursue a business degree. (…)

 

I decided to create a total lifestyle company … I wanted to design solution-based products that would make women heroes in their home. I noticed that one group not being served in the marketplace was women who didn’t have enough time to whip up tasty meals from scratch … I decided to refocus my energies by closing down the lifestyle company and writing my first cookbook … I decided to name my cookbook and approach to cooking Semi-Homemade … I sold Semi-Homemade Cooking primarily through television channels and small book sellers. It was an instant hit. (…)

 

The only way to move forward is to live an authentic life and be true to who you really are. I was dealt a hand that might have had a different outcome if I ever allowed myself to feel like a victim. Resilience is key. Learning to stand strong in the face of challenge and adversity is my secret to survival. Picking up and moving forward is the only thing we can do. And making your life matter is the most important thing of all.

 

 

C. Second Reading (II Tm 1:8b-10): “God has saved us and called us to be holy.”

 

The mystery of the “seeds of becoming” that was at work in Abraham’s faith response and which reached its radical fruition in Christ’s life-giving sacrifice continues in the life of the Church. This Sunday’s Second Reading (II Tm 1:8b-10) underlines that we are called “to become” holy. Holiness, however, is not a personal achievement, but a response to the divine initiative to save us in Jesus Christ, who overcame the power of death and gave us the gift of eternal life. Responding to Saint Paul’s exhortation, we must take our part in suffering for the Good News as God gives us the strength for it. Personally and as a community of faith, by proclaiming the Gospel with great love, generosity and sacrifice, we sow the “seeds of becoming” and nurture their growth.

 

Our vocation-response to holiness entails small steps and humble beginnings. Our transformation in Christ is a gradual process. Our glorious destiny as children of God has the dynamism and energy of the “seeds of becoming”. Indeed, “little seeds, little deeds” are the starting point of miraculous transformation. The Scotland-based writer, Margaret Silf explains this beautifully in the following article (cf. “Little Seeds, Little Deeds” in America, November 22, 2010, p. 9).

 

Our economic troubles in the United Kingdom may soon be over. A 6-year-old girl heard our prime minister speaking of the hardships that lie ahead in the effort to bring the nation out of recession. She had just lost one of her baby teeth, and the tooth fairy had left her a pound coin in its place. Realizing the severity of the nation’s economic plight, she taped her pound coin to a letter that she sent to David Cameron with the request that he should use it “to make the country better and pay for jobs”.

 

The story touched all our hearts, and, of course, the pound was sent back to the sender, thanking her sincerely for her generosity but suggesting that Mr. Cameron would like her to spend it on something nice for herself. He was, however, reported to observe that if we all sent our tooth-fairy money, Britain would soon be on the road to recovery.

 

Would that it were so simple! Yet this story touches a deep truth. A 6-year-old gives away all she has so that someone else might benefit. She has it completely right. Miracles happen when we put the common good before our own personal gratification. The tiniest thing can be the start of a miracle. In fact, the smaller the better, if Jesus’ parables are an indication of the divine dynamic. Little seeds, little deeds are the almost invisible beginnings from which transformation grows.

 

Perhaps our problem with miracles is that we try to get at them from the wrong end. We strive to see the end of the miracle – the great transformation, the unexpected cure, the new life where there was none before. But we very rarely notice the start of the miracle. This is a great pity because, actually, these almost small beginnings of the miraculous are all around us. It is a bit like going through the countryside and, because we are in the right place in the right season, happening to see a tree laden with fruit or a field ripe with corn.

 

What we do not see is the puff of wind that blows a seed through the air to land in the place where new growth might begin or the moment when a little bird flies off with a berry in its beak and drops it in a place where it can germinate and grow into a whole new berry-bearing plant.

 

Many years ago, I spent a morning in the Spanish Pyrenees meandering along the banks of a tiny mountain stream. That night in the apartment where I was staying, I was kept awake by the constant roar of the nearby power plant, which was keeping the entire region supplied with electricity. The trickle of clear mountain water that had delighted me in the morning had become the means of sustaining life for a whole community down the valley.

 

I had witnessed the start of a miracle, and when you have seen one miracle beginning, you start to notice some of the many others gestating in the world around you. You may see, for example, how a word of encouragement turns a whole life around from despair to hope or how an apparent misfortune can open our minds to fresh perspectives and change the direction of our lives. The thing about miracles, of course, is that they usually take time. Perhaps that is the hidden gift of time – the opportunity to grow miracles in it.

 

I was spooning some cauliflower cheese into my baby granddaughter’s eager mouth one day, when a sudden realization dawned. “Do you know what?” I asked her, “You are performing a miracle here. We are turning a cauliflower into a little girl!” She smiled her approval and went on with her part in the miracle as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

 

Perhaps it is. Perhaps the kingdom of God is the endpoint of the entire miracle we call life on earth, and each of us carries a seed of its beginnings, to plant and water or not as we choose. We may never see what it becomes, but time will.

 

 

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

 

1. What is the meaning of the Lord’s transfiguration for me? Does it enable me to see the Lord’s passion and the world’s sufferings in the context of the Easter glory?

 

2. What is significant in the story of the call of Abraham? How did his positive and total response change the course of human history? How do we respond to our vocation to grace and glory?

 

3. What is our response to the divine call to holiness? Do we welcome the mystery of the “seeds of becoming” and the dynamism of our vocation to glory?

 

 

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

 

Loving God,

we thank you for calling Abraham

to make the journey of faith

that would make him the father of nations

and the patriarch of your covenant people.

We thank you for your Son-Servant Jesus Christ

and for his obedience to your benevolent plan to save all.

We thank you for the Lord’s transfiguration on the mountain

and for grace-filled glimpses into his divine glory.

We thank you for small beginnings

that lead to miraculous transformation.

We thank you for “seeds of becoming”

that bear glorious fruits.

We thank you for giving us strength

to sow the “seeds of the Gospel”.

We thank you for our privileged destiny

in your heavenly kingdom.

We thank you for allowing “small seeds … small deeds” to grow

into fruit-laden trees along the river of living water.

For these and for all,

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.

 

“Jesus was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.”  (Mt 17:2)

 

 

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

 

Pray that the “seeds of transformation… of becoming” may continue its dynamic growth in today’s world. By your acts of charity, enable those in extreme difficulty to have a glimpse of their future destiny and respond to their vocation to grace and glory.

 

 

*** *** ***

 

March 13, 2017: MONDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (2)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is Kind and Merciful”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Dn 9:4b-10 // Lk 6:36-38

  

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 6:36-38): “Forgive and you will be forgiven.”

 

In our Lenten journey, Jesus invites us to immerse ourselves in the ocean of divine mercy and experience deeply the forgiving love of God. In the Gospel reading (Lk 6:36-38), the Divine Master urges us to be merciful just as the heavenly Father is merciful. Called to be like the Father, we need to be compassionate and generous in forgiving. We have undeservedly experienced the love of God and have been made whole by his forgiveness. Healed by his forgiving love, we are able to let go of bitterness and anger. We are able to view reality in the perspective of God’s abundant goodness and mercy. To be merciful as the Father is merciful and to be forgiving as he is forgiving enable us to savor the abundant riches of his grace.

 

The following article illustrates that it is possible to be merciful and forgiving (cf. Paul Gray, “Finding the Healing Strength to Forgive” in CARENOTES Catholic Perspectives Series, St. Meinrad: Abbey Press, p.2-4).

 

People were amazed when American Emmett E. “Bud” Welch pleaded against the death penalty for Timothy McVeigh, convicted in the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building. There was no question of Bud’s love for his daughter, Julie-Marie, senselessly killed in the bomb blast. He ached with longing for this daughter with whom he had regularly shared conversations over lunch, or that other Catholic meal, the Eucharist.

 

It was hard for many Americans, including Catholics, to understand Bud’s journey from raging anger to forgiveness. And yet, this journey was the only one that Bud could make. Retaining his rage, demanding death for death, made no sense to him, and, he asserted, Julie-Marie could not have wanted it. So he appealed relentlessly for sparing the life of McVeigh.

  

 

B. First Reading (Dn 9:4b-10): “We have sinned, been wicked and done evil.”

 

In the Old Testament reading (Dn 9:4b-10), the prophet Daniel is depicted as praying. He has been praying for enlightenment regarding the destiny of his nation, and he has been pleading to God earnestly for his people. He accompanies his prayer with fasting, wearing sackcloth, and sitting in ashes. He confesses to God the disobedient sinfulness of the covenant people. He acknowledges their shameful deeds and their rejection of the divine commands. They have not listened to the prophets and have been rebellious. While admitting the nation’s guilt, the prophet Daniel likewise puts his trust in divine mercy and forgiveness. He reminds God: “But yours, O Lord, our God, are compassion and forgiveness.” Daniel’s acknowledgment of public guilt and his supplication for the restoration of God’s people is a fitting background for the person of Jesus who incarnates the divine compassion and forgiveness. Aware of our sinfulness and the undeserved mercy we have received, Jesus exhorts us: “Forgive and you will be forgiven.”

 

The following story gives us insight into the meaning of sin as a negation of God and his gracious love (cf. Bechkah Fink, “The Bible” in Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul, ed. Jack Canfield, et. al, Deerfield Beach: Health Communications, Inc., 1997, p. 154).

 

A young man from a famous family was about to graduate from high school. It was the custom in that affluent neighborhood for the parents to give the graduate an automobile. Bill and his father had spent months looking at cars, and the week before graduation they found the perfect car. Bill was certain that the car would be his on graduation night.

 

Imagine his disappointment when, on the evening of his graduation, Bill’s father handed him a gift-wrapped Bible! Bill was so angry, he threw the Bible down and stormed out of the house. He and his father never saw each other again. It was the news of his father’s death that brought Bill home again.

 

As he sat one night, going through his father’s possessions that he was to inherit, he came across the Bible his father had given him. He brushed away the dust and opened it to find a cashier’s check, dated the day of his graduation, in the exact amount of the car they had chosen together.

 

 

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

 

1. Have we accepted the forgiving love of God, and did we allow it to transform us into a more merciful and forgiving person?

 

2. Do we have the humility and sincerity to acknowledge our sins and failings? Are we willing to confess our sins and wisely avail of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation? Do we trust in the merciful and forgiving God?

 

 

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

 

Lord Jesus,

we listen to your voice calling us to mercy and forgiveness.

We are steeped in the divine saving love.

Grant that we may always share with others

your forgiving love.

Let us be generous in mercy

that we may bring wholeness to brokenness,

healing to pain,

and the gift of peace to raging anger.

We continue to journey with you, Jesus,

in our daily pilgrimage to Easter glory.

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.

 

“But yours, O Lord, our God, are compassion and forgiveness!” (Dn 9:9) // “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Lk 6:36-38)

 

 

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

 

Resolve to be forgiving and merciful to those who have hurt or offended you. Make an effort to control your anger and replace it with gentle sentiments and kind thoughts.

 

 

*** %%% *** %%% *** %%% ***

 

   

March 14, 2017: TUESDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (2)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Teaches Us to Do Good and Justice”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 1:10, 16-20 // Mt 23:1-12

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mt 23:1-12): “They preach but they do not practice.”

(By Rodelio F. Paglinawan, Society of Mary Queen of Apostles)

 

            In today’s Gospel (Mt 23:1-12), we can learn two things that may be beneficial for our day-to-day living. These are: (1) practice what we preach and, (2) the virtue of humility. Although these two can be taken separately, they are closely intertwined in this Gospel.

 

           I remember a story about a teacher who taught her pupils to keep themselves and their surroundings clean and neat at all times. She even taught them how to help clean their houses. She told them how she hated the sight of a dirty house and its filthy surroundings. Her pupils were happy about the lesson, but hated the way it was taught to them. They thought that their teacher was conceited. One day, her pupils visited her in her house. To their disgust, they saw a lot of spider webs in her house. The floors were littered with so many things and a few cats feasted at the table on the leftover food. The teacher was so embarrassed when she saw her pupils’ reaction at what they had witnessed.

 

 

B. First Reading (Is 1:10, 16-20): “Learn to do good; make justice your aim.”

 

In the Old Testament Reading (Is 1:10, 16-20), the Lord God speaks through the prophet Isaiah and urges his people to change their lives. The rulers of Jerusalem are like those of Sodom and Gomorrah, notorious and doomed to destruction on account of their depravity. God reprimands his chosen people for their false worship and social injustice. Their hands are covered with blood not only because of the “bloody” animal sacrifices but, above all, because of the violence of their lives. God invites them to wash themselves clean, not in the sense of physical cleansing, but an interior cleansing of the heart. He exhorts them to do justice by caring for the oppressed, by giving orphans their rights and by defending the widows. Couched in stern warning, the divine message nevertheless gives his people hope. God intends and desires to forgive them, but the erring people needs to respond obediently to his saving word and be converted. And part of the conversion process is to care for our needy brothers and sisters.

 

Conversion is possible for the Israelites and for us in the here and now. We need to follow and obey Jesus, his voice urging us to do justice. It is urgent to make a fundamental choice for good and righteousness against that of evil. In our modern society, Mike McGarvin (“Papa Mike”), the founder of Poverello House, shows us what it means to make an option for the poor and vulnerable (POVERELLO NEWS, January 2012, p. 1-2).

 

Floppy isn’t a bunny. He’s a guy I nicknamed because of a distinguishing feature of his clothing ensemble. He started coming around Poverello while the weather was still warm, but as we eased into late fall, I was afraid that rain and cold would start making him especially miserable.

 

I called him “Floppy” because of his shoes. The soles had almost completely separated from the uppers, and when he walked, there was an audible flapping noise as the soles snapped back. What drew my attention was not only the sad state of his feet, but also the manner in which he walked. If my shoes were in that condition, every step would be a potential disaster. I took a bad fall several years ago, and the results were not pretty: they included invasive knee surgery and months of physical therapy. So I envisioned Floppy taking a dive at some point. The miracle was, he had somehow adjusted to the shoe impediment. When he walked, it was with a graceful, circular, loping stride that accommodated the unpredictable soles.

 

I started noticing something else about Floppy. He was a loner. There were unmistakable signs of mental illness: quirky movements, occasionally grimacing or laughing at inappropriate times, and snippets of conversations with invisible people. Also, he never smiled. I’d talk with him and try a few of my jokes that had a track record of eliciting chuckles from people, but with Floppy, there wasn’t even a slightest sign that he found anything amusing.

 

It got so I just couldn’t stand seeing him in those shoes. I feared that the first rain would soak his feet, or the chill of a foggy Fresno morning would make his toes ache. I approached him and asked, “How about if I get you some new shoes?” He shook his head and replied, “Nah, I can Super Glue them.” I looked down. “Man, those are beyond Super Glue”, I said. He shrugged and didn’t respond. So, I took a gamble on his foot length and went out and bought a pair of shoes. It turns out I have a good eye for shoe sizing. I brought them back and presented them to Floppy. He looked at me, then at the new shoes, and a wide grin broke out across his face. It was the very first time I had ever seen him smile.

 

So, what will a new pair of shoes do for Floppy? There are times that I’ve bought new desperately-needed clothes for homeless people, only to have them turn around and sell them for wine or drug money. I started this business pretty naïve, thinking that my charitable actions might actually turn lives around. It took many years of disappointments, of people abusing kindness, to force me to embrace reality.

 

I’m pretty sure Floppy will continue to be homeless. I wouldn’t be surprised if he came in soon with his old floppy shoes again, although, so far, he has held onto the new ones. But he’s a square peg that won’t fit in society’s round hole. He may never do better than living in a homeless shelter.

 

Rather than letting this reality discourage me, I choose to see things through God’s eyeglasses. In a place where happiness is hard to come by, God gave me the opportunity to do something that brought a fleeting smile to someone whose suffering I can only imagine. It makes me happy to know that a simple pair of shoes off the sales rack can work such magic.

 

 

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

 

1. Like some scribes and Pharisees rightly castigated for their vanity and hypocrisy, are we also guilty of these faults? If so, what do we do? Do we fix our loving gaze upon Jesus, the Divine Master, and learn from him the ways of true wisdom and humility?

 

2. What is our response to God’s call for conversion? Do we embrace the divine exhortation to learn to do good and to make justice our aim?

 

 

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

 

Loving Father,

just and true are your ways.

You call us to interior conversion and newness of life.

Help us to do justice.

Be with us in our struggle to redress the wronged

and in our humble effort to care for the needy and the weak.

Let us follow the way of Jesus, the Divine Master.

We love 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.

 

“Learn to do good. Make justice your aim” (Is 1:17) // “You have but one master, the Messiah.” (Mt 23:10)

 

 

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

 

Pray for all teachers that they may always be limpid, credible and authentic in the way they teach. Support the apostolic works of the Pauline Family in their endeavor to give to the world Jesus Master, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

 

      

*** *** ***

 

March 15, 2017: WEDNESDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (2)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Gave His Life for Us”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Jer 18:18-20 // Mt 20:17-28

  

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mt 20:17-28): They will condemn the Son of Man to death.”

 

Jesus continues his paschal journey to Jerusalem. In today’s Gospel reading (Mt 20:17-28), he makes a third prediction of his passion, death and resurrection. Since the coming of the kingdom is imminent, the mother of James and John would like to secure a privileged place for her sons in God’s kingdom. In light of the passion prediction, the mother’s request is totally inappropriate and reveals a worldly understanding of the Messiah as one who “lords it over them”. The indignation of the other equally ambitious disciples furnishes the occasion for Jesus to give them a lesson of true greatness in the kingdom of God. Service is the criterion for greatness in the heavenly kingdom. Just like Jesus, the Son of Man and the Suffering Servant, his disciples must be ready to give their life to serve the needs of all.

 

In this Lenten season, we who share in Jesus’ Eucharistic cup are called to live a life of humble service and self-emptying. Henri Nouwen remarks: “God has willed to show his love to the world by descending more and more deeply into human frailty. The descending way of love, the way to the poor, the broken and the oppressed becomes the ascending way of love, the way to joy, peace and new life.”

 

The total participation of a Christian disciple in the redeeming passion and death of the Suffering Servant-Messiah is illustrated in the life of the Japanese samurai martyr, John Hara Mondo (cf. Full Sail with the Wind of Grace: Peter Kibe and 187 Martyrs, ed. “Martyrs” Editorial Committee, Nagasaki: Do Bosco Sha, 2008, p. 85-87).

 

Mondo was taken to the banks of the Abe River where they cut off all his fingers and toes. With a burning iron, the sign of the cross was branded on his forehead, and finally, he was forced to lie down with his face on the ground as they cut off the tendons of his thighs. He was then thrown into a hut with lepers. Mondo, who once marched proudly at the front of the Shogun’s procession, now lay like a dead man unable to walk. (…)

 

Time passed, and Mondo was among the lepers in Asakusa in the town of Edo (Tokyo). He had to crawl to move about, but his kind eyes touched the hearts of the people ill with leprosy as he took care of them. The man who once served Ieyasu had fallen to the lowest rank in society, and was now serving people who had been abandoned even by their own families. Those around him saw something special in his kindness. Mondo had encountered God.

         

 

B. First Reading (Jer 18:18-20): “Come, let us persecute him.”

 

The Old Testament reading (Jer 18:18-20) depicts the sufferings of the prophet Jeremiah, unjustly persecuted by the spiritual leaders of Judah. They intend to kill him by raising false charges against him. The death of Jeremiah is a “good riddance”. He will not be missed for, in their twisted reasoning, there will always be priests to instruct, wise men to give counsel and prophets to proclaim God’s message. Jeremiah laments the betrayal and rejection by his countrymen. He raises the ineffable issue of unjust suffering: “Must good be repaid with evil?” His adversaries have forgotten the good Jeremiah has done for the people, especially his ministry of intercession on their behalf. The prophet Jeremiah is a beautiful figure of Jesus Christ in his paschal suffering. Just as Jeremiah has turned to God in his suffering, our Lord Jesus commends himself to God the Father as he undergoes his passion and death on the cross for the salvation of the world.

 

The unjust but redemptive suffering of Jesus and Jeremiah lives on. The life of Fr. Aedan McGrath is a beautiful example (cf. “A Priest in China” in ALIVE!, January 2013, p. 13).

 

In August 1930, Fr. Aedan McGrath, a newly ordained 24-year-old priest arrived in Shanghai. The Dublin man then traveled a further 700 miles up the Yangtze River. A year later his bishop, the great Edward Galvin, a founder in 1918 of the Maynooth Mission to China, later called the Columbans, appointed him parish priest. McGrath ministered to the 25 mission villages in his parish. It took two months to make a round of the villages on foot, baptizing, instructing, hearing confessions, celebrating Mass.

 

After some months the young priest was emotionally and physically exhausted. He pleaded with Galvin to send him some assistance, even another priest, but there was none. Instead, the bishop sent a book, “The Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary”. This had been compiled almost entirely by Frank Duff who had founded the Legion about a decade earlier. McGrath was not impressed. But he decided to try out the Legion beginning with six uneducated peasant men. To his surprise, a week later the work given to the men as part of their undertaking had been done. A branch of the still fledging Legion had been established in China. And soon it was expanding.

 

But turmoil was growing in the country, torn apart by conflict between Chinese Communists and Nationalists, with the Japanese invading Manchuria, in the northeast in 1931. The atheist thug, Mao Tse Tung, was on the rise. In time he would be responsible for the deaths of an estimated 77 million people.

 

Meanwhile Fr. McGrath continued his normal ministry. Driven from his parish for two and a half years by the Japanese, he was given permission to return in 1941. To his amazement he discovered that the legionaries had continued to run the parish in his absence, baptizing, instructing children in the faith, witnessing marriages, everything except offering Mass and hearing confessions. Come the end of the Second World War, a new conflict broke out in China between the Nationalists and Mao’s Communists. Soon it was evident that Mao was winning. Archbishop Antonio Riberi, papal nuncio to China from 1946 to 1951, realized that all foreign priests, nuns and religious would be expelled, and that the Chinese clergy and religious would be thrown into prison. He had seen the power of the Legion in Africa and knew that it was where hope for the future of the Church in China lay.

 

In 1948 Fr. McGrath was enjoying some well-earned rest in Ireland when he got word from his superior: “Archbishop Riberi is looking for the Legion of Mary. He asked that you be taken out of your parish to help him establish the Legion in China. Immediately the priest cut short his holiday and returned to Shanghai. Riberi told him: “I want you, as fast as you can, to go all over China and start the Legion of Mary before it is too late. For the next two years McGrath worked ceaselessly. Duff wrote to encourage him revealing his understanding that being a Catholic naturally meant sharing in the work of evangelization. He pointed out that the priest was “placing before the people from the first moment the authentic outlines of Christianity, which necessarily includes the waging of an apostolate.”

 

Between 1949 and 1951, Fr. McGrath established 1,000 praesidia or groups of the Legion. Indeed, the impact of his work was such that the Communists declared the Legion “enemy no. 1”.

 

Then came the long dreaded knock. At 11 p.m. on the night of 6 September 1951 the Columban house in Shanghai was surrounded by dozens of soldiers. But they were after only one man. He had anticipated his arrest and had destroyed any evidence that might have incriminated anyone else. That night he was taken to a detention center, where he would be kept for several months. There he was stripped and left to stand naked for hours. Eventually he was taken to his cell. In the coming days he was deprived of sleep and interrogated repeatedly, being forced to stand still, handcuffed for hours at a time. At one point he felt terror creeping in, then remembered his consecration to the Blessed Virgin and decided he would leave everything in her hands in the future. In the cells around him he could hear the different prisoners, men, women, young boys and girls going out of their minds with fear and suffering.

 

Finally, after 32 months in prison, he was released and expelled from the country. He devoted his remaining years to the Legion, mainly in Asia, and died on Christmas Day 2000. 

 

 

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

 

1. How do we understand and respond to Jesus’ call to humble service?

 

2. What is our attitude toward persecution? Have we ever been persecuted or ever suffered for our faith? Where do we find strength to endure and to be faithful?

 

 

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

 

Lord Jesus,

by your self-giving on the cross,

you showed us what true greatness means.

You are the Servant of God par excellence.

By your sacrificial death,

you have released us from the bondage of sin

so that we may respond to the good news of the kingdom

and live in covenant faithfulness.

Teach us the ways of humble service.

Let us experience the glory reserved for those who serve.

Help us in our Lenten journey to Easter glory

by filling our hearts us with serving love.

We love you and serve you

as the center of our life, now and forever.

Amen.

 

***

O loving God,

you are our strength in adversities.

Help us to stand for our faith

and imitate Jesus, the just sufferer, and the prophet Jeremiah

in having recourse to you.

They put their trust in you.

You are our shield and comfort, 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 Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:28) // “Heed me, O Lord.” (Jer 18:19)

 

 

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

 

Today make a concrete act of kindness and serve the people around you with a joyful smile. Pray for the courage to stand for our Christian faith. And when ridiculed or contested for promoting the Catholic teaching on various social issues, turn to God for help and strength.

 

         

*** *** ***

 

March 16, 2017: THURSDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (2)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Cares for the Poor”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Jer 17:5-10 // Lk 16:19-31

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 16:19-31): “Good things came to you and bad things to Lazarus; now he is comforted while you are in agony.”

 

I love to read the “Missioner Tales” in Maryknoll, the magazine of the Maryknoll missionaries. The July-August 2004 issue contains an experience shared by Catherine Erisman, a Maryknoll sister. Her story, which illustrates the compassionate attitude totally lacking in the Rich Man mentioned in today’s Gospel parable, contains the hope that the pathetic Joseph, too poor to buy toothpaste, will have a better lot in heaven.

 

I was making pastoral rounds at Bugando Hospital in Mwanza, Tanzania, when a patient held my hand and made a request. Joseph, emaciated by AIDS, asked: “Could you please bring me some toothpaste?” Supplies like that are not available in the hospital, so I brought him a tube I bought at the local store. When I stopped in to visit him the following day, I was told that Joseph had died. I picture him standing before God with a stunning smile.

 

The parable of “The Rich Man and Lazarus” contained in today’s Gospel (Lk 16:19-31) is to be seen against the backdrop of Jesus’ desire to teach his disciples the right use of money. Through this powerful story, the Divine Master reinforces his teaching that wealth must be rightly used to give solace to the poor. The parable is an indictment against today’s rich who do not care for the poor and whose callousness to the world’s afflictions is such that it cannot be penetrated even “if someone should rise from the dead” (verse 31).

 

The final destiny of the saved and the lost in the afterlife is unalterable. In the afterlife a reversal of fortune will take place. Those who were poor and destitute will be comforted. The chilling words of condemnation, however, will haunt the selfish and callous of heart – they who have been blind and deaf to the needs and agonizing cries of the poor: “My child, remember that you have received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here; whereas you are tormented” (verse 25).

 

    

B. First Reading (Jer 17:5-10): “A curse on those who trust in mortals; a blessing on those who trust in the Lord God.”

 

Today’s Old Testament reading (Jer 17:5-10) presents a contrast between those who trust in human beings and those who trust in God. Those who put their trust in mortals are like a barren bush in the desert. Nothing good ever happens to them. Those who put their hope in the Lord are like a tree growing near a stream, sending out roots to the water. Its leaves stay green and it keeps on bearing fruit. This study in contrast cuts across the heart of true religion: man’s sole refuge is God. The just trust in the Lord and their hope is in God. The human heart is devious and its secret plots are hidden to men, but everything is transparent to God. The Lord God, who probes the mind and searches the heart, rewards people according to their deeds. Jesus, the Son of God, likewise perceives the workings of the heart and the interior sentiments of his disciples. The Lord Jesus recompenses us according to our deeds.

 

The following two stories – circulated through the Internet - illustrate a person’s fundamental choice as well as the blessings and sacrifices that it entails.

 

Story Number One: Many years ago, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. Capone wasn’t famous for anything heroic. He was notorious for enmeshing the windy city in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder.

 

Capone had a lawyer nicknamed “Easy Eddie”. He was Capone’s lawyer for a good reason. Eddie was very good! In fact, Eddie’s skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of jail for a long time. To show his appreciation, Capone paid him very well. Not only was the money big, but Eddie got special dividends, as well. For instance, he and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help and all the conveniences of the day. The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago City block.

 

Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and gave little consideration to the atrocity that went on around him. Eddie did have one soft spot, however. He had a son that he loved dearly. Eddie saw to it that his young son had clothes, cars, and a good education. Nothing was withheld. Price was no object. And, despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach him right from wrong. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was. Yet, with all his wealth and influence, there were two things he couldn’t give his son; he couldn’t pass on a good name or a good example.

 

One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. Easy Eddie wanted to rectify wrongs he had done. He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al “Scarface” Capone, clean up his tarnished name, and offer his son some semblance of integrity. To do this, he would have to testify against The Mob, and he knew that the cost would be great. So, he testified. Within the year, Easy Eddie’s life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago street. But in his eyes, he had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he could ever pay. Police removed from his pocket a rosary, a crucifix, a religious medallion, and a poem clipped from a magazine.

 

The poem read: “The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop, at late or early hour. Now is the only time you own. Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in time. For the clock may soon be still.”

 

Story Number Two: World War II produced many heroes. One such man was Lieutenant Commander Butch O’Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific.

 

One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank. He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship. His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly, he dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet. As he was returning to the mother ship, he saw something that turned his blood cold; a squadron of Japanese aircraft was speeding its way toward the American fleet.

 

Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50 calibers blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was finally spent. Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible, rendering them unfit to fly. Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction.

 

Deeply relieved, Butch O’Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier. Upon arrival, he reported in and related the events surrounding his return. The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the tale. It showed the extent of Butch’s daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had, in fact, destroyed five enemy aircraft. This took place on February 20, 1942, and for that action Butch became the Navy’s first Ace of W.W. II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Medal of Honor.

 

A year later Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29. His home town would not allow the memory of this WW II hero to fade, and today, O’Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the courage of this great man.

 

So, the next time you find yourself at O’Hare International, give some thought to visiting Butch’s memorial displaying his statue and his Medal of Honor. It’s located between Terminals 1 and 2.

 

SO WHAT DO THESE TWO STORIES HAVE TO DO WITH EACH OTHER? Butch O’Hare was “Easy Eddie’s” son.

 

 

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

 

1. What is our attitude to the poor man – Lazarus, who lies at our doorstep? Do we care at all; or are we indifferent to his needs and agony?

 

2. Do we put our trust in God and let our future be secured by him? Do we believe that he who searches our hearts and probes our mind will reward us according to our deeds?

 

 

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

 

Loving Father,

look with kindness upon the Lazarus at our doorstep.

Give us the grace to listen to the cry of the poor

and attend to their needs.

Do not let us be callous to their torment.

Please enfold us with the strength of your compassion

that we may be impelled

to cradle the poor Lazarus of today in our bosom.

You are just and merciful.

You reward us according to our deeds.

Let us always put our trust in you.

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.

 

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord.” (Jer 17:7) // “When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.” (Lk 6:22)

 

 

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

 

Make a Lenten fast and offer the fruit of your sacrifice to feed the poor and hungry. In our fundamental option to serve the Lord, let us never rely on our own powers, but always acknowledge the love and grace of God who strengthens us for charitable deeds.

       

 

*** *** ***

 

March 17, 2017: FRIDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (2); SAINT PATRICK, Bishop

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is the Victim of Violence”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Gn 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a // Mt 21:33-43, 45-46

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mt 21:33-43, 45-46): “This is the heir; let us kill him.”

 

Today’s parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mt 21:33-43, 45-46) contains a thinly disguised reference to the violence that Jesus will suffer at the hands of the chief priests and Pharisees. The Son of God will be killed through the instigation of religious leaders who fear the status quo and their security are threatened. The mistreatment of the prophets of the past fully bears upon Jesus as he undergoes his passion and death on the cross. The religious leaders of Israel have failed in their responsibility to nurture the spiritual growth and fruitfulness of God’s chosen people. Moreover, they have become agents of bloodshed and injustice, putting to death an innocent man sent by God as Messiah. Though they read the Scriptures, they fail to grasp their meaning. Because their hearts are blinded, they cannot recognize that Jesus of Nazareth is the Servant-Messiah. But the Son of God, in suffering violent death, becomes the means of salvation for all. Christ’s resurrection is his glorious vindication.

 

The season of Lent is an opportune time to repent of all the violence we have committed. It is a fitting time to offer to the Lord the spiritual fruitfulness of a humbled and peace-seeking heart. Lent calls us to overcome violence within our heart and in our midst and to look at today’s reality with the eyes of faith. We are also called to unite the injustices in the world and our unmerited sufferings with Jesus that they too may become means of salvation in the here and now.

 

The following story is fascinating. It gives insight into how Jesus Savior was subjected to torment and death. It also teaches us how to avoid the wicked ways of insensitivity, violence and injustice (cf. “Look into his Eyes” in Anthony de Mello, The Song of the Bird, New York: Image Books, p. 45-46).

 

The commander of the occupation troops said to the mayor of the mountain village, “We know that you are hiding a traitor. Unless you give him up to us, we shall harass your people by every means in our power.”

 

The village was, indeed, hiding a man who seemed good and innocent and was loved by all. But what could the mayor do, now that the welfare of the village was at stake? Days of discussion in the Village Council led to no conclusion. So the mayor finally took the matter up with the priest. Priest and mayor spent a whole night searching the scriptures and finally came up with the text that said, “It is better that one man die to save the nation.”

 

So the mayor handed over the innocent man, whose screams echoed through the village as he was tortured and put to death.

 

Twenty years later a prophet came to the village, went right up to the mayor, and said, “How could you have done this? That man was sent by God to be the savior of this country. And you handed him over to be tortured and killed.”

 

“But where did I go wrong?” pleaded the mayor. “The priest and I looked at the scriptures and did what they commanded.”

 

“That’s where you went wrong”, said the prophet. “You looked at the scriptures. You should have also looked into his eyes.”

      

 

B. First Reading (Gn 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a): “Here comes the man of dreams; let us kill him.”

 

The violence and betrayal that Jesus experiences at the hands of the chief priests and Pharisees, as well as his own disciples, are prefigured in the Old Testament story of Joseph the Dreamer (Gn 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a). The latter’s awesome dreams are deeply resented by his siblings as they seem to foretell Joseph’s future dominion over them. Their dislike is exacerbated by their father’s preferential love for Joseph. Israel (or Jacob) loves Joseph more than all his other sons because the latter has been born to him in his old age. The jealousy degenerates into a murderous plot. Far from his father’s protection, and wearing the long tunic Israel lovingly made for him, Joseph falls into their trap. The feeble efforts of Reuben and Judah to soften his tragic fate lead to Joseph being sold as a slave and into his redemptive destiny in Egypt.

 

The mistreatment of Joseph and the prophets of the past will fully bear upon Jesus as he undergoes his passion and death on the cross. The same violent fate is being experienced by today’s Christian disciples. The life of Archbishop Romero of El Salvador is an example (cf. Octavio Duran, “Archbishop Romero: Friend, Pastor, Prophet” in Maryknoll, March 2010, p. 18-22).

 

We were only a little way from the small church in the community of San Antonio Los Ranchos in Chalatenango, El Salvador, when the car carrying San Salvador Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was rudely stopped by Salvadoran army soldiers. They made us get out of the vehicle and searched for evidence to accuse us of being subversives, as happened to so many other religious and innocent people during that time. Romero was going to celebrate the corn festival with a Mass in the community of San Antonio.

 

At the end of the 1970s, when respect for human rights was eroding at an accelerating rate in my country, the Salvadoran government began a campaign of repression against the Catholic Church, accusing it of insurgency and killing priests, catechists and lay faithful. The people complained about the abuse to the legal aid office at the Archdiocese of San Salvador, and Archbishop Romero denounced the cases of abuse each Sunday at Mass.

 

On the steep road to the church in San Antonio, the local people, who had gathered to greet the archbishop with religious hymns, witnessed the affront the archbishop suffered. They watched as soldiers searched him thoroughly, along with those who were with him: myself, Father Fabian Amaya, two other Church workers and Salvador Barraza, who was Romero’s chauffeur and friend. The soldiers did not find anything to incriminate the prelate, but the real reason for the operation was more to show the army’s power and intimidate the population. At that moment, being with the archbishop and dozens of witnesses gave me some degree of security that we wouldn’t be killed. Ironically, some of the many soldiers who were also waiting for Romero had climbed the trees like Zaccheus to see Jesus, although perhaps not necessarily to seek conversion.

 

I was extremely nervous, in part because of a small camera hanging around my neck. I was afraid they would take it from me or remove the film and keep me from documenting another day in the life of the archbishop.

 

After long interrogations, we continued on to the church. The people received the archbishop happily, with hugs and music. But Romero’s uneasiness after what had happened was obvious. In the church, the archbishop, trembling and his voice cracking, asked that the Mass be held outside. He was concerned that if something worse should happen, such as shooting, the people would be able to escape into the open countryside.

 

Suddenly, while still in the church, a little boy and girl went up to Romero. She hugged him and the boy took hold of the cross the archbishop wore around his chest. It was like a signal that everyone needs a Simon, the Cyrenian who helped carry Jesus’ cross, in our own lives to help us carry our crosses. I took a photo at that moment that has circulated around the world in books, magazines and newspapers. In the photo, a soldier can be seen carrying his rifle – the nails of crucifixion in that era. This happened at the end of 1979, a few months before Romero was assassinated.           

 

 

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

 

1. Have I committed acts of violence and aggression against innocent persons? What motivated me to do them? What do I do to rectify the wrong I have inflicted on others?

 

2. How do we respond to the violence that we personally, and as a community, experience? By our apathy and non-involvement, do we contribute to the perpetration of such violence in today’s society?

 

 

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

 

O Jesus,

you are meek and humble of heart.

Forgive us the violence we have inflicted upon you

and the injustice we have committed

against our innocent brothers and sisters.

Make us instruments of your peace.

Let us reap the spiritual fruitfulness of your kingdom.

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 sent his son to them.” (Mt 21:37) 

 

 

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

 

Be an instrument of peace to the people around you and in your society. Participate in a peace rally, if there is any possibility.

      

 

*** *** ***

 

March 18, 2017: SATURDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (2); SAINT CYRIL OF JERUSALEM, Bishop, Doctor of the Church

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Incarnates God’s Forgiving Love”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Mi 7:14-15, 18-20 // Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 15:1-3, 11-32): “Your brother was dead and has come to life.”

 

In 2001, I participated in a course entitled “Liturgical Dance and Drama”, offered at the Pope Paul VI Liturgical Institute in Malaybalay, Bukidnon in the Philippines. The culminating event of the course was a Eucharistic Celebration in which elements of dance and drama were used to highlight the important parts of the Mass. At the Gospel proclamation, the parable of the Prodigal Son was mimed by an excellent cast. After the presiding priest had finished the reading and declared solemnly, “The Gospel of the Lord”, the prodigal son and the servile brother gently placed their heads on the bosom of the welcoming father, whose arms enfolded them both in a joyful embrace. My eyes welled up with tears. The actors had put an appropriate resolution to an open-ended story. The “coming home” of the two lost sons is the best ending of all.

 

            Today’s Gospel reading (Lk 15:1-3, 11-32) contains what is commonly called, “The Parable of Prodigal Son”, which is a misnomer. The popular name fails to indicate that the father has two lost sons, not one. The resentful elder son, however, did not know that he was “lost”. Though physically near, he was just as lost as the one who had set off for a distant country, squandering his inheritance in a dissolute life.

 

Others prefer to call this story, “The Parable of the Prodigal Father”. According to Aelred Rosser, “I agree with those who feel that the story would be more appropriately called the parable of the prodigal father. Clearly, the point that Jesus makes in this story is not how bad the boy (or his elder brother) is but how good the father is. It is the father who is excessive and extravagant and immoderate, anything but frugal with his forgiveness and mercy. It is the father who squanders love and reconciliation on the son. The father is the true spendthrift here, sparing no cost of labor to celebrate the homecoming of his wayward son. The reluctance of the elder brother to forgive with similar prodigality makes the father all the more generous.”

 

The parable of the Father’s prodigal love finds its completion in Jesus Christ. In taking on human nature, he became totally identified with the wayward son and every sinner. He experienced the alienation caused by humanity’s sin. By his passion and death, he carried the burden of sin as a means of expiation and redemption. When he breathed forth his last on the cross, crying out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46), Jesus experienced the ultimate “homecoming”. In that unique saving event, he also brought about the “homecoming” of the lost children of God.

 

 

B. First Reading (Mi 7:14-15, 18-20): “God will cast our sins into the depths of the sea.”

 

Today’s Old Testament reading (Mi 7:14-15, 18-20) is one of the most beautiful passages in the Lenten readings. The Micah text consists of a prayer for the restoration of the good old days on behalf of God’s people and a hymn about God’s characteristic mercy and faithfulness. The prophet Micah prays in confidence, asking God to bring back the idyllic days when God manifested marvelous signs in the land of Egypt. The Lord is addressed as the Shepherd of his people and is requested to lead his people from the forest into the fertile pastures. The prophet is confident that God is ready to act once again. Moreover, this all-powerful God, with his marvelous deeds, has a track record of being loving and forgiving. The Lord does not persist in anger forever, but delights in clemency. Surely he will again have compassion on his erring people. He will trample their sins underfoot and cast them to the bottom of the sea. Just as he has been merciful and faithful to the patriarchs Abraham and Jacob, he will again manifest his forgiving love and faithfulness anew.

 

The Lord has pledged his “faithfulness” (‘emet) and “grace” (hesed) to the Israel of old. He will continue to be gracious and faithful and will not renege on his promise. In Jesus Christ, the divine mercy and faithful love are made incarnate. The Christian disciples are instruments to communicate them to the people in the here and now. The experience of Corrie ten Boom exemplifies this (cf. “Love Your Enemies” in Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul, ed. Jack Canfield, et. al., Deerfield: Health Communications, Inc., 1997, p. 2-5).

 

It was in a church in Munich that I saw him – a balding, heavy set man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to a defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.

 

It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from the Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown. “When we confess our sins”, I said, “God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. And even though I cannot find a scripture for it, I believe God then places a sign there that says, ‘NO FISHING ALLOWED’.”

 

The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room. And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush; the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail frame ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were! The place was Ravensbruck and the man who was making his way forward had been a guard – one of the most cruel guards.

 

Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, Fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!” And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course – how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women? But I remember him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

 

“You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk”, he was saying. “I was a guard there.” No, he did not remember me. “But since that time”, he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well, Fraulein” – again the hand came out – “will you forgive me?”

 

And I stood there – I whose sins had again and again needed to be forgiven – and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place – could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could not have been many seconds that he stood there – hand held out – but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it – I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses”, Jesus says, “neither will your Father in Heaven forgive your trespasses.”

 

I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were also able to return to the outside world to rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and horrible as that.

 

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion – I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. Jesus, help me! I prayed silently. I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.

 

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm and sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. “I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart.”

 

For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands – the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then. But even so, I realized it was not my love. I had tried, and did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Romans 5:5: “… because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us.”

 

 

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

 

1. Am I the lost, wasteful son? Am I the lost, elder brother? Am I the compassionate Father, so prodigal with love? How?

 

2. How do we respond to the love and mercy of God who casts our sins into the depths of the sea? Are we able to forgive those who have offended us? Do we turn to God and ask for the grace of forgiveness?

 

 

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

 

O loving Jesus,

in you is the grace and mercy of God.

You incarnate the Father’s prodigal love.

Give us the grace of compassion

and the strength to forgive those who sin against us.

Let our sins be cast into the depths of the sea

and let us be consoled by the divine clemency.

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.

 

“You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins.” (Mi 7:19) // “He was lost and has been found.” (Lk 15:24)  

 

 

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

 

During the Lenten season, participate in the Church’s celebration of the rite of penance and reconciliation. Make a step toward reconciliation involving a person you have hurt and/or offended.

 

   

 

***

 

 

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

Go back