A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday & Weekday Liturgy

 

BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (Series 18, n. 16)

Lent Week 3: March 15-20, 2020

 

 

(The pastoral tool BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD: A LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY & WEEKDAY LITURGY includes a prayerful study of the Sunday liturgy from various perspectives. For the Lectio Divina on the liturgy of the past week: March 8-14, 2020 please go to ARCHIVES Series 18 and click on “Lent Week 1”.

 

Below is a LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY - WEEKDAY LITURGY: March 15-20, 2020.)

 

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March 15, 2020: THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Is the Water of Life”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Ex 17:3-7 // Rom 5:1-2, 5-8 // Jn 4:5-42

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Jn 4:5-42): “The water that I shall give will become a spring of eternal life.”

          

Susan Terry Timms’ testimony in the “What Prayer Can Do” Series (cf. Guideposts, May 1997, p. 19), implies that even today God continues to remove what blocks the waters of grace to flow into our lives. Her miraculous experience of the arid well that gushed forth a spring of water helps us to trust and focus on Jesus, the font and giver of living water. Here is Susan’s story.

 

My husband, Bobby, and I didn’t have a clue as to how much it would cost to build our dream home. After finishing the driveway, the septic system and the house, we had almost depleted our savings. But we still had to pay to have a well dug. On the morning the workmen arrived, they drilled and drilled. But 300 feet later they hadn’t hit water, and we didn’t have the money to pay for them to go any deeper. “What are we going to do?” I asked Bobby, barely holding back the tears. He took my hand and answered, “We’re going to pray.” And that is what we did.

 

We joined hands across the empty well and prayed, but not for water. Instead, we asked God to supply for our needs as he would. No sooner had Bobby said amen than there was a soft trickling coming from the bottom of the hole. In amazement we stuck our heads as far into the opening as we dared. Sure enough, we heard the gurgle and sputter of water. Later, one friend suggested a rock had gotten caught in the vein and then loosened, allowing the well to fill with water. It just goes to show God is still in the business of rolling stones away.

 

The Gospel reading proclaimed this Sunday (Jn 4:5-42) is the first of the three great baptismal passages, traditionally associated with the rites of scrutiny that prepare the elect for baptism. The three Gospel accounts: Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:5-42), the healing of the Man Born Blind (Jn 9:1-41), and the raising of Lazarus to life (Jn 11:1-45) are used in the liturgy of the Word to present to the elect and the baptized community the meaning of baptism as the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit, as enlightenment, and as an intimate participation in Christ’s death and rising to new life.

 

With regards to the Gospel passage of this Sunday, Martin Connel remarks: “This long reading from chapter 4 of the Gospel of John has been associated with the formation of catechumens for baptism from ancient times. One sees the Samaritan woman turn from unbelief to belief, and then we hear that she herself is testifying to Jesus. This progress in faith is similar to what happens each year when the faith of the newly baptized at the Vigil sparks an awakening of faith for the entire Church. It is similar too to the progress of faith in each Christian life from baptism until death. Whether or not the story is a reflection of baptismal formation in the Evangelist’s own community, it is for the Church today a brilliant story of faith development offered by that Evangelist.”

 

The Gospel passage of Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in a Samaritan town called Sychar is focused on Jesus as the font of living water. It also delineates the inclusive nature of God’s benevolent saving plan that the Christ would bring to fulfillment. This Johannine episode makes clear that Jesus’ mission through Samaria is part of his mission of salvation and his ministry of proclaiming the gospel to all nations, first to the Jews, now the Samaritans, and finally the Greeks (cf. Jn 12:20-26). Jesus’ request: “Give me a drink” (Jn 4:7) and his gentle suggestion to the Samaritan woman: “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (Jn 4:10) are to be situated in the context of the paschal plan of salvation in which the Servant-Son is destined to experience the weariness, weakness, aches and longings of a very vulnerable human nature.

 

St. Augustine comments: “Wearied by his journey, Jesus sat down beside a well. It was about the sixth hour. Already divine mysteries begin. Not for nothing is Jesus wearied; not for nothing does the Power of God suffer fatigue. Not for nothing does he who refreshes the weary endure weariness. Not for nothing is he wearied, whose absence makes us weary, whose presence gives us strength … It was for your sake that Jesus was wearied by his journey. In Jesus we encounter divine power together with weakness … The power of Christ created you; the weakness of Christ recreated you. Christ’s power caused what did not exist to come into being; Christ’s weakness saved existing things from destruction. In his might he fashioned us; in his weakness he came in search of us … The fatigue caused by his journey, therefore, was the weariness Jesus experienced in our human nature. In his human body he was weak, but you must not be weak. You must be strong in his weakness, for there is more power in divine weakness than in human strength.”

 

The weariness and thirst of Jesus in the midday heat as he sits by Jacob’s well calls to mind his ultimate experience of suffering and acute thirst as he stretches wearily and painfully upon the wood of the Cross, in the merciless heat of the sun at Mount Calvary. Jesus’ thirst at Sychar, which made him request the Samaritan woman a drink, points eloquently to the supreme suffering that he would experience on the tree of affliction. Upon the Cross Jesus would cry out the distressed and pathetic complaint: “I am thirsty” (Jn 19:28). The excruciating thirst and lament of the dying Jesus evokes and brings to completion what the psalmist prophesied concerning the sufferings and hope of the virtuous man, the figure of the Messiah: “I am like water draining away, my bones are all disjointed, my heart is like wax, melting inside me; my palate is drier than a potsherd and my tongue stuck to my jaw” (Ps 22:14-15). Thus, the ultimate thirst of the messianic Jesus involves a pouring out of his life as a sacrificial offering. In his death, he is like water draining away. In his utter abandonment on the Cross he yearns and thirsts for the salvation of souls.

 

In a great miracle of love, the ultimate thirst and sacrificial death of Jesus on the Cross realized the divine promise he uttered when he encountered the Samaritan woman: “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14). Indeed, according to the evangelist John: “As scripture says: From his breast shall flow the fountains of living water” (Jn 7:38). This was fulfilled when from the pierced side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death on the Cross flowed out blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34). The blood shows that the lamb has truly been sacrificed for the salvation of the world. The water, symbol of the Spirit, shows that the sacrifice is a rich source of grace. Many of the Fathers, with good reason, interpret the water and blood as symbols of baptism and the Eucharist, and these two sacraments as signifying the Church, which is born like a second Eve from the side of another Adam.

 

The writer Lawrence Mick thus asserts: “The language about water is clearly symbolic. The living water may refer to baptism and the gift of the Spirit, the source of life; it may also refer to Jesus as the source of life. Such a double reference is not contradictory because the Spirit comes through Jesus. The Torah was described in Jewish tradition as the source of water for life; Jesus is claiming to supplant the Torah in the new age. The Jewish water only satisfied thirst for a time, but the water Jesus offers quenches thirst forever.”

 

The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 2, relate the theme of thirst and living water with the holy season of Lent: “The Lenten journey gives the Church at large and each believer the double experience of a thirst no well on earth can quench and the water that springs up from the heart of eternal life … The liturgy is the privileged place where these living waters well up, abundant and varied, when the word of God is proclaimed. The Spirit awakens adoration, prayer, and thanksgiving in believers’ hearts. The Lord gives himself to his people as food under the signs of bread and wine. But it is everyone’s responsibility to make sure that these life-giving waters can spring up.”

 

Finally, the Church Father, Origen exhorts: “The wells of our souls need a well digger; they must be cleaned, freed from everything earthly so that the water tables of rational thoughts that God has placed there may produce streams of pure and sincere water. As long as dirt blocks the water tables and obstructs them, the secret current, the pure water cannot flow.” As we thank the Lord, especially in this Lenten season for the gift of living water, God’s gracious offer springing from his benevolence, let us strive to remove all obstacles to the flow of grace in our life. Like the Samaritan woman who was humbly receptive to the living water of messianic revelation, we too will become joyful missionaries of the Good News: the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, through the paschal sacrifice of Jesus, the font of living water.

 

 

B. First Reading (Ex 17:3-7): “Give us water so that we may drink.”

 

The Old Testament reading (Ex 17:3-7) depicts a provident God who encounters his chosen people in the desert. The Israelites, panic stricken in their thirst for water, grumble against Moses. They waver in their trust in the Lord God who has saved them from slavery in Egypt. Through Moses, whom he orders to strike the rock in Horeb with the staff that divided the Red Sea, God makes water spring forth in the desert to slake their thirst. God’s compassionate stance on behalf of his people invites us to trust in his love and provident care.

 

The water springing from the rock indicates the richness of divine blessing. The gift of “water” in the wilderness is a symbol of the ultimate salvation that God would offer in his Son Jesus in the messianic age. The “living water” is an unmerited and undeserved gift we have received from God through his Son Jesus Christ. As baptized Christians, it is our personal responsibility to make the life-giving waters flow forth. Lent is a favorable time to receive the renewed outpouring of baptismal grace so that we too may become channels of “living water” in today’s sere, suffering world.

 

In the following story, Susan Hreljac from Ontario, Canada tells of how her first grade son Ryan became a channel of grace for the thirsting people in Uganda (cf. “A Well in Uganda” in Guideposts, February 2002, p. 43-55 Large Print Edition). Through his limpid faith and selfless dedication, Ryan helped raise the money for a well to supply water for the children in the Angolo Primary School. He was only six years old when he heard from his teacher that the poor people in Africa drink bad water from swamps and streams and get sick and die, but with seventy dollars they could make a well in the ground to drink from. Ryan asked seventy dollars from his parents for the well project, but Mark and Susan, refusing to dole out and wishing him to learn the value of work, encouraged their enterprising son to earn the amount instead. Susan narrates:

 

Ryan washed windows, swept the garage and picked up branches after an ice storm. He was an average student, but when he brought home an improved report card that spring, we gave him an extra five dollars, which he immediately put in the cookie tin. Each night, his prayers would end with the now familiar “And please help me get clean water for the poor people in Africa.” I kept waiting for Ryan to tire of the chores … But he kept plugging away, even helping the neighbors with their yard work. Ryan picked up a few more dollars collecting pinecones with his brothers for my mother to use in her craft projects …

 

I called my friend Brenda, who worked for an organization that helped developing countries around the world, and quickly filled her in on Ryan’s well project … Brenda, Ryan and I went to WaterCan’s office that April. Ryan struggled under the weight of the cookie tin, but he was determined to present it to the director, Nicole Bosley, himself. “Here’s seventy-five dollars I earned,” he said. “Please use it for a well in Africa. There’s an extra five dollars. Maybe you should use it to buy the workers some lunch.” “Thank you, Ryan,” Nicole said. “Your gift means a lot, but I have to tell you this much money will only buy a hand pump. To drill a well actually costs about two thousand dollars.” Ryan didn’t seem fazed by this news at all. “That’s okay,” he said, “I’ll just do more chores.” (…)

 

Later that spring, Ryan turned seven. The chores continued. I loved his dedication, but I knew he was setting himself up for a fall. All Ryan’s hard work was only earning him a few dollars a week. Still Ryan kept up his hard work throughout the summer, and early that fall Ottawa Citizen ran a story about “Ryan’s Well.” Then a TV station did a feature on him. Checks flooded in … Thanks to contributions, Ryan was approaching the $1,000 mark, but $2,000 still seemed too much to hope for. Ryan, on the other hand, was confident as ever. He had put so much himself into this cause, I was really starting to worry he might get hurt. I received a call from Nicole that week. “Susan, I have great news,” she said. “WaterCan works with the Canadian International Development Agency and they matched Ryan’s funds two to one!” The goal of $2,000 has been reached! “Now I’ll speak to the Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief (CPAR) about digging the well.” Ryan practically danced around the house in jubilation. (…)

 

Mark, Ryan and I were able to arrange a trip to see Ryan’s well in July … The dirt road was lined with scores of children in blue and white uniforms, all clapping in unison as my son made his way toward Angolo Primary School. Village elders came forward, “This way, Ryan. Come see your well.” They led Ryan to the well, which was adorned with flowers. He knelt to read the inscription at its base: Ryan’s Well, Funded by Ryan H. Ryan raised his head and looked at me, his eyes wide … I saw for myself how far Ryan’s sensitivity and faith had taken him – all the way to Africa. I couldn’t wait to see where it would take us next.

 

 

C. Second Reading (Rom 5:1-2, 5-8): “The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

 

The Second Reading (Rom 5: 1-2, 5-8) highlights the divine love poured into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to us. Indeed, God proved his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Reconciled with God in Jesus Christ, we experience peace and confident hope. Harold Buetow comments: “In bringing about salvation through Jesus, God offers to slake spiritual thirst by presenting us with peace and hope. Peace, the Hebrew shalom, means all the blessings of God. Jesus offers hope that never fails, because through him we have gained access to God. In short, God’s new gift is grace – water with a difference: living water, life-giving water.”

 

With the love of God poured into our hearts, we cease to be afraid. The trials that come our way are a preparation for a rich harvest. The following true story, “A Girl with an Apple” by Herman Rosenblat of Miami Beach, Florida, published in Guideposts magazine and circulated through the Internet, is very powerful and fascinating. It gives us insight into the miraculous encounter with grace. It inspires us, moreover, to sow “seeds of love” that bear abundant fruits.

 

August 1942. Piotrkow, Poland: The sky was gloomy that morning as we waited anxiously. All the men, women and children of Piotrkow’s Jewish ghetto had been herded into a square. Word had gotten around that we were being moved. My father had only recently died from typhus, which had run rampant through the crowded ghetto. My greatest fear was that our family would be separated.

 

“Whatever you do”, Isidore, my eldest brother, whispered to me, “don’t tell them your age. Say you are sixteen.” I was tall for a boy of 11, so I could pull it off. That way I might be deemed valuable as a worker. An SS man approached me, boots clicking against the cobblestones. He looked me up and down, then asked my age. “Sixteen”, I said. He directed me to the left, where my three brothers and other healthy young men already stood. My mother was motioned to the right with the other women, children, sick and elderly people. I whispered to Isidore, “Why?” He didn’t answer. I ran to Mama’s side and said I wanted to stay with her. “No”, she said sternly. “Get away. Don’t be a nuisance. Go with your brothers.” She had never spoken so harshly before. But I understood: she was protecting me. She loved me so much that, just this once, she pretended not to. It was the last I ever saw of her.

 

My brothers and I were transported in a cattle car to Germany. We arrived at the Buchenwald concentration camp one night weeks later and were led into a crowded barrack. The next day, we were issued uniforms and identification numbers. “Don’t call me Herman anymore”, I said to my brothers. “Call me 94983.” I was put to work in the camp’s crematorium, loading the dead into a hand-cranked elevator. I, too, felt dead. Hardened, I had become a number.

 

Soon, my brothers and I were sent to Schlieben, one of Buchenwald’s sub-camps near Berlin. One morning I thought I heard my mother’s voice, “Son”, she said softly but clearly, “I am going to send you an angel.” Then I woke up. Just a dream. A beautiful dream. But in this place there could be no angels. There was only work. And hunger. And fear.

 

A couple of days later, I was walking around the camp, around the barracks, near the barbed-wire fence where the guards could not easily see. I was alone. On the other side of the fence, I spotted someone: a little girl with light, almost luminous curls. She was half-hidden behind a birch tree. I glanced around to make sure no one saw me. I called her softly in German, “Do you have something to eat?” She didn’t understand. I inched closer to the fence and repeated the question in Polish. She stepped forward. I was thin and gaunt, with rags wrapped around my feet, but the girl looked unafraid. In her eyes, I saw life. She pulled an apple from her woolen jacket and threw it over the fence. I grabbed the fruit and, as I started to run away, I heard her say faintly, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 

I returned to the same spot by the fence at the same time every day. She was always there with something for me to eat – a hunk of bread or, better yet, an apple. We didn’t dare speak or linger. To be caught would mean death for us both. I didn’t know anything about her, just a kind farm girl, except that she understood Polish. What was her name? Why was she risking her life for me? Hope was in such a short supply, and this girl on the other side of the fence gave me some, as nourishing in its way as the bread and apples.

 

Nearly seven months later, my brothers and I were crammed into a coal car and shipped to Theresienstadt camp in Czechoslovakia. “Don’t return”, I told the girl that day. “We’re leaving.” I turned toward the barracks and didn’t look back, didn’t even say good-bye to the little girl whose name I’d never learned, the girl with the apples.

 

We were in Theresienstadt for three months. The war was winding down and Allied forces were closing in, yet my fate seemed sealed. On May 10, 1945, I was scheduled to die in the gas chamber at 10:00 A.M. In the quiet of dawn, I tried to prepare myself. So many times death seemed ready to claim me, but somehow I’d survived. Now, it was over. I thought of my parents. At least, I thought, we will be reunited.

 

But at 8 A.M. there was a commotion. I heard shouts, and saw people running every which way through camp. I caught up with my brothers. Russian troops had liberated the camp! The gates swung open. Everyone was running, so I did too. Amazingly, all of my brothers had survived; I’m not sure how. But I knew that the girl with the apples had been the key to my survival. In a place where evil seemed triumphant, one person’s goodness had saved my life, had given me hope in a place where there was none. My mother had promised to send me an angel, and the angel had come.

 

Eventually I made my way to England where I was sponsored by a Jewish charity, put up in a hostel with other boys who had survived the Holocaust and trained in electronics. Then I came to America, where my brother Sam had already moved. I served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, and returned to New York City after two years. By August 1957 I opened my own electronics repair shop. I was starting to settle in.

 

One day, my friend Sid who I knew from England called me. “I’ve got a date. She’s got a Polish friend. Let’s double date.” A blind date? Nah, that wasn’t for me. But Sid kept pestering me, and a few days later we headed up to the Bronx to pick up his date and her friend Roma. I had to admit, for a blind date this wasn’t so bad. Roma was a nurse at a Bronx hospital. She was kind and smart. Beautiful, too, with swirling brown curls and green, almond-shaped eyes that sparkled with life.

 

The four of us drove out to Coney Island. Roma was easy to talk to, easy to be with. Turned out she was wary of blind dates too! We were both just doing our friends a favor. We took a stroll on the boardwalk, enjoying the salty Atlantic breeze, and then had dinner by the shore. I couldn’t remember having a better time.

 

We piled back into Sid’s car, Roma and I sharing the backseat. As European Jews who had survived the war, we were aware that much had been left unsaid between us. She broached the subject, “Where were you”, she asked softly, “during the war?” “The camps”, I said, the terrible memories still vivid, the irreparable loss. I had tried to forget. But you can never forget. She nodded. “My family was hiding on a farm in Germany, not far from Berlin”, she told me. “My father knew a priest, and he got us Aryan papers.” I imagined how she must have suffered too, fear, a constant companion. And yet here we were, both survivors, in a new world. “There was a camp next to the farm”, Roma continued. “I saw a boy there and I would throw him apples every day.”

 

What an amazing coincidence that she had helped some other boy. “What did he look like?” I asked. “He was tall, skinny, and hungry. I must have seen him every day for six months.” My heart was racing. I couldn’t believe it. This couldn’t be. “Did he tell you one day not to come back because he was leaving Schlieben?” Roma looked at me in amazement. “Yes!” “That was me!” I was ready to burst with joy and awe, flooded with emotions. I couldn’t believe it! My angel.

 

“I’m not letting you go”, I said to Roma. And in the back of the car on that blind date, I proposed to her. I didn’t want to wait. “You’re crazy!” she said. But she invited me to meet her parents for Shabbat dinner the following week. There was so much I looked forward to learning about Roma, but the most important things I always knew: her steadfastness, her goodness. For many months, in the worst of circumstances, she had come to the fence and given me hope. Now that I’d found her again, I could never let her go.

 

That day, she said yes. And I kept my word. After nearly 50 years of marriage, two children and three grandchildren, I have never let her go.

  

 

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

 

1. Am I grateful to Jesus for the gift of living water? Like the Samaritan woman, does my encounter with Jesus at the spring of living water transform me into a missionary of Good News?

 

2. What attitude is reflected in Israel’s complaint and frantic demand, “Give us water, so that we may drink”? What is the kindly response of the Lord Yahweh?

 

3. Do we welcome with gratitude the “love of God poured into our hearts” through the Holy Spirit? How do we respond to this gracious gift of “love outpoured”?

 

 

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

 

Loving God,

you are in our midst.

You care for us and provide for all our needs.

You slake our spiritual thirst through your beloved Son Jesus,

the “living water” that wells up to eternal life.

We thank you for the love you pour into our hearts

through the Holy Spirit that is your gift to us.

Let the trials and sufferings

that we experience in our daily life

germinate like “good seeds” sown on rich soil.

Let them be watered by the dew of your grace

and bear abundant fruits for your greater glory,

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.

 

“Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14)

 

 

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

 

Through your acts of charity, endeavor to slake the various thirsts of the needy people in our society. Do what you can to help provide clean water for the many poor in various developing countries around the world.   

 

 

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March 16, 2020: MONDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (3)

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Teaches Us Patience in Rejection and Affliction”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

2 Kgs 5:1-15b // Lk 4:24-30

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 4:24-30): “Like Elijah and Elisha, Jesus was sent not only to the Jews.”

 

In today’s Gospel (Lk 4:24-30), Jesus returns to an uncertain welcome in his hometown of Nazareth. At the worship service in the synagogue, he has initially impressed them by his preaching. But eventually a negative thought surfaces: How could he be the Messiah? Isn’t he the son of Joseph? Jesus then compares himself to Elijah who assisted a widow in Zarephath during a drought and to Elisha who healed the Syrian leper, Naaman. The two great prophets of ancient Israel served non-Israelites because their own people were not open to their ministries. Jesus implies that he is also a prophet rejected by his own people. He would take his message to outsiders. This prospect enrages his country folks. They want to throw him off the cliff and kill him. But Jesus walks off unscathed. The hostility of the people in Nazareth does not succeed in killing him. But it is a foretaste of the decisive rejection that would lead to his death on the cross.

                                                                             

Lent is a time to contemplate what Jesus experienced in doing his messianic works. United with him, we too experience the world’s rejection. But strengthened by him, we learn to be patient in suffering and look forward to our glorious destiny. The following story is quaint, but a powerful reminder of the condemnation Jesus suffered for loving us so much (cf. Anthony De Mello, Taking Flight: A Book of Story Meditations: New York: Image Books, New York, 1988, p. 126-127).

 

“Prisoner at the bar”, said the Grand Inquisitor, “you are charged with encouraging people to break the laws, traditions, and customs of our holy religion. How do you plead?”

 

“Guilty, Your Honor.”

 

“And with frequenting the company of heretics, prostitutes, public sinners, the extortionist tax-collectors, the colonial conquerors of our nation – in short, the excommunicated. How do you plead?”

 

“Guilty, Your Honor.”

 

“Also with publicly criticizing and denouncing those who have been placed in authority within the Church of God. How do you plead?”

 

“Guilty, Your Honor.”

 

“Finally, you are charged with revising, correcting, calling into question the sacred tenets of our faith. How do you plead?”

 

“Guilty, Your Honor.”

 

“What is your name, prisoner?”

 

“Jesus Christ, Your Honor.”

   

 

B. First Reading (II Kgs 5:1-15ab): “There were many people with leprosy in Israel, but none were made clean except Naaman the Syrian.”

 

Dr. Beth Baxter’s article, “Journey from a Dark Place” (cf. Guideposts: Large Print Edition, October 1999, p. 28-42) tells of the anguish of her mental illness and her journey to healing and redemption. She studied medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical School and was accepted for residency in psychiatry at the University of Rochester in New York. Toward the end of her residency she was hospitalized twice for psychotic breaks and was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. One winter evening in 1994 she decided to put an end to her failures, agony and despair. She tried to commit suicide by cutting her throat, but on account of some last minute intervention, she survived. Dr. Beth Baxter narrates her journey to healing.

 

My parents, grandparents, my whole extended family pooled their resources so I could be treated at a renowned mental hospital in Massachusetts. One morning I wandered into the greenhouse there. A power failure had caused a freeze, and most of the plants lay withered, un-revivable. Aimlessly, I was plucking away the brown leaves on a dead fern when at its base I spotted a tiny shoot of green. “There is life here after all,” I marveled, surprised at my own insight. It had been years since I felt the merest glimmer of hope. But I made little progress.

 

One afternoon, curled up in a chair in my room, I felt that old despair settle over me like a cold winter fog. I still hadn’t found a way to make sense of my illness, of the wreck that remained of my life. What was the use? The doctors were wasting their time. My family and friends were wasting their prayers. To me God seemed on the other side of an unbreachable gulf of darkness. “God, if you’re out there”, I pleaded, “give me a reason to live.” A short time later my mother called. I blurted out what was on my mind: “Mom, I just can’t find a reason not to end it all.” There was a long pause. Then my mom said softly, “Beth, I love you. Can’t you make that one reason?” “I’ll try, Mom,” I whispered. “For you, I’ll try.” Later that week Jeff and his wife Nikki called. “We miss you, Beth,” they said. “Everyone at our church is praying that you’ll come home soon. We love you.”

 

Love. Did I even know what it meant anymore? Was that, ultimately, the cruelest toll my disease had taken? Tearing me from the redemptive healing power of love. Blocking me from feeling my friend’s love, my family’s. God’s love … Love. Wasn’t that, ultimately, what God was giving me? Mental illness was a part of me, but so was the inner strength that had gotten me through medical school and residency despite it. So were the doctoring skills I’d learned, the understanding I’d developed of people’s suffering, the devotion of my friends, the support and prayers of my family. Above all, it was love that held the pieces together, through which God bridged the gulf of darkness with hope.

 

That was a beginning. Eventually, after continuing my treatment at two other hospitals, I went home to Nashville. I found a doctor who put me on a new medication that controlled my symptoms. I began going with Jeff and Nikki to their church. It became mine as well. I felt comfortable there because the people had been praying for me. Opening up about my illness and recovery, I grew closer to my friends and my family than ever before. I worked as a mental-health advocate for several years before I came to my current job as a psychiatrist at Nashville’s Mental Health Cooperative, a clinic for people with severe mental illnesses. Schizoaffective disorder, it turned out, started me on a journey, leading me to a place where I can achieve my goal of making people’s lives better, where I can do good, helping others see that they too can overcome the pain of mental illness and fulfill their true promise. That is the most powerful of all medicines – hope.

 

Like the story of Dr. Beth Baxter, today’s Old Testament reading (II Kgs 5:1-15ab) presents a magnificent case of healing. Naaman experiences the healing power of God. The “leprous” Syrian general has embarked on a journey of healing that leads him to embrace the love of God. It is a miraculous moment that fills him with hope, faith, and thanksgiving. The gift of healing involves returning to the living God and acknowledging the divine benevolent action in his life. Indeed, he has been “touched” by grace. The figure of Naaman reminds us to trust God who can heal all our infirmities. Jesus Christ is the incarnation of the divine healing power. In the Son of God, we are summoned to journey towards healing and the wholeness of our person – a mysterious movement that leads into the bosom of God and his gift of eternal life.

 

 

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

 

1. Do we experience rejection? Do we try to unite this difficult experience with that of Jesus? Do we allow the grace of God to transform our pain into possibility?

 

2. What are the afflictions and maladies that affect us? Do we turn to Jesus for healing? Do we acknowledge him as the channel of God’s mercy and healing?

 

 

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

 

Lord Jesus,

you experienced rejection and opposition.

You are no stranger to human affliction.

Give us the grace to be united with you.

Transform our tragedy into triumph,

our pain into possibility,

and our hurt into healing.

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.

 

“They drove him out of the town.” (Lk 4:29) // “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.” (II Kgs 5:15b)

 

 

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

 

When you experience rejection, unite this experience with Jesus. Offer a comforting word and a caring hand to the sick and/or to someone who feels rejected.

 

 

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

 

March 17, 2020: TUESDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (3); SAINT PATRICK, Bishop

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

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Dn 3:25, 34-43 // Mt 18:21-35

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mt 18:21-35): “Unless each of you forgives your brother and sister, the Father will not forgive you.”

 

In the Gospel reading (Mt 18:21-35), the parable of the unforgiving servant underlines the Christian duty of forgiveness. Our belonging to the kingdom requires unlimited forgiveness, which is to take the place of retaliation. We have experienced the immeasurable forgiveness of God. As a result, we must reflect his forgiving love to others. All of us are indebted to the merciful God. To refuse to forgive puts us outside his kingdom and, consequently, outside the realm of his forgiving love. A merciless stance makes us impermeable to the dew of God’s healing love. Personal resentment is self-destructive. Keeping a grudge alive saps our strength. But responding to Jesus’ call for merciful forgiveness is healing and liberating. Lent is the season to address our deep need for forgiveness. It is a privileged time to experience the miracle of brokenness being transformed to wholeness.

 

The following story illustrates the tragedy of refusing to forgive (cf. Anthony De Mello, Taking Flight: A Book of Story Meditations: New York: Image Books, New York, 1988, p. 119-120).

 

Laila and Rama were lovers, but too poor to get married as yet. They lived in different places separated by a broad river that was infested with crocodiles.

 

One day Laila heard that her Rama was dangerously ill with no one to nurse him. She rushed to the river bank and pleaded with the boatman to take her across, even though she did not have the money to pay him.

 

But the wicked boatman refused unless she agreed to sleep with him that night. The poor woman begged and pleaded with him to no avail, so in sheer desperation, she consented to the boatman’s terms.

 

When she finally got to Rama, she found him near to death. But she stayed with him for a month and nursed him back to health. One day Rama asked how she had managed to cross the river. Being incapable of lying to her beloved, she told him the truth.

 

When Rama heard her tale, he fell into rage, for he valued virtue more than life itself. He drove her out of the house and refused to look at her again.

  

 

B. First Reading (Dn 3:25, 34-43): “We ask you to receive us with humble and contrite hearts.”

 

The Old Testament reading (Dn 3:25, 34-43) contains the prayer of Azariah from the flaming furnace. Azariah, Hananiah and Mishael are three young provincial administrators of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar who have defied the royal order to worship the king’s statue. They are willing to suffer death rather that worship a god other than the God of Israel. They are thrown into a fiery furnace, but God lets them experience deliverance within the furnace. Accompanied by an angel of salvation, the three young men start walking around in the flames, singing hymns to God and praising him as Lord.

 

In the midst of this saving event, Azariah then offers a beautiful prayer of deliverance for God’s covenant people, which includes a confession of the nation’s guilt. He avows that God is always just and true and that the Jewish people are guilty of every sin. Their disobedience has resulted in their being handed over to lawless, hateful, and defiant enemies. He pleads to God not to break his covenant and not to withhold his mercy from his people. With repentant hearts and humble spirits, the three young men implore God to miraculously rescue them and thus bring glory to his name. After surviving the ordeal of the blazing furnace, Azariah, Hananiah and Mishael are promoted by King Nebuchadnezzar to higher positions in the province of Babylon.

 

Jesus Christ incarnates God’s forgiving love. In light of this love, we are able to see the areas in our personal life and in the society that need to be redressed and healed. The following is an example of a sinful situation in today’s society that needs healing (cf. Alive!, February 2013, p. 5). Like Azariah, we need to present it to God with humble and contrite hearts.

 

Canada’s official statistics has disclosed that an average of one baby per week survives an abortion attempt in the country, but is left uncared for until it dies. According to figures for the period 2000 to 2009 some 491 babies were born alive in abortions and left to die.

 

Lawyer Andre Schutten has pointed out that Canada recognizes the baby as a human being as soon as it emerges alive from its mother, and questioned why there have been no homicide investigations into the live births. “Why have there been no criminal prosecutions? Why no outcry? And why are the provinces funding this explicitly criminal activity?” he asked.

 

A profile blogger wrote: “It’s bad enough that the babies are being killed in the womb, but now we learn that even those protected under Canadian law are apparently being left to die.

 

Jill Stanek, a former nurse in Chicago turned pro-life activist, has described witnessing babies being born alive after failed abortions, then being brought to a “soiled utility room” and left to die.

 

 

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

 

1. Have we experienced the tremendous forgiving love of God? Are we able to share his forgiving love with those who have “wronged” us?

 

2. Are we willing to suffer the trial of the “blazing furnace” as part of our promise to follow God unreservedly? Are we willing to recognize, confess, and rectify the sins of modern society and our national guilt?

 

 

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

 

Jesus, our saving Lord,

you have shown us the true meaning of forgiving love,

especially upon the cross.

Open our hearts to the flood of God’s forgiving love.

Teach us to forgive “seventy times seven”.

Grant us a merciful heart.

Unite us all in the kingdom of God

and let us experience the joy of eternal life.

We thank you, dear Jesus, for your sacrificial death

and the grace of salvation.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

***

Loving Father,

we have sinned as a nation and as a people.

We have turned away from you

and rejected the gift of life.

We are guilty of every sin.

But we come to you

with repentant hearts and humble spirits.

Accept our repentance

as our sacrifice to you today.

Lead us on the narrow path

that leads to eternal life.

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.

 

“Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him.” (Mt 18:27) // “But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received.” (Dn 3:37)

 

 

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

 

Forgive from the heart the one who offended or “wronged” you. // By prayer and penance and by active participation in pro-life activities, protect the life of the unborn and the babies that are born.

 

 

*** *** ***

March 18, 2020: WEDNESDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (3); SAINT CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA, Bishop, Doctor of the Church

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Teaches Us the Meaning of the Law”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Dt 4:1, 5-9 // Mt 5:17-19

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mt 5:17-19): Whoever keeps and teaches the law will be called great.”

 

The Gospel (Mt 5:17-19) tells us that Jesus did not come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets, but to make their meaning come true.  The emendations he made were meant to bring to maturity the principles and practices of the Mosaic covenant and to make them more faithful to its basic intent, which is love. Jesus’ approach to the Law is very healthy and refreshing. His emphasis is on mercy, all-inclusive love and personal commitment and not on legalistic minutiae, petty details and external prohibitions. He wants to reap the richness and fruitfulness resulting from true obedience to the covenant. Jesus did this by his life-giving sacrifice on the cross.

 

Lent is a time of spiritual insight. The Lenten season is a privileged moment to delve into the Christian understanding of the Law, which is essentially a commandment of love. The Gospel command of love transcends mere legal observance. It demands true sacrifice and is exercised in the freedom and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

 

The following story is a caricature of a perverse law observance and a powerful example of how one can follow the letter of the law while disregarding its meaning and intent (cf. Anthony De Mello, Taking Flight: A Book of Story Meditations: New York: Image Books, New York, 1988, p. 89-90).

 

Mullah Nasruddin found a diamond by the roadside but according to the Law, finders became keepers only if they first announced their find in the center of the marketplace on three separate occasions.

 

Now Nasruddin was too religious-minded to disregard the Law and too greedy to run the risk of parting with his find. So on three consecutive nights when he was sure that everyone was fast asleep he went to the center of the marketplace and there announced in a soft voice, “I have found a diamond on the road that leads to the town. Anyone knowing who the owner is should contact me at once.”

 

No one was the wiser for the Mullah’s words, of course, except for one man who happened to be standing at his window on the third night and heard the Mullah mumble something. When he attempted to find out what it was, Nasruddin replied, “I am in no way obliged to tell you. But this much I shall say: Being a religious man, I went out there at night to pronounce certain words in fulfillment of the Law.”

 

To be properly wicked, you do not have to break the Law. Just observe it to the letter.

          

 

B. First Reading (Dt 4:1, 5-9): “Keep the commandments and your work will be complete.”

 

In today’s Old Testament reading (Dt 4:1, 5-9), Moses exhorts the covenant people to keep the Lord’s commands that they may live and take possession of the land God is giving them. Moses underlines the fundamental loyalty that is essential to Israel’s unique relationship with God. Loyalty to God entails faithful observance of the life-giving laws that originate from him. No other nation has a god so near as the God of Israel. Moreover, no other nation has laws so just as those life-giving laws that God has stipulated for his people. The Lord God answers them whenever they call for help and blesses them for their obedience to his gracious will. To be faithful to God’s word entails ordering one’s life according to the commandments and transmitting these to the next generation.

 

Jesus did not come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets, but to make their meaning come true. Lent is a time of spiritual insight. The Lenten season is a privileged moment to delve into the Christian understanding of the Law, which is essentially a commandment of love and is life-giving.

 

The importance of the law for the life of God’s people makes us lament today’s tragedy of the perversion and rejection of the divine law. The following case is an example (cf. Mary Ann Gogniat Eidemiller, “Four Decades after Roe, the Fight for Life Continues” in Our Sunday Visitor, January 20, 2013, p. 10).

 

By her own later admission, Norma Leah McCorvey lied about getting raped as a ruse to comply with the Texas law permitting abortion in instances of rape. But she had no proof that her pregnancy had resulted from a crime, so she was unable to terminate her third child.

 

The year was 1969, and two Dallas attorneys took up her case to challenge the pro-life laws in Texas. The case ended up in U.S. Supreme Court with McCorvey as plaintiff, given the anonymous name of Jane Roe, with the defendant in the suit being District Attorney Henry Wade of Dallas County.

 

McCorvey gave birth to the baby in the meantime, so for her, the ensuing legal battle was no longer moot. But on January 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade became the landmark decision that gave women the constitutional right to abortion, based on an implied right to privacy in the Ninth and 14th Amendments.

 

Among other points, the court said that the fetus was a “potential life” but not a person, and, therefore, had no rights of its own.

 

The decision also defined the conditions permitting or prohibiting abortion during pregnancy. The woman’s right to privacy in the first trimester was so strong that it was unregulated, thereby establishing abortion on demand. In the second trimester, states could regulate abortion only to protect the loosely-defined health of the mother. In the third trimester, a state could regulate abortion to promote the interest of the viable or potentially viable fetus.

 

At the same time that Roe v. Wade was passed, the Doe v. Bolton decision defined maternal health (a cause for abortion) as “all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age – relevant to the well-being of the patient”. In other words, the right to abortion beyond the first trimester was expanded to include any vague definition of “maternal health”. (…)

 

As for McCorvey, she later claimed that two ambitious lawyers had used her as “a pawn” in Roe v. Wade. She changed her mind about abortion, was baptized a Christian in 1995 and in 1998 was received into the Catholic Church. She remains active in the pro-life movement.

 

 

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

 

1. Do I make an effort to understand the true meaning and purpose of the law?

 

2. What is my response to God’s commands? How do I put the Christian command of love into practice?

 

 

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

 

Lord Jesus,

you are the Divine Master.

You taught us the true meaning of the law

and fulfilled it through your sacrifice on the cross.

Give us the freedom of the Spirit.

Help us fulfill the Gospel love command in our daily life.

We praise and love you, Law-giver and Law-fulfiller.

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.

 

“I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Mt 5:17b) // “Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe.” (Dt 4:1)

 

 

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

 

Today reflect on the role of laws in society and in the Church. Let this realization impinge positively on your daily life.

 

*** *** ***

 

March 19, 2020: THURSDAY – SAINT JOSEPH, SPOUSE OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY

“JESUS SAVIOR: Saint Joseph Is His Guardian”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

2 Sm 7:4-5a,12-14a, 16 // Rom 4:13, 16-18 // Lk 2:41-51a

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a): “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him.”

 

Steven Gemmen’s story, “Where Love Grows” in Guideposts magazine (October 2004, cf. p. 44-48), is a touching account of how he welcomed into his life the child conceived by his wife, Heather, a victim of sexual assault. Steve narrates how his anger at the rapist found its outlet in the baby. In the sixth month of his wife’s rape-pregnancy, however, Steve was given the grace to understand that the little creature in his wife’s womb had nothing to do with the crime of the father, an unidentified African-American young man who broke into their home. Steve accepted the baby as his own although there were bad times. He remarks: “And there would be strained moments because of the baby’s appearance – starting with the delivery. How do you explain to the staff in the maternity ward that a white couple will have a biracial baby? But what a beautiful, beautiful baby! Healthy, squalling, wriggling, perfect – our long awaited little girl … Our lives haven’t been the same since that terrible night. They never will be. I’d thought nothing could make me love this child. That’s true. Nothing can make us love anyone or anything. Love is not a choice. It is the sovereign gift of God. And it was his gift that the child who stirred within Heather would make the unbearable not just bearable but miraculous.”

 

Steve’s compassionate stance towards his wife and the baby helps us understand better the Gospel reading (Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a). It makes us appreciate the goodness of Joseph, foster-father and guardian of Jesus, born of Mary. Confronted with the unexpected pregnancy of his betrothed, Joseph may have been deeply humiliated, angered and hurt. His plans to divorce Mary may presume his suspicion that she had been raped or seduced. As a man of honor and devout observer of the Old Testament law, Joseph could not take Mary as his wife. As a man of goodness and compassion, he did not wish to expose Mary to the shameful trial of a woman suspected of adultery. He therefore decided to divorce her quietly. But an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and assured him not to be afraid to take Mary home as his wife for it is through the Holy Spirit that the child in her womb was conceived. The angel said to Joseph: “She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save people from their sins”. When Joseph woke up he did what the angel commanded him to do: he took his wife into his home.

 

The German scholar Karl Rahner remarks: “Joseph is the foster-father and guardian of the child, not just because his wedded bride has conceived a child from heaven, but because God himself wished him to take the place of a father to the Son of God who has come to save the world. This is why Joseph is told to give a name to the child; this is why Joseph is addressed as son of David since Jesus himself will be known and acknowledged as the son of David precisely because his earthly father is a son of David stemming from that royal lineage. Thus from our reading of this text we can see heaven entrusting to the care of Joseph the savior of the world. Through this message from above Joseph is drawn into the great, public, official story of salvation. He acts no longer in the purely private capacity of bridegroom and later husband of Mary, but plays an official role in salvation history. He is the guardian and protector of the Son of God.”

 

Indeed, Saint Joseph is the foster-father and guardian of the Child because God himself wished him to take the place of a father to the Son of God who has come to save the world. Directly appointed by God, Joseph of Nazareth became the guardian and protector of Jesus and Mary. Like Saint Joseph, we too are called to be guardians of today’s “Jesus” living in our midst and of today’s “Mary” who needs to be defended. In this Lenten season, we too have the task of caring faithfully for the poor “Jesus” and the vulnerable “Mary” in our fragmented society today.

 

*** *** ***

 

Alternative Gospel Reading (Lk 2:41-51a): “Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”

 

            I came into contact with the pain and anxiety of one who has lost a child. The Italian lady, Sarah, and her adopted girl, Saraji, the six-year old daughter of lepers from a leper colony where she used to work as a volunteer, were guests at our convent in Bangalore, India. One afternoon, they went downtown to shop. An hour later a very distraught Sarah came back to inform us that Saraji wandered away and was lost. We prayed in earnest for her return. Sarah, accompanied by some Sisters, searched for her and after a few distressing hours, found the little girl at the police station calmly eating an ice cream cone. The mother was overjoyed when she found her child.

 

            Today’s Gospel passage (Lk 2:41-52) is about the finding of the child Jesus in the temple.  In the context of the Father’s saving plan, the boy Jesus is not really “lost” in the temple, but is simply obeying a divine compulsion and asserting his personal duty to his Father in heaven. The necessity to be in his Father’s house and to be busy with his Father’s affairs lies in his inherent filial relationship with God who demands from him, the Servant Son, an absolute obedience to the divine saving plan. Indeed, the “three days” that Jesus stayed in the temple is a symbolic reference to the three days of being buried in the tomb, before he would reappear as the victorious Risen Lord, accomplishing the Father’s all inclusive plan to save the human family and the cosmic family of his beloved creation. 

 

            According to Luke, the parents of Jesus “did not understand what he said to them” (Lk 2:50) and Mary, his mother, is portrayed as keeping all these things in her heart (Lk 2:52). Mary, the first disciple and the first “christofora”, continues her journey of faith as she ponders the meaning and destiny of her Son, who “increased in wisdom, and age and favor before God and man” (Lk 2:52). Indeed, the full understanding of Jesus’ messianic identity and saving mission needs to await the paschal event of his death and resurrection.

 

            With Jesus’ intimate filial relationship with the Father and his paschal destiny as a backdrop, it would be easier to understand the role of Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary, in the divine saving plan. The Holy Family of Nazareth is the cradle of life and faith for Jesus, the beloved Son of the Father. The perfect paschal sacrifice to be offered on the Cross is being prepared silently and diligently in the home of Nazareth, under the loving guidance of Mary and Joseph. This grace-filled domestic setting is where the Son of God is loved, nourished, and formed by Saint Joseph and his Blessed Spouse Mary for Christ’s mission to reunite, at the end time, the human family and the cosmic family of God’s beloved creation.

 

 

B. First Reading (II Sm 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16): “The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father.”

 

God is the sole Father of Jesus. Against the background of the Old Testament reading (II Sm 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16), we realize that through Joseph of Nazareth, legal father of Jesus, Mary’s child Jesus came to be a part of King David’s lineage and with it, the fulfillment of the messianic promise. The patronage of Saint Joseph and the love and paternity he offered to Jesus contribute to the realization of the divine saving plan. In the person of the “Son” fostered by Saint Joseph is the radical fulfillment of salvation. God chooses the carpenter Joseph, a just man, to care for Jesus in his childhood and youth. A silent witness, but a vital collaborator in the completion of the messianic promise, Saint Joseph images for Jesus, for the Church, and for today’s society the divine protection and paternity.

 

The importance of the role of Saint Joseph as father-guardian of Jesus and the spouse of Mary, and the importance of the “father image” in general, can be gleaned in the following story (cf. Mike McGarvin, Poverello News, December 2012, p. 1-2).

 

From my perch in Poverello’s Dining Room (two chairs stacked together so that I don’t have far to get up) I usually just fold my hands and see what manner of life God sends my way. Needless to say, every mealtime gives me a panoramic view of life at the bottom.

 

As I watched one day, a mother and her ten-year-old son passed in front of me. Seldom had I seen a surlier, more depressed-looking child. Mom and son were so immersed in a heated argument that they didn’t even look up to greet me. I’d seen this pair before. The boy always sported a sad face or a snarl. Most of the time, mother and son would pass me by, locked in what seemed to be a perpetual argument. Either this was a kid born for contention, or the mom had zero skills when it came to communication. (…)

 

Then, recently, something happened. It was at first startling, then profound. I was doing my Poverello maitre de duties, when I saw the mother enter the Dining Room. Expecting the usual dark cloud behind her as her son followed, I was astonished to witness a transformed boy. He had a smile on his face and was actually skipping in his mother’s footsteps. I saw him bolt ahead of his mother to their table, and pull out and hold a chair for her, like a miniature gentleman. I was stunned.

 

I wasn’t about to let this remarkable alteration pass without trying to find out what happened. I went over to the table, and quietly asked how the boy was doing. She smiled, then inclined her head in the direction behind me, indicating a man who was belatedly joining them. “His dad’s back. He just got out of rehab. You can see that my son’s doing great.” I made room for the man to sit between his boy and wife. As I walked back to my Papa Mike’s chair, I saw the boy staring in sheer adoration and bliss at the father he hadn’t seen in months.

 

Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who has spent most of his ministry working among impoverished gang members in Los Angeles, wrote: “In the soul of nearly every homie (gang member) I know there is a hole that’s in the shape of his dad.” Most of the men in our drug program grew up with absent or neglectful fathers. A father’s absence says to a child: “You don’t matter to me. You aren’t important. I have other priorities.” That is a message that propels countless kids toward lives of self-destruction, because why bother trying to make something of yourself if you think you’re nothing, a cipher that has no value to the most important man in your life?

   

 

C. Second Reading (Rom 4:13, 16-18, 22): “Abraham believed, hoping against hope.”

 

In today’s Second Reading (Rom 4:13, 16-18, 22), Saint Paul presents the patriarch Abraham as a model of the Christian believer. Abraham’s faith is a sign of Christian faith. Though Abraham has so many human motives for despairing of ever having God’s posterity, he submits himself in faith to God. Abraham believes and hopes, even when there seems to be no reason for hoping. He has faith in the creative power of God to do what seems impossible. God brings life out of Sarah’s dead womb. And so Abraham becomes “the father of many nations”. The faith experience of Abraham is replicated in the life of Saint Joseph. And like Abraham we too are called to believe in a God who brings life out of death, not only in the dead womb of Abraham’s wife, but above all, in raising the sacrificed body of his Son Jesus Christ to new life. As Church, a community of faith, through our baptismal rebirth in Jesus Christ we become the privileged descendants of Abraham in faith.

 

The faith of Abraham continues to be manifested by Christian disciples through all ages. Like the patriarch Abraham and Saint Joseph, Blessed Timothy Giaccardo’s faith was tested. This happened when he tried to obtain permission to enter the fledging Pauline Family founded by his professor and spiritual director, Blessed James Alberione. Blessed Timothy narrates his experience (cf. Tom Fogarty’s article in Concord magazine on Blessed Timothy).

 

Events are speeding up.

Today the Spiritual Director and Canon Chiesa told me it’s time to make a move. O God, I am nothing, needed for nothing. Help me to make this transition. I will make a Triduum of prayer for this intention: to Jesus, Creator of the world, and to Mary, hope of sinful humanity; to Mary Queen of Apostles and to Jesus our Redeemer. And on the third day I will receive the Blessed Eucharist.

 

Some time later.

Mary, here I am at the vigil of the great day when I desire to enter the family of Fr. Alberione, get to know my Sisters and begin to live with my dear Brothers. Now I have to ask the Bishop permission to leave the Seminary.

 

This request raised various difficulties – remembering also the relationships between clerics of that age and their Bishops: very different from the relationships existing today.

This evening I asked permission. The Bishop showed that he was aware of my situation and asked if I wanted to remain a cleric, become a priest and then obey Fr. Alberione rather than the Bishop. I replied in the affirmative. He thought about this reply for some considerable time and then replied that, if I wished to have his permission to leave, I could no longer wear my cassock. I told him I was quite determined to leave but would be reluctant to leave the cassock aside.

 

This interview took place on May 17. A week later, we read.

The Bishop called me again and asked me about my studies. He then said that, if I intended to remain a cleric, he wanted me to continue in the seminary. With Fr. Alberione I will never be a priest as I plan to be. Father cannot be all that sure that he is doing the will of God. Of course I am free to try out my call but I am being invited to that house just because I can be useful to them and when they find me useless they will throw me out. Canon Chiesa is a good priest but he has not given me practical advice on this point. And I do not have the serenity and calm to be a journalist. My love for the new idea comes from the fact that Fr. Alberione has always helped me – indeed, hypnotized me. The advice I have received contradicts the authority of the Bishop who is not personally opposed to the work but simply suggests that it remains to be seen.

 

The points he made were not difficult in themselves but I was shaken by them because I would have to resist the authority of the Bishop whom I esteem and love and with whom I am deeply united. I begin to doubt … is my call truly from God? And I almost begin to regret the quiet life I might live if I had not thought of leaving the seminary. But yet my will remained very firm indeed and I still wanted to follow Fr. Alberione so there was nothing to be gained by going over the same ground. I spoke to Fr. Alberione again and he said that if I don’t believe in what we are doing then I should tear up the Gospel!

 

After this “onslaught” there were other sacrifices he had to make.

I renounced seriously in Jesus’ favor what might prevent me following the divine call: my pride, my deep affection for the Seminary, the Clerics, the Superiors, the peaceful Seminary life and even the clerical cassock – though its loss will cause me pain and humiliation … And in this period I renewed several times the consecration of my whole being to Mary and this morning after Communion I asked Jesus to cleanse me of all my lack of attention to my tender Mother.

 

It was now June and Timothy began to make a move toward Fr. Alberione. But first of all as a visitor during the summer seminary vacation. The Bishop agreed to this but insisted that, outside the seminary, Timothy would no longer be a cleric.

 

O Jesus how I thank you for this grace which marks my life and humbles me. If I had got all I wanted I would have lost my head and would have forgotten you and would have lost interest in my formation. I have to spend all this vacation in profound humility having received a less-than-enthusiastic permission from the Bishop and no guarantee of a future permission. Lord, let me live in Fr. Alberione’s house not as a member but as a species of poor man or beggar. Long live Jesus!

  

 

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

 

1. Do we look upon Saint Joseph as a model of submission to the divine saving will?

 

2.  Are we willing to fulfill the role of St. Joseph as guardians of the “Jesus” and “Mary” in today’s fragmented world? How do we imitate the sterling virtues of St. Joseph who spent his whole life guarding Jesus, the savior and the life of the world?

 

 

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

 

Loving Father,

we thank you for St. Joseph

who accepted wholeheartedly his role in saving history

as foster-father and guardian of your Son Jesus

and the protector of his Mother Mary.

Help us to be a “true Joseph” in today’s world

by taking care of the “needy Jesus” and “vulnerable Mary”

in a society that is indifferent and ruthless to the weak.

Teach us to trust in your divine providence.

With Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

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.

  

 “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him.” (Mt 1:24)

 

 

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

 

In the spirit of Saint Joseph’s loving care for Jesus and Mary, offer an act of charity to the poor and the most vulnerable members of your community. Through the intercession of Saint Joseph, pray for all fathers and for the Pope in his ministry as shepherd-guardian of the universal Church.

 

 

*** *** ***

 

March 20, 2020: FRIDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (3)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Calls Us to Love God and Neighbor”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Hos 14:2-10 // Mt 12:28-34

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mk 12:28-34): “The Lord our God is one Lord and you shall love the Lord your God.”

 

The newspaper report about the alleged dumping of five discharged hospital patients in Los Angeles’ Skid Row saddened me. The dumping of the homeless patients is a symptom of a fragmented society that has failed in its task of loving and caring for one another. Today’s situation of social ills that need healing should be confronted by the message we hear in today’s Gospel (Mk 12:28-34): “Love the Lord your God with all your heart … Love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

The true meaning of love of God and neighbor has been crystallized in the very life and person of Jesus, especially in his self-gift and sacrificial love on the cross. Because God, in his Son Jesus has loved us so much, we too are enabled to love. The commandments to love God and neighbor originate from the energizing, empowering love that the Lord has for us. In accepting God’s love for us, our commitment to love God and neighbor is made possible in a wholehearted way.

 

Lent is a grace-filled season for loving and serving God and neighbor. We must not be sparing in loving and serving God and neighbor, but must give all, otherwise we will be shortchanged. Rabindranath Tagore, the great Bengali poet, in his Gitanjali tells the story of a beggar going from door to door asking for alms. He suddenly sees his celestial king approaching in a chariot, and he dreams of the king showering upon him bountiful gifts. But to his surprise, the king asks him what he has to give. After staring, confused and undecided, he finally peers into his sack of meager possessions, takes out a tiny grain of corn, and gives it to the king. Later he says, “But how great my surprise when at the day’s end I emptied my bag on the floor to find a little grain of gold among the poor heap! I bitterly wept and wished that I had had the heart to give my all.

 

 

B. First Reading (Hos 4:2-10): “We will not say to the works of our hands: our god.”

 

Today’s Old Testament reading (Hos 14:2-10) is a very beautiful passage composed of two parts: the plea to Israel to return to the Lord and God’s promise of new life for Israel. In the first part, the prophet Hosea exhorts the people to be converted and suggests a prayer of repentance to be presented to the Lord: “Forgive all our sins and accept our prayer, and we will praise you as we have promised.” The people resolve to reject idols and no longer to put confidence in political maneuvers and military alliances. In turn God declares his compassionate mercy for the repentant people. He will heal their infidelity and will let Israel flourish in beauty and plenty. He will bring his people back to him and love them with all his heart. He will answer their prayers and take care of them. Like an evergreen tree, God will shelter them and make them fruitful. Those who follow the divine ways will live, but the sinners will stumble and fall.

 

Like Hosea, and even more than him, Jesus Christ calls people to conversion and to experience the wonderful effect of divine forgiveness and grace. The conversion of the Italian actress Claudia Koll gives an insight into this (cf. ALIVE! February 2012, p. 16).

 

CLAUDIA KOLL: Born in Rome in May 1965, Koll was brought up a Catholic, but when she left home to become an actress she also left the Church, she said, doing as she pleased, in a spirit of rebellion. Her lifestyle and career in the movies, including a number of porn roles, left her psychologically vulnerable.

 

Then, one day in 2000, during a session of vaguely Buddhist meditation, she suddenly found herself overcome by a terrifying sense of being in the presence of evil. She began to recite the Our Father and felt the threat recede. It was the beginning of her conversion.

 

Having returned to faith, she went on to found an association, “The Works of the Father”, that is dedicated to missionary and caring work in Africa. She also heads the Academy of Arts that was founded on the principles set out in John Paul II’s Letter to Artists. Her aim here is to help young people live in the world of fame and glamour in a healthy Christian way. Since her conversion she has traveled all over Italy giving her testimony and inviting young people to return to prayer and to faith in God.

 

 

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

 

1. Do we love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind? How do we carry out the fraternal and social aspect of the divine command to love? Do we love our neighbor as ourselves?

 

2. How do we respond to God’s call to conversion offered to us in Jesus Christ?

 

 

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

 

Lord Jesus you said:

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart

 with all your soul,

and with all your mind …

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

“This is my prayer to thee, my Lord

– strike, strike at the penury in my heart.

Give me strength never to disown the poor

or bend my knees before insolent might,

and give me the strength to surrender my strength

to thy will with love.” (Rabindranath Tagore)

 

Lord Jesus you said:

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart

 with all your soul,

and with all your mind …

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

“Grant me to recognize in other men, Lord God,

the radiance of your face.” (Teilhard de Chardin)

 

Lord Jesus you said:

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart

 with all your soul,

and with all your mind …

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

“Give us patience and fortitude to put self aside for you

in the most unlikely people:

to know that every man’s and any man’s suffering

is our own first business,

for which we must be willing to go out of our way

and to leave our own interests.” (Caryll Houselander)

 

 

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.

 

 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart … You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mk 12:30-31) // “Straight are the paths of the Lord, in them the just walk.” (Hos 14:10)

 

 

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

 

Pray for the grace of perfect love for our neighbor. Offer a concrete act of charity on behalf of the poor, the marginalized and the lonely, and the victims of man-made and natural calamities.

 

 

*** *** ***

 

March 21, 2020: SATURDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (3)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Teaches Us to Be Humble”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Hos 6:1-6 // Lk 18:9-14

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 18:9-14): “The tax collector went home justified, not the Pharisee.”

 

The story entitled “The Brown Vest” in Guideposts (January 2004, cf. p. 70-73) presents a contrast of two characters: the retired engineer, John, who sat on the board of elders and the humble Harvey who served as pastor of the congregation. John worked hard. He served on committees. He gave generously, but he never let slip an opportunity to tell Pastor Harvey what he was doing wrong. “Your sermons aren’t spiritual enough”, was one recurring grievance against Pastor Harvey. Then there was the ever-touchy subject of church finances. John told Pastor Harvey at the board meeting: “We squander too much of our resources helping people who are better off learning to help themselves. We need to work more at spreading the gospel.” Pastor Harvey answered gently: “Of course, John. But I think we must also share with those who are less fortunate.” There was no doubt that the elder John was open and straight. One day the self-righteous John was diagnosed with cancer. Pastor Harvey visited him often in the hospital and at home where he returned for hospice care. One Friday afternoon before John was about to die, he motioned Pastor Harvey closer. He said, “You know, Pastor, for a guy who does so much wrong, you really aren’t a bad sort.”

 

Today’s Gospel parable (Lk 18:9-14) also presents a contrast of two characters: the self-righteous Pharisee and the repentant tax collector. The prayer of the Pharisee is directed to God but is self-centered. He thanks God that he is not like the tax collector, whom he regards as a sinner. The tax collector, by contrast, prostrates himself before God. He humbly prays: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” The tax collector clings to no merit of his own, but simply begs God for mercy. The tax collector, and not the Pharisee, is in the right with God when he goes home. He receives God’s favor because in his humility he believes that God can be merciful to him and forgive him his sins. No human deeds could merit God’s merciful forgiveness. Only the sacrifice of the incarnate Son has that power. Because of Christ’s life-giving sacrifice, the Spirit bestows forgiveness on the humble. Lent invites us to take a humble stance before God because he humbles the proud and exalts the lowly.

 

 

B. First Reading (Hos 6:1-6): “What I want is love, not sacrifice.”

 

Today’s Old Testament reading (Hos 6:1-6) contains some of the most evocative words of conversion in the Bible. Israel’s words, however, are false and deceptive. The beauty of their expression cannot save their ugly and insincere heart. The people makes a discourse about returning to the Lord, trusting in his healing hand, trying to know his ways, and looking forward to the Lord who will surely come like the dawning day and the spring rain falling upon the earth. But the Lord is not impressed with their words. He sees through their hypocrisy and their failure to know him as a loving God. He chides them for their pretended conversion. Their love for God is as transitory as the morning mist that quickly disappears. The fidelity of Israel is as tenuous as the dew that disappears before the morning sun. Their purported conversion and their pious practices are therefore meaningless. The Lord God therefore tells them what he wants from them plainly and clearly: “I want your constant love, not your animal sacrifices. I would rather have my people know me than have them burn offerings for me.” Indeed, words and rituals have meaning and value only when they manifest the interior spirit of obedience and adoration before God.

 

In Jesus Savior is true conversion. His disciples are channels of conversion. On February 22, 2013, God gave me an opportunity to meet in person “Papa Mike” (Mike McGarvin), the founder of the Poverello House in Fresno. Sr. Francis Christine of the Holy Cross Center for Women in Fresno introduced me and my friends (Pat, Cecilia and Melissa) to this modern day “icon” of conversion. Listening to “Papa Mike” as he narrated his conversion was sheer grace. The following is his written account (cf. Mike McGarvin, Papa Mike, Fresno: Poverello House, 2003, p. 119-120).

 

On June 8, 1994, my heart grieved while the angels sang anthems of praise. On that day, quietly, in the serene obscurity of a Franciscan hospice, Father Simon Scanlon departed from the fragile confinement of his earthly body and arrived in a better place. May he rest in peace.

 

Were it not for Father Simon, there would have been no Poverello House in Fresno, and I doubt that I would still be numbered among the living. Father Simon directed the Poverello in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. It was into his little storefront coffee house that I stumbled back in the late 1960s. I was a mess, to put it mildly. I was a raging, drug-abusing hippy who was full of hatred, especially toward myself.

 

For many years, I had been pursued by the Hound of Heaven, and He used a humble, loving Franciscan priest to finally free me. If there’s one word that best describes Father Simon, it is love: unconditional, unrelenting, penetrating. When I looked in a mirror back then, I saw a despicable failure. When Father Simon looked at me, he saw a child of God, hurt and confused by life’s turbulence. It was his acceptance, his warmth, and his glowing spirit that subtly began to turn me around. (…)

 

After spending so much time with Father Simon at the San Francisco Pov, it was second nature to give as he had given me. That’s how the Poverello House started in Fresno. In gratitude to Father Simon, I began, as best as I could, to imitate his actions, which were merely an outgrowth of his love-filled soul.

 

 

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

 

1. In our relationship with God, what role do we usually play: the self-righteous Pharisee who enumerates his virtues and despises the sinner, or the repentant tax collector who beats his breast, praying: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Lk 18:13)?

 

2. What are my experiences of conversion? Have I been guilty of insincere or feigned conversion and of practicing empty rituals?

 

 

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

 

O loving Jesus, meek and humble,

in you is God’s forgiveness and true conversion.

Teach us constant love and faithfulness.

Grant us a listening heart and an obedient spirit

that we may experience you

as the rising dawn and the dew from heaven.

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.

 

“For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice.” (Hos 6:6) // “The one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Lk 18:14) 

 

 

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

 

In a spirit of repentance, pray slowly and meaningfully three times the ancient Jesus-prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Pray for a person whom we have held in contempt. Be thankful for the grace of conversion. By your life-witnessing and concern for others, allow yourself to become God’s instrument of conversion for others. 

 

***

 

 

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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