A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday and Weekday Liturgy

 

BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (Series 12, n. 17)

Third Sunday of Lent and Lenten Weekday 3: March 23-29, 2014 ***

 

 

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

 

Below is a LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY - WEEKDAY LITURGY: March 23-29, 2014. The weekday reflections are based on the First Reading. For the weekday reflections based on the Gospel Reading, please open Series 10.)

 

***

 

March 23, 2014: 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

 

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 regard to today’s Gospel account, 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.”

  

Moreover, in today’s episode, the weariness and thirst of Jesus in the midday heat as he sits by Jacob’s well calls to mind his experience of acute thirst as he hangs upon the wood of the Cross, in the merciless heat of the sun at Mount Calvary. Jesus’ thirst at Sychar, which has made him request the Samaritan woman a drink, points to his ultimate thirst on the “tree of affliction”. 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 death of Jesus on the Cross fulfills his promise to 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). By his death on the cross, Jesus becomes the font of eternal life.

 

***

 

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.

 

***

 

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.

 

***

 

March 24, 2014: MONDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (3)

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

 

BIBLE READINGS

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

 

  

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

 

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.”

 

***

 

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 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.” (cf. 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 25, 2014: TUESDAY – THE ANNUNCIATION OF THE LORD

“JESUS SAVIOR: The Angel Announces Him to Mary”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 7:10-14; 8:10 // Heb 10:4-10 // Lk 1:26-38

 

 

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

 

Today the liturgical assembly listens devoutly to the Gospel proclamation of the annunciation of the birth of our Lord Jesus (Lk 1:26-38). The first recipient of this Good News is Mary, the virgin maiden of Nazareth, chosen to be the Mother of Jesus. The annunciation of the Lord brought about the dawn of salvation and this joyful message brings hope and consolation to people through the ages. The Church writer, Venerable Bede, remarks: “Today’s reading of the Gospel calls to mind the beginning of our redemption, for the passage tells us how God sent an angel from heaven to a virgin. He was to proclaim the new birth, the incarnation of God’s Son, who would take away our age-old guilt; through him it would be possible for us to be made new and numbered among the children of God. And so, if we are to deserve the gifts of the promised salvation, we must listen attentively to the account of its beginning.” 

 

On this feast of the Lord’s Annunciation we marvel at the immensity of God’s love and his saving design. We are awed by the vital role of Mary in salvation history – as the mother of Christ the Savior, the Son of God. We are also grateful for her maternal intervention in our life. The following article on the Internet is a beautiful example of a Marian “miracle”.

 

Benedictine College’s consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 8, 2013, is just the most recent chapter in the story of the school’s relationship with Mary, “Our Lady’s intercessions date as far back as 1856 when she saved the founder of St. Benedict’s Abbey – Fr. Henry Lemke’s life during a torrential thunderstorm and flood. (…) Fr. Henry Lemke wrote in his diary about an 1856 incident where he was lost in a storm and prayed for Mary’s intercession. As soon as he said the prayer, a light appeared on the horizon. He stumbled toward it and found that it was a lantern hanging in the window of a cottage.

 

The mother and daughter who lived in the cottage sheltered him and told him that a lady dressed in white appeared to the child in the night. This had awakened the mother who hung the lantern. Wrote Lemke: “O you dearest Mother of God, it was through the pure and unsullied soul of a child that you effected that the mother would place a lamp in the window just about the very time when I was calling out for help because I feared for my life. The Mother of God worked a miracle.”

 

Two years later, Benedictine College was founded and the “lady dressed in white” appeared to another girl in a small town – St. Bernadette of Lourdes, France.

 

***

 

Today’s Old Testament reading (Is 7:10-14; 8:10) speaks of a prophetic sign directed to King Ahaz, who is anxious and trembling for the imminent siege of Jerusalem in 735 B.C. by the kings of Syria and Israel. Confronting his lack of trust in the Lord, the prophet Isaiah declares: “The Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” With the sign of the conception and birth of a child, God wants to manifest to King Ahaz that the Lord Yahweh is in perfect control of human history and destiny. Indeed, God is with us and intimately involved in our affairs. The “sign” announced by the prophet Isaiah is an invitation to Ahaz to trust in God alone – in the realization of the Covenant and his continual protection. King Ahaz ought not to rely on the political and military interventions of the Assyrians for salvation from his enemies. The conception and birth of a child by the king’s young wife is meant to indicate Yahweh’s abiding presence and merciful intervention on behalf of his people. The weakling ruler, however, does not accept the birth of his son, Hezekiah, as a “sign” of salvation and of God’s solicitude for the house of David. Trusting more in political security, Ahaz sends gold and silver to the King of Assyria and woefully becomes Assyria’s vassal.

 

The “sign” of a child used by the prophet Isaiah to challenge the feckless Ahaz is surpassed and radically fulfilled in the mystery of the Lord’s Annunciation. It is through the message of an angel that we learn of the incarnation of the Son of God. It is not a sign among many, but THE sign of God par excellence. The feast of the Annunciation celebrates the mystery of the Son of God conceived by the Blessed Virgin Mary in her womb in order to give him a body. This body, formed from the flesh and blood of the Virgin Mother by the power of the Holy Spirit, is the “body” that brings salvation to all through the paschal event of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.

 

The Indian Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore remarks that the birth of every child is a sign that God has not given up on the world. God continues to surround us with “signs” of salvation and of his care and love. The following story narrated by Sue Monk Kidd in an old issue of GUIDEPOSTS magazine illustrates how the appearance of a child in the languishing church community of Melba becomes a sign of the divine will to bring life and salvation.

 

In 1977, the Baptist Church in Melba, a rural American town, was about to close its doors forever. Over the years, churchgoing had dropped off alarmingly. Some hurts and misunderstandings had divided and shattered the congregation. All that remained was about a dozen people on the verge of giving up. That handful of people gathered in the church one Sunday to vote whether to continue services or close down for good. Their meeting was interrupted when a child appeared – a child of only seven years – who wanted to join the Sunday school and the church service. Angela, for that was her name, returned the next Sunday, and the next and the next.

 

That child became the reason for the Melba Baptist Church to go on. They struggled to live in order to nurture a young spirit from one Sunday to the next. Angela was their glimmer of hope. She was their future. The child’s appearance saved the congregation from extinction and sure death. The Melba Baptist Church has become renovated and increased in membership. As far as they are concerned, the little girl who came alone to the church that long-ago Sunday was sent by God.

 

***

 

Today’s Second Reading (Heb 10:5-10) gives us a profound insight into the “why” of the Lord’s incarnation. The Son of God became man so that through his “body” he could offer a sacrifice of perfect obedience to the Father’s saving will. The effect of Christ’s perfect sacrifice is our salvation and redemption. Through the offering of the body of Christ for all, we have been sanctified and consecrated to the loving, merciful God the Father.

 

The following AOL news report gives insight into the sacrificial-saving aspect of the Lord’s incarnation.

 

An 8-year-old helped rescue six of his relatives from a fire at their mobile home, but sadly he wasn’t able to make it out himself. Brave Tyler Doohan was laid to rest with a special title: honorary firefighter.

 

CNN says Tyler was able to wake up 6 people to alert them of the fire and get them out safely. He then ran back inside the mobile home to try to save his disabled grandfather. Fire Chief Chris Ebmeyer explained what happened next. “By that time, the fire had traveled to the back of the trailer”, Ebmeyer said. “Unfortunately, they both succumbed to heat and smoke.

 

The boy and his grandfather were found together on a bed in the back room. It appears Tyler had been trying to lift him. With this comes the example that even though he was 8 years of age, he was able to display that amount of courage that most people can’t in their entire lives.”

 

The funeral for Tyler, his grandfather and step-grandfather was held Wednesday, January 29, 2014 … Since the tragedy, Tyler’s neighbor has started a fundraiser for the family who lost everything in the fire. As of January 30th, supporters have donated more than $60,000 – far exceeding the $15,000 goal.

 

 

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

 

1. Do we imitate Mary’s “Yes” to the saving will of God? In what ways do we live out our openness to divine grace?

 

2. What is the personal significance of the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God in our life? Are we ready to welcome the Lord’s annunciation and incarnation as a saving sign that transforms our life?

 

3. Do you imitate Christ in his total submission to the Father’s saving will? Do you declare “through Christ, with Christ and in Christ” with a receptive heart: Behold, I come to do your will, O God

 

 

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

(cf. Alternative Opening Prayer of the Mass of the Annunciation)

 

Almighty Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

you have revealed the beauty of your power

by exalting the lowly virgin of Nazareth

and making her the mother of our Savior.

May the prayers of this woman

bring Jesus to the waiting world

and fill the void of incompletion

with the presence of her child,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, forever and ever.

            Amen.   

  

 

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

 

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

 

“May it be done to me according to your word.” (cf. Lk 1:38)

 

 

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

 

Any time today pray and meditate on the beautiful prayer, “The Angelus”. By your acts of kindness and charity, enable the people around you to welcome and experience God’s ultimate sign of love in Jesus Christ. 

***

 

March 26, 2014: WEDNESDAY – LENTEN WEKDAY (3)

 “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

 

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.

 

***

 

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.” (cf. 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 27, 2014: THURSDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (3)

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Invites Us to Gather with Him”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Jer 7:23-28 // Lk 11:14-23

 

 

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

 

As Jesus journeys to the cross, the opposition intensifies. A crowd has just witnessed the exorcism of a demon. Some of them attribute his power to Beelzebul, the prince of demons. Others demand further signs. Jesus retorts to the skeptical crowd that Satan is not so foolish as to allow infighting. A divided force shatters. But Jesus is stronger than Satan and his army. He drives away demons by the “finger of God”. Jesus conquers evil and heals our afflictions through the power of God. He therefore challenges the crowd to gather with him.

 

With regards to the ongoing cosmic conflict between good and evil, we need to fight for the sake of good with Jesus and by the “finger of God”. And with regards to the kingdom value that Jesus brings, we cannot evade decisions. We cannot remain uncommitted. We cannot refuse to make sacrifices or take risks.  To refuse to gather with Jesus is to side with Satan. Indeed, a non-committal stance is self-destructive. Lent is a time to gather with Jesus and renew our fundamental commitment for him. But our core decision for Christ necessitates self-renunciation.

 

The following story is fascinating. It gives insight into the sacrificial aspect of loving and opting for Jesus Christ (cf. “The Slave Girl” in Anthony de Mello, The Song of the Bird, New York: Image Books, 1984, p. 158).

 

A Moslem king fell passionately in love with a slave girl and had her transferred from the slave quarters to the palace. He planned to marry her and make her his favorite wife, but, mysteriously, the girl fell seriously ill on the very day she entered the palace. She grew steadily worse. Every known remedy was given to her, but to no avail. The poor girl now hovered between life and death.

 

In despair the king made an offer of half of his kingdom to anyone who would cure her. But who would attempt to cure an illness that had baffled the best physicians of the realm? Finally a hakim appeared who asked to be allowed to see the girl alone. After he had spoken with her for an hour he appeared before the throne of the king who anxiously awaited his verdict.

 

“Your majesty”, said the hakim. “I do indeed have an infallible cure for the girl. And so sure I am of its effectiveness that, were it not to succeed, I should willingly offer myself to be beheaded. The medicine I propose, however, will prove to be an extremely painful one – not for the girl, but for Your Majesty.” “Mention the medicine”, shouted the king, “and it shall be given her, no matter the cost.”

 

The hakim looked at the king with compassionate eye and said, “The girl is in love with one of your servants. Give her permission to marry him and she will be instantly cured.”

 

Poor king! He wanted the girl too much to let her go. He loved her too much to let her die.

 

***

 

Today’s Old Testament reading (Jer 7:23-28) exposes the people’s disobedience and the absurdity of their false worship. Judah’s false worship is two-sided: the worship of false gods and the meaningless worship of the one true God, with its misplaced emphasis on external cultic activity. God is not interested in their burnt offerings and animal sacrifices unless they live a life of justice as a covenant people. He does not command those false rituals. But he did command them, when he brought them out of Egypt, to obey him so that he would be their God and they would be his people. They were stubborn and refused to listen to God and the prophets sent to them. God now commands Jeremiah to speak words of warning and threats of punishment to his people. They will most likely refuse to listen. Faithfulness has died and is no longer talked about.

 

Likewise in his ministry, Jesus encounters people with hardened hearts. The sad reality of sinful disobedience continues with full force even now (cf. Russel Shaw, “Disturbing Demographic Trends Finally Get Widespread Notice” in Our Sunday Visitor, January 27, 2013, p. 6).

 

The disruptive results for individuals and society spawned by the revolution in attitudes and behavior regarding sex, marriage, family and childbearing that erupted a half-century ago have become too obvious to ignore. These things were predictable – in fact, some people actually predicted them from the start – but by now their impact has grown so painfully apparent that even secular voices are being raised in alarm.

 

The problems are increasingly visible in the United States. They include an aging population with fewer young workers to support the elderly, along with a disturbingly high incidence of disabilities among children born to parents who put off having them until their 30s and 40s and then, in many instances, resorted to drugs or reproductive technologies to achieve pregnancy. (…)

 

Religious sources, some of them anyway, began warning about such things a long time ago. In his 1968 encyclical condemning contraception, Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”), Pope Paul VI spoke of “insurmountable limits” to what people can rightly do to, and with their bodies, and of the personal and social imperatives requiring that those limits not be ignored. The pope was ignored when he wasn’t laughed at. But he was right. (…)

 

Jonathan Last sees two large explanations for what has happened in recent decades: “the waning of religion in American life” and the shattering of the “iron triangle” that previously linked sex, marriage and child-bearing.

 

No doubt that is so. As Pope Paul VI said back in 1968, “The innocent practice of regulation of birth demands that husband and wife acquire and possess solid convictions concerning the true values of life and of the family.” That was necessary then, and it’s just as necessary today.

 

 

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

 

1. What is our response to Christ’s challenge: “Whoever is not with me is against me and whoever does not gather with me scatters”?

 

2. Do I listen to the voice of the Lord and walk in his ways? What is the root cause of my disobedience and its consequence?

 

 

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

 

Loving Jesus,

our strength to fight evil is from you.

If we do not gather with you,

we are doomed.

If we choose not to commit ourselves to you

and evade making a fundamental option for you,

we turn against you.

Let us align ourselves with you that we may live.

You cast out evil by the “finger of God”.

United with you, we are victorious.

For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours,

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 is not with me is against me and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Lk 11:23) // “Walk in all the ways that I command you, so that you may prosper.” (Jer 7:23b)

 

 

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

  

Make an effort to overcome self-destructive tendencies and addictions. Continue to fight against structuralized evil in the modern society.

 

***

 

March 28, 2014: FRIDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (3)

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

 

BIBLE READINGS

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

 

 

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

 

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 Gospel message: “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.

 

***

 

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 29, 2014: 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

 

The story entitled “The Brown Vest” in Guideposts Magazine (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.

***

 

Today’s Old Testament reading 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. Last February 22, God gave me an opportunity to see what true conversion means in the life of 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 Papa Mike, the founder of the Poverello House in Fresno. Witnessing the ministry of the Poverello House and the Holy Cross Center for Women to the poor and the marginalized was an intense spiritual experience. Listening to Papa Mike as he narrated his conversion was sheer grace. The following is a written account of his conversion (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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