A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday and Weekday Liturgy

 

BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (Series 12, n. 7)

Baptism of the Lord and Weekday 1: January 12-18, 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 and Series 12 for the back issues of the Weekday Lectio.

 

Below is a LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY - WEEKDAY LITURGY: January 12-18, 2014. The weekday reflections are based on the First Reading. For the weekday reflections based on the Gospel Reading, please open Series 10.)

 

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January 12, 2014: SUNDAY - THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD

 “JESUS SAVIOR: His Baptism is an Epiphany and a Messianic Investiture”       

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 42:1-4, 6-7 // Acts 10:34-38 // Mt 3:13-17

 

 

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

 

Sr. Maria Goretti, the superior of the PDDM community in Pondicherry, died in the tsunami that swept through the Indian coast on December 26, 2004. On the day after Christmas, the entire community left Pondicherry for a pilgrimage to a famous Marian shrine, Our Lady of Velankani. The five Sisters were making a stopover at the coastal town of Nagapattanam for breakfast when they heard terrified shouts: “The water is rising. Run for your life!” Everybody frantically fled the killer waves. Sr. Maria Goretti, however, perished. At 12:30 P.M., the rescuers brought her lifeless body covered with mud into the town’s Catholic Church building. Sr. Maria Goretti’s immersion into the paschal destiny of Christ, prefigured in the sacrament of baptism, is complete. She has crossed the raging waters to eternal life. Indeed, Sr. Maria Goretti, who died to this earth, now lives on in heaven. She is now united in eternal life with Jesus Christ, who was baptized like us.

 

This Sunday’s celebration of the baptism of the Lord fittingly concludes the Christmas-Epiphany season. Ordinary Time begins tomorrow and the liturgy of the season through the year emphasizes the daily ministry of Jesus to the people of his day and the flock that he continues to shepherd in the here and now. The feast of the Lord’s baptism contains tremendous significance and profound riches for the community of believers today. At the River Jordan, where Jesus has submitted himself to a baptism by John, there is an epiphany, a messianic investiture and anointing by the Holy Spirit, and above all, a pre-figuration of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.

 

The climax of Matthew’s baptismal account is the identification of Jesus as the Son of God. A voice comes from the heavens saying: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”. The voice is addressed publicly to those present and has a revelatory character. For the evangelist Matthew, the baptismal event is an epiphany – a manifestation of Jesus to the world as the Son of God, totally committed to serve the Father’s messianic saving plan. The biblical scholar, Daniel Harrington, comments: “Matthew’s primary concern is to show that at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry he is publicly acknowledged as the Son of God. This in turn makes clear the significance of everything that Jesus will do in the course of that ministry. His is the ministry of God’s own Son. A new age under the power of God has begun, and in it all the plans of God will be fulfilled.”

 

The evangelist Matthew depicts the baptismal event at the Jordan as a messianic investiture through the anointing of the Spirit: “After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him”. The specific character of Jesus’ ministry as Messiah is to be understood against the backdrop of the Suffering Servant: “I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness” (Is 42:6-7). Jesus is the beloved Servant who does the Father’s will. At his baptism in Jordan River, he is revealed as the promised Messiah who responds to Israel’s longing for the “heavens to open and to rain down the just one” (Is 45:8). As the true Messiah, Jesus brings the favor and grace of God. As the fulfillment of our Advent yearnings, he is the ultimate Christmas gift of the loving Father to us.

 

Through his baptism, Jesus is anointed by the Spirit of God and filled with his power. The biblical theologian, Francis Durrwell, remarks: “The theophany of the Jordan marks the beginning of Christ’s public life. God guarantees Jesus of Nazareth: the voice from heaven shows that he is the Son; the presence of the Holy Spirit shows that he is the Messiah, the Anointed One of Yahweh, upon whom the power of God rests. Like the heroes of old, Christ enters upon his career by the impetus of the Holy Spirit.” With the anointing by the Holy Spirit, Jesus is empowered as a prophet to bring the glad tidings of salvation to all and liberate those in the cruel grip of sin and evil.

 

Reflecting on Jesus’ baptism, Harold Buetow draws out some personal applications: “Our baptism is different from the baptism of Jesus. But, like Jesus’ baptism, ours also involves manifestation and mission. With respect to manifestation, in virtue of our baptism we’re called to show forth that the beloved Son of the Father lives in our hearts, and the presence of Jesus in our world. Our call to mission means that we are sent out in the power of the Spirit to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom and, with Jesus, to do good. Both manifestation and mission call us, as Jesus was called, to be God’s servants, to live in harmony with one another, to work together for that unity for which Jesus prayed, to bring justice to the world.”

 

More significantly, the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan by the precursor, John the Baptist, has a paschal implication. Francis Durrwell explains: “John was the herald going ahead to open the road, the friend leading the way. The demand he must fulfill was preparing the road, and ushering in his greater friend. The demand Christ must fulfill was to be the savior of the sinful people. The meeting between them brought John to the culminating point of his mission as he, as it were, ushered Christ into his work of redemption. And Christ entered upon that work. The baptism was a prelude to the redemption, and therein lies the mystery of it. It was a prelude in symbol as well as in reality, for the whole act of redemption was reflected in it and begun in it … The baptism of water to which Christ had to submit himself was related to his essential work of death and resurrection … This anticipation of the drama of redemption took place in a ritual of water: Christ was rehearsing for his death and resurrection by entering the waters of baptism and emerging from them … The account of his baptism even as it stands brings to mind the whole drama of the redemption, and enables Christians to see the sacrament of water as an extending to them of the great eschatological event of our Lord’s death and resurrection.”

 

 

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

 

What does it mean personally to us that the Lord’s baptism is an “epiphany”? Do we perceive this character of “epiphany” in the baptismal event of Jesus as a loving act of God? How does the vocation and mission of the Servant-Son challenge us? Do we fully surrender to the paschal implication of our Christian baptism? In our daily lives, are we ready to die and rise with Jesus Christ, whose baptism in the waters of the Jordan signifies his blood-bath on Mount Calvary and his resurrection to Easter glory?

  

 

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

  

Loving Father and our almighty God,

you celebrated your new gift of baptism

by signs and wonders at the Jordan.

Your voice was heard from heaven

to awaken faith in the presence among us

of the Word made man.

Your Spirit was seen as a dove,

revealing Jesus as your servant

and anointing him with joy as the Christ,

sent to bring to the poor the good news of salvation.

We give you thanks and praise

for having immersed us into the life-giving paschal destiny of Christ

through the sacrament of baptism.

Reborn in water and the Spirit,

help us to be faithful

to our baptismal consecration and Christian vocation.

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.

 

“A voice came from the heavens, saying: ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Mt 3:17)

 

 

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

 

Continue to remember and alleviate the sufferings of the victims of man-made and natural calamities.

 

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January 13, 2014: MONDAY – WEEKDAY (1); SAINT HILARY, bishop, doctor of the Church

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Proclaims the Gospel with Compassion for the Poor”

 

BIBLE READINGS

I Sm 1:1-8 // Mk 1:14-20

 

 

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

 

Today’s Gospel reading contains the inaugural words of Jesus’ public ministry: “Repent and believe in the gospel.” The reign of God has begun in Jesus, the “Good News” in person.  Jesus’ Gospel proclamation is exhilarating, but it is linked to his call for a radical response.  Jesus demands total conversion and faith which entails adherence to his very person. The inaugural ministry of Jesus is followed by the call of the first disciples.  The vocation of the fishermen Simon, Andrew, James and John provides a model for our response to Jesus and depicts the sacrifices of Christian discipleship.  Together with the first disciples, we are invited to respond, “Yes, I leave all and follow you” in a progressive conversion and self-giving until the end.

 

Today’s Old Testament reading provides a fitting backdrop for the public ministry of Jesus, who incarnates God’s compassion for the needy and the lowly. Hannah is barren and despised by all except by her loving husband, Elkanah. The other wife, Peninnah, would torment and humiliate her, because the Lord has left her childless. While she bears her rival’s reproach, not even Elkanah’s patient attempt to comfort Hannah can stop her from weeping and unable to eat. Peninnah’s taunts and Hannah’s anguish continue year after year as Elkanah and his family make their pilgrimage to the sanctuary at Shiloh. But soon there will be a transformation from barrenness to fruitfulness, from despair and tears to hope and joy. The longing for Hannah for a son will be blessed by the Lord, just as Israel’s spiritual need for the word of God will be satisfied.

 

The following story gives a glimpse into the depths of misery of the barren wife Hannah, and her need for help and salvation (cf. Henry Denker, Payment in Full in Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, vol. 3, 1991, p. 176-182).

 

Rebecca Rosen was a small woman, never quite appearing old enough to justify her thirty years. Except for her four unsuccessful attempts to bear a child, she considered herself fortunate. She lived in a free land. She was married to a fine, intelligent young man with whom she shared roots, since they both came from the same town in Poland. It was ironic that they had not met there, where the Jewish population was so small. (…)

 

It was the eve of Rosh Hashanah. David and Rebecca made ready to welcome in the Jewish New Year. He was dressed in his blue suit, good white shirt, and blue tie. “Becca”, David called, thinking she was dallying in the bedroom for one last look in the mirror to be sure she would pass inspection by all the other women, though he knew none of them could equal her beauty. Her face was heart-shaped with the hint of dimple on her chin, and when the long golden hair hung free and caught the sun, it turned lustrous and shining. (…)

 

“Becca”, he called a second time. “We’ll be late for the services.” Her silence drew him back to the bathroom. As he approached he heard her gasping. He rushed in to find her sitting in a corner, trembling. He took her in his arms and saw the tears on her cheeks. “Rebecca? Sweetheart? What is it? What’s wrong?” “My velvet dress … It’s too big. When I made it for the holiday, I thought I would be five months pregnant. So I made allowances, let room. Now it hangs on me like an empty sack. An empty sack …” she repeated, weeping.

 

“Becca, Becca, you can’t keep tormenting yourself. It is not your fault. There’s no cause for shame.” “It isn’t shame”, she protested. “It’s the other women. Some will have their children with them. Those who don’t will brag about the children they left at home – how pretty they are, or how bright. Only I will have no child to brag about.” ‘They understand”, David consoled her. “I don’t want them to understand. And I don’t want to be the subject of their pity. In the butcher shop yesterday I heard Olinsky say to two women, ‘That’s Mrs. Rosen. The pretty one.’ One woman asked, ‘Isn’t she the childless one?’ The other woman said, “That’s the one. Too bad. She’s cursed. Cursed.’”

 

“Becca, my darling”, said David, very concerned now. “Wipe your eyes. We’ll be late for services.” “I am not going”, she declared simply. She said it with such finality that he stepped back from her and stared. This was a different Rebecca than he had ever known. He knew, too, that she would not change her mind. She heard him close the door gently. She sat alone, rocking slowly. So much to give, she thought. God may have performed a miracle for Sarah, but he had made a mockery of me. (…)

 

David returned from synagogue two hours later to find Rebecca sitting in their dark bedroom, turned to the wall, as if to hide. When he took her in his arms, she thrust him away. For three days her condition not only persisted but worsened. David felt forced to seek out Dr. Pomerantz … The next evening Dr. Pomerantz arrived at the Rosen’s modest apartment with the air of a man who had made a grave decision. He commanded Rebecca to accompany him on what he termed a mission of mercy. She had no choice but to comply. (…)

 

“I say expose her to children like we expose a patient when we inoculate him”, the old doctor explained. “Let her build up the ability to cope with the situation. And who knows, David? There may be some child who appeals to her in some special way. It may be a blessing to her, and some unfortunate Jewish child who needs a mother. And also a father.”

 

 

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

 

Do we ever experience torment, misery and anguish inflicted upon us by others? How do we cope with them? Do we turn to God trustingly and seek his help and comfort? Do we welcome Jesus and the Good News and the challenge he brings?

 

 

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

  

O loving God,

we thank you for Jesus and the Good News of salvation he brings.

Let him bring comfort and healing

to the suffering and the scorned.

We pray for the anguished “Hannahs” of our time.

Lift them up from their misery

through the life-giving ministry of your Son Jesus.

We give you glory and praise, now and forever.

            Amen

 

 

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

           

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

 

            “Why do you weep … Why do you grieve?” (I Sm 1:8)

 

 

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

 

By your kind words and deeds, comfort and encourage those who feel dejected and forlorn.

 

 

***

 

January 14, 2014: TUESDAY – WEEKDAY (1)

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Shows God’s Compassion by Word and Deed”

 

BIBLE READINGS

I Sm 1:9-20 // Mk 1:21-28

 

 

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

 

Today’s Gospel continues to depict the early phase of the public ministry of Jesus - God’s “Good News” in person. The passage portrays him in the synagogue at Capernaum on a Sabbath, speaking the saving word of God and teaching with authority. The evangelist Mark describes the impact of Jesus’ teaching-prophetic ministry on the worshipping assembly: “The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes”. Indeed, Jesus speaks with authority as he truthfully and faithfully reveals God’s message to the people. Moreover, he reinforces the power of God’s saving word by performing a healing sign – by curing a man possessed by an unclean spirit. The Benedictine liturgist, Adrian Nocent, comments: “Both word and action highlight the authority – that is the point St. Mark wants to make. Jesus is manifesting himself as Messiah, and his teaching differs from that of others not only by its content but by the fact that it is linked to an effective power from on high. His teaching thus manifests his person and the fact that he has been sent from God.”

 

The Old Testament story of the birth of Samuel underlines the power of the compassionate God, who sent his only Son to be our Savior. In her bitterness Hannah prays to the Lord, weeping copiously. She makes a vow that if she is given a son, she will consecrate him to the Lord as a “nazirite”: neither wine nor liquor shall he drink and no razor shall touch his head. Hannah’s offer shows considerable renunciation, for that means the child would be with her only three years. Hannah’s prayer, reinforced by the invocation of the priest Eli, is heard.  Hannah becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son whom she names “Samuel”, which means “he over whom the name of God is pronounced”. After she has weaned the boy, Samuel, Hannah brings him to the temple, saying to the priest Eli: “Do you remember me? I am the woman you saw standing here, praying to the Lord. I asked him for this child and he gave me what I asked for. So I am dedicating him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he will belong to the Lord.”

 

The favor received by Hannah illustrates the goodness of God and the power of trusting prayer. The same elements can be verified in the following modern-day story (cf. Alex Domokos, “The Making of a Miracle” in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories of Faith, ed. Jack Canfield, et. al. Cos Cob: CSS, 2008, p. 322-324).

 

I was a strong supporter of the Hungarian freedom fighters, and in 1956, when they were subdued by the Soviets after a spontaneous uprising, we were suddenly forced to flee. First we headed for my parent’s home to get our daughter, but our attempts to reach her failed …Despite our terrible despair over leaving our daughter behind, we had to leave. With the help of some very good people, we made our escape from Hungary to Austria and eventually to Canada and to freedom. We settled in Winnipeg and started a new life. Our beautiful little daughter was only three years old when we came to Canada and we began the process of applying for her to come join us in Winnipeg. Little did we know how many years it would take. (…)

 

One day my wife said to me, “I’m going to pray for the intervention of St. Jude. He is the patron saint of hopeless causes.” “Fine with me”, I replied. But I had lost faith in such supernatural intervention long ago. At that time, I was working in the basement of a downtown building in the evening as a sculptor. Day after day, after finishing my regular job, I went to work for a church supplies company for a few extra dollars. The bonus was, I was allowed to use the facilities for some of my own work – and sculpture is an art from that really requires a work space. In the church basement I was surrounded by dusty plaster figures of various saints. My job was to finish them and prepare them for painting. Hollow lifeless figures, I thought to myself. Ridiculous to expect any help from them.

 

But what did I have to lose? Why not take a chance? One evening I made a sudden decision. I dropped my work pail and went to the heap of wood where I often chose pieces for my own carvings. There I found a nice block of basswood that seemed to offer itself up for the task I was planning. I began to envision the features of St. Jude. I had to see him first in my imagination. In a sudden flash, I saw a bearded face full of dignity and hope. That’s it! I thought. I put my chisel to the wood and started carving like I’d never carved before. The hours slipped away. Usually I arrived home at eight every evening, but on this occasion it was well past ten when I finally entered our little attic apartment.

 

I realized immediately that my wife was very agitated. “Where have you been?” she cried. “I was anxious to reach you, but there is no phone in that basement!” “Why, what happened!” I asked. “Look!” she said excitedly. “A new response from the Canadian government. They put some pressure on the Hungarian government, and they have finally relented. They’re letting her go! Our daughter is coming to us in six weeks!”

 

I was speechless. Suddenly feeling weak, I reached for a chair to sit down. I gently placed my new carving on the kitchen table. “What is that?” my wife asked. “Don’t you see? It’s a statue of St. Jude”, I replied. I told her then the reason why I was late, about my sudden impulse to carve and about my vision of St Jude’s face. We looked at each other. There were no words to express our emotions. Joy, disbelief, shock – all of these and more were wrapped into one.

 

Six weeks later, my wife and I stood at the Winnipeg Airport waiting for the plane that would bring our daughter! At home to us, to Canada and to freedom … And suddenly I saw her! Our little girl – now almost ten years old … I ran to her and in one miraculous moment embraced her. My heart was overjoyed!

 

 

 

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

 

Do we regard Jesus as one teaching with authority and bringing about our salvation? Like Hannah, do we open ourselves to the goodness of God and his marvelous works for us?

 

 

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

 

Father of love and goodness,

your Son Jesus teaches with authority

and works marvelous deeds for our saving.

Help us to trust him in our need, helplessness and poverty.

Give us the humility and the spirit of self-surrender of Hannah

and, together with her,

let us sing our canticle of praise to your glory.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

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

 

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

 

            “The Lord remembered her.” (I Sm 1:19) 

 

 

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

 

When situations seem bleak and desperate, renew your trust in God and in the saving words and deeds of our Lord Jesus. Be an instrument of grace and peace for those who are hopeless and desperate.

 

 

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January 15, 2014: WEDNESDAY – WEEKDAY (1)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Hears and Proclaims the Word”

 

BIBLE READINGS

I Sm 3:1-10, 19-20 // Mk 1:29-39

 

 

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

           

In today’s Gospel reading, the paschal victory of Jesus Healer is prefigured in the healing he carries out on behalf of Simon’s sick mother-in-law and many others with various diseases and those possessed by demons. The healing ministry of Jesus is a sign that the kingdom of wholeness has come. By his mission of healing, he shows that sickness, suffering and death do not have the ultimate word. The evangelist Mark narrates: “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed”. The “dawn” of Jesus is poised in earnest towards greater intimacy with the loving Father and the proclamation of the Gospel. The saving ministry of the healing Lord is sustained by his life of prayer and personal dialogue with the Father. Hence, the restoring touch of Jesus reaches out more extensively and the Good News extends, propelled by a life of recollection and prayer.

 

The “dawn” of Jesus finds a fitting background in the Old Testament reading of the call of Samuel, which marks a new “dawn” in the history of Israel. The images of Samuel are all sweetness and light. Through his birth, the anguished existence of Hannah as a barren woman is ended, and through his consecration as a servant of the Lord in the temple, he becomes a source of new life. Today’s episode underlines that while young Samuel is serving the Lord under the guidance of the priest Eli, the revelation of the Lord is uncommon and visions are infrequent. The picture of Eli, now very old and practically blind, describes Israel’s state in relation to the Lord. Israel is in need of the light of the word. The lamp of God, symbol of the divine word, is almost extinguished through the sacrilegious and immoral acts of the officiating priests, the sons of Eli.

 

The boy attendant, Samuel, sleeps in the temple of the Lord in Shiloh where the ark of God is located. This is to enable him to tend the lamp that burns in the sanctuary. God addresses his word directly to Samuel. There is humor in Samuel’s naïve running to Eli three times before the old priest realizes that it is the Lord calling. Upon Eli’s prompting, at the fourth call Samuel makes an eventful response: “Speak, for your servant is listening.” The Lord speaks to the young boy about the destruction of the priestly house of Eli. When Samuel opens the door of the temple in the morning light, he enacts the bursting forth of the word of God to the people of Israel after a long silence. The Lord is with Samuel who grows up to be God’s prophet. God brings to realization the word that Samuel speaks and reinforces his stature as a man of God.

 

The call and response of Samuel to God for a special task in salvation history is replicated through the ages. The following episode in the life o Dolores Hart, a movie actress who became a Benedictine nun, illustrates the fascinating character of God’s call and our response to it (cf. Mother Dolores Hart, O.S.B. and Richard DeNeut, The Ear of the Heart: An Actress’ Journey from Hollywood to Holy Vows, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2013, p. 176-178)

 

Later Dolores met with Reverend Mother Benedict. She spoke of her walk and finding herself at the crest of the hill and standing still, not knowing why she was there. The founder of the monastery told her that, years before in 1947, when she and Mother Mary Aline came to Bethlehem with the mission to found a Benedictine order, they stood at the same place, holding medals they had carried from France. They buried those medals beneath the ground Dolores had stood upon and photographed.

 

“What is it that you want?” Reverend Mother asked me. I told her that was what I was trying to find out. I said, “I want my career, I want to get married. I want to have a home. I want most of all to do the will of God.” I think I hoped that she would not accept me but just say again that I should go back to Hollywood.

 

“I can’t tell you what the will of God is”, she said. “You must decide what you want to do, and in your deepest desire you will find the will of God. What is it that you want?” Again I said, “I want my career. I want to marry. I want to please God and to serve Him with all my heart.”

 

“You will find the will of God when you find what it is in your own heart that you know you must do”, she repeated. “Don’t look for God in some abstraction. The answer comes from within yourself. Dolores, what is it that you want?”

 

In his Rule, Saint Benedict cautions against granting newcomers to monastic life an easy entry. A pilgrim must knock on the door three times to be recognized.

 

When I got back to my room I began packing. I felt the decision had been made for me. God had not spoken. Reverend Mother had not invited me in. I was going home to pick up my life, and I was very relieved to have the whole thing off my back.

 

That evening I went to supper in the refectory. Mother Placid was serving. She smiled and said, “Well’ Dolores, you won’t be able to chew gum when you come in.” I hadn’t realized I was chewing gum. We both laughed. “But I am not entering”, I told her. “Oh,” she said surprised. “Reverend Mother said you were. She said it was clear you had a monastic calling because you were fighting so hard. I’ll let her know she was mistaken.” She turned to leave, and I suddenly stopped her. “No, don’t.”

 

That was it. My answer didn’t come in a lightning bolt. I simply knew at that moment what Reverend Mother was trying to tell me when she insisted that I say what I wanted to do. If I was honest about my answer, I would give God a point of departure He could work with. This is the exact opposite of the way many people think spiritual life proceeds. (…)

 

When Don met Dolores at LAX, he was in good spirits. Nothing in Dolores’ letters from the monastery indicated he would not have a fiancée when she returned. When he saw her, however, his mood changed. “She looked like a refugee, pale and drawn, no makeup, and her hair wasn’t even fixed. We stopped at a steak house near the airport. It was packed, and we were seated smack in the middle of the room.”

 

Dolores hadn’t planned on telling Don her decision that evening, and she tried to keep up a conversation that, before long, gave way to silence. Don remembered, “I began thinking, ‘Where are we heading?’ I finally asked point-blank if she was entering the monastery.”

 

Don’s perception was so strong that I knew I couldn’t put it off. I told him I was.

 

“I just fell apart”, Don said, “right in the middle of the packed room.”

 

 

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

 

Are we willing to welcome the dawning and the in-breaking of the word of God in our life? Do we listen to God as he speaks to us, and are we ready to do the divine will?

 

 

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

 

God our Father,

grant us a listening heart

and the readiness to do your will.

Like Samuel, help us to say to you:

“Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Help us to follow Jesus who listens to your word.

He proclaims the Gospel throughout Galilee

and manifests its saving power.

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.

  

“Speak, for your servant is listening.” (I Sm 3:10) 

 

 

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

 

Give yourself time and leisure for some quiet contemplative prayer. Search deep within you and see the various ways God speaks to you. Make a positive effort to do his will.

 

***

 

January 16, 2014: THURSDAY – WEEKDAY (1)

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Touches Us with Compassion and Helps Those Who Cry for Help”

 

BIBLE READINGS

I Sm 4:1-11 // Mk 1:40-45

 

 

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

 

In today’s Gospel reading, the evangelist Mark depicts one of the most beautiful pictures of Christian compassion. Breaking down the barriers of hygiene and ritual purity, Jesus does the unimaginable. Responding with compassion to the leper’s faith invocation, “If you wish, you can make me clean”, Jesus stretches out his hand and touches him saying, “I do will it. Be made clean.” He touches the “untouchable” with his healing hand. He comforts the outcast with an authoritative cleansing word that brings wholeness. Indeed, in the Gospel accounts, the cleansing of lepers is a messianic sign that the Kingdom of God has come.

 

One of the exigencies of Christian life is to bring the healing ministry of Jesus to the many “lepers” of today, especially the millions of victims of Hansen’s disease all over the world who, more than all others, fit the description “the poorest of the poor”. Mother Teresa of Calcutta dedicated her ministry of charity in a special way to these lepers, impelled by the slogan that was a rewording of the ancient taboo. “Touch a leper with your compassion.” Mother Teresa, moreover, spoke of the “leprosy of the Western world”, which is, the leprosy of loneliness. In her ministry to the lonely, the unwanted, the marginalized, the rejected, the AIDS victim, etc. she had given witness that with the love of Christ, there is healing for the leprosy of our modern times. Indeed, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, together with St. Francis of Assisi, Blessed Damien of Molokai, and many other Christian disciples, had shown that it is possible to respond to the Christian missionary imperative: “Cure the sick … cleanse the lepers!” and that it is necessary to replicate the healing gesture of Christ: “Touch a leper with your compassion.”

 

The Old Testament Reading is about the defeat of the Israelites by their most dangerous enemy, the Philistines, who are militarily and culturally superior. Greatly disadvantaged in an earlier battle by the Philistines, the Israelites attempt to use the presence of the Lord to bring about victory. Ever since their journeying in the desert of Sinai, the Israelites are accompanied by the Ark of the Covenant, the tangible symbol of the Lord’s presence among them. The Ark is a gold-plate wooden box that contains the tables of the Law given to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Ark’s presence in the Israelite camp dismays the Philistines and it instigates them to fight for dear life with extraordinary bravery. The Ark is captured, and among the 30,000 Israelites slain are Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli. It is clear that because of the crimes of Eli’s sons, Israel is no longer worthy of the presence of God in the Ark. The horrible news of the capture of the Ark causes the death of the ninety-year-old Eli, and the news of the death of her father-in-law, Eli, and husband, Phinehas, induces the latter’s widow to labor and give birth to a son. The dying woman names her son, Ichabod, meaning “God’s glory has left Israel”.

 

The grief and the fear of the defeated Israelites are akin to the anguish that the persecuted Christians of today are experiencing. The present-day tragedy in Syrian gives us a glimpse into the suffering of the victims of violence and war, then and now (cf. “Media Silence about Anti-Christian Atrocity in Syria” in ALIVE!  December 2013, p. 5).

 

Six members of one family were killed in late October when they were thrown down a well by rebel forces in the Syrian town of Sadad. Those killed ranged in age from 16 to 90, and included 18-year-old university student Ranim. They were among more than 45 Christian civilians murdered in what is being seen as the worst act of anti-Christian persecution since the war in Syria began. Thirty bodies were found in two mass graves. Speaking of the family drowned in the well, Patriarch Gregorios of Damascus asked, “How can somebody do such inhumane and bestial things to an elderly couple and their family? I do not understand why the world does not raise its voice against such acts of brutality.”

 

Muslim rebels who captured the largely Orthodox town held 1,500 families hostage, using them as a human shield for a week, until they were driven out by government forces. Church leaders have also reported widespread looting and destruction of shops and homes, as well as of a hospital, clinic, post office and schools, during the attack. And young people have told how they were insulted and taunted about their Christian faith by the rebels.

 

At least 2,500 families had fled to neighboring towns, and the scale of the atrocity has only come to light since they returned home. Gregorios, the Catholic Melkite Patriarch, described the massacre as “a sign of the rise of fundamentalism and extremism”. Until now the faithful had seen Sadad, where Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ, is spoken, as a safe haven. But “what happened there is very significant in that it is frightening the Christians into leaving the country”, said the Patriarch.

 

 

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

 

What do we do when we are totally anguished and helpless? Do we turn to Jesus and allow him to touch us and strengthen us? Do we truly reverence the various modes of the presence of God within and around us?

 

 

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

 

O gracious Father,

we thank you for Jesus who is not daunted by the leprosy of our sin,

but extends his loving hands to us in a healing touch.

Help us to perceive and treasure

the various modes of his presence in our lives.

We entrust ourselves to you

and let us walk by faith with Jesus,

especially in moments of anguish and in tragedy.

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.

 

“It was a disastrous defeat.” (I Sm 4:10)  

 

 

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

 

Pray for the persecuted Christians in today’s world. By your prayers, concrete works of charity and concerted humanitarian action, enable them to experience the “gift” of survival, freedom and peace.

 

 

***

 

January 17, 2014: FRIDAY – SAINT ANTHONY, abbot

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Has Power to Heal and Forgive Sins”

 

BIBLE READINGS

I Sm 8:4-7, 10-22a // Mk 2:1-12

 

 

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

 

The following story is very powerful illustration of a person’s need for inner healing. (cf. Hal Manwaring, "Fourteen Steps" in A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Deerfield Beach: Health Communications, Inc., 1996, p. 264-267).

 

I became afflicted with a slowly progressive disease of the motor nerves, affecting first my right arm and leg, and then my other side … In spite of my disease I still drove to and from work each day, with the aid of special equipment installed in my car … As I became older, I became more disillusioned and frustrated. I’m sure that my wife and friends had some unhappy times when I chose to expound to them my philosophy of life. I believed that in this whole world I alone had been chosen to suffer …

 

On a dark night in August 1971, gusty winds and slashing rain beat down on the car as I drove slowly down one of the less-traveled roads. Suddenly the steering wheel jerked in my hands and the car swerved violently to the right. In the same instant I heard the dreaded bang of a blowout … It was impossible for me to change that tire! Utterly impossible! … Then I remembered that a short distance up a little side road was a house. I started the engine and thumped slowly along … Lighted windows welcomed me to the house and I pulled into the driveway and honked the horn … The door opened and a little girl stood there, peering at me. I rolled down the window and called out that I had a flat and needed someone to change it for me because I had a crutch and couldn’t do it myself. She went into the house and a moment later came out bundled in a raincoat and hat, followed by a man who called a cheerful greeting. I sat there comfortable and dry, and felt a bit sorry for the man and the little girl working so hard in the storm. Well, I would pay them for it … It seemed to me that they were awfully slow and I was beginning to become impatient … Then they were standing at my car window. He was an old man, stooped and frail-looking under his slicker. The little girl was about eight or 10 I judged, with a merry face and a wide smile as she looked up at me. He said, “This is a bad night for car trouble, but you’re all set now.” “Thanks,” I said, “thanks. How much do I owe you?” He shook his head. “Nothing, Cynthia told me you were a cripple – on crutches. Glad to be of help. I know you’d do the same for me. There’s no charge, friend.” I held out a five-dollar bill. “No! I like to pay my way.” He made no effort to take it and the little girl stepped closer to the window and said quietly, “Grandpa can’t see it.”

 

In the next few frozen seconds the shame and horror of that moment penetrated, and I was sick with an intensity I had never felt before. A blind man and a child! … They changed a tire for me – changed it in the rain and wind, with me sitting in snug comfort in the car with my crutch. My handicap. I don’t remember how long I sat there after they said good night and left me, but it was long enough for me to search deep within myself and find some disturbing traits. I realized that I was filled to overflowing with self-pity, selfishness, indifference to the needs of others and thoughtlessness. I sat there and said a prayer. In humility I prayed for strength, for a greater understanding, for keener awareness of my shortcomings and for faith to continue asking in daily prayer for spiritual help to overcome them. 

 

Here we have the personal account of a crippled man who discovered that his need for inner healing is greater than that of physical healing. Indeed, there is more to it than physical malady. There is more to it than physical cure. Jesus Christ, who embodies the Reign of God, shows that the Kingdom of wholeness involves more than just physical healing. The messianic ministry of Jesus, the Healer, includes the liberation of human beings from the bondage of sin. The Kingdom of wholeness includes the forgiveness of sins. 

 

Today’s Old Testament reading also speaks of “power” – the power of governance and the guidance of the people of Israel. Here we have a transition from the “period of the judges”, when charismatic heroes sent by the Lord have led the people, to the “period of the monarchy” when the nation is led by kings. Samuel, the last of the judges, stands between two periods in the history of Israel. The prophet Samuel has been a remarkable deliverer-judge whose intercession before God caused the menacing Philistines to rout. By his guidance, the Philistine threat is removed for a generation. But now that he is old, the elders of Israel are concerned that his two sons are corrupt, dishonest and self-seeking and will not assure justice for the nation. The elders therefore ask Samuel for a king. Samuel is angry on behalf of the Lord whom he recognizes as the true and only king of Israel. God bids him to listen to the people and to warn them about the implications of having a king. The people’s request for a king is not only a desire to emulate the other nations, but also to have an effective leadership to meet the challenge of other nations. They reiterate their request and after listening to them, Samuel goes to the Lord and tells him everything. The Lord commands Samuel to grant the people’s request and to appoint a king to rule them.

 

Monarchy brings advantages as well as burdensome and negative effects as the following experience of Israel with King Herod shows (cf. “A Window of History: A Man of Violence” in ALIVE! April 2013, p. 13).

 

King Herod was afraid that no one would grieve when he died, so he gathered a large group of prominent men to his palace in Jericho, where he resided, and gave orders that they were to be killed at the time of his death. This would ensure that the country mourned his departure. Fortunately for the men, the king’s son Archelaus did not carry out the order.

 

Herod the Great, as he is called, was born in Idumea, the most southern region of the Holy Land, earlier known as Edom, about 74 B.C. He was the second son of Antipater, an official who rose to power under the later Jewish kings belonging to the Hasmonean dynasty. Antipater was involved in Rome’s civil war, siding first with Pompey, then with Julius Caesar. Coming out on top, Caesar made him chief minister of Judea, and thus he became founder of the Herodean dynasty.

 

Antipater made his second son, Herod, Governor of Galilee at the age of 25.  Some years later, in 43 B.C., Antipater’s harshness in raising taxes was resented and he was poisoned. Although an Edomite, Herod considered himself a Jew, but the religious authorities didn’t recognize him as such. And already the debauchery of his court and his brutality in putting down a revolt were being condemned by the Sanhedrin.

 

After a coup d’état in the region, Herod fled to Rome for backing. There the Senate chose him as “King of the Jews”, about 40 B.C. He returned to take possession of his kingdom, banished his wife Doris and married Mariamne, a Hasmonean princess, in an attempt to bolster his claim to the throne and gain Jewish favor. In the coming decades, Mariamne would be succeeded by another eight wives.

 

After three years of fighting, and with the help of the Romans, Herod finally captured Jerusalem, becoming sole ruler of Judea and taking the title of King. He began a huge building program, including a complete rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem (known as the Second Temple or Herod’s Temple), referred to by Jesus in the gospels (cf. Mk 13:1). This Temple was completed in a year and a half, and about 1,000 rabbis were employed for the task as masons and carpenters, in keeping with Jewish law. It would be completely destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. Herod also developed the water supply system for the city, constructed the port city of Caesarea Maritima and built the famous fortress of Masada.

 

Considered a madman, and suffering from paranoia, he would later execute various members of his family, including his wife Mariamne. In 36 B.C., he made his 17-year-old brother-in-law Aristobulus, the high priest and, fearing revolt, had him drowned at a party the following year. Two years later he put Mariamne on trial, accusing her of adultery. Herod’s sister, Salome, and Mariamne’s own mother Alexandria, gave evidence against her and she was executed. Alexandra then declared herself Queen and stated that Herod was mentally unfit to govern. A big mistake. She too was executed. In 28 B.C. Herod executed his brother-in-law, husband of Salome, for conspiracy. The following year he escaped unharmed when an attempt was made on his life.

 

In 12 B.C. he provided funding for the financially strapped Olympic Games, ensuring their future. In the few years remaining before his death, Herod had, at different times, three of his sons tried for high treason and then executed. Despite all the violence, however, his long reign was a time of relative peace and prosperity for the ordinary people.

 

He ruled for a total of 37 years, dying about the year 4 B.C., aged 70. In his will, which had had to be changed many times, he divided his kingdom among three of his surviving sons. Archelaus became ruler over the tetrarchy of Judea, his half brother Antipas got Galilee in the north, and Philip from marriage no. 5 got Peraea (Transjordan). St. Matthew (chapter 2) informs us that Jesus was born towards the end of Herod’s reign. Tricked by the magi, Herod sent his soldiers to the small town of Bethlehem to slaughter the baby boys aged 2 or under. It is estimated that, given the size of the town, about 20 children would have been killed.

 

 

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

 

Do we allow Jesus to have full authority over us, or do we seek other lords to have sway over us? Do we entrust ourselves to Jesus as the true King with power to heal and forgive sins?

 

 

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

 

Loving Father,

we thank you for Jesus,

the true King and the center of our life.

He has authority to heal

and to forgive sins,

and for this we give you glory and praise.

In Jesus we are the recipients

of your love and compassion.

You are our almighty God,

now and forever.

Amen.

 

 

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

 

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

 

“Appoint a king to rule them.” (I Sm 8:22a)

 

 

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

 

Pray for rulers of the earth that they may guide the people on the path of peace, justice and prosperity. Be pro-active with regards to social issues to help the governing body choose what is for the common good.

 

***

 

January 18, 2014: SATURDAY – WEEKDAY (1); BVM ON SATURDAY

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is Chosen to Heal and to Guide”

 

BIBLE READINGS

I Sm 9:1-4, 17-19; 10:1a // Mk 2:13-17

 

 

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

 

Healing love springs forth from Christ. Jesus is the physician par excellence and he does not have to justify his presence among the sick. His presence amidst tax collectors and sinners is a mandate and a mission of mercy. He is sent by the Father to assuage suffering of every kind. The vocation to experience God’s mercy and compassion is offered to the entire Church and the challenge to incarnate the divine mercy in today’s world is directed to each of us.

 

The Old Testament reading speaks of the vocation of Saul to govern God’s people and his anointing as ruler of the people. Saul is described as the son of Kish, a wealthy and influential man from the tribe of Benjamin. Saul is handsome and in the prime of life. He is a foot taller than anyone else and more handsome as well. He presents a very impressive figure at the onset. Saul, heeding his father’s request, searches for the missing donkeys and his obedient quest leads him to the prophet-seer Samuel. God tells Samuel about Saul: “This is the man I told you about. He will rule my people.” At dawn Samuel takes a jar of olive oil, pours it on Saul’s head, kisses him and says, “The Lord anoints you are ruler of his people Israel.

 

Saul, as God’s anointed, needs to respond positively to the mandate received. The following article about a recently crowned beauty queen gives an example of a proper response to a special title or mandate received (cf. Anne Nolan, “New Miss World Is Princess of Charm” in ALIVE! December 2013, p.6).

 

When Megan Young, a Filipina American, took part in a TV reality show the viewers were so taken with her kindness and gentleness that they dubbed her “The Princess of Charm”. At the end of September, in Bali, Indonesia, 23-year-old Megan was crowned Miss World. Born in Virginia in the US, she was aged six when her family moved back to the Philippines, which she represented in the beauty contest. An actress and model, Megan has been studying digital film-making at the De La Salle College in Manila.

 

Charming she definitely is, but not at the price of her convictions. She is, in fact, a Catholic young lady who actually thinks and speaks like a Catholic. After her win in Bali she was interviewed on ANC, a Filipino TV news network. She was asked what she thought of the new law in the Philippines which in fact undermines respect for life. She replied, “I’m pro-life, and if it means killing one that’s already there, then I’m against that, of course, I’m against abortion.”

 

That led the interviewer to question her about contraception. “I don’t engage in stuff like that”, she replied, explaining that sex is for marriage, that’s what I believe. It should be with your partner for life.” That led on to divorce. “I’m actually against divorce”, said Megan, “because I’ve seen that in my family. So I think if you marry someone, that should be the person you should be with forever, through sickness and health, through good or through bad.”

 

It seemed that the interviewer was finding it hard to cope with these answers. Finally she asked, “A woman as gorgeous as yourself, how do you say no to sex?” At this Megan laughed and said, “You just say no; that’s it.” She added: “If they try to push you, then you step away because you know that that person doesn’t value you, doesn’t value the relationship as much.” On the other hand, “If the guy is willing to sacrifice that, then that means a lot.”

 

She told how she chose to compete in the Miss World pageant rather than Miss Universe because of its principal focus. “After you win”, she said, “your main focus, your duties, will all be helping out with charities.”

 

A princess of charm indeed.

 

 

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

 

What does it mean to be chosen by God for a special task? How does Jesus inspire you in his mission of salvation to bring healing to sinners and the sick? How does Samuel inspire you as an obedient prophet of God?

 

 

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

 

           Loving Father,

we thank you for Samuel’s obedient response to your word.

Above all, we thank you for Jesus

whom you sent to bring healing and salvation

to sinners and the sick.

Help us to respond fully to the gift of our vocation.

Let your will be done upon us

and may we be instruments

of your mercy and compassion.

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.

 

“The Lord has anointed you commander of his heritage.” (I Sm 10:1a)

 

 

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

 

Be grateful to God for your Christian-baptismal vocation and for the specific charismatic vocation you have received for the good of the people around you. Maximize the spiritual gifts you have received for the common good.

 

 

***

 

 

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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