A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday & Weekday Liturgy

 

BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (Series 14, n. 16)

5th Sunday of Lent and Lenten Weekday 5: March 13- 19, 2016

 

 

(The pastoral tool BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD: A LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY & WEEKDAY LITURGY includes a prayerful study of the Sunday liturgy of Year C from various perspectives. For the Lectio Divina on the liturgy of the past week: March 6-12, 2016, please go to ARCHIVES Series 14 and click on “Lent Week 4”.

 

Below is a LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY - WEEKDAY LITURGY: March 13-19, 2016.)

 

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March 13, 2016: FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is the Ultimately Accused”

 

BIBLICAL READINGS

 Is 43:16-21 // Phil 3:8-14 // Jn 8:1-11

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Jn 8:1-11): “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

 

            The movie, “The Accused”, for which Jodie Foster won an Academy Award for her performance as Sarah Tobias, a rape victim, is based on actual events that took place in Massachusetts, U.S.A. Sarah Tobias, a working-class waitress who lived with a man outside of marriage, sought to unwind in a bar after a fight with him. Three young men raped her while the patrons of the bar looked on and did nothing to help her.  Kathryn Murphy, the assistant district attorney appointed to prosecute the case against the men, seemed at first committed to winning the case against them. But, when faced with the fact that Sarah would not make a sympathetic case because of her behavior the night of the assault when she drank, smoked pot, and dressed and acted provocatively, Kathryn let the rapists plea to a lesser charge. Sarah felt betrayed because she was not given a chance to tell her story in court. She was deeply pained and humiliated. Though not impeccable in her behavior, she was truly a victim of sexual violence. She practically became “the accused”. Sarah Tobias is like the woman presented in today’s Gospel reading, a woman in need of justice and mercy, a woman in need of redemption.

 

            Today’s Gospel reading (Jn 8:1-11) continues to underline the radical nature of God’s compassion and forgiving love. The scribes and Pharisees bring a woman to Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees point their fingers at the adulterous woman as “the accused”, but their real intent is to build a case against Jesus, the one they wish to accuse. The sinful woman is being used as the main element in their ploy to trap Jesus in a very difficult case, in which any solution he would give will work to his disadvantage. Indeed, a decision to stone her would be an indictment against Jesus’ stance of mercy and compassion; a resolution to release her would convict him of a lack of justice and righteousness. The malice of the scribes and Pharisees is viciously directed, not at the adulterous woman, but at the greater “accused”, Jesus Christ. From the perspective of salvation history, the one ultimately “accused” and condemned is Jesus, in whom the mercy and justice of God have embraced. Falsely accused and punished for carrying humanity’s sins, he would die for us on the cross, becoming the font of justice, mercy, and healing for all.

 

The response of Jesus to the quandary was a symbolic action. According to the Gospel writer: “Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger” (Jn 8:6). This parabolic act is probably an allusion to Jer 17:3: “Those who turn away from thee shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water.” If so, Jesus’ writing on the ground is an indirect reminder of the “guilt” of those who were condemning the adulterous woman. When the scribes and Pharisees continue to ask him about his judgment concerning the woman’s fate, Jesus straightens up and says: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn 8:7). Jesus bends down again and writes on the ground, in a symbolic action made more powerful and meaningful by the words he has just spoken. In response to Jesus’ symbolic action and words, the accusers go away one by one, beginning with the elders. Jesus’ writing on the ground and his astonishing challenge to cast the first stone confront the accusers’ culpability and frailty. His incisive wisdom in this death- dealing situation bluntly exposes the accusers’ falsehood and their own need for justice, mercy, and healing.

 

The last scene of today’s Gospel episode portrays with exquisite beauty the poignant encounter between the adulterous woman and Jesus, the source of forgiveness and grace. The accusers have left. Jesus straightens up and asks her two questions that would gently underline her experience of salvation: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” (Jn 8:10). When the redeemed woman answers that there is no one, Jesus gives a compassionate admonition that would radically set her on the road of conversion and restoration: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore” (Jn 8:11).

  

      

B. Old Testament Reading (Is 43:16-21): “See, I am doing something new and I give my people drink.”

 

I read a story in an inspirational magazine about a lady who had terribly wronged her best friend, a classmate in college. She had a crush on a handsome football player who eventually became her best friend’s husband. One summer the couple invited her to their beach house for a week’s vacation. Her secret feelings for the blond and good-looking athlete never changed and were not attenuated by the passing of years. One afternoon, her friend went down town for an errand and she was left alone with the secret love of her life in that cozy beach house. The “inevitable” happened. Without really willing or planning it, she spent an adulterous moment with her best friend’s husband. When it was all over, she was overwhelmed with remorse and unbearable guilt. She terminated her vacation prematurely and avoided further contact with the couple. When her friend’s husband died, she felt an irresistible urge to attend the funeral. Her friend had a heart-to-heart talk with her. She revealed that she knew what happened. Since she continued to love her husband and to treasure the friendship with her erring friend, she had forgiven each of them from the heart. The forgiven adulterous woman felt renewed and became whole again. The refreshing balm of forgiveness made her a “new creation”.

 

Actualized and offered to us in Christ Jesus, the grace of merciful forgiveness with its healing, renewing and recreating quality springs forth like living water from the loving heart of God. The new way of forgiveness can be seen against the backdrop of the benevolent plan of God who wills to create something new. The Old Testament reading (Is 43:16-21) is a fantastic background of the renewing action of God in salvation history. God, the creator of the universe, expresses his magnanimous saving power in the marvels of Exodus, wherein he creates a new nation – Israel, his covenant people.  The marvels of the Exodus event in Egypt when God opens “a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters” would be replicated in a new Exodus when God would lead his suffering people out of the Babylonian captivity. The prophet Isaiah proclaims a new Exodus of the people in exile, a return to the promised land under God’s power. The prophet resounds the word of Yahweh: “Thus says the Lord, I am about to do a new thing … I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert … I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.”

 

 

C. Second Reading (Phil 3:8-14): “Because of Christ, I consider everything as a loss, being conformed to his death.”

 

In today’s Second Reading (Phil 38-14), Paul asserts the absolute supremacy of the divine grace. He declares that the supreme good of knowing Christ surpasses all the values he ever considered in the past as gain. Paul’s encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus and his conversion completely changed his scale of values. Paul’s salvation is not gained by any merits or works of his own, but through God’s saving initiative in his beloved Son Jesus Christ. Paul realizes the absolute necessity of sharing in Christ’s suffering and death in order to participate in the power of the Lord’s resurrection. Moreover, Paul’s response to the saving grace is a dynamic, ongoing pursuit of total communion with God in Christ Jesus.

  

The following testimony of a Major League baseball player Josh Hamilton delineates the arduous path of his healing and belabored response to God’s renewing love (cf. Guideposts, July 2009, p. 38-43). Devastated by substance addiction and alcohol abuse, he finally realized that only by living for God would he be made whole again. The totally renewed Josh hit a record of 28 homers in the first round of the 2008 All-Star Home Run Derby.

 

Baseball had been my life. Now cocaine was. What consumed me every day was getting high. I tried to quit using – sometimes I’d even stay clean for a few months – but nothing got through to me enough to stick. Not the seven treatment centers I went to after the Betty Ford Clinic. Not the one-year suspension for violating major-league-baseball’s drug policy yet again in March 2004. Not my parents or their anger, sadness and heartbreak. Not even my grandmother. I tried praying, but that didn’t help either.

 

The only bright spot was the five-month stretch I managed to stay clean, when I started dating Katie Chadwick. Katie and I went to the same high school, but we weren’t really friends back then. She wasn’t into baseball. She’d never seen me play and had no idea how good I’d been. What she loved about me was how good I was to her and her daughter, Julia. I fell for both of them. They made me so happy that I fought extra hard to stay away from drugs and drink. When we were married in 2004, Katie thought I’d beaten my demons. Man, was she wrong.

 

What was the lowest I sank? The day I pawned Katie’s wedding ring to buy coke? The day we returned from the hospital with our newborn daughter, Siera, and Katie asked me to pick up some things for her at the drugstore? I walked into a bar instead. Or was it the day Katie finally kicked me out and got a restraining order to keep me away? By then I’d graduated to smoking crack. I burned through almost all my bonus money. My binges got worse. I didn’t eat or sleep. I didn’t care about anything except scoring crack. The Natural? No one would call me that now.

 

One October night in 2005 I blacked out. I woke up in a filthy trailer with a bunch of strangers. Who could I turn to now? My parents cut me off. So had Katie. Granny. Mary Holt, the grandmother I used to kiss before every baseball game. I staggered to my truck, drove to her house and knocked on her door … at 2:00 A.M. “Do you think I can stay here for a while?” I asked, practically begging. She must have been shocked at the sight of me – I’d lost 50 pounds, my clothes were in tatters – but my grandmother took me in. For three days she fed me, hovered over me, woke me, put me to bed. She didn’t lecture me, didn’t judge me. For some reason, she believed in me. “You can get better, Josh”, she said. “You can get all the way better and get back to playing ball.”

 

Baseball? I’d written that off. And vice versa. But I couldn’t bring myself to dispute her. Maybe part of me was still hoping I could be what I was once was. My addiction turned out to be way more powerful than my grandmother. The fourth day at her house, I bought crack, holed up in the room she’d given me and got high. When I emerged, Granny was waiting in the hall. There was deep sorrow in her eyes, but also anger. “I can’t take this anymore, Josh”, she said. “I can’t sit here and watch you kill yourself, and hurt all the people who love you.” She turned and walked away.

 

Granny was one of the few people who still believed in me, and I was letting her down. For years I’d wondered when I would hit bottom. Now I knew. You hit bottom when you’ve hurt every last person who loves you. I went back into my room, and the cold, hard reality of what I’d done hit me. I’d chosen cocaine over everything that gave my life meaning. I chose it over baseball, the sport I was born to play. I chose it over my wife and children, my parents and now my grandmother.

 

I even chose it over God. I dropped to my knees. Lord, I don’t care if I never play baseball again. Help me get right with my family, and with you, most of all. It was my first real prayer in a long while. This time I wasn’t trying to make a deal with God. This was me surrendering, throwing myself at his mercy. “Do with me what you want, Lord”, I said. My eyes fell on the Bible Granny had put in my room. I picked it up and flipped through it. One verse, James 4:7, practically jumped off the page at me: “Humble yourself before God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  I read those lines over and over till they were burned into my memory. Every time I was tempted by cocaine – and the first week going cold turkey was vicious – I repeated that verse: “Humble yourself before God …”

 

My grandmother’s country cooking helped me regain my physical strength. Emotionally and spiritually, I was healing too, now that I understood what I needed to do. I used to live for baseball. Then I lived for crack. Only by living for God, having a personal intimate relationship with Christ, could I be whole again.

 

Piece by piece, my life was restored. I earned back my grandmother’s trust, my parents’ and Katie’s. I held my girls again. I started exercising. I learned to face down temptation with prayer. I read the Bible and opened myself up to how God was leading me … to a psychiatrist I trusted … to a baseball program where I worked and rediscovered my love for the game … all the way to the big leagues.

 

The Cincinnati Reds took a chance on me in 2007 and invited me to spring training. The way my body bounced back after the abuse I’d put it through – that had to be a God thing. I made the team as a reserve outfielder. Opening Day I didn’t expect to play. I was just thrilled to be in the dugout. Late in the game the manager sent me up to pinch hit. I walked to the batter’s box, my heart hammering. Everyone in the ballpark was standing and cheering. I’d never heard that sound like that before. I took a few practice swings and stood for a moment, in awe. This was about so much more than me, so much more than baseball, even. This was about the kind of miracles the Lord can work when we turn our lives over to him. That kind of healing could only be super Natural.

 

 

 

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

 

Did we ever falsely condemn anyone and “cast the first stone”? How can we make amends? Do we acknowledge our own personal participation in the condemnation and punishment of the ultimately “accused”, Jesus Christ, our redeemer? In what way are we like the adulterous woman, the object of Christ’s forgiving and redeeming love and set on the road of renewal and restoration? 

 

 

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

 

Loving Father,

your beloved Son Jesus, our redeeming Lord,

was falsely accused.

He suffered the pain of injustice on the Cross.

Forgive us for, like the adulterous woman,

we have turned away from your love.

We were unfaithful to the quiet callings of your Spirit.

Forgive us for our hypocrisies.

We have ignored the afflictions

of those yearning for your redeeming love.

Forgive us for crucifying Jesus on the Cross by our cruelties.

We have failed to love the wounded of this world.

Forgive us for our indifference.

We have not protected

the dignity of the poor and the falsely accused.

Forgive us for not showing Christ’s mercy to the condemned.

May we allow ourselves to be renewed

and restored by the healing power

of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.

May we imitate his life-giving ministry

to the poor, the outcast, and the accused.

We thank you and bless you, gracious God,

for giving us Jesus Christ, our font of love and justice,

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.

 

            “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” (Jn 8:11)

 

 

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

 

Today, offer special prayers for women who have experienced, and are experiencing, any form of violence and exploitation. In any way you can, participate in the Christian task of liberating the victims of false accusations and injustice.  

   

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March 14, 2016: MONDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (5)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is the Light of the World and the Rescuer of the Accused”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Dn 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62 // Jn 8:12-20

  

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Jn 8:12-20): “I am the light of the world.”

 

In today’s episode (Jn 8:12-20) which takes place in the temple area, Jesus asserts that he is “the light of the world”. His assertion can be understood better against the backdrop of the preceding scene in which Jesus extends his mercy to the woman caught in adultery that she may turn from her sin. By forgiving the woman instead of judging or condemning her, Jesus substantiates his claim: “I am the light of the world”. Light gives life and not death. Jesus, as “the light of life”, overcomes the darkness of sin that seeks to destroy the unfortunate woman. He is the means of salvation for sinners who are in the shadow of death.

 

As the “light of the world”, Jesus is also the principle of true knowledge of God. To know God as revealed by Jesus is eternal life. To reject Jesus and his divine revelation is to remain in the dark. In the ensuing debate that takes place, the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and their spiritual blindness are evident. They have failed to recognize Jesus as the “light of the world” and the Savior sent by the Father. They have refused to be touched by his life-giving words and have rejected his offer of divine grace. The death and resurrection of Jesus will serve as the definitive proof of his assertion that he is indeed the true light – “the light of the world. The radiance of the Easter glory will manifest that the contentious Pharisees are wrong in their judgment.

 

The story of Mike McGarvin, the founder of Poverello House, is an example of how Jesus Christ continues to be at work in us for our saving. In his book, Papa Mike, he writes about some significant moments of his conversion process, cf. p. 51-52. One of them was when he was trying to quit drugs and the bad company he was keeping. He narrates:

 

There was one important and unusual experience that helped me more fully embrace the faith. On weekends, I was going to a Franciscan retreat near Danville. I wanted this new life that was being offered me, but at the same time, my old ways were beckoning. It was a struggle between light and darkness. My past was hateful to me, but the drugs, sex, and violence still wielded the power to attract and corrupt me. I’d go to the retreat house to find some peace, to pray, and to try to achieve some clarity. One of those weekends, I was up there praying, when suddenly the room seemed to be filled with bright light. I experienced a feeling of peace and comfort that was overwhelming. It probably lasted only a few minutes, but I really don’t know how long, because time seemed to stand still … Soon after this, I was baptized into the Catholic Church.”

 

 

B. First Reading (Dn 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62): “Here I am about to die though I have done none of the things charged against me.”

 

The Old Testament reading (Dn 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62) presents the gripping story of the chaste Susanna, a very beautiful and God-fearing Jewish woman residing in Babylon, falsely accused of adultery. Two very wicked old judges try to blackmail Susanna (her Hebrew name means “lily”, symbol of purity) to give in to their passion. She resists, preferring to be condemned to death rather than to sin before the Lord. She entrusts her fate to God and her prayer is heard. God stirs up the holy spirit of a young boy named Daniel who confounds the false accusers with his wisdom. The two lecherous elders are punished with the fate they meant for their innocent victim. Susanna’s moral integrity makes her a sterling example of a heroic love for God and complete trust in him. Susanna’s youthful savior, Daniel, is a powerful figure of Jesus Savior, the Son of God.

 

The saving intervention of Daniel on behalf of the innocent Susanna and the liberation that Jesus has wrought on behalf of a culpable adulterous woman continue to be replicated in today’s world. The following testimony tells about a woman’s “spiritual rescue” (cf. Maryanne Gogniat Eidemiller, Our Sunday Visitor, January 13, 2012, p. 12).

 

Tammy Pagels was 17 when she became pregnant from a rape and her mother forced her to have an abortion. (…) She told her future husband Darrell about it early in their dating, and he supported her journey of healing. “He is the one who taught me that God is the one who will be there for you”, she said. “Everything is possible as long as God is the center of your life.” The couple has now six children, seven months to 13, and Darrell, 40, was ordained a deacon four years ago. They are both coordinators of the Culture of Life in the Diocese of Pueblo, Colo., and are promoting the abortion healing ministry of Project Rachel. (…) Pagels came to a “different place” in her life through confession and Eucharistic adoration, and was able to forgive the man who raped her, her mother, and herself.

 

 

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

 

1. Do we truly recognize Jesus as “the light of the world”? Do we open our hearts to his “light” that reveals, saves and transforms?

 

2. Like the Old Testament heroine Susanna, are we willing to suffer adversity and a cruel fate rather than sin against the Lord and disobey him?

 

 

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

 

Loving Father,

your beloved Son Jesus is “the light of the world”.

He suffered the pain of injustice on the Cross.

Let us be renewed in his life-giving light.

Help us to imitate his life-giving ministry

to the poor, the outcast, and the accused.

We thank and bless you, gracious God,

for giving Jesus Christ,

the radiance of your glory and the face of your mercy.

You live and reign, 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.

 

“I am the light of the world.” (Jn 8:12) // “Thus was innocent blood spared that day.” (Dn 13:62)

  

 

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

 

In your daily life, try to resist coercive forces and evil influences, especially through the misuse of the mass media, and imitate Susanna’s moral integrity and her complete surrender to God. In any way you can, participate in the Christian task of liberating the victims of false accusations and injustice. Resolve to radiate the light of Christ by your daily acts of charity and self-giving.  

   

     

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March 15, 2016: TUESDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (5)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Saves Us by Being Lifted Up

on the Cross”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Nm 21:4-9 // Jn 8:21-30

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Jn 8:21-30): “When you have lifted up the Son of Man then you will know that I am he.”

(Gospel Reflection by Sr. Mary Martha Bruan, PDDM)

  

In the Gospel (Jn 8:21-30), Jesus refers to Himself as “I AM,” an expression that late Jewish tradition understood as Yahweh’s own self-designation (Is. 43:10).  He draws a contrast:  His enemies belong to the earth, He is from heaven.  They are of the world; He is not of the world.  Jesus came from heaven into the world.  He was sent by the Father into the world, “Kosmos,” the object of God’s love.  When the hour comes He has to depart from this world.  The death of Jesus is destined by God.  It is when Christ is lifted up on the cross that we really see “who” and “what” He is.  It is there we see Jesus’ self-oblation done for His great love for humankind.  There on the cross we see the extent of His obedience to the will of the Father, “I always do what is pleasing to Him” (Jn 8:29).

 

God was always gracious and forgiving to the Israelites who journeyed in the desert for forty years.  During the Lenten Season we journey for forty days towards Easter.  Lent is indeed the favorable time for us to fix our gaze, not on the bronze serpent but, on Jesus on the cross in order not to be distracted by the allurements of modern technology and the strong upsurge of materialism as we go on journeying hand in hand with Him and each other.  This is the opportune time for us to reciprocate God’s immense goodness in love and do solely whatever is in accordance to His will, but how?

 

We have to discipline ourselves, intensify our prayers, fast and cease to do whatever pleases our appetite, our eyes, all our senses and break through our human shelter so as to reach out to our needy brothers and sisters with relentless care.  More importantly we are to believe and participate in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus to be with Him in the place where He is going.

    

 

B. First Reading (Nm 21:4-9): “Whoever looks at the bronze serpent shall live.”

 

The lifting up of the bronze serpent that we hear in today’s Old Testament reading (Nm 21:4b-9) is fascinating and illumines the mystery of the cross that we venerate as Christians. The bronze serpent on the pole that brings healing to those bitten by venomous seraph snakes is a symbol of God’s benevolent saving will. Jesus, like the serpent, is lifted up on the pole of the cross, and whoever looks to him in faith will be saved. This is the triumph of the cross. Indeed, in the light of the joyful Easter event of Christ’s resurrection, the cross becomes a throne of glory.

  

The following story illustrates the participation of Christian disciples in the mystery and triumph of the cross (cf. Full Sail with the Wind of Grace: Peter Kibe and 187 Martyrs, written and edited by “Martyres” Editorial Committee, Tokyo: Don Bosco Sha, 2008, p. 44-46).

 

Genka’s daughter Maria was married to the son of Kondo Kisan, the commissioner of Tachiura (Hirado City, Nagasaki Prefecture). Kondo was a devout Buddhist. He tried to convert his daughter-in-law and make her give up her faith. Maria always responded with the same words: “I was baptized by my father and have always walked the way of God that was taught to me. I cannot give up my faith.” “If you do not renounce your faith, we cannot keep you in our household. Think well and choose either my son or your faith.” Kondo oppressed Maria with these harsh words. After two years of struggling with the situation, Maria told her husband of her decision, and returned to her father Genka.

 

“It must be Genka who encouraged her to leave. He must pay for this!” Kondo discussed the matter with his friend, a Buddhist monk in Hirado, and appealed to Shigenobu to punish Genka. Shigenobu was furious with Genka who not only disobeyed his orders and continued to practice his faith, but also worked as a Christian leader. Shigenobu ordered the execution of Genka together with his wife Ursula and their eldest son John Mataichi.

 

Genka was handed over to the commissioner of Yamada (Hirado City, Nagasaki Prefecture), Inoue Umanojo to be executed on 14 of November 1609. To Umanojo, Genka was a friend for whom he had a great respect. Genka told him of his only wish. “Lord Inoue, could you do me a favor and perform my execution at the Kurusu (cruz = cross) Trail? “Why the Kurusu Trail?” “Once a cross stood there, and my parents and friends are buried there, too.”

 

Umanojo nodded and they started to walk toward the Kurusu Trail. When they arrived at the spot, Genka said to Umanojo, “Lord Inoue, it was my heart’s desire to offer my life here. None of this is your fault. Please be at peace.” Genka knelt down, raised his tied hands toward heaven and silently bowed his head. Umanojo, choking down his tears, performed the execution with one stroke of his sword so that Genka would not suffer too much.

 

Genka’s wife Ursula and their son John Mataichi were also beheaded about the same time at a place nearby. Gaspar Nishi Genka and his wife Ursula were both 54 years old. Their oldest son John Mataichi was 24 years old. Their remains were buried at the Kurusu Trail. The Christians secretly planted a pine tree on the spot.

 

In 1992, the Christians of Ikitsuki built a large cross on the Kurusu Trail. It is to remind them of the importance of faith strengthened in the family, a precious heritage of Gaspar Nishi Genka.

 

    

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

 

1. In this Lenten journey, do we fix our gaze on Jesus to really see “who” and “what” he is? How does his self-oblation on the cross affect us personally?

 

2. Are we eager to fix our gaze on Jesus Christ crucified and seek healing from him?

 

 

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

 

Lord Jesus,

the mounted bronze serpent

that saved the ancient Israelites from sure death

prefigures your crucifixion and redeeming death at Mount Calvary.

Thank you for your obedient sacrifice.

Above all, we render praise and thanksgiving to God the Father

who loved us so much that he sent you, his Servant-Son,

to be lifted up on the cross.

Now in faith we look upon the cross of your sacrifice

and see in it the source of healing and the font of eternal life.

Through your cross, O loving Jesus,

our hope is strengthened

that we will not die from the snares of sin, but live.

We adore you.

We worship you, Lord.

We venerate your cross.

Through your cross you brought joy to the world

and for this, we revere you, now and forever.

Amen.

   

 

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

 

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

 

“Anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent and he lived.” (Nm 21:9) // “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM.” (Jn 8:27)

 

 

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

 

By your compassion and charity, allow the most vulnerable and needy people around you to experience the healing and saving love of Christ on the cross.

    

            

*** *** ***

 

March 16, 2016: WEDNESDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (5)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is the Truth that Sets Us Free”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95 // Jn 8:31-42

  

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Jn 8:31-42): If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

(Gospel reflection by Sr. Mary Martha Bruan, PDDM)

  

Faith and freedom are vital in embracing the life of discipleship.  In The Gospel (Jn 8:31-42), Jesus encouraged the Jews who believed in Him to remain in his word if they want to become truly his disciples. In doing so they will know the truth and the truth will make them free.  Discipleship begins with faith which entails constant listening to the word of Jesus and learning from him.  Entering into a Master-disciple relationship involves letting the truth of the word of Jesus penetrate our being and translate itself into action.  To learn from Jesus is to learn the truth for He himself is the Truth who breaks the shackles of lies and falsehood.  In the light of Jesus’ word we see what is trivial and essential thus compels us to uphold the Gospel values of detachment and freedom. Anybody who lives in vice and sin is not free. In detaching ourselves from the slavery of pleasure, lies, deceit, selfishness and sin we go through the experience of inner freedom.  We are freed from ourselves, anxieties and fears and are now freed for God and others.

 

We follow Jesus in freedom and he walks with us.  With the presence of Christ in our lives we are totally free from fear and cease to be afraid of evil.  Freedom is the consequence of discipleship.  In freedom we continue to live and bear witness to the Gospel truth until we become the persons God wants us to be.

       

This is the freedom Jesus wants the Jews to realize.  The Jews were irritated when Jesus spoke about freedom. They claimed they have never been slaves to anyone.  They pride themselves in their belief that they are the descendants of Abraham and God’s chosen people, a way of saying that they are special.  They cling to their misplaced sense of worth and dignity and lived in falsehood.  They are enslaved by this false belief so they are not free.  Jesus our Lord and Master is reminding the Jews and all of us that we are all equal before God for we are all His children.  We are to keep his word and live according to our dignity as Christ’s disciples in today’s world, a place of blessings and challenges. We are to bear witness to the truth and love Jesus brings to us as the beloved Son of God            

 

 

B. First Reading (Dn 3:14-20, 91-92.95): “The Lord has sent his angel to deliver his servants.”

 

Today’s Old Testament reading (Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95) is about the rescue of the Jewish young men named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace. They willed to suffer martyrdom rather than give in to idolatry. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had a gold statute made, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and issued an order that as soon as the music starts, everyone is to bow down and worship the gold statue. Some Babylonians took this opportunity to denounce the Jews. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were the King’s officials in the province of Babylon, were confronted. The Jewish young men did not try to defend themselves. They trusted in the God of Israel whom they serve and who could rescue them from the blazing furnace if he wills it. Even if he doesn’t, they will not worship nor bow down to the gold statue that the king has set up. Thrown into the fiery furnace, the three faithful ones were rescued by the angel of salvation sent by God. The fourth man in the blazing fire who looks like “a son of God” prefigures Jesus Christ, our deliverer.

 

The fidelity of the Jewish young men to God, and their refusal to bow to an idol, had a great impact on a nurse in an American hospital who accidentally killed her patient, terminally ill with cancer. During a night shift, instead of sodium chloride solution she injected potassium chloride solution which was fatal for the patient. Following the normal procedure, she had administered the solution that was prepared on the table, which was the wrong solution. That potassium chloride solution was not meant to be there in the first place. She wanted to hide the truth for fear of losing her job. She tried to rationalize that the cancer patient was terminally ill and was just waiting to die. But in her meditation on today’s Old Testament reading, she was struck by the courage and fidelity to God of the three young men who would not bow to false idols. She turned herself in and was suspended right there and then by the supervisor. As a single parent, she and her daughter had to survive on peanut butter sandwiches. They were also forced to use hand soap to shampoo their hair. Her case was investigated. She was reinstated in her job eight month later. Her story was published. She was awed by the outpouring of letters from doctors and nurses who have accidentally killed their patients, but did not dare reveal the truth. One medical doctor commended her: “The truth has set you free.”

 

 

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

 

1. Do we believe that Christ’s truth will set us free? Are we willing to sacrifice ourselves for his life-giving truth?

 

2. Are there instances in your life when you dared to be faithful to God, and the truth about God, and suffered the consequences for it? Are there instances in your life when you were not faithful to the truth?

 

 

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

 

Lord Jesus,

you are the Truth that sets us free.

Free us from the bondage of sin

and the darkness of falsehood.

Teach us to walk in true freedom.

Give us the strength to embrace suffering and death

for the sake of your truth.

Let us abide in you and be your faithful disciples.

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 truth will set you free.” (Jn 8:31)

 

 

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

 

Correct yourself as soon as you discover that you are not telling the truth or that you are falsifying the truth.

 

             

*** *** ***

 

March 17, 2016: THURSDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (5); SAINT PATRICK, Bishop

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Ratifies the New Covenant by His Blood”

       

   

BIBLE READINGS

Gn 17:3-9 // Jn 8:51-59

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Jn 8:51-59): “Your father Abraham rejoiced because he saw my day.”

(Gospel Reflection by Sr. Mary Martha Bruan, PDDM)

 

In the Gospel (Jn 8:51-59), the Jews are taken a back and incredulous when Jesus tells them that “if anyone keeps his words, he will never see death.”  As usual the Jews take Jesus’ words literally and think He is merely talking about physical life and death.  This obstructs them from seeing that Jesus is leading them to understand that whoever accepts Him enters into a relationship with Him and goes, not from life to death, but from life to life.  These unbelieving Jews see Jesus as someone who is possessed and claims to be greater than Abraham.

 

The incredulity and literal-mindedness of the Jews does not prevent Jesus from making a further statement, “all true honor comes from God.”   Only eternity can reveal this true honor.  In our time we find it easy to honor oneself and dwell on the satisfaction of exposing oneself to the warmth of self-conceit.  The Jews certainly do not know God as Jesus knows Him, for the latter has the unique knowledge of God.  He knows God and is faithful in keeping His word.   The only way to know God totally is through Jesus - the fullness of truth.  In Jesus alone, the obedient and beloved Son, we see the perfect image of God. 

 

Jesus is bent on helping the Jews open their minds and hearts to Him, so He goes on saying, “Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad.”  Abraham, ever faithful to God, enters into a covenantal relationship with Him and He makes him the “father of a host of nations.”  Here Jesus claims deliberately who He really is, the Messiah.  He is the Messiah Abraham saw in his vision.  The Jews, even if they know that Abraham had a vision of the coming of the Messiah, remain obstinate and persist in their unbelief.  It is impossible for Jesus to have seen Abraham for He is still young.  To their incredulity Jesus’ response is a self-revelation, “Before Abraham came to be, I AM.”  This calls to mind the time when Moses asks Yahweh for His name.  Yahweh makes a clarion declaration, “I am who am” (Ex. 3:14). 

 

          Jesus is at the beginning with God. He is timeless and exists even before Abraham came into being.  He is equal with God and therefore, above Abraham.  This is too much for the Jews and they can no longer take this blasphemy.  They were very angry with Jesus, even to the extent of throwing stones at Him. Fully aware that it is not yet His time, Jesus inevitably hides and silently leaves the temple area.  The “hour” has not yet come for Jesus’ passion, death and glorious resurrection.

            

             In the midst of varied noises, distractions and the humdrum of daily life Jesus, the timeless God who always is, invites us to make the most of this Lenten Season and go deeper into our contemplation of His paschal mystery. In contemplating Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection we need to be in silence, have time for our being, listen to and keep His words alive in our hearts today and continue to cling tenaciously to our Lord and Master who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

   

    

B. First Reading (Gn 17:3-9): “You will be the father of a multitude of nations.”

 

In today’s Old Testament reading (Gn 17:3-9), God makes an everlasting covenant with Abraham, who is ninety-nine years old. The patriarch “Abram”, called by God from the land of Ur when he was seventy-five, receives the new name “Abraham” to indicate that he would be the ancestor of many nations. The change in the patriarch’s name signifies his new relationship with God and the new life granted by the covenant. The Lord God says to him: “I will be your God and the God of your descendants.” The covenant treaty that God initiates with him includes the promise of the land of Canaan for Abraham’s descendants. On the part of Abraham, he and his future descendants must agree to keep the covenant throughout the ages. Circumcision of Abraham and his male descendants represents a sign of commitment to the covenant. Jesus Christ is the most illustrious descendant of Abraham’s covenant relationship with God. In Christ Jesus, the new Covenant in the Spirit is sealed.

 

The concept of a covenant treaty continues to be experienced in the here and now - particularly in the life of the Pauline Family, founded by Blessed James Alberione. The meaning of his “pact with the Lord” can be gleaned from the following words written on January 7, 1919, by Blessed Timothy Giaccardo, the first priest in the Pauline Family (cf. Luigi Rolfo, James Alberione: Apostle for Our Times, trans. Salvatore Paglieri, New York: Alba House, 1987, p. 121).

 

Last night our dear father invited all of us to make a pact with the Lord, the pact that he himself had made: to study for one and learn for four. This morning in the meditation he repeated to us the importance, the basis, the condition and the invitation. His words were full of fire, full of conviction and very persuasive. The basis is: faith in God who has promised to grant wisdom to those who ask Him for it … The pleasure of God that we confide in Him. The will of God that this House exist and that it prosper: and the impossibility we find ourselves in to study as much as would ordinarily be necessary in order to learn … Faith is the first means for learning: with it we, who study only one-fourth of the time, can even challenge all the other students and seminarians.

 

The importance of the pact: it has to be done seriously, otherwise it loses its value, like using gold to make nails to mend one’s shoes. It will give our studies a lift which has now fallen so low; with it progress will be made and miracles performed. It’s true: God does not disappoint. It’s true: practice proves it. We believe that it is so.

 

The conditions: (1) Faith in God and good use of time. He who has enough faith to believe that he will do four with one should make the pact. If not, he should not make it. But then neither should he study in the House. (2) Make good use of the time set aside for study. Promise this and do it, otherwise the pact is null and void. (3) Promise to make use of whatever is learned solely for the Good Press and the glory of God. This promise is a serious one to be kept even at the cost of sacrifice and little gain. Without these conditions being taken seriously, the pact would be worthless and should not be made.

 

He invited everyone to enter into this pact which he himself had made with God, but he left us absolutely free. God would be faithful. On our part, we must not fail, no matter what.

 

 

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

 

1. Do we make a serious effort to delve into the Christ mystery and his profound self-revelation?

 

2. Do we take our baptismal covenant with the Lord God seriously? How does the covenant relationship between God and Abraham, our father in faith, inspire you?

 

 

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

 

Lord Jesus,

you are holy and immortal.

You are true God and dwell in the bosom of the Most Holy Trinity.

Abraham rejoiced at your coming.

Grant that your profound revelation as one being with God

may touch us to the core.

You are the true Master of our life.

You are the Lord of history and creation.

May we love and serve you, now and forever.

Amen.

 

 

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

 

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

 

“Abraham rejoiced to see my day.” (Jn 8:56) //“You must keep my covenant throughout the ages.” (Gn 17:9)  

  

 

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

  

By your daily choices show to the world that Jesus is the Divine Master and the omnipotent Lord of history and creation.

               

 

*** *** ***

 

March 18, 2016: FRIDAY – LENTEN WEEKDAY (5); SAINT CYRIL OF JERUSALEM, Bishop, Doctor of the Church

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Takes Refuge in the Lord”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Jer 20:10-13 // Jn 10:31-42

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Jn 10:31-42): “They wanted to arrest Jesus, but he eluded him.”

(Gospel Reflection by Sr. Mary Martha Bruan, PDDM)

  

The moment the Jews hear Jesus telling them that He and the Father are one, they become all the more hostile.  The Jews immediately draw a rash conclusion that Jesus commits blasphemy by claiming He is the Son of God.  The penalty stipulated in Jewish law for blasphemy is none other than stoning.  They are ready to stone Jesus with rocks. Jesus meets their hostility calmly and reminds them about the good works he has done for them.  He is going around preaching, feeding the hungry, comforting the desperate and sorrowing, curing the sick, casting out demons and performing other signs and wonders very revealing of God’s power.  The works that Jesus does out of His great love for humankind are indeed so noble and beautiful that they can only come from God. He is consecrated by God for a mission.  God consecrates Jesus, makes Him holy and sets Him apart from the rest of the people for a special mission.  He is sent by God into the world. He came to put into realization the mission God entrusts to his care.

 

Seeing that the Jews are not open to believe His words, Jesus appeals to them to accept His deeds. As the One sent by God, he does not base His claims on what He says, but on what He is and does.  The Jews have to judge Him according to His works and not according to what He says, for what He is doing are the works of the Father.  Whatever Jesus does reveals that He and the Father are one.  Faced with the growing hostility of the Jews who tried to arrest Him, Jesus deemed it necessary to flee. Before the human eye, fleeing is a cowardly act but, what Jesus did is not cowardice. He is not afraid of the Jews, but He knows that His “hour” has not yet come. He wants to be in silence and solitude with God when it finally comes.  He is preparing himself for the full realization of His mission to the point of expending His life for all. He wants to be in communion with the Father.  This is the reason why he decided to go to the other side of the Jordan, a very significant place for Jesus. This is where He was baptized by John the Baptist and His identity and mission as the Beloved Son of the Father was confirmed.  There, on the distant side of the Jordan, the Jews followed Jesus and remembered John the Baptist.  John spoke to them as a prophet but did not perform signs and wonders like Jesus. They regarded John as a prophet, and with their own eyes saw that everything He said about Jesus was true.

 

To believe in God is not mere lip service.  Whatever we say has to be accompanied with good deeds.  Our words should be in consonance with the works we do if we want to be credible in following Jesus and in communicating Him to contemporary men and women. Let us hold on to the sublime reality that our Lord and Master is with us. His obedience to the Father’s plan culminated in His death on the cross. Jesus’ death on the cross is the supreme proclamation and greatest act of His love for humanity that is acceptable to the Father.

 

 

B. First Reading (Jer 20:10-13): “The Lord God is with me, a mighty hero.”

 

Suffering seems to be an integral element of a God-given mission. Some suffering is inevitable for those called by God for a special ministry. The pathos and intense pain of the prophet Jeremiah illustrate this reality. Today’s Old Testament reading (Jer 20:10-13) depicts the drama of a persecuted prophet and illustrates the triumph of faith in the divine presence and intervention. Jeremiah lamented to God that his enemies were closing in on him, for he had obeyed God’s promptings and had prophesied that Judah, on account of its infidelity and social injustice, would be destroyed and its people led away in captivity.

 

The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 4, comment: “But after this profoundly human cry of distress, faith prevails, stronger and more tenacious than the fear that would submerge the prophet: But the Lord is with me: like a mighty champion; my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph … Thanks to this surge of trust, Jeremiah foresees that he will conquer overwhelmingly … It is to God that Jeremiah entrusts his cause, and it is upon him that he places the too heavy burden which overwhelms him. This cry toward God is prolonged by a thanksgiving in which we all are invited to share, each of us, personally and as a church. Jeremiah is really the father of this spiritual posterity of the poor, those dependents of God who in their material and spiritual distress place their cause in God’s hands.”

  

The Kingdom message that we – Christian disciples – are called to proclaim is “good news”, but at the same time confrontational and explosive, for it impeaches a world based on false values. Conflicts are thus unavoidable. Indeed, a Gospel proclamation that is innocuous - bothers no one - and questions nothing is no longer a Gospel. The Church is experiencing intense trial as it fights social injustice and testifies to the Gospel values.

 

The passion of Christ continues to be the passion of the Church and of every Christian disciple. The martyrdom of Fr. Thomas Pandippall, a Carmelite of Mary Immaculate priest from India, is an example. He was brutally murdered on August 16, 2008, on his way from a mission in Burgida, Andhra Pradish, by a group of Hindu extremists who broke his hands and legs, tore out his eyes, beat him with sticks and stabbed him repeatedly (cf. “Catholic Martyrs a Daily Reality” in L’Osservatore Romano, September 3, 2008, p. 5-6). Archbishop Joji Marampudi, Secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Andhra Pradesh, gave the following statements in an interview granted to L’Osservatore Romano journalist, Roberto Sgaramella:

 

They killed Fr. Thomas for three reasons: because he was a religious, because he was a Christian and because he was charitable to the poor. His attackers were waiting for him on his way home from one of our missions in Burgida. He was probably waylaid at about 10:00 o’clock in the evening, not far from the village of Bellampally, an area unfortunately known for acts of violence perpetrated there by groups of Hindu fanatics. They stopped him while he was returning on his motorcycle and clubbed him with sticks. They then ferociously slashed his body with knives. I myself went there the following morning and saw his blood mingled with the dust. I saw the mess they had made of his body.

 

He was killed because Catholic missionaries take the side of the poor in this region where, in fact, a rigid form of slavery still exists, linked to farming the land. The landowners do not recognize that the peasants have any rights and use bands of Hindu fanatics to thwart anyone who attempts to improve the standard of living of the rural population. (…)

 

To be a Christian and, in particular, a Catholic, is a very courageous choice, but a choice that puts one’s own life and that of one’s relatives at risk … I would like to call the authorities’ attention to our men and women missionaries. Various groups of Sisters work constantly for the needy in relatively isolated localities where there are absolutely no policemen. They work at a serious risk to themselves. They work for children and the elderly. They help mothers and the sick. They organize classes for illiterate youth. They work trusting in God’s protection alone. They do their utmost to help their neighbor and thereby bear witness to the Gospel. I am thinking of these absolutely heroic missionary Sisters. I am thinking of the missionary priests who never fail to go to the help of the lowly as, precisely Fr. Thomas.  I am thinking of our little Church of Hyderabad. It is a small Church because of the number of the faithful but certainly large from the point of view of their heroism – heroism because of their constant witness to faith in God and in the Gospel. 

 

 

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

 

1. Do we believe in Jesus’ works and do we acknowledge that his compassionate acts of love and mercy testify that he is the Son of God?

 

2. What were the conflicts and sufferings that the prophet Jeremiah was experiencing? How did the reality of the Lord’s protective presence strengthen him in moments of distress and trials? Do we experience in our own life the convergence of mission and suffering? 

 

 

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

 

Loving Father,

we thank you for Jeremiah,

your faithful persecuted prophet.

You are his “mighty champion” and protector.

In his painful experience as prophet of truth,

Jeremiah had recourse to you.

Most of all, dear Father,

we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ,

the ultimate suffering prophet and the incarnate word of truth.

Jesus taught us to trust in you.

In our mission of proclaiming the Kingdom value

in today’s society,

help us not to be overcome by fear.

Let your beloved Son-Servant

give us the courage to speak your prophetic word

and to confront social injustice

by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We give you glory and praise, now and forever.

Amen.  

 

 

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

 

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

 

“He escaped from their power.” (Jn 10:39) // “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion” (Jer 20:11a).

 

 

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

 

In any way you can, support the missionary endeavors of the Church, especially where there is violent conflict and persecution.  

          

*** *** ***

 

March 19, 2016: SATURDAY – SAINT JOSEPH, HUSBAND OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY

“JESUS SAVIOR: Saint Joseph Is His Guardian”

  

 

BIBLE READINGS

II Sm 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16 // Rom 4:13, 16-18, 22 // Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a or Lk 2:41-51a

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

*** *** ***

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

   

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Events are speeding up.

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

 

Some time later.

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

  

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Loving Father,

we thank you for St. Joseph

who accepted wholeheartedly his role in saving history

as foster-father and guardian of your Son Jesus

and the protector of his Mother Mary.

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

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

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

Teach us to trust in your divine providence.

With Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

we love you and serve you,

now and forever.

Amen.

 

 

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

 

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

  

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

   

 

***

 

 

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

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