Thursday, March 31, 2011

God’s Well-Tended Flock

March 31, 2011
Thursday of the Third Week of Lent

This rather is what I commanded them: Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people. Walk in all the ways that I command you, so that you may prosper. But they obeyed not, nor did they pay heed. They walked in the hardness of their evil hearts and turned their backs, not their faces, to me. Jeremiah 7:23-24

Enter, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD who made us. For this is our God, whose people we are, God's well-tended flock. Oh, that today you would hear his voice: Do not harden your hearts. Psalm 95:6-8a

When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe. But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him, he takes away the armor on which he relied and distributes the spoils. Luke 11:21-22

Listen, child of God, to the guidance of your teacher. Attend to the message you hear and make sure that it pierces to your heart, so that you may accept with willing freedom and fulfill by the way you live the directions that come from your loving Father. It is not easy to accept and persevere in obedience, but it is the way to return to Christ when you have strayed through the laxity and carelessness of disobedience. My words are addressed to you especially, whomever you may be, whatever your circumstances, who turn from the pursuit of your own self-will and enlist under Christ, who is Lord of all, by following him through taking to yourself that strong and blessed armor of obedience which he made his own on coming into the world. (Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict)

How does God get back what was stolen from him by the strong man?

People have been turning away from the path God asks us to walk for all time. Sometimes, that turning away is manifest in an outright rejection of God for another way of life – following selfish interests. These people will be the hardest to get back. Other times, that turning away is manifest in just a general disregard for God’s rules, not necessarily embracing the ways of Satan, but just, as St. Benedict noted, through the “sloth of disobedience” (i.e. laxity and carelessness).

God is a very patient Father. He is willing to sit at the window and await our return. For that, he has sent his Word and his Word-made-flesh. These are our daily reminders to return to him. However, when God grew tired of waiting for the children (us) to return, he did something pretty radical. He sent his Son to steal us back. Our faith is the celebration of that radical act when God sent his Son to take back from the strong man, what is rightfully God’s.

Lent is that special time that we have where there are forty special days of reminders to turn our hearts back to the Lord. Today’s readings focus on the need for obedience as the basis for our prodigal return. After his call for obedience, the very first stone of obedience that St. Benedict puts into place in the foundation of his Rule is prayer. “Make prayer the first step in anything worthwhile that you attempt. Persevere and so not weaken in that prayer. Pray with confidence, because God, in his love and forgiveness, has counted us as his own sons and daughters.”

Do you treat the Bible like a guy treats directions when lost? Guys sometimes (all times?) ask someone for directions when we are lost but continue to pursue our own solution to getting out of the dense, dark forest. Jesus was just like us. He wanted to forge his own path but when tempted, rejected those distractions. Even right until the end, he hoped he could walk a different path than the one that took him up Calvary to Golgotha. Yet, that cup did not pass from his hands.

God has provided for us directions when we are lost. And then the Lord gives us all the time we need to follow His directions, not our own path.

How are you using the directions of Lent as the platform from which to turn back to God from whatever distracts you from the paths of “listening” and “walking?” Turn your face, not your back to God.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jesus Is the New Covenant

March 30, 2011
Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent
By Jack Finnerty

Moses spoke to the people and said: “Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Therefore, I teach you the statutes and decrees as the LORD, my God, has commanded me, that you may observe them in the land you are entering to occupy. Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill….Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Matthew 5:17-19

Faith of Our Fathers
1. Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword;
Oh, how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear that glorious Word!

Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.
Frederick W. Faber, pub.1849

“I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” These words from Matthew’s gospel are part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Because of the crowds, Jesus had climbed a hill in Galilee to be able to speak to the thousands that have flocked to hear this man. Who was he? Was he the one for whom they had been waiting? What was his message? Was he changing the emphasis of the understanding, as taught by the scribes and Pharisees, of the only bible the Jewish people had?

Jesus was just starting his work, beginning to be noticed; his reputation spreading. It was important for him to state what he came to do, to make clear his mission. Jesus tells the crowd before him that everything the OT was talking about pointed to him, making absolutely sure that they understood what he is talking about. So he addresses not only the purpose and nature of the Law, but the extent of the Law - how much of the Old Testament he fulfills? He says, "not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law" - that is, every bit of it. He fulfilled the moral law in the way he lived, fulfilling every precept God ever laid down; and the ceremonial law in the way he died, climbing another hill near Jerusalem and willingly dying on a cross for us.

We are asked not just to admire Jesus as a moral teacher but to imitate Jesus in our daily life. Last Wednesday evening, a son of Fairfax, Virginia, and member of St. Mary of Sorrows parish, willingly moved his boot-clad feet to a waiting airplane for deployment to Afghanistan, joining thousands of men and women who have served, and probably thousands more who will be called to serve in the future for us. After his last Sunday Mass here, he was prayed over by the choir members, and then one of his very last appointments on a long checklist was to go to reconciliation. He boarded his flight with the prayers and blessings of parents, relatives, and friends. He stuffed some mementos in pockets, others he wore around his neck, some he carried to read during long flights. What we could not see with our eyes nor reach out and touch, but could only know in our hearts is that he possesses a wonderful, strong faith. A faith that has been handed on for many, many generations, a faith that was totally fulfilled by Jesus after he climbed that hill of Golgotha, the faith of our fathers, mothers and ourselves.

The women on the just completed 132d Women’s Cursillo of the Arlington Diocese heard the Layperson in the Church talk. The key point of that talk is “You and I may be the only scripture that many people will ever read.” This requires us to become not only bearers of the Gospel, but to truly live its message. During Lent, now nearly half over, how are we being that living scripture?

Relieve the Troubles Of My Heart

March 29, 2010
Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent
By Beth DeCristofaro

Azariah stood up in the fire and prayed aloud: “For your name’s sake, O Lord, do not deliver us up forever, or make void your covenant. Do not take away your mercy from us… Do not let us be put to shame, but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy. Deliver us by your wonders, and bring glory to your name, O Lord.”
(Daniel 18:34-35, 42-43)

When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. (Matthew 18:28-30)

My eyes are ever upon the LORD, who frees my feet from the snare. Look upon me, have pity on me, for I am alone and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart; bring me out of my distress. (Psalm 25:15-17)

An ongoing spiritual struggle for me is that I tend to hold onto resentments for things “someone has done to me.” At least, that’s what my wounded ego tells me – that he/she has upset me or conned me or let me down or owes me a debt and that I am now the victim and justifiably hurt, injured. I can seethe for a long time, my inner dialogue continuously in a self-righteous loop of just how injured I am and how much the other person owes me…

I place myself and that other person in the prison of my hurt emotions. It causes not only a breech between us but also unease, distress within me. It causes a breech in my friendship with Christ. But, of course, I am completely justified. I will hold her/him locked up in my bitterness until repaid in full…

Azariah didn’t bother with the litany of wrongs done to him as he stood in the fire. No, he simply prayed for deliverance and glorified God in whom (against all hope) he had confidence. Sounds easy for one who has faith, right? The stingy servant, likewise, knew how to petition for clemency. Of course his was a false petition in which he knew how to manipulate; he had no intention of passing on forgiveness or compassion.

Between the reading in Daniel and the passage from Matthew we have strong stories of faith, forgiveness and turning one’s life over to God’s directing love. It gives me hope that I don’t have to stay in the fire. Nor do I have to be locked up in a cell of my own making; God can deliver me. The turning over my control to God is an ongoing, dare I say, day after day effort for me. But to be out of the hands of the torturers or outside the white hot furnace of my own seething is really what I want.

What are those actions which, when I truly take a look at myself, are caused by my own imprisonment within myself through resentments, fears, inadequacies, self-righteousness, rigidity, the need to be right, the desire to be top dog, or other infections of the spirit? Our emotions are not bad in themselves. It is what I choose to do with them that cause brokenness and isolation.

During this Lenten season can I identify and leave these snares, these jailors, along the desert path as I travel toward God? Can I forgive debts just as God forgives my debts each and every day?

Monday, March 28, 2011

In the Midst of Them

March 28, 2011
Monday of the Third Week of Lent

“Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?” With this, he turned about in anger and left. But his servants came up and reasoned with him. “My father,” they said, “if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, 'Wash and be clean,' should you do as he said.” So Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. 2 Kings 5:12-14

When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away. Luke 4:28-30

Be Not Afraid
(Bob Dufford, S.J., a Catholic Hymn)

You shall cross the barren desert
But you shall not die of thirst
You shall wander far in safety
Though you do not know the way.
You shall speak your words in foreign lands
And all will understand
You shall see the face of God and live.

Be not afraid I go before you always
Come follow Me And I shall give you rest.

If you pass through raging waters
In the sea, you shall not drown
If you walk amidst the burning flames
You shall not be harmed.
If you stand before the pow'r of hell
And death is at your side
Know that I am with you, through it all.

Blessed are your poor
For the Kingdom shall be theirs
Blest are you that weep and mourn for one day you shall laugh.
And if wicked men insult and hate you
All because of Me
Blessed, blessed are you!

According to Luke’s account, Jesus hardly wasted any time at all in afflicting the comfortable. Upon beginning his ministry in the temple of Nazareth, he so upset the people with his very first lesson, that they were ready to throw him over the cliff.

No demons had yet been cast out. Simon’s mother in law was yet to be healed. No lepers cleansed. No fish caught. No sermons mounted. No paralytics walked. No tax collectors dined. No disciples called. No wineskins were broken. No dead sons raised. No centurion servants cured.

This initial admiration and nearly simultaneous rejection gives us a glimpse on the life of Jesus to come and encapsulates all of Luke’s Good News. In this incident, Jesus simply invoked the Hebrew Scriptures in such a way that inflamed the people. What did he say while quoting from Isaiah?

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, To announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn; To place on those who mourn in Zion a diadem instead of ashes, To give them oil of gladness in place of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a listless spirit. They will be called oaks of justice, planted by the LORD to show his glory. Isaiah 61:1-3

Note what is missing. When you look at the original text from Isaiah (as translators have passed it down to us), Jesus failed to say that he would bring about “…and a day of vindication by our God.” The Jews were waiting for a Messiah who would lead them up in revolt against their Roman occupiers-oppressors. They wanted vindication for centuries of persecution and slavery. But Jesus of Nazareth would have none of the vindication game.

Jesus embraced the social outreach to “love what is right” but stopped at the threshold of violence. From the outset of his public ministry, he defined his work as a mission based upon love of neighbor, not revenge. He knew that this would not win him a scholarship to the Dale Carnegie Institute to win friends and influence people. He knew that like Elisa, he would be rejected as a prophet and be treated as a stranger in his own homeland.

But the time was not right for such rejection to succeed. Jesus kept the peace he so often wished to others. He passed through the turbulent crowd unharmed and kept right on going…wiping the dust from his feet in Nazareth until he arrived in nearby Galilee to pick up this ministry.

What is it that gives you the most personal trouble or fills you with the fury of those in the temple at Nazareth?

Imagine that you were in the crowd at the Nazareth temple as Jesus had this first public encounter. Gaze into his eyes and realize that the church is about how we make his words come alive in the world for all people who seek justice. Make your Lenten journey about looking into those eyes, listening to the words of Jesus and obeying them with your prayers, fasting and almsgiving. Don’t be the angry crowd. Accept the peace of Christ in the midst of fury.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Hope Does Not Disappoint

March 27, 2011
Third Sunday of Lent A

By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ
Here, then, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? A little more and they will stone me!” Exodus 17:3-4

For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8

Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” John 4:13-15

Piety is the answer to our thirst for Jesus. Our piety is constituted by our goodness. All goodness has its source in Christ. Christ died for us while we were still sinners. There is no one outside of Mary that fits the bill of sinless. How many different ways thirst plays out in each of us: There is thirst for power, thirst for wealth and thirst for honor and glory and all the things of life that constitute greatness in our world. Everything short of Christ is incomplete in life. Christ is the incredible answer to what is love. The “no greater love than to give one’s life for another” shows the fullness of love in the life that was offered for everyone on the cross. The Father’s love in giving us his only son to die for us gives us in the Cross of Jesus the greatest statement of a God love. How we accept Christ is seen in our piety. We are faint imitations of Christ’s love in how we live our lives for the sake of each other. We are called Christians because of the way we live Christ’s love. But we are called to be real Christs in the truth of our destiny to find ourselves in Christ. We know we are created in the image and likeness of Christ. We have to convince our world that we are the victory of Christ by living a fullness of his resurrection in the joy we have of being his followers and so much more.

The story of the woman of Samaria that came to draw water where Christ we resting, we study with great interest. Christ came to call sinners. We have no excuse for avoiding Christ. He calls us to drink from the blood and water that flowed from his pierced heart on the cross. We have the Sacramental life of the Church almost unused by the people of our world. The minimal of a Sunday liturgy seems to satisfy too many of our people. We need to hunger and to thirst for Christ as much as we thirst and hunger for food when we are fasting. Christ comes to our thirsts and our hungers. He is always there waiting on us and ready to meet our needs if we would ask. Our study gets us over the hurdle of not knowing what to ask and how to ask is what we learn by the story of the woman of Samaria. Christ is the fountain of everlasting life.

Everyone has the thirst for Christ whether they know it or not. We go from our discovery of life in Christ to obtaining it for ourselves and sharing it with others. Our apostolic actions are the expression of the truth that the only way we can hold unto Christ is to share him. We have to give those in our lives a chance to discover what we hold so dear by the way we live and share our lives. Eucharist is the food of everlasting life and the minimal of Sundays becomes the frequency of daily communions as we grow. One or two extra times at Mass each week become the means by which we are not only taken into Christ, but also enlivened by his coming to us. It is a two way street. We make the journey to the sacraments and Christ comes back with us. We cannot give what we do not have. Christ gives us the living water that we may never thirst again. We bring our friends to Christ so that they can discover for themselves what it is that gives us life.

So Surpassing is His Kindness

March 26, 2011
Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance; Who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency, and will again have compassion on us, treading underfoot our guilt? You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins. Micah 7:18-19

Bless the LORD, my soul; all my being, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, my soul; do not forget all the gifts of God, Who pardons all your sins, heals all your ills, Delivers your life from the pit, surrounds you with love and compassion. Psalm 103:1-4

So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.” Luke 15:20-21

My prayer is that some of Archbishop [Romero]’s spirit was imparted to the President, and that he will resolve to stand as steadfastly for the poor and vulnerable as Romero did. That would be the greatest tribute.
(From God’s Politics Blog post by Duane Shank on the occasion of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Where do we find ourselves at the end of this second week of Lent? Are we dying of hunger for the Father, estranged in a far off land? Or are we dying of hunger for the Father while standing right next to him?

There is probably a little of both prodigal brothers in all of us yet we do not realize how each attitude pervades our life. Despite our disposition, the Abba emanates the perfection of faithfulness, kindness and mercy that is foreshadowed in our gentle first reading from Micah and striking Psalm.

Some say that the acorn does not fall far from the tree. Yet, with this gentle Father, how different both of his sons are at this point in their lives and story. Yet both of the sons mirror the flaws that are evident in our human condition. Despite the flaws of selfishness and greed, one son realizes the error of his ways and repents (returns) from his exile to the confessional encounter with his Father. The other has yet to learn that lesson. In his external duty-bound devotion to the Father, the second brother has yet to learn to share the kindly love that results in an outpouring of compassion and forgiveness of the Father to both sons.

We can only hope that the other brother will come along. We have three more weeks in our Lenten exile. We can only hope that we come along, too.

The kindness of the Father stands in stark contrast to some of the images we have witnessed this week which included the 31st anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero by right wing death squads in El Salvador while he was celebrating Mass.

The day before the anniversary, President Barack Obama stood at the graveside and lit a candle in silence while remembering the words and work of this Abba who spoke out in compassion for the poor, the forgotten and the exiled. Yet exactly that speaking out and speaking truth to power led to the execution of the man some now call Saint Romero of the Americas.

• Back home, our Congress continues to wrestle with cutting the Federal budget. What would Jesus cut?

• While President stands silently at the gravesite, American (and other allied) planes thunder over and bomb under a No Fly Zone in Libya.

• Japanese workers continue to wrestle with how to contain the contaminated and fiery damage from a series of nuclear reactors which threaten to spoil land, sea, air and food for thousands of years.

• All the while hundreds of thousands of their sisters and brothers are homeless after surviving the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

What would Archbishop Romero have said to President Obama if they met face to face? Most likely, he would have pressed him on behalf of the poor and against the path of violence just like the late bishop did with President Carter.

Who will speak with the compassion of the Father and Bishop Romero for the poor and vulnerable today? As we enter the middle of this Lenten season, let us ask the Holy Spirit and the Cloud of Witnesses where Oscar Romero now stands to motivate us to add the cause of the poor and vulnerable here and around the world to our prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

For You Have Found Favor with God

March 25, 2011
Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

By Melanie Rigney
Then Isaiah said: Listen, O house of David! Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us!” (Isaiah 7:13-14)

Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will. (Psalms 40:8-9)

Brothers and sisters: It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats take away sins. For this reason, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight. Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, behold, I come to do your will, O God.’” (Hebrews 10:4-7)

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:30-33)

Lord, please continue to guide me and my feeble efforts to do Your will.

I was twenty-eight, newly married, working for a company that had cut all salaries by 25 percent just after we’d moved to a state with a much higher state income tax rate. I had very definite ideas about the way a news operation should run, especially about the fact that the plum shifts and assignments went to the people who had been around for a while. Newbies had to pay their dues the same way I had, working weekends and nights.

The best writer in the bureau was maybe a year out of college. He had all kinds of great ideas for features, and he loved covering pro sports, especially basketball. But I doled out the perks to the more seasoned employees because, well, they’d paid their dues. He and I clashed about schedules and assignments and just about everything else.

Then one day, I wasn’t sure why I was doing it, but I started listening to him instead of cutting him off. We compromised. I found ways to give him some of those assignments—and our customers and I loved the results.

After about a year, we both left the bureau—he to enter an advanced degree program with his bride, me to take a promotion I was hopelessly unprepared to handle. Decades later, our paths crossed here in Washington. We have lunch every once in a while, and one day, he asked if I remembered when our working relationship changed. I said of course, and that I’d never been sure what had happened.

He smiled and told me the story. A strong charismatic evangelical, he had become so frustrated that he called a nationwide prayer line and told the woman on the other end of the phone about the situation. “She prayed with me that I might find favor with you,” he said. “We didn’t pray that I get to cover sports or that I work the day shift or that I have Christmas off. We prayed that I and my work might find favor with you.”

Some of us (my ex used to call me “Supercop of the World”) can find it much easier to sacrifice dignity and respect to continue doing things our way rather than to listen when God shares His plan for us. We wonder at Mary’s faith, the way she accepted the angel’s word of what was coming for her. She didn’t say, “No thanks” or “This isn’t the way I want to do things.”

She asked a question, then said yes. May we do the same.

Meditate on where in your life you are resisting God’s will. Pray for the strength to embrace it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Listen to Them

March 24, 2011
Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it? I, the LORD, alone probe the mind and test the heart, to reward everyone according to his ways, according to the merit of his deeds. Jeremiah 17:9-10

“He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’” Luke 16:30-31

Our Father…who always stands with the weak, the powerless, the poor, the abandoned, the sick, the aged, the very young, the unborn, and those who, by victim of circumstance, bear the heat of day,
Who art in heaven…where everything will be reversed, where the first will be last and the last will be first, but where all will be well and every manner of being will be well,
Hallowed be they name…may we always acknowledge your holiness, respecting that your ways are not our ways, your standards are not our standards. May the reverence we give your name pull us out of the selfishness that prevents us from seeing the pain of our neighbor.
(From The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality, by Ronald Rolheiser, New York: Doubleday, 1999, p. 189)

We certainly get a strong lesson today of the difference between what we want to pursue in our human agenda and what the Lord wants us to pursue. The famous Elmer Gantry-esque expression is used…“Repent!”

The popular meaning of this is to feel remorse or be contrite about something which you have said or done. But it is action Abraham wants from the brothers of rich man, not just pious feelings of contrition. He wants them to change how they pursue their personal happiness and to be more concerned with the happiness and care of others.

Another meaning, more botanical than behavioral, is of “repent vines” which crawl along the ground. For me, that brings to mind the image of the serpent in the garden, tempting Eve and Adam to pursue their agenda and abandon God’s agenda and the kingdom to come. Our spirituality calls us to abandon our own agenda.

Recently I was reading Ronald Rolheiser’s book The Holy Longing. In it, he presents an interesting etymology/definition of church. The word ecclesiology, Rohlheiser says, comes from the Greek word for church, ekklesia, which comes from two other Greek words, ek kaleo (ek meaning “out of” and kaleo, being the verb “to call”). Thus ekklesia (church) literally means to be called out of our normal agenda into the agenda driven by Christ – a lesson that came too late to the rich man who ignored Lazarus and pursued his own agenda.

In light of this story about the rich man – and wouldn’t we all be considered rich if we are reading this on a computer with Internet access in a world where two billion people live on less than $2 a day – perhaps we should reconsider our own “To Do” lists.

What would we change about our daily routine to make sure that anyone who represents Lazarus at our gate has what is needed to meet his or her needs?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Into Your Hands

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent
March 23, 2011
By Colleen O’Sullivan

The people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem said, “Come, let us contrive a plot against Jeremiah. It will not mean the loss of instruction from the priests, nor of counsel from the wise, nor of messages from the prophets. And so, let us destroy him by his own tongue; let us carefully note his every word.” Heed me, O Lord, and listen to what my adversaries say. Must good be repaid with evil that they should dig a pit to take my life? Remember that I stood before you to speak in their behalf, to turn away your wrath from them. (Jeremiah 18:18-20)

“Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” They said to him, “We can.” He replied, “My chalice you will indeed drink.” (Matthew 20:22b-23a)

Into your hands I commend my spirit;
You will redeem me, O Lord, O faithful God.
(Psalm 31:6)

How I love the characters we meet in the Scriptures! They are often so like you and me – fallible and prone to sin, yet they (and we) are the people God calls his own. Jeremiah, for example, has been a faithful prophet. He’s proclaimed the word of the Lord, but now his enemies are plotting to kill him. Bad things shouldn’t happen to good people, should they? Jeremiah complains to God that life isn’t fair. Sounds awfully familiar. How long has it been since the last time I uttered that sentiment?

In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus tells the disciples for the third time what will happen when they get to Jerusalem – he will be arrested, tried, scourged, and crucified. He will rise again on the third day. James and John (and their mother) respond to this announcement by asking if they can have the seats of honor in heaven. Jesus counters with a question of his own. “Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” Oh, sure we can is the glib retort. Anything to get those right hand and left hand of God seats while they’re still to be had. How often have I promised to go all the way with Jesus without reading the map beforehand and noting that there’s only one path – by way of Calvary?

I can’t begin to fathom the mystery of suffering. I do know that grief, pain and sorrow are ours at some points in our journey no matter how faithful we are and even sometimes because of how faithful we are. No one seeks suffering, not even our Lord. We have only to read the accounts of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane to be reminded that he struggled with the impending pain and death on the Cross that were to be his fate. Does it really have to be this way? Do I really have to go through this? He came to a different conclusion from Jeremiah or James and John. He didn’t say to his Father, “I have been faithful as your Son and this isn’t fair.” Neither did he think he would rise from the dead without first dying on the Cross. He ended up by giving up his own desires and saying that he would do whatever God wanted him to do.

Every time I pray the Anima Christi prayer, the line “Passion of Christ, strengthen me” stands out. Lord Jesus, you know what it is to suffer. Stand by me in my times of trial and sorrow. Give me the grace to remain faithful to God’s will, whatever that may be.

As Christians we are called to care for those who are suffering. During Lent one small way you and I are invited to minister to those suffering from poverty, hunger and starvation is to participate in Catholic Relief Services’ Operation Rice Bowl. Seventy-five percent of what we put in our Rice Bowls is put to work in Catholic Relief Services programs throughout the world and 25 percent of what we give goes to local diocesan programs to combat hunger and poverty. If you don’t already have your Rice Bowl, pick one up at your church this Sunday. For more information, see

Let Us Set Things Right

March 22, 2010
Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

By Beth DeCristofaro

Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow. Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow… (Isaiah 1:16-18)

The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:12)

God, you gave me the awesome gifts of free will and freedom. Help me to use these gifts to set things right within my soul and within my environments. Teach me how to apply justice and remain humble. You can count on me, Lord, and I will count on You.

Pretty strong stuff these readings. But pretty great “study” for a Cursillista. Isaiah prophesied to Sodom and Gomorrah whose wickedness has become a symbol for the most monstrous refusal of God. But in their day, Isaiah told them that God will willingly wash their sins away if they cease doing evil and instead choose God and make justice their aim. God offers forgiveness and mercy time and time again. But we know the end of the story: Sodom and Gomorrah said “no.” I wonder if God wept at their refusal. I’m sure the father of the Prodigal Son would have wept.

I have just spent the last three days on Cursillo, with a generous, spirit-filled team and remarkable candidates who are truly thirsty for God. A team, a weekend, a community comes together when there is a spirit of humility. In our talks, in preparations, in prayer, in hospitality we explore just how to set things right, become servant to God and each other therefore exalting God. I read in Isaiah and in this passage from Matthew that we can use any opportunity to set things right and turn back to God.

Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD. He continues to be with us, not directing from afar. God and I start small, with my own heart, with my family, with my Cursillo community and the other environments in which I find myself. With God, many opportunities open up to me to set things right. This Cursillo weekend renewed my faith that, indeed, many opportunities are given and many people are, indeed, choosing to make things right in their hearts. A Cursillo weekend renews my hope in the face of pretty strong stuff I am reading in the newspapers in my Fourth Day.

But we can take every day to wake up and say, “Good Morning God, let us set things right together." Christ is counting on me and I am counting on Christ.

Is your second week of the Lenten journey helping you to set things right – between you and God? Within yourself? Between you and others? Reevaluate. Take every opportunity because God gives them lovingly to you and me at every turn.

Perhaps a friend could benefit from the opportunity of a Cursillo weekend. Bring her/him to Christ. The next Men’s weekend in Arlington, VA, has space available. Who can you invite to the weekend?

Be Merciful

March 21, 2011
Monday of the Second Week of Lent

We have not obeyed your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers, and all the people of the land. Justice, O Lord, is on your side; we are shamefaced even to this day: the men of Judah, the residents of Jerusalem, and all Israel, near and far, in all the countries to which you have scattered them because of their treachery toward you. Daniel 9:6-7

Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Luke 6:36-37

Cursillo Leaders' Prayer

Lord, grant that we may understand the necessity for depth in our movement, rather than surface glory. Convince us of the truth that colorful programs do not constitute success.

My God, give us a spirit of self sacrifice so that we may offer everything for your cause: our time, our abilities, our health and even our lives if necessary.

Instill in us courage in our initiatives, good judgment in our choice of the right means, and that determination which in spite of failures assures victory.

Move away from us the tiny rivalries, sensitivities, discourtesies, pride, everything which distracts from You, everything which divides or discourages.

Help us to maintain at a high level a meaningful supernatural and mutual charity among ourselves, so that each one will seek by preference the most humble tasks and will rejoice at the good performed by others so that all our spirits united in a common purpose will have one single sprit, Yours Jesus, and that this spirit may let us see Your attractive goodness marked in all our faces, Your warm accents in all our words, and in our lives something superior to the world, something that proclaims Your Living Presence among us. Amen

St. Paul, Patron of Cursillo - Pray for us.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patron of the Americas - Pray for us.

How many times during our own church volunteering do we judge? How many times do we condemn? How many times are we not forgiving?

We have a gift, as Catholics, which no other Christian church offers. That gift is the sacrament of reconciliation. Through this outward sign of grace, Jesus brings us all home as Prodigal sons and daughters. Our reading from Daniel focuses on the shame of sin and disobedience. Yet, it acknowledges that justice is on the side of God, not on our side. Reconciliation is one way we can attain that justice no matter what our prior behavior.

The only way to achieve this lofty, Christ-like end is for us to practice this “giving first” attitude. Oftentimes in Lent, we focus on what we will “give up.” Giving up is important because it takes something out of our lives that wastes time and makes room for God. However, just as important is what we do with that time, talent or treasure in lieu of the practice we give up. Try to add to your Lenten resolutions some new practice that you want to give up. Maybe forgiveness is a good place to start.

Listen to Him

March 20, 2011
Second Sunday of Lent A
By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

The LORD said to Abram: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father's house to a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Genesis 12:1-2

While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. Matthew 17:5-6

Transfiguration is what piety does for each moment of our life. The priest has the fullness of the mystery of God behind and part of every moment of life in the fullness of the Sacrament of Eucharist. Christ words are his words in the moment of consecration at Mass and likewise in Confession when the words of forgiveness are Christ using the voice of the priest as his words of forgiveness to the sinner. The Sacrament of the Present Moment is what transfiguration is all about. All of God’s love is in the moment we are in when our love transfigures the now with the presence of the love of God. Wheresoever’s there is love, God is there. Whatsoever we do out of love becomes the work of God. Because God is love, there can never be a moment of life that does not have the fullness of God’s love if we know how to look. We are created in the image and the likeness of God. God would not be God if we had a moment where the love of God was missing. In fact we would not be alive. Our very life is the result of God’s love for us. God forever loves. When we are not aware of God’s love, it is simply because we are not looking. God does not force his love upon our realizations. Moments of transfiguration in our own lives is what opens us to the awareness of God at work in who we are and what we do. The only limit on the visibility of God’s love is our willingness to look deeper than appearances. We have to go below the surface to see the eternal expression of God’s love in the moment. The realization of God’s love in our lives is only limited by our willingness to accept what is in a moment that touches the eternal of God. St. Thomas of Aquinas defines heaven as the eternal now. It is the now of our lives that touches the eternal now of heaven. Now is the door that opens on the eternal love of God.

Study of the Transfiguration of Christ improves our prayer life. The forty days of prayer and fasting were his preparation for his mission. We have by prayer and fasting a chance to be like Christ. We too by our contemplating the mystery of the Transfiguration climb his mountain. The events of our daily life that come into our prayer are transfigured. Like Christ we can talk to the Father. With Christ we can hear the Father approving of us. We become extensions of Christ in time by our prayer and good works of Lent. Transfigurative events take place in our lives as we subject the events of our lives to prayer and find ourselves as companions of Christ. We are challenged to be real Christs by our study and actions around the meaning of Christ in our lives.

Lent is a time of Christ actions in our lives. With our knowledge of the resurrection of Christ from the dead we are able to talk about what happened to Christ on the mountain with his disciples. Prayer, fasting and good works give reality to the Lent we are celebrating. Christ is safe in heaven with his resurrection. But he lives on in each of us by our willingness to love in his name. Reaching out to our brothers and sisters with our Lenten observance gives reality to the Christ of our hearts. We have to give Christ away in order to keep him safe in our hearts. Lent is meant to be celebrated by all that we do for the sake of Christ. We build our tents to Christ by our lives. We are temples of God and all the sacrifices we offer during this time for the sake of others cleanse the temples of our bodies. The sacrifices of Lent celebrate the Resurrection of Christ by making him live on in who we are. Finally we climb the cross of Christ to look out on our world with his eyes and to find out where he wants us changing our world for him. Lent is our time to declare our belief in the Resurrection and to be transfigured by all we do in the name of Christ. Let us climb the mountain of the Transfiguration that we too may be changed by our closeness to Christ into living presences of whom he is in our lives by sharing our love for one another.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Endure Forever

March 19, 2011
Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

“’Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.’” 2 Samuel 7:16

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” Luke 2:46-49

A Parent’s Prayer to St. Joseph
O glorious St. Joseph,
to you God committed the care
of His only begotten Son
amid the many dangers of this world.
We come to you
and ask you to take under your special protection
the children God has given us.
Through holy baptism
they became children of God
and members of His holy Church.
We consecrate them to you today,
that through this consecration
they may become your foster children.
Guard them,
guide their steps in life,
form their hearts
after the hearts of Jesus and Mary.

If we had just an ounce of the faith of Joseph and Mary.

Today’s Gospel selection from Luke is like the opposite of the Prodigal Son story. Instead of the father keeping watch and awaiting the return of the Lost Son, the son remains secure in His father’s house while others seek him out.

Mary and Joseph sought out Jesus for a nice Biblically symmetrical three days until they found him in the temple. For three days, they were without Jesus by their side just like we will be without him from Good Friday afternoon until Easter Sunday morning.

When have you sought to have a close relationship with the Lord? How hard have you pursued your side of that relationship?

How will we deal with the absence of Jesus? Will we be seekers like Mary and Joseph? Or will be content to let Jesus find us?

Just because the “Kingdom will endure forever,” does not mean we can take it for granted or that it will come about without a little sweat equity on our part. We must work every day to hold up our end of this critical relationship and build it brick-by-brick, board-by-board, person-by-person, just like Joseph the carpenter did.

Shall we, like St. Joseph and the disciples on the mountaintop for the Transfiguration, willingly erect a house for the Lord? Or shall we passively wait for the Lord to erect his house in our hearts and in our soul? Building the Kingdom will take a lot of both. This is not an either-or choice.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Are Not Your Ways Unfair?

March 18, 2011
Friday of the First Week of Lent

By Melanie Rigney

Thus says the Lord GOD: If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed, if he keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him; he shall live because of the virtue he has practiced. Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? says the Lord GOD. Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live? And if the virtuous man turns from the path of virtue to do evil, the same kind of abominable things that the wicked man does, can he do this and still live? None of his virtuous deeds shall be remembered, because he has broken faith and committed sin; because of this, he shall die. You say, “The LORD’s way is not fair!” Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair? (Ezekiel 18:20-25)

If you, O LORD, mark iniquities, LORD, who can stand? But with you is forgiveness, that you may be revered. (Psalms 130:3-4)

Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven. “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:20-26)

Jesus, you challenge me. The letter of the law is so much easier to follow than the intent behind it. I humbly ask for the strength to follow your example.

It’s been going on twenty-five years since Jimmy Carter caused a ruckus by saying in an interview with Playboy: “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.” The interview was published a few weeks before the 1976 election, and Carter raised eyebrows across the country, from folks who couldn’t believe he’d been stupid enough to say something like that to folks who decided not to vote for him because of this revelation.

Even if you weren’t alive in 1976, you’ve probably heard that Carter quote. But perhaps you haven’t heard what followed that soundbite:

This is something that God recognizes, that I will do and have done, and God forgives me for it. But that doesn’t mean that I condemn someone who not only looks on a woman with lust but who leaves his wife and shacks up with somebody out of wedlock. Christ says, don’t consider yourself better than someone else because a guy screws a whole bunch of women while the other guy is loyal to his wife. The guy who’s loyal to his wife ought not to be condescending or proud because of the relative degree of sinfulness.

It’s the same point Jesus makes in today’s Gospel reading, that following the letter of the law isn’t good enough. Don’t be smug about not murdering someone, Jesus says; anger or condemnation of another also is wrong, and who among us has not done that? Settle up those disputes and disagreements in a loving way, he advises; don’t let them fester and grow out of control.

No, that doesn’t seem fair to us, that a murderer and a grudgeholder both will be judged. The situation in today’s first reading doesn’t seem fair either, that a virtuous person who turns to evil gets no “credit” for past good deeds while the evil person who turns to the right path will have those past bad deeds forgotten.

That’s the thing about God. He’s not fair. He’s merciful. And may we all be grateful for that.

Maybe you never voted for Jimmy Carter. Maybe you wouldn’t want to sit next to him at a dinner party. But there’s no denying the Carter Center ( has improved the lives of people around the globe with its peace and health programs. Consider making a donation to the center, or to one of the charities established by another former president.

The Door Will Be Opened

March 17, 2011
Thursday of the First Week of Lent

Be mindful of us, O Lord. Manifest yourself in the time of our distress and give me courage, King of gods and Ruler of every power. Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion, and turn his heart to hatred for our enemy, so that he and those who are in league with him may perish. Save us by your power, and help me, who am alone and have no one but you, O Lord. Esther C:23-25

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

Psalm 42
As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When can I go and see the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night, as they ask daily, "Where is your God?"
Those times I recall as I pour out my soul, When I went in procession with the crowd,
I went with them to the house of God, Amid loud cries of thanksgiving, with the multitude keeping festival.
Why are you downcast, my soul; why do you groan within me?
Wait for God, whom I shall praise again, my savior and my God.
My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you
From the land of the Jordan and Hermon, from the land of Mount Mizar.
Here deep calls to deep in the roar of your torrents.
All your waves and breakers sweep over me.
At dawn may the LORD bestow faithful love that I may sing praise through the night, praise to the God of my life.
I say to God, "My rock, why do you forget me? Why must I go about mourning with the enemy oppressing me?"
It shatters my bones, when my adversaries reproach me.
They say to me daily: "Where is your God?"
Why are you downcast, my soul, why do you groan within me?
Wait for God, whom I shall praise again, my savior and my God.

Perhaps the Rectora for 132nd Women’s Cursillo will not lay prostrate on the ground with her handmaids (team members) ready to face the lions. However, I imagine they might all be praying today – among other things – for the Lord to put “persuasive words” on their lips. I also imagine that they realize that the last ten weeks of Team formation was their time to prepare and tonight, as the candidates arrive for the Three-Day Weekend, that they – like Queen Esther – will turn over leadership to the Lord and the Holy Spirit. Tonight, the doors will be opened for the candidates to begin this next part of their journey with the Lord.

“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”

If you are reading this, chances are pretty strong that you have had a Cursillo Three-Day Weekend experience and have now embarked upon your Fourth Day. Remember back to that experience and the importance that the prayers and support from the community expressed in Palanca letters had on you.

Now is another chance for you to “do unto others.” You have many ways to serve this community through prayer and action.

Check out the page for Weekend details. There you will find the candidate names for Palanca, details for MaƱanita, the prayer clock, cook crew and closing details. Please do what you are inspired to do by the Holy Spirit in support of these new members for our community.

Note that Psalm 42 quoted above is the basis for the 132 Women’s Weekend theme. Please keep it and the candidates in your prayers this weekend.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Sign of Jonah

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent
March 16, 2011
By Colleen O’Sullivan

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and announce to it the message that I will tell you.” So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh, according to the Lord’s bidding. Now Nineveh was an enormously large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began his journey through the city, and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,” when the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth… When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out. (Jonah 3:1-5, 10)

While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.” (Luke 11:29-30)

A clean heart create for me, O God,
And a steadfast spirit renew within me.
(Psalm 51:12)

We’re now one week into our observance of Lent. As the prophet Joel reminded us at the start of this season, Lent is about returning to the Lord with all our heart. Today’s Scripture readings continue that theme of the necessity for repentance. God sends Jonah to the Assyrian city of Nineveh to warn its inhabitants that they have only 40 days in which to turn to the Lord before their city will be destroyed. Now, Jonah is like you and me; he sometimes has his own agenda. Instead of heading toward Nineveh, he starts off in the opposite direction. As you probably know from experience, when God wants us to do something, he can be relentless in his pursuit. Jonah has to almost drown in a storm at sea and then spend three days in the belly of a great fish before he ultimately decides to comply with God’s request. To his utter amazement, the Ninevites respond to his warning! They put their evil ways behind them and, complete with fasting, sackcloth and ashes, turn to God. One would think that Jonah would rejoice, but Jonah is too petty and narrow-minded for that. He’s actually furious that God treats these non-Israelites with mercy and compassion. I’m sure that all of us need to be reminded from time to time that God’s love and mercy are for all, not just those we deem acceptable.

Fast forward about 500 years to Jesus’ day. Jesus is quite the sensation. Word of his miracles and signs has spread and the crowds following him only grow larger. Jesus says they are an evil generation and he isn’t about to “perform” for them. They have already had signs aplenty. He talks about Jonah as a sign to the Ninevites of the urgent need to repent. He says he himself is a sign that we should turn from sin to God. Human nature doesn’t change much over time. Just as with Jonah, Jesus’ contemporaries have trouble with the fact that he brings the Good News to sinners, tax collectors, the outcast, and even non-Jews, all people they would be loathe to associate with. When we die and stand before God’s judgment, we may be surprised at who the righteous are; they may not be those you and I find suitable. We don’t have a monopoly on God’s love and forgiveness. Those are gifts God extends to everyone ready to receive them.

As we journey through these 40 days of Lent, maybe we need to examine our own hearts in the light of today’s readings. Is God asking us to do something that we’re resisting? Are we running away from God rather than toward him? Are we small-minded like Jonah, believing we Catholics or Christians are the only righteous people? Do we live as though we truly believe that God’s mercy and compassion are extended to all, even people different from us? Is there anything in our lives that is keeping us from the close relationship we desire with the Lord?

Lent is the perfect time to prayerfully consider these questions and, where necessary, to return to the Lord with all our heart.

Please don’t forget the needs of our brothers and sisters in Japan. They need our prayers and they need our gifts. The Daily Tripods for Saturday, March 12, and Monday, March 14, include links to organizations that are involved in relief efforts. If you want to go back and look at them, click on

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My Father Knows What I Need

March 15, 2011
Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

By Beth DeCristofaro

Thus says the LORD: … So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:1,11)

Glorify the LORD with me,
let us together extol his name.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
(Psalm 34:4-5)

Jesus said to his disciples: … “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8-13)

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Reading the Our Father in Lent can causes me to consider it in slightly different ways than usual. Imagine, we have the words of the Son in which to address God!

Fasting: “Give us this day our daily bread” The forty days of Lent are a good time to consider deeply and honestly what it is that our bodies need and accept only what is necessary as a definite gift from God. Although I doubt that God believes that a double shot, white chocolate latte with extra whipped cream or a New York sized meat-lovers pizza are essentially evil, I suspect that a loving God does not appreciate what those supposed foods do to God’s amazing creation, the human body. Ask for and receive the daily gifts with joy – fasting can be a way to appreciate what we have rather than be overwhelmed by what we crave.

Almsgiving: Jesus spoke often about caring for the poor, the sinner and the oppressed. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.“ And God’s will is that all humans have a right to be treated as God’s children. All we have is from God. Heaven is open to all who love God. In best doing the will of God it is certainly not in keeping our fingers tightly closed around that which we prize: money, status, homes, rank, patriotism or the like. God’s caring for is merciful and generous. In these times there are perhaps too many needs around the globe. How wonderful to be able to envision God’s will here on earth in so many ways!

Charity: How do we love? Do we “forgive those who trespass against us”? Or do we love more having the last word? Do we love to prove others wrong? Do we love to hold a grudge – especially if a hurt was delivered by someone we trusted and cared for? Can we have the conviction that we are truly loved by the God who created us and gave us His only Son if we measure God’s forgiveness against our own? Or do we rationalize that God forgives us even though we fall short because we are just so human and just so imperfect. As we pray for forgiveness let us forgive.

During this first week of Lent, pray the Our Father with your chosen Lenten practices in mind. Are you finding yourself drawing ever closer to Our Father?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

March 14, 2011
Monday of the First Week of Lent

"You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow man, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:17-18

“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?” And the king will say to them in reply, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:37-40

Heavenly Father,

Embrace our brothers and sisters devastated by the powerful quaking of the earth in Japan and regions destroyed by the resulting tsunami.

Welcome the dead into your kingdom and comfort the heartbroken.

Hear the prayers of the Catholic Relief Services' and Caritas family for those whose world came tumbling down.

Guide and speed the efforts of the rescue workers amid the destruction. Keep them safe and embrace the suffering.

For your mercy, we give you thanks.

Amen. (From, “What we’re praying for this week”)

On first reading today’s selection from the Hebrew Bible, the inclination may be to wonder, “What exactly did Jesus change?” In our first reading from Leviticus, Moses quotes what Jesus claimed to be the second of the two greatest commandments. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Although the words are the same by the time they appear in the New Testament, the context has shifted when Jesus teaches these lessons to his disciples and other followers. With Moses, the context was your “fellow countrymen.” However, with Jesus, the commandment encompasses all nations.

In the famous parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus answers the question, “Who is my neighbor?” The people hearing this parable conclude that the neighbor is the one who treats those they encounter in the world with mercy. Jesus then commands them and us to “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus also makes one further expansion of the definition of neighbor in Matthew’s gospel. He explains that our neighbor is not just those we like but those who are our enemies and who persecute us. “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. (Matthew 5:44-45)

Rather than providing a detailed list of do’s and don’ts as in Leviticus, the New Testament approach is summarized by Matthew and Luke as the call to imitate the Father.

So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36)

Context is everything. Sometimes, I just wish we could focus on what truly matters and of the rest that is of minor concern and importance “fugeddaboutit.”

If Jesus were to tell the story of the Good Samaritan today, perhaps he would tell us about an island nation which was devastated by an earthquake, tsunami, power outages, nuclear explosions and a plummeting stock market. Or maybe he would describe a country not very far from where he once walked, where a murderous dictator oppressed his people for more than 40 years. However, when they began to rise up against him and plea for mercy, he bombed his own people.

The first person who passed him was an NFL owner and player arguing about how to split up billions of dollars between millionaires. Then, along came a few people who were filling out their NCAA brackets. Finally, there was Charlie Sheen. People were preoccupied in following these exploits and failed to focus on the plight of the people of that island nation or those oppressed by the dictator.

Fortunately, we have organizations among us who will keep us focused on helping the oppressed. CRS, the international outreach arm of the Catholic Church in America, is one that is readying supplies for the people of Japan. Catholic Relief Service personnel throughout the Pacific are standing ready to assist those affected by the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan early Friday morning.

You can donate to these efforts right from the link above. Consider adding support to CRS to your Lenten almsgiving and your donations to Operation Rice Bowl.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Obedience of One

March 13, 2011
First Sunday of Lent A

By Rev. Joe McCloskey, S.J.

The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. Genesis 3:6-7

[J]ust as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so through one righteous act acquittal and life came to all. For just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous. Romans 5:18-19

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him. Matthew 4:8-11

It is impossible to appreciate the temptations of Christ until we appreciate that it is in his humanness that he is tempted. But it is in his conquering sin by fighting the temptations that we through his obedience learn obedience and how to conquer temptation and be made righteous. Sin entered the world through Adam and sin is conquered through our living out the obedience of Christ. Our love for God is tested through our temptations and is proved and improved by our resistance to temptations. In the richness of the consolations of God it is almost easy to be a good person. The joys of the Lord make a rose garden out of the prickly thorns of temptation. Our piety grows with leaps and bounds in the resistance we put up to the temptations of the flesh. The devil can use the form of the angel of light, but the upset and the pain that accompanies giving into temptations quickly reveal who it is that we are serving. Our piety takes us through the thorn patches of temptations. Evil can have the appearance of good for a while, but quickly reveals itself in the lack of peace that is the sign that it is not the Lord we are following when we give in to our passions and the desires of the flesh. Piety makes it possible to stand up against the pulls of the world, the flesh and the devil.

Our study of the season of Lent helps us to realize that it is a time of preparation for the joy of the Resurrection. We live our lives for the sake of the Resurrection. The Resurrection of Christ is the victory over sin. The tree of glory opens the gates of heaven. Looking at Christ on the cross out of his love for us claims our hearts for the Lord. Love has its ultimate human definition in the Cross of Christ. His resurrection is the seal of the approval of God for a life lived for the sake of others. Love is the opening of our hearts to the needs of another. Living our lives in imitation of Christ gives us the happiness we were trying to find in earthly things when we sinned. Following the footsteps of Christ to the hill of the cross gives us the path of happiness that leads to the resurrection. There is no bypass of the cross if we want the Resurrection. We join ourselves to the victory already won by our sacrifices of Lent. Selflessness is our living our lives like Christ for the sake of others. Jn. 15, 13 is the definition of love. “There is no greater love that to give one’s life of the sake of others.”

Most Catholics who reach the age of 59 are happy they do not have to fast any more. It takes the wisdom of the Lord to realize that the difference is that we are free to fast. Physical weakness from disease is different than physical weakness from hunger. There can well be good reasons why one should not fast. Fasting can be spiritual fasting. I can fast from too much television. I can fast from too much sleep. I can fast from the excesses of my life so that I can have more time for the Lord and the people I love. Lent is a good time to reach out to old friends. But it is a better time to minister to those who need us. Lent offers the opportunity to prepare oneself for heaven and the meeting with the Lord. A little extra time for prayer never hurts. Going to Lenten services enriches the soul. One can make the extra effort to be attentive at Mass. Find the time for a weekday Mass! The list goes on and on for all the positive things we can do to make Lent a time of joy for the tasting of the joy of the resurrection even now in our earthly existence. We are made for heaven and Lent is a good time to tell our bodies what we are living for. We do not have a permanent kingdom of the Lord here and now. Lent says to our bodies that they are made for heaven. And it does not hurt that we might lose a few pounds by fasting. Giving our bodies a chance to trim down can mean a lot of extra beauty in heaven. Earthly pleasures can glisten and capture our attention. But it is all too true that all that glistens is not gold. What really counts in a good Lent is how we are better lovers of the Lord and each other. The challenge of Lent is to give until it hurts. Redemptive suffering is love that changes the world we are living in because it changes us into lovers. Thus it comes to be that it is the Lord our God that we worship and him alone that we serve.

Friday, March 11, 2011


March 12, 2011
Saturday After Ash Wednesday

If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; Then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday; Then the LORD will guide you always and give you plenty even on the parched land. He will renew your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails. Isaiah 58:10-11

After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him. Luke 5:27-28

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am! (Isaiah 58:6-9)

In chapter 58, Isaiah encourages us to make sure that our external actions mirror our internal piety. Action fulfills piety and piety informs actions. And vice versa.

Not only as we looking for the correlation between what we do and what we pray, but there also is a congruency between what we do and how the Lord will provide for us. If we follow the Lord’s ways instead of our own, then the Lord will provide for us even if we are in the desert of despair.

Isaiah’s prophecy foreshadows the actions taken by Levi. The Lord beckons Levi and right there in the public square, Levi leaves his role as a tax collector and follows Jesus. Levi inspires us to leave behind our goals in this holy Lenten season and pick up on the goals of the Lord.

Isaiah could never have envisioned nor predicted the kinds of images we saw on television today when news of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan reached us through the media. Cars floating like boats. Boats on land overturned like toys. Water stretching six miles inland!

Reflect on the symbolic words of the prophet Isaiah about being like a “watered garden” or like a “spring whose waters never fail.” The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt.

Are we ready to be a repairer of the breach? Are we ready to step up and be a “restorer of ruined homesteads?” Then we must make our actions meet our internal piety.

The web site Network for Good is a portal for sending relief to the victims of the earthquake. Visit the site at and learn about some of the organizations already mobilized to help you help others.

Another site which aggregates the work of charities is from the organization Aidmatrix. You can visit the site to see how to quickly send money to help with food, medical supplies, building supplies and more.

Finally, you also can learn more about the humanitarian relief through this article ( in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Restore. Rebuild. Renew.

The Fasting I Wish

March 11, 2011
Friday after Ash Wednesday

By Melanie Rigney

Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers. Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw. Would that today you might fast so as to make your voice heard on high! Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. (Isaiah 58:3-7)

For you are not pleased with sacrifices; should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it. My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn. (Psalms 51-18-19)

The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:14-15)

Lord, sometimes I focus too much on half-hearted burnt offerings and not enough on living the way You desire. I pray for assistance in remembering what Your Son’s journey this season teaches about the way to spend my time in this world.

After two days, and the reality of our Lenten promises may be beginning to set in. Not drinking wine for six weeks (whether or not you count the Sundays) is hard! Not gossiping is hard! Having to rearrange activities usually conducted on a weekday evening or Saturday morning to accommodate a pledge to volunteer is hard! But we’re Catholics, right, and we can do anything for six weeks.

In his 2011 Lenten message, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that it’s not about being able to do (or not do) something for six weeks:

In synthesis, the Lenten journey, in which we are invited to contemplate the Mystery of the Cross, is meant to reproduce within us “the pattern of his death” (Philippians 3: 10), so as to effect a deep conversion in our lives; that we may be transformed by the action of the Holy Spirit, like St. Paul on the road to Damascus; that we may firmly orient our existence according to the will of God; that we may be freed of our egoism, overcoming the instinct to dominate others and opening us to the love of Christ. (

Breathtaking and daunting, isn’t it, to think of our own transformation, our continual conversion, in the same context of St. Paul’s? Which was the harder “death” for Paul—his martyrdom near Rome, or the setting aside of his old life that came with his conversion? Which is harder for us: Giving up wine for six weeks, or converting our lifestyle to moderation? Which is harder for us: Giving up gossiping for six weeks, or converting our minds, hearts, and mouths to a reflex of love and prudence? Giving up watching TV on Tuesday nights, or converting ourselves to a life that instinctively reaches out to assist those in need?

It’s your choice: six weeks, or a lifetime. God will love you either way. But which is the fasting He wishes?

What is the fasting the Lord wishes for you? How are you moving toward His desire?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Take Up His Cross Daily

March 10, 2010
Thursday After Ash Wednesday

Here, then, I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom. If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy…Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him. Deuteronomy 30:15-16, 19b-20

Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9:23-24

To keep Lent is to follow Jesus in the prayer of wilderness and garden.

To keep Lent is to confront the principalities and powers first of all in prayer. With Jesus we face the dark side of ourselves this is so susceptible to capture and control by the powers. If it happens that we keep vigil publicly at the gates of economic, military, political or religious authority, we do so confessionally, acknowledging the solidarity of sin.

To keep Lent is to discover and remember who in heaven's name we are, as person and community. We pray against all confusers and confusions for our true identity and vocation. We know that means standing before the cross and making some choices.

The grace of this season is that Jesus suffers the choice with us. He's been over the turf and is our brother exactly on that score, with us in the struggle of our hearts. Let the further grace be that we make our choice as disciples, in the mind and heart of Christ.

(From Bill Wylie Kellermann, Seasons of Faith and Conscience and featured at a vigil at the White House on Ash Wednesday.)

In our faith life, sometimes, the most direct way to achieve something is to move in the opposite direction. All too often, we are looking for the most direct way to get from point A to point B.

In life, we have many paths to choose. Our first reading from the Hebrew Bible, exhorts us to “Choose Life.” That is a choice more easily said than accomplished. The question in our daily life is how to we choose life? What happens when we have to choose between two apparent good options?

Jesus, through St. Luke, explains that there is no easy way to follow His Way. “…[W]hoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

Lent Day Two: How will you deny yourself and choose life in Jesus this holy season? What ways might you be able to get closer to Jesus and those around you? How can you go beyond giving up chocolate or wine or hamburgers?

What if you denied yourself around the clock access to Facebook, smart phones, and other technology in order to open up more space in your life and calendar for the Lord? Maybe you can not go cold turkey like you might if giving up your favorite food, wine or other consumable. But you could delete some of these applications (Facebook, NY Times, Twitter, etc.) from your phone and then limit or schedule your use of the phone for the next five weeks.

What if you took this season to see how to limit your carbon footprint by adjusting the thermostat, putting away the space heater, biking to work or taking public transportation every Friday in Lent? As gas prices climb past $3.50 per gallon, there are many ways you can start preserving the natural resources. Check out some ideas here:

With all this extra time on your hands, just think how you can then take up His cross and your personal cross daily.

Return to God With All Your Heart

March 9, 2011
Ash Wednesday

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. (Joel 2:12-13)

We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20b)

Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others…When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees you in secret will repay you…When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” (Matthew 6:1-2a, 6, 17-18)

Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. (Psalm 51:3)

It’s Ash Wednesday. Lent has begun, the season when we prepare ourselves to share in our Lord’s Passion and to celebrate his Resurrection on Easter. Lent is about conversion or, the prophet Joel says, returning to the Lord with all our heart. Not that this wouldn’t be a good thing to do any day of the year, but Lent is the season when we particularly focus on turning from our sinfulness to being reconciled to God.

When I was a kid, I remember all my friends comparing what they were giving up for Lent, as if it were a sort of spiritual competition. Our Old Testament and Gospel readings remind us, however, that this isn’t meant to be a showy, external sort of exercise, but an interior turning toward a deeper relationship with the Lord. When I think about giving something up for Lent, I am reminded of my first silent retreat. About 30 years ago, I went on a 3-day, directed retreat at a Jesuit retreat center in Pennsylvania. The first day, the silence was excruciating. I could hardly think about anything except how quiet it was. I didn’t care how nice the weather was or how beautiful the grounds were surrounding the retreat house. I longed like an addict for the sound of a radio, a television or any conversation. (There were no iPods, iPads or Blackberries back then.) By the time I went home, though, I saw the silence in a different light, as a gift. Removing all the extraneous noise in my life created more space for God and prayer. If you choose to give something up for the next 40 days, think about what would help you create or enlarge your inner prayer space.

Begin your Lenten observance by going to Mass today and allowing yourself to be marked with ashes. They are an ancient symbol of repentance. They remind us that we are mortal creatures, who will one day stand before God and be judged. When you come home, look in the mirror and remember that this is the season for returning to the Lord, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and rich in kindness.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Utterly Amazed

March 8, 2010
Tuesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

By Beth DeCristofaro

For four years I was deprived of eyesight, and all my kinsmen were grieved at my condition. … I called to my wife and said: “Where did this goat come from? Perhaps it was stolen! Give it back to its owners; we have no right to eat stolen food!” She said to me, “It was given to me as a bonus over and above my wages.” Yet I would not believe her, and told her to give it back to its owners. I became very angry with her over this. So she retorted: “Where are your charitable deeds now? Where are your virtuous acts? See! Your true character is finally showing itself!” (Tobit 2: 10, 13-14)

Knowing their hypocrisy he said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius to look at.” They brought one to him and he said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They replied to him, “Caesar’s.” So Jesus said to them, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” They were utterly amazed at him. (Mark 12:15-17)

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for it is from your goodness that we have this day to celebrate on the threshold of the Season of Lent.

Tomorrow we will fast and abstain from meat. Today we feast. We thank you for the abundance of gifts you shower upon us. We thank you especially for one another. As we give you thanks, we are mindful of those who have so much less than we do. As we share these wonderful gifts together, we commit ourselves to greater generosity toward those who need our support.

Prepare us for tomorrow. Tasting the fullness of what we have today, let us experience some hunger tomorrow. May our fasting make us more alert and may it heighten our consciousness so that we might be ready to hear your Word and respond to your call.

As our feasting fills us with gratitude so may our fasting and abstinence hollow out in us a place for deeper desires and an attentiveness to hear the cry of the poor. May our self-denial turn our hearts to you and give us a new freedom for generous service to others.

We ask you these graces with our hearts full of delight and stirring with readiness for the journey ahead. We ask them with confidence in the name of Jesus the Lord.
(From the website for Creighton Online Ministries,

Last week we heard the story of the blind man who “saw” Jesus and knew him as a healer. Yesterday we heard Jesus quote Scripture which spoke of the rejected stone which God deems to become the cornerstone. Those who rejected the stone did not see it for what it actually is. Today we meet Tobit who lost his sight physically and morally. Finally, Jesus is confronted with officials of the temple who do not “see” him. They chose to look at him through the lenses of their own hypocrisy much as Tobit accused his wife.

I have to wonder too, with the Pharisees who were utterly amazed at Jesus. Was their conversation marveling or was it more along the lines of “Look at this guy! He weaseled out of the question. He is pretty slick!”? How good I can be at weaseling out of what I don’t want to face up to or own. Or seeing what I want to see, what I’ve decided to see. I must admit, I don’t see myself sitting beside the road calling out loudly “Have pity on me, Lord”.

Lent offers us the chance each year to let Jesus shine a light on what is difficult for us to see. May our Lenten practices this year allow us to see Him better and see ourselves more clearly as being gifted by God.