Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Contrite Heart God Will Not Spurn

February 29, 2012

Wednesday of the First Week in Lent

By Colleen O’Sullivan

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 3:3-5, 10)

My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn. (Psalm 51:19)

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. At the judgment the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation and she will condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and there is something greater than Solomon here. At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.” (Luke 11:29-32)


Have mercy on us, Lord, for we have sinned.


When I was young, I was quite enamored of fairy tales. I remember stories of ordinary young men trying by virtue of heroic feats to win some king’s daughter in marriage. The king would set them some nearly impossible task and promise them his daughter’s hand in marriage if they were successful. Overcoming dreadful odds, the young men would return triumphant only to find that the king had set the bar higher and they had some other onerous mission to accomplish. This would go on for quite a while.

I was reminded of this as I was reading the Gospel for today. Just how many miracles and signs would it take before Jesus would triumph and the crowd would repent and believe? Jesus was no fool. He had already performed many miracles and given many signs. He wasn’t interested in playing games. He knew that there were many in the crowd who would never believe no matter what he said or did, so he put a halt to the sign and magic seeking. He declared that the sign of Jonah was all they would be given.

Jonah was the reluctant prophet sent to Israel’s enemy, Nineveh, to tell the city’s inhabitants they had 40 days to repent and change their ways before their city would be destroyed. To Jonah’s utter amazement, these Gentiles heeded his word. They showed remorse for their sinful ways. To Jonah’s disgust, God, in his all-encompassing mercy and compassion, saw their sorrow and forgave them.

The sign of Jonah, the call to repentance, was now embodied in Jesus himself, someone far greater than Jonah. The Lord, knowing that many of his own people would never accept him, let alone show sorrow for their sins, warned the crowds that at the final judgment, they might be surprised at who is with God.


Lent is a time for taking honest inventory of ourselves. I like to think of God as the father in the parable of the prodigal son. Where in my life have I taken the overwhelming love God has for me and wasted it in sin far from the loving arms of my Father? Where in my life am I like the elder brother (or Jonah), oblivious to God’s ever-present care and compassion, jealous of the mercy and forgiveness shown to others? I am exceedingly grateful that when I own up to who I am and the ways in which I have separated myself from God, the Father is right there, waiting with open arms to welcome me back.

Spend some time today in the presence of the Lord taking inventory. Rest assured that the moment you confess and are contrite for your sins, God will beam with joy, reach out for you, and celebrate your return.

Thy Will Be Done

February 28, 2012

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

By Beth DeCristofaro

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 55:11)

Jesus said to his disciples: "In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8)


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.
(Matthew 6:9-13)


As a chaplain, I have shared the Lord’s Prayer with Christians from many backgrounds, always very moving. Sometimes we say the prayer together but sometimes I speak alone for those who have no words. Perhaps he is too ill or she is mute in distress. At times the other person, language cut off due to dementia, earnestly utters those few words she remembers. Together we call God “dad” and we acknowledge that we are utterly dependent on God who is full of sheltering mercy. The good news is that God knows what we need. And God’s greatest gift is the living bread of Jesus who, because we two are gathered in his name, is with us.

“Our Father”. So powerful. In good times and bad, the Lord’s Prayer is an invitation of love asking me – asking us - to place God at the center of our life. And the actions at the center of our life are relational: accepting forgiveness and offering forgiveness. “Thy will be done.” With God as our primary relationship then loving relationships will flow to our neighbors. In the best of times we can celebrate with God! In the worst of times, safe haven and forgiveness are ours. Life is full of sacred moments. Relationships cannot be ignored or taken for granted. Jesus offers us a way to be aware if we listen rather than babble.


Say the Our Father aloud with someone. Be open to the Presence of the divine in your relationships and within yourself.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Inherit the Kingdom

February 27, 2012

Monday of the First Week of Lent

"You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment. Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your fellow men justly. You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin; nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor's life is at stake. I am the LORD. "You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove him, 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." Lev 19:15-18

Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Matthew 25:34-36


Father, if we truly believe it when we say that your words are Spirit and Life, then give us what we need to bring those words to life. Give us the sense of justice and mercy to forgive those who wrong us. Give us the prudence to know your way from our way. Give us the fortitude to overcome the obstacles in our way. Give us the temperance to control our ego and desires. With these virtues, help us then live lives of faith, hope and charity for your honor. Amen.


Imagine if our lives were lived according to the letter of the law in both these readings today. There might be no reason to watch any of the reality television shows which prey on the weaknesses of people, catch participants gossiping about each other, and seek to vote each other off the proverbial island.

Imagine if our primary and general elections were about ideas and vision only and not personal destruction and negative campaigning.

Imagine if the society of Matthew 25 was a reality. Then maybe that bumper sticker from the 1970's would ring true: It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber. But it would not be just schools -- it would include hospital and homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters and drug clinics and the entire range of charities that help us help others.


As we enter our first full week of Lent, there are many ways you can spend your time. Part of Matthew 25 encourages us to visit the prisoners at the moments when they are most alone, isolated and afraid.

Mason Nottingham is a friend and member of my parish. For as long as I have known him, Mason has always been an advocate for social justice to all based on Matthew 25, especially for just conditions in the prisons and jails of Virginia and Fairfax County. He is working with CURE at the state and national level and wants to involve the Virginia Catholic Conference, the diocese, SALT and nearby universities on these issues.

He is seeking volunteers to assist in advocating on several themes including: the extreme use of jails and prisons, overuse of solitary confinement, more use of community corrections, reentry after release, sentencing Policy, overcrowding of prisons, drug courts, mental health courts, juvenile offenders, geriatric imprisonment and parole policies.

If you are interested in finding out more, please contact him at MGNottingham at cox dot net or call 703-323-5726.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Recall the Covenant

February 26, 2012

First Sunday of Lent B 2012

By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

God added:
"This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come, of the covenant between me and you and every living creature with you: I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living beings, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings."
Genesis 9:12-15

Christ suffered for sins once,
the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.
1 Peter 3:18-21a

After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."
Mark 1:15


Lent offers us the chance to be honest to ourselves. Christ gave up his life to redeem us. He offered himself to make up for all the wrong we have done. He offers himself in the place of us for the forgiveness of our sins. We have Lent which gives us the opportunity not only to be forgiven for the evil we have done, but also the chance to offer ourselves for each other. We have the chance to be more like Christ in our piety by the way we undertake the work of prayer, fasting and good works during this season of preparation for the Resurrection. There is no shortcut in being forgiveness for others. There is no bypass of the cross possible if we are going to make a difference against the tide of selfishness in our world. Piety stimulates our souls by the example of Christ to be loving and giving. How we give our lives for one another is the response to the great love of Christ. Piety offers the challenge during Lent to love one another even as Christ has loved us.


Our study of our behavior allows us to see where there is the possibility in our lives to be more like Christ. We honor Christ’s going into the desert at the beginning of his ministry by joining him in our Lent by our prayer, fasting and good works. Our prayer makes it possible to make what we do each day into real prayer. We are all called to use our prayer to turn our activities into actions that are prayer. It is not just that we are working for the sake of Christ. The Contemplative in Action Grace pushes us to try to do what we do as Christ would do it. Our brotherhood and sisterhood with Christ has its foundation in love. Where love is, God is! This is a simple statement of deification. Our relationship to Christ makes us all children of God.


The old question of what you are giving up for Lent might seem old-fashioned. Truly it gives fasting reality. Age 59 makes fasting a free act for the sake of Christ because the Old are excused from the obligation of fasting. Action speaks louder than words. Chances to be of help where I do not wait to be asked makes volunteering a positive action of love. Reaching out to the needs around us gives substance to the power of the Corporal Works of Mercy to make Christ real in our lives. The “whatever you do for the least one of your brothers and sisters is done for Christ,” who identifies with the poor and the needy of our lives. Lent gives us the chance to put on the mind and the heart of Christ. Our charity makes us over into the Christ we are meant to be. What we do for the poor and needy, we do for Christ.

Leaving Everything Behind

February 25, 2012

Saturday After Ash Wednesday

If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; 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 58:9b-11

Jesus 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


From "Things We Leave Behind" by Michael Card


Matthew was mindful of taking the tax, pressing the people to pay. Hearing the call, he responded in faith followed the Light and the Way. Leaving the people so puzzled he found, the greed in his heart was no longer around and it's hard to imagine the freedom we find from the things we leave behind.

Every heart needs to be set free, from possessions that hold it so tight. 'Cause freedom's not found in the things that we own. It's the power to do what is right. With Jesus, our only possession, giving becomes our delight. We can't imagine the freedom we find from the things we leave behind.

We show a love for the world in our lives by worshiping goods we possess. Jesus has laid all our treasures aside "love God above all the rest." 'Cause when we say 'no' to the things of the world we open our hearts to the love of the Lord and it's hard to imagine the freedom we find from the things we leave behind.


What would it take for us to make a dramatic change in our lives? The disciples left everything behind to follow Jesus. How would people react if we did the same?

Imagine explaining that move to your spouse and family. The encounters described are relatively brief. Levi does not have to submit his resume to Jesus and await an interview. He does not have to rely upon references or a background check. He is sitting at work one day and has a relatively short encounter with Jesus that is not detailed in the Gospels. Yet when he is commanded and requested to follow Jesus, he leaves everything, follows Christ and then throws a banquet for the Lord.

There are two parallels to consider. First, Levi reacts much in the same fashion as Peter, James and John. These fisherman left behind their father and their boats and their nets to follow Jesus and to become fishers of men. This action is part of Luke’s theme of complete detachment from material possessions.

The second parallel is to the banquet in the Prodigal Son parable. Levi goes one step further after leaving behind his career as a tax collector. He holds a banquet for his new boss the Jewish carpenter to which he invites sinners -- not unlike the father in the parable of the prodigal son who throws a banquet for the son who was lost and now returned. The Pharisees react to this feast like the son who had remained with the father because they question why such an honor is bestowed on the son who left and squandered his inheritance. Here again the outward actions are hard for the public to understand.


Usually, we set out to pursue our own agenda -- build a career, find a life-partner, get married, raise a family save for retirement. However, Jesus is the disrupter in the lives of the fishermen and the tax collector and the rest of the disciples and us. As Isaiah lays the foundation, the idea of discipleship is the Ideal of leaving behind our own agenda and taking up the agenda of the Lord. If we hold back from following our own pursuits or seeking our own interests, then we shall reap the worthy reward.

What personal ambition or goal can you set aside and replace with a Gospel calling during this Lenten season? Lord, teach us to walk in your ways, not our own.