March 15, 2020
(3rd SUNDAY IN LENT)
In our age we take so many things for granted. For instance, none of us wouldlive long if we did not have water. A considerable amount of our body weight is made up of water; we daily need of a ration water to continue to live well.
Our first reading takes us back to the time in which the Jewish people left Egypt. They wound up wandering in the desert. At the point in which ourfirst reading takes-up, the Jewish people are angry because they are wandering around the desert with no water to drink. We have never had that problem.In these modern times all we need to do to get water is to turn on the spigot. It’s there! ….the replenishing staple of life.
It has become fashionable to carry a plastic bottle of water wherever people go. We see that all the time in these days. Imagine what it would be like to live in so many parts of the world where water is scarce. Imagine what it would be like to live in the time of Christ or in themany centuries which went before Him and after Him in which people couldnot buy plastic bottles of water at the local supermarket, or turn on a spigotand instantly get water.
To get water they had to go to a well, a common well which supplied water for an entire community. Imagine getting up every dayand having to do that! In the culture of Christ’s time, it was the women who got the water for the household. They had to carry water vessels to the well and fill them for cooking, washing, and drinking., and then take it back to the home.
We meet such a woman in the gospel. There is something fascinating about the encounter of Jesus and this womanat the well. Women would ordinarily go to the wells in groups at a certainhour of the day. This woman comes alone, not at a time in which it was customaryfor women to go to the well. Scriptural commentators say that was because this woman was an outcast. Perhaps because of her reputation, other women did not associate with her.
She came alone, at an hour other women would notbe there. It is there, she encounters a stranger. In the middle-eastern culture tothis day, women do not speak to men who are strangers.
Such was the case in Jesus time. It was inappropriate for a man to speak to a woman who was a stranger. It would have been looked upon as an inappropriate act of flirtation. That’s what the woman probably thought was happening; when the apostlesreturn, they, too were wondering why Jesus was talking to her, but did not ask the question.Furthermore, Jews and Samaritans wouldn’t speak to each other much, anyway.
Jesus asks her for a drink. It is clear that this woman is taken back by this request. “ Why do you, a man and a Jew, ask me for a drink? , she answers him.The fact that she answered him at all was a provocative and engaging action onher part. I could go on and on with a point by point explanation of their conversation; time will not permit that.
The essence of the conversation is thatwhatever the woman thought when Jesus asked her that provocative questionis gradually transformed to respect for him, then awe, and finally a revelation to her that he is the Messiah. This woman is transformed in that encounter with Jesus at the well. It is apparent that this woman’s life was not what it should have been. She was“looking for love in all the wrong places.” She had had five husbands, and shewas currently living with a man. She is startled that Jesus knows this about her. What we see in this encounter of Jesus with the woman is, first of all, therespect he has for her. He knows what she is; yet, he respects her.
He respects her so much that he eventually and privately reveals to her that He is the Messiah, a revelation about which He is usually silent. He is gentle about her displaced state of life. In that moment of encounter, he accepted her where she was; yet, he challenges her to become more. He clearly does not want her to wallow in the mire of her life. He calls her to emerge from the way she had been living, and become thewoman God meant her to be. As we leave her at the end of the scene, it seemsthat she is making every attempt to do just that. Her encounter with Jesuswas a life-changing event.
On the Lenten morning Christ looks into your soul. He knows who you are. He knows your weaknesses, failures, sins; yet, he loves you. He calls you, as he did the woman to become better than your failuresand sins. He challenges you to become the person God meant you to be.
He makes this challenge to those of you who are not great sinners, but just need some “ tuning-up “ in your lives. But he especially beckons anyone here who whose life might be a mess.
He loves you too, just as he did the Samaritan woman, While accepting you where you are, He calls you to become better. …to leave behind the things which bog you down, and to emerge from them. And if you trust in him, He can and will transform you, just as he did that namelesswoman he met at the well so long ago.
March 08, 2020
(2nd SUNDAY IN LENT)
Our first reading takes us back almost 4000 years to the time of Abraham. God changed his name from Abram, meaning “exalted father”, to Abraham, meaning of ‘father of many peoples”. Abraham came from an ancient civilization known as Sumer, a settlement near modern day Kuwait. He migrated with his parents to the northern part of Syria, near Turkey, a part of the world which is in considerable misery at this time. After a lengthy stay there, Abram heard God’s call to leave his kinsfolk behind and move to the land of Canaan. To make that move, he had to leave a prosperous commercial area, by the standards of the day, and settle in a land that was still primitive and under-developed. Abraham made this long and difficult journey at an old age. In listening to the message of God, Abraham had to leave behind all that was familiar and secure, and trust in the God who had made promises to him. God was telling him, not only to pack-up and move to an unknown territory, but to start a family there. It was a pure act of faith for Abraham to listen to God’s call and to believe in the blessings which God said would be given to him. God promised Abraham descendants too many to count. He promised him land. He promised Abraham that the world would be blest because of him. All Abraham had to do was to trust that God would be faithful to those promises. The final words of our first reading epitomize the consistent response which Abraham always made to God’s wishes, it says: “ Abraham did as the Lord directed him.” For millennia Abraham has been considered to be the Father of the Jewish people. The land which was promised to him is the promised land into which Moses led the Jewish people hundreds of years after the time of Abraham; the ‘’promised land’’ is the land of Israel . The Sacred Scriptures of the New Testament clearly indicate that the New People of God, the embryonic church of the first century, also adopted Abraham as a father to Christian believers, not through blood-lineage, but through faith. Most of us are not true blood descendants of Abraham as are many of the Jewish people, but we are descendants through faith in the same God who encountered Abraham, and promised that there would be a link between Abraham and all those who would come to the Lord though Abraham’s original “ Yes”. In our own literature, we call Abraham, “ our Father in Faith. “
So, we see that the promises made to Abraham were fulfilled in their own mysterious ways and in their own mysterious passages of time.
We see in our gospel a very direct manifestation of God to a blood-son of Abraham, Jesus Christ, who is also The Eternal Son of God. Peter, James, and John experienced Jesus in his Transfiguration as being a divine presence. They would again directly experience that Divinity in Jesus when He rose from the dead and appeared to them during that first Eastertime. So convinced were they of that fact that the three of them would eventually suffer for Jesus and two of them would be martyred, as would the other remaining apostles, in testimony to the authenticity of Jesus’ divinity and resurrection. As the Lord made promises to Abraham which were eventually fulfilled, Jesus’ has made promises to us which have yet to be fulfilled; promises such as that there can be triumph over death, and a new life in the very presence of God. None of us, present here, have yet to experience that!
Like Abraham of old who never saw in this life the fulfillment of all the promises God had made to him, but certainly sees them now, and like the Apostles who saw the resurrected Lord but never experienced eternal life he promised until they suffered and died and entered that next life, so we, also, have only been told of God’s promises, but have not yet experienced them. May we have the same kind of trusting faith that Father Abraham had that all that has been told to us will come to pass because God has indeed promised them.
March 01, 2020
(1st SUNDAY IN LENT)
We use the word retreat , among other meanings, to indicate a time to be released
from our ordinary environment in order to replenish ourselves.
Sometimes they say that the President is retreating to Camp David.
People go on religious retreats. The separate themselves from their ordinary duties and set time aside to think of the state of their soul.
Vacations are a kind of retreat in which we remove ourselves from our normal
work environments, with the idea of renewing our energies and selves.
- The word recreation comes from Latin roots “ re” and “ creare”.
- “ Re”meaning again and “ creare “ meaning to create. We remake ourselves in recreation. We take time to renew ourselves.
On this first Sunday of Lent we hear the gospel of the temptations of Jesus.
A few weeks ago we celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus.
Jesus Baptism was his embracing of his role to be the Suffering Messiah.
In His Humanity, Our Lord accepted in His Baptism, all that His calling
of being the Messiah would entail…..even his suffering and death.
Immediately after his Baptism, we are told, Jesus made a kind of “ retreat”,
undoubtedly to meditate upon and deepen his commitment to be the Messiah.
He went, alone, into the desert….to think….to pray…..to strengthen himself
for His calling. Deserts are at once inviting and forbidding places. They provide solace but they also provide dangers. It was in the desert, after forty days of retreat that Our Lord experienced something which is common to all of us, temptation. He went into the desert to ponder and deepen His commitment to be the Messiah; he found in the desert various temptations presented by the Spirit
of Evil, urging him to use His role as the Messiah for selfish purposes
and even to disown His Father and worship the Fallen Angels and become part of their realm.
That kind of Messiahship would be a lot easier and more temporarily fulfilling than the role of the suffering Messiah, given to Him by the Father. In his physically weakened state in the desert after 40 days of fasting,
Jesus was, perhaps, more vulnerable, than at other times to the inviting persuasions of the Devil.
Through it all, Our Lord did not stray from His resolve to be the Sufferring Messiah; he stayed firm to His calling.
Lent is a kind of retreat for each of us. We are invited to withdraw from our ordinary activities, or at least to take more time to do that, to review and “ recreate” our relationship with God.
Each of us has areas of weakness in our characters. Each of us has areas in which we are most prone to wander away from God.
Ancient spiritual writers listed tendencies within us which are “ root” tendencies, inclining us to sin. In their first manifestations they are temptations, inclinations, If lived out these things can become sins.
They are : Pride, Avarice, Envy, Wrath, Lust, Gluttony and Sloth.
Each and every one of us will have one or two of these tendencies which are strongest in us. The person next to you will have a different mixof these tendencies.
Some people’s predominate weakness is Pride. Others avarice. I think we see both in Eve in our first reading. The Spirit of Evil tells her that the reason why she and Adam were forbidden to eat the fruit of a certain tree was that if they eat the fruit, they would become like God. Eve succumbs to wanting to be equal to God; that is pride as well as avarice.
Some people predominate weakness is Anger.
Another person may not be tempted to become angry at all, but is lazy. Some people simply think about food and drink. Their lives revolve around what they are going to eat at the next meal. Others are consumed by lust. None of these tendencies are sins in and of themselves; they are first inclinations, temptations, but if we indulge in them and give them full expressions in our lives, they can become sins. We succumb to temptations when we allow them to be implemented into our lives.
Jesus has His set of temptations relative to His unique calling; you and I have our own set of weaknesses and tendencies, and sins which grow outof these tendencies Lent is a time for us look within ourselves…to retreat…. and to be honest with ourselves….face our spiritual weakness…and to “ recreate”,
in the sense of remaking our relationship with the Lord. .
February 23, 2020
(5TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME)
We are probably all aware of warnings not to eat too much salt. Salt shakers are on every table; moreover, the foods we buy are often already infused with salt, whether it be lunch meats, canned foods, or snacks and many other kinds of foods. Salt is easy to come by in our times and many of us get addicted to salty tastes. Doctors warn especially those prone to high blood pressure to be attuned to the amounts of salt-intake. There is no doubt about it, that salt makes food taste better. We take its accessibility for granted in our times. In ancient times it was much harder to come by and became a valuable commodity. Salt not only makes food taste better, as we all know, but it was also used in those times as a food preservative. Before refrigerators were invented one of the ways to preserve food was to salt it and place it in underground pantries. Because of these multiple and valuable uses, salt was traded and actually sometimes used as currency among some peoples. The value of salt made it an important item in ancient economies. Did you know that the word salary is derived from the word salt because salt was actually a form of payment among some societies? The word salad comes from the word salt because it was a practice to salt leafy vegetables to make them taste better. Salt was a much-appreciated entity in ancient times, but not as plentiful to the ancients as it is to us. When we stop and think about it, salt is a minor component in most of our foods. We have a hard time even seeing it, but it makes a dramatic difference in the way foods taste.
With this in mind we can maybe better understand Our Lord’s reference to salt in our gospel of today. Salt was a very valuable commodity that made a great difference in the ancient world. When Our Lord calls his followers to be the “salt of the earth,” he is saying that in spite of the fact that Christians only comprise a part of global populations in his time down to ours, but if we collectively live our Christian faith well, we can transform the times and the world in which we live dramatically, just as salt can make a dramatic difference in a recipe of food even though it is only a minor component. And just as salt was once a highly valued commodity in ancient economies, so the presence of Christians, living their faith authentically, will be a valuable contributory force in any civilization in which it exists. The presence of authentic living Christians in any environment can positively influence any alien environment in which it exists. Imagine the transformative power in our world if every Christian lived the life of faith fully! However, just as salt can become diluted by ,say, too much water and eventually lose its strength, so if we become too absorbed by the secular spirit of our times, we too can lose the strength of our transformative effectiveness in shaping our culture, our society, and the mini-societies of which we are a part, such as our families, and our work-places. When that happens, as the Lord says, then-- just as insipid salt has no value, and should be thrown out and trampled underfoot, so our value as being transformative influences in our environments is negated.
Our Lord also uses in our gospel the image of light in a darkened place. Light in this section of the gospel is a symbol of showing our goodness to others…of being a good example to them rather than a bad example. We should allow people to see our goodness, not so that we will be well-thought-of, that would be selfishness, but to be a good example of Christian living to others. That good example, might be helpful in bringing them to God. Look at the powerful examples of Christian living which Mother Theresa and Dorothy Day gave to the world by their service to the needy. Their lives were a source, not only of helping the needy, but of bringing many to appreciate Christ in a deeper fashion. That is what our first reading is calling us to do when it counsels us to we “share “ bread with the hungry; shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked when we see them,” When we do such we especially let our light shine before others. The ancient writer, Tertullian, pointed out that people outside of the Christian Church who saw Christians rendering loving actions to the needy, might well conclude that Christianity was characterized by such acts of love, and maybe be drawn towards it. “ You are a light to the world, “ Our Lord tells us, and if we let our light shine before others, it will do a lot of good, but, conversely, if we hide our light or if we give bad example to others, it will only reap negative effects in us and in others.
It is incumbent upon each of us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world so that we can transform the world into a place where the presence of Christ is more apparent.