2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle C (2)

This Sunday we remember the Lord’s Transfiguration, when he appears to his closest disciples flanked by Moses and Elijah. Our Lord is revealed as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, and Lent is a time for remembering that in Christ all the promises made by the Lord to mankind throughout salvation history are fulfilled.

In today’s First Reading the Lord rewards Abram’s faith in the Lord’s promise that he would have countless descendants. This faith was seen as righteousness (see Genesis 15:6): it showed that Abram was pleasing to God, a thought St. Paul would later develop in his letters (see Romans 4:9). We are those descendants, because we call Abram (later renamed Abraham by the Lord) our father in faith.

The Lord also promised Abram that the land he was dwelling in would be his; his nomadic existence would one day end and he’d have a place he could truly call home. Abram asked how he would know, and the Lord instructed him to prepare the ceremony for establishing a covenant. In Abram’s time, two people entering into covenant would walk between sacrificed animals that had been split in half as a way of saying they’d bring that same fate upon themselves if they broke the covenant. In this moment of salvation history this insight into God’s relationship with those who have faith is something murky, even terrifying. Abram didn’t even have to make the walk; the Lord offered freely to enter into the covenant, and it was a disproportionate act of generosity on his part. Abram persevered in his faith and God’s promises were fulfilled.

In today’s Second Reading Paul laments those who have become enemies of the Cross of Christ and chosen comfort over the difficult path of renunciation that true glory requires. In a mysterious way, when covenants with God were broken left and right throughout salvation history, the Lord did take the punishment upon himself, sparing his people, to the point that the Son shed his blood to establish a new and everlasting covenant. He reminds us that we are citizens of Heaven and that is where we should be headed. The Cross is the way; there are no detours, no shortcuts. At the Transfiguration Our Lord reveals his divinity and also shows the glory we will experience if we take up our cross every day and follow him.

The Lord in today’s Gospel is preparing his disciples for the trials of faith they’re about to endure when he is handed over in Jerusalem to suffer his Passion. They have an experience of God in great contrast from Abram’s experience: from something vague and confusing to something blindingly insightful, so much so that confusion and fright comes from trying to process it all. On the mountaintop they see Christ in his glory; his divinity shines through. They see two of the greatest holy men of their salvation history flanking him: Elijah and Moses, who speak of what Our Lord must endure. They receive a revelation of the Trinity: the Son in his divinity, the Holy Spirit in the cloud overshadowing them, and the Father speaking from the cloud. It is all still veiled in mystery, but it’s like a light along a dark road that encourages you to keep moving forward.

The Lord promises us many things, but it is contingent upon doing our part. Lent is a time for renewing the promises we’ve made in response to Our Lord keeping his. We still have many weeks of Lent before Our Lord’s Passion and Glory. Let’s continue along the path of the Cross through contemplating these mysteries and living our Lenten resolutions well, knowing it is the only path to the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Readings: Genesis 15:5–12, 17–18; Psalm 27:1, 7–9, 13–14; Philippians 3:17–4:1; Luke 9:28b–36. See also 2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle CTransfiguration of the Lord, Cycle B and 2nd Week of Advent, Saturday.

1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle C (2)

Lent is forty days long because we imitate Christ going into the desert at the start of his public ministry for forty days of prayer, fasting, and temptation. Every year we go into the desert with Our Lord. We can have the attitude of rolling our eyes and saying to ourselves, “here we go again.” Why do we have to remember these mysteries over and over again? We remember and re-live these mysteries in order to go beyond spiritual monotony and attain spiritual profundity.

In today’s First Reading Moses tells the Israelites how to present the first fruits as gifts from God, remembering how long they wandered in the desert. We have only just started, and we have many fruits to present to Our Lord: five days of fresh Lenten effort. Maybe for some of us our stomach has started to grumble, like Jesus’ did after forty days of fasting. Maybe we’re not feeling the pinch yet, so we need to keep making an effort. The grumbling stomachs will come at one point or another. Whenever the Israelites in the desert had a hard time, the first bad thing they wished for was to return to the fleshpots of Egypt. We give up sweets and our mind drifts to the ice cream parlor.

However, in today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that the word is near us. It’s not just a spoken word: it is the Word made flesh. Jesus is with us during our first days in the desert, trying not to think of the dessert, and St. Paul reminds us we must have him on our lips and in our heart. All we have to do is call upon him and we will be saved from falling into temptation.

In today’s Gospel the Lord, just baptized in the Jordan, is led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to battle temptation before beginning his public ministry. For Our Lord, the temptations began after a prolonged period of prayer and fasting. How many Lents have we lived? It can seem that Jesus’ words are spiritually monotonous. Our stomachs grumble, we turn to him for an encouraging word, and he says the same things, over and over: Man shall not live by bread alone, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test. We ask the Holy Spirit and the Spirit says to go into the desert for forty days. We turn to Mary for advice, and she just says, “Do whatever he tells you.” Arrrgh. Congratulations, you are praying and fasting.

The desert is dry. You look around and there’s lots of sand and sun, but no beach. Wild animals are looking at you, wondering if you taste like chicken, but you’re following the Holy Spirit’s promptings, listening to Our Lord, asking Mary’s advice. Good job. The monotony reflects the fact that, for a part of you, this is not what you want, but the better part of you knows it is what you need. There is life in the desert, a profounder life that puts your ordinary life into perspective.

A good Lenten resolution is to dedicate some time to contemplative prayer. Our Lord went into the desert, as he often went to be alone, to spend quality time with his Father. We too need quiet time, away from noise and distraction, in order to set aside interior noise and distraction and speak with Our Lord heart to heart. You can do some lectio divina, contemplating a passage of Sacred Scripture and asking Our Lord how to apply it to your life, or you can simply talk to him about how your life is going and how you’d like it to be. The most important element of contemplative prayer is not talking, but listening.

Readings: Deuteronomy 26:4–10; Psalm 91:1–2, 10–15; Romans 10:8–13; Luke 4:1–13. See also 1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle C.

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8th Ordinary Sunday, Cycle C

Today’s readings remind us that if we truly want to recognize, do, and praise the good that we and others do we need Our Lord’s help and the wisdom to not judge a book by its cover.

In today’s First Reading Sirach teaches us that the truth worth of anyone, including ourselves, is when a trial by fire shakes us up and makes us show who we truly are and how we live. He focuses on a person’s words being the true measurement of their faults or virtue. Appearances are not enough. He gives three examples of a process for evaluating the worth of a “fruit.” With the sieve you sift out the undesirable, which remains in the sieve and lets the desirable pass through. With the firing of pottery it adopts its definitive form and strength, or its definitive deformation and flaws. With cultivating a fruit tree it’s easy to see whether you’re successful or not: good and abundant fruit, or a withered tree with little to no fruit. In all three of these processes it is the result that matters. The process doesn’t automatically produce a good outcome, just like we or others aren’t automatically good or evil.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that it is thanks to Our Lord that this process of telling good from evil, even among the well-intentioned, is not in vain. Our corruptibility and mortality due to Original Sin would lead to spiritual as well as physical death if left to their own devices. Original Sin disfigured us, but also disfigured our view of good and evil. We need help to correct it. Paul encourages us to see that Our Lord will clothe that corruptibility with incorruptibility: the grace that transforms us and heals us from the wounds of Original Sin, although we still are subjected to weakness and temptation in this life, in eternity we will be purified of it, once and for all. Our Lord clothes our mortality with immortality by sowing the seed of eternal life in us from the moment we believe and are baptized. His victory over death swallowed it up for himself and for us. If we persevere in Christ we will share in his victory over sin and death.

Our Lord in today’s Gospel reminds us that we must try to see and live clearly before helping others, or it will be a case of the blind leading the blind. He also warns us that being a “bad boy,” despite how culture today paints it, is never a good thing. If a blind man were to offer to help you cross the street you would either charitably decline, think he was crazy, or maybe convince yourself he had super powers. We live in a society where people seek the virtuous thing to do, the logical thing to do, or the craziest thing to do, and are willing to get advice from or give advice to anyone. We have to invest time, prayer, and reflection to determine the solid foundation on which to live and to be guided. We can’t just invent this on our own: we need help from Our Lord, and we need help from solid people and solid traditions. If someone recognizes something to be evil, they avoid it; that is Ethics 101. That is why evil often tries to masquerade as good, to appear glamorous. Our Lord teaches us not to judge people, but he does teach us to judge actions: evil people do evil things, just as good people do good things.

Sirach teaches us this week that the just are tried by fire. Assess how you faced your last trial (if you’re currently undergoing a trial, put that on hold, since it is not resolved yet—the aftermath is just as important). Evaluate that trial starting outward with all the others involved or affected, as well as the circumstances, and then move in to yourself, all the way into your heart and your conscience. Today’s readings give you several ways to assess your handling of the trial. Did you profit from the wisdom of others or their foolishness in facing the trial? Did wisdom or foolishness come out of your mouth as a result? Did this trial end up making others better, nobler, holier? Did make you better, nobler, holier? Did it help you identify the good and evil in your life and in others’ lives?

Readings: Sirach 27:4–7; Psalm 92:2–3, 13–16; 1 Corinthians 15:54–58; Luke 6:39–45. See also 23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Friday and Saturday.

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7th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday, Year I

In today’s First Reading the Lord through Sirach makes a strong case for the benefits of having wisdom in your life. Society today has a tendency to seek immediate results in an immediate way–success, gratification, etc.–but often lacks the most important thing: wisdom. Wisdom is ultimately an insight into the big picture of things and the ability to apply that wisdom to life’s decisions, big and small.

As Sirach describes today, embracing Wisdom paves the way for being blessed by the Lord. He describes bringing wisdom into your life as a process. It can be unsettling, even painful, at first, because wisdom sheds new light on you attitudes and your actions, and part of that process is a realization of the foolishness in your life too. In yesterday’s First Reading Sirach taught us that the Lord is the source of all wisdom. He’s written wisdom into all of his Creation and when we discover that, we discover blessings and happiness.

St. Paul describes Our Lord as the Wisdom of God (see 1 Corinthians 24,30). In Christ we find the Wisdom of God incarnate. Let’s welcome him and his wisdom into our life.

Readings: Sirach 4:11–19; Psalm 119:165, 168, 171–175; Mark 9:38–40. See also 26th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.

 

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Today’s readings remind us that Our Lord has taught us a truly human way of living, giving us an example in his earthly life so that we gradually learn to treat others not necessarily as they treat us, but as how Our Lord would treat them.

In today’s First Reading not-yet-King David is being pursued by King Saul and an army because Saul is envious of David and knows he will deprive him of his throne. David and his men come upon Saul and his army while all are asleep, and he easily sneaks up to Saul himself. This is the second time David had a chance to ambush and kill Saul (cf. 1 Samuel 24). David spared his life to show his loyalty, and Saul acknowledged that he would one day be king and stopped pursuing him. Now Saul was pursuing him again, and David’s servant Abishai was urging him to do what he should have done the first time: slay his enemy while he had the chance.

David kept to a code that was more important than political expediency: if the Lord has not struck down his king, David would not do so either. When he spirits away Saul’s spear and water jug he has every right to gloat, but instead he appeals to Saul to see that David means him no harm and has no pretensions against his rule. David knew, and teaches us, that if we seek justice, we must remember that it is for the Lord to mete it out, not us.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that we have been made in the image and likeness of God and are called to show it. The first pages of Sacred Scripture teach us that Adam and Eve were created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27). Then they Fell. Hard. Even the fallen humanity ushered in by Adam and Eve reflected God, but it also gave him a “bad name” in Creation. Not only was the image and likeness disfigured in them, but they were too wounded and weak to restore it.

Enter the new Adam: Jesus Christ, who not only showed us the true image and likeness of God to which we care called, but filled us with his Spirit so that we were capable of living it through a life of grace, transforming a simply “earthly” life gradually into a “heavenly one.” With the Incarnation of Our Lord we see that image and likeness taking flesh to show us what it means to be in the image and likeness of God. If a transformation in the Spirit is supposed to be taking place within us, then it should be reflected in our actions and attitudes toward others.

Our Lord in today’s Gospel teaches us how we should respond to being mistreated, a response aided by grace and the Spirit, rising above the fallen earthly attitude of just responding in kind. If David in today’s First Reading simply respected King Saul and wished him no harm, Our Lord teaches us more: to love those are enemies to us.

We were all enemies of Our Lord when he died for us (cf. Romans 5:8-11). He was subjected to blows, scourging, spitting, and ridicule and didn’t respond in kind. He was stripped of his clothing and his life was taken from him. He teaches us to “Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” but he qualifies that by saying we should not only love those who love us, but also those who hate us.

Do we expect to be loved? If we expect to be loved, why would we expect ourselves to be exempt from loving? What should move us to love instead is the fact that Our Lord and others love us even when we don’t love them in return. Not just as what is due to those who love us, but as the way to truly live in the image and likeness of God.

A serious obstacle to holiness is making enmity with someone a two-way street. Make a list in prayer this week of people who have wronged you or don’t seem to like you, either personally or as a Catholic. Transformation in Christ comes through effort and grace, so pray for each person on the list this week and make a conscious resolution to harbor no ill will toward them.

Readings: 1 Samuel 26:2, 7–9, 12–13, 22–23; Psalm 103:1–4, 8, 10, 12–13; 1 Corinthians 15:45–49; Luke 6:27–38.