4th Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

For the Fourth Sunday of Lent we recall Our Lord’s healing of a blind man that brought many more things to light than just one man’s eyesight. It teaches us how blind we can be to what’s really going on. The Lord wants to cure us of the worst blindness: a spiritual one. Through faith in the Son of man we receive a deeper interior vision beyond our physical sight thanks to Christ, the light of the world.

In today’s First Reading the prophet Samuel has been sent to the house of Jesse in order to identify and anoint the new king of Israel. He’s been sent by the Lord to anoint a replacement for King Saul, who was a tall, golden-haired, powerful man who chose to ignore the Lord’s command because he feared public opinion. Samuel thought Jesse’s son Eliab would be a good replacement, because he was tall and handsome, much like Saul. The Lord shuts him down right away: “man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” David was not considered important enough to even invite to the feast. His father sent him to go do something “useful” while the big boys attended to serious things.

We all know how the story of King David goes from there. He not only becomes the greatest king of Israel (before Christ), but establishes the dynasty in which Christ will be born as the Messiah, the definitive king of Israel. Our Lord always looks into heart and helps bring the truth of people to light.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that the Lord has brought us from darkness into light, and that light has exposed the good and the bad. Humanity was in darkness until the light of Christ came to lead us out of it. Sin not only disfigures us, it blinds us. With impaired vision and everyone disfigured it was impossible for us to see the right way to live without Our Lord’s help. It seems paradoxical that light is needed to recognize darkness, but before the coming of Christ the darkness of sin did an admirable job of presenting itself as very enlightened. Paul puts Christians who’ve now received the light of Christ on guard against a worldly outlook that seems enlightened, but actually is darkness and fruitless.

In today’s Gospel the Lord heals a blind man and helps to see with an entirely new level of light, the light of truth. This light shines on everyone involved in the story, and that light is Christ. The man born blind not only received the gift of sight, he received an opportunity to see that Jesus had been sent by the Father and had the power of God to heal. He saw a miracle happen.

The disciples thought his blindness was due to either his sin or the sin of his parents. Our Lord corrected them. His healing was to show God at work. The man born blind wanted to get on with his life, but his neighbors insisted on taking him to the Pharisees, because Jesus had healed him on the Sabbath. Our Lord had performed a miracle on the Sabbath. If God had not wanted to work miracles on the Sabbath, he would not have healed the blind man. Yet he did.

The Pharisees showed how blind they were to the will of God. They wanted to condemn Jesus as a sinner breaking the Sabbath because that was the way they saw the world. Their interpretation of the Law of Moses. The man born blind could not deny what was right in front of his face. At this point the Pharisees had decided to cast out anyone who said Jesus was the Messiah. He didn’t claim Jesus was the Messiah, but when he presented irrefutable logic to the Pharisees: “  We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him … If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” His healing was to show God working, but the Pharisees couldn’t accept that, and cast him out.

Jesus went looking for him and gave him the opportunity to believe in him as the Messiah, and he accepted whole-heartedly. Our Lord had not just restored his sight; he’d given him the light to see salvation at his doorstep and the need to give witness to it.Christ showed the Pharisees that they weren’t blind, a motive for innocence for their attitude. They chose not to accept what they saw.

Lent may be a somber time of penance, but it is also a great time of spiritual light. Ask Our Lord to open your eyes to whatever thing in your life separates you from him.

Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6–7, 10–13a; Psalm 23:1–6; Ephesians 5:8–14; John 9:1–41.

3rd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

For the Third Sunday of Lent we pause briefly on our pilgrimage toward Jerusalem in order to contemplate Our Lord’s encounter with the Samaritan Woman. It’s a good opportunity to recall our own encounters with the Lord. Ultimately we are thirsting for God and his love, and Lent is a time to return to the well in order to satisfy that thirst again, accepting no substitutes.

In today’s First Reading the Israelites are thirsty and fed up. They rebel against Moses, who is afraid they’ll kill him, and almost rebel against the Lord. They question whether God is even there. That shows the thirst they really have: for God. His presence, his attention, his aid. They don’t perceive his presence, just their need, and their hearts have become hardened by their experiences and frustration. Sometimes we thirst for something more, but we seek to slake our thirst in the wrong way. That is a recipe for dissatisfaction and a hardened heart.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that our true thirst goes beyond just seeking the fulfillment of material needs. The Holy Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts. It is God’s love that satisfies our true thirst. When we’re filled with his love and his grace we’re at peace. No grumbling. Everyone thirsts for love, but not everyone realizes that the love for which they thirst is the love of God. Yet, if there is an issue the problem is us, not him: Our Lord offered his love for us even when he had no idea or desire for his love, while we were still “enemies” due to sin.

In today’s Gospel the Samaritan woman epitomizes someone who was looking for love in all the wrong places. Yet love came to meet her unexpectedly. The Samaritan woman knew the religious traditions of her people, so she had an idea of the importance of God in her life, yet something had not clicked. She knew her religion, but she also experienced rebellion in her heart against God’s will regarding marriage, which is why she starts to give Our Lord some attitude. Where does this Jew, and a Jewish man no less, get off talking to her and asking for a drink? Today’s Psalm reminds us that if today we hear the voice of the Lord we must not harden our hearts like the Israelites did. The Samaritan woman’s experiences have hardened her. In today’s Gospel we see two thirsts seeking each other out. Each one seeks the other in order to satisfy its thirst. The Lord has a great thirst for our faith and our love. The Samaritan woman has a thirst for real love.

Our Lord today knows he is dealing with a hardened heart frustrated after a long time looking for love in all the wrong places. Therefore he knows when to be tactful, addressing her true thirst, but also blunt, telling her the mistaken ways she tried to slake her thirst. He comes to meet her at her level. The Lord often avoids the Messianic titles of his time because his contemporaries see the Messiah as someone simply social and political, but when the Samaritan woman asks him if he is the Messiah, he responds without hesitation: “I am he, the one speaking with you.” The Samaritan woman has found that for which she was truly thirsting, and has to share the news.

Through meditating on this passage you can open your heart so that the Holy Spirit can refill it with God’s love: “like the Samaritan woman, let us also open our hearts to listen trustingly to God’s Word in order to encounter Jesus who reveals his love to us and tells us: ‘I who speak to you am he’ (Jn 4: 26), the Messiah, your Savior” (Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, 2/24/2008). Wells are not meant to be used just once. Like the kitchen faucet we go to them over and over, because our thirst for God is continuous in this life. Let’s seek the waters of life that flow today and forever from Our Lord.

Readings: Exodus 17:3–7; Psalm 95:1–2, 6–9; Romans 5:1–2, 5–8; John 4:5–42.

2nd Week of Lent, Monday

If you’ve never sinned and never done anything you regret, you can stop reading. I suspect everyone is still reading…

People joke about Catholic guilt, but guilt can he healthy for the soul if it leads to us seeking and accepting God’s mercy. Lent is a time for us to consider our failings and admit them, because that’s the only way we can be healed of them and help others be healed of their effects as well. In today’s First Reading Daniel’s prayer is directed to the Lord when Israel is in exile due to its sins, and Daniel doesn’t try to justify himself or his people.

They blew it. We’ve blown it. When we stand before the Judge we have no legal defense for what we’ve done or failed to do. All we can do is admit we’ve blown it and ask the Lord for mercy. It’s no surprise that we shy away from the sacrament of Reconciliation at times; nobody is proud of going into a confessional and admitting that he or she has sinned. Reconciliation brings closure and peace. When we shy away from admitting our sins, little by little we fall into one of two extremes: either we diminish their weight in our eyes until we don’t see them as sins at all, or we convince ourselves in some warped notion of justice that God will never forgive us for what we’ve done.

If you’ve slacked off on receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation, Lent is a good time to return to it. Catholic guilt is not the last word; God’s boundless mercy is.

Readings: Daniel 9:4b–10; Psalm 79:8–9, 11, 13; Luke 6:36–38. See also 23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Friday and 12th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.

2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

Lent is about a week and a half underway, and today’s readings remind us that everything we’re commemorating during this season hinges on faith in Christ. He reveals to us the meaning of Lent, and he wants to be our light.

Today’s First Reading reminds us that Abraham, our father in faith, set out based on a promise that was fulfilled through Christ. Abram was promised to be the father of a great nation and a blessing for all nations. His name was destined to become renowned, and so it became. He didn’t receive many instructions, just to leave his kinsmen and set out. In the Letter to the Hebrews Abraham is described as our father in faith (cf. Catechism 145-146): “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go” (Hebrews 11:8).

Hebrews also reminds us that Abraham didn’t receive the entire promise: “not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar” (Hebrews 11:13). In his lifetime he saw a glimpse of the promise, just as the disciples see it in today’s Gospel. Abraham’s son Isaac was the first small sign of one of the Lord’s promises being fulfilled to become the father of a great nation. Yet God asked him to sacrifice his son, and he was prepared to do it. As Abraham was leading Isaac up the mountain, Isaac asked him, innocently, what they were going to sacrifice. Abraham responded, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8). This was not just an act of faith; it was prophetic, because the true Lamb that God would provide for sacrifice would be his Son. Abraham only caught a glimpse, in faith, of what would be fully revealed in Christ.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that Christ was always at the center of our Heavenly Father’s plans, even before we became aware of it. In Christ everything is revealed. Abraham died in faith, but never saw the promise completely fulfilled. When facing hardship we are consoled by considering when it will end. For a Christian the cynical expression “life is hard, then you die” holds no weight. Christ has revealed that “life is hard, and then you live happily ever after” if you have faith in him. Christ has shown that life can have a happy ending, no matter what we endure in our earthly existence. During Holy Week we’ll remember that he didn’t just teach this; he lived it.

In today’s Gospel the Lord’s closest disciples receive a glimpse of his divinity and glory on the mountaintop in order to strengthen them for the trials to come. They see what the fulfillment of the Lord’s promises will look like. The Lord only took Peter, James, and John. They were his closest disciples and had the most need of encouragement. Peter would be entrusted with Christ’s flock in a special way. James would be the first apostle martyred. John would write some of the most sublime words of Sacred Scripture.

Our Lord’s face and clothes became as light. His face, like sunlight, represents his person and, in this moment, his divinity. Moses and Elijah converse with Jesus. Our Lord is at the center. The Law (represented by Moses) and the Prophets (represented by Elijah) point to him. If a transfigured Christ flanked by the greatest exponents of the Law and the Prophets is not enough, a theophany occurs as well: God the Father identifies Jesus as his son, and how pleased he is with him. If Peter, James, and John had not believed in Christ they wouldn’t even be on this mountain. Their faith necessitated a glimpse of the promise that would prepare them for the trials and tragedy to come.

Life presents hardships, but the strength to face and overcome them does not always come in the moment. Our Lord prepares us for crosses, just as he prepared his disciples in today’s Gospel. Let’s open our hearts to his preparation and inspiration and not be afraid.

Readings: Genesis 12:1–4a; Psalm 33:4–5, 18–20, 22; 2 Timothy 1:8b–10; Matthew 17:1–9.

1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

Today’s readings remind us that one of the greatest blessings we’ve received from God is the power to decide, and also the responsibility of being able to decide. We’re free to choose, but that also means we’re free to choose something bad. Lent is a time when we remember and repent for the horrible choices we’ve made personally and as God’s people, and today’s readings show us how we go into these messes and how we can get out of them.

Today’s First Reading reminds us how temptation works, and that we have to take responsibility for our actions, because “the Devil made me do it” and “I didn’t know any better” are so often old, tired, and specious arguments. Adam and Eve had life breathed into them by God himself. We came from dust, which is why every Ash Wednesday one of the formulas for administering the ashes is “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” God created paradise for Adam and Eve, and he also created limits. These limits were for their own good. They could eat the fruit (freedom), but they didn’t think of whether they should eat the fruit (consequences). All the serpent had to do was sow doubt about whether God really had their best interest in mind. Eve considered her options and ate; Adam just seems to follow her lead, and the deed is done.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that Adam’s decision, as the head of humanity, had consequences, and so does the New Adam’s (Our Lord). Adam, as the head of humanity, was entrusted with its wellbeing throughout the generations. He sinned and lost it all, just like a gambler squandering his family’s livelihood and going bust. One of his sons murders the other out of envy, and death enters into the world, showing the effects of sin. That Original Sin of Adam ushered in death for us all. That is the power and consequence of making decisions. Eve soon led Adam to sin: sin never stays at home, it spreads, just like the consequences of Original Sin spread throughout history, and death reminds us of sin and its consequences.

Yet this power of decision has an even greater potential for good than for evil. Christ, the New Adam, ushers life back into humanity through his good decision. Christ, by becoming man, became the new head of humanity, since he was its greatest example (and still is). He decided to lay down his life out of love for the Father and for us, and through his decision he conquered sin and death for us all.

In today’s Gospel the garden of temptation has been replaced, ages later, as a desert of temptation. Our Lord fasts and prays before beginning his public ministry, and, like all of us, he too has to face temptation in making the right decisions. He does so to teach us how we can face and overcome temptations in order to decide well. The devil tempts him to turn stones to bread in order to satisfy his hunger. Eve saw the forbidden fruit as good for food. Jesus could turn that stone to bread in a snap. But he replies: “One does not live on bread alone.” There are more important things to life than just filling your stomach. These stones being stones, and Jesus being hungry are all part of God’s plan, all part of God’s will. God’s will for us and for others should always shape our decisions.

Since the devil saw that Jesus was a scriptural man, he tried to use some scripture of his own. He took him to the top of the Temple in Jerusalem. The devil insisted that Jesus demand proof of God’s protection, and he had the gall to back it up with Bible verses.We need to have faith in God to make good decisions. Scripture helps us to know his will, not just justify our actions. We can try to make a Biblical case, but it is God who justifies or condemns our actions, not us.

Eve saw that the fruit was good for wisdom, for a knowledge that would make her like God. The devil showed Jesus in an instant all the kingdoms of the world, and all Jesus had to do was grovel at his feet. He offered Jesus everything except the one thing the devil wouldn’t give up: being number one. Jesus stayed focused on who was really number one: his Heavenly Father and the mission he had received —“The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” Serving God should always shape our decisions. If he is not in first place, our decisions will take a bad turn.

As we head into the desert with Our Lord this Lent, let’s ask him to help us to identify and resist the temptation in our lives right now.

Readings: Genesis 2:7–9, 3:1–7; Psalm 51:3–6, 12–13, 17; Romans 5:12–19; Matthew 4:1–11.