2nd Sunday in Lent, Cycle B

In the Transfiguration Jesus gives his most beloved disciples (Peter, James and John) a glimpse of the life they will live one day in glory. Not just a transfigured life, but a life with their beloved forever, free from all distraction. It is an encouragement for our own desire for silence and prayer that enables us to encounter Our Lord in the depths of our heart.

Today’s First Reading recalls another mountain, but also a momentous decision in the life of Abraham, a life or death decision that showed who came first in his life. Isaac was the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father to a great nation. The Lord had promised Abraham for years that he would bless him with a son who’d show the promise being fulfilled. He and his wife Sarah were so old that Isaac’s birth was nothing short of miraculous. At one point Abraham had another son, Ishmael, through the slave Hagar, but the Lord revealed that Ishmael was not the way he intended to fulfill the promise.

When the Lord tells Abraham to offer up Isaac as a holocaust it seems that he is asking Abraham to kill a promise fulfilled. The Old Testament does not say that Abraham went ballistic, engaged in long and bitter discourses a la the Book of Job, or denounced God as cruel and evil. He simply took his son and headed for Moriah. Abraham was put to the test, and he passed. He was ready to go through with something horrible because he believed it was God’s will. His attitude was enough to show that the Lord came first for him. As the Lord said, “I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that the Lord spared Abraham’s son, but did not hesitate to sacrifice his own. When Abraham was heading up the mountain with Isaac, Isaac asked him, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham replied, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:7-8). The sacrifice of Isaac was a prefiguration of the Lord sacrificing his Son, Jesus, on Calvary. When we call Jesus the “Lamb of God” we are referring to the fact that he willingly laid down his life, like a lamb led to the slaughter, to take away the sins of the world. When John the Baptist first identified him to the disciples who would soon become Our Lord’s Apostles he said, “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). He saw him as a sacrifice for the sins of the world from the beginning. Just as Abraham showed how the Lord had first place in his life through his willingness to sacrifice his son, the Lord shows us that we are first place in his. Sacrificing his only-begotten son shows that there’s nothing he is not willing to do for us.

In today’s Gospel the Lord takes his closest disciples up the mountain, alone, to give them an insight into who he is and prepare them for the trials to come. If the Lord subjected Abraham to a trial, Our Lord takes his closest disciples up the mountain to prepare them for an upcoming trial: his Passion and death. Our Lord gives his disciples a glimpse of his divinity. They’ve followed him and had faith in him, and now he gives them a deeper insight into who he truly and to strengthen their faith.

Elijah and Moses, through their appearance, show the disciples that Our Lord is the fulfillment of the Law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah). That’s enough for Peter to suggest building a shrine in remembrance of the revelation he’d just received, but the Lord is not done. The disciples witness a theophany: God the Father (the voice) identifies Jesus as his beloved Son, and the cloud that overshadows them is the Holy Spirit. It’s important to remember that this was not the first opportunity for the disciples to show their faith, but, rather, like Abraham with Isaac, it was a culminating moment of the faith they’d already shown. Neither the disciples not Abraham understood completely after the “mountain” what had happened. The disciples still didn’t understand what Our Lord meant when he said he would be raised from the dead, but they soon would.

It’s not easy getting to a mountaintop, and today’s Gospel says Our Lord took his disciples up a high mountain. Prayer is one of the pillars of Lenten observance. The battle for quality prayer is often a battle for silence. Everyone acknowledges the utility of “quiet time,” but, for prayer, this is just the first step. Exterior silence must foster interior silence. We have to quiet down on the inside too. Find a quiet place this week (a chapel, a monastery, a convent, a shrine) and set aside some real quiet time so that Our Lord can reveal himself to you more profoundly. Consider doing a retreat or a daily mediation for Lent.

Readings: Genesis 22:1–2, 9a, 10–13, 15–18; Psalm 116:10, 15–19; Romans 8:31b–34; Mark 9:2–10. See also Transfiguration of the Lord, Cycle BTransfiguration of the Lord, Cycle CTransfiguration of the Lord, Cycle A2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle C, and 2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A.

2nd Sunday in Lent, Cycle B (2)

Lent is a time of prayer to re-assess Our Lord’s place in our lives. He does not just tell us his place; he shows us. Today’s readings all give us insight into what the Lord’s place is in our life and what it should be. The key, in prayer, is to make both those things coincide.

In Richard Harris’ portrayal of Abraham the sacrifice of his son Isaac was due to him focusing so much on having his long-desired son and heir that he started to neglect his duties as patriarch. His willingness to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah showed that no matter how precious his son was, the Lord came first. However, Isaac also represents a promise fulfilled by the Lord: if we focus on the Lord fulfilling his promises and not on him we are not putting him in first place, just what he can do for us.

As Abraham and his son are going up the mountain Isaac asks him, innocently, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7-8). Abraham’s response may seem to avoid the painful answer, but it also has the marks of a profound act of faith: “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” In the end the Lord did provide a lamb for a burnt offering, and Abraham’s faith was shown to always put the Lord first. In the Second Reading today St. Paul reminds us how the Father showed us our place: he loved us enough to sacrifice his only son. He provided the Lamb for the sacrifice–his Son–that Abraham in the end was not required to sacrifice. What place does he have in our lives if he is willing to spare us nothing?

Our Lord in today’s Gospel shows his place in the grand scheme of things in order to prepare his disciples for the trials to come. When he comes down from the mountain he will take up the march to Jerusalem and to his Passion and death. Mark reminds us that those disciples didn’t understand the Resurrection, so it is no surprise that they wouldn’t understand the Passion either. Peter is described as “terrified,” but he could also be considered awestruck. Seeing Our Lord flanked by Moses and Elijah showed his place with regard to the Law and the prophets. That was enough to show Our Lord was the Messiah, but the voice from Heaven and the cloud also revealed Our Lord’s place in the Most Holy Trinity: the Son of God. He does not reveal himself in order to lord it over us; he reveals his place in the grand scheme of things and in our lives in order to encourage us when trials come.

Spend some time this week seeing, with Our Lord, whether there is an “Isaac” in your life toward whom (or which) your attitude needs to change. If that someone or something is irremediably coming between you and Our Lord it may be time for a sacrifice. The Lord always comes first. Let’s put him there.

Readings: Genesis 22:1–2, 9a, 10–13, 15–18; Psalm 116:10, 15–19; Romans 8:31b–34; Mark 9:2–10. See also Transfiguration of the Lord, Cycle BTransfiguration of the Lord, Cycle CTransfiguration of the Lord, Cycle A2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle C, and 2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A.

Connaissez vous Abraham ? L'homme de foi en Dieu

1st Sunday in Lent, Cycle B

We started life with a slap to a delicate portion of our anatomy to get us to cry, and we probably cried when water was poured over our head in Baptism. Today’s readings remind us that life on this earth is a battle and we need Christ’s help to fight it and to win it.

Today’s First Reading recalls the Lord hanging up his “bow” (the rainbow) to conclude the war he had declared against sin. Yet, as events later revealed, sin didn’t stop trying to wage war on him. The Lord makes a covenant with Noah, who has survived the Flood along with his family and a remnant of the earth’s creatures. When we look at a rainbow today it brings a smile and wonder to our face, but it also symbolizes the end of the flood and the covenant the Lord made with Noah to never wipe out living creatures that way again. The rainbow is a sign of peace, but it is a sign of war as well: the war against sin.

In today’s Second Reading Peter reminds us that the Lord didn’t wage war on sin for sin’s sake, but for us. He waged war on what was destroying us. Peter observes that the story of the Flood and Noah foreshadowed when the waters of Baptism would wipe out sin. Lent is a time when we’re reminded of Baptism, in part because the catechumens throughout the world will be Baptized and received into the Church during the Easter Vigil. Baptism also reminds us of the destruction of sin in us. Peter makes a connection between Jesus’ resurrection and Baptism: there is a power in that water and those words that comes from Our Lord. If the Flood destroyed sinners along with sin, through Baptism the Lord continues to wage war on sin, one soul at a time.

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. Our Lord has assumed human nature and made the battle personal. Sin and evil have a chance to strike directly at him. “Forty days” is a Biblical expression meaning a long time. This was not just a formality or a quick skirmish. It was the first battle of the final part of the war on sin. Mark’s Gospel doesn’t go into much detail, but we know from the other Evangelists that Satan tried and failed to make Our Lord succumb. However, we also know from those accounts that Satan withdrew until he could strike again at a more opportune moment: Gethsemane as Our Lord’s Passion began. Just as we start Lent, so we start the battle, like Our Lord, that will ultimately win the war on sin once and for all.

Sin rarely comes on full force until you’re in its clutches. It presents itself as something good, counting on you to see it as such. It tries to make you “see reason” and not be “superstitious” or “backward” about things. Does that sound familiar? The serpent in Eden used it on Eve to horrific effect. Temptation will always try to convince you that you’re weak, ignorant, or cowardly in living according to the teaching of the faith. However, its tactics also show how to defeat it: by pushing back, knowing that Our Lord has got your back. It’s hard to stand up to a bully on your own, but if your big brother is standing behind you it gives you confidence. Our Lord is your big brother and he’s got your back.

Readings: Genesis 9:8–15; Psalm 25:4–9; 1 Peter 3:18–22; Mark 1:12–15.


Ash Wednesday (2)

Just as the prophet Joel calls Israel to unite in worship in a spirit of penance, so today we gather liturgically to begin an extended period of penance that we call Lent. As the minister places the ashes on our heads we hear either the first words of the Gospel that Our Lord preached when beginning his public ministry (“Repent, and believe in the Gospel”), or that we came from nothing but dust and our sins want us to return to dust and not enjoy what Our Creator has wished for us (“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”). If we need to be reminded of the first Gospel steps to take in life, and of the fact that we are creatures it means we’ve lost sight of the big picture. Lent helps us bring that big picture back into focus.

In today’s First Reading the Lord through the prophet Joel tells us what he wants this Lent: “return to me with your whole heart.” This invitation echoes the profession of faith of ancient Israel: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). We must love the Lord wholeheartedly, with everything we have and are, and we know sometimes we haven’t.

The Lord says we can return to him through fasting, weeping, and mourning. It may be possible to fast for superficial motives (like losing weight), but there is no faking weeping and mourning. It is the object of our weeping and mourning that we should examine this Lent: am I weeping what I have to give up for a few weeks, or am I weeping for how horribly I’ve treated God and others? Lent is a matter of the heart, and it is a time for exploring it.

St. Paul in today’s Second Reading reminds us of the goal of our penance this Lent and beyond: to be reconciled to God. The Lord himself doesn’t need to seek out our reconciliation and is blameless for us estranging ourselves from him, but he comes to reconcile us with the Heavenly Father anyway. It is through Jesus Christ that the work of our reconciliation is accomplished, and during these days of Lent we are remembering and preparing for that very event.

Even as we consider the somber purple of this season we remember the sorrow and suffering, often self-inflicted, that we experience due to our sins, as well as the pain inflicted on Our Lord and on others. So we begin once again with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to draw closer to God and to others in sorrow for our sins and a desire for reconciliation, confident that Our Lord at the end of these days will win us the graces to do so.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches us it is not just what we do, but how and why we do it that matters. The ashes we receive today are meant to be an exterior sign of an interior disposition. Just as in the Old Testament the penitent would sprinkle ashes on their heads and mourn their sin as well as the evil sin has done in their lives, so we receive the ashes to show our desire to live holier lives. Lenten observances are classically divided into prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Our Lord mentions all three today and puts us on guard on doing them wrong: doing them out of social convention or to impress others instead of him.

The anonymous donor when it comes to almsgiving is a fine and honored tradition of showing you don’t want recognition from anyone other than God. Corporate donors, while not denying their generosity, are also doing it for publicity.

Praying in the presence of others is not bad, unless you’re just doing it to be seen as pious by them, but you also need moments of prayer in solitude and silence where it’s just you and God. The Church has so many popular devotions—rosaries, litanies, scapulars, the Way of the Cross, etc.—but those devotions should not crowd out Our Lord or quality time with him in the silence not only of our rooms, but our hearts.

The biggest challenge of fasting is never letting people see you sweat. A lot of things we give up for Lent—food, social media, video games—put a real strain on our charity, because they’re things we do to alleviate the very stress that makes us uncharitable. There’s no shame in being upfront with others that your fasting may make you a little more cranky (as if they didn’t notice), but remember that the Lord says he desires mercy, not sacrifice. Fasting doesn’t give us a free pass to make others as miserable as we are (or more).

Lent begins today. The way we begin will influence the way we end. There’s always a danger during Lent of making resolutions that are boilerplate and not really impactful on our spiritual life. We can choose things that are not very challenging or things that we’ll not be able to fulfill out of a desire to set something aside “cold turkey.” It’s okay to make a resolution that involves a knock down, drag out fight with yourself. Those resolutions help you grow in humility as you make them, break them, receive Reconciliation, dust yourself off, and keep trying. Lent is as much about experiencing mercy as it is being sorry for your sins and failings. If you see there are certain sins and failings in your spiritual life that occur repeatedly that’s the perfect source of resolutions. Lent is a special time of grace for growing spiritually by working on what we need to change.

Readings: Joel 2:12–18; Psalm 51:3–6ab, 12–14, 17; 2 Corinthians 5:20–6:2; Matthew 6:1–6, 16–18. See also Ash Wednesday and 11th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday.

6th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday, Year II

In today’s First Reading St. James reminds us that temptation does not come from God: God created us as good creatures who sought to do good things. After the Fall of Adam and Eve man’s tendency toward the good was twisted into an unhealthy and unholy attraction to seek and use good things in sinful ways, corrupting us instead of helping us grow in virtue and holiness.

In today’s Gospel the disciples are put on guard against the “leaven” of the Pharisees and Herod. Leaven produces a fermentation in bread that the Jews saw as corruption, which is why in worship they used unleavened bread. Metaphorically, leaven meant moral corruption. For the Pharisees it was hollow, loveless, religious observance without compassion: religious hypocrisy. For Herod, and the Sadducees, religion was just another tool to get what you wanted: worldliness and hedonism.

Temptation always comes across as something small, under the guise of something good or reasonable. When we consent to temptation we start leavening ourselves with corruption. Let’s ask Our Lord to detect and address any “leaven” impacting our lives in a sinful way.

Readings: James 1:12–18; Psalm 94:12–13a, 14–15, 18–19; Mark 8:14–21.