3rd Sunday of Lent, Cycle C (2)

We have almost reached the half-way point to Calvary. The forty days of Lent remind us of the forty days in the desert. We’ve spent a few weeks in the desert, living our Lenten resolutions, and maybe our stomachs, or spirits, are starting to grumble for those things we’ve left behind for these forty days. How are our Lenten resolutions holding up? The Lenten resolutions are how we enter the desert. If you haven’t giving anything up for Lent yet, it’s not too late, but once in the desert, you must stay the course to reach the Promised Land.

As today’s First Reading reminds us, God is never indifferent to our struggles. When Moses asks God how he should identify him to the Israelites, suffering under bondage in Egypt, God tells them, “tell them I AM has sent you.” God is always there. He doesn’t just stop with that: he reminds them he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to remind them that he is always faithful to his promises. He promised Abraham land and countless descendants if he had faith. Isaac was the fulfillment of that promise, and then Jacob became the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. Despite this, when Pharaoh let Moses lead Israel out into the desert, they had forty years of wandering before they entered the Promised Land—and many never made it.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that all the Israelites in the Exodus received the same gifts from God, but many didn’t stay the course out of evil desires. Their forty years in the desert were due to a lack of trust in God. The Lord had taken them straight to the Promised Land, but they were too scared to enter. They put their trust in food and water (and God sent them dew and manna, and quail to eat), ceremonies (trying to set up worship apart from Moses), authority and rumor mongering (asking why Moses should be the only one to speak on their behalf) – and they perished. Our Lord doesn’t mince words in today’s Gospel about how we can stay the course in the desert. We’re guilty many times of the same thing as the Israelites. We don’t understand that the desert is a place for God to purify the hearts of those he loves, away from distractions. There are far fewer distractions in the desert, but the rumbling of our stomachs is also louder, teaching us what we’re truly hungering.

Today’s Gospel shows the Jews in a drought of hope. Pilate has slaughtered a group of Galileans as they were offering worship. The Jews ask Jesus why. Why would God allow such as thing? Jesus adds an accident to the list of doubts: eighteen dead in a tower collapse in Siloam. Our Lord’s words are far from comforting: his listeners are in the same danger, and so are we. Staying the course doesn’t mean not taking risks or making sacrifices (that wouldn’t have saved the Galileans), nor does it mean getting lucky (that wouldn’t have saved the people crushed in Siloam); staying the course means putting your trust in God and showing it.

We show our trust by bearing fruit. Fruit? In a desert? We are in a desert, and God wants us to bear fruit. We bear fruit by trusting in God’s patience with us (in the parable he gives the fig tree four chances to get its act together), and, as Jesus tells us, by repentance. Lent is about repentance, not just for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world. The Church teaches us three ways to prepare fertile and fruitful soil: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.

Penance prepares the soil, but the sacraments are how we draw close to Christ and the Holy Spirit. Jesus waters the soil with his own blood so that we can bear fruit. The Eucharist gives us strength for the journey, and the sacrament of Reconciliation puts us back on our feet and turns us back in the right direction. The fruits of the Spirit will come, as Scripture reminds us: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity. By repentance and the sacraments we gain the strength to bear these fruits. Otherwise, we’ll lose our bearings and never get out of the desert.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul gives a good piece of advice to those who are spiritually presumptuous: “whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.” Life is an exodus and a desert. Through Baptism we’ve left the slavery of sin (Egypt) behind, and the world may materially present itself as a potential oasis, but in faith we know everything in it is fleeting compared to the Promised Land of Heaven. Are you taking a direction in your life that is headed toward Heaven or are you content with wandering around in the desert? The Lord will lead you to the Promised Land if you let him.

Readings: Exodus 3:1–8a, 13–15; Psalm 103:1–4, 6–8, 11; 1 Corinthians 10:1–6, 10–12; Luke 13:1–9. See also 3rd Sunday of Lent, Cycle C and 29th Week in Ordinary Time, 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 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.

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Today’s readings remind us that a relationship with Our Lord is not optional in our lives if we truly want a fulfilled and complete life. A life without the Lord is ultimately a life without hope. What he taught, did, and experience in his life has ramifications for ours from here to eternity.

In today’s First Reading the prophet Jeremiah describes the importance of a relationship with the Lord in terms of favorable conditions for growth and unfavorable ones. Jeremiah condemns those who put their trust in human beings and the flesh and turn away from the Lord, but believers are not mistrusting people. What is he trying to say? The example of the barren bush teaches us that trust in human beings and the flesh at the expense of Our Lord is ultimately a withered life that just limps along and subsists as best it can, monotonous and agonizing. It is a dry and arid life, compounded by the fact that human beings and the flesh are ultimately mortal and finite. Even putting your trust exclusively in those things is futile in the end: you’ll be separated from others and from health by death. Putting your trust in the Lord changes your life dramatically: it doesn’t mean you or others won’t follow the earthly course of life and die, but it does mean that you’ll have a new source of life that weathers adversity, even the adversity of physical death, and is not only subsistence living, but thriving in this life and the next.

In today’s Second Reading Paul teaches us that a life without the Lord is ultimately a futile life, because a life with the Lord is a life redeemed and transformed by the Resurrection into a life of hope. Paul is shocked when he hears Christians are denying that the Resurrection happened. He teaches them that if Christ didn’t rise from the dead it would not just be bad news for Our Lord, but for all of us. If Our Lord didn’t rise from the dead, neither would we. If death had the last word, there would be no reason to hope. Why? What does Christ’s Resurrection have to do with us today and every day? Our Lord’s life is so fruitful, like the well-placed plant in today’s First Reading, that it gives life to all of us constantly, even eternally, if we let it. He is the “firstfruits” of those who have fallen asleep: we too, redeemed by him, will rise from the dead. However, that requires turning to him for redemption, and if Christ did not conquer death in the Resurrection, he did not conquer sin either, and we remain in a sinful life that is as finite, fleeting, and arid as the bleak desert bush of today’s First Reading. But Christ has risen from the dead, conquering sin and death not only for himself, but for those who believe in him. We now live a redeemed life hoping that one day he will raise us from the dead too.

In today’s Gospel we hear Luke’s account of the Beatitudes and the consequences of not only living them, but ignoring them. The well-placed plant in today’s First Reading stays green during heat waves and fruitful during droughts: it draws on a deeper source that is undiminished by adverse conditions. The Christian who draws from hope in Our Lord, hope in the promises he makes in the Beatitudes, draws from something undiminished by poverty, hunger, sorrow, or persecution. He knows that there are bad seasons and good ones in life, but a good harvest will ultimately come. Luke’s account also recalls Our Lord’s warning to those who would put their trust in other things, like the barren plant of today’s First Reading. Those who trust in riches, a full belly, a perpetual good time, and the flattery of others, separated from Our Lord, will find how fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying those things truly are in comparison to what Our Lord offers: a resilient life that thrives and blossoms in eternity.

Even in the spiritual life we can fall into routine and superficiality, but that’s because we stop making an effort to go deeper in our relationship with Our Lord. That enormous source of water described by Jeremiah today is the mystery of God. We can try to plumb its depths, but we never will. It never goes dry or gets stagnant. Dryness can occur in the spiritual life when Our Lord is trying to show us that we must go deeper in our relationship with him than mere sentimentality, than an empty stomach, a diminishing bank account, or sorrow. If we truly place our trust in him he will help us to spiritual grow with profundity.

Readings: Jeremiah 17:5–8; Psalm 1:1–4, 6; 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16–20; Luke 6:17, 20–26.