Saturday, March 25 - LK 1:26-38
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, "Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you." But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end." But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" And the angel said to her in reply, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God." Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.
Reflection by Sister Camille Anne Campbell, O.Carm. / The Annunciation
What an amazing Scripture story to convey to us what a great relationship with God requires of us. It is not based on age, experience, intelligence, but is based on openness and attention to God which comes from spending time alone with God, from listening to God and wanting to do what God is asking of us. Mary was a young girl like our girls at Mount Carmel. Obviously she had the right relationship with her God and loved God as she grew up and tried to do what God asked of her. If Mary did not have a right relationship with God wouldn't she have been terrified to hear and see an angel greet her with "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you."
Of course, Mary was "greatly troubled" as the Scripture describes and Mary teaches us that when we feel troubled to ponder in our heart as she did what the message from God might be. Mary heard the most astonishing message that she was to be the mother of God. Like us Mary was astonished and questioned like we need to do when we listen to God about the things that trouble us, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" was Mary's question. The angel explained that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of God would overshadow her and she would bear the Son of God. The lesson for us when life seems impossible is what Mary heard in this impossible situation, "Nothing will be impossible for God."
May we, like Mary, be open, attentive, spend time with God, listen to God and remember that all things are possible with God and respond as she did in her acceptance of God's plan for her life. "Be it done to me according to your will."
Friday, March 24 - MK 12:28-34
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, "Which is the first of all the commandments?" Jesus replied, "The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these." The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, He is One and there is no other than he. And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, "You are not far from the Kingdom of God." And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Reflection by Chad Howat
We know well the emotional capriciousness of adolescence, yet teenagers have no monopoly. My three year old son could give any teenager a run for their money! And often many of us find it difficult to disembark from our emotional Struggle Bus.
Susan David, the author of the recent book 'Emotional Agility', offers a simple strategy that can help us stay grounded during the emotional storms of life. She recommends we stop and take some time to clearly articulate our deepest values. David reminds us, "Core values are the compass that keep us moving in the right direction."
In today's gospel reading, Jesus speaks about the core principle of the whole Mosaic Law. It is the fundamental expression of Jewish belief:
Sh'ma Yisra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Dt 6:4
The Shema (as it is commonly abbreviated) is the oldest fixed daily prayer in Judaism recited both morning and night since ancient times. During prayer, Orthodox Jews tie to their wrists and foreheads "phylacteries" or boxes inscribed on strips of parchment the words of the Shema. The prayer speaks about how Our Lord is our singular God, and therefore demands our undivided hearts. We are to love God with our entire being - heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus continues with the second commandment, which is inseparable from the first - love of neighbor.
As I reflect on the command to love with an undivided heart, with our entire being, my thoughts return to my three-year-old son. My son is all emotion, and joy incarnate. When he gets excited he can't contain himself, and he jumps up and down like a rabbit on hot coals. He can go through an emotional storm that makes Katrina look like an evening breeze, but let me tell you, when he gives you a hug, he squeezes like he's never going to let go - the world comes to a stop. His hugs are an expression of love with his full heart, mind, soul and strength.
Dear God, may I love you the way my three year old son loves.
Thursday , March 23 - LK 11:14-23
Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute, and when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed. Some of them said, "By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons." Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven. But he knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons. If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people drive them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe. But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him, he takes away the armor on which he relied and distributes the spoils. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters."
Reflection by Scott Reason - "What's my motivation?"
Many of us are familiar with actors and actresses asking this question in preparation for an upcoming role. I, myself, asked this question during my foray into the world of acting during the faculty one-act play last semester. I played the role of a pompous, egocentric college applicant (hopefully a stretch for me). It wasn't enough to merely memorize my lines. I needed to know and understand the motivation of this character in order to play him convincingly.
Today's gospel underscores a common theme we have seen throughout the gospels in recent weeks – "do not judge". As theologians will often attest, this refers not to the judgements we make about a wide range of daily decisions, actions, or behaviors – which we must make in order to live according to God's will – but, rather, to the judgements we often pass on the intentions of another, the condition of their soul, or the eternal reward or punishment we believe another person deserves. It may be obvious, but "I" become the center of these judgements, not God – me, a sinner, with clouded judgement at best, trying to perform a role that only God is qualified, and properly motivated, to perform.
Those who accused Jesus of driving out demons by the power of Beelzebul would have been wise to ask themselves our lead-in question. What was their motivation? Did they recognize the good in their presence – not just the good action that Jesus performed but goodness itself incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ? The gospel passage answers this clearly for us. Jesus, however, always motivated by the salvation of all people, does not berate or condemn those accusing Him. How fascinating! Here He is, the Son of God, the only one with the legitimate authority to condemn, and He doesn't do it. Instead, He does that awesome "Jesus thing" whereby He turns the tables on His accusers by asking some well-placed questions designed to make the recipients of those questions really engage their intellect and will. It is a merciful act on His part in that He is leading them to clarity of thought and purity of motivation, rather than leaving them in their obvious state of cognitive dissonance – a fancy word us counselor types like to use to explain how one can hold two opposing thoughts in one's mind simultaneously and the internal stress that results. Unfortunately, to relieve this tension, we human beings tend to lose sight of our true motivation – to be united with God forever in Heaven – and instead begin a series of mental exercises not even the most powerful computer processors can handle. The prophet Isaiah puts it this way: "Woe to those who call good evil, and evil good" (Isaiah 5:20). Now that's cognitive dissonance at its finest.
Lest we think the crowd in this gospel story cornered the market on this phenomenon, we need only look at the daily news and trending social media posts, especially with regard to political and religious discourse, to see how divided our kingdoms have truly become. Those kingdoms include our families, workplaces, communities, countries, churches, and even the interior kingdoms of our own minds. Is it any wonder why the rates of depression and anxiety among adolescents have skyrocketed in recent years? One can only tell himself or herself for so long that what the world tries to sell us (which is usually at odds with what God has revealed to us) is actually good for us and will make us happy. Something has to give, and Jesus reminds us that the kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.
So, what is one to do? Jesus gives us a clue: "When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe." How do we guard our palaces? The Church gives us a clear remedy during Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. This triune approach to strengthening our spiritual armor protects us against the "stronger one" who tries constantly to attack and overcome us. I'd like to recommend one final remedy by sharing with you one of my favorite bible passages of all time: "Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect" (Romans 12:2) – in other words, that you may discern your proper motivation. Jesus did not abandon us to our own devices. He left us His word, and He left us His Church. Perhaps this Lent we can dust off our bibles and our catechisms to renew and safeguard our minds against the cultural and moral relativism that would seek to rob us of the truth that has been written into our hearts. In this way, we will all be able to answer together that our motivation is eternal life with Christ. After all, isn't that the whole point of Lent?
What's your motivation?
Wednesday, March 22 - MT 5:17-19
Jesus said to his disciples: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven."
Reflection by Kim Duhé - "Fulfilling the Law"
Oh Wow! With all of the political unrest and upheaval in our country this year, this scripture about "law" evokes a lot of initial thoughts - not all of them are positive. I literally had to read the scripture I was assigned and then walk away from it several times before I even felt prepared to write a reflection.
Then it hit me... REFLECT. The reflection part of this Lenten Reflection. So often we, as a community, are quick to react... to get our feathers ruffled and to lash out, to run to protest, to jump on social media and demand our voices be heard, to scream our outrage at the rest of the world. The word "reflect" in and of itself can mean to throw back as in a reflection in a mirror. If we "reflect" by hurling back whatever insult, slight or injury we perceive in front of us, then we are just returning bad for bad. However, to reflect can also mean to think deeply and carefully about. I think if we take time to "reflect" by thinking deeply and carefully before we "reflect" by throwing back, we will be more like Jesus. Jesus says to his disciples that he has not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. I don't imagine Jesus was referring to the law of the Scribes and Pharisees which seemed so problematic. Instead, I assume Jesus was referring to the Law of God. Jesus didn't erase the laws of the Ten Commandments. Instead, Jesus offered us a higher challenge as to how we live the "law."
In Luke's Gospel we get a passage that sheds light on today's reading. A scholar of the law asked Jesus how he could inherit eternal life. Jesus said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read it?" He said in reply, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." He replied to him, "You have answered correctly; do this and you will live." - Luke 10: 26-28.
However juvenile and idealistic it might seem, wouldn't it be wonderful if the only law was to love? The laws of society may disappoint us. The actions of lawmakers, law enforcers and those chosen to interpret the law might make us angry, sad, hurt, outraged or defeated. But as children of a loving God, we are called to reflect first and to reflect with love. To be first in the kingdom of God we need only follow the law of God - love unconditionally, act with love, love your neighbor as you love yourself, reflect love to one another. I think the challenge for all of us is to realize that "man's law" will always be part of our living in "man's world" but fulfilling God's law is what matters if we want to live in God's Kingdom. Let us repeat to ourselves the words from the perfect prayer "thy kingdom come and thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven..."
Tuesday, March 21 - MT 18:21-35
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.' Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, 'Pay back what you owe.' Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?' Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart."
Reflection by Keith Maddox - "Applied Math"
As you read through today's scripture, I am sure you are thinking what I am thinking, and feeling the same warm fuzzy feeling all over... "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?" A math problem!!!
I assume Jesus was pretty good with numbers. Helping out Joseph at his carpentry, I'm sure Christ was pretty good with measurements and fractions (cubits are not metric, you know). But to examine this particular problem with the depth it deserves, perhaps we should consider everyone's favorite kind of math – word problems! (Are you as excited as I am?!?)
I should say "application problems," or "real-world problems." While a lot of math is general (for example, two times some number is six, what is that number?) application problems deal with specific situations that just happen to involve numbers.
For example – "A man walking his dog happens to put the leash in the shape of a regular heptagon with a side measuring 14 cm. If the weight of the dog in pounds is twice the measure of an exterior angle formed by the leash, what is the mass of the dog in kilograms on the surface of the Moon, and how long is the leash (to the nearest billionth of a mile)."
Now, some people read complicated problems like this with a little frustration, I guess because they don't have a dog, live on the Moon, or routinely use billionths of a mile, or something like that. But this is not the kind of word problem I dislike, because in every career, there will be technical math problem here and there that might seem ridiculous to an outsider – "Mark works at a gas station and needs to fit as many soft drinks in the fridge as possible. Pepsi bottles are 6/7s the height of coke bottles..." The questioner in this case may be a Mooninite who needs to to give his pet the proper dosage of Moon-dog-medicine. If you can answer it, you may just be qualified to work at a gas station too!
The kind of math problem I dislike is an unclear one, for example – "A box is two feet tall and three feet wide, and the depth is half. How big is it?" Half of what? And what we do mean by "big," the surface area, the volume... Perhaps this Lent we should all take a moment and forgive the bad math question writers who have brought us so much pain, so that we may move on in our lives... (I'm sure I am included in that number... sorry.)
Which brings me back to the reading for today. Peter's question is definitely not complicated. I do feel it is a little unclear, though... Forgive what? Does Luke keep stepping on his sandal back as they travel across Galilee? Or is he referring to the bodies of his countrymen, crucified by the Romans, along the roadside? It makes a difference, right? A well-written math question is specific!
Peter does seem to have an idea of what the answer is, though. He knows that the first book of Amos says that you should forgive your neighbor three times, but he seems to think Jesus' answer will be larger than that figure. When Peter suggests 7 times, maybe he is thinking "twice the regular number, plus one." Or maybe he is thinking that 7 is a biblically significant number that means perfection and completeness.
Jesus instead says, "Seventy-seven times." Actually, a lot of translators have said he said, "seventy times seven" times. The Church has interpreted it as 77. Apparently, back then, before they had things like zero, the plus sign, a symbols for numbers (like "7"), numbers could be kind of ambiguous. It depended on whether the "and" was attached to the "seventy" or the "seven." Be thankful your math tests don't read "Find six ten and five and ten six and between five." I wonder if the disciples had a similar debate. But if they did, I think they were missing a key point. Peter asks his question as a general question. "How many times to forgive?" But I am certain that he had something (or someone) particular in mind. He had a specific grievance and wants to know what he should do. Why else would he ask the question? Somebody must have been annoying him, over and over. If we consider Peter's question as an application question, we can interpret it as "Lord, should I forgive Luke again... and again? When can I turn around and punch him for breaking my sandal?" I believe Jesus's answer is clear – "Yes. And please don't hit my disciples. You're not perfect either, and if you don't believe me, solve this: Let x be the number of times you will deny me before the rooster crows..."
While I love math, and the reading the Gospel, and don't always like forgiving, I think Jesus' lesson is clear for all of us. The solution of the equation is "Yes, you should forgive."
Monday, March 20 - MT 1:16,18-21,24a
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ. Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.
Reflection by Jeanne Cassanova Rachuba - "Uprooting Doubt with Faith"
Doubt is like a crack in your windshield affecting everything you see as you drive. It can plant seeds within your mind that shoot roots down into your heart. Each of us carry our doubts with us every day and they tend to multiply quickly...
"Can I get out of bed without hitting snooze five times? Nope eight times.
Does this shirt really go with these pants? Ugh, just wear a dress.
Is my haircut way too short? They'll all laugh at me behind my back.
Is my face too round? Double chin - better not smile big.
Will I have a place to sit at lunch today? No one wants to sit with me.
Am I smart enough? I better keep quiet or they'll know I'm not.
Do people like me? Probably not - there's nothing to like.
Will anyone ever really love me? Definitely not. I don't even.
Am I worth anything at all? I don't feel like it."
We can easily imagine the doubt and pain of Joseph when he learned of his wife's pregnancy, of which he had no part in. We can even admire his gentle, noble intentions of quietly divorcing Mary to prevent her the pain of shame and stoning. It is no surprise that Joseph is the patron saint against doubt and hesitation as he exhibited great faith and trust in standing by Mary.
What is hard to imagine though, is that within ourselves we can embody both Mary and Joseph at the same time. When we see a reason to doubt ourselves, we have the opportunity to replace it with faith. We have gotten so good at giving love and kindness to one another each and every day - hold that door open, give a smile, share a laugh. But we cannot do this for ourselves. In that quiet moment when the other person walks away, our smile fades and we are alone. Those doubtful thoughts get louder and louder. We fan the flame with our self-talk. We disrespect the beauty of God's gift of life within each of us by doubting His perfect creation - ourselves.
So this Lent, as hard as it may be, try to be both Mary and Joseph within yourself. When the doubt creeps in and shame calls your name, act as Joseph did with faith and acceptance. Do this for yourself, as you would do for others so many times, and you will see the healing power of the gift of self-love that we all so deeply need.
"Believe in your infinite potential. Your only limitations are those you set upon yourself.
Believe in yourself, your abilities and your own potential. Never let self-doubt hold you captive. You are worthy of all that you dream of and hope for." - Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart