Monday, March 5
Jesus said to the people in the synagogue at Nazareth:
"Amen, I say to you,
no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel
in the days of Elijah
when the sky was closed for three and a half years
and a severe famine spread over the entire land.
It was to none of these that Elijah was sent,
but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.
Again, there were many lepers in Israel
during the time of Elisha the prophet;
yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian."
When the people in the synagogue heard this,
they were all filled with fury.
They rose up, drove him out of the town,
and led him to the brow of the hill
on which their town had been built,
to hurl him down headlong.
But he passed through the midst of them and went away.
Reflection by Christine Johnson
"You're in Good Company"
It's easy for me to think that If I lived during the time of Jesus, I would have accepted him. I would have given up my possessions and followed him without question and without complaint. Surely I would have. Right?
The truth is that I'm not so sure. I feel compassion for the people of Nazareth and their reaction to Jesus in this reading. It must have been so strange for them to see a local boy all grown up, preaching with such grace and speaking so provocatively about Elijah and Elisha's miracles. I imagine them whispering to each other:
"Isn't that Joe's boy?"
"Yeah don't you remember him? Got lost in the temple a couple years back. Bit of a trouble maker, that one..."
The wisdom of this passage is that sometimes the people closest to us can be our most difficult audiences. Maybe you are walking an important spiritual journey right now, and you feel like no one is taking you seriously. Maybe you tried to act as a voice for change, only to have that voice silenced by your closest friends. Maybe you felt compelled to share a difficult truth, only to be cast out like Jesus was in this story.
If so, you are in good company. Jesus knows what it's like to feel rejected by those closest to him better than anyone else. We see that in today's reading when his neighbors get so angry that they try to hurl him off a cliff! We see it in the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus' friends fall asleep right when he needed them the most. We see it in the betrayal of Jesus through a kiss from his close friend, a simultaneously intimate and heartbreaking image.
Jesus' love--the kind of love that grants the outcast a seat at the table--is a radical love, and those who try to practice it will probably feel like the village crazy person at least once. If you find yourself in tension with those closest to you while trying to live out Jesus' love, know that you're not alone. He's been there. In fact, today's scripture tells us that every prophet has. This Lent, I pray that God can transform those times when we feel alone into moments of grace that unite us to each other and to Jesus' own experience of loneliness and rejection during his time on earth. We all feel alone sometimes, but in a way, doesn't that just prove that we never truly are?
Tuesday, March 6
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 Denna Cheramie
"Forgiveness: The Gift for Giving Peace"
In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus not only clearly calls us to always forgive others, but goes a step further in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant of reminding us that we will be forgiven to the degree that we forgive others. We hear this again in the Our Father - "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us." Why do you think Our Lord so unquestionably commands us to forgive?
Sister Camille Anne, in her infinite wisdom, shared this thought with me. To forgive is the gift for giving - for giving peace within our hearts, for giving tranquility and calm in our lives, for giving light and life rather than darkness and death. Forgiveness is a gift, not only to the person on the receiving end, but the gift we give ourselves. Jesus, in his infinite wisdom and love, knows that when we forgive and let go of our hurts we are better people. He knows that we may not choose all the circumstances of our lives and we may not choose the emotions such as anger, fear, and shame that sometimes overcomes us, but we can certainly choose how to react to these emotions.
Jesus unequivocally tells us that our reaction should always be one of forgiveness, mercy, and love. It is, after all, how we want Jesus and others to treat us when we mess up.
Wednesday, March 7
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 Elizabeth Fusilier
Jesus' sheep sometimes hate the fences.
I feel like a lot of us have the inclination upon reading this gospel passage to be that heckler in a crowd and say, "Boo! Rules are the worst. Talk about love instead!" We don't like being told what to do. We love being in control and having our own autonomy. Rules make us feel caged in, like sheep. How appropriate then that Jesus calls himself the shepherd. He knows that without these fences, we would wander off a cliff or something else equally as dumb and destructive. Having Jesus as our shepherd requires humility of us. Many times in our life, Jesus asks us if we will obey his commandments, even in we don't understand. Obedience requires trust, trust that He knows what He's doing, trust that he has our best interest in mind.
There is always a sneaky, seductive voice in the back of our heads when we're faced with temptation. It says, "This won't make you happy. You will be a miserable, shackled slave if you obey. Don't be a sap." But that voice is a lie, an enchanting tapestry hiding the way to our freedom and joy. It is only in submitting to his will, he who is love, that we are freed. It seems counter-intuitive: submit to rules and you'll be free. But these aren't just any rules. These are the rigid, sometimes painful braces that make our teeth straight. They are the good bones of an old house under remodel. They are the instructions on a sewing pattern. They are the street signs and traffic lights that allow us to drive safely.
These rules are made out of love and they allow us to be who we were created to be, thus setting the world ablaze, as St. Catherine said.
Thursday, March 8
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 Matt Stevens
Most of us have heard of the saying, "Peace is seeing a sunset and knowing who to thank." For people of faith, we realize that each day is truly a miraculous gift from God. I like to tell my students that "no day is owed to us." Indeed every breath, every heartbeat, every sunrise and sunset originates from a power beyond ourselves. In today's gospel, we encounter people who witness a miracle but are unsure who to thank. They even wonder could the power of Jesus be sinister in nature. Wow, doubting the inherent goodness or motive of someone... If we are honest, who hasn't done this?
Today, Jesus challenges us to leave the doubt behind and pick a side. Goodness, unity, healing, empowerment of others, these things come from God. Sowing division, discord, betrayal, gossip, being "mute" when we ought to speak up, all of these are NOT from God. As we go on living the miracle of our lives, we must stay rooted in our Source. It is God who is deserving of all our gratitude. I for one sure do find peace in that! But this gospel reminds us that it doesn't stop with a feeling a peace. In fact, the beautiful thing about a peaceful heart is its simplicity and readiness to be filled by God's will. This Lent, I pray that we take the peace that has hopefully accompanied an increase in faith and accept the invitation to chose Jesus and go with where it leads. I'll close with sharing a mantra-like question that I like to keep in the back of my mind as I act throughout the day: "In what I'm doing right now, am I scattering or gathering?" Let us gather with Jesus!
Friday, March 9
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 Kristen Hode
For the past several months, my mom has started doing something she's always wanted to do- take an art class. Now that she's retired, she has some extra time, and she's seemed to have found great peace and joy learning how to paint. She's become quite the artist since she started, always eager to text a picture of her latest creation to my family, and as someone who used to take art, I'm really impressed! Recently, my mom gave me something she painted, a really pretty watercolor of some flowers with the words "Love Yourself" hand-lettered over them. After staring at my new piece of art for the past few days, it finally dawned on me that those same two words are a big part of Jesus' message to us in perhaps one of the most widely known and beloved gospel messages- "The Greatest Commandments."
How often have I heard the words, "love your neighbor as yourself" growing up...probably more than I can even begin to count, and I bet the same is true for many of you. But as I reflected on this particular reading, I began to think about that very phrase differently than ever before. God calls us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, but what if the way we love ourselves wouldn't be good enough for our neighbors? In other words, what if we aren't taking the time to cultivate the type of self-love that our own neighbor would be worthy of? How often do we look in the mirror or at our work or re-play in our heads the words we've said to someone and completely wear ourselves down with a negative and selfish attitude? Is that the type of love Jesus is calling us to share with our neighbors? Hardly.
We can't give what we don't have, so what exactly is it that we need? Simply put, we need Jesus, and the more we go to communion, the more we have Christ in us and the easier it is to build communion in others. If Jesus is love, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, healing, patience, understanding, etc., then when we fuel our heart and soul with Him in the Eucharist WE TOO become love, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, healing, patience, understanding, etc. for others. It's no secret that a body can get weak when it isn't properly fed. Our souls (not just our physical bodies) need strength - the strength to have the courage to love God above all else and to love one another as we love ourselves.
Throughout this Lenten journey, I pray that all of us will give ourselves more opportunities to fuel our hearts and souls with Jesus which in turn will grow a more grateful heart. And the more grateful the heart, the more joyful the heart. And the more joyful the heart, the more open it will be to loving ourselves, loving our neighbors, and most importantly, loving the one who loved us first.
Saturday, March 10
Jesus addressed this parable
to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.
"Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week,
and I pay tithes on my whole income.'
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
Reflection by Sr. Barbara Nell Laperouse O. Carm.
Who are you in this reading? One who does all the prescribed rules as a "good person", who obeys the Law of God? Or, the one who has missed the mark sometimes, but acknowledges his sinfulness humbly? And, what is the key factor that determines the correct answer to this question? I think Jesus would say, the one who goes deep in his heart to touch the heart of God within and to see oneself as God sees me.
If I see only the externals, my outward behavior of religious acts which I perform, I may get an A+ for my actions. But that is only the What of my actions. What about the Why? According to his prayer, the Pharisee seems to perform good works that he might feel good about himself and be seen as a good person in the eyes of his friends and Temple goers. His words about himself express one who is self-righteous – proud of himself for what he accomplishes and aware of the reactions of everyone around and how they see him. But, Why does he do all of this? Though we cannot say what was in his heart, his only words to God are those that thank God because he, the Pharisee, is such a good person and not like the other people .He is a bit proud!
The tax collector talks directly to God, admits his sin, and recognizes the goodness of God, not himself. He knows himself in God's sight as a sinner and admits it. He asks for God's mercy and forgiveness. Touching his own heart and seeking the heart of God, Who is merciful, he puts himself in a proper relationship with God. He knows God and wants to maintain closeness in their relationship. In love and trust, he admits his failure. He looks within himself to the God that he loves in spite of his sinfulness; he asks forgiveness and a renewal of God's love.
It is not easy to admit our sinfulness. Only when I love deeply the God who created me , can I trust and ask for forgiveness. Our faith and love of God moves us to repentance. that his relationship with God with remain a union of two heart – The What of my actions is based on the Why. Pope Francis said of himself, "I am a sinner." How do we answer this question? What is our relationship with God?