Gospel: JN 4: 43-54
At that time Jesus left [Samaria] for Galilee.
For Jesus himself testified
that a prophet has no honor in his native place.
When he came into Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him,
since they had seen all he had done in Jerusalem at the feast;
for they themselves had gone to the feast.
Then he returned to Cana in Galilee,
where he had made the water wine.
Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum.
When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea,
he went to him and asked him to come down
and heal his son, who was near death.
Jesus said to him,
“Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
The royal official said to him,
“Sir, come down before my child dies.”
Jesus said to him, “You may go; your son will live.”
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.
While the man was on his way back,
his slaves met him and told him that his boy would live.
He asked them when he began to recover.
They told him,
“The fever left him yesterday, about one in the afternoon.”
The father realized that just at that time Jesus had said to him,
“Your son will live,”
and he and his whole household came to believe.
Now this was the second sign Jesus did
when he came to Galilee from Judea.
When I was first assigned this gospel, I saw “miracle at Cana” and felt so excited. Water into wine! Christ’s first miracle! The behest of the Virgin Mother! I can write so much about that! Then I actually read the gospel and realized it was the second miracle at Cana--a much lesser known scripture and less fruitful, or so it seemed to me initially. “Why couldn’t I get the one I wanted?” I asked God. “I don’t know what to do with this.” I wanted to ask for a different reading, one that spoke to me. I, as usual, wanted to micro-manage how God’s grace manifests itself.
In my experience, a scripture never comes into my life by accident. Deep down, I knew I needed to tough this one out. So I read the gospel. I read it again. I looked up some commentary on it. I went to a Domestic Church circle meeting with my husband where the topic just happened to be lectio divina. Our priest gave us some tips on praying with Scripture: “The gospel is the living word,” he told us. “You have to believe that God wants to speak to you through the good news.” So, I prayed to the Holy Spirit and read it again. And I just didn’t see much here. This reading just wasn’t what I wanted.
Then, on January 17th, the gospel reading actually was the first miracle at Cana. Our deacon pointed out something I had never thought of before. Mary tells Jesus there’s no more wine. He asks, more or less, what she wants him to do about it. She simply asks him to fix it, tells the servants to do whatever he says, and departs. She doesn’t need to know how he’s going to solve the problem; she just has perfect faith that he can and will. And that’s when I saw what God wanted me to see in today’s gospel: a better way to pray--one without micromanagement.
In today’s gospel, the royal official believes that Christ can heal his son. He also believes that he knows what that healing will look like. That’s why he urges Jesus to ride with him for Capernaum: he believes Christ must lay hands on his son in order to heal him. He doesn’t really know what Christ is saying when he hears him say, “Your son will live.” Bushes don’t burst into flame; doves don’t appear; angels don’t start singing in the heavens. There’s no outward sign that a miracle just occurred. The official takes Christ’s words as a promise and departs, only to find that the very words of Christ were the miracle, and his son does, in fact, live.
My heart goes out to the “royal official” whose son is dying. I can only imagine what he was experiencing as he approached Christ: his desperation, his fear, and his faith. So many times I have fervently prayed for the health of my children, knowing I am helpless and reliant on God. Those are powerful prayers. That helplessness, that reliance, that terror, these are all important prayer experiences. But I don’t think reliance on God is the only lesson in prayer this scripture offers us.
The true lesson is that the official departs. Could I do that? Could I believe the truth when I heard Christ speak it? Would that be enough for me to ride away from him? I have doubts in myself. I don’t know if I could trust in words when I asked for action. I think I would keep begging Christ to come with me, probably to the point of angering him. I would throw myself at his feet and weep, tear at his robes and beg him. My faith would not be enough to save me or my child. I know I would do these things because so often when I offer God a problem in prayer, I immediately tell him exactly how I want him to solve it. I want Jesus to come with me and lay hands on my son--to fix the problem the way I expect him to. I have trouble trusting when God’s answer isn’t the one I was expecting--or when I have no idea what his answer will be.
In the first miracle, Mary doesn’t need to micromanage the changing of water into wine. She has no idea how her son will do it, but she knows he can. But of course Mary has strong faith in Christ. The royal official, a Roman, has much less reason to believe in Christ’s miracles . . . and yet he does. He lets go of his attachment to what the miracle will look like and walks away in faith. That’s a powerful thing to bring to prayer: to ask God a question with no attachment to the answer, even when the prayer sounds as impossible as changing water into wine, or as terrifying as your child laying there dying, or as frustrating as trying to listen to a gospel that doesn’t speak to you the way you think it should. God’s answer usually isn’t what we think it will be, isn’t what we want it to be, but He always answers . . . and He always provides what we need, if not what we want. In doing so, He not only answers our petitions, but He frees us from the worldly burdens of attachment and our illusion of control. He invites us to the peace of surrender. And so, this unfamiliar and “unfruitful” Gospel spoke volumes to me about my lack of faith and my abundance of attachment. Those weren’t messages I necessarily wanted to confront, but they were definitely ones I needed to see--the ones our loving God gently gave me this Lent.
Gospel: LK 18:9-14
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.”
What’s Your B.T.?
Do you know your B.T.? It’s similar to a pain threshold; B.T. (Boast Threshold) is the point beyond which listening to someone’s bragging and boasting causes pain along with a strong temptation to stuff a sock in their mouth - if not actually sock them in the mouth but please refrain. We all know a “Pharisee” who can top whatever story you tell - SNL’s Debbie Downer character - no matter what you’ve done or accomplished the Pharisee quickly eclipses it. It’s all over Twitter and Facebook. Profile name: Olivia One-Upper.
Does God see us in the role of the Pharisee?
Jesus wore a crown of thorns.
On “It’s Your Day” I had this paper crown, and it was pretty flimsy so it kept slipping, and the bobby pins kept scratching my scalp - it was horrible!
Jesus was scourged.
Last summer I got three mosquito bites on my back in this really awkward spot and boy did they itch - excruciating!
Jesus was nailed to a cross.
I got this paper cut- I can’t tell you how I suffered!
Have you met Our Lady of Perpetual Complaints? Know St. John Boastful? Are you the person others patiently tolerate - all the while thinking “My kingdom for a sock!”
If there is any possibility that our spiritual progress report features the comment code, ”Needs to improve humility skills,” try the tax collector’s prayer, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Not a bad choice in the Year of Mercy!
Gospel: 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.
In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us His great commandment. We are to love God, first and foremost and then our neighbor as ourselves. He is presuming that we already love ourselves. Unfortunately, many of us Christians don’t really love ourselves. We often feel we don’t measure up to others or we can’t forgive ourselves even though God forgives us and we constantly judge ourselves. This is not healthy. There is a connection in our ability to love ourselves and our ability to love God and our neighbor.
I’m not speaking about love of ourselves which is prideful and boastful, but rather the knowledge that we are weak and sinful, but our amazing God loves us anyway, which should be proof that we are lovable.
If we really love ourselves we’re not so interested in what others think about us, but what God thinks.
We love and do good things for our neighbor out of the generosity of our heart, not to be compensated, liked or receive compliments. Of course, we do feel good when what we do is appreciated, but we don’t do it for that reason, but because it’s a good thing to do.
If we can learn to love ourselves, we will love God and our neighbor.
Ask God for a healthy sense of self-love. Know that you are precious in God’s eyes and you are as important as anyone else.Let us pray: Loving God, help me to love myself as you love me. Enable me to grow in humility and compassion for others. May my love for you overflow to all I encounter this day. Amen.
Gospel: 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.”
Perhaps this passage calls forth in our memories the old expression, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” Many times reading these passages I have to fight off an irresistible urge to shake someone in the crowd around Jesus and yell, “Seriously?! A deaf man just had his hearing restored and your first reaction was asking about where his power comes from?” Shouldn’t the initial reaction be, “Wow! Somebody who was deaf can hear again! That’s amazing!”
Sadly, the Gospels are filled with stories of miraculous stories of healing that are immediately discounted by a skeptical crowd. It is possible that the Gospels use these stories to call attention to a particular deficiency in human nature, for as the Gospels say, Jesus Himself knew human nature well. We humans are so tainted by sin that in many cases we can no longer look at something good without trying to find evil in it. I remember reading an article about how a well known author named Christopher Hitchens took Mother Teresa to task in a television interview for the way she ran her Home for the Dying in India. Was Mother Teresa perfect? Of course not. However, what is the point of missing the beauty of a portrait in order to criticize the brushstrokes?
We know things by their fruits. A tree that produces good fruit is a good tree. One thing that I lament about Christianity is the fact that many people have created an incorrect ideal of a Christian lifestyle. Christianity is not about waiting this world out in order to get to the next one. Christianity is not about guarding ourselves from other people and locking ourselves in our own bubbles of security. Christianity is communitarian, not individualistic. It is about wonder, joy, and amazement. With Christianity, there are no boring days because each day is an exciting adventure to draw closer to one another, and through one another to Christ. Christianity is about smiling, laughing often, and allowing ourselves to be in awe of the amazing world God created just for us.During this Lenten season, let us pray for ourselves and for our world. Let us pray that God grants us the ability to overcome our fears, our doubts, and our skepticism of those around us and the ability to see each person as a unique gift that God has placed into our lives. Jesus said that we will not enter heaven unless we become like little children. Therefore, let us recover the gift of childlike joy and build a more innocent world together.
Gospel: 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.”
Fulfillment in Love
This passage can easily be put aside as not inspirational if we focus on Law. However, it speaks of an essential contrast: the Old Law vs. Jesus’s purpose in life. When Jesus says that he has come not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it, he is saying that he has come to show us the meaning and end of law which is love. To fulfill means to complete, to bring to fullness. Jesus’ life showed us that love goes beyond order, security and progress that enables us to form community. Jesus’ life was a way of life rooted in love. This is his call to us. “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15)
Jesus taught by his life that love is the motive for obedience. It is the strength that we have to be faithful – to our family, our Church, our God. The Old Law is based on a series of covenants, between God and the Israelites. The truth of a covenant is that God is always faithful to His promises. We have to do our part. This is what the life of Christ is all about. Jesus formed the New Covenant, a covenant of love. It is only in and through Christ that we can and do our part. Jesus, the Christ, is faithful to us.
When we reflect on our lives, we realize that as children we need to be taught to be obedient. As we obey, we begin to learn that obedience helps us to get things done. We follow the rules of the game so that we can play together. We follow the rules of our family so we won’t be punished or we will be rewarded. With experience, we learn that we are obeying because there is something deeper: it is the right thing to do for myself and others so I do it. I love my family, I don’t want to hurt them. I study because I feel good about myself when I am doing my best in school. Love of others and self-respect become the motive for my obedience; obedience through concern for myself and others leads to love.
Christ, by his example of love for the poor, the sick, the sinner and children, showed us what love of others is all about. By his passion and death, Christ showed us that with love we must give until we have no more to give in life. This is what Jesus asks us to accept – to love. Love one another as I have loved you (John, 15). In this way of life, of love, we will be fulfilled.
We are fulfilled in life as we live as Christ lived. We do this through our daily lives: learning, doing and loving as Jesus did from the Presentation in the Temple to the Crucifixion. We do this through the potential given to us in Baptism and the nourishment of the Eucharist, and through the Holy Spirit. It is in living the Law of Christ that we are changed, always moving toward fulfillment in this life and in heaven.This is the inspiration in this reading – Christ loved us and teaches us to love him. He showed us how to live that we might be fulfilled through the love of God in this life and in eternity.
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