Friday, 26 February 2016

Third Sunday of Lent 2016

+ And he told them this parable: 
“There once was a person who had a fig tree
planted in his orchard, 

and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none,
he said to the gardener,
‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit
on this fig tree 
but have found none.
So cut it down.
Why should it exhaust the soil?’
He said to him in reply,
‘Sir, leave it for this year also, 
and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; 
it may bear fruit in the future.
If not you can cut it down.’”

In the world of politics, the landscape is often divided into two, under the banners of liberal and conservative - the left and the right. The left is often described as being too loose and accommodating in its principles, while the right is held as too rigid and unbending.  

This dividing line can also find its way into religion, creating opposing positions on theological interpretations of beliefs and practices. Pope Francis is considered by some to be too liberal leaning, and they point to his emphasis on mercy and his creation of a special Jubilee Year devoted to God's Mercy. What about God's Justice, they will ask. Are not sinners to face the consequences of their sins? Is there not a hell, or is this the "get-out-of-jail-free" year?

Scripture makes it clear that the wages of sin is death. (Rom. 6:23). But Jesus confronting the self-righteousness of the Pharisees, who condemn him for the way he deals with sinners, points to the prophet Ezekiel that God does not desire the death of sinners rather their conversion. (Ez. 18:23) Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mtt. 9:13)

Clearly, it would be to our pearl to ignore the call to holiness we hear in the gospel. But our hope rests not in our self-righteous, rather it is in God's Mercy, that continues to lift us out of our failures, giving us again and again the opportunity for conversion.

In today's gospel, Jesus uses a parable to give us insight into the workings of God's justice and mercy. In the parable there is a fig tree that has failed to produce any fruit for the past three years. "Cut it down", is the correct (the just) action to take. Three barren years is more than sufficient evidence that it has no value. But it is given a fourth year, and in that year positive efforts will be employed to give it a chance to revive. 

Its purpose for existence remains the same, to bear fruit - in our case, the fruits of a holy life - the measure of our judgement. The additional year and the intervention of cultivation, add-ons from outside are given - in our case the gift of grace, sanctify grace, the grace of Mercy, continually given to the very last hour of the very last year, the fourth year.

Pope Francis is showing us that we are in the "fourth year", the Year of Mercy, the time remaining for us. Can we see any signs of fruit?

"I tell all of you with certainty, since you did it for one of
the least important of these brothers and sisters of mine,
you did it for me."
Mtt. 25:40

Additional Resources:

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Second Sunday of Lent 2016

Each year, the gospel text for the second Sunday of Lent is the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus. "His face shone like the sun and his face became as white as light." This unexpected experience overwhelmed Peter, James and John whom Jesus had brought with him onto the mountain to pray. "They fell prostrate and were very much afraid." 

John's gospel does not include an account of the transfiguration. There is, however, an account of Phillip asking Jesus to, "... show us the Father, and that will be enough for us." (Jo14:8) Obviously, they are struggling with who Jesus really is, - a sign would help.

As the saying goes, "seeing is believing." Do we not ourselves, in our efforts to have an understanding faith, wish for even a little "sign" to help us. Actually, God is pleased to give us many, many signs. Our problem is in reading the signs God gives.

When John the Baptist's disciples ask Jesus about his identity, he responded by offering the signs he manifested. “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them." (Lk 7:21)

"By their fruits you shall know them." If we are looking for signs, we need to be looking here - not in religious rhetoric and  claims, rather in the Works of Faith. Do you need confirmation that your faith is on the right track, then look at your own Works of Mercy, or the lack of. As we saw in the previous post, they are the criteria by which we will be judged. - "For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. MERCY triumphs over judgment." (James 2:13)
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless … For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. James 2:14ff
The Transfiguration confirms that Jesus does indeed share in the glory of the Father. And now the Father speaks to us.
 "This is my beloved Son; listen to him."
Today, Jesus speaks to us through the prophetic voice he has given to the Church. His servant Pope Francis, is calling out to all of us. . . . . . . 
BE MERCIFUL! Are we listening? Then let us show it by our Works of Mercy.

Additional Links:

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Matthew 25: Works of Mercy

MATTHEW 25:31-46

* Check what applies *

__ I was hungry and you gave me 

__ I was thirsty and you gave me 

__ I was a stranger and you 
     welcomed me.

__ I was naked and you clothed 

__ I was ill and you cared for me.

__ I was in prison and you visited 

* Submit at the desk for entry *

The gospel text for Monday of the first week of Lent, presents us with the standards by which we are to be Judged before the Lord. Here we have the foundation for the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. This of coarse, takes on special significance for us in this Year of Mercy.

"Lord, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" THE question that preoccupies persons of faith. We live with the realization that our life is a gift from God. It is given in a framework of time. In this time allotted, we are to imitate our Father by spending our time co-creating, making life prosper for good, our good and the good of others. “Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.” Mtt:25:20

So often today, religion is attacked over the "problem of evil", the troubles that befall people, good people as well as bad. "If there is a good God, why all the suffering?" - so the argument goes.

One can only imagine what our world would be like today had good been chosen over evil throughout history - what discoveries could have been made, what wonders might have been created, had the God-given genius of so many, not been put to death by the hand of so many choosing evil.

Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes (Lk 12:37)on the job and working hard at what has been assigned them. No other time in history has had a greater human capacity to change the world for good than our generation. What it will take to unleash this potential will be a conversion of heart, human hearts, imbued with divine wisdom. It starts here with - BE MERCIFUL, LIKE THE FATHER.

+ + + +

The following is suggested as a way of observing your progress in response to the call TO BE MERCIFUL. 
There is a document that you can download and use. ***LINK***

My Checklist For The Corporal Works of Mercy

Record the corresponding number to a Work of Mercy in the box above

My Checklist For The Spiritual Works of Mercy

Record the corresponding number to a Work of Mercy in the box above

Friday, 12 February 2016

First Sunday of Lent 2016

Each year the gospel for the First Sunday of Lent is the account of Jesus' 40 days and 40 nights of prayer and fasting in the wilderness. It is Matthew, Mark and Luke who record this event, each with a slightly different telling. Mark simple recounts the event without any details of the temptations.
At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. Mk 1:12
Here we note that it is the Spirit who is orchestrating this event. It is a contest of influence between Satan and the Spirit. Who's council will Jesus follow. We think back to the book of Job, where a similar contest between Satan and God is allowed to happen to Job, to test his fidelity to God. Satan is allowed to test Job with a series of crisis inflicted on him. Job remains faithful to God.

St. Ignatius, in his "Rules for the Discernment" offers further insight into this dynamic of the testing of one's fidelity to God.

First, Satan tries to prevent this faith from ever coming alive in a person. Failing this, Satan creates confusion sounding like the voice of the Good Spirit. 
The fourth rule: It is proper to the evil Angel, who forms himself under the appearance of an angel of light, to enter with the devout soul and go out with himself: that is to say, to bring good and holy thoughts, conformable to such just soul, and then little by little he aims at coming out drawing the soul to his covert deceits and perverse intentions.
How then does one know how to make the correct decisions in order to remain faithful to God? A starting point is following the rules, the directives handed down by sound and tested teaching. This was what guide Israel - the law of Moses - the 613 commandments recorded in Talmud - the negative commandments numbering 365, (thou shalt not) and the positive commandments numbering 248, (thou shalt).
But in the gospels, Jesus demonstrates that fidelity to the law is only the beginning. In Luke 10:25 we have the account of an expert in the law, trying to test Jesus. 
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus responded with the story of the Good Samaritan, how a the Samaritan man helped the man who was injured by thieves, while a temple priest and a Levite, going up to the Temple for service, passed him by, because the rules of the law prevented them from coming in contact with blood and then serving in the temple.

When the rich man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus responded by directing him to the commandments. But when the man said the commandments he already follows, Jesus responded;
“One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:18
We do not save ourselves, God's Mercy saves us. What we must do is "... come and follow me." We must have a firm, committed and personal relationship with Jesus - a real and dynamic spiritual life.

This spiritual relationship implies listening, learning to hear, to recognize the Voice of the Spirit guiding us through each day - helping us to discern, out of the many voices coming at us, which is the voice of the Spirit. These days of Lent are meant to be an "intensive care", for our mind and heart.  "Speak Lord, your servant is listening."


Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Ash Wednesday


Lent begins with the liturgy of Ash Wednesday. The ashes are made from the palm branches used in the previous year’s celebration of Palm Sunday, recalling that triumphant day when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem with great jubilation. Jesus' followers, his disciples and apostles, waving palm branches like banners of praise, singing and proclaiming their undying faith in him, accompanied Jesus through the city gate like a triumphant king, entering to ascend his throne of victory. Then, a few short days later, Jesus’ throne became an executioners cross of death, as his followers abandoned him and fled in fear – their faith and hope turned into ashes.

In our youth we are often accused of thinking we are immortal. It’s a result of the risks we are inclined to take in the pursuit of the excitement of living life on the edge. But on a higher level it is true, we are immortal. This is part of our religious belief. Death in the body is but the next step to a new life beyond this life.

In life, we soon come to realize that the way we live our lives now and the choices we make now, will greatly influence how our lives turn out in the future. This is no less true of our spiritual destiny as well. Lent is meant to be a schooling in this wisdom.

In his wilderness retreat, Jesus is presented with choices which the Deceiver lays out to him. In spite of their apparent appeal and practical usefulness, Jesus sees through the deception. Rather than advance his destiny, they would in fact destroy it. 

Lent is a time of schooling in the spiritual art of discernment. Who and what is controlling my life now? Where is this leading me? How strong a hold over me do these influences have? What is the truth that I must embrace in order to break free? Do I have the will and courage to take on this advisory?

For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. Mtt 6:21

Liturgy of Ash Wednesday

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Blessing of Ashes
Dear brothers and sisters, let us humbly ask God our Father
that he be pleased to bless with the abundance of his grace
these ashes, which we will put on our heads in penitence.

O God, who desire not the death of sinners,
but their conversion,
mercifully hear our prayers
and in your kindness be pleased to bless + these ashes,
which we intend to receive upon our heads,
that we, who acknowledge we are but ashes
and shall return to dust,
may, through a steadfast observance of Lent,
gain pardon for sins and newness of life
after the likeness of your Risen Son.
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
R. Amen.

+ Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

+ Repent, and believe in the gospel.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Lent - A Journey Into the Wilderness

The gospel passage for the First Sunday of Lent recalls Jesus 40 days of prayer and fasting in the wilderness, where he is put to the test by the Devil. The Spirit, that called Jesus into this deep, spiritual experience, now calls us to join with him. 

The wilderness we are to enter is our own souls, stripped and laid bare by the winds of truth. A true follower of Christ we say - let us see as we are put to the test, as the trial begins and we face our "Accuser" who knows all our secrets.

Who will defend us, ourselves? Not likely. Our defender will be the Spirit and our defense is laid out in the "Word."  

The Voice of the Spirit can be heard in many forms throughout these days. This page is meant to be a guide to some of the resources that we can use to hear the Voice of the Spirit speaking in our defense. The real journey of Lent is not for the fainthearted.

On the side bar, there is a list of Posts from Lent 2015. They are formatted as a dialogue of voices - our voice, that of the Accuser, and the Good Spirit.

 The Ignatian website has an excellent resource under the titled, Lenten Moments of Mercy. It lists ten different approaches one might use.

 The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization has published 8 books focusing on different themes for the Year of Mercy. They can be used by an individual or a group. They are available on line through Our Sunday Visitor.

 For those who may be new to praying on a passage of scripture, VOICES has a page, (link on the side panel) with instruction on how to begin. The Ignatian web site also contains various approaches.

 Online Ministry of Creighton University has website entitled, Praying Lent, which has several different resources that can be used during Lent. Included are both audio and video presentations.

What is most important, as Lent approaches, is our planning. How do I plan to observe these Lenten days of grace and mercy? Prayer will lead the way of coarse, and since prayer is an encounter between two, having an appointment time and place is essential. This appointment must be given priority in our daily planning. 

Some may already have the practice of keeping a prayer journal. If not, draw up a plan on paper or make a Word document on your computer where you can journal an account of your prayer experiences, and discern where the Spirit is leading you. Remember, our model is Jesus and his forty days in the wilderness - how the Spirit led him there, how he confronted the deceptive arguments that the devil used to lead him away from the mission for which he had been sent by the Father.  

Now we must recognize the deceits that are trying to take us away from the Father's plan for our lives.

I have drawn up a journaling document you can download and use. 

Download = MY LENTEN JOURNAL (Word doc format)

Download = MY LENTEN JOURNAL (PDF format)

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