Tuesday, March 25, 2014

4th Sunday of Lent 2014

This 4th Sunday of Lent we continue with our journey through Salvation History, and like last week, the themes and symbols revealed in these passages hold special meaning for us in the RCIA.  Last week our theme was trust – trust in the Lord, and our symbol was water – life giving and life sustaining. water – the primary symbol of Baptism.  This week our theme is redemption, and our symbols are anointing and light

The Word for the 4th Sunday of Lent
1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

We open with our first reading from the 1st Book of Samuel.  To put us in the proper context, Samuel was the last of the Judges, and it was he whom the Israelites cried out to for a king.  This was not what God wanted, but he granted their request, and Saul is appointed as the first King of Israel.  At this point in the narrative, Saul is getting on in years, and the people need a successor.  None of Saul’s sons are suited to the task, so God points Samuel to David, whom he anoints as the chosen one.

Our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the evangelist exhorts them to ‘live as children of light”  for as he says, “everything exposed by the light becomes visible.”  For Paul, darkness is all too real, having been struck blind by his first encounter with the risen Christ.  That blindness and darkness is exposed and brushed aside by the truth and light that is found in Christ.  Paul reminds us that we were “once darkness,” but through the light of Christ we “arise from the dead” and are redeemed.

Our Gospel, again from John, tells the story of the man born blind.  As with the story of the woman at the well from last week, we witness a story of conversion – a man’s journey, literally, from darkness to light.  Jesus does not accept the common understanding that a person’s ailments are the result of their sin, or the sin of their family.  Instead, he takes this opportunity to challenge everyone’s notion of blindness and light.  The blind man was marginalized not only by the Pharisees, but by all the people… What we would call a “social sin,”  where the actions and policies of an entire society are found to be “in the darkness.”  This passage not only challenges our notion of right and wrong, cause and effect, but is meant to force us into action for those issues that society may not readily want to face – to bring them into the light. 

Catholic Update:
Messengers of God’s Mercy:  Saints John XXIII and John Paul II
Seven Lessons from Pope Francis

As we get closer to Holy Week, our journey through Lent becomes ever more challenging.  By our baptism we share in Jesus' calling to be priest, prophet, and servant - tasks that are not always easy or appreciated.  Tasks that are nearly impossible to accomplish alone.  It is at this point we need to be reminded that Jesus himself did not work alone.  Along with the power of the Holy Spirit, he had the twelve Apostles and many other disciples willing and able to help with his mission.  Likewise we need to remember that when the going gets tough, we too can lean on the grace of the Spirit and the support of the community of believers - the Church - for help.  Only together we can become "children of light."

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

3rd Sunday of Lent 2014

We are now deep into our Lenten season reflection, and from now through to the Triduum our readings not only continue our journey through Salvation History, they begin a cycle of readings that are some of the most powerful in all of scripture.  In fact, the Church finds these readings of such importance that she has chosen them to be used specifically for the RCIA in the Scrutiny Rites.  It is fortunate for all of us that these readings fall within our regular cycle of readings this year so we can all give them due contemplation during this Lenten season.

The Word for the 3rd Sunday of Lent
Exodus 17:3-7
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
John 4:5-42

We open a reading from the book of Exodus.  At this point the Israelites have escaped Pharaoh and his army having crossed the Red Sea.  They are now free, but have yet to reach Mount Sinai.  They are traveling through the “wilderness,”  A barren stretch of land between the sea and the Sinai.  Food was running out so the Lord gave them manna.  Now the water is running out and there is none to be found, so the refugees are crying out to the Lord and to Moses for water.  After all they’ve been through, they are now beginning to think that leaving Egypt, where they were slaves, was a bad idea.  Even with their grumbling, however, the Lord, through Moses, provides them with water.  This story is ripe for a variety of discussion topics, from the symbolism of the water, to the short memories of Israelites, to the ever-caring nature of God.  These lessons are also summed up in our Psalm, which reminds us that we should not harden our hearts to the Lord.

Our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  This letter is one of the most important of all the Epistles in the New Testament, as noted by it’s placement in most Bibles after the book of Acts of the Apostles.  Unlike Paul’s other letters, this letter so much addressing specific problems within the community as it is presenting the overall aspects of the faith line a general catechism.  It is helpful also to remember that Rome is one of the largest cities in the world at this time, the seat of the Empire, and while surrounded by a great many Gentiles, there is also a small Jewish population.  Paul addressed both these communities as we read this week about how we have been “justified by faith.”  We now have peace with God through Jesus.

Our Gospel for this Sunday (and for the next two Sundays) steps away from Matthew so we can focus on three very important stories from John’s Gospel.  This week, the story of the Woman at the Well.  Compared to most of our readings, these Gospel passages are quite long passage, but this length is necessary to give us the gradual revelation of their truth.  In this week’s story, Jesus is traveling though Samaria (the region of the former Northern Kingdom) when he meets a Samaritan woman drawing water from the town well.  Through their conversation we not only learn the woman’s story, but she and her community learn that Jesus is no ordinary man.  Like the RCIA itself, this is a story of discovery, with everyone experiencing something new and wonderful in the journey.

Catholic Update: 
Lenten Customs: Baptism is the Key

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

2nd Sunday of Lent 2014

For this second week of Lent we continue our journey through Salvation History. Whereas last week our readings focused on sin (through Adam) and redemption (through Jesus), this week’s readings remind us that even with our faults, we have been chosen by God. This is not an arbitrary choice, but a conscious, willful intervention by God to become closer to his creation.

The Word for the 2nd Sunday of Lent
Genesis 12:1-4a
Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
2 Timothy 1:8b-10
Matthew 17:1-9

Our first reading from later in Genesis gives us the story of Abram (who we will later know as Abraham) and his first call by God. Up to this point Abram has been living with his wife (Sarah) and his entire extended family in the land of Haran when God comes to him and tells him to “go forth from your land… to a land that I will show you.” God is asking Abram to leave his ancestral home for a place far away that he knows nothing about, all on the promise of his blessing. Not only does this show us Abram’s level of trust in God, but it shows us God’s willingness to reach out – to call Abram - and take him under his wing in the hope of greater things to come. This level of trust in God is echoed in our Psalm.

Our second reading, this week from Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy, has the evangelist encouraging his young protégé by reminding him that while he may face certain hardships in his ministry, the promise of the Jesus and the Gospel is worthy of his trust.  Not unlike Abram, Timothy was chosen – called – to his ministry, and though he may face certain trials, Paul reminds him that he can trust in Jesus and the Gospel.

We close with the Transfiguration story from Matthew’s gospel. Jesus, the chosen, takes Peter, James, and John, his chosen, up the mountain where is transfigured before them in brilliant light, standing with Moses and Elijah, two of the most trusted prophets called by God. It is a powerful moment, and the Apostles are almost speechless. Not only does this show the mutual trust between Jesus and his chosen disciples, but with the voice of God coming from the cloud it shows us the Father’s trust in his Son.

Trust is a funny thing. It comes so naturally to us as if it’s built in to our DNA. A child’s trust that his parents will care for them. A trust in a friend we know will always be there for us. But trust can, and often is, betrayed. As we get older we tend to be much more cautious about giving or receiving trust, because we’ve all been burnt before. That kind of experience makes us stingy with trust. But we need to be careful, because if we’re too stingy, we can find ourselves missing the important "calls" in our lives.  You’ve probably heard the saying, “Let go and let God.” The story of Salvation, and in particular our readings for this week, remind us that God can be trusted. That the promise of Jesus and the Gospel can be trusted. We are no different than all the others we’ve read about today... Abram, Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, John, Paul, Timothy, and even Jesus. They had their doubts, but they could put those aside for the voice of God. There are times where we too must but our trust in that voice, for only then will we find that our call from God is genuine, and that his love does not disappoint. 

Catholic Update:
How God Invites Us to Grow:  Six Stages of Faith Development
FindingOur Way Again:  Daily Lenten Reflections


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

1st Sunday of Lent 2014

Lent is a time to reflect… to see where we have been, determine where we are, and chart our course ahead.  Similarly, our readings for this Lenten cycle also show us where we have been as a people, help us to see where we are, and show us the road we as Church should follow.  We call this walk through the scriptures the “history of our salvation, ” and throughout this season of Lent, we will be listening to stories from some of the most pivotal moments of our history as a people of God.

The Word for the 1st Sunday of Lent
Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7
Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17
Romans 5:12-19
Mathew 4:1-11

Most appropriately, we begin our journey at the very beginning… with our first reading from the Book of Genesis and  the story of “mans fall from grace.”  This is the same “necessary sin of Adam” we sing about during the Easter Vigil’s Exultet.

In our passage from Genesis this week we witness God’s creation of man and the creation of the garden.  From there our text jumps to the story of the woman’s encounter with the snake.  It is a story that many of us are familiar with, but it is always interesting to revisit the original text.  One thing we notice is that the man and woman are not yet mentioned by name.  This is because at this point in the narrative they don’t have proper names.  The word “adam” comes from the generic Hebrew word for “man” or “mankind”.  The word “ground” in Hebrew is “adama”… so the play on words between man coming from the ground is something we lose in the English translation.  The woman doesn’t get her name of “Eve” until Adam give it to her toward the end of Chapter 3.

But more to the point… while all this is very interesting, and we could spend a considerable amount of time reviewing the deeper theological implications of the story, we don’t want to lose sight of our take-away from this story for this week.  Simply this is where the history of salvation begins… with the recognition of the fact that through our own free will, we lost paradise, and only through that free will can we embrace God again (as referenced through the Psalm)

This theme is carried through in our second reading in Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Here Paul outlines the story of salvation and the entire purpose of our ministry, first by recalling Adam’s sin, but how it is through Christ that we are redeemed.  This is also an example Paul’s sometimes very convoluted writing style, spanning some 30 lines within only 4 sentences, so take the reading slowly and go through it several times so you can better see his point.

We close with our Gospel from Matthew and another “beginning” story - the beginning of Jesus ministry as marked by his temptation in the desert. At this point in the narrative Jesus has just been baptized by John, and is now compelled by the Spirit to go out into the desert where he spends forty days and nights in contemplation.  It is also during this time he is tempted by the Devil.  As we hear the narrative unfold, it is interesting to note the wordplay between the Devil and Jesus, and how both of them use Scripture to justify their arguments.  Remember, Matthew is speaking to a primarily Jewish audience, so the verses they are quoting are well known to them.  Also for Matthew this is an opportunity to remind us of the epic nature of this battle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.  Jesus is not just another prophet, he is the chosen one, the Son of God, the champion of the forces of light.

So as we begin our journey through Lent we are reminded that we should pay close attention to the scriptures, for by showing us these key moments of our Salvation History, we see where we’ve been as a people, see where we are now, and if we are listening carefully, showing us both individually and as Church, were we need to go.

Catholic Update: