Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Second Sunday of Lent, 2015

Lent is a season where, scripturally, we revisit the story of our salvation history.  It’s the story of where our great patriarchs and prophets met the Lord God, and how our relationship with God, as a people, continues to grow and evolve.  We also know from our review of the readings last week that our overarching theme for Cycle B is covenant.  After God’s covenant with Noah last week, we now visit the next great covenant, that between God and Abraham…

Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18
Psalm 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19
Romans 8:31b-34
Mark 9:2-10

Our first reading, from the book of Genesis, is one of the great stories about Abraham.   By this point in the narrative God has already made a covenant with Abraham, but now God is putting that covenant to the test.  God asks Abraham to make a sacrifice of his young son Isaac.  Isaac, as we know, is the only child born by Abraham’s wife, Sarah (a birth promised by God).  By challenging Abraham to kill his son, God is sees his faithfulness to him and the covenant, and relents at the very last moment.  God saw how committed Abraham was to the covenant, and reminds him of his promise to him… to make his descendants as numerous as the stars.  It is a difficult story, but as Christians we can’t help but to compare Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac with God’s willingness to sacrifice his own son, Jesus.  Our responsorial Psalm reminds us of the extent of our commitment to the Lord… to his covenant.

Our second reading comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  In these short passages, Paul’s message is simple… if God is for us, who can be against us?  This is meant to remind us of the new covenant… the covenant created by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  Through this covenant we are bonded with God in a way like never before.

Our gospel comes again from Mark, where we hear the story of the Transfiguration.  Jesus takes Peter, James, and John… his 3 most trusted Apostles… for a hike up the mountain (what we traditionally consider to be Mount Tabor, about mid-way between Nazareth and the southwest shore of the Sea of Galilee)  The story of the Transfiguration is a significant moment in our journey with Jesus, but for the sake of today’s theme, it’s not so much the moment of the Transfiguration that’s important, as what Jesus says after that moment on the way down the mountain.  Jesus implores the three not to say anything about this moment “except when the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”  Peter, James, and John are unsure of what Jesus means when he says this.  Of course, we already know what this means, but it’s also interesting to note that Mark and his followers also already knew what this meant.  Just as with many great stories today, however, where we already know the ending, we can see Mark’s use of suspense in his narrative while at the same time slowly revealing the nature and mission of Jesus.

Final Thoughts:
For the purpose of this Sunday’s theme, we can easily connect God’s sacrifice of his Son for the sake of the Covenant, just as Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son for the sake of the Covenant.  During our reflection of these readings during Lent, we are being called to ask ourselves, “what we are willing to give up in to maintain our covenant with God?”
So how is your Lenten journey going so far?  We've only just begun, but as with so many things these days it will be over before we know it.  Let's not waste this time that God gives us, and make sure we are taking our Lenten journey seriously.  Pray - Fast - Give.  That is our call during Lent.  Yet it's so easy to let these opportunities to pass us by.  As with all good things, it takes extra effort.  Make sure you're taking an extra 10 minutes to pray.  Taking the time away from phones, media, and the activities of the day, and ponder your relationship with God.  See you all Thursday.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

First Sunday of Lent, 2015

With the season of Lent now upon us, we enter a period of penitent reflection that includes an increased emphases on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  Our readings for Sunday Mass not only remind us of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, but our three-year lectionary cycle also allows us to explore that story in the light of an over-arching theme for the season.  For Cycle B (Gospel of Mark), that theme is covenant.  Covenant is that agreement between God and his people that marks the special relationship we have with our God.  It is a word we will hear in our readings this Sunday, and a word we will continue to hear in our readings throughout this Lenten season.

Genesis 9:8-15
Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:12-15

Our first reading for this 1st Sunday of Lent starts with one of the first covenants between God and his people – that between God and Noah at the end of the great flood.  Also known as the Noahic covenant, this is the promise that God makes to Noah and all the people that he will never again destroy all life on Earth with a flood.  While this covenant was initially made with Noah, it is also a promise to all human kind by establishing the rainbow as a reminder “for all ages to come” of that promise.  Our Psalm this week continues this theme of covenant by reminding us that the Lord’s ways are love and truth to those who keep that covenant.

Our second reading comes from the 1st Letter of Peter, wherein he draws a direct connection between the covenant with Noah and the new covenant through Jesus Christ.  He draws a parallel between the salvation of Noah and his family through the waters of the flood with the salvation that Christ offers through Baptism.

Following this reflection on Baptism, our Gospel from Mark takes us to that moment just after Jesus’ baptism where he is driven out into the desert.  Mark tells us Jesus spent forty days in the desert where he was tempted by Satan.  This is reflective of our forty day journey through Lent where we are meant to face-down our demons find reconciliation with our Lord.

Final Thoughts:
This covenant with Noah, and the subsequent covenants in the Bible between God and his people give us a special status.  We are a people of the covenant.  Beloved and chosen by God.  But a covenant is also like a contract… we the people of God also have responsibilities under this covenant.  What are those responsibilities?  Quite simply, to live our lives according to God’s commandments… as Jesus taught, to love God and love our neighbor.  Simple in theory, but as we all know, much more difficult in practice.  So how are we doing in keeping up our end of that covenant?  This is the question we must ponder during Lent.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2015

Our readings for this coming Sunday:This Sunday marks the end of our brief winter’s journey through Ordinary Time, and our readings serve as an appropriate transition to the Lenten season by addressing the issue of how we treat those who are sick and in need.  While we have an obligation to protect the greater population by separating out those who are sick, we sometimes forget that we also have an obligation to care for those in need.  Our readings this week give us the opportunity to examine these issues.

Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Mark 1:40-45

Our first reading comes from the Book of Leviticus.  This second book of Moses takes its name from the priestly tribe of the Levites, for whom this book is a handbook for serving the Hebrew people.  Since this book is often referred to as “priestly law,” it is easy for us confuse this book as dealing with strictly religious matters.  On the contrary, the ancient Hebrews didn’t have any concept of “religious law” separate from “secular law.”  Levite priests not only dealt with matters of spirituality and worship, but they dealt with all issues of daily life, from preparing food, to business conduct, to healthcare and personal hygiene.  

This Sunday’s passage from Leviticus describes how those who are sick should be dealt with in the community.  In this case, a person with skin sores must be checked by the priest, and if determined to be leprosy, that person must make that known to the community (rending of garments, covering their face) and live apart from the community (making his abode outside the camp).  This wasn’t done to humiliate the individual, but rather to protect the remainder of the population.  It is a particularly interesting reading in light of our recent measles outbreak and discussion of childhood vaccination.

Though our first reading would seem to be harsh for the individual who is sick, our Psalm response is meant to be a “prescription” by reminding us that in times of trouble, we need to turn to the Lord.

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians.  In this week’s short passage, Paul’s message is simple… don’t offend anyone, and live as imitators of Christ.  It is by living this way, Paul tells us, that we give glory to God.

Our Gospel from Mark picks up where we left off last week and brings Chapter 4 to a close.  Last week we saw Jesus preaching and healing a number of people, and realizing that he needed to head out to other towns and do the same.  This week we see Jesus meeting someone with leprosy, whom he cures.  Then, in keeping with Mosaic Law, instructs the person to go to the priest so that he can be certified as “clean” and rejoin the community.  Here we also see the beginning of what will be a running theme in Mark’s gospel:  Although Jesus gives the cured leper a warning not to tell anyone, the word gets out, bringing even larger crowds.  At this Jesus tries to seek refuge, yet the people still find him.

Final Thoughts:
While the Mosaic Law had every good intention for keeping the greater population free from disease, their law had some unfortunate side effects.  The application of that law, as practiced over the centuries, focused too much on separating the sick from the rest of the population while not focusing enough on the care of those who were sick.  Over time this created a marginalized underclass who were ostracized from the community and left to fend for themselves.  By curing these people, Jesus not only demonstrated his power from God, but reminds us that we must reach out to those in need.  Even today this is a challenge for us, as we strive to work with those suffering with illnesses like cancer and HIV.  Like Paul reminds us in our second reading, we need to imitate Christ, and show God’s love to those most in need.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2015

Why is there evil in the world?  Why does God let bad things happen to good people?  These are common questions we hear in society, and yet even as believers in God, even as followers of Christ, we often feel inadequate to address these types of question.  The fact is that we, humanity, have been struggling with these types of questions for millennia, and much has been written on the subject.  Our readings this Sunday can give us some guidance…

Job 7:1-4, 6-7
Psalm 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
Mark 1:29-39

We open with a passage from the Book of Job (pronounced with a long “o”).  The story of Job is fairly well known in Biblical circles, yet we Catholics only hear from the Book of Job twice during our Sunday Liturgy… and both times in Cycle B, where we find ourselves this year.  It’s difficult to get a good understanding of this book with so little exposure to it, yet it is one of the best didactic (teaching) tools we have to examine the subject of good and evil.  To understand the story of Job, it helps to understand what Job is not.  Job is not a prophet.  Job is not a historical person nor is the book an account of historical events.  The book of Job falls under the umbrella of “wisdom literature:”  Books crafted to teach the faithful, or in the case of Job, an exploration of good and evil.  Our passage this week comes from an earlier part of the book where Job is bemoaning his current condition… which the text makes clear, is not good.  Who among us hasn’t felt like Job from time to time?  That our lives are a “drudgery”?, that we will “not see happiness again”?  Let’s not tear this reading apart, but take this as a starting point and see where our other readings take us…

Our responsorial Psalm sings “Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.”  After hearing the mournful cry of Job, we need to be reminded of God’s great goodness… that even as we struggle, we can cry out to God for his compassion.

This Psalm then bridges to our Gospel as we see God’s compassion, through Jesus, take action.  We pickup our story where we left off last week, with Jesus now leaving the synagogue in Capernaum and going to the home of Simon and Andrew.  Here Jesus heals Simon-Peter’s mother-in-law.  News of this miracle gets out, and many others come to him for healing.  After a long night, Jesus then decides he needs to continue teaching and healing by visiting other villages, demonstrating God’s wisdom and compassion.

Our second reading, though not directly related to our other readings, does add some wisdom and understanding to our situation.  Continuing our study of Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains that he willingly has taken on this mission to spread the Gospel.  Yet in that freedom, he also finds he has become a slave to his mission.  The blessing and the curse of having the gift of free will.  And that, brothers and sisters, is the thread that binds our readings together.

It’s easy for us to understand the nature of our own free will.  We are free to follow God, or not.  To help others or to help ourselves.  But our own self-centeredness can make us forget that this free will extends not only to other people, but to all of God’s creation.  And it is this free will that allows evil to enter.  It is also that same free will that allows us to choose to accept it or reject it when we face it, and it is through following Christ that we can find the strength to defeat it.

Final Thoughts:
So why do bad things happen to good people?  Like so many things, there is no easy answer to this.  The entire book of Job tries to tackle this issue and yet still leaves us hanging at the end, never really telling us why, but rather forces us to think it through for ourselves.  There is no simple answer, and anyone who thinks they can give you a simple answer is being naive at best, and evil at worst.  Evil exists, yet for all the evidence around us we still prefer not to talk about it, as if ignoring it will make it go away.  We can’t.  We shouldn’t.  Instead we need to recognize it while ever clinging to the goodness of God within us, knowing that the Lord is on our side.