If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?

Readings on USCCB

Why wouldn’t we take pleasure in the death of the wicked, or in the downfall of our enemies?  Because death and downfall means more than just the ceasing of wrongdoing.  Yes, the wrong action may be stopped, but we are talking about persons — persons made in the image and likeness of God.  We are really talking about the death and downfall of one who bears the God-image.  God takes no pleasure in this, for that would be taking pleasure that a part of Himself has died.  

 

Today in Ezekiel we hear how the Lord delights and rejoices when a sinner repents.  When we turn away from our sins we are turning to God, to goodness.  We are turning to life — to God’s eternal life.

 

How do we know what is evil?  Again, bearing the God-image and having been created good, we can naturally know what is good.  But there is also the moral law that has been fully revealed and fulfilled in Jesus and subsequently through the Church.  The psalmist prays today, If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand? (Ps. 130:3). It is God who teaches us in our hearts and through His revealed divine law what is good and what is wrong.  We cannot determine that for ourselves; we can choose to follow or not.  It is true that sin corrupts our thinking and darkens our intellects, which is why God is always calling us to repent.  Repentance brings life to the soul and therefore renewal to the mind.   

 

Jesus fulfills the law of God in the Gospel by internalizing it.  He calls us to renew our minds through repentance.  It is not enough to do good deeds on the outside, or to preach the law of God.  He wants the law to be in our hearts.  When we are angry with another person, we need to do our best to connect with them.  True love of another is to seek what is best for them, to seek their true good.  In a practical application, a loving boundary can be agreed upon internally — one that acknowledges the anger inside and respects the dignity of the other.  The love of God will then have a channel to flow from our hearts to others, bringing God’s life to all of His people, even those with whom we disagree.

Announce to It the Message I Will Tell You

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The message is loud but we don’t hear it. What would it look like today if a prophet like Jonah went through the city of Washington DC and called the United States to repentance? What would our leaders do if they were like the king of Ninevah and they led by example; if they called loudly to God, and every man turned from his evil way and from the violence and hatred we have in our hearts?

It would look like this:
The love of Jesus Christ would permeate their [OUR] hearts. First we would look at those with whom we disagree with love. We would listen to what they have to say. We would find solutions to our problems for the sake of each individual’s true good and for the sake of the common good, for what is truly good (God and His merciful love) is a universal good. These solutions would be something like this:

-Kind words from our politicians and in the media
-The poor and vulnerable would be vaccinated for the virus, and those who are not poor and vulnerable would make sure it happens.
-No persons would be placed into categories or called names.
-All persons, old and young, rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight, unborn or elderly, illegal or citizen…would be looked upon as having dignity, made in the image and likeness of God…and treated as such.
-No children would be hungry or abused.

This seems like a utopia, indeed. Impossible! This kind of society begins in our hearts, which seem to have been hardened into stone through our societal sins. But Jesus is there. He is in our relationships. This kind of society begins with our families and the neighbors on the street. It begins in the classrooms. It begins with taking care of and loving the persons who are in our lives.

Jesus is there, in our hearts. He is greater than all of our societal problems. He is greater than all of our personal and family problems. His love is there — deep within us.

If we but turn inside to receive it. And then give it away.

Fast with Others, for Others

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Today in Scripture we are encouraged to use fasting for one purpose alone: to grow closer to Jesus. There are so many reasons to fast, but only one good one. We are to deny ourselves good things in the material realm for the sake of growing spiritually in Christ, and therefore sharing what He gives.

Isaiah had a difficult job. He was to tell people who think they are doing well that they are really not. In fact, he was to tell them of their wickedness. I don’t know about you, but I cringe at the idea of being told that I am wicked. The way he was to tell them is interesting — he gives them a little examination of conscience, both personal and collective. I will paraphrase and add a little modern nuance…

Yes, it is true that on the outside you look pretty righteous. You have wealth, and you share it with others who need it. You personally donate to charity, as a nation you help those in need and in crisis, and throughout the world you are known to give aid. And, of course, you are fasting.

But I ask you, what about the people in front of you? Is there someone hurting in your family that you are ignoring? Do you have loving conversations about things that matter with those close to you, or do you just argue politics? Is there anyone in your life who could use a phone call or a note of kindness?

Moreover, are there any people suffering in your community? Perhaps a neighbor who needs her driveway plowed? What about the schoolmate whose father was deported to Mexico just because of his “illegal” status? What about the homeless men and women who are standing in the cold asking for money?

God, through His prophets, goes on and on about the same things, all of which can be summed up in the commandment that Jesus gives us: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself (cf Mt 22:37-40). The prophet Amos (the first prophet to the Israelites) is quoted in today’s Gospel acclamation: Seek good and not evil so that you may live, and the Lord will be with you. This simple message is as true now as it was then. Isaiah makes it clear that we are to ease the suffering of others in whatever way we can. We fast for the sake of attunement to those in need — by denying ourselves we will become better able to accompany others. We fast with them. That which we deny ourselves we give to them.

Is that not what Jesus, our bridegroom, did for us — giving His earthly life so that we might have eternal life?

Pope Francis: Adore the Lord

Yesterday during the Sunday Angelus, as Pope Francis taught on the principle commandment of the Divine Law, (“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”), he says that prayer in Adoration is the best way to express our personal love for God.  We are already pretty good at offering thanks and interceding, but adoration sometimes takes a back seat.

Why would he emphasize this?

I think the Holy Father is trying to convey two things:

1) Adoration alone gives God His due worship, and adoration is for the sake of loving.  When we approach the Lord in faith for the purpose of loving Him a new dimension is added to our prayers of blessing, thanksgiving, praise, and supplication. “Adoration is the first attitude of man acknowledging that he is a creature before his Creator…Adoration of the thrice-holy and sovereign God of love blends with humility and gives assurance to our supplications” (CCC 2628). An analogy can be made in terms of time and space: a picture drawn on a piece of paper provides a two dimensional representation.  A third dimension is added in a sculpture with clay.  In essence, adoration adds depth to our prayer; we are loving God for the sake of loving Him.

2) To add even another dimension there is another commandment: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. This would be like adding movement (change in time) to our picture or clay model. Love of neighbor consists in closeness, in caring, in sharing — a going out of oneself. Love of neighbor requires a listening heart, and a willingness to spend time with others.  The Holy Father challenges us about how we spend our time: are we looking at our watches (or our phones) when we should be listening to others? (I am guilty). Further, do we care so much about the time when we are gossiping or criticizing?  

This is not love!  Not of our neighbor, nor of ourselves.

Lord, convert my heart.  May I be teachable.

Our neighbor is an image of God.  We can adore the presence of God who lives in our neighbor by our attention, closeness, and prayer. The Holy Father reminds us that the wellspring of love is God himself. We are called to be in communion with His love in every moment, adoring His presence within us through loving our neighbor, in whom He is also present. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14:23).

The Pope tells us that Jesus’ divine mercy calls us to begin anew each day! 

Lord, make it so.

Living Sacramentally.

I am back to readings reflections. In the first reading yesterday we hear from St. Paul, who is speaking about the “collection for the saints,” which is the collection for the suffering Church in Jerusalem. This is his reminder to the churches that we are part of a greater Church, the Church of Jesus Christ. We are His body, and as such, we are called to nourish every part of it. Everything we have and everything we are comes from the Lord. It is fitting to give back to Him in gratitude.

St. Paul is adept at using old proverbs to teach the lesson of generosity: “…whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor 9:6b; cf. Prov 22:9). Jesus, of course, is the original teacher of this lesson, (whether as the Word who has spoken from eternity or the Incarnate Word who dwells among us!) St. Paul speaks of giving according to the heart, and out of the love that we have for one another.

What (or Who) is the Source of this love?

It is the unending love by which all creation exists, and only one part of Creation is capable of returning this love in gratitude — man. The love of God freely flows into the hearts of His people for the purpose of freely flowing forward into life and abundance. For Jesus said, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). St. Paul is reminding the Corinthians, and us, that all we have is from God in the first place! There is nothing…nothing…that is good, true, and beautiful…that is not foreseen or given by the Father. Paul quotes Psalm 112 to make this point: “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever” (Ps 112:9). He further makes the point and tells us of the necessary response of gratitude: “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Cor 9:13). Charity, ultimately, is giving back the gifts we have already been given. It is by grace that these gifts multiply.

The idea of “many thanksgivings” should cause us to think of the Sacraments, and in particular, the Eucharist. As we receive the Sacraments we receive the life of God — His grace — in abundance, and we continue to grow in grace upon grace. “For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16).

I once asked a young person in my life, “Why do you think I go to Mass?”

“Because you have to; it is a rule that you choose to follow,” he said.

“Oh no,” I said. “It is because I want to. What we are doing when we go to Mass is giving of ourselves, our life, our time that has been given to us, back to the Lord, and He, in turn, gives us Himself in His Word and in His holy food. This food sustains me. It gives me life!”

Grace upon grace. That is what it is all about. A gift of the heart — given from the heart and received in the heart.

God continues to give Himself through the Sacraments (but not exclusively so), so that we can live in the freedom to truly love. When Jesus gave us the Great Commission to unleash the Gospel (cf. Mt 28:19), He called us to do the same. We are called to give of ourselves, sacramentally, to others. We are to be a visible sign of an invisible reality: Christ living within us. There are the actual Sacraments of the Church, through which God gives us life and love, and it is by this life and love that we, too, give others life and love. Our sacramental giving and receiving with Jesus is His means of sharing His life and love with the whole world, resulting in joy-filled gratitude!

This is the Sacramental worldview that we so need today. The Good News is that God has planted Himself into the hearts of His people, by our creation. We are made in His image and likeness, which means that His goodness is within us. If this were not true, then no one would ever turn back to Him. God is asking each one of us to share His love with others, that by our example, we can be a sacrament to others — a sign of His eternal love for the entire world.

He tell us this through the prophet Isaiah: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is 55:10-11).

See this adorable film clip from the movie, Hook. See how the little boys search carefully for the Peter Pan they once knew — the spark of innocence and joy. (Be like little children). We are to search for Christ in others the same way the little boys search for Peter Pan in Robin Williams’ character, Peter. (May he rest in peace in the arms of the Lord Jesus!)

https://youtu.be/EMIAIJg9Ftg