This Sunday we will hear a story that centers on the need to change our own hearts before we demand the conversion of others.
Jesus is confronted by some religious leaders who bring before him a woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11).
They start quizzing Jesus. “What should we do with her?”
But the quiz has a “catch” to it.
They are testing Jesus “so as to bring a charge against him.” They want to be rid of him.
If Jesus answers that the woman ought to be stoned to death, which was the penalty for adultery under Mosaic law, he would be challenging the Roman authorities. The Romans had banned executions without their authority or approval.
If Jesus answers that she not be punished under the penalties imposed by Mosaic law, then Jesus sets himself up in opposition to what Moses prescribed.
So it’s a trap.
But Jesus uses the trap to unmask the hypocrisy of these pious frauds.
These guys are using this woman as a pawn in their scheme to discredit Jesus.
They don’t care about her, or about justice or the even well-being of whatever marriage has been violated.
The leaders are using the woman as a chess-piece.
If they had even a modicum of interest in justice wouldn’t her male accomplice be under scrutiny too? (It did say, she was caught in the act of adultery, didn’t it? The law required the same penalty be meted out to both. But this guy is nowhere to be found. How convenient!)
So Jesus says, “Hey, put down your stones!” Start scrutinizing your own heart before you throw stones of condemnation at others. This whole situation you’re presenting is corrupt and rotten to the core.
Jesus must have really hit a chord.
The gospel tells us that the religious leaders went way, beginning with eldest.
(Maybe the older ones realized that with the accumulation of years, they had more “scrutinizing” and soul-searching to do.)
The woman is left alone with Jesus. He tells her to stop sinning. “Don’t do this again.”
Just as importantly he tells her: “Neither do I condemn you.” In doing so, he saves her life. And, he gives this woman a new lease on life.
Let’s pray that Jesus’ provocative and courageous actions would inspire us: and accept the simple truth that God, and only God, will be the ultimate judge of every life and of every heart.
In the meantime we can put down the stones of condemnation and redouble our efforts at healing and reconciling whatever is broken in our lives and the lives that cross our path each day.
For more aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos.
This Sunday’s gospel is the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32). Most folks are familiar will this parable about a Father and his two sons.
The younger son asks for his inheritance and then wastes the money to the point of starvation. The Father compassionately welcomes him back. The “dutiful” stay-at-home elder son protests the welcome given to the younger son. At the end of the story, one wonders whether the older brother will be reconciled with the merciful Father.
Jesus addressed this parable to religious people who disliked Jesus’ table fellowship with “sinners.”
Here are some details about the story
that might help to hear it with ‘new ears”
this coming Sunday. *
In Jesus’ time, fathers were discouraged from distributing inheritance during their lifetime. But if he did , a father was still entitled to live off the proceeds while he lived. The younger son acts shamefully, effectively wishing the father were dead. That the father did not explode and discipline on the spot testifies to the depth of his love. The elder son is no better. Instead of protesting the inappropriate property division and refusing his share, he accepts it (v. 12). And he makes no effort to reconcile his father and brother as culture demanded he should. His behavior is equally shameful.
The younger brother sinks deeper into shame. Losing his money to non-Judeans through wasteful spending makes things worse. He begins to starve. He tries to leech on to a wealthy patron who assigns him a repulsive job of feeding pigs. (Remember, pigs are considered unclean animals in the Jewish tradition.)
Still he starves. The carob pods fed to the pigs were the wild variety with bitter berries, nauseating and insufficiently nourishing to humans.
Coming to his senses, the younger son resolves return home to become a “hired servant” of his father. He is willing to accept the shameful fact that the village will disown, reject and physically abuse him for taking his dad’s inheritance and before his death and then losing it to Gentiles. Nonetheless, the younger son judges this a small price to pay for life and food.
The father acts in a way that is shocking for the culture of the time. He runs (very inappropriate for an elder) the gauntlet the village has prepared for the returning wayward son. He publicly forgives the son by kissing him on the cheeks, and heals the broken relationship between them. The best robe is certainly the Father’s. It will guarantee the son’s acceptance by the community at the banquet. The signet ring indicates enormous trust. The sandals are a sign of being a free man in the house, not a servant. (Servants and slaves did not wear sandals.) Killing the calf means the entire village will be invited and prodded toward forgiveness. This size animal can feed over 100 people.
Instead of honoring his father by accepting his brother and playing his appropriate role as chief host at the meal, the elder son publicly insults and humiliates his father (vv. 28-30). The insults are jarring: he addresses his father without a respectful title; he speaks of himself as a “slave” and not a son (v29); he accuses the father of favoritism (him a calf, me not even a goat!); he refuses to acknowledge his brother (“this son of yours”; he invents the claim that his brother lived with prostitutes.
In effect, this elder son’s heart has always been elsewhere. He too wishes his Father were already dead.
Once again the father replies to the wayward son with love and acts of self-humiliation. He returns insult with an endearing “my child…” He assures him that his inheritance remains intact, and he invites the elder son to join the festivities.
Here the parable ends rather abruptly. What will the elder son do? That is the question the Pharisees and scribes and the modern believer must answer. This is really the story of two lost sons. One was lost, but found. The other… well, we just don’t know…
This Sunday is called LAETARE SUNDAY. It is the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we reach the mid-point of the Lenten season. The Mass vestments this Sunday are rose colored, rather than the usual Lenten purple.
The custom dates back to the Middle Ages when the Pope carried a single rose in his right hand when returning from Mass on this Sunday. At the time, the rose was a symbol of Christ due to both its being beautiful and yet being covered with thorns. The Pope’s carrying a rose was a visual reminder that the celebration of Christ’s Passion is not far off. Soon we will experience the beauty and the suffering (thorns) of Christ’s love for us.
While the Pope’s custom was abandoned, the symbolism continues through the rose colored vestments worn at Mass.
Holy Week and Easter are not far off. But it isn’t too late to make this Lenten season a time of personal renewal. Remember, the word “Lent” comes from the old English word for” springtime.” During this season, the liturgy invites us to experience a “springtime” from within, a new beginning within our souls. How will your spirit be renewed to embrace the joys and challenges of 2016?
For more aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos, plus a stay-at-home mini retreat.
Welcome to this Lenten Mini Retreat of self-examination and discovery:
“The Journey Within: Seeing Ourselves in the Eyes of God by Following the Path of Jesus”
This retreat consists of an hour-long presentation of word and song. It is broken up into sections and features several short videos. You do not need to do the entire retreat in one sitting. In fact, I recommend that you do a portion each day over several days so that the lessons really sink in.
You will need three additional items in order to participate in this retreat:
I present this retreat to show that by following our Lord’s example we find that the journey of self-discovery is not a self-indulgent act but one of love, towards ourselves and our Creator. It is an act of humility where we come face to face with the ugly truths and weaknesses in our lives and give them over to God. It is a fruitful action, empowering us with the confidence and vision to carry out the wonderful life plan that God has given to us.
This presentation is drawn from chapter 6 my book, River of Grace. You will be led on a rich journey where you begin to see yourself as God’s beloved child, fearfully and wonderfully made with a glorious mission to fulfill.
Listen to Part One of this retreat–it is the longest segment, lasting approximately 34 minutes:
a. Watch the video:
2. Listen to Part Two (3 minutes, 55 seconds):
a. Watch the video:
3. Listen to Part Three (6 minutes, 35 seconds):
a. Watch the video and sing along:
4. Listen to Part Four (1 minute, 50 seconds):
a. Watch the video:
5. Listen to Part Five (1 minute, 41 seconds):
a. Watch the video and sing/pray along:
6. Listen to the last portion, Part Six (13 minutes, 1 second):
I hope you have enjoyed this mini retreat–perhaps it will lead to a lifelong habit of self-discovery. Remember always to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and follow every footstep of his path.
I had a theology professor who would often say, “When preparing your Sunday homily, you should have the New York Times in one hand and your Bible in the other.” His point was that good preacher connects his message with what is happening in the world around us.
Good preaching addresses the issues that people are thinking and talking about.
This Sunday’s gospel is presents Jesus as an outstanding preacher (Luke 13:1-9). He uses recent events in the news to help illustrate his message about God.
Apparently there had been a deadly massacre near the temple in Jerusalem. Also, some workers at a construction project were killed when the tower they were building collapsed. (In today’s terms we might think of a mass shooting or of the recent crane collapse in New York City.)
Many people in the time of Jesus believed that disasters and tragedies were signs of God’s anger against sinful individuals or people. They thought that these terrible events were “punishments” sent by God.
“Nonsense!” Jesus says. Neither good fortune nor calamity are indicators of one’s favor or disfavor with God. In other words, good and bad things can happen to anyone. However, in the future, God will judge the hearts of every soul, regardless of their situation in life.
(Some people aren’t going like this Sunday’s gospel. People who like to believe that tragedies that befall individuals are “punishments” from heaven might get a bit uncomfortable. Jesus’ words will challenge their thinking. Hopefully they won’t walk out of Mass.)
Jesus then tells a story about a fig tree—a fig tree that doesn’t bear any fruit. Stubborn tree!
Nonetheless, the vinedresser patiently nurtures, waters and cares for the tree—patiently hoping that it will bear fruit.
The point of the story is that God is merciful. And God never stops planting, in our lives, opportunities to start over, to try again, to rework things, to move beyond our hurt and pain and make things right.
Every day, God’s mercy is constantly giving us a “second chance.” God is the patient gardener waiting for every “fig tree” to harvest.
Mindful that our life in this world is brief, will we accept the Divine Gardener’s daily grace?
The ultimate tragedy would be to have rejected all the opportunities.
For more aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos.
Lent is already well underway but perhaps you are still in need of ideas for your reflection. Click on any of the images below for blog posts, songs, videos podcast presentations and Flow Lesson exercises to enhance your Lenten experience:
Do you have a particular spiritual practice that helps you draw closer to God? Please feel free to leave a comment and share–we can all use new suggestions!
And please–feel free to share on your social media:
This Sunday’s gospel tells us that Jesus led Peter, James and John up a high mountain (Luke 9:28-26) to pray. Apparently the three disciples got a bit sleepy, however. (Maybe all that mountain climbing was tiring.)
Nonetheless, we’re told that “becoming fully awake,” they got to see Jesus in a new light.
They “saw” him in a way they never before experienced. And, a voice beckoned them to “Listen, to my chosen Son.”
Words will never adequately describe what Peter, James and John experienced that day.
These three “students” of Jesus probably couldn’t grasp the meaning of it all either. It would take some time to take it all in.
But this much is sure: They “woke up;” they became fully awake and were able to “see” Christ in a new way.
The Church in her wisdom has told this story at the beginning of Lent for centuries.
Why? Because Lent should be about “waking up” and seeing things (especially our faith) in a “new way.”
Where in life might we possibly be “snoozing” and unaware of what’s really going on?
And while the gospel doesn’t give a quick “wake up” remedy, it does imply that opening our eyes will involve moving beyond our comfort zones—like the strenuous workout of a mountain climb.
–You need to get to the mountain top in order to appreciate the view and “take in” the vista. (Usually not much of a “view” at the comfy lodge at the foot of the mountain!)
“Seeing in a new way,” is the fruit of prayer. If prayer is stretching our hearts and minds to see things as God sees them, then prayer will push us beyond our ourselves and challenge us to look at the bigger picture of our lives and the world. Prayer will dare us to gaze even into the “beyond” of eternity.
Oh, and another thing: We tell this story because, sometimes we “snooze,” the wider Church snoozes too.
The Church, in all her structures and organizations, during Lent, is being challenged to “become fully awake” and listen more attentively to Christ.
So, what have you chosen to do for Lent this year?
Whatever it is, do you think it will “wake you up” to life? (If it don’t think it will, there’s still time to change what you’ve chosen.)
Alert to what’s happening around us, may we hear Christ calling us to be bold visionaries for life’s journey.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday is the story of the tempting (or testing) of Christ in the desert wilderness (Luke 4:1-13).
We’re told that after his baptism in the Jordan River but before undertaking his public ministry, that Jesus fasted for 40 days.
After his fast, he was tempted.
Luke describes three temptations:
To give into thinking that the needs of the body are all that matter;
To worship something or someone other than God (idolatry);
To try to manipulate or to control God.
The three temptations can be stated in another way: We can be tempted into believing that our bodily or physical needs are all always the most important, or the only ones. (And yet, we know that the world is full of well-fed, full-bellied, in-shape people who experience life as meaningless and without purpose. The soul matters.).
Forms of idolatry
We can be tempted into making our work, our popularity, or money, our possessions, or a whole host of other things, the center and goal of our lives. (But this is simply a form of idolatry. God calls us to a more abundant path of love. But God sets the priorities along the path. We neither invent nor determine them.).
Trying to control God
Finally, we can be tempted into trying to manipulate God into serving our purposes. (“I’m a good person, I go to church, I give to the poor. But I smoke 2 packs of cigarettes a day. I’m sure God will take care of my health and protect me from any illnesses. “I know my son drinks excessively and drives. But I put a Miraculous medal on the dashboard. I’m sure he’ll be fine.” Oh really?)
In the wilderness, (and at other times in his ministry) Jesus was tempted in ways similar to these.
All are tested
What we can forget is that this story is the story of every Christian. In the wilderness of the world, each of us has and will be tested. Sometimes we resist, sometimes we fail.
And, what’s more: In every age, the Church has been tempted in these ways. And in every generation, the Church resists and the Church succumbs to the temptations. That’s because the Church is made up of imperfect, sometimes weak people, like us.
Temptations are part of our journey through life. The Gospel on Sunday tells us that there would be more ahead for Jesus. (That’s the last line of the Gospel!) Doing what is right is sometimes a struggle; even like an inner battle of sorts. Temptations can teach us a lot about ourselves too.
But God’s Spirit leads us, as it did Jesus.
Pray to resist evil
We pray that this same Spirit would impart the grace to resist what is evil. When we fail, may the Spirit lift us and give us what we need to mend what we have broken or injured.
Above all else, may that Spirit give us vision to see beyond the wilderness of this imperfect, broken world.
Eyes to see that eternal, undying Easter, where God’s love has triumphed over our every test.
The word “Lent” is derived from the old English word for “springtime.”
The word gives us a clue as to what Lent is all about.
Lent is about a “springtime” and rebirth of new life.
It is not so much a season in the external world but a season of renewal and new life within individuals, relationships and communities. Lent is about Christ calling you to springtime (new life) within yourself! Lent is the Church’s springtime.
On Ash Wednesday, ashes are placed on the foreheads of Christians.
Ashes evoke death and mortality. But ashes are also used as a cleansing agent and as fertilizer for gardens. We begin our journey of Lent by reminding ourselves of the fragility of life and of own mortality. As the old proverb goes: “No one really starts to live until he or she squarely faces death.”
Lent lasts 40 days.
The number 40 calls to mind the 40 days of rain during Noah’s flood, when evil was drowned and earth was washed clean. It calls to mind the 40 years the Hebrew people journeyed in the wilderness to the promised land. Also, Moses, Elijah and Jesus are said to have fasted 40 days to prepare them for their mission. The days of Lent are often compared to a journey. That means that at the end of Lent we should expect to find ourselves somewhere different from where we started.
Lent is not just about “trying harder” or “giving up.”
Lent is about re-awakening the presence of God in our lives. It invites us to “spring clean” our lives: throw out the rubbish and reclaim the spirit within that appreciates being alive; letting go of the “junk” that gets in the way of loving in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
Here is a song of mine you can pray with as you enter into Lent called “Lead Me to the Wilderness.”
Some ways we can observe Lent:
Fast from TV and computer.
Television and electronic devices now absorb 40% of our free time. Take some of that time back and use it with your family or be with your friends. Go to a meeting or group where your voice needs to be heard on behalf of children, the mentally ill, the rights of the unborn, poor families, or those dealing with addictions. Volunteer where you are needed.
Fast from eating on the run.
Make eating together a priority during Lent. When we eat together, more than food passes between us. We share our lives, difficulties and delights. We create bonds and strengthen relationships. Commit to eating with others at least twice a week. Invite people who might otherwise eat alone to share lunch or dinner with you.
Fast on Fridays.
Catholics are enjoined to abstain from meat on Fridays. The point is not to simply substitute jumbo shrimp or Maine Lobster for steak! (What sacrifice is there in that? C’mon now!) The point is to eat a simple meal by subtracting the meat part. Then take the monies saved and give to an organization that helps fight hunger or one that feeds the hungry like the St. John’s Food Pantry. Vegetarians can join in by eating more simply and donating what is saved to a relief agency.
Simplify your Life.
Do you have more clothes than you need? Is your attic or basement full of unused stuff? Are your children’s closets brimming with unused toys and games? Consider cleaning out part of your home and donating the unused stuff to a local charity as a Lenten project for your family. The Saint Vincent de Paul Society in Worcester accepts used clothing. The Urban Missionaries of the Poor in Worcester will use unwanted furniture to assist needy families. (Think of this: there is a scientific connection between “clutter” in your home and your stress level. De-cluttering can be a first step in de-stressing your life. There is peace in simplifying. What a wonderful way to observe Lent.)
Make life more welcoming to others . Visit a shut-in or are an elderly relative or neighbor. Offer some time to helping a family or an individual dealing with a personal loss. Run some errands for someone who can’t get out of the house. Drive someone to their doctor’s appointment. Walk the Stations of the Cross in church. While walking, think about a person who is carrying a heavy cross in life. Let that person know you are praying for them.
Examine your Consciousness.
At some point each day sit still. Turn off the devices. Tune out the noise. Breathe in, and breathe out. Allow yourself to be still for a while. Savor the quietness. Ask yourself how God may have been teaching you something this day. What have I learned today? Do any regrets surface that I could act upon? Am I holding on to any negativity? What am I grateful for? What could I change within myself to face tomorrow with more energy and hope? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you with this.
Give to a spouse, a child or a friend 15-30 minutes of undivided attention. No cell phone interruptions. No texting. Make no comments, positive or negative; give no advice. Just give the gift of listening. Ask questions to clarify only. Attentive listening can help a person sort out a problem or recognize a desire or a direction by simply hearing it aloud. Pray regularly for the grace to be a good listener.
Reflect and learn.
Take the time to reflect on the scriptures proclaimed at Mass. Participate in a Bible Study. Or, go to www.sacredspace.ie for a daily reflection on the scripture from your computer. Or, read a bestselling book likeMy Life With the Saints orJesus: A Pilgrimage both by James Martin. Or, take some of the Lenten materials available in the vestibule of the church and use them daily. Participate in our Jewish Passover Seder Meal on March 6th and learn about the Jesus’ faith and the Jewish roots of our Catholic Mass and understand the Mass more deeply
The media bombards us daily with images of violence and corruption. Entertainment is often focused on what is most “shocking” in order to attract attention. Have you neglected to incorporate “beauty” into your daily regimen? Go to a lecture, hear a concert, see a play, visit a museum. Gaze upon the beauty of human creativity. Go outside. Take weekly or daily walks and look around..really look around. Take in the beauty of creation. Be grateful for being able to take it in. Sit quietly in church. Look at the beauty of the artwork. Think about all the people that have prayed there before you. Open the hymnal before Mass. Prayerfully read the lyrics of the hymns for Mass. They are inspired poetry. What might they be saying to us? Go to Saint Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer and listen to calming chant of the monks there.
These are but a few ideas on what you might incorporate into your Lenten practice this year.
Everyone is in a different place in life. So the practice will be different for each person.
What matters is that we dare to do something that will open us more deeply to the presence of God and the gift of life so that we may grow more deeply in faith, hope and love.
If we have grown, even a little, to live in the Spirit of Jesus our Lenten ‘springtime” will not have been in vain.
It’s here. The Christmas season. How does this make you feel?
Is it excitement as in days of old when you were a child?
Or, is it long to-do lists that never end? Shopping till we drop? Noise and chaos and endless obligations that make us tired and cranky while all the while we are told to be “merry?”
Is it dread, trying to stretch limited financial resources to fulfill gift obligations? Is it regret, frustration and guilt that we cannot buy what we wish for our loved ones?
Is it loneliness? Are we missing someone, loved ones who have died or moved away? Do we feel empty, sad or bitter?
The Christmas season evokes powerful memories and emotions, magnifying every joy as well as all the hurt, disappointment and loss we have experienced in our lives. Our reaction to any unattended and festering wounds will be visited upon everyone around us, especially those we love.
Tucked away in the midst of all this is a liturgical season often overlooked: Advent. It is the antithesis of a chaotic, noisy commercial Christmas; a soothing and sanguine contrast to a season clouded by wounds and losses. Advent does not look mournfully to the past; it draws our attention to a hopeful future while being firmly rooted in the here and now.
Advent features the key players of our faith: Mary, Joseph and of course, Jesus Christ. It features some of the most moving and poetic passages from the Bible–prophesies of old heralding the coming of the Messiah as the shoot of Jesse, filled with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and of strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord (from Isaiah 11).
It documents the greatest act of obedience in history when a young virgin accepts the invitation from God to bear his Son. That obedience is not an onerous “do not” but a joyful “I do!” as evidenced by Mary’s rushing to the side of her kinswoman Elizabeth (thought barren yet pregnant) and spontaneously praising God with her and the babes in their wombs in the exquisite prayer of the Magnificat.
It illustrates sublime acts of trust, surrender, generosity and courage in Joseph who fully embraces the responsibility of taking Mary to be his wife despite the fact that she is carrying a child not his own. Going against the grain of longstanding tradition and enduring the naysayers, he knows there is a bigger picture to consider: Mary’s child is God’s Son. And he makes room for them.
So how does all of this help to sooth frazzled nerves, heal the wounds of Christmases past and fill empty and grieving hearts?
I can’t say how specifically. I only know that each year as I focus on Advent and turn away from a commercial Christmas, I have felt that soothing, that healing. My empty heart is filled.
I still grieve for loved ones. I still struggle with squeezing out the last dollar. I still battle with a heart that is small (although it is growing). I only know that the other day when I went to the Christmas Tree shop to finish off a gift basket for church, I felt serene, even enjoying the experience. To me, the Christmas Tree shop is the quintessential representation of a frazzled, noisy, chaotic commercial Christmas. And yet I felt deep contentment.
It’s the fruit of Advents past, reflecting on the readings, listening to the music, and looking to Mary and Joseph as the examples. Philippians 4:8 sums it up perfectly: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (NIV)
Immersion into the refuge of Advent has healed my Christmas.