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Revelation

Ἡ Καινὴ Διαθήκη

Josephus
(Menu)
Who was Josephus?
Maps, Graphics
Highlights
Translation

THE JEWISH WAR
War, Volume 1
War, Volume 2
War, Volume 3
War, Volume 4
War, Volume 5
War, Volume 6
War, Volume 7

THE ANTIQUITIES
Ant. Jud., Bk 1
Ant. Jud., Bk 2
Ant. Jud., Bk 3
Ant. Jud., Bk 4
Ant. Jud., Bk 5
Ant. Jud., Bk 6
Ant. Jud., Bk 7
Ant. Jud., Bk 8
Ant. Jud., Bk 9
Ant. Jud., Bk 10
Ant. Jud., Bk 11
Ant. Jud., Bk 12
Ant. Jud., Bk 13
Ant. Jud., Bk 14
Ant. Jud., Bk 15
Ant. Jud., Bk 16
Ant. Jud., Bk 17
Ant. Jud., Bk 18
Ant. Jud., Bk 19
Ant. Jud., Bk 20

OTHER WRITINGS
Apion, Bk 1
Apion, Bk 2
Autobiog.


Apocrypha
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Introduction

Gospel of--
-- Nicodemus
-- Peter
-- Ps-Matthew
-- James (Protevangelium)
-- Thomas (Infancy)
-- Thomas (Gnostic)
-- Joseph of Arimathea
-- Joseph_Carpenter
Pilate's Letter
Pilate's End

Apocalypse of --
-- Ezra
-- Moses
-- Paul
-- Pseudo-John
-- Moses
-- Enoch

Various
Clementine Homilies
Clementine Letters
Clementine Recognitions
Dormition of Mary
Book of Jubilees
Life of Adam and Eve
Odes of Solomon
Pistis Sophia
Secrets of Enoch
Tests_12_Patriarchs
Veronica's Veil
Vision of Paul
Vision of Shadrach

Acts of
Andrew
Andrew & Matthias
Andrew & Peter
Barnabas
Bartholomew
John
Matthew
Paul & Perpetua
Paul & Thecla
Peter & Paul
Andrew and Peter
Barnabas
Philip
Pilate
Thaddaeus
Thomas in India

Daily Word 2018

SEASONS of:
Advent
Christmastide
Lent
Eastertide

SUNDAYS, Year A
Sundays, 1-34, Year A
SUNDAYS, Year B
Sundays, 1-34, Year B
SUNDAYS, Year C
Sundays, 1-34, Year C

WEEKDAYS
(Ordinary Time)
Weeks 1-11 (Year 1)
Weeks 1-11 (Year 2)
Wks 12-22 (Year 1)
Wks 12-22 (Year 2)
Wks 23-34 (Year 1)
Wks 23-34 (Year 2)

OTHER
Solemnities
Baptisms
Weddings
Funerals
Saints Days

Patristic
(Menu)


Clement of Rome

Ignatius of Antioch

Polycarp of Smyrna

Barnabas,(Epistle of)

Papias of Hierapolis

Justin, Martyr

The Didachë

Irenaeus of Lyons

Hermas (Pastor of)

Tatian of Syria

Theophilus of Antioch

Diognetus (letter)

Athenagoras of Alex.

Clement of Alexandria

Tertullian of Carthage

Origen of Alexandria



Mass Readings for Lent

Year A

1st Sunday of Lent

2nd Sunday of Lent

3rd Sunday of Lent

4th Sunday of Lent

5th Sunday of Lent

Palm Sunday

Holy Thursday

Year B

1st Sunday of Lent

2nd Sunday of Lent

3rd Sunday of Lent

4th Sunday of Lent

5th Sunday of Lent

Palm Sunday

Holy Thursday

Year C

1st Sunday of Lent

2nd Sunday of Lent

3rd Sunday of Lent

4th Sunday of Lent

5th Sunday of Lent

Palm Sunday

Holy Thursday

Weekdays of Lent

Ash Wednesday *** Thursday after A.W. *** Friday after A.W. *** Saturday after A.W.

Week 1

Monday, Week 1
Tuesday, Week 1
Wednesday, Week 1
Thursday, Week 1
Friday, Week 1
Saturday, Week 1

Week 2

Monday, Week 2
Tuesday, Week 2
Wednesday, Week 2
Thursday, Week 2
Friday, Week 2
Saturday, Week 2

Week 3

Monday, Week 3
Tuesday, Week 3
Wednesday, Week 3
Thursday, Week 3
Friday, Week 3
Saturday, Week 3

Week 4

Monday, Week 4
Tuesday, Week 4
Wednesday, Week 4
Thursday, Week 4
Friday, Week 4
Saturday, Week 4

 

Week 5

Monday, Week 5
Tuesday, Week 5
Wednesday, Week 5
Thursday, Week 5
Friday, Week 5
Saturday, Week 5

Holy Week

Monday of Holy Week
Tuesday of Holy Week
Wednesday of Holy Week
Holy Thursday
Good Friday


NEXT

Ash Wednesday, Year A

1st Reading: Joel (2:12-18)

Return to me with all your heart. Spare your people, Lord

"Now, now," says the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments."

Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil. Who knows whether he will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, a cereal offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God?

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants.

Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, "Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, `Where is their God?'" Then the Lord became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 51)

R./: Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we have sinned

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offence.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin. (R./)

My offences truly I know them;
my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned:
what is evil in your sight I have done. (R./)

A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit. (R./)

Give me again the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervour sustain me.
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise. (R./)

2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians (5:20 -- 6:2)

Do not receive the grace of God in vain

We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, "At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you." See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

Gospel: Matthew (6:1-6, 16-18)

Your Father who sees in secret will reward you

Jesus said to his disciples, "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

BIBLE

A time of cleansing and holy desire

As we receive the ashes on our foreheads, we remember the purpose of Lent: it is an exercise in cleansing and holy desire, helped by some penitential practices: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We begin this season by receiving ashes on our foreheads, as a cross. Lent lasts forty days in imitation of the time Jesus spent in the desert before starting his public ministry. What is the purpose of Lent? It is to prepare us for a more effective involvement in our vocation as Christians.

"The entire Christian life," said St Augustine, "is an exercise of holy desire." He does not say that we should annihilate our normal, human desires, but we should raise and purify them. Our desires are far too small if we look for fulfilment only in what this world offers by way of transient satisfactions, but God wants us to have so much morehis very Self. During Lent we seek to tune in to higher desiresour longing for God. In today's Gospel Jesus shows the way: prayer, fasting and almsgiving, the classic Lenten practices.

Of these, prayer has first place. Our eternity will be an eternal relationship with the living God in the Communion of Saints. That relationship begins in this lifeor it does not begin at all. Our main prayer is by sharing in the Mass, the loving sacrifice of Christ which opens heaven to us. Prayer is the foundation of our friendship with God, and it opens the way to eternal life.

Fasting is somewhat more tricky for us today. While we should certainly enjoy food and the conviviality that often accompanies a good meal, we should also find a place for fasting. The goal of Lenten fasting is not to have a sleek body one can be proud of. Some saints were quite corpulent, others were virtual skeletons, but they had this in common: They practiced voluntary self-denial in order to sharpen their appetite for God.

All of us resonate in some way to the ideal of almsgiving. Lent is good time to rid ourselves of some of the clutter in our life. With a bit more vision, could we perhaps do more to serve the needy, not so that people will consider us generous, but to imitate God's generosity to us?

Finally, St Augustine speaks of cleansing as a necessary condition for the exercise of holy desire: "This will be effective only to the extent that we free ourselves from infatuation with this world. Like the example I have used already, of filling an empty container. God means to fill each of you with what is good; so cast out what is bad! If he wishes to fill you with honey and you are full of sour wine, where is the honey to go? The vessel must be emptied of its contents and then be cleansed."


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Thursday after Ash Wednesday

1st Reading: Deuteronomy ((30:15-20)

A warm call to fidelity. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live!

Keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.

But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 1)

R./: Happy are they who hope in the Lord

Blessed are they who who follow not
   the counsel of the wicked
Nor walk in the way of sinners,
   nor sit in the company of the insolent,
But delight in the law of the Lord
   and meditate on his law day and night. (R./)

They are is like a tree
   planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
   and whose leaves never fade.
   Whatever they do will prosper. (R./)

Not so the wicked, not so;
   they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
For the Lord watches over the way of the just,
   but the way of the wicked vanishes.
Blessed are they who hope in the Lord. (R./)

Gospel: Luke (9:22-25)

Jesus predicts his passion. Disciples must carry their cross daily, after him.

Jesus said to his disciples, "The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." Then he said to them all, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?"

BIBLE

Choosing Life

The Jesus who declared that his life purpose was "that they may have life, and have it to the full" (Jn 10:10) also said that his friends must share in his death and carry the cross with him. The two statements stand in paradoxical tension, but not in contradiction.
From the start of the church it has been a fixed principle that only through dying with him can we enter the fullness of life.

Deuteronomy, a book much loved and used by Jesus, presents fidelity, as the key to the future of God's people. "By walking in his ways, you shall live" it says, but if your heart turns away and you do not hear, I declare to you today that you shall perish!" In this, his final address to the people he has led out of slavery and into the Promised Land, Moses ends with the heartfelt appeal: "Choose life!"

Is self-denial old hat?

Jesus says that if we want to be his followers we have to be ready to renounce ourselves. Lent is traditionally a time for self-denial. We ask ourselves what it is we need to let go, to give up, in order to follow the Lord more closely. We all have something we need to let go off; it might be some excessive attachment that is holding us back, or some habit that is not serving us well. Self renunciation is more difficult today than in the past because we live in a culture which encourages us to indulge ourselves. We can easily think of self-renunciation as something negative. Yet, the giving up, the letting go, is always with a view to life, to living life to the full. The 1st Reading puts it very positively, "Choose life," and Jesus says in the gospel that whoever loses his life for his sake will save it. We pray this Lent that the Lord would give us the grace to keep on choosing life.

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Friday after Ash Wednesday

1st Reading: Isaiah (58:1-9)

True religion is contrasted with merely external observance

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. "Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?"

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like rushes, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 51)

R./: A humbled, contrite heart, O Lord, you will not spurn

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offence.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin. (R./)

My offences truly I know them;
my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done. (R./)

For in sacrifice you take no delight,
burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice a contrite spirit.
A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn (R./)

Gospel: Matthew (9:14-15)

Jesus predicts fasting in the future, once the bridegroom has left this world

Then the disciples of John came to Jesus, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

BIBLE

Is there any merit in fasting?

I expect that many people felt insulted when Isaiah accused them of rebelling against God. They saw themselves as devout Jews, eager in their religious practice. But the stern, uncompromising prophet pointed out that even while they fasted for religious purposes, they were still unworried about oppressing their workers. In which case, the religion they practiced was not really to please God, but to please themselves. Their ritual observance has become merely a traditional activity, something they are doing for themselves. Even on the days when they fast, they end up arguing and fighting, self-righteous and disunited. Today, we too can fall into this syndrome, putting questions of ritual, etiquette and procedure on a higher pedestal than they deserve, while leaving the substance of charity (i.e. loving service, as prescribed by Jesus, the washer of feet) on the back burner.

Many seem to limit the ideal of "walking-with-God" to something that is fulfilled in a one-day-a-week commitment, by attending church. Some will do even this only if the Mass or service be held at a time that caters entirely to their personal preferences. We become so wrapped up in our own concerns, that there is hardly time for conversing with God our Maker. But helped by the words of prophet Isaiah, perhaps we can see more clearly the penance that God offers us as a special blessing, in the blessed season of Lent. It's designed not as a time to indulge oneself, but as a time to think of others. The fast that God prescribes for us is to find the time to clothe the naked, to right injustices, to feed the hungry, and to make provision for those who have no home. It is to love my neighbour as truly as my own self. As always, the living Word is here to help and guide us.

Fasting of another kind

We normally link fasting with food. To fast is to deprive ourselves of certain foods for a period of time. But in the first reading Isaiah defines fasting more broadly. He understands it as leaving aside all those ways of relating to people that damage and oppress them and replacing such ways of relating with working for justice on behalf of those in greatest need. Isaiah seems to be saying that fasting can never be separated from that other Jewish practice that we associate with Lent, almsgiving, the sharing of our resources with others. On Ash Wednesday the gospel put before us the three great Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Isaiah reminds us today that all three stand or fall together. They are three expressions of one way of life. We cannot focus on any one to the detriment of the other two. Fasting is saying "no" to something. Isaiah reminds us that such saying "no" is always with a view to saying "yes," a "yes" that finds expression in greater service of our neighbour. Such service of others makes our prayer more acceptable to God. In the words of our first reading, "Cry, and the Lord will answer; call and he will say, "I am here".

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Saturday after Ash Wednesday

1st Reading: Isaiah (58:9-14)

If they are converted, they are blessed, with waters that never fail

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, "Here I am." If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 86)

R./: O Lord teach me your way, that I may walk in your truth

Turn your ear, O Lord, and give answer
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am faithful:
save the servant who trusts in you. (R./)

You are my God, have mercy on me, Lord,
for I cry to you all the day long.
Give joy to your servant, O Lord,
for to you I lift up my soul. (R./)

O Lord, you are good and forgiving,
full of love to all who call.
Give heed, O Lord, to my prayer
and attend to the sound of my voice. (R./)

Gospel: Luke (5:27-32)

The tax collector sits at table with Jesus, who welcomes sinners to him

After this Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up, left everything, and followed him.

Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus answered, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance."

BIBLE

Lord of the Welcomes

In Jesus we see one who loves and accepts each individual in his or her unique reality, just as life has formed us. His open acceptance of Levi as a conversation partner at dinner, and later as a trusted helper, is typical of this "Man For Others." The converted tax collector is not treated as a second-class citizen, simply for coming late into the Lord's circle of friends. How refreshing to hear Christ's warm welcome of Levi echoed in the words of pope Francis, in his call for the doors of the church to be open wide so that all may enter. Certainly Jesus believes in conversion: but he calls people to it in such a non-judgmental way, and awaits their positive response. How fully he would endorse Isaiah's conviction on this matter: "Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, "Here I am."

Isaiah offers a message that foreshadows the healing acceptance with which Jesus welcomes all who come to him. It is one of the prophet's most stirring promises, in God's own name: "Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, "Here I am." The promise that our God will always be near us, to guide us both in our actions and in our patient acceptance of what we cannot presently change, is a deep source of personal serenity. And then Isaiah adds a series of powerful metaphors, to reinforce the message of a caring God. He will make your bones strong; you shall be like a watered garden, like a flowing spring, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt. This is the kind of conviction on which a person of faith can build, and which gives full meaning to any good effort we may be making for Lent.

Mercy towards all

In this morning's gospel, the scribes and the Pharisees ask why does Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners? As far as they were concerned, to eat with tax collectors and sinners was to risk being contaminated by them. They would have argued that it was better to keep yourself separate from such people in order to preserve your moral health. However, Jesus did not share this concern. Rather than the sin of others infecting him, he knew that his goodness, God's goodness in him, would transform them. The Lord is never diminished by our failings; rather, we are always ennobled by his holiness. That is why the Lord does not separate himself from us, even when we might be tempted to separate ourselves from him, because of what we have done or failed to do. The Lord is always ready to sit with us, to share table with us, to enter into communion with us, in order that in our weakness we might draw from his strength and in our many failings we might draw from his goodness and love.


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1st Sunday of Lent

During Lent we may reflect on our Baptism as a sharing in the life of Jesus. Our growing in the image of God has an aspect of dying to self and another aspect of rising to God's new life of love. The seed of this movement or growth was planted in us when we were first reconciled to God in the grace and sacrament of our rebirth.

1st Reading: Genesis (2:7-9, 3:1-7)

The story of original sin

The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God say, "You shall not eat from any tree in the garden"?" The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, "You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die."

But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 50: 3-6, 12-14, 17)

Response: Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offence.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin. (R./)

My offences truly I know them;
my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done. (R./)

A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit. (R./)

Give me again the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervour sustain me.
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise. (R./)

2nd Reading: Romans (5:12-19

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned -- sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.

And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man's trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Gospel: Matthew (4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.""

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you," and "On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me."

Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him."" Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

BIBLE

Shun not the Struggle

A reflective way of looking at life is to see it as a struggle between sin and grace, selfishness and holiness. Our time on earth will be successful in the measure that we put aside sin and try to live by the grace of God. Today's Scriptures show two contrasting reactions to temptation. The first humans, Adam and Eve, are imagined as preferring their own inclinations to the will of God. Jesus, the Saviour, on the contrary resisted temptation, remaining faithful to what God the Father required of him. St Paul reflects on how these choices affect ourselves: Adam's sin brought trouble on all, but we are saved and offered new life because of the fidelity of Christ.

An old priest who was blind for many years before his death, liked to urge his penitents to renew their efforts with these inspirational lines:

"We are not here to play,
to dream, to drift.
We have good work to do,
and loads to lift.
Shun not the struggle.
Face it. Tis God's gift."

Temptation in one form or another is an unavoidable part of life. If we honestly examine our daily experience, we can find many aspects of temptation: impulses or tendencies counter to the right way of doing things. To rationalise away these temptations, so that they become socially acceptable and politically correctis itself an insidious temptation. We want to dictate for ourselves what is right and wrong, to draw for ourselves the boundaries of "acceptable" behaviour, unencumbered by any notional commandments of God. This is rather like Adam demanding to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Our real growth to Christian maturity comes by acknowledging and accepting the vocation of struggling against temptation, to achieve the kind of behaviour and attitudes Jesus expects. We must submit our behaviour to his gospel. Christ and Adam show the two opposite reactions in face of temptation: Adam, archetype of sinful, evasive, self-seeking humanity, finds plausible reasons to yield to it, and rebels against God's will. Jesus, archetype of the new God-seeking man, resists temptation even repeatedly. It can only be conquered by this blend of patience and loyalty, supported by trust that what God requires of us is what is best for us.

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2nd Sunday of Lent, Year A

1st Reading: Genesis (12:1-4)

Abraham shows complete obedience to God, prepared even to sacrifice Isaac

Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 32: 4-5, 18-20, 22)

R./: Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you

The word of the Lord is faithful
and all his works to be trusted.
The Lord loves justice and right
and fills the earth with his love. (R./)

The Lord looks on those who revere him,
on those who hope in his love,
to rescue their souls from death,
to keep them alive in famine. (R./)

Our soul is waiting for the Lord.
The Lord is our help and our shield.
May your love be upon us, O Lord,
as we place all our hope in you. (R./)

2nd Reading: 2 Timothy (1:8-10)

Suffering for the gospel will be repaid by our Saviour Jesus Christ

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

Gospel: Matthew (17:1-9)

Jesus transfigured on Mount Tabor prepares his apostles for his passion

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.

Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid." And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."

BIBLE

Pilgrim's Progress: Life as Journey

The years of our life pass smoothly by, each one seeming shorter than the last. We are on a journey from youth to age, from the cradle to the grave. In his dream-like poem, The Lotus Eaters, Alfred Tennyson describes a sense of weary resignation, one option we might take, in face of the passing years:

"Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast,
And in a little while our lips are dumb.
Let us alone. What is it that will last?
All things are taken from us, and become
Portions and parcels of the dreadful past."

Through eyes of faith, the passing of the years looks somewhat different. We believe our journey is going somewhere: instead of simply terminating with death (full stop, finis), we will emerge into the life of heaven (welcome, transition into God's presence.) We are pilgrims, like Abraham, moving toward the land of promise. Like St Paul, we try to deal with the problems and setbacks along the way, with the help of the Lord. And in the end, if we are faithful, we will share the total joy of joining Christ in glory, as the reward of life's pilgrimage.

Pilgrim's Progress: In our many journeys today (the age of mobility) we tend to move around a lot, without showing much signs of spiritual progress; indeed, in that respect we often appear to be going backwards. Our goals and desires are short-term, narrow, superficial. Moved by a restless urge for money, for celebrity, novelty, success and pleasure, we go round in rapid circles. But the pilgrims' sights are set on a higher destination, and like Martin Luther King they can say: "I have a dream" However far-off and hard to reach this dream may be, it is worth more than all the short-term desires we follow. Each step on the journey takes on meaning in light of the goal God sets before us.

A personal, inward journey: Our whole life can be made a pilgrimage towards God. Just as he called Abraham, so he calls each of us to be his own. His call to us is quiet but insistent. Not exactly in the form of: "leave your country and your father's house," but "leave your old ways, the pride and selfishness, the hardness of heart, the angry temper, the envy and the falsehood. And go to the land I shall show" The direction of our pilgrimage is not geographical but moral: "Go towards charity, purity, sharing in truth and prayer and good-will. Go in the way of the gospel. Go to heaven.'

Meaningful Living: Having God's command, and submitting entirely to it, made Abraham the first great pilgrim. Henceforth all his activity took on the value of obedience to God; he was on the high road towards Yahweh, the living God. The same spirit would give the deepest meaning to our lives too. Far from being absurd or useless, the pilgrim's efforts to follow the gospel of his Master are full of meaning. Progress along this way is the real formula for peace of mind. Augustine said it profoundly: You have made us for Yourself, o Lord; and our hearts can never be at rest, until they rest in You.


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3rd Sunday of Lent, Year A

1st Reading: Exodus (17:3-7)

God provides refreshes his people in the wilderness

But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?" So Moses cried out to the Lord, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me."

The Lord said to Moses, "Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink." Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?"

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 94: 1-2, 6-9)

R./: If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts

Come, ring out our joy to the Lord;
hail the rock who saves us.
Let us come before him, giving thanks,
with songs let us hail the Lord. (R./)

Come in; let us bow and bend low;
let us kneel before the God who made us
for he is our God
and we the people who belong to his pasture,
the flock that is led by his hand. (R./)

O that today you would listen to his voice!
'Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as on that day at Massah in the desert
when your fathers put me to the test;
when they tried me,
though they saw my work.' (R./)

2nd Reading: Romans (5:1-2, 5-8)

God has reconciled us through the life of Christ

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

And hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

Gospel: John (4:5-42)

Jesus offers living water, the gift of the Holy Spirit

Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, "Give me a drink," you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him, "Sir, you have no bucket, an the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?" Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."

Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back." The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, "I have no husband"; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!" The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jeusalem."

Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us." Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, "What do you want?" or, "Why are you speaking with her?" Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He canno be the Messiah, can he?" They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, "Rabbi, eat something." But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." So the disciples said to one another, "Surely no one has brought him something to eat?" Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, "Four months more, then comes the harvest"? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, "One sows and another reaps." I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour.. Others have labour.ed, and you have entered into their labour.."

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I have ever done." So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world."

BIBLE

Slaking our thirst at the fountain of life

The thirsting soul: Our need to drink regularly is obvious; without water we would quickly die. Not so easily recognized is the soul's thirst for meaning, for vision and purpose in life. We can be fully preoccupied with the surface of things, and quite neglect our spirit's obscure longing for eternal life. Like the Israelites, we worry constantly about physical needs, but are often unmindful of God who supplies them. Today, Jesus offers us the refreshing water of eternal life, a power of faith and union-with-God which is our deepest need, and can satisfy the thirst of our soul. How the desert blossoms, when water is brought to it. (We may cite dramatic examples of successful irrigation in Israel, Egypt, California.) The same miracle of growth can take place in the parched soul, if God lets his Spirit flow over me. All the ravages of doubt, fear and sin will yield to the new life of grace.

A sacramental washing: Already in baptism, the sacramental washing with water by the Christian Church was a first contact with the grace of Christ. I was given a good start, planted well in the garden of God, with room to put down roots, and draw vital nourishment from the living spring of the Saviour. Yet, I need continuing help, to keep my spirit alive and pleasing to God as life goes on. Like the desert-wandering Jews, I suffer from thirst; I grow weary in confronting problems and temptations (sketch examples) Jesus guarantees me the "living water" I need. His own Spirit is always at hand, as a force of encouragement and fidelity.

"To dwell in the house of the Lord": Our deep desire remains, something not confined to Christians but shared by the mystic tradition in other religions: namely, the yearning to come into the presence of God, and be welcomed by God. All of us are called by him to drink of that "fountain of water, springing up to everlasting life." In times of widespread religious scepticism, the hope of heaven as eternal life after death is often cast in doubt as wishful thinking. But we cling to this hope, relying on the word of Jesus. For Paul and the early Christians, the hope of eternal life breathed joy into all their efforts and sacrifices. Fidelity until death seemed well worthwhile, "for the weight of glory that will be revealed in us." Our part to play is turning aside from sin, and trying to live by the gospel. God can be absolutely relied on to fulfil his promise, and will in time satisfy the deep thirst of our spirit.


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4th Sunday of Lent, Year A

1st Reading: 1 Samuel (16:1, 6-7, 10-13)

Samuel selects and anoints young David as future king of Israel

The Lord said to Samuel, "How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons." Samuel said, "How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me." And the Lord said, "Take a heifer with you, and say, "I have come to sacrifice to the Lord." Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you."

Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, "Do you come peaceably?" He said, "Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice." And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed is now before the Lord." But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, "The Lord has not chosen any of these."

Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all your sons here?" And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here." He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, "Rise and anoint him; for this is the one." Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 22)

R./: The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want

The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures
where he gives me repose.
Near restful waters he leads me,
to revive my drooping spirit. (R./)

He guides me along the right path;
he is true to his name.
If I should walk in the valley of darkness
no evil would I fear.
You are there with your crook and your staff;
with these you give me comfort. (R./)

You have prepared a banquet for me
in the sight of my foes.
My head you have anointed with oil;
my cup is overflowing. (R./)

Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me
all the days of my life.
In the Lord's own house shall I dwell
for ever and ever. (R./)

2nd Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14)

Once you were in darkness, but now live as children of light

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light, for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."

Gospel: John (9:1-41)

Jesus, Light of the World, cures the man who was born blind

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes, saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?" Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man." But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, "Go to Siloam and wash." Then I went and washed and received my sight." They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know."

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, "He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see." Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?" And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, "What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened." He said, "He is a prophet."

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself." His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, "He is of age; ask himself."

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, "Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner." He answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" He answered them, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?" Then they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." The man answered, "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." They answered him, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?" And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him." Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him. Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind." Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, "We see," your sin remains.

BIBLE

Open the eyes of my soul, Lord

It's hard to know why Jesus went through the ritual of the spittle, the mud, and the water, in order to heal the man. He healed other blind people with a touch, or simply a word. It might well have been a test of faith. He sent the ten lepers on their way, and they were healed as they journeyed along. He sent the centurion home and, before he reached home he got word that his servant was healed. I often think that this is how Jesus heals many of us. We ask for his healing, and nothing seems to happen immediately. Maybe, after asking for his healing, we should go on our way, and expect to notice the healing taking place gradually as time goes by.

As the story unfolds, we notice that the man's eyes were really opened, and that includes the eyes of his soul. Clearly Jesus was intent on healing the total person, or not at all. We don't imagine him healing someone, and then having that person going away still filled with resentment against another. Such a person was not really healed at all. The man in today's gospel was totally healed, and he ended up on his knees, worshipping Jesus.

A practical and simple prayer is "Lord, that I may see." It is a short prayer, but when it comes from the depths of my heart, it is a powerful prayer. Remember that other blind man named Bartimeus? He was told that Jesus was passing by, and he was determined to get his attention. Those around him tried to silence him, but he shouted all the louder. And he also was cured. To another man Jesus asked the pointed question, "Do you want to be healed?'

The greatest good we can do for others is not by giving them money, though that can also be needed at times, but in revealing their own riches to them. It is good to affirm others and make them feel both loved and worthwhile. Many people have grown up with a poor self-image, and they just cannot see the good in themselves. This is another form of blindness, and it is a blindness in others that any one of us can heal. The most certain proof that the Spirit of God lives in you is your willingness and ability to affirm and bring a blessing to other people.


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5th Sunday of Lent, Year A

1st Reading: Ezekiel (37:12-14)

During the exile, God's people were like a pile of dried bones

Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act," says the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 129)

R./: With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,
Lord, hear my voice!
O let your ear be attentive
to the voice of my pleading. (R./)

If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt,
Lord, who would survive?
But with you is found forgiveness:
for this we revere you. (R./)

My soul is waiting for the Lord,
I count on his word.
My soul is longing for the Lord
more than watchman for daybreak.
(Let the watchman count on daybreak
and Israel on the Lord.) (R./)

Because with the Lord there is mercy
and fullness of redemption,
Israel indeed he will redeem
from all its iniquity. (R./)

2nd Reading: Epistle to the Romans 8:8-11)

In baptism we have died to sin, to rise to new life

Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Gospel: John (11:1-45)

Jesus's raising of Lazarus shows his divine power

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, "Lord, he whom you love is ill."

But when Jesus heard it, he said, "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again."

The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?" Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is ot in them." After saying this, he told them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him."

The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right." Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Buteven now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day."

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you." And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to wep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

BIBLE

Living life to the full

It seems a bit strange to have this gospel on the Fifth Sunday of Lent. It seems to be clearly about the resurrection and yet we are still plodding through Lent and have to get through Good Friday before we get to Easter. What's going on; have the Church's liturgical engineers got it all wrong? Can I suggest that this text is more about death than resurrection? After all, Lazarus isn't walking around today; he had to undergo another death. This text is more about our life and death here and now rather than about the resurrection. We will have time enough to consider the resurrection when we get to Easter Sunday and the weeks of celebration afterwards.

In his Spiritual Exercises St Ignatius Loyola suggests that when reading a particular Gospel passage we should put ourselves in the place of each character in turn and use our imagination to see how we would feel in those circumstances. This can be a most revealing exercise. How about putting myself in the place of Lazarus? I am dead to everything and then I hear a voice: 'Come out, Lazarus.' There I am, lying in a tomb swathed in bandages and surrounded by darkness. If we wonder how we would feel in this situation, the answer would be different for everyone but I think many might say: Thanks Lord, but I'd prefer to stay where I am.

While attempting to put ourselves imaginatively in Lazarus's place we might become aware of how tomb-like our present way of life is, and rekindle a longing for freedom which has perhaps been buried for years. Putting ourselves into the place of a character from scripture can awake all kinds of thoughts within us and lead us to turn to God in prayer with new words on our lips. Yet it is something so simple that we are surprised that we never thought about it ourselves. This Gospel features here in Lent to help us come to live life to the full; for often it is only in the face of death that we are shocked into this realisation. This can happen to us in all sorts of ways on the occasion of a loss or bereavement. It is amazing how often it takes overcoming a negative experience to make us realise afresh how much there is that is truly positive and makes life worth living.


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Palm Sunday, (Passion Sunday) Years A, B, C

1st Reading: Isaiah (50:4-7)

Words of the Suffering Servant: "I shall not be put to shame!"

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens -- wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 22)

R./: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me

All who see me scoff at me;
   they mock me with parted lips, they wag their heads:
He relied on the Lord; let him deliver him,
   let him rescue him, if he loves him. (R./)

Indeed, many dogs surround me,
   a pack of evildoers closes in upon me;
they have pierced my hands and my feet;
   I can count all my bones. (R./)

They divide my garments among them,
   and for my vesture they cast lots.
But you, O Lord, be not far from me;
   O my help, hasten to aid me. (R./)

I will proclaim your name to my brethren;
   in the midst of the assembly I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him;
   all you descendants of Jacob, give glory to him;
   revere him, all you descendants of Israel! (R./)

2nd Reading: Philippians (2:5-11)

The self-emptying of God's Servant, dying to save his people

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Gospel: Matthew (26:1427:66)

A sober Passion Narrative, focussed on the fulfilment of Scripture

Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What will you give me if I betray him to you?" They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, "The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'" So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me." And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, "Surely not I, Lord?" He answered, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born." Judas, who betrayed him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" He replied, "You have said so."

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Then Jesus said to them, "You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, "I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered." But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee." Peter said to him, "Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you." Jesus said to him, "Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." Peter said to him, "Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you." And so said all the disciples.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me." And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want." Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, "So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Again he went away for the second time and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand."

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him." At once he came up to Jesus and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him. Jesus said to him, "Friend, do what you are here to do." Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?"

At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled." Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered. But Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, "This fellow said, "I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'" The high priest stood up and said, "Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?" But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, "I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God." Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven." Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?" They answered, "He deserves death."

Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, saying, "Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?"

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, "You also were with Jesus the Galilean." But he denied it before all of them, saying, "I do not know what you are talking about." When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, "This man was with Jesus of Nazareth." Again he denied it with an oath, "I do not know the man." After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, "Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you." Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, "I do not know the man!" At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: "Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly.

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." But they said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money." After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter's field as a place to bury foreigners. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, "And they took the thirty pieces of ilver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me."

Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus said, "You say so." But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, "Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?" But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?" For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over.

While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, "Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him."

Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas." Pilate said to them, "Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?" All of them said, "Let him be crucified!" Then he asked, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Let him be crucified!" So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves." Then the people as a whole answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!" So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews."

Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, "I am God's Son.'" The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o"clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "This man is calling for Elijah." At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him." Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, "Truly this man was God's Son!"

Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and ha provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, "After three days I will rise again." Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, "He has been raised from the dead," and the last deception would be worse than the first." Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can." So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

BIBLE

Entering into Palm Sunday

The account of the Passion is a vivid story with a variety of characters and much action. To enter into the passage we can read the story slowly and see if we can identify with different characters in the story. Also any one scene within the story can provide us with much food for reflection and prayer. Keep in mind that one of the aims in reflecting on the passage is to discover the GOOD NEWS the story has for us. Here are just a few general pointers for prayer. (Kieran O'Mahony)

1. The identity of Jesus is revealed as the Messiah and the Son of God, not with a display of human power, but as one who was prepared to suffer unto death to show us how our God loves us. How does the Passion story speak to you as a revelation of how God loves you?

2. Jesus gives us an example of patient endurance and faithfulness in suffering. Suffering is something we all encounter. It is not something that anyone likes but sometimes we cope with it better than others. What have you found helps you to cope better with suffering?

3. As you read through the narrative of the Passion where do you find yourself resonating with a character in the action? Is there any message there for you that is lifegiving?

It was our sorrows he bore

"He was oppressed and was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth" (Is 53:7). For the followers of Christ, this Isaiah text evokes a response deep down within us, seeing how they apply to God's only beloved Son, and how he died for all of us. In the words of St Peter, "without having seen him you have come to believe in him, and so you are filled already with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described" (1 Pet 1:8). Without this sincere love of Christ, we are no true followers of his. We cannot say we fully love him, until we appreciate what he suffered for us.

Today, having heard the Passion narrative there is no real necessity to retrace in great detail the events there described. But it is well to bear in mind that Christ was no stranger to hardship, privation and suffering, long before that final day of his life. "Being in the form of God," as St Paul says, from the moment he came on earth, Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are (Phil 2:6f). He, the most high God, suffered the hardships of the poor, at times not even having a place to lay his head. He endured hunger and thirst, and after long days surrounded by crowds seeking a cure, he often spent whole nights at prayer in the hills. Despite his compassion for all who came to him, he met with hatred and rejection, in particular from Pharisees and priests, who planned to have him killed. How this rejection and hatred must have grieved him. King Lear knew "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is, to have a thankless child;" and how must Jesus have felt at being rejected by the people he had chosen, above all others.

So terrible was the inner struggle of Jesus as he faced his death, that in the garden his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground. Another bitter pill was the knowledge that one of his own circle of twelve would betray him, that most of the others would leave him, and that even the loyal St Peter would repeatedly swear he had never met him. But most terrible of all was his feeling of being abandoned by God, his inner spirit shrouded in a darkness that reflected the murky darkness that enveloped Calvary as the end drew near. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

The features of that face so cruelly disfigured were those of the Son of God. The forehead streaming with blood, the hands and feet nailed to the Cross, the body lacerated with scourges, the side pierced with a lance, these were the forehead, the hands and feet, the sacred body, the side of the eternal Word, made visible in Jesus. Why such suffering? We can only say with Isaiah, "It was for our transgressions he was smitten, for our sins he was brought low. On him lay the punishment that brings us healing, through his wounds we are made whole" (53:5ff). God, our Father, grant that your Son's suffering for us may not be in vain.


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Holy Thursday, Years A, B, C

1st Reading: Exodus (12:1-2, 11-14)

Israel's departure from Egypt -- to be celebrated for all time

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labour.. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, "Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?" He answered, "Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and thought, "Surely the thing is known."

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 116)

R./: Our blessing-cup is a communion with the Blood of Christ

How shall I make a return to the Lord
   for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
   and I will call upon the name of the Lord. (R./)

Precious in the eyes of the Lord
   is the death of his faithful ones.
I am your servant, the son of your handmaid;
   you have loosed my bonds. (R./)

To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving,
   and I will call upon the name of the Lord.
My vows to the Lord I will pay
   in the presence of all his people. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians (11:23-26)

Paul's understanding of the Lord's Supper: proclaiming Christ's saving death in this sacred meal

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Gospel: John (13:1-15)

The example of Jesus washing his followers' feet

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples" feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean." After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord-and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

BIBLE

Sharing in the Last Supper

When Jesus says, "Do this in memory of me!" he intended us to understand what "this action" meant and still means. What exactly had he in mind through the symbols of the broken bread and the shared cup of wine? We need to get behind the formal Catechism answer about the "holy sacrifice of the Mass", and think anew about the meaning of that paschal meal. The Last Supper was celebrated in the context of the Jewish Passover meal and tonight's first reading explains the meaning of this feast. In words and symbols it recalled the greatest saving act of God in the Old Testament, the exodus from Egypt, setting God's people free from slavery. It opens us up to the idea that God enters our lives to save us and set us free from whatever oppresses us. With our minds so opened up, we are prepared to grasp that the saving work of God is done in and by Jesus Christ.

We reflect this evening on what St John calls the "hour" of Jesus, the high point of his saving work, the new exodus, his passing from this world to the Father through which he created a new relationship between God and us human beings. Sharing in this new exodus is our ultimate liberation, freeing us from enslavement to material things and petty self-interest and setting us free to love generously -- the very purpose for which we were originally created in the image of God.

Through the love-without-limits in his own utterly unselfish heart, Jesus won a great victory over all human selfishness and with it, human sin. Precisely this love, which the Father wants us to have and to share, is the heart of Jesus' exodus. It is this self-giving love which Jesus wants to be kept alive among us. With his disciples in the Last Supper he anticipated his death for us on the cross, giving himself in the sacramental symbols of bread and wine. From then on the celebration of our Eucharist is the living memorial through which we are joined to Our Lord's saving act of love. It is our way to share in the new exodus, to be freed from the isolation of self-concern so that they become fully human as God wants us to be.

St John teaches this in his own unique way. We are united with Jesus by letting him wash our feet, doing for us his great act of loving service. Having accepted the gift we must embrace it as a value to be effective in our lives. What Jesus does for us is an example of how we are to live: in some real sense, like Jesus, we must live "for" service of God and others. Jesus sees a close link between him washing their feet and them going on to wash the feet of others in the future. If the Eucharist is the place where the Lord washes our feet, daily life is the place where we ought to wash the feet of others. Eucharist leads to life leads to Eucharist. True Eucharist piety must lead to service of others. Jesus who broke the bread of the Eucharist also washed the feet of his disciples. We must follow his example both at the altar of the Eucharist and at the altar of life.


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Lent, 1st Sunday, Year B

1st Reading: Genesis (9:8-15)

The rainbow as the sign of God's covenant with mankind

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth."

God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 26)

R./: Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth, to those who keep your covenant

Lord, make me know your ways.
Lord, teach me your paths.
Make me walk in your truth, and teach me:
for you are God my saviour. (R./)

Remember your mercy, Lord,
and the love you have shown from of old.
In your love remember me,
because of your goodness, O Lord. (R./)

The Lord is good and upright.
He shows the path to those who stray,
he guides the humble in the right path;
he teaches his way to the poor. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Peter (3:18-22)

Christ's sacrifice which gives baptism its cleansing power

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you – not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Gospel: Mark (1:12-15)

The start of Jesus' public ministry

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the desert. He was in the desert forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

BIBLE

Children of the Desert

Some years ago on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a group of others to follow in the footsteps of Christ. We visited Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem; climbed the Mount of the Beatitudes and swam in the Sea of Galilee and even in the Dead Sea (not a pleasant experience!). We walked from Jerusalem to Jericho, looked into Jacob's Well, stood on the place in Cana where Jesus changed the water into wine and even knelt at the place where he was crucified. Everywhere we went, we took our gospel with us and read the appropriate passage. It was a moving experience all the way. But the strongest impression I have retained is that of the desert where Christ spent forty days before starting his public life. During our pilgrimage, we spent a day and a night in the desert.

It is not surprising that the three great world religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, were all born in the desert. It was through the desert that Moses led the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. It was from that desert that John the Baptist came to herald the Messiah and soon after Jesus followed to proclaim himself Messiah. After my visit there, I came to realise the significance of the desert. The desert is a purgatory man must pass through to reach paradise. What is impressive about the desert is its sheer aridness. There is no vegetation, no bird life and, apart from the odd tiny lizard, almost no animals.

The silence is almost total. In that bleak landscape, nothing comes between man and his God. One either discovers God or succumbs to despair. It is no wonder that those Bedouins who ply the salt trade following their caravans across the desert are deeply religious. No life thrives here except the inner life. It is not surprising that it was the Desert Fathers who created that great institution dedicated to fostering the inner life, Western monasticism. It has so profoundly marked Christianity that we are all now, in a sense, children of the desert.

Living now as many of us do, in built-up areas, piled high on top of each other in high-rise apartments, bombarded day and night with the roar of city traffic and the blare of electronic music, we are in danger of losing our desert roots. And with that our inner life. We need to create a time and a space to nurture our spiritual lives. Lent is such a time. The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert and he remained there for forty days. Like Jesus, we should let the Holy Spirit lead us out into the desert this Lent where we can confront the devils that haunt our lives, and like him too, triumph over them. That is the freedom, dignity, and gift that is offered in today's gospel.


Shun not the Struggle

A reflective way of looking at life is to see it as a struggle between sin and grace, selfishness and holiness. Our time on earth will be successful in the measure that we put aside sin and try to live by the grace of God. Today's Scriptures show two contrasting reactions to temptation. The first humans, Adam and Eve, are imagined as preferring their own inclinations to the will of God. Jesus, the Saviour, on the contrary resisted temptation, remaining faithful to what God the Father required of him. St Paul reflects on how these choices affect ourselves: Adam's sin brought trouble on all, but we are saved and offered new life because of the fidelity of Christ.

An old priest who was blind for many years before his death, liked to urge his penitents to renew their efforts with these inspirational lines:

"We are not here to play,
to dream, to drift. We have good work to do,
and loads to lift. Shun not the struggle.
Face it. 'Tis God's gift."

Temptation in one form or another is an unavoidable part of life. If we honestly examine our daily experience, we can find many aspects of temptation: impulses or tendencies counter to the right way of doing things. To rationalise away these temptations, so that they become socially acceptable and politically correctis itself an insidious temptation. We want to dictate for ourselves what is right and wrong, to draw for ourselves the boundaries of "acceptable" behaviour, unencumbered by any notional commandments of God. This is rather like Adam demanding to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Our real growth to Christian maturity comes by acknowledging and accepting the vocation of struggling against temptation, to achieve the kind of behaviour and attitudes Jesus expects. We must submit our behaviour to his gospel. Christ and Adam show the two opposite reactions in face of temptation: Adam, archetype of sinful, evasive, self-seeking humanity, finds plausible reasons to yield to it, and rebels against God's will. Jesus, archetype of the new God-seeking man, resists temptation even repeatedly. It can only be conquered by this blend of patience and loyalty, supported by trust that what God requires of us is what is best for us.

Opposing forces

Last Wednesday we began the season of Lent. We have five weeks of Lent now until Easter. Lent does not have quite the impact it used to have. It doesn't seem to have as much of an impact on the lives of Christians as Ramadan has on the lives of Muslims. Yet, it is worth reminding ourselves that Lent is beginning. As a church we have set out on a journey which will end at the Easter Triduum, those three great days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent is always the gospel reading of the temptation of Jesus. Mark's account of the temptation of Jesus is the shortest by far. We are given no dialogue between Jesus and Satan; the temptations are not spelled out in any way. Instead we have that enigmatic statement that Jesus 'was with the wild beasts and the angels ministered to him'.

We could think of wild beasts and angels as two opposing forces. The wild beasts could be understood as servants of Satan, putting Jesus' relationship with God to the test, enticing him to put himself rather than God at the centre of his life. The angels, in contrast, are servants of God, supporting Jesus in his time of struggle, giving him the strength to stand firm in the test, to withstand the onslaught. There is some parallel between where Jesus found himself in that wilderness at the very beginning of his ministry and our own lives. We too can find ourselves caught between wild beast and angels. We too can find our best convictions, our deepest values, being put to the test. The values of the gospel are not always at home in the world in which we live. The pressure to compromise with those values can be very strong. We can find ourselves in something of a moral and spiritual wilderness where there is very little appreciation for or understanding of the gospel message. Indeed, we can feel very alone as Jesus must have felt very alone in the wilderness.

At such times we have to remind ourselves that we are not alone, no more than Jesus was really alone in the wilderness. The angels are ministering to us. The Lord's ministering, empowering and comforting presence is always at hand. That was the opening message of Jesus as soon as he stepped out of the wilderness, 'the time has come; the kingdom of God is close at hand'. Jesus had come up against the kingdom of Satan during his forty days in the wilderness. However he emerged from that testing time knowing that the kingdom of God was stronger than the kingdom of Satan, proclaiming that the reign of God was present for all. In his letter to the Romans Saint Paul would put that conviction in a very succinct fashion, 'where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more'. That is why Paul could say to the members of the church in Corinth, 'God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it'. There may indeed be wild beast out there, forces that seek to undermine our faith in the Lord and the way of life that flows from that. However, today's gospel reading assures us that there is an even more fundamental reality, and that is the reality of the Lord's empowering presence. The angels will minister to us; the Lord will stand by us. He has given us and will continue to give us an abundance of resources. God is constantly at work among us and within us. Like Saint Paul we can say, 'I can do all things in him who strengthens me'.

One way of understanding Lent is to see it as the time when we try to give in to the many ways that God may be trying to touch our lives. We often think of Lent as a time when we try to give up things. There can be a real value in that. However, more fundamentally and more positively we might think of Lent as a time when we give in to the Lord who is always present to us and calling out to us. The church sets aside this season of Lent in the springtime of the year as a reminder that we may need to awaken spiritually. Although the Lord is present to us, we are not always present to him. Although the reign of God is at hand, we don't always entrust ourselves to that good news. As we awaken spiritually, as we give in to the Lord, as we become more aware of the Lord who is around me, above me, below me, at my right hand and at my light hand, then we may experience a new desire to give up whatever is not serving our relationship with the Lord. We enter this season of Lent not just as individuals but as a community of faith. It is as a community that we are called to turn more fully towards the Lord and to walk together in his company towards Holy Week. 'We will get to our destination if we join hands' (Aung San Sui Kyi of Burma).


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Lent, 2nd Sunday, Year B

1st Reading: Genesis (22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18)

The "Binding of Isaac" shows Abraham's complete obedience to God

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you."

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, "By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice."

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 116)

R./: I will walk in the presence of the Lord, in the land of the living

I trusted, even when I said:
'I am sorely afflicted.'
O precious in the eyes of the Lord
is the death of his faithful. (R./)

Your servant, Lord, your servant am I;
you have loosened my bonds.
A thanksgiving sacrifice I make:
I will call on the Lord's name. (R./)

My vows to the Lord I will fulfil
before all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord,
in your midst, O Jerusalem (R./)

2nd Reading: Romans (8:31-34)

The Father's love for us is shown by letting his Son die for our sake

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.

Gospel: Mark (9:2-10)

The apostles glimpse Christ's glory, to sustain them through his imminent passion

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.

BIBLE

What must be cast aside?

"If your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better to enter into life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into the hell of fire!" Matthew (18:9). This condemnation of anything which may prove a moral stumbling-block for us was deliberately extreme to make it stick in people's minds, and it does. But "hell fire" is not precisely what Matthew wrote, but rather the "fiery Gehenna." The Hebrew word Gehenna meant the "Valley of Hinnom," a gorge just south of the Jerusalem Temple. It was a place under a curse, for it was there that the pagan Canaanites used to sacrifice children to their god Moloch, by throwing them into a fire.

Some breakaway Jews followed that savage custom until the idol of Moloch was finally destroyed in the 7th century B.C. The horror of the place survived, and it became the refuse dump of Jerusalem, a place of continual smoke from burning rubbish. In the public mind it became synonymous with hell, a visible image of what that place must be. But there was no place for child-sacrifice in true worship of God, and devout Jews would claim there never was. They saw the confirmation of this in the actions of Abraham, their father in faith, how God stayed his hand as he was about to sacrifice his son Isaac.

The story of Abraham and Isaac is full of high drama. The demand that Isaac be sacrificed seemed to utterly contradict God's promise that the boy would pass on Abraham's line into the distant future. It was a radical trial of faith, and no greater test of obedience could be set. Abraham's heart was pierced by the boy's innocent question, "Where is the lamb for the burnt offering? Finding it impossible to tell his son that he was the intended victim, Abraham stammered, "God will provide." St. John may well have this episode in mind when he wrote, "God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son" (3:16).

This story raises several acute questions. Why did God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son? Why did Abraham intend to obey? Indeed why did God allow his own divine Son to be sacrificed? The connection between Isaac and Jesus is obvious. Isaac prefigured Our Lord in that he was to be sacrificed on a hill, and he carried on his shoulder the wood for the intended sacrifice. But there the likeness ends. Isaac was the least notable of the patriarchs, a bridge of transition between Abraham and Jacob. In contrast, Jesus at the Transfiguration was shown to his three Apostles, as a figure of miraculous glory, truly God's Son and messenger to the world. Despite their enthusiasm, the of the Apostles' faith would be tested later on, as Abraham's was. The shining revelation of the divine person of Christ was in sharp contrast to watching him in Gethsemane sweating blood before his Passion. The God who spared the son of Abraham and showered him with blessings, did not spare his own Son, but left him in the hands of his enemies for our redemption.

Unlike Isaac, Jesus was aware of what lay ahead. "The Son of Man must suffer," he had said. Shortly before the Transfiguration, when he first told the disciples what he was to suffer, Peter prayed that God would not allow such a thing to happen. The Lord's response was instant and severe, "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as humans do" (Mk 8:33). In dealing with God we must have faith and trust. On the cellar wall of a bombed-out house in Cologne an unknown fugitive, obviously Jewish, left a testimony of trust that only came to light when the rubble was being cleared away after World War II. It read: "I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I do not feel it. I believe in God even when he is silent." That is the faith of Abraham, and is the kind of faith we should seek as well.

Freedom to let go

I came across a sentence in a book I was reading recently which struck me very forcibly: 'all love relationships flourish only when there is freedom to let go of what is precious, so as to receive it back as a gift'. It is not easy to let go of what is precious. The more precious someone is to us, the harder it is to let go of that person. The more attractive someone is to us, the more we feel inclined to possess that person. Yet, in the effort to possess someone we can easily lose them. At the heart of all loving relationships is the freedom to let go of the other, and in letting go to receive the other back as a gift. Parents know that there comes a time when they have to let go of their sons or daughters, even though they are more precious to them than anything else. They may have to let them go to another country or to the person whom they have chosen as their future spouse. Yet, in letting go of their children, parents invariably discover that they receive them back as a gift. Single people too have to learn the freedom of letting go what is precious so as to receive it back as a gift. In any good and healthy friendship, people need to give each other plenty of space.

In this morning's first reading Abraham is portrayed as being willing to let go of what was most precious to him, the only son of his old age. In being willing to let his son go to God, he went on to receive him back as a gift. Many people find it a very disturbing story, because it portrays God as asking Abraham to sacrifice his only beloved son as a burnt offering to God. We are rightly shocked by the image of God asking a father to sacrifice his son in this way. Abraham lived about a thousand years before Christ. In the religious culture of that time it was not uncommon for people to sacrifice their children to various gods. The point of the story seems to be that the God of Israel is not like the pagan gods. If Abraham thought that God was asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac like the people who worshipped other gods, he was wrong. God was not asking this of Abraham. Yet, the willingness of Abraham to let go of what was most precious to him if that was what God was asking remained an inspiration to the people of Israel. He had already shown a willingness to let go of his family and his homeland as he set out towards an unknown land in response to God's call.

The early church came to understand the relationship between Abraham and Isaac as pointing ahead to the relationship between God the Father and Jesus. Like Abraham, God was prepared to let go of what was most precious to him, his one and only Son, out of love for humanity. God was prepared to let his Son go to humanity, with all the dangers that entailed for his Son. Saint Paul was very struck by this extraordinary generosity of God on our behalf, as he says in this morning's 2nd Reading, 'God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all'. God let his precious Son go to humanity even though the consequences of that were the rejection of his Son and, ultimately, his crucifixion. Even after Jesus was crucified, God continued to give him to us as risen Lord. When Paul contemplates this self-emptying love of God for us, he asks aloud, in the opening line of that 2nd Reading, 'With God on our side who can be against us?' Paul is declaring that if God's love for us is this complete, then we have nothing to fear from anyone. Here is a love that has no trace of possessiveness, a love that makes us lovable.

In this morning's gospel reading, Peter, James and John are taken up a high mountain by Jesus, and there they have an experience of Jesus which took their breath away. It was an experience that was so precious that Peter could not let it go. He wanted to prolong it indefinitely and so he says to Jesus, 'Rabbi, it is wonderful for us to be here, so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah'. He and the other two disciples had a fleeting glimpse of the heavenly beauty of Christ, and did not want to let go of it. Beauty always attracts; it calls out to us. Yet, Peter and the others had to let go of this precious experience; it was only ever intended to be momentary. They would receive it back in the next life as a gift. For now, their task was to listen to Jesus, 'This is my beloved Son. Listen to him'. That is our task too. We spend our lives listening to the Lord as he speaks to us in his word and in and through the circumstances of our lives; we listen to him as a preparation for that wonderful moment when we see him face to face in eternity and we can finally say, 'it is wonderful to be here'


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Lent, 3rd Sunday, Year B

1st Reading: Exodus (20:1-17)

The Ten Commandments, given to Moses on Mount Sinai

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work -- you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. You shall not covet your neighbour's house; you shall not covet your neighbour's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 19)

R./: Lord, you have the words of everlasting life

The law of the Lord is perfect,
   refreshing the soul;
the decree of the Lord is trustworthy,
   giving wisdom to the simple. (R./)

The precepts of the Lord are right,
   rejoicing the heart;
the command of the Lord is clear,
   enlightening the eye. (R./)

The fear of the Lord is pure,
   enduring forever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true,
   all of them just. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians (1:22-25)

Christ crucified is our focus, calling a halt to all factions and disputes

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Gospel: John (2:13-25)

Jesus purifies the Temple of commercial defilement; then proclaims himself the New Temple

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me."

The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six Years, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.

*

BIBLE

Moving House

Psychologists tell us that, apart from the death of a loved one, perhaps the most traumatic experience a person can have is that of moving house. Those of us who have gone through all that is involved in this particular trauma can attest to the truth contained in these words. One of the benefits derived from the exercise, however, is that we get rid of all the junk we have accumulated since our last move. It could perhaps be argued that people's dread of moving is directly proportionate to the amount of stuff" they have gathered. The Israelites, having come out of Egypt, had been through the experience, and were inclined to avoid too much clutter. (One of the psalms laughs at the pagans who "carry around their idols made of wood.") Today we find Jesus clearing all the accumulated junk out of the Temple. But what is happening here is not merely the removal of unwanted items; by this symbolic act, Jesus is calling all the peoples of the earth to worship God "in spirit and in truth." True worshippers, he will tell us later in the gospel, are those who worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

Worship is not a word which figures largely in our religious vocabulary today. Like "adoration," it is a particularly God-centred word, ill-suited to be our self-centred age where religiousness is more often expressed in terms of self-actualization. There is a sense in which it is true to say that people today have forgotten how to worship, so that often even our liturgical acts become simply gatherings or experiences. To worship means to acknowledge the transcendence of God, and his claim on us as our creator, and to respond appropriately. Rather than being just a relic of primitive religion, worship is an integral part of the Judeo-Christian religious sense. From deep within our self springs the desire to worship and adore God. Getting in tune with that desire, and expressing it through word and gesture is at the heart of prayer.

In order to worship in spirit and in truth, we must prepare our hearts and minds by being faithful to the covenant relationship (keeping the commandments) and seeking the wisdom of God, which is the wisdom of the cross. We have to let Jesus cleanse us, as he cleansed the Temple, leave our sins behind, and simplify our lives, getting rid of any needless clutter. Then we are able to enter into the new Temple, which is Jesus himself, praying in and through him.

When the side of Jesus was pierced on Calvary, the veil of the Temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom. The place of worship is no longer the Temple in Jerusalem; now, it is through the pierced side of Christ that we have "access to the Father in the one Spirit." So it is that, after the resurrection, Thomas will place his hand in Jesus's side and worship, saying, "My Lord and my God," as today's gospel tells us: "When Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples remembered and believed. If we are to properly worship God, we must leave behind everything that gets in the way, then enter into that secret chamber which is the side of Christ, and there worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

Built to last

Compared to earlier generations, one of the features that characterizes this generation is speed. We can communicate with one another at a speed that would have been unthinkable a couple of generations ago. An email reaches its destination on the other side of the world in a matter of seconds. Journeys that took days or even weeks in the time of my grandparents now take hours. Builders build much faster than they built in the past. We need only think of the changes in our own city resulting from the building boom at the start of this century. Many of us probably think that much of what has been built quickly may not endure; it won't stand the test of time. In the ancient world, the world of Jesus, the world of the early church, buildings, especially significant political or religious buildings, were built to last. If you go to Rome today, you can still see the remains of the significant political and religious buildings of the Roman Empire. In Jerusalem, in the time of Jesus, the most significant public building by far was a religious building, the temple. In the gospel reading this morning, the Jewish authorities remind Jesus that it had taken forty six years to build the temple. Indeed, in the time of Jesus, the temple begun by Herod the Great was not yet complete. It would take another fourteen years, sixty years in all, for it to be finally finished. If a building firm gave a timescale of sixty years to complete a building today, it is fair to say that they would be unlikely to get the contract.

Jesus was aware of the huge religious and political significance of the temple in his day, and yet he challenged it, and he challenged those responsible for it, because he recognized that the temple was not in fact serving God's purposes. As Jesus says in this morning's gospel reading, 'Stop turning my Father's house into a market'. There is a big difference between a house and a market. A house has the potential at least to be a home. A market could never really be a home; people go to markets to buy and sell. Buying and selling are not activities you associate with home. The temple was to be God's house, God's home, a place where all people could feel at home in God's presence. The activities associated with the market were preventing the temple from being the home that God wanted it to be, a spiritual home for all the nations. Jesus saw that here was an institution in need of reform.

Every institution, including every religious institution, is always in need of reform. The church, in so far as it is a human institution, is in need of ongoing reform. The church exists to serve the purposes of God, the purposes of God's Son, in the world. However, inevitably, because the church is composed of human beings, it can also serve as a block to God's purposes. The church is called to be the sacrament of Christ, to reveal the powerful and life-giving presence of Christ to the world. However, invariably, it will often hide Christ or revealed a distorted image of Christ to the world, one that is not fully in keeping with the gospels. In the 2nd Reading, Paul sets God's wisdom over against human wisdom, God's power over against human strength. The church can sometimes substitute God's wisdom with human wisdom, God's power with human strength. Just as in the gospel reading Jesus wanted to purify the temple, the risen Lord is constantly working to purify the church. All of us who make up the church need to be open to his purifying presence. In the works of the book of Revelation, we need to be listening to what the Spirit, the Spirit of the risen Lord, is saying to us the church. Those in positions of leadership in the church have a special responsibility to listen to what the Spirit may be saying to the church, so as to bring it more into line with what God intends. However, we are all called to listen to the challenging word of the Spirit and to be open to the purifying presence of the risen Lord. We are all the church, and we all have our part to play in ensuring that the church is what the Lord intends it to be. Lent in particular is a time when we try to listen to what the Spirit may be saying to us about our lives; it is a time when as individuals and as a community we are called to allow the Spirit to renew our lives so that we conform more fully to the image and likeness of Christ.

The fiery Jesus of the gospel reading who is passionate about what God wants remains alive and active at the heart of the church today. The relationship between the Lord and the church, between the Lord and each one of us, will always be marked by a certain tension, because the Lord will always be working to purify and renew us. In the light of the gospel reading we might ask ourselves in what ways we have allowed the values of the market place to override the values of the gospel in our own lives, in the life of our society, in the life of our church.


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4th Sunday of Lent, Year B

1st Reading: 2 Chronicles 36:14-23)

For their sins the people were exiled to Babylon. But God's mercy will bring them back

All the leading priests and the people also were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abomination of the nations; and they polluted the house of the Lord that he had consecrated in Jerusalem. The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place; but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord against his people became so great that there was no remedy.

They burned the house of God, broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its precious vessels. He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfil the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had made up for its sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfil seventy years.

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom and also declared in a written edict: "Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him! Let him go up."

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 137)

Response: Let my tongue be silent, if I ever forget you!

By the rivers of Babylon
there we sat and wept
remembering Zion.
On the willows that grew there
we hung up our harps. (R./)

It was there that they asked us
our captors for songs,
our oppressors for joy.:
“Sing for us" they said "the songs of Zion!” (R./)

How could we sing a song of the Lord
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand be forgotten! (R./)

May my tongue cleave to my palate
if I remember you not,
If I place not Jerusalem
ahead of my joy.(R./)

2nd Reading: Ephesians 2:4-10)

We are saved not through our own efforts but through the mercy of God

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God- not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Gospel: John (3:14-21)

God sent his only Son, not to condemn but to save us

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."

BIBLE

Love Lifted Up

Have you noticed the types of phrases we use when describing something wonderful? I catch myself saying things like being 'over the moon' or 'on cloud-nine.' A friend talks about being in the 'seventh heaven!' Now, that admission may say a lot both of us, but I can't help thinking that our deepest experiences are those that have a power to lift us up. Such experiences take us out of ourselves. They uplift us and we perceive things differently.

Jesus is always inviting us to see things differently. When Nicodemus sought out Jesus, he was in the dark " both really and symbolically. He couldn't see clearly. In the years that followed this late night conversation, Nicodemus became a follower of Jesus and, step by step, was drawn to see things differently. At last he finally did see. When at the end, Jesus was really and truly lifted up, Nicodemus was not too far away.

When we meditate on the crucifix and participate in the Eucharist we also see Jesus lifted up. Perhaps today as I lift my eyes to see him, I might ponder on the mystery of suffering and exaltation and wonder at the love that is lifted up and draws us ever closer, uplifting us as well. (Kathryn Williams)


God's Work of Art

A grimy painting hung for decades in the dining room of a Jesuit house in Dublin. Nobody paid it much attention until a visitor, an art expert, recognized it as a work of great value. Under close investigation, it turned out to be the work of the great Roman painter, Caravaggio. His painting of the arrest of Jesus now hangs in our National Art Gallery, and is one of the Gallery's great treasures. All those years when it hung in the dining room, it was no less a masterpiece, but its real value went unrecognized. In today's reading Paul says that "we are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life." Like that Caravaggio painting, our worth can go unnoticed even to ourselves. We hardly think of ourselves as works of art; yet God sees us as works of art, in progress. Like the person who spotted the painting's value, God knows our true worth, and through the inspired words of Isaiah says, "You are precious in my sight, and I love you." If we know ourselves as precious in God's sight, it gives foundation to our hope. We can think of others as works of art too, in this way. These are people whom we value, whom we treasure, whose worth to us is beyond price. When someone is precious to us, we don't treat them as customers or clients. We will do anything we can for them. We will travel a distance to see them; we will stay up half the night with them if they are ill; we will defend and protect them as best we can. We keep faithful to them, even at cost to ourselves. We value them, simply, for who they are. Our experience of loving others gives us a glimpse of how the Lord relates to us. God loves us in a way that does not count the cost. The gospel says it wonderfully: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son." Or as Paul puts it, "God so loved us that he was generous with his mercy." We are so valued that God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to save us all. So it is not surprising that the cross became Christianity's dominant symbol. It is not that we glorify suffering, but that we recognize in the cross just how far God is prepared to go for love of us.

Love Lifted Up

Have you noticed the kind of words we use to describe something wonderful? People use phrases like being 'over the moon' or 'on cloud-nine' - or recently, as "incredible." A friend talks about being in the 'seventh heaven!' I can't help thinking that our deepest experiences are those that have a power to lift us up. Such experiences take us out of ourselves. They raise us up so that we perceive life differently. The Gospel is always inviting us to see things differently. When Nicodemus sought out Jesus, he was in the dark " both really and symbolically. He couldn't see clearly. In the years that followed this late night conversation, Nicodemus became a disciple and, step by step, was drawn to see things differently. At last he finally did see. When at the end, Jesus was really and truly lifted up, Nicodemus was not too far away, and reverently helped prepare our Lord for burial. When we meditate on the crucifix and join in the Eucharist we also see Jesus lifted up. Perhaps today as I lift my eyes to the cross, I might see the link between suffering and exaltation and wonder at the love that is lifted up and draws us ever closer, raising us as well.

These brighter days

By now we feel that the snow is over and the days are getting longer. We are half way through March and already there is light in the evenings beyond six o'clock. We have longer daylight to look forward to, especially when the clock goes forward next weekend. With the increase in light, there is also an increase in growth. The first blossoms of spring have already come out. Nature is coming to life after a time of hibernation. Today's gospel echoes what is happening in nature, for 'light has come into the world.' The light refers to God's revelation brought into the world by Jesus. Both St Paul and the gospel declare that God's light is the light of love. For Paul, God "made us alive together with Christ". The central gospel truth is that God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son. In the light of Jesus we find mercy, compassion, great love, kindness, infinite grace. There is a certain kind of light that can expose us mercilessly, like the light of the interrogator's lamp. But Jesus brings a light that need hold no fear for us; it is a divine light that lifts us up, just as the Son of Man was lifted up, to save our human race. Here is a light that assures us of our worth and that helps us to see the good we are capable of doing. It is a light that helps us see that 'we are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live a good life.' We long for a light that is strong and enduring, a light that is more resilient than all the darkness in this world. We may struggle from time to time with the darkness of illness or depression, with a sense that we are worthless and that life is not worth living. That darkness of spirit finds expression in today's Psalm, composed during the exile in Babylon. 'By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept, remembering Zion.' Our Scriptures for today affirm that in whatever darkness we encounter, the light of God's enduring love is greater, so that we may have life and have it to the full. As Jesus said, 'God gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.'

Welcoming the Light

[Jose Antonio Pagola] It really seems that people can live for years without realizing what is most true of ourselves. We can go on living day after day without wanting to see what is it that reallly motivates us and spurs our decisions. It's not stupidity or lack of intelligence, but as Jesus said: "Whoever does wrong hates the light and avoids it, to prevent their actions from being shown up." We're afraid to seeing ourselves just as we are. We don't want too much light to penetrate our life. We prefer to continue blindly, unwilling to change. There are times when, though blind, we believe we see everything clearly. It seems easier to live without ever asking: "Who am I?". We assume that reality is just as I see it, without being aware that the outer world I perceive is for the most part a reflection of my inner attitudes and the desires that I foster. I may be relating not to real people, but to the image or labels that I've fabricated for myself of them. That is what Hermann Hesse understood in his small book My Credo: "The man that I contemplate with fear, hope, greed, propositions, demands, isn't a man, he's only a cloudy reflection of my will". When we want to transform our lives by directing our steps in more noble paths, what's most decisive isn't our effort to change. First we must open our eyes, asking what it is that drives us, becoming more aware of the interests that move our existence, discovering the basic motives of our daily living. Why not take a moment to face this question: Why do I flee myself and God so much? Why would I prefer living without seeking the light? We need to listen to Jesus' words: "Everybody who does the truth comes out into the light, so that what he is doing may plainly appear as done in God".

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Lent, 5th Sunday, Year B

1st Reading: Jeremiah (31:31-34)

The new covenant, written on the human heart

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt " a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 51)

R./: Create a clean heart in me, O God

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
   in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
   and cleanse me of my sin . (R./)

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
   and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me out from your presence,
   and do not take from me your Holy Spirit. (R./)

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
   and sustain in me a willing spirit.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
   and sinners shall return to you. (R./)

2nd Reading: Hebrews (5:7-10)

The anguish of Jesus, faced with his passion

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Gospel: John (12:20-30)

By losing their life, the followers of Jesus will find it in a new way

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

"Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say " ' Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this our. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine."

BIBLE

For Others' Sake

Martin Luther King once wrote about a time when he knelt in prayer in the kitchen of his home in Alabama. Stones had been thrown through the window because of his call for civil rights for black people. His wife and children were in danger. He was already a respected academic and a promising career lay ahead. In prayer he found himself asking if it was right to put himself and them in danger? It was in that moment he decided to put the will of God and the welfare of his people before his own security and that of his family. He chose to serve God by working for those who were most oppressed. In a sense, he chose to die so that others could more fully live. It was a striking echo of what Jesus says in the gospel reading, that the grain of wheat must falls into the ground to yield a rich harvest.

Jesus himself was the supreme expression of this principle. He is the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, and in dying yields a harvest of life. He describes that harvest in prophetic words: "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself."

If God worked powerfully through the life of Jesus, He worked even more powerfully through the death of Jesus, a death that reveals the power of God's love, even more fully than his life of healing and ministry, for the amazing love revealed in his death on the cross drew people to God, and continues to do so. Over the centuries, millions of people, by looking upon the crucifix, have experienced God's personal love and compassion and found themselves drawn to God in return. In accepting the loss of so much that was dear to him, in particular, his vibrant life and warm companionship with others, Jesus drew people of all nations to himself and, thereby, to sharing in God's life.

It was when some Greeks (i.e. foreigners) came to hear him speak that Jesus made this declaration; and then he asked: "What shall I say? Save me from this hour. No, it was for this reason I have come to this hour." In these lovely spring days we may find ourselves sowing some seeds in the garden. The seed that dies in order to yield a new form of life is as familiar to us today as it was in the day of Jesus. This phenomenon of nature can speak to our own experience as much as it did to the experience of Jesus. Each of us in different ways has to accept some significant loss if we are to remain true to our deepest and best self, true to what God is asking of us.

Then there are other losses in life that we do not choose, but that are forced upon us. These are losses we have no choice but to accept. We may have to accept the loss of people we love and care about because of choices they make themselves. Parents may not wish to see a son or daughter go far away to live and work, but they accept this necessary loss out of respect for the one they love. In accepting the losses that life imposes, in letting go of those we love, we often find something fuller and richer, just as Jesus' disciples received him again in a new and fuller way through his resurrection from the dead and the sending of the Spirit.

At the end, for each of us, there is the final, unavoidable struggle to let go of our very life, with all the loss that is entailed in that. As we face of all these inevitable losses that are integral to life, we are strengthened by the words of Jesus in today's gospel, "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself." We trust and believe that, at the end of the day, after we have struggled through all our losses, the Lord will draw us to himself, and, when that happens, we will lack nothing.

Into the Valley of Death

One focus during Lent is to to reflect on our own death and to see our way through it. We all must die, as much as we don't like the fact. We try to hide it, dodge it, deny it. Yet we can't in fact escape it. Jesus came into the world, not so much to do away with death (not immediately) but to teach us how to die by his example and then to assure us that death does not say the last word about life. When we walk into the valley of death we do not walk alone. Jesus is with us because he's been there before and knows what it is like. Moreover he promises us that just as he rose from the dead so will we. We will all be young again. We will all laugh again.

Once upon a time there was a young grandmother who totally adored her oldest grandson (like most grandmothers do). He was a good young man too. Handsome, friendly, courteous, more mature than you could reasonably expect any teenager to be. He was also an excellent athlete and was to be valedictorian of his class. Then, just a week before graduation, another teen (quite drunk) plowed into the car in which the young man was returning from a baseball game. He died three hours later in the hospital. Everyone in the family was, devastated, as you can well imagine. The grandmother was furious. "Why do such terrible things happen?" she demanded. "Why did it have to happen to my grandson? What kind of God would permit this to happen to me? He must be a cruel and vicious God. Why should I believe in him? I don't believe in him. My grandson was so young, he had the rest of his life ahead of him. It's all right for old people to die, but not for someone who had a right to a long and happy life. I don't believe in heaven. I don't believe in anything." She carried on like this for months, making the tragedy even harder for her family. She stopped going to Church and refused to talk to the priest who dropped by her house to talk to her. "I just hate God," she insisted. Then one night, maybe she was dreaming, maybe she was half away, her grandson, in his baseball uniform, came to visit it her. "Cool it, Grams." he told her. "I'm happy. Life is much better where I am. You're not acting like my grams any more. We all have to die sometime, young or old, but here we're all young and we're all laughing." So the grandmother began to let go of her grief and rage.

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Palm Sunday, (Passion Sunday) Years A, B, C

Procession of Palms: Mark 11:1-10

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'" They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt?" They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"

1st Reading: Isaiah (50:4-7)

Words of the Suffering Servant: "I know I shall not be put to shame!"

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens"wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 22)

R./: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me

All who see me scoff at me;
   they mock me with parted lips, they wag their heads:
He relied on the Lord; let him deliver him,
   let him rescue him, if he loves him. (R./)

Indeed, many dogs surround me,
   a pack of evildoers closes in upon me;
they have pierced my hands and my feet;
   I can count all my bones. (R./)

They divide my garments among them,
   and for my vesture they cast lots.
But you, O Lord, be not far from me;
   O my help, hasten to aid me. (R./)

I will proclaim your name to my brethren;
   in the midst of the assembly I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him;
   all you descendants of Jacob, give glory to him;
   revere him, all you descendants of Israel! (R./)

2nd Reading: Ph 2:5-11)

The self-emptying of God's loving servant, to save his people

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death"even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Gospel: Mark (14:1--15:47)

Mark's dark and stark Passion Narrative
(or, shorter version: 15:1-39)

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, "Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people."

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, "Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." And they scolded her. But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for it burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her."

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, "Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there." So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me." They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, "Surely, not I?" He said to them, "It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born."

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."

When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, "You will all become deserters; for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.' But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." Peter said to him, "Even though all become deserters, I will not." Jesus said to him, "Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times." But he said vehemently, "Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you." And all of them said the same.Gethsemane

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake." And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want." He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand."

Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard." So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, "Rabbi!" and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to them, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled." All of them deserted him and fled.

A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.

They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.'" But even on this point their testimony did not agree.

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, "Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?" But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?" Jesus said, "I am; and 'you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,' and 'coming with the clouds of heaven.'" Then the high priest tore his clothes and sid, "Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?" All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, "Prophesy!" The guards also took him over and beat him.

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, "You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth." But he denied it, saying, "I do not know or understand what you are talking about." And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, "This man is one of them." But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, "Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean." But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, "I do not know this man you are talking about." At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, "Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times." And he broke down and wept.

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" He answered him, "You say so." Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, "Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you." But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, "Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?" They shouted back, "Crucify him!" Pilate asked them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him!" So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews." And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!" In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "Listen, he is calling for Elijah." And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down." Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was God's Son!"

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.

BIBLE

It was our sorrows he bore

"He was oppressed and was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth" (Is 53:7). For the followers of Christ, this Isaiah text evokes a response deep down within us, seeing how they apply to God's only beloved Son, and how he died for all of us. In the words of St Peter, "without having seen him you have come to believe in him, and so you are filled already with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described" (1 Pet 1:8). Without this sincere love of Christ, we are no true followers of his. We cannot say we fully love him, until we appreciate what he suffered for us.

Today, having heard the Passion narrative there is no real necessity to retrace in great detail the events there described. But it is well to bear in mind that Christ was no stranger to hardship, privation and suffering, long before that final day of his life. "Being in the form of God," as St Paul says, from the moment he came on earth, Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are (Phil 2:6f). He, the most high God, suffered the hardships of the poor, at times not even having a place to lay his head. He endured hunger and thirst, and after long days surrounded by crowds seeking a cure, he often spent whole nights at prayer in the hills. Despite his compassion for all who came to him, he met with hatred and rejection, in particular from Pharisees and priests, who planned to have him killed. How this rejection and hatred must have grieved him. King Lear knew "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is, to have a thankless child;" and how must Jesus have felt at being rejected by the people he had chosen, above all others.

So terrible was the inner struggle of Jesus as he faced his death, that in the garden his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground. Another bitter pill was the knowledge that one of his own circle of twelve would betray him, that most of the others would leave him, and that even the loyal St Peter would repeatedly swear he had never met him. But most terrible of all was his feeling of being abandoned by God, his inner spirit shrouded in a darkness that reflected the murky darkness that enveloped Calvary as the end drew near. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

The features of that face so cruelly disfigured were those of the Son of God. The forehead streaming with blood, the hands and feet nailed to the Cross, the body lacerated with scourges, the side pierced with a lance, these were the forehead, the hands and feet, the sacred body, the side of the eternal Word, made visible in Jesus. Why such suffering? We can only say with Isaiah, "It was for our transgressions he was smitten, for our sins he was brought low. On him lay the punishment that brings us healing, through his wounds we are made whole" (53:5ff). God, our Father, grant that your Son's suffering for us may not be in vain.


Mark's Account

Each of the four Evangelists give an account of the Passion, but each tells the story with his own particular style and emphasis. The account read this year is written by Mark, Saint Peter's helper and companion in Rome, and it shows the stark human abandonment of Jesus. The behaviour of the disciples is portrayed negatively. In the garden they fall asleep three times while Jesus prayed. Judas betrayed him, while Peter with a curse denied any knowledge of him. All flee. Jesus' only words from the cross were: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." Even these plaintive words were met with derision. Yet, as Jesus breathes his last, God acts to confirm his Son. The veil of the temple was rent in two, and a Roman Centurion confesses: "Truly this was God's son."

There are moments in the lives of most Christians when they need desperately to cry out with Jesus: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me", only to find, as Jesus did, that God is listening, and can reverse tragedy. It is above all a comfort to those who find it hard to bear the cross to know that it wasn't easy for God's own son, either.

In Luke's account, Jesus is less anguished by his own fate than by his concern for others. He heals the slave's ear at the time of the arrest; on the road to Calvary he worries about the fate of the women; he forgives those who crucified him; and he promises paradise to the penitent thief. The crucifixion becomes the occasion of divine forgiveness and care, and Jesus dies tranquilly praying: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." St. John, on the other hand, describes the passion of Jesus as his calm, almost royal return into the presence of his Father.

It is important that some see our Lord's head bowed in dejection, while others observe his arms outstretched in forgiveness, and still others perceive, in the title on the cross, the proclamation of a reigning king. All these accounts combine together to give us food for thought and prayer.


Looking on from a distance

There is great hostility in the story we have just heard, all of it directed against Jesus. There is the hostility of the chief priests, of the Roman soldiers, of those who passed by and jeered as he hung from the cross. Alongside the hostility of those who rejected Jesus, there is the failure of those who had been closest to him. His disciples all deserted him and fled; Judas betrayed him and Peter denied him publicly. Yet, there were a few people who responded to Jesus in that dark hour faithfully and nobly. There was the anonymous woman who in an extravagant gesture of love and respect anointed the head of Jesus. Then there was the Roman centurion, who looked on as Jesus died and exclaimed, 'this man was son of God'. Joseph of Arimathea took the bold step of going to Pilate to ensure Jesus had a dignified burial. The women disciples who looked on from a distance noted where Jesus was buried and went away to prepare spices to anoint his body at the earliest opportunity. All of these people men and women saw Jesus with eyes of faith and love.

The story we have just heard invites us to identify with those who saw Jesus with the eyes of faith and love, who recognized the light of God in the darkness of Jesus' passion and death. When we look upon the passion and death of Jesus with such eyes, we see a divine love that is stronger than sin, a divine light that shines in all our darknesses, a divine power that brings new life out of all our deaths, a divine poverty that enriches us at the deepest level of our being. We have heard the story of Jesus' last journey told in the space of ten minutes. This Holy Week, the church invites us to travel that journey at a much slower pace, day by day as it were. We are invited to enter into that journey with the eyes of the anointing woman, the centurion, Joseph of Arimathea and the group of faithful women. We look beneath the surface of what is happening, we listen deeply to all that is taking place, so as to recognize the good Shepherd who laid down his life for us all, so that we might have life and have it to the full.


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Holy Thursday, Years A, B, C

1st Reading: Exodus (12:1-2, 11-14)

Israel's departure from Egypt"and how this is to be celebrated for all time

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labour.. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, "Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?" He answered, "Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and thought, "Surely the thing is known."

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 116)

R./: Our blessing-cup is a communion with the Blood of Christ

How shall I make a return to the Lord
   for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
   and I will call upon the name of the Lord. (R./)

Precious in the eyes of the Lord
   is the death of his faithful ones.
I am your servant, the son of your handmaid;
   you have loosed my bonds. (R./)

To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving,
   and I will call upon the name of the Lord.
My vows to the Lord I will pay
   in the presence of all his people. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians (11:23-26)

When we proclaim Christ's saving death in this sacred meal, it makes Jesus ever present with us

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Gospel: John (13:1-15)

The example of Jesus washing his followers' feet shows us how Christians should live

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples" feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean." After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord-and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

BIBLE

How to share in the Last Supper

When Jesus says, "Do this in memory of me!" clearly he means us to understand what "This" was and is. What exactly had he in mind through the symbols of the broken bread and the shared cup of wine? We need to get behind the formal Catechism answer about the "holy sacrifice of the Mass", and think anew about the meaning of that paschal meal. The Last Supper was celebrated in the context of the Jewish Passover meal and tonight's first reading explains the meaning of this feast. In words and symbols it recalled the greatest saving act of God in the Old Testament, the exodus from Egypt, setting God's people free from slavery. It opens us up to the idea that God enters our lives to save us and set us free from whatever oppresses us. So "opened up," we are prepared for the good news that the definitive saving work of God is done in and by Jesus Christ.

We reflect this evening on what St John calls the "hour" of Jesus, the high point of his saving work, the new exodus, his passing from this world to the Father through which he brought into being a new relationship between God and us human beings. Sharing in this new exodus is our ultimate liberation, freeing us from enslavement to material things and petty self-interest and setting us free to love generously " the very purpose for which we were originally created in the image of God. Through his love-without-limit, in his own utterly unselfish heart Jesus overcame all human selfishness and with it, human sin. Precisely this love, which the Father wants us all to have and to share, is the very heart of Jesus' exodus. It is just this self-giving kind of love which Jesus wants to be kept alive among us. With his disciples in the Last Supper he anticipated his death for us on the cross, giving himself in the sacramental symbols of bread and wine. From then on the celebration of our Eucharist is the living memorial through which we are joined to Our Lord's saving act of love. It is our way to share in the new exodus, to be freed from the isolation of self-concern so that they become fully human as God wants us to be.

St John implies that we are united with Jesus by letting him wash our feet, accepting his great act of loving service. Having accepted the gift we must embrace it as a value to practice in our lives. What Jesus does for us in his Passion shows us how to live. In some real sense, we must live like Jesus, "for" God and others. There is a close link between Jesus washing their feet and then their going on to wash the feet of others in the future. If the Eucharist is the place where the Lord washes our feet, daily life is the place where we can wash the feet of others. Eucharist leads to life leads to Eucharist. True Eucharist piety must lead to service of others. Jesus who broke the bread of the Eucharist also washed the feet of his disciples. We must follow his example both at the altar of the Eucharist and at the altar of life.


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Ash Wednesday, Year C

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1st Reading: Joel (2:12-18)

"Return to me with all your heart" .. "Spare your people, Lord"

"Now, now," says the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.
Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil.
Who knows whether he will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, a cereal offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God?

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.
Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say,"Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'"

Then the Lord became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 51)

R./: Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we have sinned

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offence.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin. (R./)

My offences truly I know them;
my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned:
what is evil in your sight I have done. (R./)

A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit. (R./)

Give me again the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervour sustain me.
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise. (R./)

2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians (5:20—6:2

Do not receive the grace of God in vain

We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, "At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you." See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

Gospel: Matthew (6:1-6, 16-18)

Your Father who sees in secret will reward you

Jesus said to his disciples, "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

BIBLE

A time for cleansing the heart

As we receive the ashes on our foreheads, we want to live Lent as a time of cleansing and holy desire, helped by some Gospel practices: prayer, fasting and alms-giving. We begin this season by receiving ashes on our foreheads, often in the form of a cross. The forty days of Lent echo the time Jesus spent in the desert before his public ministry. Lent is meant to help us to a more effective Christian lifestyle.

The Christian life, said St Augustine, "is an exercise of holy desire." It does not ask that we suppress our normal desires, but to raise and purify them. Our desires are too small if our ultimate values are those of this world; for God wants us to have so much more, no less than his very Self. During Lent we tune in to higher desires, to deep-down longing for God. And Jesus shows us the way of prayer, fasting and alms-giving, the classic Lenten practices. Of these, prayer has first place. Our eternity will be our relationship with the living God, a relationship that begins in this life, or it does not begin at all. Our most shared prayer is during the Mass, the loving sacrifice of Christ which opens heaven to us. Prayer is the daily practice of our friendship with God, and it opens the way to eternal life.

Fasting is more tricky for us today and is perhaps practice more by Muslims than by Catholics. But while we appreciate our food and the conviviality that often accompanies a good meal, we should also find a place for fasting. The main goal of Lenten fasting is not a well-toned body to be proud of. Some saints were quite corpulent, others were virtual skeletons, but they had this in common: they practiced voluntary self-denial, to sharpen their appetite for God. All of us resonate in some way to the ideal of alms-giving as compassionate sharing. Lent is good time to rid ourselves of some clutter in our life. With a bit more vision, could we perhaps do more to serve the needy, not to be praised as generous, but to imitate God's generosity to us?

Augustine sees cleansing as preparing us to practice holy desire, which is possible only to the extent that we free ourselves from infatuation with this world. It is like filling an empty container. "God means to fill us with what is good " so cast out what is bad! If God wishes to fill us with honey and we are full of sour wine, where is the honey to go? The vessel must first be emptied and cleansed."


This transient life

Ash Wednesday could hardly make more tangible the transience of things and our own mortality. We start Lent humbly, close to the ground, close to our earthiness: "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." But the ashes are not just to commemorate the transience of creation. These ashes used this Wednesday are the residue of the palms of last year's Passion-Sunday. Jesus died and was buried in a tomb, the place of decay and the place of dust. Yet he rose from the dead to new life. Our ultimate destiny is not dust and ashes but a sharing in the Lord's risen life, becoming conformed to the image of Christ. As we journey towards that destiny we hear the call to grow more fully into the image of God's Son, which is a call to turn away from sin, to repent. The ashes are a sign of our desire to do just that. The traditional practices of Lent that we heard about in the gospel put before us the essentials for growth into the image of God's Son " a greater love of God (prayer), a more generous love of neighbour (alms giving), and a truer love of ourselves (fasting). We recommit ourselves on Ash Wednesday to build our lives on those three loves, so that we may more fully become all that God is calling us to be.


Lenten Projects

The more active women in a certain parish once decided that their Lenten project should be something to benefit the whole parish. They met several time to discuss what each of them thought would be most beneficial project they could sponsor. One woman suggested they have a children's Easter fashion show. She knew her daughter would love to do something like that. Another woman suggested a "house walk" where some of the owners of the newest and biggest houses in the community could let the rest of the community see how they decorated their houses for Easter.

Several similar ideas were put forth but support for each idea was rather evenly split. Finally, one woman who had been silent during the whole discussion suggested that a Lenten project that would benefit the entire parish might best be one in which everyone in the parish could participate as they lived out the season of preparation for Easter. The other women were a bit surprised at her suggestion. No one had stopped to think "outside the box" of spring fashion shows and hose walks. As they thought about it & discussed what they might do, they came to realize that they had gotten caught up in ideas that didn't really reflect the spirit of Easter. This shared insight helped them focus on ways in which their project would be one that would help the whole community appreciate the spirit of resurrection.


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First Sunday of Lent (C)

1st Reading: Deuteronomy (26:4-10)

Offering the firsts fruits of harvest, they give thanks to God

When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: "A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me." You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 90: 1-2, 10-15)

R./: Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
and abides in the shade of the Almighty
says to the Lord: 'My refuge,
my stronghold, my God in whom I trust!' (R./)

Upon you no evil shall fall,
no plague approach where you dwell.
For you has he commanded his angels,
to keep you in all your ways. (R./)

They shall bear you upon their hands
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
On the lion and the viper you will tread
and trample the young lion
and the dragon. (R./)

His love he set on me, so I will rescue him;
protect him for he knows my name.
When he calls I shall answer: 'I am with you.'
I will save him in distress and give him glory. (R./)

2nd Reading: Epistle to the Romans 10:8-13)

The core of our credo is that Jesus is our Saviour and Lord

Now what does Scripture say? "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with he heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."

Gospel: Luke (4:1-13)

Jesus was tempted like we are, but he did not sin

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'"

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

BIBLE

Fundamental Options

The temptation narrative is the most mysterious and symbolic of stories, because since he was alone throughout his days in the wilderness, no one other than Jesus himself could have known what went on in his heart. The implication of the temptations is how he struggled within himself to find the most effective way to live his life for God. We ordinary mortals will hardly try turning stones into bread, for such a thing is impossible for us. It could only be a temptation for someone of unique power. In the first temptation Jesus seems to toy with the possibility of providing a limitless supply of bread for people, like the free dole by which the Roman emperor kept popular with the crowds. But Jesus saw how a focus on food and drink can lead to forgetting spiritual values. "Man lives not on bread alone."

Next, being taken up mountain and being shown all the kingdoms of the world " suggests a temptation to become a secular messiah, dominating the world's politics to have power to impose religion on people, like it or not. He dismisses this, since people will enter into a true union with God, if, and only if, they are drawn to it in spirit. The third and final temptation was to be a messiah of a sensational kind, focused entirely on miracles " since throughout his public life they kept asking for signs. What if he were to throw himself from off the pinnacle of the Temple and rise unscathed. But Jesus saw quite clearly that this had no genuine value, so he said, "You must not put the Lord your God to the test!" as a warning to himself not to be rash and superficial.

Jesus realised that his final and fullest way of service to mankind, the effective one that would endure, would be through suffering and the Cross, after which would come the crown. Without his crucifixion he would long since be forgotten. In every event of Christ's earthly life, God is saying something to us too. The story of the Temptations is surely a warning to us not to allow pure selfishness to govern our lives. We must let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, who continues to prompt our conscience throughout our days. Imitate Our Lord by taking up the challenge of every day, not with an air of gloomy resignation, but with a cheerful acceptance of what it may bring. Let Jesus be a major influence in our lives, reflect upon his words and actions with reverence and affection, so as to bring about an inner purification of our minds and wills.


The greatest temptation

The scene of Jesus' temptations is an account not to be taken lightly. The temptations it describes are not properly of the moral order. The account is warning us that we can ruin our lives if we stray from the path that Jesus follows.

We focus on the first temptation, as the decisively important one, which can debase and corrupt our life at its root. Apparently Jesus is being offered something innocent and good: put God at the service of his hunger. "If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread."

Jesus reacts quickly and surprisingly: "One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God." One's bread shall not make one's bread into into an absolute. One shall not place God at the service of one's own interest, forgetting the Father's project. You shall always seek God's kingdom first and his justice. At every moment one shall listen to God's Word.

Our needs do not get satisfied only with our having bread assured us. Human beings need and yearn for much more. In order to rescue from hunger and misery those who do not have bread, we also need to listen to God our Father, and awaken in our conscience hunger for justice, compassion, solidarity.

Our great temptation today is to change everything into bread. To reduce more and more the horizon of our ambition to mere satisfaction of our desires; to turn our obsession for a greater well-being, or our indiscriminate and unfettered consumerism, into our one and only ideal.

We fool ourselves if we think that this is the path to follow toward progress and liberation. Do we not see that a society that drags people into a consumerism without limits and into self-complacency does nothing but give rise to emptiness and meaninglessness in people and to selfishness, alienation and irresponsibility in the community?

Why do we cringe that the number of people who commit suicide tragically keeps growing? Why do we respond by shutting ourselves up in our false well-being, erecting barriers that are increasingly more inhuman lest the hungry enter our countries, get into our neighborhoods or knock on our door?

Jesus' call can help us to be more aware that human beings do not live on well-being alone. Human beings also need to nurture the spirit, know love and friendship, develop solidarity with those who suffer, listen responsibly to their conscience, to be open to the ultimate Mystery of a life with hope. (J. A. Pagola)


Saying "NO" to temptations

A Catholic family, one that adhered strictly to fasting and abstinence during Lent, moved into a new neighborhood. They had a problem with a Hindu neighbor, whose window closely overlooked their home. The man had a chicken roasted every lunch and dinner. The smell of chicken roast became so tempting that they decided to talk him into becoming Catholic so that he would practice abstinence. When he agreed after much convincing, they took him to the parish priest. The parish priest then told him "Look, you were born a Hindu, your name is Ganesh". Then the priest took water for Baptism and pouring it on his head and said "By these waters of Baptism, you are now baptized a Christian and your name will be Peter".

On the first day of Lent, as the Catholic neighbors peeped from their window, they saw Peter say and do something strange. He placed a plucked and dressed chicken on the table and poured water on it saying "Look, you chicken, you are born to be non-vegetarian. From today by these waters, you will be a vegetarian dish, vegetarian I say, vegetarian". With that he began to roast it for his meal.
When we want to give in to any temptation, we will always find reasons, arguments and logic to support our desires. But when we need wisdom from God to challenge, question and walk over our temptations. Every year on the First Sunday of Lent we read the gospel story of Jesus being tempted by Satan. The message of the Gospel is not just about saying "NO" to temptation but about challenging the temptation or the tempter.

The first temptation was to turn stone into bread. Stones were in plenty around Jesus. If all the stones changed to bread, there would be enough food for a lifetime. The problem of poverty in the world is because so many people want to stack up and store money and material for a life-time. It is the feeling of insecurity. Jesus spoke of a parable of a man who wanted to pull down his barns and build larger ones but the Lord asked him 'you fool. If your life would be demanded of you tonight, whose will all this be?' Giving in to the first kind of temptation is like trying to accumulate for a life time when God wants us to live one day at a time. Giving in to this temptation will lead us to pillage, plunder, cheat, grab and snatch from others as much as we can.

The second temptation was that Satan would give all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will worship him. This temptation is all too evident from the growing power struggles seen in the world today and increase in violence and bloodshed; one religion trying to dominate another, nations trying to out-do another in economy and weaponry to become world-superpowers; cultures, communities and ethnic groups claiming superiority over another. This temptation for power begins at the individual level when we forget Jesus teaching 'those who wish to be first must be the servant of all' leading us to clamor for power, position and fame even at the cost and dignity of another.

The third temptation was for Jesus to perform a spectacular act of falling from the pinnacle and not getting hurt. This temptation reveals itself in certain dangerously advancing technologies where man is trying to play God. Technology is good if it improves the quality of life, but dangerous when the creature wants to become creator. When we rely only on our own strengths and intelligence we will discount God. All our intelligence put together still cannot stop a tsunami, an earthquake or the raging waters of our flood. Paradoxically, it is our intelligence itself that has breached nature's course and aggravated natural calamities.

So when any temptation faces you, don't just say "No". Instead, question it like Jesus does. Liken your temptation to any of the three temptations of Jesus and seek the wisdom of God to handle and walk over it.


Jesus and Temptation

Three temptations are listed: to change stone into bread, to fall down and worship the devil, and to jump down from the pinnacle of the Temple. In each of these what the devil is saying to Jesus is, "Use what you have to get what you want." And in each case Jesus overcomes the temptation by replying, "No, we can only use the proper means to satisfy our needs and seek our goals in life."

In the first temptation, Jesus had fasted for forty days in the wilderness and at the end of it he was hungry. The devil puts an idea into his head: "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread" (Luke 4:3). The first thing the devil does is sow a doubt in his mind: "if you are the Son of God." "Are you really sure God is with you?" The same thing happened in the garden of Eden. The first thing the Tempter said to Eve was, "Did God really say you should not eat of any fruit of the garden" (Genesis 3:1). Temptation always begins with a doubting thought. Did God really say this or is it just a fairy tale? Jesus overcame the temptations by refusing to entertain such doubts and by standing on the word of God.

His temptations and ours

The threat of rising interest rates, more taxes and less welfare, huge amounts of foreign debt putting a strain on health and education spending, are a lot of what we've been hearing about lately in our media. All this talk about money, understandable as it is, leaves us wondering: 'Is this all there is? Is it really money that makes the world go round? Whatever happened media to human interest stories, to human relationships? Are our only values economic ones?' Thank God we still have the living memory of Jesus, and the stories of his teaching and example to remind us that there's a lot more to life than money!

Today we remember how Jesus understood and obeyed God's highest commandment: 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.' 'With all your heart' " i.e. with total determination! 'With all your soul' " i.e. loving and serving God our whole life long! 'With all your strength' " i.e. putting all our personal possessions, qualities and gifts, at God's disposal and for the service of others!

The love of Jesus for God and God's people was total; but this does not mean that it was any easier for him to practice than it is for us. It is clear that he had to struggle to choose between God and self. The tension and agony of it all is spelled out in Luke's dramatic story of the temptations Jesus faced during that time when the Holy Spirit led him into the desert. There he spent forty days working out the meaning of his life, trying to discover just what God wanted him to do with his life. In the process he came face to face with certain alternatives, which he came to judge as subtle temptations.

First, the tempter suggests to Jesus, extremely hungry after forty days of fasting: 'If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.' In other words, use your power and influence, not for others but for your own satisfaction, comfort and convenience. But though Jesus is desperate for something to eat, he will not dally with this desire, even for a moment. Instead he seeks nourishment of a different kind, relying on God's clear message: 'One does not live on bread alone.'

That was one kind of temptation, but the idea that next comes to Jesus is even more subtle and appealing. This is to use his intelligence and his charisma to gather round him the rich and powerful from every nation, and, eventually, to become a great political leader. It was the temptation to seek world attention and become a political messiah, a temptation to fame and fortune and empire-building. This attraction is the very opposite of what God has said in Scripture about his chosen servant, the saviour of the world's poor and marginalised. God clearly means his Messiah to be a humble servant, a suffering servant, one who sacrifices his life in love. Jesus remembers this, realizes this, and takes it to heart. And so he blitzes the temptation with another clear and definite command of God in Scripture: 'You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.'

The third temptation of Jesus (according to Luke) is to go to the very top of the temple in Jerusalem and take a flying leap from there. A stunt like this will surely attract a horde of followers, and prove to Jesus personally whether God cares about him or not. The very thought of it is fascinating. Jesus, however, promptly puts the idea completely out of his mind as he remembers and relishes God's word: 'You must not put the Lord your God to the test.'

His replies are more remarkable if we remember that Jesus was feeling very weak, fragile and vulnerable. He hadn't eaten anything for forty days. And yet his fidelity and love towards God hardly wavered for a moment. What is his secret? Clearly, it is his reliance on God's word in the Scriptures. He just keeps nourishing his mind, heart, attitudes and his very life, by remembering the word of God.

What the three temptations have in common is the lure of selfishness, for taking the soft options of security, power and prestige. We ourselves are often exposed to temptations to selfishness of one kind or another " in the form of pride, anger, lust, gluttony, envy, sloth, etc. Like Jesus we turn to God for guidance and strength, relying especially on the power of the holy Eucharist to remain faithful.

For better results when we are tempted, we would do well to do as Jesus did " read the scriptures, reflect on them and pray them. Our Church encourages the practice of reading, thinking about, and praying the scriptures each day of Lent. Whatever ways we choose to help us take God's word to heart, our Lent is meant to be a time for correcting our faults and raising our minds to God, a time of personal and community renewal, a time for coming face-to-face with God in his all-powerful word.


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2nd Sunday of Lent, Year C

1st Reading: Genesis (15:5-12, 17-18)

The covenant with Abraham, basis of Israel's religion of trust

He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. Then he said to him, "I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess." But he said, "O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?" He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 26: 1, 7-9, 13-14)

R./: The Lord is my light and my salvation

The Lord is my light and my help;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
before whom shall I shrink? (R./)

O Lord, hear my voice when I call;
have mercy and answer.
Of you my heart has spoken:
'Seek his face.' (R./)

It is your face, O Lord, that I seek;
hide not your face.
Dismiss not your servant in anger;
you have been my help. (R./)

I am sure I shall see the Lord's goodness
in the land of the living.
Hope in him, hold firm and take heart.
Hope in the Lord! (R./)

2nd Reading: Philippians (3:17-4:1)

Paul teaches the way of faithfulness

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

Gospel: Luke (9:28-36)

Peter, James and John glimpsed the hidden glory of Jesus

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" " not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came an overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

BIBLE

Listen to Jesus only

The scene is traditionally considered as Jesus' transfiguration. It's not possible to reconstruct with certainty the experience that led to this surprising story: we only know that the Gospel writers give it great importance, since it is told as an experience that gives a glimpse of Jesus' true identity.

At the beginning, it notes the transformation of his face, and though Moses and Elijah come to speak with him "representatives of the law and prophets respectively" only Jesus' face remains transfigured and shining at the center of the scene.

It seems that the disciples haven't grasped the reality of what's going on around them, since Peter says to Jesus: "Master, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three booths, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah". He puts Jesus on the same plane and at the same level as the two great biblical figures. Each one is to have his booth. Jesus doesn't yet occupy a central and absolute place in his heart.

God's voice will correct him, revealing Jesus' true identity: "This is my Son, the Chosen One", the one who has his face transfigured. He mustn't be confused with Moses or Elijah, whose faces are darkened. "Listen to him". To no one else. His Word is the only decisive one. The rest should take us to him.

We need to recover in today's Church the decisive importance of this Gospel story about Jesus as told in the bosom of the Christian communities from the beginning. These four writings constitute for Christians a uniquely basic source that we mustn't equate with the rest of the biblical writings.

The Gospels aren't teaching books that set out academic doctrines about Jesus. Nor are they biographies redacted to give detailed information about his historical trajectory. There is something that we can only encounter in them: the impact caused by Jesus on the first ones who felt themselves drawn by him and following him. They are "stories of conversion" that call for a change, for a following of Jesus and for an identification with his project.

That's why they need to be listened to with an attitude of conversion. And it's in that spirit that they should be read, preached, meditated on and kept in the heart of each believer and in every community. A Christian community that knows how to listen each Sunday to the Gospel story about Jesus in an attitude of conversion, that community begins to change. The Church doesn't have any power for renewal more vigorous than that contained in these four small books.

Transformed by Prayer

For older Catholics, our experience of the Church has straddled two worlds, what things were like before and after the Second Vatican Council. We can rummage in the storehouse of our mind and compare things old and new. Can you remember how important private prayer was in that pre-Conciliar world, when people were more used to devotional practices than they are today. In the town where I grew up, called in to the church every day for a quick visit to the Blessed Sacrament. Of course, that was before television came and changed the shape of our evenings. Probably we weren't any more virtuous than the people of today. Maybe we had nothing much to do in the evenings and we wanted to get out of the house and meet our friends.

All those habits of private prayer seemed to quickly disappear after the Council, though the modern means of entertainment had much to do with it. Change always demands its price, and even the liturgical changes after Vatican II somehow seemed to sideline private prayer. Here and there we can find signs of prayer making a comeback, as indeed it should. Inside each one of us is a need for prayer, trying to reach out to God. We feel that need to get away from distractions, to be alone for a while, to help make more sense of our lives. What else is that but an urge to pray.

Today's gospel gives a remarkable insight into the nature of prayer. Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray. We too have to find the high ground, remote enough to give us an overall view of our petty world with all its preoccupations. A mountain can give us that perspective, as indeed can a lake or a desert, places where Jesus also liked to pray.

Lent is a time for us to try and create a space for prayer somewhere in our lives. Only by prayer can we be transfigured and then try to transfigure our world. By reflecting deep inside ourselves we will transfigure our many and often complicated relationships. Prayer can transfigure our marriages, our homes, our work and our communities. The American writer, Thurber, at the end of one of his fables, penned this couplet: "All men should learn before they die,/Where they are going, from where and why." Only in prayer will we find the answer to these questions.

Where we encounter God

The splendid vision in our Gospel today comes after Jesus had said that "The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised" (Lk 9:22). This was no good news to the disciples who expected Jesus, as the Messiah, to drive out the Roman army of occupation and restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Many of them would have begun to have second thoughts: Is Jesus really the expected Messiah? So a few days after, Jesus invites the three leaders of his group, Peter, James and John, to go with him up a mountain, to show them another angle on reality.

For many, mountains are a place of encounter with God. Moses encountered God on a mountaintop, and so did Elijah, and it was a favourite place of prayer for Jesus too. It was where the eyes of the apostles, their spiritual eyes, were opened and they caught a glimpse of a Jesus that their physical eyes could never see. Then they saw that the heavens were on the side of Jesus, and they heard the voice of the invisible God, "This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him" (Lk 9:35). This was all the confirmation they needed, that Jesus was indeed the expected one, for heaven itself bore witness. Now they would listen to him and follow him all the way to his suffering and death in Jerusalem. No matter what happens they are now sure of one thing: God is with Jesus; final victory will therefore be his.

How often we experience absurdities in life, leaving us filled with doubt and with the question: Where is God in all this? Think of people who have experienced abuse, deep-rooted individualism and insensitivity from church officials, and they ask, "How can God be in this place?" and many of them give up the faith. Others are traumatized by their experience of social injustice and discrimination. They apply for a job but see people less qualified than they get the job because of having the right connections or the right accent. They see forceful people advancing in society through unfair means and they ask: Where is God when this is going on? Or you may know someone undergoing personal and family crisis like terminal illness, breakdown of relationship between husband and wife, between parent and child, between friends.

At times like these we need to climb the mountain of prayer and ask God to open our eyes that we may see. When God grants us a glimpse of eternity then we realize that all our troubles in this life are short-lived. Then we have the courage to accept the suffering of this life, knowing that through it all God is on our side. All it takes is a glimpse of heaven to empower us to take up our daily crosses and follow Jesus, knowing that the cross of Lent is followed by the victory of Easter.


God on the mountain, God in the valley

Our lives are a mixture of a 'mountain-top experience' and a 'valley experience.' Jesus' prediction of his suffering and death followed by the transfiguration experience reveals this truth in no unclear terms. You can see thorns in a bush full of roses or roses in a bush full of thorns, no matter how you look at it you can't change the truth that both, thorns and roses are before you. Life's journey is through thorns and roses, mountains and valleys.

In the verses preceding today's passage, Jesus already predicted his passion, suffering and death (the valley experience). He spoke about carrying one's cross as a pre-requisite for discipleship.

Interpreted in our own life-context, the mountain-top experience is that of peace, happiness, prosperity, fame, success, physical well-being, stable relationships and a general feeling of fulfillment and contentment. The valley experience is that when things don't seem going right in our lives, when failures and loses befall us, when we are fallen and forsaken, misunderstood and betrayed by others, when relationships threaten to break, when 'tomorrow' scares us in the face, when loneliness stalks us, when grief overwhelms us and life seems at its edge.

When you know that suffering is going to come upon you, it is but natural that your face will look gloomy and pale and people can notice it. But here at the Transfiguration Jesus is looking radiant in glory (the mountain-top experience). This scene suggests that when we take up our cross in God's name we receive strength and grace from the Lord to carry it. The voice of God "This my beloved son in whom I'm well pleased, listen to Him" is not just an endorsement of the Jesus-mission of redemption but an affirmation that God is always "well pleased" when we are willing to carry our cross and follow Him. When you are busy carrying your cross become also sure God is busy weaving a crown for you. Your crown is not somewhere beyond the grave, but in this life itself.

In our human experience, we are tempted just like Peter, James and John to desire the mountaintop experience and avoid the valley experience. But we really must live the valley experience if we want to see the glory of God in our lives. It is in the valley valley experience that we discover our frailties and the follies of our intelligence, when inflated egos are punctured and we discover our great need for God.

When we find it hard to trust God in the valley experience of your life, we could think of little chickens under the wings of a hen. There is darkness under its wings, the little chicks cannot see anything, yet they feel the warm, reassuring protection of their mother. As the Psalmist puts it, "The Lord will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings we will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and your rampart." (Ps 91:4).

Whether in the valley or on the mountain-top, we need the affirmation of God, for the God in the valley is the same God on the mountains.


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3rd Sunday of Lent, Year C

1st Reading: Exodus (3:1-8, 13-15)

God pities his people in Egypt and will free them, through Moses

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up." When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." He said further, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."

And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord said, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

But Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" God also said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you': This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 102: 1-4, 6-8, 11)

R./: The Lord is kind and merciful

My soul, give thanks to the Lord,
all my being, bless his holy name.
My soul give thanks to the Lord
and never forget all his blessings. (R./)

It is he who forgives all your guilt,
who heals every one of your ills,
who redeems your life from the grave,
who crowns you with love
and compassion. (R./)

The Lord does deeds of justice,
gives judgement for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses
and his deeds to Israel's sons. (R./)

The Lord is compassion and love,
slow to anger and rich in mercy.
For as the heavens are high above the earth
so strong is his love for those who fear him. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians (10:1-6, 10-12)

We must persevere, in order to be saved

I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness. nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

Gospel: Luke (13:1-9)

The Lord of the vineyard offers us ample chance to bear fruit

At that very time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them-do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did." Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next ear, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"

BIBLE


Waste of space

The 19th century German chancellor, Bismarck, once compared the Irish unfavourably to the Dutch: "If Ireland were settled by the Dutch," he said, "it would be the bread-basket of Europe, while if Holland was settled by the Irish, it would be drowned in the sea." We can certainly reply that the Irish have other gifts which enhance the quality of life, like sociability and humour, that are perhaps not as prominent among the Dutch (or indeed among Bismarck's compatriots.) But when it comes to industry, we have sometimes tended to lag behind. When travelling in Europe, one sees the countryside intensively cultivated. Apart from the high mountains there is hardly an inch of ground left fallow; everywhere you see the land growing maize, wheat, corn and other crops. It's the same in places like the Ruhr valley, where factory towers stand out among large fields of corn, like ships in the ocean. So much of our countryside is wild and uncultivated, large tracts of which seem untouched by human hand. It seems ironic that a people who fought so passionately for the land should neglect so much of it. Such thoughts can make the parable of the barren fig tree into a parable of our lives. All of us have been given a patch of ground in the Lord's vineyard, where we are expected to produce fruit. Each one's patch is different, often yielding different fruit. Many choose to rear families. Some also run businesses or contribute to the running of them or work at different levels in institutions. Nowadays a large percentage is engaged in what are called the "caring professions," working in education, medicine, the social services, religion, as teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, priests and in similar fields. And if we are to bear fruit in our lives, the crop has to come largely from those fields.

It is a salutary thing to take stock of our personal plot, to see what our returns are like. A farmer likes to take a stroll through his land on a summer's evening, after the day's work is done. And there, leaning up against a farmyard gate, he casts his eye over the growing crops and the grazing animals, thinking about what he has done and what remains to be done to ensure a good harvest. So it should be with us. We may take stock of the quality of our family life, of our involvement or lack of it in our community, of our commitment to our jobs and our colleagues, over and above the statutory requirement. We all find a niche for our selves in this world where we become entrenched. We feel we've earned our place. But we have to go on earning our place.

Otherwise, like the barren fig-tree, there's a danger that we are only "taking up the ground." There are few of us who would not admit, if we are humbly honest, that maybe someone else could do a better job than us. None of us is indispensable. Not even Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor, with his enormous contribution to the creation of modern, industrial Germany. The power of Germany would have come into being without him and possibly without such horrendous consequences to the Germans and the rest of the world. Like the barren fig tree, we are all given many chances to bear fruit. Let today's gospel be one of them.


Jesus invites us to think

Some unknown people communicate to Jesus the news about the horrible slaughter of some Galileans in the holy precincts of the Temple. The perpetrator has been Pilate once again. What's most horrifying is that those men's blood has been mixed with the blood of the animals that were being offered to God.

We don't know why they approach Jesus. Do they want him to express solidarity with the victims? Do they want him to explain what horrible sin they could have committed to merit such a shameful death? And if they haven't sinned, why has God permitted such a sacrilegious death in God's own temple?

Jesus responds by remembering another dramatic event that took place in Jerusalem: the death of eighteen people crushed by the fall of a tower in the wall near the pool of Siloam. Now then, Jesus makes the same affirmation about both events: the victims weren't any more sinners than anyone else. And he finishes his intervention with the same warning: "Unless you repent you will all perish as they did".

Jesus' answer makes us stop and think. More than anything, he rejects the traditional belief that misfortunes are God's punishment. Jesus doesn't think in terms of a "judicial" God who goes about punishing God's sons and daughters, meting out here and there sickness, accidents, misfortunes, as a response to their sins.

Later on, he changes the perspective of the question. He doesn't settle on theoretical elaborations about the ultimate cause of the misfortunes, talking about the victims' guilt or God's will. He turns their attention toward those who are around them and he confronts them with their own selves: they must hear in these happenings God's call to conversion and to a change of life.

We still find ourselves stunned by the tragic earthquake in Haiti. How to read this tragedy from Jesus' attitude? Certainly what's most important isn't asking ourselves where God is, but where are we? The question that can help us move forward toward conversion isn't "why does God permit this horrible misfortune", but "how is it that we allow so many human beings to live in misery, so defenseless in the face of nature's power".

We won't find our crucified God by settling accounts with a faraway divinity, but by identifying ourselves with the victims. We won't find such a God by protesting God's indifference or negating his existence, but by working together in hundreds of ways to mitigate the suffering in Haiti and in the whole world. Then, maybe, we will sense among the lights and the shadows that God is in the victims, defending God's eternal dignity, and in those who fight against evil, encouraging God's battle.


Our kind of spirituality

If we browse through the magazines in any doctor's or dentist's waiting-room, we will probably come across an article on spirituality. Lately too, the lists of best-sellers often include works related to the human spirit or soul. People are no longer satisfied with material things only. Spirituality has become quite a big thing in our time. In their search for satisfaction and self-fulfilment people look for meaning and value beyond the material and the physical.

So far, so good! But not all agree on what is meaningful and valuable in life. For some, being spiritual is focussed on a sense of harmony with all living things, and openness to the great power upholding our intricate universe. For others it includes meditation and stretching exercises, for the sake of inner peace and relaxation, and for the sake of greater physical and mental energy. For some it is mixed up with trances or alleged messages from outer space or from dead friends and relatives; it can involve crystal balls and tarot cards.
In some searches for the spiritual there is a concentration on the 'self ' rather than on the 'Other' or 'the others'. They have little or no awareness at all of such people in need as the poor and the suffering. In other searches for the spiritual there is little sense of the reality of evil. Everything in the garden is rosy. Everything is viewed through rose-coloured glasses. Such spiritualities seem either selfish and inward-looking, or an escape from reality and a flight into fantasy.

But there's another kind of spirituality, Christian spirituality, which you and I have been trying to live. It is based on the conviction that a meaningful life is all about relationships. In relation to ourselves we know that God doesn't make junk. So we value ourselves and respect our own dignity, we work on becoming better persons, knowing that God is patient with us, and hasn't finished with us yet. In relation to other people, we look for the good in them, and deal with them with acceptance, trust, affection and care. In relation to God we treat God as our origin, the ultimate source of our existence. We treat God too as the one who sustains us through all the ups and downs of life. And we treat God as our final destiny, the one who is waiting to take us into his embrace at the end of our lives on earth.

For us life is both personal and interpersonal. God is much more than the great Architect, who designed this amazing universe, and much more than the great Clockmaker, who keeps it ticking over. No! God is Father, Mother, Friend, and Love Itself with a capital 'L'. We hear God speaking to us, and we speak back to God. Thoughts and words of praise and thanksgiving! Thoughts and words of love and self-offering! We converse with God as familiarly as friends talk with one another, as intimately as a wife speaks with her husband, or as children chat with their parents.

So today we hear God say (directly to Moses, and indirectly to us): I am the God of your ancestors, the God of your fathers and mothers. 'I have seen the miserable state of my people in Egypt. I have heard their appeal to be free of their slave-drivers. . . . I am well aware of their sufferings. I mean to deliver them up out of that land to a land rich and broad, a land where milk and honey flow.' In response to this powerful assurance that God cares when people suffer, we are invited to answer, The Lord is kind and merciful.

Our conversation with God goes on in this Mass we are celebrating together. In a few moments we will be declaring in the Creed all God has done for us and for our people down through the ages. In our Prayer of the Faithful, we will speak words of trust and petition. In our Eucharistic Prayer, we will start with words of joyful praise and thanksgiving, and go on to words of petition for a variety of people both living and dead.
In short, our spirituality as Christians is intensely personal and interpersonal. We sense that our God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. We cannot stop ourselves from reaching out to the love and goodness which is God. In fact we cannot even understand ourselves or describe ourselves, except in relation to God. So much so, that we are convinced that God enters into the very definition of who we are as human beings. We find deep meaning and value in a personal and community relationship with a personal God, a God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the God we meet in our readings from scripture. This is our kind of spirituality. (Brian Gleeson cp)


Fertilize your faith

Death stares us in the face almost every hour. Somewhere in the world apart from natural deaths, there's either death by natural calamity, terrorist attack, ethnic brutalities, murder for gain, disease, epidemic, famine or accidents. Death keeps no calendar, but death is certain for us. People who you think would live long die suddenly and those you think wouldn't live long, stretch life to a century.

Our reactions to someone's death can be either 'he/they deserved to die' or a sympathetic 'it should not have happened.' Some judgmental people told Jesus how some Galileans died, victims of Pilate's anger; but instead of explaining this, Jesus quips about victims of the collapse of the tower of Siloam. Jesus actually questions their attitude of being judgmental of others and less judgmental of themselves. He asks "do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?" He goes on to speak of repentance with the parable of the fruitless tree.

When you hear the word 'repentance' the word 'sin' comes to mind almost instantly. Real repentance is actually a reflection over an unfruitful living. Jesus' words "Repent or you will perish" meshes with what the philosopher Socrates [supposedly] said at his trial after he chose death rather than exile: "The un-examined life is not worth living."

To the Christian, the parable of the fruitless fig tree should imply being Christian only by name but not bearing witness to Jesus' teaching. The lesson is not so much about doing wrong but more about not doing what right and expected of us. It is about being actively his disciple. The fig tree that lived three full years and bore no fruit is like a Christian just going on living and bearing no fruit. It is like a dead man walking. We are dead when we don't witness.

Saint Francis of Assisi once invited a young friar to go with him into town to preach. Francis and the young friar spent all day walking through marketplaces, side streets and fields. When the day's journey was done, on their return, the young friar looked very disappointed and said "I thought we were going to preach today?" Francis replied, "Son, we have preached. We were preaching while we were walking. We were seen by many and our behavior was closely watched. It is of no use to walk anywhere to preach unless we preach everywhere as we walk!" Saint Francis' idea of witnessing can be understood in his words "Preach the Gospel everywhere, and if necessary, use words." To him witnessing wasn't merely a person who said some words out of the Bible from time to time but one who lives out the words of the Bible each day.

Last Sunday's Gospel was about the Transfiguration. Being Christian doesn't imply camping on the mountain-top; you've got to come down to ground level and there manifest the glory of God. A man once testified in one of Evangelist Dwight Moody's (1837-1899) prayer meetings that he had lived "on the Mount of Transfiguration" for five years. Moody bluntly asked him "How many souls did you lead to Christ last year?." The man replied with much hesitation "I don't know." Moody persisted "Have you saved any?" Quite uneasy, the man said "I don't think I have." "Well," said Moody, "we don't want that kind of mountaintop experience. When a man gets so high that he can't reach down to poor sinners, there is something wrong."

The man in the Gospel asking "Sir, leave it alone (the fig tree) for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it" is a call to fertilize our faith and ensure we live up to our Christian calling. Have we examined our lives sufficiently? Are we fertilizing our faith enough to bear fruit?


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4th Sunday of Lent, Year C

1st Reading: Joshua (5:9-12)

The Israelites, free at last from slavery and humiliation in Egypt, enter the land of promise

The Lord said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt." And so that place is called Gilgal to this day. While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 33: 2-7)

R./: Taste and see the goodness of the Lord

I will bless the Lord at all times,
his praise always on my lips;
In the Lord my soul shall make its boast.
The humble shall hear and be glad. (R./)

Glorify the Lord with me.
Together let us praise his name.
I sought the Lord and he answered me;
from all my terrors he set me free. (R./)

Look towards him and be radiant;
let your faces not be abashed.
This poor man called; the Lord heard him
and rescued him from all his distress. (R./)

2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians (5:17-21)

Christ's aim and mission was to reconcile us with God

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Gospel: Luke (15:1-2, 11-32)

The vivid parable of the Prodigal Son, on the Father's patient love

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable:

"There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.

When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."' So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe " the best one-and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.

"Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"

BIBLE

What kind of fairness is this?

When reading the story of the Prodigal Son we might feel some dissatisfaction at how he is welcomed home. Rather than being delighted with the mercy of God, we may feel irked by the apparent unfairnessof the father towards his elder son. And yes, some parents do indeed show favouritism. If they hear a complaint about the apple of their eye, they just shake their heads in disbelief. "You don't know him (or her). No, they couldn't do a thing like that. It's just not in their nature." At other times the concerned teacher, priest or kindly neighbour will hear the lament, "I don't know what to do with him, Father. He has my heart broken. I can't understand him at all." Could it be that this prodigal offspring was the favourite?

Is it that we know the elder sons and daughters all too well .. children who have stayed at home, single, to care for ageing parents? And by the time the parents die, they have buried with them the best years of their lives. Theirs was a hard life and if they had grudges one must be slow to blame them. There is a photo over the fireplace in many a country home, showing them standing outside the old place, surrounded by a prosperous sibling and family back on a trip from the States. It's a telling picture. There is the bachelor farmer in his peaked cap and collarless shirt, with a lined, weather-beaten face, looking more like the father than the brother of the returned Yank.

Yes, we can and should feel for the elder son. Sometimes the dutiful quality of our lives make us envy the Prodigal's wild escapade into limitless freedom. We might grudge the sinner his good times. It is probably why we so readily accept the notion of ultimate retribution. We cherish the thought that our good times are ahead of us and hope that the playboys of this world will pay for their pleasures in due time. So the elder son is the patron of all the solid citizens, "the salt of the earth', while behind the banner of the Prodigal huddle all the rakes and misfits, drop-outs, lame-ducks and the rest of the world's rejects.

The puzzling thing about this parable is this epilogue on the elder son's attitude? Surely if the parable is about the boundless mercy of God to the sinner, then by the time the festivities for the returned wanderer are in full swing, we've got the message. Why divert some of our sympathy towards the resentful elder son? Of one thing we can be sure, the storyteller was a master of his craft. Look again at it, but this time through the eyes of one of the world's rejects, a dropout, a misfit, in some way handicapped. Perhaps this is our Lord's answer to their protest: "Why me? Why was I singled out for to be an outsider?" What the grudging elder son failed to see was how the needy have most claims on God's love and forgiveness. Not just during the Year of Mercy, but always.


The ideal short story

They say that's the best short story that was ever written. Some of its phrases are so powerful that they have become proverbial. Prodigal Son, fatted calf. . . lost and found. A story that has enriched the vocabulary of the world. And not just the world's vocabulary " the world's mentality as well. Its way of looking at things. No story tells us more about God or makes us feel better about ourselves. It's a short story with enormous scope, with the widest possible diameter, in that it embraces our sinfulness at one end and God's forgiveness at the other. The best part of it, of course, is that it brings both extremities to the centre. What provoked it? What led Our Lord to tell it? The fact that the Pharisees objected to the company he kept, to his eating with sinners. So he tells the story to give an insight into his own mind and the mind of God.

The story falls into three parts. The first is about the younger son, an impatient lad who wanted his inheritance now. Couldn't wait for the father to die. Greedy fingers, itchy feet, a sensual nature; wanting to live it up, and to hell with the commandments. A life based on doing whatever he feel like doing " not an unfamiliar story in any generation, including our own. "Sure you might as well, life is that short. Anyway. as long as you're enjoying yourself, as long as you're happy." But the happiness ran out, and he came to his senses. And that's the big point about him. He came to his senses. He really was repentant. Repentance is to be sorry to be in one place, to want to be in another, and to have the will and determination to get there. To be sorry for our sins, to want a different kind of life, and to have the motivation and determination to change. Well, he had that. He was graced with that. "I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired men" (Lk 17:19). As I say, the big thing about him is that he acknowledged his sins and wanted to be rid of them. He was really repentant.

The second part of the story is about the father. And when you think about it, it's truly extraordinary. The Gospel says: "While he was still a long way off, his father saw him" (Lk 15-20). Still a long way off, a dot on the horizon. Doesn't that mean he was on the look.out for him, from the day he left, watching and waiting and praying, like many a father or mother? Doesn't it illustrate how God the Father feels about each one of us, how much every one of us matters to him, how anxious he is that we'd come back? And he didn't just wait for the son; he ran out to meet him " met him half-way. Some people feel we should call this story "the Prodigal Father." To be prodigal is to be wasteful or lavish in your use of things. Well, the father threw his forgiveness around. Not in any grudging or reproving way, but in an explosion of sheer generosity and joy: Kill the calf, we're having a feast, the son is alive again. The two big points about the father were the prodigality of his forgiveness and the intensity of his joy: "There will be more rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner repenting than over ninety-nine upright people who have no need of repentance" (Lk 15:7). Remember that?

The third part of the story concerns the elder son, so angry that he couldn't enter into the mood of the party to celebrate his brother's return. He's indignant at his father's easy pardon of the returned prodigal, and refuses even to go in. Of course his anger is quite understandable and he's treated with some sympathy by his father, but the elder son's attitude helps to illustrate how much more forgiving God is than we are, and how inclusive, all-embracing, is the Father's embrace. It includes the two of them " the rock and the rover. "My son you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right that we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found." What a lesson for the Year of Mercy in which pope Francis has invited us to join.

The story of the Prodigal Son really needs no elaboration and maybe it's presumption to be commenting on it at all. The most respectful response to it is personal reflection. Just think about it; savour it and let it sink in. We'll all be touched by different pieces of it, because that's the way with everything we hear. I doubt if any of us can ignore its central message, that there is no limit to God's forgiveness and that our repentance brings joy to the Father's heart. You think God doesn't want us to turn away from sin? You think God doesn't love you? Then you haven't been listening to the story of the Prodigal Son.


That other son

Without doubt, the most captivating parable is the one about the "good father", often called "the parable of the prodigal son". It's this "younger son" who has always attracted the attention of commentators and preachers. His return home and the unbelievable welcome he received from his father have moved Christians of all generations.

However the parable also speaks about the "older son", a man who stays home with his father, without imitating the licentious life of his brother, far from home. When they inform him of the party organized by his father to welcome the lost son, he remains upset. His brother's return doesn't make him happy, like his father, but mad: "He was angry then and refused to go in" to the party. He never left home, but now he feels like a stranger among his own family.

The father goes out to invite him with the same tenderness with which he has welcomed his brother. He doesn't shout or order. With humble love "he tries to persuade him" to come into the welcome home party. It's then that the son explodes, making his resentment known. He's spent his whole life fulfilling his father's orders, but he hasn't learned to love as his father loves. Now all he knows how to do is demand his rights and put his brother down.

This is the tragedy of the older son. He's never left home, but his heart has always been far away. He knows how to fulfill commandments but he doesn't know how to love. He doesn't understand his father's love for that lost son. He doesn't welcome or forgive him, he doesn't want to know anything about his brother. Jesus ends his parable without satisfying our curiosity: does he enter the party or does he stay outside?

Caught up in the religious crisis of modern society, we're used to talking about believers and non-believers, about practicing Christians and fallen-aways, about marriages blessed by the Church and couples living together While we keep classifying God's children, God keeps waiting for us all, since God isn't property of good people or of practicing Christians. God is Father of all.

The "older son" challenges those of us who think we live near the Father. What are we doing, we who haven't abandoned the Church? Are we keeping up our religious existence by observing what's commanded the best we can, or are we witnesses of God's great love for all God's sons and daughters? Are we building open communities who know how to understand, welcome and accompany those who seek God in the midst of doubts and questions? Do we raise barriers or do we build bridges? Do we offer friendship or do we look on others with suspicion?


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5th Sunday of Lent, Year C

1st Reading: Isaiah (43:16-21)

The prophet promises the exiles a new Exodus

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:

"Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

The wild animals will honour me, the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise."

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 125)

R./: The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy

When the Lord delivered Zion from bondage,
it seemed like a dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
on our lips there were songs. (R./)

The heathens themselves said:
'What marvels the Lord worked for them!'
What marvels the Lord worked for us!
Indeed we were glad. (R./)

Deliver us, O Lord, from our bondage
as streams in dry land.
Those who are sowing in tears
will sing when they reap. (R./)

They go out, they go out, full of tears,
carrying seed for the sowing:
they come back, they come back, full of song,
carrying their sheaves. (R./)

2nd Reading: Philippians (3:8-14)

Holiness is a gift, a sharing in Christ, in utter trust

I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Gospel: John (8:1-11)

Instead of judging, the accusers must examine themselves

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.

When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, sir." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again."

BIBLE

An Ignored Revolution

They bring to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. They all know her fate: be stoned to death according to what's written in the law. No one talks about the adulterous man involved. As always happens in a sexist society, the woman gets condemned and the man walks free. Their challenge to Jesus is head-on: "In the law, Moses has ordered us to stone women of this kind. What have you got to say?".

Jesus doesn't support such social hypocrisy fed by male arrogance. Such sentencing to death doesn't come from God. With admirable audacity, he brings in truth, justice and compassion all together in the judgment of the adulterous woman: "Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her".

The accusers go away shamefaced. They know that they are the ones most responsible for the adulteries committed in that society. Then Jesus directs himself to the woman who has just escaped execution and with great tenderness and respect, tells her: "Neither do I condemn you". He encourages her to make her gift of forgiveness the starting point for a new life: "Go away, and from this moment on, sin no more".

That's how Jesus is. Finally there is in the world someone who hasn't let himself be conditioned by any oppressive law or power; a free and magnanimous one who never hated or condemned, never returned evil for evil. In his defense and his forgiveness of this adulterous woman there is more truth and justice than in our resentful demands and condemnations.

We Christians haven't yet managed to unpack all the consequences in Jesus' liberating action in the face of this woman's oppression. Working in a Church that is directed and inspired mostly by men, we often fail to be aware of all the injustices that women keep suffering in all areas of life. One theologian spoke a few years ago about the revolution ignored by Christianity.

Clearly, twenty centuries later, in countries with supposedly Christian roots, we still live in a society where women often cannot move about freely without fear of men. Rape, physical abuse, humiliation aren't imaginary things. On the contrary, they form perhaps the most deeply rooted violence and the one that causes the most suffering.

Doesn't the suffering of women need to echo more strongly and more concretely in our church celebrations, and have a more important place in our work of social conscience-raising? But, above all, don't we need to be closer to each oppressed woman in order to denounce abuses, offer intelligent defense and effective protection? [J A Pagola]


The flaw in Pharisaic judgment

What do we make of the Pharisees in today's gospel story? They caught a woman in the act of adultery and brought her into the Temple precincts, thronged with all kinds of people, making her stand before everyone to shame her as publicly as possible. Then they insisted that her execution should follow the full rigour of the Law of Moses, namely death by stoning. The Gospel sees their motive not as zeal for the Law, but to use the woman as a pawn to discredit Jesus. "What have you to say?" they demand of him. If his response was simply, "Leave the woman along; let her go free," they could accuse him of ignoring the Law and condoning adultery. If, however, he were to say, "Let her be stoned to death," then he would be seen as lacking in mercy, and as rejecting the legal restrictions set by Roman authority, which reserved the right to impose the death penalty. Jesus saw through their plotting and made them withdraw in confusion.

The intriguing question is what did Jesus write with his finger on the ground. The Gospel account gives us a possible clue. It does not use the normal Greek word for "write" (graphein), but rather one (katagraphein) which means to draw up a condemnation. Possibly Christ may have listed on the ground the sins of each of the woman?s accusers, and so his challenge that the one without sin should cast the first stone met with no response. Although Jesus did not condemn the woman, neither did he condone what she had done. "Don't sin any more," was his invitation and warning to her.)

In the case of the Pharisees, as we see, and indeed in the case of most of us, there is the subtle danger of creating God in our own image and likeness, imagining him to be a stern and demanding God, who takes revenge, who loves to punish, who can be persuaded to forgive only after we have made a great show of repentance. Such of course is a mere caricature of God. At best this kind of religion can be cold and loveless. At worst, as St Paul says in the 2nd Reading, trying to form a right relationship with God by mere adherence to the Law and all its ways can be as worthless as the rubbish one throws away. It is only when we allow the love of God, as seen in Christ, to encompass our lives, to change our inner being, that we begin to understand Christianity.

Contrary to the thinking of the Pharisees, we must fight the tendency to regard ourselves as better than others, no matter what commandments we keep; nor must we judge and condemn others. Rather should we be generous, forgiving and loving towards others. From the gospel story we see that the worst of the seven deadly sins is not lust as so many think. Indeed, Christ's harshest condemnation was reserved for those who, like the Pharisees, in their pride and self-righteousness shut themselves off from God, who felt no need to ask God for help and grace. We cannot be true followers of Christ unless we acknowledge our frailty, our sinfulness, our need for his help which alone can save us. When we do fall we gain a deeper understanding of the extraordinary mercy God is prepared to extend to the sinner. For our sins make no difference to God?s enduring love for us.

St Paul says that all things work together for the good of those who love God (Rom 8:28). St Augustine adds, "Yes, even sin!" for from bitter personal experience, he more than most knew all about the false allure of sin, how difficult it is often to break away from it, and how God?s love alone can help us conquer it.


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Palm Sunday, (Passion Sunday) Years A, B, C

1st Reading: Isaiah (50:4-7)

The Suffering Servant will not be put to shame

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 22)

R./: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me

All who see me scoff at me;
   they mock me with parted lips, they wag their heads:
He relied on the Lord; let him deliver him,
   let him rescue him, if he loves him. (R./)

Indeed, many dogs surround me,
   a pack of evildoers closes in upon me;
they have pierced my hands and my feet;
   I can count all my bones. (R./)

They divide my garments among them,
   and for my vesture they cast lots.
But you, O Lord, be not far from me;
   O my help, hasten to aid me. (R./)

I will proclaim your name to my brethren;
   in the midst of the assembly I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him;
   all you descendants of Jacob, give glory to him;
   revere him, all you descendants of Israel! (R./)

2nd Reading: Philippians (2:6-11)

The self-emptying (kenosis) of God's loving servant, to save his people

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death " even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Gospel: Luke (22:14-23:56

or, shorter version: Luke 23:1-49)

Luke's edifying narrative, underlining the mercy and prayer of Jesus

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!"

Then they began to ask one another, which one of them it could be who would do this. A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. "You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. "Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." And he said to him, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!" Jesus said, "I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me."

He said to them, "When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?" They said, "No, not a thing." He said to them, "But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, 'And he was counted among the lawless'; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled." They said, "Lord, look, here are two swords." He replied, "It is enough. He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, "Pray that you may not come into the time of trial." Then he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, knelt down, and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done." Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.

When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, "Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial." While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, "Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?" When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, "Lord, should we strike with the sword?" Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, "No more of this!" And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, "Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!"

Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, "This man also was with him." But he denied it, saying, "Woman, I do not know him." A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, "You also are one of them." But Peter said, "Man, I am not!" Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, "Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean." But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are talking about!" At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly.

Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, "Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?" They kept heaping many other insults on him. When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. They said, "If you are the Messiah, tell us." He replied, "If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God." All of them asked, "Are you, then, the Son of God?" He said to them, "You say that I am." Then they said, "What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!"

Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, "We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king." Then Pilate asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" He answered, "You say so." Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, "I find no basis for an accusation against this man." But they were insistent and said, "He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place." When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer.

The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies. Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, "You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him." Then they all shouted out together, "Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!" (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, "Crucify, crucify him!" A third time he said to them, "Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him." But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed.

So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished. As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.-

A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the ays are surely coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us'; and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?" Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews." One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, "Certainly this man was innocent." And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

BIBLE

Success, after apparent disaster

Later this week is the anniversary of the martyrdom (March 24, 1980) of archbishop Oscar Romero. It reminds us that our Lord Jesus was not the first man to die for a cause, nor the last. He was not the first or the last innocent man to be put to death. He was not the only one ever crucified. There were on that same day two others. Even as regards physical pain it is at least possible that others have suffered as much. What then makes the passion so different? And it is undeniably different.

The gospel account is roughly about two newspaper columns long, and even though I've read it, or heard it read hundreds of times, it still affects me. I wonder why? I think the answer lies in the details " the completely human and utterly shabby circumstances in which Christ died.

Take for example the behaviour of his friends. Was there ever such a complete let-down? Judas, one of the specially chosen twelve. One can feel the hurt, almost the unbelief in Christ's gentle words, "Friend, why are you here? Judas would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?' One could almost stomach the betrayal of Judas had the other eleven remained faithful. But one short line tells their story "And they all forsook him and fled." And Peter " surely not Peter. Think of all those miracles Christ worked while Peter was by his side. He raised the dead child to life, set him walking on water, was transfigured before him. Only a few short hours be fore, Peter had boasted, "Even though all abandon you, I will follow you to prison and to death." " but at a distance, a safe distance. And when he was cornered a jibe or two from a servant girl looking for notice, Peter the Rock disintegrated. "He began to curse and to swear that he knew not the man." That must really have hurt Jesus. "And Jesus turning looked at Peter and Peter went out and wept bitterly." And these were his friends, his only friends. The people he lived with and loved. The people he showered his miracles on and shared his secrets with. And not one of them lifted a finger for him.

What has the Passion story to do with us? It is the story of our salvation. But it is more, much more. It is the story of our lives. There isn't a part in the whole sordid script that we, you and I, wouldn't play to perfection. Peter in his pride and Peter in his fall and, hopefully, Peter in his repentance too. We'd fit in perfectly with the disciples who fled at the first sign of danger, or with Caiaphas and the high priests, with their self-righteousness and eagerness to reform others while ignoring themselves, or with Pilate in his abuse of authority, or with the mob with its thirst for excitement and blood. And Judas? Let's face it " there's a Judas in all of us. There are times and situations in all our lives when Jesus could easily say to us as he said to Judas, "Friend, why are you here?" The truth is, it was only his friends who could really have crucified him so.


Like us in all things but sin

"He was oppressed and was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth" (Is 53:7). For the followers of Christ, this Isaiah text evokes a response deep down within us, seeing how they apply to God's only beloved Son, and how he died for all of us. In the words of St Peter, "without having seen him you have come to believe in him, and so you are filled already with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described" (1 Pet 1:8). Without this sincere love of Christ, we are no true followers of his. We cannot say we fully love him, until we appreciate what he suffered for us.

Having just heard the Passion narrative there is no need to retrace in great detail the events there described. But we might reflect how Christ was no stranger to hardship, privation and suffering, long before that final day of his life. "Being in the form of God," as St Paul says, from the moment he came on earth, Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are (Phil 2:6f). He, the most high God, suffered the hardships of the poor, at times not even having a place to lay his head. He endured hunger and thirst, and after long days surrounded by crowds seeking a cure, he often spent whole nights at prayer in the hills. Despite his compassion for all who came to him, he met with hatred and rejection, in particular from Pharisees and priests, who planned to have him killed. How this rejection and hatred must have grieved him. King Lear knew "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is, to have a thankless child;" and how must Jesus have felt at being rejected by the people he had chosen, above all others.

The cruelly disfigured face was the face of the Son of God. The forehead streaming with blood, the hands and feet nailed to the Cross, the body lacerated with scourges, the side pierced with a lance, these were the forehead, the hands and feet, the sacred body, the side of the eternal Word, made visible in Jesus. Why such suffering? We can only say with Isaiah, "It was for our transgressions he was smitten, for our sins he was brought low. On him lay the punishment that brings us healing, through his wounds we are made whole" (Is 53:5ff). God, our Father, grant that your Son's suffering for us may not be in vain.


The Greatest Week

Today we are beginning the best week in the whole liturgical year. Centuries ago it was called the 'Great Week'. Nowadays we Catholics call it 'Holy Week'. We follow Jesus every step of the way. We start with his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, where he is welcomed, applauded and acclaimed, by a big crowd of followers. On Thursday we will join him at table and receive the gift of himself in bread and wine. After dining with him we will walk with him along the path that leads from the Upper Room to the Garden of Olives. There we will see him falling to the ground in fear and anxiety about the cruel death that awaits him. Friday will find us standing beside his mother at the foot of the cross, and feeling compassion for him in both his physical agony and his mental torment.

We will be feeling especially some of his sense of being alone and abandoned, betrayed and deserted, not only by friends and followers, but even by God. On Saturday we will be quiet and silent around his tomb, as we remember the injustice, hostility and cruelty, of all those evil men who murdered him. Then, late on Saturday, we will move from the darkness of our journey to the place of the brightly burning fire. There we will join the procession of the great Easter Candle, representing the risen Christ, as he lights up the darkness of our church and lives.

There and then, the pain and sadness of our journey with Jesus to Calvary, will give way to the hope and joy that comes with our awareness. Jesus Christ is not dead and gone. No, he is alive, strong and powerful, alive in himself, and alive in us. And so we will be hearing in our hearts those assuring words that Juliana of Norwich in her vision of Christ Crucified heard from his own lips: 'All will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well.'


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Holy Thursday, Years A, B, C

1st Reading: Exodus (12:1-2, 11-14)

Israel's departure from Egypt, and how this is to be celebrated for all time

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labour.. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, "Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?" He answered, "Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and thought, "Surely the thing is known."

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 116)

R./: Our blessing-cup is a communion with the Blood of Christ

How shall I make a return to the Lord
   for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
   and I will call upon the name of the Lord. (R./)

Precious in the eyes of the Lord
   is the death of his faithful ones.
I am your servant, the son of your handmaid;
   you have loosed my bonds. (R./)

To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving,
   and I will call upon the name of the Lord.
My vows to the Lord I will pay
   in the presence of all his people. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians (11:23-26)

When we proclaim Christ's saving death in bread and wine, it makes him ever present with us

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Gospel: John (13:1-15)

The example of Jesus washing their feet shows us how to live

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples" feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean." After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord-and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

BIBLE

How to share in the Last Supper

When Jesus says, "Do this in memory of me!" clearly he means us to understand what "This" was and is. What exactly had he in mind through the symbols of the broken bread and the shared cup of wine? We need to get behind the formal Catechism answer about the "holy sacrifice of the Mass," and think anew about the meaning of that paschal meal. The Last Supper was celebrated in the context of the Jewish Passover meal and tonight's first reading explains the meaning of this feast. In words and symbols it recalled the greatest saving act of God in the Old Testament, the exodus from Egypt, setting God's people free from slavery. It opens us up to the idea that God enters our lives to save us and set us free from whatever oppresses us. So "opened up," we are prepared for the good news that the definitive saving work of God is done in and by Jesus Christ.

We reflect this evening on what St John calls the "hour" of Jesus, the high point of his saving work, the new exodus, his passing from this world to the Father through which he brought into being a new relationship between God and us human beings. Sharing in this new exodus is our ultimate liberation, freeing us from enslavement to material things and petty self-interest and setting us free to love generously, the very purpose for which we were originally created in the image of God. Through his love-without-limit, in his own utterly unselfish heart Jesus overcame all human selfishness and with it, human sin. Precisely this love, which the Father wants us all to have and to share, is the very heart of Jesus' exodus. It is just this self-giving kind of love which Jesus wants to be kept alive among us. With his disciples in the Last Supper he anticipated his death for us on the cross, giving himself in the sacramental symbols of bread and wine. From then on the celebration of our Eucharist is the living memorial through which we are joined to Our Lord's saving act of love. It is our way to share in the new exodus, to be freed from the isolation of self-concern so that they become fully human as God wants us to be.

St John implies that we are united with Jesus by letting him wash our feet, accepting his great act of loving service. Having accepted the gift we must embrace it as a value to practice in our lives. What Jesus does for us in his Passion shows us how to live. In some real sense, we must live like Jesus, "for" God and others. There is a close link between Jesus washing their feet and then their going on to wash the feet of others in the future. If the Eucharist is the place where the Lord washes our feet, daily life is the place where we can wash the feet of others. Eucharist leads to life leads to Eucharist. True Eucharist piety must lead to service of others. Jesus who broke the bread of the Eucharist also washed the feet of his disciples. We must follow his example both at the altar of the Eucharist and at the altar of life.


Weekday Readings for the 1st Week of Lent

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Monday of Week 1 of Lent

1st Reading: Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18)

Practical guidance for worship and for social compassion

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my sabbaths: I am the Lord your God. Do not turn to idols or make cast images for yourselves: I am the Lord your God.

When you offer a sacrifice of well-being to the Lord, offer it in such a way that it is acceptable on your behalf. It shall be eaten on the same day you offer it, or on the next day; and anything left over until the third day shall be consumed in fire. If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is an abomination; it will not be acceptable. All who eat it shall be subject to punishment, because they have profaned what is holy to the Lord; and any such person shall be cut off from the people.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.

You shall not defraud your neighbour; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a labourer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbour. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbour: I am the Lord.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 19)

R./: Your words, o Lord, are Spirit and they are life

The law of the Lord is perfect,
it revives the soul.
The rule of the Lord is to be trusted,
it gives wisdom to the simple. (R./)

The precepts of the Lord are right,
they gladden the heart.
The command of the Lord is clear,
it gives light to the eyes. (R./)

The fear of the Lord is holy,
abiding for ever.
The decrees of the Lord are truth and all of them just. (R./)

May the spoken words of my mouth
And the thoughts of my heart,
win favour in your sight, O Lord,
my rescuer, my rock! (R./)

Gospel: Matthew (25:31-46)

The final judgment, based on "As you did it to these.."

Jesus said to his disciples, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me." Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited ou?" And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."

Then he will say to those at his left hand, "You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me." Then they also will answer, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?" Then he will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me." And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

BIBLE

Live sparingly, for love's sake

Today's Scriptures focus is on issues of life and death, of hunger and thirst, of nakedness and imprisonment. They help us examine our conscience on basic issues, on sharing and not defrauding. The whole moral landscape of our social and economic life needs shaking up, if we are to fulfil the Lord's guidance in Leviticus: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." How far this is from the culture of fat-cats, of clandestine "top-ups" for those alrealy highly paid, while cutting medical and social helps to those less fortunate. If they were to take on the Lenten message, wealthier people would undertake some taste of the hunger felt by those at the bottom of the economic scale. By solidarity and unostentatious alms the rich can offer the destitute an opportunity for self-respect; by gracious acceptance the poor can teach the proud how to be of humble heart before God and neighbour.

Leviticus declares the deepest laws of creation where we are reduced to our common, shared status as children of God. "Love your neighbour as yourself" remains a cardinal principle. Unless this divine law is pursued and obediently followed, then at the end of life Jesus can do nothing else but say: "I do not know you!" The final judgment simply ratifies how we have responded to the basic laws of human nature-and here we find the sublime guidance: "As often as you did it for one of my least brothers and sisters, you did it for me." Jesus too is bone of our bones, flesh of our flesh.

The signs in everyday things

It is clear that many did not recognize God present in Jesus. In many ways Jesus seemed too ordinary to be someone through whom God was at work in any significant way. The people of Nazareth said, 'Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?' Then when Jesus was crucified by the Romans this confirmed for many people that God could not have been visiting them through Jesus. How could God be present in the crucified body of a convicted criminal? Yet, we believe that God was present in Jesus throughout his life, and especially in his death, even though very few recognized Jesus as God-with-us. In the gospel Jesus declares that very few will recognize his presence as risen Lord either, especially his presence in the crucified, in those who are in greatest need, whether it is the need for food, drink, clothing, hospitality, health, freedom. At the end of time, people will ask, 'when did we see you. . ..' God's presence in Jesus was not always obvious to Jesus' contemporaries, and the presence of the risen Lord will not always be obvious to us either. The Lord comes to us not in signs and wonders but in weakness, in the brokenness and suffering of others whoever they are. Elsewhere in the gospel Jesus says whoever welcomes a child welcomes him. Jesus is suggesting that there is a deeper, more sacred, quality to our encounters with others than we might realize at the time, especially in our encounters with the weak and vulnerable.

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Tuesday of Week 1 of Lent

1st Reading: Isaiah (55:10-11)

God's word comes down from heaven like rain, to make the earth fruitful

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered 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 succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 34)

R./: The Lord will rescue the just from all their distress

Glorify the Lord with me.
Together let us praise his name.
I sought the Lord and he answered me;
from all my terrors he set me free. (R./)

Look towards him and be radiant;
let your faces not be abashed.
This poor man called; the Lord heard him
and rescued him from all his distress. (R./)

The Lord turns his face against the wicked
to destroy their remembrance from the earth.
The Lord turns his eyes to the just and his ears to their appeal. (R./)

They call and the Lord hears and rescues them in all their distress.
The Lord is close to the broken- hearted;
those whose spirit is crushed he will save. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew (6:7-15)

Guidance about prayer and the spirit of forgiveness

Jesus said to his disciples, "When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

"Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

BIBLE

Safe in the hands of God

Year on year, each Lent we give special care to hearing and pondering God's word. Carefully listening to the word of God, of appreciating and absorbing it, of responding to it obediently, is a lifelong task. This cycle of life is symbolized by rain and snow, falling from the sky and soaking the earth, then rising towards heaven as bushes and trees. Divine inspiration is the rain and snow, our inspired lives are the bushes and trees. This image concludes the great section of Isaiah 40-55, some of the most sublime literature of the Old Testament. The lines of this exalted poem show all the hallmarks of human genius, well trained and carefully exercised. They seethe with hopes and ideals, with courage and persistence, calling us to trust in God. The author of this sublime poetry was "Second Isaiah" the great unknown genius of the Old Testament.

"See!" God says through the anonymous prophet, "upon the palms of my hands I have written your name" (Is 49:16). And the reason is "because you are precious in my eyes and because I love you" (43:4). Divine love is portrayed in terms of unconditional forgiveness. And this is exactly the type of love which Jesus teaches us when he taught us to pray the Our Father. Hope, confidence and security are planted in our hearts and genuinely confessed, when we say: "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, forgive us . . . and deliver us. . ." These beautiful words (of a kingdom to come, of fresh, daily bread, of gentle forgiveness from depths of understanding, of deliverance from anxiety, of soothing every wrong) allow the soul to develope from a new embryo into a fully formed man and woman of God.

A gentle, persistent concern reaches us through the liturgy of Lent. This year let it not be just another Lent, but a time for the divine word to be fully alive in us, "achieving the end for which I sent it." From all their needs God will deliver his people. Look to him that you may be radiant with joy!

What prayer can be

The gospels portray Jesus at prayer many times, and sometimes they give us the content of his prayer. However, only once is Jesus presented as teaching his disciples a prayer for them to pray, and that prayer has become known to us as the Lord's Prayer. It is a prayer that has had a privileged place within the Christian tradition because it is the only prayer that Jesus explicitly taught us to pray. For all the differences across the various Christian denominations, this prayer is one that we all have in common. It is a prayer we can all pray together. In giving us this prayer, Jesus was also giving us a lesson on how to pray. The first part of the prayer is focused on God rather than on ourselves, God's name, God's kingdom, God's will. Jesus is teaching us that prayer is a letting go to God, a yielding to what God wants for his world and for ourselves. Only after those petitions that focus on God does Jesus teach us to focus on our own needs. The Lord's Prayer encourages us to pray out of our fundamental needs, our need for sustenance, both material and spiritual, our need for forgiveness, our need for God's deliverance when evil in whatever form puts our faithfulness to the Lord to the test. It is significant that in those second set of petitions, the Lord's Prayer teaches us to focus on ourselves not as individuals but as members of a community; that is why the language of the second part of the prayer is 'our' rather than 'my.' In praying those petitions, I am praying not just for myself but for others. We pray this prayer as members of a community of faith. Through the two sets of petitions that make up this prayer, Jesus is teaching us that prayer is always a going out of ourselves towards God and towards others.

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Wednesday of Week 1 of Lent

1st Reading: Jonah 3:1-10)

When Jonah's preaching bears fruit, God has mercy on Nineveh

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, "Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you."

So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days" walk across. He began to go into the city, going a day's walk. And he cried out, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: "By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish."

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 51)

R./: O Lord you will not spurn a humble and contrite heart

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offence.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin. (R./)

A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit. (R./)

For in sacrifice you take no delight,
burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice a contrite spirit.
A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn. (R./)

Gospel: Luke (11:29-32)

The only sign given will be the sign of Jonah, who returns from the dead after three days

When the crowds were increasing, Jesus began to say, "This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!

BIBLE

Learning from Jonah

The author of the Jonah story knew his Bible and his sacred history well and weaves into his narrative ideas and allusions from other parts of the Israel's Scripture and traditions. The words of the Assyrian king, "Who knows God may relent and forgive, and withhold his blazing wrath?" are drawn from earlier texts like the penitential prayer in Joel 2:14. The inspired author had meditated so long on earlier prophecies that his own preaching and writing became like a tapestry of biblical passages.

Because he knew his Bible so well that he could think only in its language, the author of Jonah almost explodes with exasperation and frustration. Why do those people-his own-with such a rich heritage, refuse to reform their ways and respond to God with faith and justice, with prayer and hope? Look, says this writer, the pagans, even the worst of them, the ruthless and ever hated Assyrians, are more spontaneously good than my own people!

Jonah underlines that most wonderful of surprises, the extraordinary and unsuspected goodness of strangers, even of such unlikely candidates for holiness as . . .. The dotted lines must be filled in by each of us; here we name our worst enemy, the most impossible sinner, hopelessly wicked to the marrow of the bones. Such was the "Assyrian" in the ears of Jonah's people. The same resonance today might attach to such words as Communist or Nazi, paedophile or child molester!

The message of the readings can be summed up in a single phrase, there's always hope! As long as life lasts we must never lose hope in others or indeed in ourselves. Things can always improve, in the local or national scene, and even in world affairs, like the present crises in places like Ukraine or Syria. So surely conversions and transformations can take place. How marvellous that the once pagan city of Nineveh can come to believe in God, proclaim a fast, pray for forgiveness, to become a model of goodness for all the rest of us! Hope can come from unsuspected quarters! Jonah adds that when God saw the repentance of Nineveh, he "repented of the evil he had threatened to do to them." If God can change his mind, how can we maintain rigid condemnation of others?

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Thursday of Week 1 of Lent

1st Reading: Esther 4:29-42)

Queen Esther's prayer wins God's help in a time of crisis

Queen Esther, seized with deadly anxiety, fled to the Lord. She prayed to the Lord God of Israel, and said: "O my Lord, you only are our king; help me, who am alone and have no helper but you, for my danger is in my hand. Ever since I was born I have heard in the tribe of my family that you, O Lord, took Israel out of all the nations, and our ancestors from among all their forebears, for an everlasting inheritance, and that you did for them all that you promised.

Remember, O Lord; make yourself known in this time of our affliction, and give me courage, O King of the gods and Master of all dominion! Put eloquent speech in my mouth before the lion, and turn his heart to hate the man who is fighting against us, so that there may be an end of him and those who agree with him. But save us by your hand, and help me, who am alone and have no helper but you, O Lord, who have knowledge of all things."

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 137)

R./: Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.

I thank you, Lord, with all my heart,
you have heard the words of my mouth.
Before the angels I will bless you.
I will adore before your holy temple. (R./)

I thank you for your faithfulness and love
which excel all we ever knew of you.
On the day I called, you answered;
you increased the strength of my soul. (R./)

You stretch out your hand and save me,
your hand will do all things for me.
Your love, O Lord, is eternal,
discard not the work of your hands. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew (7:7-12)

Ask, and it will be given you… Jesus teaches prayer

Jesus said to his disciples, "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

"In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets."

BIBLE

Courage in a crisis

Esther's story perfectly illustrates what Jesus promised: "Ask and you shall receive." God heard her prayer and acted to save his chosen people at a time of critical stress. In her people's time of mortal danger, Esther had to risk going to the Persian king on their behalf, which she knew could cost her her life, yet to do nothing but hide in her priveleged ivory tower while her people were destroyed, would leave her haunted with guilt all her days. But how many of us simply turn a blind eye when a risky action is called for?

Esther prayed: "My Lord, our king, you alone are God. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you." Times such as these lead to experiences of heightened prayer. Fantasies of ambition, selfish motivations, reliance upon wit and diplomacy and half-truths-all such contaminating elements are swept from our memory. Every crutch is taken away, and if we are to stand, it will be through God's strength alone.

Prayer at such times is bound to be heard, because we are in touch with the best and deepest part of ourselves, with the loving Creator whose plan called us into life and who alone knows the secret of our future. We must place no conditions on what God can accomplish in us. "Which of you would hand their child a stone if the child asks for bread?" We must trust him and hand our lives over into his care.

Ask with confidence

The opening words of Jesus in this gospel encourage us to be seekers, 'ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.' What are we to seek? What should we ask for? The simple answer is to seek the Lord and his will for our lives. Many such seekers are mentioned in the gospels. Zacchaeus comes to mind among many others. His story reminds us that the Lord whom we seek is always seeking us. At table with Zacchaeus, Jesus spoke of himself as the Son of Man who came to seek out and to save the lost.

Because we can never fully find the Lord this side of eternity, we will always be in the role of seekers after him. We are always on a journey towards the Lord, without ever fully arriving at our destination. Like Abraham we are always setting on a journey in response to the Lord's call. In the words of Saint Paul in his letter to the Philippians, we strain 'forward to what lies ahead'; 'we press on towards the goal', or in the words of the letter to the Hebrews, 'we run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus.' Jesus assures us in the gospel that if we remain faithful to that search of the Lord and the journey it gives rise to, we will be given 'good things' by God. In our seeking the Lord, we open ourselves to his many gifts and graces.

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Friday of Week 1 of Lent

1st Reading: Ezekiel (18:21-28)

Personal responsibility to replace the idea of shared guilt

But if the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die. None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live?

But when the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity and do the same abominable things that the wicked do, shall they live? None of the righteous deeds that they have done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which they are guilty and the sin they have committed, they shall die. Yet you say, "The way of the Lord is unfair." Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?

When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 130)

R./: If you O Lord should mark our guilt, who would survive?

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,
Lord, hear my voice
O let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleading. (R./)

If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt,
Lord, who would survive?
But with you is found forgiveness:
for this we revere you. (R./)

My soul iswaiting for the Lord,
I count on his word.
My soul is longing for the Lord
more than watchman for daybreak.
Let the watchman count on daybreak
and Israel on the Lord. (R./)

Because with the Lord
there is mercy and fullness of redemption,
Israel indeed he will redeem
from all its iniquity. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew (5:20-26)

True justice goes deeper than simply keeping a set of laws

Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

"You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, "You shall not murder"; and "whoever murders shall be liable to judgment." But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, "You fool," you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

BIBLE

Freedom and responsibility

Ezekiel calls us to persevere in doing good across a lifetime. In Matthew's gospel Jesus roots the discernment of good and evil in the depths of the human heart. We must do more than keep a set of rules, stopping short of murdering others; we must aim to be at peace with them and not harbour anger or resentment. Jesus names the objects of our patience and kindness: they are our brother and our sister. At first, this designation might seem to make the practice of tolerance somewhat easier. Yet common experience tells us that people often lose their temper more quickly and find forgiveness harder within their own family.

This journey of reconciliation begins first in our heart when we decide to do all in our power to win back our brother or sister. On that condition we can continue with our Eucharist in good conscience. The effort must be continued for, as Ezekiel warns: "If the virtuous person turns from the path of virtue to do evil . . . has broken faith and committed sin, . . . he shall die!"

Does this ask too much? God asks nothing without first giving us the grace of a "new heart and . . . a new spirit" and putting his own spirit within us (Ezek 36:26-27). Then there is the assurance us that whatever be our offense against life and goodness, God forgives us if we turn from our evil ways. Ezekiel's understanding of God's outlook concludes with this great phrase, "I have no pleasure in the death of anyone . . . Return and live!"

Invited to go beyond

In today's gospel, Jesus calls his disciples to a virtue that goes deeper than the virtue of the scribes and Pharisees. One of the ten commandments of the Jewish Law was "You shall not kill." The call of Jesus goes deeper than that; it looks beyond the action of killing to the underlying attitudes and emotions which lead people to kill or injure each other. Jesus invites us to look below the surface of what people do to why they do it. He calls for a renewal of the heart and mind; that is what we mean by "repentance" or "conversion." That deep-seated renewal that Jesus calls for is not something we can bring about on our own. We need the Holy Spirit to work that kind of deep transformation within ourselves. A traditional prayer puts it very clearly: "Come Holy Spirit, fill my heart, and kindle in me the fire of your love." It is a prayer I am very drawn to. It calls on the Holy Spirit to recreate deep within us the love which shaped the person of Jesus; it prays for the roots of that deeper virtue which Jesus speaks about in today's gospel.

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Saturday of Week 1 of Lent

1st Reading: Deuteronomy ((26:16-19)

Walking in the way of the Lord

This very day the Lord your God is commanding you to observe these statutes and ordinances; so observe them diligently with all your heart and with all your soul. Today you have obtained the Lord's agreement: to be your God; and for you to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, his commandments, and his ordinances, and to obey him. Today the Lord has obtained your agreement: to be his treasured people, as he promised you, and to keep his commandments; for him to set you high above all nations that he has made, in praise and in fame and in honour; and for you to be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 119)

R./: Happy are those who follow the law of the Lord

They are happy whose life is blameless,
who follow God's law.
They are happy those who do his will,
seeking him with all their hearts. (R./)

You have laid down your precepts
to be obeyed with care.
May my footsteps be firm
to obey your statutes. (R./)

I will thank you with an upright heart
as I learn your decrees.
I will obey your statutes;
do not forsake me. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew (5:43-48)

Our vocation is to become perfect, in God's image

Jesus said to his disciples, "You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

BIBLE

Answering God's call

God first chose Israel, and within Israel included each of us, as a people of his own choosing. God took the initiative to make his presence known within the depths of our mind and heart, in the subconscious of memory reaching back into that of our parents and ancestors, within the customs of our faith, echoing the prayer and traditions of our church. God's call surrounds us like the sun and rain. While we are still asleep, God summons the sun to spread a burst of light across our day; while we are distracted by duties and grumbling about drought, God orders the rain to drop moisture upon our dry earth and weary hearts. God first loves us.

Just as God acts out of love, each of us is called to respond "with all your heart and with all your soul." The book of Deuteronomy returns repeatedly to the theme of "today" as the time to respond to God. "Today you are making this agreement with the Lord." As with God so with us, the covenant needs to be renewed each day. Chapter 1 of Joshua extends the today of Deuteronomy into a recital of God's love and our loving response "by day and by night" (Josh 1:8).

Lent is a time of fasting and prayer, of much human work and dedication, so that we may be disposed to let the beat of God's heart and the rhythm of his spirit take possession of ours. Happy are they who follow the law of the Lord.

Perfect is not the same as perfectionist

If someone is called a perfectionist, it suggests a very demanding person, stressed about getting everything precisely right, down to the last detail. But when Jesus says, "Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect," he did not mean that kind of "perfectionist". The corresponding passage in Luke's gospel is almost word for word the same as the passage from Matthew, which we have just heard. Yet, it is striking that in Luke the gospel passage ends with Jesus saying, "Be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate." Luke has captured there what Jesus meant by "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."

In today's gospel, being perfect is identified with being loving to an extraordinary degree, loving our enemy, praying for those who persecute us, who make life difficult for us. Being perfect consists in loving in the way that God loves, which is with a love that doesn't discriminate on the basis of how people relate to us. This is the pinnacle of Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. The fact that Jesus calls on us to love as God loves shows that he does not consider this call unrealistic. We may not be able to love in this divine way on our own, but we can do so with God's help. As Jesus will say to his disciples later on in Matthew's gospel, "for God, all things are possible."


Weekday Readings for the 2nd Week of Lent

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Monday of Week 2 of Lent

1st Reading: Daniel (9:4-10)

Daniel's prayer of shame and repentance

I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, "Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

"Righteousness is on your side, O Lord, but open shame, as at this day, falls on us, the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you.

Open shame, O Lord, falls on us, our kings, our officials, and our ancestors, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 79)

R./: Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins

Do not hold the guilt of our fathers against us.
Let your compassion hasten to meet us
for we are in the depths of distress. (R./)

O God our saviour, come to our help,
come for the sake of the glory of your name.
O Lord our God, forgive us our sins,
rescue us for the sake of your name. (R./)

Let the groans of the prisoners come before you;
let your strong arm reprieve those condemned to die.
But we, your people, the flock of your pasture,
will give you thanks for ever and ever.
We will tell your praise from age to age.. (R./)

Gospel: Luke (6:36-38)

Imitating the divine mercy

Jesus said to his disciples: "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged;do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."

BIBLE

The beauty of compassion

Where Matthew's gospel has Jesus say, on the mountain: "You must be made perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt 5:48), Luke, in the sermon on the plain, reads: "Be compassionate, as your Father is compassionate." Luke's expectations are more specific and more attainable. All sinners ought to be capable of compassion, as they continually seek this very response of mercy from God. Yet, Jesus does not allow half-measures; it must be all, it seems, or nothing! Pardon must be bestowed so generously upon anyone who has hurt us, that it runs over and pours into the folds of one's own garments. We are expected to bestow twice as much love as the other person showed us hate, twice as much trust as the other party manifested suspicion.

This divine compassion can be partly learned, as we meditate upon the example of Jesus who died for us when as yet we were God's enemies by our sins (Rom 5:8). Yet, this attitude of overwhelming goodness and understanding can never be fully and adequately learned by study nor be acquired by human effort, no matter how diligent and persevering we may be. We cannot transform ourselves into God, as the human race should have learned at the beginning (Gen 3:5).

The way to give ourselves to God is unconditionally and without reservation. Without anticipating all that will happen to us and be asked of us, we give ourselves totally into God's hands. We try to enter Jesus' prayer: "not my will but yours be done" (Luke 22:42). God will then act through us, reaching others with infinite compassion, infinite tenderness, infinite trust! Without counting the cost or the outcome, such divine life will overflow into the folds of our garments!

Lenten fasting may reduce the aggressiveness of our responses. If it is accompanied by a surrender of our spirit to God, then divine grace will flow through us. Our fasting reminds us and symbolizes to others that God alone is the source of our decisions and actions.

Possessed by this divine spirit of compassion and pardon, we can pray for mercy with the confidence of Daniel in today's reading. We can admit to God that "we have rebelled and departed from your commandments and laws." Whein confessing our sins, we are already within the bond of God's love and our sins are gone forever, driven out by God's holy spirit already within us.

Daniel admits to being "shamefaced." Shame can be destructive or it can be purifying. Sometimes it begets a wholesome humility and honesty. It helps the adult to be again as a child in spirit, in trust, in a wholesome purity. Such an adult trusts, loves and forgives as easily as God himself. "Of such is the kingdom of God."

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Tuesday of Week 2 of Lent

1st Reading: Isaiah (1:10, 16-20)

A call to personal conversion, to remove our sins from God's sight

Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 50)

R./: I will show to the upright the saving power of God

I find no fault with your sacrifices,
your offerings are always before me.
I do not ask more bullocks from your farms,
nor goats from among your herds. (R./)

But how can you recite my commandments
and take my covenant on your lips,
you who despise my law
and throw my words to the winds. (R./)

You do this, and should I keep silence?
Do you think that I am like you?
A sacrifice of thanksgiving honours me
and I will show God's salvation to the upright. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew (23:1-12)

Unlike any worldly hierarchy, in Jesus' circle the greatest will serve the others

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves ill be exalted."

BIBLE

Charity and integrity

The orphan and widow stand for all the helpless and needy people of the world. Isaiah mentions them after a stern and fearsome passage, omitted in today's liturgy. To neglect the poor while spreading out one's hands in prayer draws from God the terrifying response: "I close my eyes to you . . . I will not listen." In fact, being heedless of the poor, God declares, makes "your hands . . . full of blood!" The prophet must have shouted out the next phrase. "Wash yourselves clean!" And the way to do this, he says, is by helping the orphan and widow.

This is a hard teaching, for we have all passed by beggars without giving alms; we have all driven comfortably past slums where we would hate to live ourselves; we have wasted food in the same city where some were sleeping hungry in the streets. And now Lent somehow invites us: "Come now, let us set things right!" God offers us the possibility of total conversion. "Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool." All this integrity can only happen "if you are willing and obey." "But if you refuse and resist, the sword shall consume you, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." We may question if Isaiah's consoling message of forgiveness and new life should end on such a terrifying note. Charity and integrity are a matter of life or death, and Lent calls us to think about such things.

Burdens to bear

Jesus criticises the Pharisees for laying heavy burdens on people's shoulders. In contrast, his own invitation was, "Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest." His work consisted in easing off unnecessary loads from people's shoulders rather than laying extra burdens on them. Most of us have to deal with burdens of one kind or another as we go through life. Some burdens are necessary and unavoidable; they are the burdens of love, the burdens that come to us from giving ourselves to others in one way or another. Jesus is critical of those who impose unnecessary burdens on others. We can all be guilty of doing that from time to time.

The Lord teaches that, rather than imposing unnecessary burdens on others, we ought to help carry each other's burdens, to make life less burdensome for them. In doing that we will be acting in the spirit of the one who said, "Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest." The Lord helps us all to carry our burdens, both the necessary and inevitable ones and the unnecessary ones. As St Paul knew from personal experience, he is strength in our weakness, and in times of weakness we can turn to him for strength.

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Wednesday of Week 2 of Lent

1st Reading: Jeremiah (18:18-20)

In desperate straits, Jeremiah pins his hope on God

"Come, let us decide what to do with Jeremiah," people say. "There will still be priests to guide us, still wise men to advise us, still prophets to proclaim the word. Come, let us bring charges against him, and let us not heed any of his words."

Give heed to me, O Lord, and listen to what my adversaries say! Is evil a recompense for good? Yet they have dug a pit for my life. Remember how I stood before you to speak good for them, to turn away your wrath from them.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 31)

R./: Save me, O Lord, in your steadfast love

Release me from the snares they have hidden
for you are my refuge, Lord.
Into your hands I commend my spirit.
It is you who will redeem me, Lord. (R./)

I have heard the slander of the crowd,
fear is all around me,
as they plot together against me,
as they plan to take my life. (R./)

But as for me, I trust in you, Lord,
I say: 'You are my God.
My life is in your hands, deliver me
from the hands of those who hate me.' (R./)

Gospel: Matthew (20:17-28)

Leaders: remember that the greatest must be as servants

While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised."

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favour of him. And he said to her, "What do you want?" She said to him, "Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom." But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" They said to him, "We are able." He said to them, "You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father."

When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be our servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."

BIBLE

Seeking others' good

Both readings note the ill-will people can feel towards others. Jeremiah's own family have turned against him (Jer 12:6-23), and now the religious and secular authorities plot to do away with him as a troublesome challenger of the status quo. But Jeremiah's aim was always for the welfare of others. "Remember that I stood before you to speak in their behalf, to turn away your wrath from them." What he wanted was their health, their peace, their life.

These gifts come from the Lord and must be sought from him. Jeremiah's apostolic activity redounded from the remembrance of the Lord and His plans and hopes for others. The end of Jeremiah's "confession" seems to reverse this attitude and demand revenge and pain from God upon these same people, now It seems that these "confessions" of Jeremiah originally formed a separate, personal diary, never intended for publication. A later editor found this diary, after the initial draft of the Jeremiah manuscript—in fact, after the prophet's death—and inserted these candid personal documents where he felt they belonged. When Jeremiah curses his enemies, he is not at his best. He is simply being honest and open about his feelings, saying, as it were: "Here, God, is how I feel. Help!"

When Jeremiah was most in darkness, he still sought the Lord's will. It is important to trust that God has an over-arching plan. Even Jesus did not claim to know every detail of this plan (Matt 24:36) and so he was unable to promise to James and John the privileges they asked for. Perhaps it was the mother of James and John who asked this promise from Jesus to give her sons the highest places in his kingdom. In Mark's version, it was the pair themselves who made this proud request. But God's plans are not to be advanced in the way of personal ambition or double-dealing! The gospel today begins and ends humility and sacrifice. He "has come, not to be served but to serve, to give his own life."

Drinking from his cup

Jesus asks James and John, "Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?" He was asking them if they were prepared to share his cup, to throw in their lot with him, to follow where he leads, even though it may mean the cross. In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, "Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me." Yet, he went on to drink that cup to the full on the cross. At the last supper, he drank of the cup, and then gave the cup to his disciples, who also drank from it. Yet, a little later, they deserted him and fled.

In spite of their express desire in today's gospel to drink from the Lord's cup, James and John would not follow where he would lead. In a few minutes we will be invited to drink from the Lord's cup, the cup of the Eucharist. In doing so, we are expressing our willingness to go where he leads and walk in his way. Jesus teaches that way of self-giving service of others, as against lording it over them. We pray that in talking the Lord's cup today, we would be faithful to what that action signifies—walking in the footsteps of the Son of Man who came not to be served but to serve.

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Thursday of Week 2 of Lent

1st Reading: Jeremiah (17:5-10)

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord rather than in mere mortal power

Thus says the Lord: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the desert, in an uninhabited salt land.

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.

The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it? I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 1)

R./: Happy are they who put their trust in the Lord

Blessed are they who who follow not
   the counsel of the wicked
Nor walk in the way of sinners,
   nor sit in the company of the insolent,
But delight in the law of the Lord
   and meditate on his law day and night. (R./)

They are is like a tree
   planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
   and whose leaves never fade.
   Whatever they do will prosper. (R./)

Not so the wicked, not so;
   they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
For the Lord watches over the way of the just,
   but the way of the wicked vanishes.
Blessed are they who hope in the Lord. (R./)

Gospel: Luke (16:19-31)

The contrasting futures of the uncaring wealthy and poor Lazarus

Jesus told them this parable, "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house—for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"

BIBLE

In spite of appearances

In Jeremiah's lament and the parable of Jesus face up to seeming barrenness and failure. Even one who trusts in the Lord must deal with the heat of the desert and the hardships of the weather. In today's parable the imagery changes from Jeremiah's desert to the gateway of a wealthy person's villa. Inside there is feasting, and outside destitution. When the Rich Man wipes his mouth and hands with a piece of bread, and tosses the bread away, Lazarus is lucky to snatch these crumbs to stay alive. The poor man manages survives in his own waste land!

Jeremiah's poem developes the contrast further. "One whose heart is turned away from the Lord . . . is like a barren bush" without fruit, fit only for kindling. The other bush, typified by one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord, is surrounded with the same dry sand, yet continues to bear fruit. The roots sink deeply beneath the surface into the hidden water of God's holy will. This description fits the prophet himself. His life was in ruin, with even his own family turned against him; the king spoke to him only in secret and left him exposed to his enemies in daylight. The prophet died, rejected and persecuted, in the foreign land of Egypt. Yet, with his heart attuned God's will, Jeremiah became one of the key figures in Israel's survival as a people. His influence upon their faith turned out to be deeper than anyone else's in their history. The book of Jeremiah sustained Jesus in prayer and continues to be a support for Christians as well as Jews. Even when he felt himself useless, Jeremiah was keeping his nation's faith alive.

In spite of appearances Jeremiah was bearing fruit, and Lazarus kept his integrity even though sitting with dogs and begging for crumbs at Dives' door! Destitution can destroy one's confidence and self-respect, but in principle it can and does coexist with inner peace and strength. The beggar can be nearer to God than the banker, the cardinal, the CEO or the government minister. The true measure of a person's worth is the spiritual goodness of the heart.

Tales to make us think

The parables are intended to make us think and reflect. In the one we have just heard, two people lived side by side, a rich man in his great house and a poor man at the gate of the house. Yet, there was a chasm between them; whereas the poor man looked towards the rich man for scraps, the rich man did not look towards the poor man but ignored him. The parable seems to be challenging us not to allow a chasm to develop between us and those who, although physically close to us, live in a very different world to the one we inhabit.

"Mr Rich -- for he is often called "Divés" (Latin for "Rich") -- lived in his own priveleged world and made no effort to care for or to understand the plight of the beggar at his gate. We can all insulate ourselves in our own little worlds. The Lord challenges us to enter the world of the other and let the other to enter our world. That, in a sense, is what Jesus himself did. He entered our world and invites us to enter his world. We can do the same for each other. When we cross the threshold into the world of the other, into the world of those who are very different from us in all kinds of ways, we may discover that we not only have something to give the other but a great deal to receive as well.

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Friday of Week 2 of Lent

1st Reading: Genesis (37:3-4, 12-13 17-28)

Jacob's sons envy their brother Joseph, and sell him into slavery

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him. Now his brothers went to pasture their father's flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, "Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them." He answered, "Here I am."

The man said, "They have gone away, for I heard them say, 'Let us go to Dothan.'" So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, "Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams." But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, "Let us not take his life." Reuben said to them, "Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the desert, but lay no hand on him"—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his rob, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 105)

R./: Remember the marvels the Lord has done

When the Lord called down a famine on the land
   and ruined the crop that sustained them,
He sent a man before them,
   Joseph, sold as a slave. (R./)

They had weighed him down with fetters,
   and he was bound with chains,
Till his prediction came to pass
   and the word of the Lord proved him true. (R./)

The king sent and released him,
   the ruler of the peoples set him free.
He made him lord of his house
   and ruler of all his possessions. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew (21:33-43, 45-46)

Greedy for property, the wicked tenants kill the landowner's son

Jesus said to the crowds, "Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance." So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time." Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes'? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom."

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

BIBLE

Providence at work

The story of Jacob's sons is told in detail (Gen 37-50) to conclude the book of Genesis. It has one overriding motif found at the end in Joseph's words to his brothers: "Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve his purpose, the survival of many " (50:19-20). Mysteriously yet powerfully God can bring a convoluted, mixed-up and even misguided life to a positive end, even for our enemies and for those who cared little for us. It was through Joseph's perseverance in his trials that the twelve tribes were established in Egypt where they developed a distinctive culture and a strong religious unity. In Jesus' case his rejection by the Jewish leaders led to a gloriously new Israel, joining Jew and Gentile in one family (Romans 11).

The story of Joseph and the ministry of Jesus exemplify God's providence. A divine plan reaches into the depth of our existence. At times we may have a passing glimpse of it, other times we have the intuition in prayer, yet always we are being directed and guided by it. Jesus refers to this guiding plan of his Heavenly Father in his frequent references to the Hebrew scriptures. The earliest Christians firmly believed in a worldwide plan in the mind of God, culminating in Jesus. In today's parable Jesus quotes from Psalm 118: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the keystone. It was the Lord who did this and we find it marvelous to behold!"

Lent ought to purify our minds and put us into closer touch with the depth where God resides. Selfishness and false ambition should be swept away by our prayer, Bible study and other devotional practices. We should begin all over again to "dream" our best ideals, planted in us by God. This can renew our conviction that God's mysterious providence is in effective control of our lives. It offers serenity even in the face of problems and disappointments if we can see that God directs everything towards some good. If this belief of Joseph becomes our own we see a marvelous effect, a truly rich harvest of grace.

God never rejects us

We have just heard a parable about the son of a vineyard owner being killed by the tenants, so as to seize his property. In this way Jesus points ahead to his own rejection and death. Having told the parable, Jesus quotes from the psalms, "It was the stone rejected by the builders that became the keystone," which looks forward to his resurrection. Although he was rejected by the religious and political leaders of the day, Jesus rose from the dead and in so doing became the keystone of a new temple, the temple of the church, the people who believed in him. He teaches us that what is rejected can often turn out to be of crucial importance. What we might be initially inclined to reject can be the means through which God may want to speak to us. Those aspects of our own lives that we may be prone to reject and slow to accept may be the very channels through which the Lord can work most powerfully in our lives and, through us, in the lives of others. The experience of Jesus also suggests that God always has a purpose for what is rejected. God is not in the business of rejecting. Although we can reject God, God never rejects us.

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Saturday of Week 2 of Lent

1st Reading: Micah (7:14-15, 18-20)

Israel's God is a God of mercy

Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock that belongs to you, which lives alone in a forest in the midst of a garden land; let them feed in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old. As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, show us marvellous things.

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency. He will again have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and unswerving loyalty to Abraham, as you have sworn to our ancestors from the days of old.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 103)

R./: The Lord is kind and merciful

Bless the Lord, O my soul;
   and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
   and forget not all his benefits. (R./)

He pardons all your iniquities,
   he heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction,
   he crowns you with kindness and compassion. (R./)

He will not always chide,
   nor does he keep his wrath forever.
Not according to our sins does he deal with us,
   nor does he requite us according to our crimes. (R./)

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
   so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
   so far has he put our transgressions from us. (R./)

Gospel: Luke (15:1-3, 11-32)

The parable of the Prodigal Son

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable: ""There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.

"But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands." ' So he set off and went o his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.

"Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"

BIBLE

There's always Hope

Today's parable tells of an inheritance, "squandered . . . on dissolute living." But the prodigal son hopes that the Father will somehow take him back. The Micah passage also talks about hope. The people of Judah have been "trampled underfoot," and driven off to a foreign land. This disaster was due to the people's sins, insisted the prophet, and must not be explained just by the enemy's vastly superior army. Even now that the exile has ended and the poverty-stricken people have returned to Jerusalem, they are insignificant numerically and economically. The prophet begs God to "show us wonderful signs . . . as you have sworn to our fathers from days of old" (v 15, 20).

The prodigal son, too, survived on his memories and so was humble and courageous enough to seek a way back. "Coming to his senses at last" meant that the goodness of the father, planted within the bones and blood of the son, finally caught up with the young man and overcame his wayward resistance. A beautiful touch in Jesus' parable indicates that from a distance the father was willing the boy to come home, before the son ever noticed him. It almost seems as if the father's desire had been reaching across miles and mountains to touch the faith of the son. The son's remembrance might even be like a passive surrender to a hidden stimulant, calling out for love and celebration.

A newly awakened hope could be the miracle our Church needs right now. Our legacy to future generations is this trust in God's total goodness at the very core of our existence. From our heavenly home we can beckon sons and daughters on the right path, as we wait for them to come home. We may ultimately celebrate like the father upon the return of the prodigal son. When God's deeply planted life in us makes all these claims come true, the family of God's children will be complete.

The Father of mercy

This parable of mercy must resonate through this Year of of Mercy inaugurated by Pope Francis. Listen to what the Father says. To the servants he says, "this son of mine was dead and has come back to life"; to his elder son he says, "your brother was dead and has come back to life." There is more than one form of resurrection. The resurrection to new life that we long and hope for beyond this earthly life can be anticipated in various ways in the course of our earthly lives. In the parable, a kind of resurrection for the younger son took the form of a journey from a self-imposed isolation to an experience of community, from a sense of guilt to an experience of loving acceptance. It was the father's unconditional love which allowed his younger son to complete his journey, to rise from the dead. The father's emotional response to his son was one of compassion. The father in the parable is an image of God. The parable suggests that God's compassionate love is always at work bringing people from some form of death to a new life. In contrast to the father, the elder son considered his brother dead and was happy to see him remain in his self-imposed tomb. Whereas the father's response to his son was one of compassion, the elder brother's response to him was one of anger. The parable challenges us to embody in our own ways of relating to others the life-giving presence of the father's compassion rather than the deadening presence of the elder son's anger.


Weekday Readings for the 3rd Week of Lent

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Monday of Week 3 of Lent

1st Reading: 2 Kings (5:1-15)

Naaman the Syrian takes the prophet's advice and is cured of leprosy

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman's wife. She said to her mistress, "If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, "Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel."

He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, "When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy." When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, "A I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me."

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, "Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel." So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha's house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean." But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, "I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?" He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, "Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, 'Wash, and be clen'?" So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant."

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 42)

R./: My soul is thirsting for the living God. When shall I see him face to face?

As the deer longs for running streams,
   so my soul is longing for you, O God. (R./)

My soul is thirsting for God, the living God.
   When shall I go and behold the face of God? (R./)

Send forth your light and your fidelity;
   they shall lead me on
And bring me to your holy mountain,
   to your dwelling-place. (R./)

Then will I go in to the altar of God,
   the God of my gladness and joy;
Then will I give you thanks upon the harp,
   O God, my God! (R./)

Gospel: Luke (4:24-30)

Nazareth's rejection shows how no prophet is accepted in his own place

Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

BIBLE

Firm in Hope

Leprosy (also known as Hansen's disease) was a terrible scourge, which happily has almost entirely disappeared. Contrary to popular belief, it is not very contagious, but the Gospel mentions how widespread it was in biblical times: "There were many. . . in the time of Elisha." Poor Naaman had almost given up hope of a cure. Had tried everything. Seemed rejected by Elisha. On his way home, angry and discontented, when his staff begged him. . . Story teaches two main things: Life has many burdens. . . but nothing is ever completely hopeless.

The English actor Stephen Fry once ranted on Irish TV, about the tongue-lashing he would give to God .. if there was a God .. for making such a cruelly unjust and topsy-turvy world. In effect he was saying, if this world was made by God, he made a hopeless mess of it.

Because of Jesus, we can have a very different view of the world. He encourages us to see the positive side of life (Lilies of Field, Birds of Air, Seasons of Growth & Harvest; Joy of Children; Practice of Mercy and Charity) and how to be grateful for life's blessings. The darker side of life .. sickness, misfortune, loneliness, betrayal by others, the pains of old age .. he invites us to embrace in a spirit of faith, as sharing in his cross. Accepting with patience what we cannot change has, it seems, a saving power of its own. The other great teacher of hope was the apostle Paul: "All of creation groaning in one great act of giving birth.." All the hard times he had as a missionary. . . "I fill out in my own life what is lacking in the suffering of Christ, for the sake of his body. . ." This was the spirit that kept St Francis Xavier going, in Far East, despite sickness, weariness, fever and failure.

Hope is in short supply, in our times. Disillusion with politicians; Distrust of church leaders; apparent inability of HSE to provide early treatment. . . Falling off of personal belief in Divine Providence and the wise and loving care God has for us.. High rates of drug and alcohol abuse among young people. . . We need to pray for them. . . Times for keeping up Hope, when things go wrong. In a marriage where there's conflict. . .. Or when partner dies and one is left to get on with life. Or a relationship has ended, and you're trying to cope with a new situation. Not to just slide into a decline.

In "The King and I": "Whenever I feel afraid. . ." Good enough advice, as far as it goes. But our faith asks us to go further, and put our hope in the Lord, who won't let us down. St Paul of the Cross, Founder of the Passionists, had a great devotion to Our Lady of Holy Hope. Though living a simple life in a poor, rural village, our Blessed Lady was full of hope and joy .. because "He who is mighty has done great things in me."

No matter what age we're at, we may find new wellsprings of hope, for ourselves and for others. If, like Naaman, we put aside our pride and trust in the Lord, he will never let us down.

Not a narrow-minded God

Jesus challenges the rather narrow view that his townspeople of Nazareth had of God. Just as they felt that Jesus belonged to them, "Do here in your home town the things we heard you did in Capernaum," so they felt that God belonged to the people of Israel. When Jesus reminded them of a couple of passages in the Scriptures where God seemed to favour the pagans over the Jewish people they did not like it, and in response they forcibly ejected Jesus out of Nazareth. His rejection in Nazareth anticipated his even more brutal rejection in Jerusalem. The people of Nazareth's God was too small and Jesus was seeking to broaden their understanding of God. He wanted them to realize, in the words of Peter in the Acts of the Apostles, that "God has no favourites." The God of Jesus was more generous, more expansive, more inclusive than people realized. Jesus was always trying to show people that there was much more to God than they imagined. He is more like the father in the parable of the prodigal son than his is like the elder son. Jesus' vision of God remains challenging for us today, but it is a vision of God that is fundamentally "good news" for all who are willing to receive it.

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Tuesday of Week 3 of Lent

1st Reading: Daniel (3:25, 34-43)

Nebuchadnezzar admires the miraculous escape of the young Jews

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, "Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?" They answered the king, "True, O king." He replied, "But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god."

Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said, "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!" So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king's counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them.

Nebuchadnezzar said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king's command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way."

Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, within the province of Babylon.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 25)

R./: Remember your mercies, O Lord

Your ways, O Lord, make known to me;
   teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
   for you are God my saviour. (R./)

Remember that your compassion, O Lord,
   and your kindness are from of old.
In your kindness remember me,
   because of your goodness, O Lord. (R./)

Good and upright is the Lord;
   thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
   he teaches the humble his way. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew (18:21-35)

The forgiving spirit Jesus wants in his church

Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, is lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, 'Pay what you owe.' Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."

BIBLE

Making a fresh start

The blow to Israel's life through invasion and exile, was devastating, leaving them with "no prince, prophet or leader.. no place to find favour with you." But after such destruction the faithful survivors, like Daniel, turned back to God, unreservedly. Daniel confessed: "We have sinned and have done every kind of evil". God preserves the faithful from both the flames and the teeth of lions.

Just as Daniel and his people found their future within a renewed community, so the Gospel parable also speaks of renewal. The forgiveness one receives from God must then be offered and passed on to all our ellow human beings. "Should you not deal mercifully with your fellow servant," our Father asks, "as I dealt with you?" What we receive with gratitude builds us up; we cannot be our best unless we give share things unreservedly. The gift from God most difficult to share and bestow upon another is forgiveness; yet it's often the one of which we stand most in need. By giving we receive, and by it communion with others and with God is made. In Lent we seek forgiveness from God, but on the way we also seek to be reconciled with our immediate neighbours.


Peter's inspired guess

Peter has a high profile in Matthew's gospel. It is only there that Jesus addresses him as the rock on which he will build his church. It is only in Matthew that we find Peter asking the question, "Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?" In the Scriptures, seven is a symbol of fullness and completion. While to forgive someone seven times would seem about as far as one could possibly go, still Jesus said that we should forgive seventy seven times… in other words, there is to be no limit to our willingness to forgive.

Of course Jesus was well aware of the human tendency was to put strict limits on forgiveness, as is clear in the parable he told to Peter and the others. In that story, even the fortunate person who had been generously forgiven a huge debt could not find it in his heart to forgive another to a much lesser extent. Foremost in Jesus' mind is how forgiving God was. In today's gospel he calls on Peter and on all of us to be God-like in our readiness to forgive. This is a major part of what he meant earlier in Matthew's gospel, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." It is also what Pope Francis wants this Year of Mercy to mean for us.

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Wednesday of Week 3 of Lent

1st Reading: Deuteronomy ((4:1, 5-9)

God's people have clear duties and a high destiny

So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!" For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?

But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children's children after you.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 147)

R./: Praise the Lord, Jerusalem

Glorify the Lord, O Jerusalem;
   praise your God, O Zion.
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;
   he has blessed your children within you. (R./)

He sends forth his command to the earth;
   swiftly runs his word!
He spreads snow like wool;
   frost he strews like ashes. (R./)

He has proclaimed his word to Jacob,
   his statutes and his ordinances to Israel.
He has not done thus for any other nation;
   his ordinances he has not made known to them. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew (5:17-19)

Deeper than the letter of the law is seeking the will of God

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

BIBLE

Building on Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy sets out a code of laws that do not exist for their own sake, but as a help for people to show their devotion to God. Most of this fifth book of the Bible (called the "second law" as "Deutero " means 2nd) consists of fervent motivational homilies. This book frequently mentions "today" as the very day when Moses receives the law from the Lord and gives it to the people in God's name. It tries to guide our attitude to God, as one who speaks to us. "Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today" (Deut. 6:5-6). We note the evocative repetition here of the word today.

This God is closer than any pagan god to its devotees, and is to be loved with all our heart. The Lord is to be dearer to us than anything else we value in life, including life itself. It seems that Jesus himself turned to Deuteronomy in forming his own response to life. It was among his favourite texts for its sense of compassion to neighbour and devotion to God each passing day. Whether in the temptation scene (Matt 4:1-11) or in answering the questions about the first and greatest law (Mk 12:28-34), Jesus used this book. Deuteronomy resonated the core attitude of Jesus; it spoke to him more than any other book in the Bible. It helps us appreciate Jesus' reflection: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them . . . not the smallest part of a letter of the law shall be done away with until it all comes true."

We want to grow into the mind of Christ, so that the least wish of God becomes our guide to living. God in Jesus is that close to us. He speaks today, this moment. He appeals to the love of all our heart. Love such as this, stirred within our heart by God's immediate presence, happily takes away our liberty as we spontaneously seek this clasp of love. Without deciding between a million and one options we have chosen the very best, and all the world will testify: "This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people."

Icons of renewal

Jesus was a great innovator of imagery to describe what is important in life. He used the image of new wine for his ministry, declaring that his new wine required new wineskins. In other words, the traditional way of doing things would no longer do. Yet, Jesus also had great respect for his tradition, for his own Jewish tradition. The Scriptures of his people nourished and inspired him. The gospel says he declares that he has come not to abolish the Law and the prophets but to complete them. He did not pretend to be starting from scratch. There was much in the tradition of his own people which he valued, but he wanted to bring that tradition to a greater richness and fullness; he came to renew Israel's tradition not to replace it. Jesus' attitude suggests that we don't simply jettison our religious tradition but we don't just canonize it either. The church is always in need of reform and renewal; the new wine of the Holy Spirit will always require new wineskins. The work of renewal will always involve honouring what is best in our tradition by allowing its rich potential to be fully realized.

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Thursday of Week 3 of Lent

1st Reading: Jeremiah (7:23-28)

Life's highest goal is obedient response to God

But this command I gave them, "Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you." Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but, in the stubbornness of their evil will, they walked in their own counsels, and looked backward rather than forward.

From the day that your ancestors came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day; yet they did not listen to me, or pay attention, but they stiffened their necks. They did worse than their ancestors did. So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you. You shall say to them: This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 95)

R./: If today you would listen to his voice, harden not your hearts

Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord;
   let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
   let us joyfully sing psalms to him. (R./)

Come, let us bow down in worship;
   let us kneel before the Lord who made us.
For he is our God,
   and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides. (R./)

Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
   Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
   as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me;
   they tested me though they had seen my works. (R./)

Gospel: Luke (11:14-23)

Healings proved that Jesus acts with the authority of God

Jesus was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons." Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven. But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? ? for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.

When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armour in which he trusted and divides his plunder. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever oes not gather with me scatters.

BIBLE

Seeking what is right

Basic virtues, like compassion, forgiveness, prayer, understanding, loyalty, loving affection, makes the difference between heaven and hell, life and death. Jeremiah clearly expressed this: "Only if you reform your ways and your deeds; if each of you deals justly with his neighbour, if you no longer oppress the resident alien, the orphan, and the widow; if you no longer shed innocent blood, or follow strange gods to your own harm will I [your God] remain with you." (7:5-7) Jesus too is clear about the right thing to do. To his detractors he says: 'If I have done a good thing, how can you think I acted with an evil spirit? If I show mercy to a mute person, do not accuse me of sin!' The messianic age is at hand if we can speak kindly, love compassionately, protect courageously, receive even the alien warmheartedly.

Jeremiah and Jesus are not so different as much as we might suppose. We must not be stiff-necked, but faithful, listening and responding to God. Jeremiah ends with the word "faithfulness." In the Hebrew the phrase implies: be what you are supposed to be! He calls for consistency, fidelity, in our relationship with God and with our neighbours, even the refugees in our midst. Lent invites us to help the needy and the stranger, that these basic virtues become second nature to us. Then we will be acting under the finger of God and promoting the kingdom of God in our world.


Recognising grace

Some people are completely wrong about Jesus, declaring that he heals by means of Satan's power. Instead of acknowledging that God was powerfully at work in Jesus, they declared that Satan was at work in his life. It is hard to conceive of a greater error than that. They were calling good evil. In response to their grave misjudgement, Jesus declared that his healing work was done through the finger of God. God was at work in Jesus and some of his own contemporaries could not see it. We can all be blind to the finger of God, to the working of God among us.

We are graced in some way by God and we hardly notice it. The Lord blesses us and rather than recognize the blessing and giving thanks for it we focus on what we do not have or what is wrong in our lives. We need to keep on praying for the gift to see as Jesus sees, which is the opposite of how people in the gospel saw. Jesus saw the working of God in creation, in the sower, the vineyard, the flowers of the field and birds of the air. He saw God's presence in those whom many people had written off. Jesus teaches us to see with generous and hopeful eyes. When we see with those kind of eyes, then, in the words of Paul, we will be inspired to give thanks in all circumstances.

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Friday of Week 3 of Lent

1st Reading: Hosea (14:2-10)

How God supports those who trust in Him

Take words with you and return to the Lord; say to him,
"Take away all guilt; accept that which is good,
and we will offer the fruit of our lips.
Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses;
we will say no more, 'Our God,' to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy."

I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely,
for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
he shall blossom like the lily,
he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon.
His shoots shall spread out;
his beauty shall be like the olive tree,
and his fragrance like that of Lebanon.
They shall again live beneath my shadow,
they shall flourish as a garden;
they shall blossom like the vine,
their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?
It is I who answer and look after you.

I am like an evergreen cypress;
your faithfulness comes from me.
Those who are wise understand these things;
those who are discerning know them.
For the ways of the Lord are right,
and the upright walk in them,
but transgressors stumble in them.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 81)

R./: I am the Lord your God: listen to my voice

An unfamiliar speech I hear:
   I relieved his shoulder of the burden;
   his hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, and I rescued you. (R./)

Unseen, I answered you in thunder;
   I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
Hear, my people, and I will admonish you;
   O Israel, will you not hear me? (R./)

There shall be no strange god among you
   nor shall you worship any alien god.
I, the Lord, am your God
   who led you forth from the land of Egypt. (R./)

If only my people would hear me,
   and Israel walk in my ways,
I would feed them with the best of wheat,
   and with honey from the rock I would fill them. (R./)

Gospel: Mark (12:28-34)

Jesus endorses love as the greatest commandment

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other;' and 'to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,' and 'to love one's neighbour as oneself,' .. this is much more important that all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that no one dared to ask him any question.

BIBLE

Where conversion leads us

The thrust of both our readings is conversion of the heart, and goes beyond turning away from sin. In Hosea, Israel is to "return to the Lord, your God" as to a loving partner; in the Gospel, the love of God and of our neighbour are closely linked. This desire for God is an active response, not a theoretical notion. Rather than be distracted by theological argument, the people should reach out effectively with compassion for the orphan.

Both Hosea and Jesus speak in the language of the ancient Scriptures which they had learned from joining in the liturgy. Our liturgy on earth reflects the beauty and peace of heavenly life. According to Hosea the dew of heaven rests upon Israel; just as we still invoke God's Spirit to bless our Eucharist like the dewfall . Jesus says "Amen" to this anticipation of heaven: "You are not far from the kingdom of God." Hosea and the Gospel help us to put our Lenten practices into proper relationship with ourselves with our neighbour and Church, and all with God.


Two commandments into one

In the gospels the scribes or lawyers are generally portrayed as in conflict with Jesus . In today's gospel, however, Jesus and a Jewish scribe are very much of the same mind. Jesus says to this particular scribe, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." Both are agreed on what are the two great commandments of the Law. What these two commandments have in common is the call to love; where they differ is in the object of that love. The first commandment calls us to love God and the second to love our neighbour. The priority is given to God. The two commandments also differ in the intensity of the love they command. It is only God who is to be loved with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength. It is only God who is deserving of the love of all our being. To love God in this way is to be caught up in God's love for humanity and that is where the second commandment comes in. Love of neighbour is where the pure and total love of God invariably leads us.

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Saturday of Week 3 of Lent

1st Reading: Hosea (6:1-6)

God wants our love more than ritual sacrifice

"Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his appearing is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth."

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early. Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have killed them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 51)

R./: What I desire is mercy, rather than sacrifice

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
   in your great compassion wipe out my offense.
Wash me thoroughly from my guilt
   and cleanse me of my sin. (R./)

For I acknowledge my offense,
   and my sin is always before me:
Against you alone have I sinned,
   and done what is evil in your sight. (R./)

A clean heart create for me, O God,
   and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
   and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. (R./)

Give me again the joy of your salvation,
   and preserve in me a willing spirit.
O Lord, open my lips,
   and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. (R./)

Gospel: Luke (18:9-14)

Pharisee and Tax-collector pray differently. A lesson in humility

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

BIBLE

Not with words alone

In the Bible we have a rich resource of guidance for every occasion. But it's not just knowing the words that matters. From them we might muster a nice verbal response and wrap a mantle of piety about our motives and so feel smug and self-righteous. But even the devil can quote Scripture for his purpose, as Shakespeare noted! If a little learning is a dangerous thing, a lopsided Bible scholarship can be still more perilous. Bible study becomes illusory if not accompanied by sincere conversion of morals, and humble prayer.

The certainty of God's answering our prayers was deeply embedded in Israel's tradition; and Jesus shows the same confidence. Hosea quotes the liturgical prayer: "Come, let us return to the Lord,. . . He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up." This theme of salvation on the third day occurs frequently enough in the Old Testament .. and Jesus stands within this biblical tradition by his rising from the dead "on the third day."

God certainly answers prayers, but is displeased by the mere mouthing of words. For words to become true prayer, it is not enough that they be sanctioned by tradition and used in a solemn setting. Words become prayer, says Hosea, when joined to a humble love and knowledge of God. The Pharisee and the Tax-collector have very different approaches to prayer. One spends his prayer-time listing his own virtues and achievements; and the other just asks for mercy, humbly aware of being a sinner. Jesus clearly favours the latter approach!


How do we pray?

Two went up to the Temple to pray, but while both appeared to pray only one of them really prayed. The Pharisee offered a prayer of thanksgiving, which began, "I thank you God that I'm not like all the rest." The tax collector offered a prayer of petition, "God, be merciful to me a sinner." Both used traditional formulas but only the tax collector's prayer was well directed. What distinguished the two was the attitude of heart prompting them. Which of them do we most resemble?

In the case of the Pharisee, it was an attitude of pride and of judgement of others; the tax collector's attitude was one of humility; he recognized his poverty before God. Both men who went up to the temple to pray were equally poor, spiritually poor, before God, but it was only the tax collector who recognized his poverty. We always come before God as beggars, as needy. In the Our Father Jesus teaches us to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses." A prayer that originated in the Eastern church and that has been prayed by Christians down through the centuries is what is known as the Jesus prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me, a sinner." This prayer is often prayed to the rhythm of our breathing. It is a slightly longer version of the prayer of tax collector. It is a prayer that keeps us humble and reminds us of our poverty before God; it is a prayer that will always be answered.


Weekday Readings for the 4th Week of Lent

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Monday of Week 4 of Lent

1st Reading: Isaiah (65:17-21)

"Rejoice in what I am creating!" Good things in store for those who love God

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.

I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.

They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 30)

R./: I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me

I will extol you, O Lord, for you drew me clear
   and did not let my enemies rejoice over me.
O Lord, you brought me up from the nether world;
   you preserved me from among those going down into the pit. (R./)

Sing praise to the Lord, you his faithful ones,
   and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger lasts but a moment;
   a lifetime, his good will.
At nightfall, weeping enters in,
   but with the dawn, rejoicing. (R./)

Hear, O Lord, and have pity on me;
   O Lord, be my helper.
You changed my mourning into dancing;
   O Lord, my God, forever will I give you thanks. (R./)

Gospel: John (4:43-54)

Jesus cures the son of a royal official, his second miracle in Cana

When the two days were over, he went from that place to Galilee (for Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honour in the prophet's own country). When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the festival; for they too had gone to the festival.

Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, "Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe." The official said to him, "Sir, come down before my little boy dies." Jesus said to him, "Go; your son will live." The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, "Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him." The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live." So he himself believed, along with his whole household. Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.

BIBLE

An outsider shows the way

Isaiah looks forward to a new heavens and a new earth. We too look forward to a life beyond the here and now, when in God's presence we will somehow live a new kind of existence. St. Paul writes of a new creation, when what is sown perishable will be raised imperishable (1 Cor 15:42). Jesus gave hope to the soldier at Capernaum, whose son was nearly dead when came and asked for help. Quite simply he told him, 'Go home. Your son will live.' This pagan officer put his trust in Jesus and started for home, trusting that the boy who was gravely ill will now have a full recovery! Do we share the hope and confidence of this pagan official, that the Lord can work miracles in our lives? Are we convinced that God cares for each of us, whatever our religion or status? Is our heart secure in the faith that whatever happens at the end of each journey .. no matter what .. it will really be for the best? We can make our own the officer's prayer of faith: "Yes, Lord, I believe."

Jesus really can work miracles, now no less than then. The centurion believed his promise, "Your son will live." Vibrant faith does not exclude human initiative. If it did, the officer would never have bothered coming to Jesus asking that his son be healed. We are told that this was the second sign given by Jesus. The Cana miracle of water into wine was the first sign (John 2:11). These are signs of new life and new joy, promises that the old will be swept away and the past be remembered no more. They point to a new creation through and beyond death. Hear, O Lord, and have mercy, for you have changed my mourning into dancing.


A request granted

Many people approached Jesus for help as he went around the villages. On this occasion a court official asked him to come to his home and cure his seriously ill son. This official was probably attached to the court of Herod Antipas. His request at first met with what seems like a refusal. But he wasn't put off; he persevered, "come down before my child dies." In response to this man's perseverance, Jesus grants his request, but not in the way the man wanted. He didn't go home with him to cure his son; he simply said, "your son will live." The man had to believe the word of Jesus and he did just that. He returned home on his own, with the promise of Jesus in his heart, and on the way he discovered that his prayer had been answered.

When we approach the Lord in prayer, asking for his help, we too can feel that the Lord is not answering our prayer. He does not engage with us in the way we had hoped. When that happens, we must persevere in prayer, like the royal official in the gospel. Like him, we will discover that the Lord will answer our prayer, even if not in the way we expected. Like the royal official we are asked to take the Lord at his word and to travel with the Lord's promise in our hearts.

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Tuesday of Week 4 of Lent

1st Reading: Ezekiel (47:1-9, 12)

Life-giving water flows out from the Temple of God

Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar.

Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side. Going on eastward with a cord in his hand, the man measured one thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the waist.

Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed. He said to me, "Mortal, have you seen this?" Then he led me back along the bank of the river.

As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on the one side and on the other. He said to me, "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes.

On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing."

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 46)

R./: The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold

God is our refuge and our strength,
   an ever-present help in distress.
Therefore we fear not, though the earth be shaken
   and mountains plunge into the depths of the sea. (R./)

There is a stream whose waters gladden the city of God,
   the holy dwelling of the Most High.
God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed;
   God will help it at the break of dawn. (R./)

The Lord of hosts is with us;
   our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
Come! behold the deeds of the Lord,
   the astounding things he has wrought on earth. (R./)

Gospel: John (5:1-3, 5-16)

Jesus cures the paralysed man near the pool of Bethzatha, on the Sabbath

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids .. blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be made well?" The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me." Jesus said to him, "Stand up, take your mat and walk." At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Now that day was a Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, "It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat." But he answered them, "The man who made me well said to me, 'Take up your mat and walk.'" They asked him, "Who is the man who said to you, 'Take it up and walk'?" Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, "See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you." The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the Sabbath.

BIBLE

Water of Life

We live in an age of pollution and environmental crisis, with global warming a real threat to the future of life on earth. As Pope Francis has graphically reminded us in his encyclical "Laudato Si," this world is our shared home; but with the earth's air and water becoming so contaminated, we are putting in peril the living conditions of future generations. We are strongly called to practice inter-generational justice, to actively protect our environment and pass on the earth unharmed to those who will follow us. The fresh-water image, therefore, in Ezekiel's prophecy has great relevance for today and its protection by God all the more necessary. Only by the mercy of God, it seems, can the destruction of our planet be reversed. Only God's grace can convert human hearts in such numbers as are needed to make the difference.

Ezekiel offers us reasons to hope and pray. His words also inspire us to pray and work for another, closer kind of purification, that of our inner selves. Each of us needs a stream of fresh water to flow through our minds and hearts, to bring a new fresh vigor to our attitudes, to enliven and brighten our hopes, to allow a new spontaneity within our responses to life. Each of us is only half alive; we are as lame as the man in John's gospel, waiting for the movement of the water.

While Lent is a period of self-denial it also recalls the waters of Baptism. It is the time when catechumens prepare for their Baptism on Holy Saturday. Lent trains us like athletes, to throw off the sluggish and heavy drag of gloom and pessimism, to turn aside from false values, so that our best self may emerge. The waters of Ezekiel's prophecy flow from the Holy of Holies at the temple. We are reminded of the sanctuary of our parish churches where we try to meet more frequently during Lent. Through this extra prayer and liturgy we feel the touch of these transforming waters. The preceding passage of Ezekiel (verses one to twelve) show the prophet is meditating upon earlier biblical passages, especially one from Jeremiah (17:5-7). Reflecting upon the Bible we find another source of life-giving water; like Ezekiel we will be more able to spot new signs of life about us where previously we saw only desert.

Finally, the lame man at the pool of Bethesda shows the value of waiting with patience. This most important virtue is inculcated by the prophets, especially Isaiah who said: "By waiting and by calm you shall be saved. Your strength lies in quiet and in trust." (Is 30:15). As we wait we come to know that it is Jesus who can work the transforming change we need. The lame man could have waited forever and remained lame, if he was not alert for the coming of Jesus.

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Wednesday of Week 4 of Lent

1st Reading: Isaiah (49:8-15)

God promises the exiles, "You'll be a sign of salvation!"

Thus says the Lord: 'In a time of favour I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you; I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages; saying to the prisoners, "Come out," to those who are in darkness, "Show yourselves." They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them. And I will turn all my mountains into a road, and my highways shall be raised up.'

Lo, these shall come from far away, and lo, these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Syene. Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.

But Zion said, "The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me." Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 145)

R./: The Lord is gracious and merciful

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
   slow to anger and of great kindness.
The Lord is good to all
   and compassionate toward all his works. (R./)

The Lord is faithful in all his words
   and holy in all his works.
The Lord lifts up all who are falling
   and raises up all who are bowed down. (R./)

The Lord is just in all his ways
   and holy in all his works.
The Lord is near to all who call upon him,
   to all who call upon him in truth. (R./)

Gospel: John (5:17-30)

Jesus speaks of God as loving father and life-giver

But Jesus answered them, "My Father is still working, and I also am working." For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.

Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he ill show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. Anyone who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.

"Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out .. those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

"I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

BIBLE

Seeing the bigger picture

Isaiah's vision of his people returning from exile and today's section from St John both invite us to see the larger picture. The prophet thinks of God splitting the mountains to bring his people home from afar. Almost in the same breath he imagines this mighty God as a mother, tenderly loving the child of her womb. Even if these images are mismatched, they serve to enhance the manifold mystery of God. John's gospel ponders the mysteries of the Godhead. Today he ponders the equality of Father and Son, alongside the subordination of Jesus to the Father. Questions about life and death, judgment and resurrection, sin and grace, heaven and damnation, life received and life possessed, are the subject of John's contemplation. Such are the possibilities of our own life. We can be so deeply touched by inner joy that we want to summon the mountains to break out in song. The depth of God's goodness and majesty .. the plunging into the eternity behind us and the sweep of contemplation into another future eternity .. causes the soul to sing!

How petty seems the argument about whether or not good works should be done on the Sabbath! Jesus cures a lame man at the pool of Bethesda, and jealous people bicker over a violation of Sabbath rest. Long before, Isaiah had explained how to keep the Sabbath free from profanation: People should "do what is just . . . and let the foreigners join themselves to the Lord" (Is 56:1-8). God works on the Sabbath by keeping the created world going, by bringing infants to birth and by calling others in death. But legalists can be blind to the wonderful and the tender, preferring to argue a point of legal procedure. A tiny hill turns into a mountain, blocking their view of God's beautiful world of people and natural phenomena.

We can easily become narrow, prejudiced, blinded, tied up in all types of red tape while on our screens we see how some people are dying of starvation, refugees are deprived of what they need for a full life, and the potential of many young people goes untapped for lack of educational resources. We allow fear and greed to keep us protecting our own piece of turf! Lent could still purify us so as to live more aware of the wonderful grace of God, of the awesome gift of life, and of our good planet earth. The Lord is faithful in all his words and holy in all his works!


Living life to the full

Jesus declares clearly, "my aim is not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me." His whole life was shaped by the will of his Father, and that will is that all men and women would find life through believing in Jesus. As the evangelist says a little earlier in his gospel, "God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." God wills life and that is why Jesus says, "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full."

This is also the image of God we find in today's first reading. Just as a mother cherishes the child of her womb and gives life to her child, even more so does God cherish us and work to bring us to fullness of life. God guides us to springs of water. When we pray in the Our Father, "your will be done," we are praying that a culture of life would prevail over a culture of death. We are also committing ourselves to doing God's will by protecting life, by bringing life to others, by helping others to life fully human lives, lives that are shaped by the Holy Spirit and lead to eternal life.

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Thursday of Week 4 of Lent

1st Reading: Exodus (32:7-14)

Though his people rebel, Moses begs another chance for them

The Lord said to Moses, "Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'" The Lord said to Moses, "I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation."

But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, "O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, "It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth"? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, "I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 106)

R./: Remember us, O Lord, for the love you have for your people

Our fathers made a calf in Horeb
   and adored a molten image;
They exchanged their glory
   for the image of a grass-eating bullock. (R./)

They forgot the God who had saved them,
   who had done great deeds in Egypt,
Marvellous deeds in the land of Ham,
   terrible things at the Red Sea. (R./)

Then he spoke of exterminating them,
   but Moses, his chosen one,
stood before him in the breach
   to turn back his destructive wrath. (R./)

Gospel: John (5:31-47)

The witness of Jesus shows us the way to God

Jesus said to his disciples, "If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true. You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John's. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.

"You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?"

BIBLE

Winning Hearts, Not Arguments

Our readings centre around complaints and criticism, a very common human response to current events. Our Jewish forebears had a positive genius for complaining, on their long camino through the Sinai desert! God points out to Moses how stiff-necked they are, how unwilling to be led. In fact the Lord wants to give them up and start a new nation, founded not on Abraham but on Moses and his sons. "I will make of you a great nation." We may wonder, is this a projecting into the mind of God of Moses' own frustration? He had hesitated himself, at times, especially told to strike the rock to find water (Num 20:6b-13). If Moses is confusing his own inclination with the will of God, then how well he is mirroring ourselves. Like Moses we too can imagine that our own inclinations are an expression of God's holy will!

Like Moses, Jesus continuously had to face the arguments of his critics. Even though he had just healed a man who had been lame for many years, they carped that such things should not be done on the Sabbath. Both Jesus (and the early church) patiently carefully explained the reasons for his actions. Jesus appealed to their experience of John the Baptist, again to his own miracles as works of his heavenly Father, to the interior presence of God the Father within the mind of each person, and to the Scriptures.

During a lively argument we must often decide which approach is best, to reach a positive outcome. Inner conviction, and letting ourselves be directed by the Lord, will eventually win the day. This attitude of serenity enables us to persevere and lessens the temptation to quit. And so our faith community will eventually, perhaps after long delay as in Moses' case, cross the river Jordan and enter the promised land. Our deeper aim is not to win arguments but to win people for God.

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Friday of Week 4 of Lent

1st Reading: Wisdom 2:1, 12-22)

Malice against the good foreshadows the Passion of Jesus

Foolish people reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves, "Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end, and no one has been known to return from Hades. Let us then lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training.

"He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father.

"Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God's child, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, so that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected."

Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hoped for the wages of holiness, nor discerned the prize for blameless souls;

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 34)

R./: The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

The Lord confronts the evildoers,
   to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
When the just cry out, the Lord hears them,
   and from all their distress he rescues them. (R./)

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
   and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
Many are the troubles of the just person,
   but out of them all the Lord delivers him. (R./)

He watches over all his bones;
   not one of them shall be broken.
The Lord redeems the lives of his servants;
   no one incurs guilt who takes refuge in him. (R./)

Gospel: John (7:1-2, 10, 25-30)

Jesus goes up to Jerusalem privately; the crowds wonder about him

After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He did not wish to go about in Judea because the Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill him. Now the Jewish festival of Booths was near. So his brothers said to him, "Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world." (For not even his brothers believed in him.) Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil. Go to the festival yourselves. I am not going to this festival, for my time has not yet fully come." After saying this, he remained in Galilee.

But after his brothers had gone to the festival, then he also went, not publicly but as it were in secret. Now some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, "Is not this the man whom they are trying to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, but they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah? Yet we know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from." Then Jesus cried out as he was teaching in the temple, "You know me, and you know where I am from. I have not come on my own. But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me." Then they tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come.

BIBLE

Near to those in trouble

The upright person (first reading) persecuted and tested by malicious enemies, provoked this opposition by claiming to be a child of God, a claim they angrily dispute. Jesus suffered a similar kind of rejection. When his own relatives think they have all the facts about him, he answered, "I was sent by One whom . . . you do not know. I know him because it is from him I come." While the Just One in the Book of Wisdom is humiliated and oppressed, no one yet laid a finger on Jesus, because his hour had not yet come. This points forward to John's account of the Last Supper and the Passion, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (Jn 13:1) And during the Supper he promised them, "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you." (Jn 14:18)

As the response to the Psalm we repeated this mantra: "The Lord is near to broken hearts." Broken hearts are painful and lonely, but they also enable us to reach even more deeply into our roots, where God is very near with the loving providence of his mysterious clasp. Our God is close to those in trouble; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves. Many are the troubles of the just man, but from them all the Lord will save him.

Knowing who Jesus really is

By the phrase "the Jews," John nearly always means the Jewish religious leaders. His gospel tends to distinguish between the Jewish religious leaders and the people as a whole . It is not said that the Jewish people were out to kill him. That was what the leaders wanted; but the people also disparage Jesus when they say, "we all know where he comes from." They were saying, in effect, "we know that he comes from Nazareth, a little village in the hills." In reply, Jesus declares that he really comes from God, the Almighty One who sent him. To know that Jesus came from Nazareth falls far short of knowing who he really is. It is generally the case in John's gospel that those who say "we know" don't really know. The evangelist reminds us that there is always more to Jesus than we realize. When it comes to the Lord, we are always on a journey of discovery. What really matters is to keep travelling that journey, to keep striving to know him more fully.

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Saturday of Week 4

1st Reading: Jeremiah (11:18-20)

The Just One is led like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter

It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew; then you showed me their evil deeds. But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. And I did not know it was against me that they devised schemes, saying, "Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will no longer be remembered!"

But you, O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously, who try the heart and the mind, let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 7)

R./: Lord, my God, I take shelter in you

Lord God, I take refuge in you.
From my pursuer save me and rescue me,
lest he tear me to pieces like a lion
and drag me off with no one to rescue me. (R.)

Give judgement for me, Lord;
I am just and innocent of heart.
Put an end to the evil of the wicked!
Make the just stand firm,
you test mind and heart, O just God! (R.)

God is the shield that protects me,
who saves the upright of heart.
God is a just judge slow to anger;
but he threatens the wicked every day. (R.)

Gospel: John (7:40-53)

The authorities wonder about Jesus: can he be the Messiah?

When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, "This is really the prophet." Others said, "This is the Messiah." But some asked, "Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?" So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why did you not arrest him?" The police answered, "Never has anyone spoken like this!" Then the Pharisees replied, "Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law .. they are accursed." Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, "Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?" They replied, "Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee." Then each of them went home.

BIBLE

Interpreting the Bible fairly

The Jewish leaders were undecided about Jesus, but most of them concluded that he was not the promised Saviour of Israel. The same argument raged among the Jewish laity, yet a group of them decided in Jesus' favour. The temple guards spontaneously express admiration for him: "No one ever spoke like that before!" In our day many theologians and laity still argue over the essentials of religion: Who is Christ? What is the Church? What is needed for salvation? What is right and wrong? Christians are divided into so many denominations, each quoting the Bible as their authority. Because Lent summons us to more intensive prayer and study, with frequent Eucharistic celebration and special biblical readings, we might want to review what guidelines we follow for reading the Bible profitably. Today's prophecy of Jeremiah and words from Saint John offer some help for interpreting the Bible today.

First, as Nicodemus pointed out, we should give the Bible a fair hearing, just as we would to each individual person, trying to know the facts before we reject or accept. As we make this effort of patient observation, we must be respectful and show tolerance for differences of opinion. If Jesus' messiah-ship was a public issue among his people and their religious authorities during his lifetime, we ought not be surprised that theological conflicts continue today.

Jesus never suggested that he or his disciples should abandon their Jewish faith. Rather, he held that God wanted to bring this religion to greater perfection. So he gained the respect of honest people, who valued whatever is good and wholesome. The unlearned temple guards reply to the court theologians: "No one ever spoke like that before!" The Bible ought never be used to make what is good look bad, nor make what is bad look good. Biblical interpretation should be honest and fair. Honest, decent people with a positive attitude toward others, people who are slow to condemn and who are tolerant of other people's convictions, have the best chance of interpreting the Bible fairly.


Weekday Readings for the 5th Week of Lent

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Monday of Week 5 of Lent

1st Reading: Daniel (13:1-9, 15-17, 31-62)

Susanna is falsely accused; Daniel's questions uncover the truth

There was a man living in Babylon whose name was Joakim. And he took a wife named Susanna, the daughter of Hilkiah, a very beautiful woman and one who feared the Lord. Her parents were righteous, and had taught their daughter according to the law of Moses. Joakim was very rich, and had a spacious garden adjoining his house; and the Jews used to come to him because he was the most honoured of them all.

That year two elders from the people were appointed as judges. Concerning them the Lord had said: "Iniquity came forth from Babylon, from elders who were judges, who were supposed to govern the people." These men were frequently at Joakim's house, and all who had suits at law came to them there.

When the people departed at noon, Susanna would go into her husband's garden to walk. The two elders used to see her every day, going in and walking about, and they began to desire her. And they perverted their minds and turned away their eyes from looking to Heaven or remembering righteous judgments.

Once, while they were watching for an opportune day, she went in as before with only two maids, and wished to bathe in the garden, for it was very hot. And no one was there except the two elders, who had hid themselves and were watching her. She said to her maids, "Bring me oil and ointments, and shut the garden doors so that I may bathe." Now Susanna was a woman of great refinement, and beautiful in appearance. As she was veiled, the wicked men ordered her to be unveiled, that they might feed upon her beauty. But her family and friends and all who saw her wept.

Then the two elders stood up in the midst of the people, and laid their hands upon her head. And she, weeping, looked up toward heaven, for her heart trusted in the Lord. The elders said, "As we were walking in the garden alone, this woman came in with two maids, shut the garden doors, and dismissed the maids. Then a young man, who had been hidden, came to her and lay with her. We were in a corner of the garden, and when we saw this wickedness we ran to them. We saw them embracing, but we could not hold the man, for he was too strong for us, and he opened the doors and dashed out. So we seized this woman and asked her who the young man was, but she would not tell us. These things we testify." The assembly believed them, because they were elders of the people and judges; and they condemned her to death.

Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and said, "O eternal God, who dost discern what is secret, who art aware of all things before they come to be, thou knowest that these men have borne false witness against me. And now I am to die! Yet I have done none of the things that they have wickedly invented against me!" The Lord heard her cry. And as she was being led away to be put to death, God aroused the holy spirit of a young lad named Daniel; and he cried with a loud voice, "I am innocent of the blood of this woman."

All the people turned to him, and said, "What s this that you have said?" Taking his stand in the midst of them, he said, "Are you such fools, you sons of Israel? Have you condemned a daughter of Israel without examination and without learning the facts? Return to the place of judgment. For these men have borne false witness against her." Then all the people returned in haste. And the elders said to him, "Come, sit among us and inform us, for God has given you that right." And Daniel said to them, "Separate them far from each other, and I will examine them."

When they were separated from each other, he summoned one of them and said to him, "You old relic of wicked days, your sins have now come home, which you have committed in the past, pronouncing unjust judgments, condemning the innocent and letting the guilty go free, though the Lord said, 'Do not put to death an innocent and righteous person." Now then, if you really saw her, tell me this: Under what tree did you see them being intimate with each other?" He answered, "Under a mastic tree." And Daniel said, "Very well! You have lied against your own head, for the angel of God has received the sentence from God and will immediately cut you in two."

Then he put him aside, and commanded them to bring the other. And he said to him, "You offspring of Canaan and not of Judah, beauty has deceived you and lust has perverted your heart. This is how you both have been dealing with the daughters of Israel, and they were intimate with you through fear; but a daughter of Judah would not endure your wickedness. Now then, tell me: Under what tree did you catch them being intimate with each other?" He answered, "Under an evergreen oak." And Daniel said to him, "Very well! You also have lied against your own head, for the angel of God is waiting with his sword to saw you in two, that he may destroy you both."

Then all the assembly shouted loudly and blessed God, who saves those who hope in him. And they rose against the two elders, for out of their own mouths Daniel had convicted them of bearing false witness; and they did to them as they had wickedly planned to do to their neighbour; acting in accordance with the law of Moses, they put them to death. Thus innocent blood was saved that day.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 23)

R./: Though I walk in the valley of darkness I fear no evil, for you are with me

The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures
where he gives me repose.
Near restful waters he leads me,
to revive my drooping spirit. (R./)

He guides me along the right path;
he is true to his name.
If I should walk in the valley of darkness
no evil would I fear.
You are there with your crook and your staff;
with these you give me comfort. (R./)

You have prepared a banquet for me
in the sight of my foes.
My head you have anointed with oil;
my cup is overflowing. (R./)

Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me
all the days of my life.
In the Lord's own house shall I dwell
for ever and ever. (R./)

Gospel: John (8:1-11)

Mercy shown to the woman caught in adultery

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, No one, sir." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again."

BIBLE

Defender of people in need

Susanna's trust illustrates the very essence of faith: "she trusted in the Lord with all her heart." By contrast, lust drove her two accusers to suppress their consciences, so that mercy and justice were driven from their thoughts. Her story suggests that if we fix our hope on God, we get a solid peace of mind and a true perspective on things, even in very dark moments. Things may look bleak but the Lord is always aware of our need. In that spirit Susanna prayed: "Eternal God, you know what is hidden and are aware of all things." She did not lash out angrily against her accusers or panic about how to defend herself, but simply trusted God and bravely affirmed her innocence when they accused her. Then, in the light of her obvious innocence Daniel is led to find the right solution. It is a lesson we would do well to follow.

In today's Gospel, an obviously guilty woman was dragged into Jesus' presence. We admire his restraint in responding to the case that was put to him, for he simply bent down and started doodling on the ground in the dust. When he eventually looked up he suggested, 'Let whoever among you is without sin be the first to stone her;' and again he started to write on the ground. The accused woman also shows great restraint .. for she might have shouted accusations against the man caught in the act with her and yet who was allowed off scot free. Clearly her accusers did not want even-handed justice or both culprits would have been accused, for they were just using the woman to trap Jesus. But he refused to be trapped, and so did the woman lying on the ground, whose silence projected more honour and dignity than her accusers' self-justifying pomposity. They eventually drifted away one by one, beginning with the elders.

We pray for the wisdom to know when to choose the silence from which can flow honour, serenity, forgiveness. It is these depths of character that we seek when we possess our souls in the presence of God. He becomes our light, our witness, our justification. It can be true of us too, what was said about Susanna, "blessed is God who saves those who hope in him."


Slow to condemn

The Pharisees who brought an adulterous woman to Jesus were suggesting a simple answer to her moral failure. Condemn her to death by stoning. The gospel reading also makes clear that this was not Jesus' way of dealing with moral failure. He understood that the situation was far more complex that the Pharisee's crude and simplistic solution allowed for. The men who brought the woman to Jesus saw her only in terms of her immediate past. Jesus' way of looking at her was far more generous; he saw the whole picture of her life, not just one little bit of it. Seeing the whole picture of her life, he also saw that she had a future, a future that those who brought her to Jesus would have denied her. When the Lord looks at us he sees the whole picture too; he does not become obsessed with one or two details of the picture. He hears the full story of our lives, not just a couple of lines of our story. The Lord knows that our story is unfinished, and will only be complete when he himself comes to transfigure our lowly bodies into copies of his glorious body.

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Tuesday of Week 5 of Lent

1st Reading: Numbers (21:4-9)

The brazen serpent; anyone bitten can look at it and live

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food." Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, "Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live." So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 102)

R./: O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you

O Lord, hear my prayer,
   and let my cry come to you.
Hide not your face from me
   in the day of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
   in the day when I call, answer me speedily. (R./)

The nations shall revere your name, O Lord,
   and all the kings of the earth your glory,
When the Lord has rebuilt Zion
   and appeared in his glory;
When he has regarded the prayer of the destitute,
   and not despised their prayer. (R./)

Let this be written for the generation to come,
   and let his future creatures praise the Lord:
The Lord looked down from his holy height,
   from heaven he beheld the earth,
To hear the groaning of the prisoners,
   to release those doomed to die. (R./)

Gospel: John (8:21-30)

When they have lifted up the Son of Man, the truth will be finally revealed

Again he said to them, "I am going away, and you will search for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come." Then the Jews said, "Is he going to kill himself? Is that what he means by saying, "Where I am going, you cannot come"?" He said to them, "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he." They said to him, "Who are you?" Jesus said to them, "Why do I speak to you at all? I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him." They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him." As he was saying these things, many believed in him.

BIBLE

The Serpent and the Cross

The symbol of Israel's sin, the serpent that with its poisonous bite, is changed into an instrument of salvation. Moses made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, so that all who look upon it admitting their sin and regretting their offense were cured by the Lord. Acknowledgment of sin purifies the mind and heart, exposing all excuses and calling evil by its proper name "sin" i.e. an offence against the God who guides our lives. The people come to a new outlook when they admit that sin brings sorrow and death, that their grumbling is destructive, and that their contempt for the Manna provoked God's anger. This bronze serpent has a somewhat murky history. Long before Moses cast this figure in copper, the serpent was a popular figurine in Canaanite fertility rituals. It was a serpent that symbolized the devil in Genesis 3. Perhaps it was because of this pagan background that Moses' bronze serpent later became an object of false worship and was destroyed as an idol by King Hezekiah (2 Kgs 18:4).

Paradoxically the early church recognized in this symbol a sign of Jesus on the cross. Saint Paul wrote: "For our sake God made the sinless one to be sin, so that in him we might become the very holiness of God" (2 Cor 5:21). In the goodness, compassion and forgiveness of Jesus we recognize by contrast our own violent and harsh attitudes. The very image of Jesus on the cross shows the effects of human violence but also reveals "the kindness and love of God our Saviour" (Tit 3:4). The "miraculous interchange" of which the liturgy speaks is that while Jesus conforms to us externally (adopting our humanity), we are enabled to conform to him internally, becoming children of God. His goodness forces the poison of our sinfulness out of our system, by his enduring with love the violence of the crucifixion, and through his act of loving self-surrender, we come to belong like Jesus to the Father who is above all.

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Wednesday of Week 5 of Lent

1st Reading: Daniel (3:14-20, 24-25)

Trusting in God, they are saved from the fiery furnace

Nebuchadnezzar said to them, "Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?"

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up."

Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary, and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counsellors, "Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?" They answered the king, "True, O king."

He replied, "But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god."

Responsorial (from Daniel 3)

Response:To you be glory and praise for ever!

Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
   praiseworthy and exalted above all forever;
And blessed is your holy and glorious name,
   praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages. (R./)

Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory,
   praiseworthy and exalted above all forever. (R./)

Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom,
   praiseworthy and exalted above all forever. (R./)

Blessed are you who look into the depths
   from your throne upon the cherubim;
   praiseworthy and exalted above all forever. (R./)

Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven,
   praiseworthy and glorious forever. (R./)

Gospel: John (8:31-42)

Jesus promises that the truth will make us free

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, "You will be made free"?"

Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. I declare what I have seen in the Father's presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father."

They answered him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are indeed doing what your father does." They said to him, "We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself." Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me.

BIBLE

What can save us?

In this drama from the book of Daniel the young men put their trust in God no matter what happens: "If our God can save us, may he save us! But even if he will not, O king, we will not serve your God!" With almost unimaginable serenity they accept the consequences of remaining faithful to their Jewish traditions. "There is no need," they said, "for us to defend ourselves." The issue is very clear to them; they choose integrity at all costs. Then God saved them from being consumed in the furnace and led Nebuchadnezzar to exclaim: "Blessed be the God who delivers the servants that trust in him." Jesus, too, acted with integrity, doing "the will of him who sent me" (John 5:30). Yet, unlike the young men in the fiery furnace, he was not saved from the violent death of crucifixion. However, even in such a death the Father in heaven was answering his prayers. As contradictory as it seems, Jesus "was heard because of his reverence. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when perfected he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him." (Hebr 5:7-9)

It also was by such unconditional, loyal obedience that Jesus proved his relationship as a son to the Father. "I did not come of my own will; it was he who sent me." His total response, according to St. John, His devotion to the Father's loving will, was at the core of Jesus' life, his conscious being. Jesus' very existence centered on this sense of total loyalty as the Father's Son. Our identity as Christian disciples flows from this spirit of integrity. As in today's gospel: "If you live according to my teaching, you are truly my disciples; then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." At crucial moments in our lives we may be expected to be heroic, self-sacrificing like the young men in the book of Daniel, or indeed like Jesus himself. If we can respond with all our heart, our true self will emerge most fully, for Our Lord has given us power to become children of God. And when our final prayer is heard through the act of dying, we will be saved by him for eternal life.


Truth will make you free

There have been many slogans relating to freedom down through the centuries. Perhaps the most notorious was the Nazi slogan "Work makes free" that hung over the gates of the concentration camps. In today's gospel, Jesus declares, "the truth will make you free." A little later in John's gospel Jesus will say of himself, "I am the truth." Jesus, in other words, is declaring himself to be the source of true freedom. As he declares in today's gospel, "If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." It is only through Jesus that we can enter into what St Paul calls "the glorious freedom of the children of God." It is Jesus, and the Holy Spirit that he pours into our hearts, that frees us from sin and all that diminishes us, and empowers us to live as God intends us to live, in ways that correspond to what is best and deepest in us. True freedom is the freedom to love, the freedom to give of ourselves to others as Jesus gave of himself to us. It is for this freedom we pray during these final weeks of Lent.

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Thursday of Week 5 of Lent

1st Reading: Genesis 17:3-9)

Abraham believe in God's promises, despite delays and disappointments

Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God."

God said to Abraam, "As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations."

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 105)

R./: The Lord remembers his covenant for ever

Look to the Lord in his strength;
   seek to serve him constantly.
Recall the marvellous deeds that he has wrought,
   his portents, and the judgments he has uttered. (R./)

You descendants of Abraham, his servants,
   sons of Jacob, his chosen ones!
He, the Lord, is our God;
   throughout the earth his judgments prevail. (R./)

He remembers forever his covenant
   which he made binding for a thousand generations –
Which he entered into with Abraham
   and by his oath to Isaac. (R./)

Gospel: John (8:51-59)

The mysterious relationship between Jesus and Abraham

Jesus said, "Truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death." The Jews said to him, "Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, 'Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.' Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?"

Jesus answered, "If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whomyou say, 'He is our God,' though you do not know him. But I know him; if I would say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad." Then the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am." So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

Abraham's Enduring Promises

The promises of Abraham reached forward into the future, even into centuries beyond our present age. In them God anticipates a day when all the nations of the world will find themselves united as though they were blood-relatives, all of them offspring of their one father Abraham. The different races of planet earth cannot establish this bond through common genealogy or blood descent. It can happen only by sharing the same faith and hopes and that means faith in land promised equally to all persons, faith in a way of salvation where no single group travels alone, faith in a common sharing of earth's riches, faith in the one divine dignity of all persons.

The promises to Abraham, when compared to the later exodus out of Egypt under Moses, have a much more universal sweep. They are reflected in the kingdom of David, when Israel opened lively diplomatic relations on an international scale and absorbed many customs and values of their neighbours .. with God's blessing. The promises to Abraham advise us to think big, to respond openly, to seek and dream the divine ideal of one world, one people.

The words of Jesus reach back not only to the age of the great patriarch (1850 B.C.) but even behind that first day in Israel's history to the eternal day before creation. "Before Abraham came to be, I AM." Jesus identifies himself with Yahweh. This name for God, very special and sacred to Israel, means in the Hebrew language "He who is always there."

In St. John's great message, Jesus is more than the fulfilment of Abraham's faith and hope; Jesus was one with God who planned for the day of Abraham before the universe was created, directed world history so that Abraham would be the single hope of all people, led Israel's history forward till this eternal Word became incarnate as Jesus, son of Mary. As the great I AM, Jesus is the Lord of our history. His hopes and plans will remain at least partially unfulfilled until all men and women are one. We are reminded of St. Paul's famous statement: "All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with him. There is no longer among you Jew or Greek, slave or free person, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus. Furthermore, if you belong to Christ, you are the descendants of Abraham, which means you inherit all that was promised." (Gal 3:27-29)

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Friday of Week 5 of Lent

1st Reading: Jeremiah (20:10-13)

Though many plot against God's servant, he is safe in God's hands

For I hear many whispering: "Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!" All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. "Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him."

But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonour will never be forgotten.

O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 18)

R./: In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice

I love you, O Lord, my strength,
   O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer. (R./)

My God, my rock of refuge,
   my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!
Praised be the Lord, I exclaim,
   and I am safe from my enemies. (R./)

The breakers of death surged round about me,
   the destroying floods overwhelmed me;
The cords of the nether world enmeshed me,
   the snares of death overtook me. (R./)

In my distress I called upon the Lord
   and cried out to my God;
From his temple he heard my voice,
   and my cry to him reached his ears. (R./)

Gospel: John (10:31-42)

Amid growing danger to his life, Jesus goes off to a quiet place

When the Jews took up stones again to stone him, Jesus replied, "I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?" The Jews answered, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God." Jesus answered, "Is it not written in your law, "I said, you are gods"? If those to whom the word of God came were called "gods," and the scripture cannot be annulled, can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, "I am God's Son"? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father." Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands.

He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there. Many came to him, and they were saying, "John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true." And many believed in him there.

BIBLE

Valuing our prophets

Both Jeremiah and Jesus were hounded by friends and even close relatives who turned against them. Former companions can change their attitudes when they feel their own personal interests or security threatened. Jeremiah speaks of God who "has rescued the life of the poor" and Jesus cures the helpless, the blind and the crippled, the deaf and the mute, and returns them to full vigour on the Sabbath. Both were condemned because they each upset the accepted legal system by shifting concern from ritualism to caring for actual people. Their opponents were not bad people but were deeply misguided. They knew their Biblical laws by heart. But these had become ossified, no longer meaningful truths that must fit in with the mercy of God.

If taken rigidly, the commandments of religion can become like idols, worshipped in place of God. They can be quoted to dictate how God must view each act of behaviour. Religious people sometimes find a bogus security in unchangeable rules. Our present pope Francis has warned against this trap. "To be ruled by Christ" he said "means always reaching out what lies ahead." And Jesus clearly condemned a hidebound view of the commandments when he compared the legalist Pharisees to "white-washed tombs" (Matt 23:27). Such rigidity is prompted by "their father the devil" (John 8:44).

We can offset any judgmental tendency we may have, first by a common-sense awareness of today's culture and of the needs of others. Then we must root ourselves in God, trying to discern his will, in a spirit of compassion and truth. Jeremiah calls God the One who probes mind and heart. Jesus is rooted in his intimate awareness of that God: "the Father is in me and I in him." We can echo Peter's prophetic awareness, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."


Contrasting views of Jesus

In today's gospel, the Jews strongly oppose Jesus because of the claims he makes about himself. "You are only a man and you claim to be God," they said. Jesus goes on to say of himself, "I am the Son of God… the Father is in me and I am in the Father." Jesus claims to have a unique relationship with God, such that whoever sees him sees God, the Father. The author of the fourth gospel puts it very graphically: the Word who was God became flesh, became enfleshed Word. Jesus is truly God in human form. That conviction is at the core of our Christian faith.

Because Jesus is the revelation of God, the healing works that he does are the work of the Father. God's work is being shown Jesus. God will always be a mystery to us, but Jesus has unveiled that mystery to draw us into the life of God. He has revealed that God is, ultimately, the fullness of Love. In the words of the first letter of Saint John, "God is Love." In the words of the gospel, "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son." That is the wonderful mystery that we will be celebrating this coming Holy Week.

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Saturday of Week 5 of Lent

1st Reading: Ezekiel (37:21-28)

I will bring them back, and I will cleanse them

Say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from every quarter, and bring them to their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.

They shall never again defile themselves with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. I will save them from all the apostasies into which they have fallen, and will cleanse them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes. They shall live in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your ancestors lived; they and their children and their children's children shall live there forever; and my servant David shall be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Then the nations shall know that I the Lord sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary is among them forevermore.

Responsorial (from Jeremiah 31)

R./: The Lord will guard us, as a shepherd guards his flock

Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
   proclaim it on distant isles, and say:
He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
   he guards them as a shepherd his flock. (R./)

The Lord shall ransom Jacob,
   he shall redeem him from the hand of his conqueror.
Shouting, they shall mount the heights of Zion,
   they shall come streaming to the Lord's blessings:
The grain, the wine, and the oil,
   the sheep and the oxen. (R./)

Then the virgins shall make merry and dance,
   and young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
   I will console and gladden them after their sorrows. (R./)

Gospel: John (11:45-56)

Caiaphas prophecies that one must die for the people

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, "What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation." But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed." He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to put him to death.

Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews, but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness; and he remained there with the disciples.

Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and were asking one another as they stood in the temple, "What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?"

Giving it all: the Great Uniting Force

In order that all the dispersed children of God can become one family as the prophet Ezekiel announced, they are not asked to lose anything .. but to freely give all away. Many centuries later, Paul told his gentile converts to "preserve all that is true, admirable, decent, virtuous or worthy of praise." (Phil 4:8). God-given talents and qualities, however, must be shared and thereby further enriched in a covenant of peace, the people's covenant among themselves and with their God.

To share the best that we have is where it pinches. No one of us sweats much over sharing our superfluous items. In fact we are anxious to clean house, give them away or hold a yard-sale, and forget about them. But the Bible does not want us simply to get rid of things; it calls us to share as one family. Ezekiel, always practical minded about details, adds that we be united in politics (one prince), in worship (one sanctuary), and in our sense of belonging (one land).

Jesus interacted with politics, religion and social customs. He cured the sick and the handicapped and broke religious taboos; he threatened political structures, where even the high priest was the appointee of the Romans; he ate and drank with non-observant people. He showed us how to share the best even with those considered the most lowly.

To fulfil his mission in this world, Jesus seemed to lose everything, even life itself. He was killed by the most shameful, excruciating form of execution! Yet, because he lost his life in an act of sharing his best with others, that life was raised up to new glory by God, the all-just, all merciful Father. He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together; He guards them as a shepherd his flock. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will console and gladden them after their sorrow.


Readings for Holy Week

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Monday of Holy Week

1st Reading: Isaiah (42:1-7)

My servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, the One in whom my soul delights

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 27)

R./: The Lord is my light and my salvation

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
   whom should I fear?
The Lord is my life's refuge;
   of whom should I be afraid? (R./)

When evildoers come at me
   to devour my flesh,
My foes and my enemies
   themselves stumble and fall. (R./)

The Lord is my light and my salvation. (R./)

Though an army encamp against me,
   my heart will not fear;
Though war be waged upon me,
   even then will I trust. (R./)

I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord
   in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord with courage;
   be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord. (R./)

Gospel: John (12:1-11)

Mary's gesture of love, pouring ointment on Jesus' feet

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus" feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

BIBLE

In memory of her

The impulsive, loving gesture done for Jesus by his close friend Miriam or Mary of Bethany (not the same as Mary Magdalene), is so inspirational that it's a wonder Christians have not made more of it in our liturgy. This woman, Miriam, may not yet have seen Jesus in the full light of prophecy, as "a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners who sit in darkness" (1st Reading), or indeed as the world's only Saviour, but she knew and loved him as a man of God, a fearless preacher of truth, love and fairness, and an extraordinary, compassionate healer of many, including herself. For this reason, she honoured and loved him and dared to show her love by that extravagant gesture of anointing him with perfumed oil, to which Judas so coldly objected. Rising to her defence, Jesus interprets her action as a preliminary anointing for his burial. "She bought it for the day of my burial." A little earlier, the Jewish high priest Caiaphas has declared that "One man must die for the nation," and a few verses later Jesus will speak of the need for the seed to die, in order to bear much fruit (Jn 12:24), and of his imminent "Lifting Up" so that he can draw all people to himself (12:32). Mary's impulsive act of loving generosity is thus given the status of a prophecy, preparing for his sacrificial death.

How strange that this iconic story is so relatively little known, and that it never received sacramental stature in the Church. Vatican teaching has been adamant that whatever kind of quasi-ministry may be implied in this act of anointing by Mary of Bethany, or in Mary Magdalene's later mission of announcing that Jesus was truly risen, does not constitute a basis for women to be ordained to priesthood. Perhaps that's why the Lord's apparently solemn and clear directive, in the parallel passage about Jesus being anointed by an unnamed woman in Bethany), that "Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done shall be told, in memory of her" (Mt 26:13 is so little observed. Gospel texts such as these would seem to call us to reconsider what Jesus meant as ministry within his community, nothing to do with status and with power, and all to do with actual loving service.


A kindly, devout woman

We are at the beginning of Holy Week during which we will ponder and reflect on the final journey of Jesus. Most of the people Jesus encountered on that final journey were hostile to him. Yet, according to today's gospel, six days before the feast of Passover during which Jesus was crucified, he experienced great kindness. Not only is he the guest at the table of a family that he loves, one member of that family, Mary, went to great expense to render him a very thoughtful service. She anointed his feet with very expensive perfume and dried them with her hair. A little later in the same gospel, Jesus will wash the feet of his disciples.

Mary, the sister of Lazarus, anticipated that servant-gesture of Jesus himself. She gives herself to Jesus in a loving service that corresponds to how Jesus gives himself to his disciples, and to all of us. Jesus interprets her generous act as preparing him for his death and burial. At the beginning of the last Week of his life, Our Lord welcomed this act of kindness from Mary of Bethany. What that woman did for Jesus we are called to do for each other. On our own life journey, we may meet people who make our journey more difficult. We will also experience people like Mary who support us on our journey, and, hopefully, we can be for others what Mary was for Jesus, a kindly and generous presence in an often hostile world.

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Tuesday of Holy Week

1st Reading: Isaiah (49:1-6)

The life of God's servant seems a failure, but it bears great fruit

Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified."

But I said, "I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God." And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honoured in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength, he says, "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 71)

R./: I will sing of your salvation

In you, O Lord, I take refuge;
   let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me, and deliver me;
   incline your ear to me, and save me. (R./)

Be my rock of refuge,
   a stronghold to give me safety,
   for you are my rock and my fortress.
O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked. (R./)

For you are my hope, O Lord;
   my trust, O God, from my youth.
On you I depend from birth;
   from my mother's womb you are my strength. (R./)

My mouth shall declare your justice,
   day by day your salvation.
O God, you have taught me from my youth,
   and till the present I proclaim your marvellous deeds. (R./)

Gospel: John (13:21-33, 36-38)

Jesus warns of betrayals; but those who stay faithful will follow him hereafter

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, "Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me." The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?" Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, "Do quickly what you are going to do." Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, "Buy what we need for the festival;" or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, "Where I am going, you cannot come."

Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus answered, "Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward." Peter said to him, "Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.

BIBLE

The paradox of the Passion

For the first followers of Jesus, his condemnation and brutal execution must surely have seemed like total failure. To those who stood at a distance watching him die on the cross (Mk 15:40) and the others who had fled for safety but who later heard about his crucifixion, it seemed like the end of an inspiring movement that had first filled them with hope and enthusiasm but now seemed only a great delusion. With the death of Jesus, all their hopes based on him as their leader lay in ruins. Whatever predictions he had made about his suffering and subsequent rising had not been taken seriously, either by Peter or the others (Mk 8:32).

Only later, after their glimmering, stuttering visions of his risen presence, did they get to reflecting seriously on Our Lord's predictions. In this they were greatly helped by some studious member of their group who first got the insight that all Jesus' sufferings were foretold in prophecy; and most clearly in the Isaiah poems about God's loving Servant. It suddenly dawned on the early Christians that words first spoken about the whole people of Israel now found their full meaning in Jesus. In him God's message was fulfilled, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified." Our Lord's apparently futile attempt to renew and purify his Jewish people would not end with the crucifixion. Through this loving outpouring of his life, he achieved more than to "raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel." It's fruit was exactly what, in Saint John's account, it was meant to be: for the sake of people everywhere ("I will draw all people to myself!") The early church saw in Jesus the fulfilment of Isaiah 49:6, "I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."

In his Last Supper story, John interweaves the two strands: apparent failure and ultimate triumph. Even among the Twelve, Jesus has to contend with one who will betray him, another who will deny him, and their general incomprehension of what he wishes to tell them on the eve of his Passion. And still the Evangelist is convinced that Jesus himself faced this supreme trial with a firm hope that through the willing acceptance of the Cross, "God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once." This is also our hope, as a Christian community gathered around his memory, in loving prayer, this Holy Week.

Contrasting responses to Jesus

Today's gospel portrays responses to Jesus on the part of his disciples as he begins the final days of his earthly life. Judas heads off into the dark, while the disciple Jesus loved is described as reclining next to Jesus, literally, "close to his chest." In his very first chapter the evangelist described Jesus as "close to the chest of the Father" (or in the Father's bosom). It seems that this beloved disciple has a relationship with Jesus similar to Jesus' own relationship with the Father. The evangelist presents him as the kind of person we are all called to become. This disciple is not named in John's gospel, because we are all invited to put our own name on him; we are to identify with him and become like him. For the fourth evangelist, we are all called to the same relationship with Jesus as the beloved disciple had. We are called to be as close to Jesus as he is to his Father. That is why Jesus goes on to say, "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; remain in my love, as I remain in his love." He wants us to have that same relationship with him as he has with his Father. That is something worth pondering, during this Holy Week.

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Wednesday of Holy Week

1st Reading: Isaiah (50:4-9)

The Suffering Servant trusts in God for rescue

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens, wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.

The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 69)

R./: Lord, in your great love, answer me

For your sake I bear insult,
   and shame covers my face.
I have become an outcast to my brothers,
   a stranger to my mother's sons,
because zeal for your house consumes me,
   and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me. (R./)

Insult has broken my heart, and I am weak,
   I looked for sympathy, but there was none;
   for consolers, not one could I find.
Rather they put gall in my food,
   and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. (R./)

I will praise the name of God in song,
   and I will glorify him with thanksgiving:
See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
   you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the Lord hears the poor,
   and his own who are in bonds he spurns not. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew (26:14-25)

Christ knows that Judas will betray him, yet lets him share at his table

Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What will you give me if I betray him to you?" They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, "The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'" So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me." And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, "Surely not I, Lord?" He answered, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man must go as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born." Judas, who betrayed him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" He replied, "You have said so."

BIBLE

What motivated Judas?

This is "Spy Wednesday," so called from the Lord's betrayal by Judas Iscarioth, one of his own inner circle. Poor Judas was doubtless talented, probably very astute, and had in his youth some spark of idealism; and yet when it came to the test he proved treacherous, unreliable, profoundly untrustworthy. The Gospels offer a few clues that may suggest what led the misguided Apostle towards that ultimate act of treachery: selling Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. We might even feel a twinge of pity for Judas, about whom Jesus spoke those chilling words, "It would have been better for that man not to have been born!" But rather than spend time trying to explain or analyse the level Judas' guilt, or trying to figure out his mixed motivations, it would be more fruitful to examine some ways in which we ourselves are untrustworthy and in need of the grace of repentance. The story of Judas is a sobering lesson for us all. "There but for the grace of God go I!" we may well say.

It is also a day to pray especially for all those who have tragically taken their own lives, trying to escape from the depths of despair; and to pray for grace, compassion and friendship for any poor soul who may be tempted to suicide. We could show our solidarity with the Samaritans who offer counselling to people in deep trouble, and even invest some of our time in being good listeners, where people can find help in time of trouble. On the example of Jesus, each of us could ask the Lord God to help us deepen our discipleship, and to grant us the gift of encouragement, "that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word."


An uncomfortable truth

The early church was very aware that Jesus was betrayed to his enemies by one of his closest associates. Even though this was a very uncomfortable truth for the early church, there was no attempt to gloss over the disturbing truth that, in the words of today's gospel, Jesus was betrayed by someone who dipped his hand into the dish with Jesus, someone who was an intimate. The gospel declares that when Jesus announced that one of those sharing table with him would betray him, everyone present was "greatly distressed." To be betrayed by someone you trust is very distressing for the one betrayed and for all those associated with him.

Some of us may have had the experience of our trust being betrayed. We confide in someone and they use that information against us. This week tells us that, in the case of Jesus, human betrayal did not have the last word; God had the last word by raising his Son from the dead. God brought good out of the evil of betrayal and the many other evils that Jesus endured. God can also bring good out of the negativity that we sometimes have to endure from others. These days invite us to trust that God can work in life-giving ways even in those dark experiences that are contrary to what God desires for us.

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Holy Thursday

1st Reading: Exodus (12:1-2, 11-14)

Israel's departure from Egypt, and how this is to be celebrated for all time

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labour.. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, "Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?" He answered, "Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and thought, "Surely the thing is known."

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 116)

R./: Our blessing-cup is a communion with the Blood of Christ

How shall I make a return to the Lord
   for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
   and I will call upon the name of the Lord. (R./)

Precious in the eyes of the Lord
   is the death of his faithful ones.
I am your servant, the son of your handmaid;
   you have loosed my bonds. (R./)

To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving,
   and I will call upon the name of the Lord.
My vows to the Lord I will pay
   in the presence of all his people. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians (11:23-26)

When we proclaim Christ's saving death in bread and wine, it makes him ever present with us

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Gospel: John (13:1-15)

The example of Jesus washing their feet shows us how to live

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples" feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean." After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord-and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

BIBLE

How to join in the Last Supper

When Jesus says, "Do this in memory of me!" clearly he means us to understand what "This" was and is. What exactly had he in mind through the symbols of the broken bread and the shared cup of wine? We need to get behind the formal Catechism answer about the "holy sacrifice of the Mass," and think anew about the meaning of that paschal meal. The Last Supper was celebrated in the context of the Jewish Passover meal and tonight's first reading explains the meaning of this feast. In words and symbols it recalled the greatest saving act of God in the Old Testament, the exodus from Egypt, setting God's people free from slavery. It opens us up to the idea that God enters our lives to save us and set us free from whatever oppresses us. So "opened up," we are prepared for the good news that the definitive saving work of God is done in and by Jesus Christ.

We reflect this evening on what St John calls the "hour" of Jesus, the high point of his saving work, the new exodus, his passing from this world to the Father through which he brought into being a new relationship between God and us human beings. Sharing in this new exodus is our ultimate liberation, freeing us from enslavement to material things and petty self-interest and setting us free to love generously, the very purpose for which we were originally created in the image of God. Through his love-without-limit, in his own utterly unselfish heart Jesus overcame all human selfishness and with it, human sin. Precisely this love, which the Father wants us all to have and to share, is the very heart of Jesus' exodus. It is just this self-giving kind of love which Jesus wants to be kept alive among us. With his disciples in the Last Supper he anticipated his death for us on the cross, giving himself in the sacramental symbols of bread and wine. From then on the celebration of our Eucharist is the living memorial through which we are joined to Our Lord's saving act of love. It is our way to share in the new exodus, to be freed from the isolation of self-concern so that they become fully human as God wants us to be.

St John implies that we are united with Jesus by letting him wash our feet, accepting his great act of loving service. Having accepted the gift we must embrace it as a value to practice in our lives. What Jesus does for us in his Passion shows us how to live. In some real sense, we must live like Jesus, "for" God and others. There is a close link between Jesus washing their feet and then their going on to wash the feet of others in the future. If the Eucharist is the place where the Lord washes our feet, daily life is the place where we can wash the feet of others. Eucharist leads to life leads to Eucharist. True Eucharist piety must lead to service of others. Jesus who broke the bread of the Eucharist also washed the feet of his disciples. We must follow his example both at the altar of the Eucharist and at the altar of life.


Loving Service

Thought for the day (from Fr. Kieran O'Mahony)

There is much more to the washing of the feet than an example of humble service. The act of loving service goes to the heart of Jesus' death and resurrection. The "lifting up" in John's Gospel is truly an act of loving service. The words at the start of this reading make that clear: Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father. These words make it clear that whatever happens next points most deeply to the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Can we accept such astonishing love from God?

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Good Friday

1st Reading: Isaiah (52:13-53:12)

The humiliations of the suffering servant, who bore the sins of his people

See, my servant will prosper,
he shall be lifted up, exalted, rise to great heights.
As the crowds were appalled on seeing him --
so disfigured did he look that he seemed no longer human --
so will the crowds be astonished at him,
and kings stand speechless before him;
for they shall see something never told
and witness something never heard before:
'Who could believe what we have heard,
and to whom has the power of the Lord been revealed?'
Like a sapling he grew up in front of us,
like a root in arid ground.
Without beauty, without majesty (we saw him),
no looks to attract our eyes;
a thing despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering,
a man to make people screen their faces;
he was despised and we took no account of him.
And yet ours were the sufferings he bore,
ours the sorrows he carried.
But we, we thought of him as someone punished,
struck by God, and brought low.
Yet he was pierced through for our faults,
crushed for our sins.
On him lies a punishment that brings us peace,
and through his wounds we are healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep,
each taking his own way,
and the Lord burdened him
with the sins of all of us.
Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly,
he never opened his mouth,
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter-house,
like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers,
never opening its mouth.
By force and by law he was taken;
would anyone plead his cause?
Yes, he was torn away from the land of the living,
for our faults struck down in death.
They gave him a grave with the wicked,
a tomb with the rich,
though he had done no wrong
and there had been no perjury in his mouth.
The Lord has been pleased to crush him with suffering.
If he offers his life in atonement,
he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life
and through him what the Lord wishes will be done.
His soul's anguish over
he shall see the light and be content.
By his sufferings shall my servant justify many,
taking their faults on himself.

Hence I will grant whole hordes for his tribute,
he shall divide the spoil with the mighty,
for surrendering himself to death
and letting himself be taken for a sinner,
while he was bearing the faults of many
and praying all the time for sinners.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 31)

R./: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit

In you, O Lord, I take refuge;
   let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me.
   Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, O Lord, O faithful God. (R./)

For all my foes I am an object of reproach,
   a laughingstock to my neighbors, and a dread to my friends;
   they who see me abroad flee from me.
I am forgotten like the unremembered dead;
   I am like a dish that is broken. (R./)

But my trust is in you, O Lord;
   I said, You are my God.
In your hands is my destiny; rescue me
   from the clutches of my enemies and persecutors. (R./)

Let your face shine upon your servant;
   save me in your kindness.
Take courage and be stouthearted,
   all you who hope in the Lord. (R./)

2nd Reading: Hebrews (4:14-16; 5:7-9)

We have in Christ a great high priest who understands us fully. By his sufferings he accomplished our salvation

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Gospel: John (18:1-19:42)

With dignity and strength, Jesus goes the royal road to Calvary

After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, "Whom are you looking for?" They answered, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus replied, "I am he." Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, "I am he," they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, "Whom are you looking for?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus answered, "I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go." This was to fulfil the word that he had spoken, "I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me." Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave's name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?"

So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people. Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, "You are not also one of this man's disciples, are you?" He said "I am not." Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, "I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said." When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, "Is that how you answer the high priest?" Jesus answered, "If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?" Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, "You are not also one of his disciples, are you?" He denied it and said, "I am not." One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, "Did I not see you in the garden with him?" Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate's headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, "What accusation do you bring against this man?" They answered, "If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you." Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law." The Jews replied, "We are not permitted to put anyone to death." (This was to fulfil what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.) Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Pilate asked him, "What is truth?" After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, "I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" They shouted in reply, "Not this man, but Barabbas!" Now Barabbas was a bandit.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, "Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him." So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!" When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him." The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God." Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, "Where are you from?" But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, "Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?" Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, "If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor." When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge's bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha.

Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, "Here is your King!" They cried out, "Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!" Pilate asked them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but the emperor." Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write, "The King of the Jews," but, 'This man said, I am King of the Jews.'" Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written."

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it." This was to fulfil what the scripture says, "They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots." And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), "I am thirsty." A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, "None of his bones shall be broken." And again another passage of scripture says, "They will look on the one whom they have pierced."

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

BIBLE

All Completed and Fulfilled

Were you there when they crucified my Lord? .. In the words of that haunting song, sometimes it does indeed cause me to tremble, when I hear those words from the cross, "It is Consummated!" Consummated, completed, achieved to the last degree, engraved forever on the memory of mankind. "I have come to seek and to save what was lost, The Son of Man came, not to be served but to serve." His life was one long act of loving service, and now it ends on a rocky hill outside Jerusalem's walls, with a final act of total self-surrender to the Father, on our behalf. Nothing like it was ever accomplished before, and its fruits go on forever.

The marvel is that, in another sense, this hour of his death remains powerfully alive in the hearts of all who trust in him, this point of total, utter contact between us and almighty God. The utterly self-giving, loving, loyal spirit of Jesus at the point of leaving this world is shared and handed on. In the crucifixion, all is consummated, because by it he draws us into contemplation of the grace and mercy of God in our lives in every circumstance. As Joseph Mary Plunkett put it in a poem written in 1916, I see His Blood Upon the Rose

I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.

The poet finds in Christ the key for coping with sorrows in life, appreciating God's presence with us every step of the way, and never more so than when we are called to share in the cross:

All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.

Yet in another sense the wonderful saving work of Jesus is not completed until it is recognised, welcomed and absorbed by each of his faithful followers, and until we in turn bring the spirit of his boundless compassion to bear in our world, reaching out as he did to bring our fellow human beings, and especially those most in need, into the warmth of God's family circle.


A new creation

In John's Gospel, Jesus dies with the words "It is accomplished." This Gospel beings with the words "In the beginning" and in John 20 we are told that the Risen Lord "breathed upon" the apostles. These details remind us consistently of Genesis 1-2, where "In the beginning God created heaven and earth" (Gen 1:1); "on the seventh day God had completed the work he had been doing" (Gen 2:2); blew the breath of life into his nostrils, (Gen 2:7). The evangelist is teaching us "if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation" (2 Cor 5:17). (Kieran O'Mahony osa)


Not for God's sake but for your own

Calvary sets in consoling relief the experience of all who suffer, whether the nightmare of physical pain or the emotional trauma of significant loss or the prospect of imminent death. The human Jesus, struggling to come to terms with the reality of his predicament, echoes every human experience of suffering and of loss and reflects the complexity and confusion of emotions that attend all those caught in the slipstream of pain and loss and death.

This Friday, in homes and in hospitals all over Ireland, those who experience pain and desolation in whatever form, all those who like Mary stand at the foot of the cross, will sense something of the complexity of emotions that were present on Calvary: the same confusion, the same disillusionment, the same desolation, the same anger, the same reproach. How many indeed this Friday will, in whatever shape or form, echo the great lamentation of Jesus as he died on the cross: My God, what have you done to me, answer me?

All who are suffering in whatever form this Good Friday, all who struggle to make sense of what, by any human estimate, seems to be senseless will find an echo of their pain in the sufferings of Jesus because the contradiction of the cross is that what it represents, the sufferings of Christ, continues to save and to heal and to comfort.

Contemplating Jesus on the cross brings comfort and resilience and strength to those who need it. And it reminds us that it is through his suffering that everyone and everything is redeemed, that the power and the presence and promise of God are now accessible to us in our suffering and in our need. Contemplating Jesus on the Cross reminds us that in our present frail and redeemed bodies we carry the saving power of God. Kiss the cross on Good Friday, not for God's sake but for your own. (from a Good Friday reflection by Brendan Hoban)