March 12, 2013 - Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12
Psalm 46: 2-3, 5-6, 8-9
John 5:1-16

Ezekiel sees the river of God’s mercy, flowing out of the temple, into the world. At first Ezekiel is trying to measure God’s mercy: 1000 cubits by ankle-deep, 1000 cubits by knee-deep, 1000 cubits by waist deep. Finally, Ezekiel can no longer measure God’s mercy. He can only swim in it.

Wherever this river goes, every living creature shall live. This seems sort of redundant, a tautology, but Jesus says “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” Life is not just an on-off switch: on the one hand, a person can live, or on the other hand, a person can live abundantly. The trees bear fruit every month, and their leaves never fade. The trees are being watered by God’s mercy. Because of this water, their fruit is good for food and their leaves are good for medicine. These are amazing trees, or, rather, this water is amazing water. They are alive, and other living trees seem dead. We must discern: are we alive? We walk and talk, but are we alive? The wages of sin are death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. Are we earning death or accepting life?

If we want to be alive, if we want the water of God’s mercy, we have to be merciful. Being merciful means sharing the burden. Mercy comes after justice. It does not remove justice. Mercy does not allow injustice. Justice creates a burden and then mercy shares it. If someone is bad at their job, justice fires them, then mercy finds them a job they can do. If a person commits murder, justice sentences them to prison, then mercy visits them there. A beautiful image of mercy is a mother, who, seeing that her son’s room is a mess, tells him that he cannot go out to play until it is clean, and then helps him clean the room.

I meet many people in my work who are in difficult situations, and often it is amazing how many poor choices they have made that have led to their situation. We could judge them: "We have worked hard; have they?" But, thanks be to God, we have no call to judge the vast majority of the world. When we see someone suffering under a burden, all we have to do is share in it. When we choose to be merciful, we share in their poverty and allow them to share in our riches. That way, God, who has already shared in our poverty, will allow us to share in his riches.

March 7, 2013 - Thursday of the Third Week of Lent

Jeremiah 7:23-28
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9
Luke 11:14-23

Many times, prayer is described as talking to God, but this is the less important side of prayer. “Thus says the LORD: I commanded my people, saying, Listen to my voice.” God knows everything. He even knows what is in our hearts before we do. Still, he listens to us. We know very little. (This is not a statement of false humility; we really know very little.) Even the most educated person does not know the answer to simple questions like, “How can I be happy?” We should be sitting before God, eagerly straining to hear what he has to say.

When we listen, we are exposing ourselves to being convinced. When we listen to sitcoms on television praising sin, we should not imagine that we are unaffected. When we listen to gossip or mean words, we should not suppose that we are above the person speaking. Satan loves the pride in us which, at the same time, prevents us from listening to God’s teaching and encourages us to presume we are immune from the evil influence of evil speech.

The voice of God is not very loud. Our free will is as fragile as a house of cards; if he spoke too forcefully, it would be destroyed. We can only hear his voice when we have turned off the television and the radio. Even then, the sounds we listen to all day reverberate in our mind. We could sit in a silent church, but the voice of God will still be shouted down by a voice in our head that is concerned with those many unimportant details that consume our lives. God is so very polite. He will never interrupt any other speaker. He waits until every other voice is silent, and then he speaks.

When he does speak, God does not say many words. He told St. Francis, “Rebuild my Church.” He said to St. Augustine, “Take and read.” He said to Mother Theresa, “I thirst.” He said to St. Paul, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” So many of the saints point to an experience of hearing a few words, perhaps a whole sentence, perhaps even a very short conversation, which changed their lives. Their whole life’s work became simply a matter of following what these words called them to. God has two or three words for you also. If you heard them, your life would be changed completely.

March 7, 2013 - Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9
Psalm 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20
Matthew 5:17-19

What Moses praises today is a mere shadow of the glorious truth fulfilled in Jesus Christ. While he is right to say that no pagan people have a religion as wonderful as the Law that was handed down to him on Mt. Sinai, we Christians have truly received grace in place of grace.

He asks the Israelites, “What great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?” Yet God is closer to us than he was to them. He spoke to Moses face to face, but he lives in our hearts. The Israelites were gathered into the People of God, but we are the Body of Christ. The Lord taught Moses to call him by his name, “I am who am”, but Jesus Christ taught us to call God “Our Father”. The Israelites could not even stand to look at the glory of God reflected in the face of Moses, but we look upon God with unveiled faces. The Spirit of the Lord descended on 70 elders, although Moses wished that all the Israelites would become prophets, but we have all received the Holy Spirit, who speaks to us from within. God chose one man and his sons to be priests and to offer the sacrifices to him each day, but we all participate in the Priesthood of Jesus Christ as we present our own bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God. Moses asked the Israelites, “What great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”, but the new law is the Holy Spirit, who is both perfectly just and perfectly merciful. For the law brings wrath, but grace brings salvation for all people.

So if the Israelites needed to take care and be earnestly on their guard not to forget a light that shone in the darkness like a candle, how much more must we take care and be earnestly on our guard not to forget the sunshine that illuminates the whole world. If the Israelites were duty-bound to teach their children and the grandchildren about God’s care for them in the desert, how much more are we bound by grace to proclaim to the whole world that God loves us and has built a kingdom where we can be with him forever.

March 5, 2013 - Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

Daniel 3:25, 34-43
Psalm 25:4-9
Matthew 18:21-35

When they were translating the Gospel today, they decided to use the phrases “a huge amount” and “a much smaller amount” instead of using the numbers and the ancient currency that is actually mentioned. Something is lost in the translation. No adjective, certainly not a mere “huge” can describe the debt of the first servant. If we do a rough equivalency to modern money, the amount was approximately 2 billion dollars. Billion, with a “b”. We might wonder how exactly a servant came to be 2 billion dollars in debt to his master. Why did the master keep loaning him money? How did the servant waste so much?

The story is clearly pointing to our relationship with God. If I consider how much God has given me, I recognize that no value is sufficient to describe it. Who could pay a ransom for their life? Besides life, I might try to add up the value of the air I breathe and the water I drink. What is the value of an hour? Of a day? If I try to do a rough equivalency into modern money, I find that I have indeed borrowed well over 2 billion dollars worth so far. What do I have to show for this massive investment that God has made in me? If I were to compare the love with which God has loved me and the love with which I have loved God and my neighbor, I find that, like the servant, I am bankrupt.

The joy of being forgiven should be unequal to the lesser joys of this world. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would rejoice, but I would still be unable to pay God back for all the grace that I wasted. When we see people on television jumping and screaming, expressing uncontainable excitement, because they have won some few million dollars, we Christians are put to shame. Where is our excitement? Why are we not jumping up and down? We should rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances. People should be asking us the reason for the hope that is within us.

This joy was what the servant lacked. When he met the other servant, who owed him about $5000, he should have laughed and cried. Imagine caring about $5000 when you have been forgiven 2 billion! Imagine caring about the little ways people hurt us when we have been forgiven all our sins!

March 4, 2013 - Monday of the Third Week of Lent

2 Kings 5.1-5
Psalm 42.2-3; 43.3-4
Luke 4.24-30

God is often not what we expect. If we worshiped a human idea, we would never be surprised, but we worship a living God who is greater than us. Part of his greatness is his capacity to surprise us. We are never going to figure God out. When he commands something, we can obey him, even if we do not understand him. We sometimes have to obey God blindly: not because we have shut our eyes but because we cannot comprehend what we see. This may sound disturbing to modern people, that we will obey someone whom we do not understand.

There may have been a time when blind obedience was more acceptable. Naaman does not seem to understand it, but his servants do. Perhaps they were used to following commands that they did not understand. We modern people are more like Naaman: we, each one of us, think of ourselves as commanders. We will not accept a politician who assures us that we simply do not understand the issues of global finance or international relations, who tells us to go along with a plan that seems bad to us. Perhaps this skepticism is good. We have learned that no human person can be trusted. There may not be anyone in this world so intelligent that they really understand all the issues and so virtuous that they are beyond corruption, and if there is, they are not running for political office.

This skepticism, however, should not be extended to our relationship with God. Here is someone we can trust. He understands everything perfectly, and he loves us completely. Once we have come to believe in God, we should not stumble when we do not understand his ways. We should not expect to understand him. He is God. We are not.

It is not wrong to think about God’s ways and try to make some progress in understanding him. God did give us intelligence so that we could understand. We should not expect, though, that we will understand everything about God or that we have to. Our first reaction to the incomprehensible should not be to try and fit it within our limited frameworks. True understanding does come, as a gift of the Holy Spirit. In the meantime we can simply obey; we can safely presume, if not easily, that God is right, that we have something to learn, that God does not need us to teach him anything.

March 2, 2013 - Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

Micah 7:14-15, 18-20
Psalm 103:1-4, 9-12
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.” This line is kind of funny, but it is an accurate depiction of how we try to bargain with God. If the father is running any kind of responsible household, he will immediately turn down this job application. Not that it is even an application. The son presumes that he is doing something very humble by saying, “treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers”, but it is a very arrogant statement. He is commanding the father to hire him.

The son cannot be hired as a servant. He can only be accepted back as a son. We can never earn our way with God. If he wants servants, he has the angels. We can only be accepted as children of God. A sinner trying to come back to the Father can never make up for their sins, but they will always be a child of God.

The other son is also thinking like a bad servant rather than a son. He has never accepted the mission of the father as his own. The joys of the father should be the joys of the son. The sorrows of the father should be the sorrows of the son. God’s family is different than human families: we are never going to grow up and move out on our own. We need to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Jesus became like us in all ways but sin, so we must become like him in all ways we can. We must become sharers in the divinity of him who shared in our humanity.

All our labors in this world will be useless if we have not first conformed our will to the Father’s will. If we are secretly working for ourselves, we will build up resentment at God. If we want to be saints (and we do want to be saints) then we must give up any idea of progress in this world, any expectation of young goats, and take on the mind of Christ. Accepting our role as sons and daughters of our Father means seeing as God sees and loving what God loves, without jealousy or ambition. We cannot be independent and we cannot be servants. We cannot be anything more or less than children of God.

March 1, 2013 - Friday of the Second Week in Lent

Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13, 17-28
Psalm 105:16-21
Mathew 21:33-43, 45-46

Perhaps you have noticed that this week, we have seen a lot of death and almost-death. Abraham was going to kill Isaac. They were planning to kill Jeremiah on Wednesday, which was also when Jesus told his disciples that the Son of Man would be killed. Yesterday, Lazarus and the rich man both died. Today, Joseph’s brothers were going to kill him, the favorite son of Jacob, and, in the Gospel parable, the landowner’s son is killed. This all culminates tomorrow in the parable of the Prodigal Son whom the father says was dead and is now alive again.

This is all symbolic of Jesus, which his prophesy makes clear. Jesus is the beloved son who was sacrificed. Jesus was the prophet who so offended the leadership of Israel that they wanted to kill him. Jesus was our brother whom we killed because we were jealous of how much our Father loved him.

We know that we will die. Some people live with that knowledge more present to them than others. When we are healthy, we rarely think of death. When we are young, death seems as impossible as growing old. Yet death will come. Death is the universal human experience. We speak different languages; we eat different foods; we live under different governments; but everyone has died or will die. Death is a brick wall that no one can go through. It ends every project, every hope, every plan. Is it impolite to speak about death? If we ignore it, will it go away?

No. We will acknowledge death. We will spend 40 days preparing to die, for we are in the season devoted to death. By fasting and almsgiving we are trying to let go of this world. By prayer we are grasping at the world to come. These days culminate in the Easter Triduum, which begins with the dying and death of Jesus Christ. Death is not the end. The Triduum ends in resurrection.

The master sent servant after servant to collect the harvest, but some they mistreated and others they killed, but the master did not give up on the land. He sent his son and they killed him too. What will the master do? He will raise his son from the dead and continue trying to get the fruit he desires. Nothing will stop the master from getting what he wants. He is relentless. He is unbeatable. The love of God is unstoppable.