Saturday, February 29, 2020

1st Sunday of Lent, Year A

The Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent is taken from St. Mark, and is on the temptation of Christ in the desert. Here is a talk on it given by Pope Francis in 2015 (and here's a link to the full version):
This is the meaning of this First Sunday of Lent: to place ourselves decisively on the path of Jesus, the road that leads to life. To look at Jesus. Look at what Jesus has done and go with Him.
The Temptations of Christ (12th c. , St. Mark's Basilica, Venice)

This path of Jesus passes through the desert. The desert is the place where the voice of God and the voice of the tempter can be heard. In the noise, in the confusion, this cannot be done; only superficial voices can be heard. Instead we can go deeper in the desert, where our destiny is truly played out, life or death. And how do we hear the voice of God? We hear it in his Word. For this reason, it is important to know Scripture, because otherwise we do not know how to react to the snares of the Evil One. And here I would like to return to my advice of reading the Gospel every day. Read the Gospel every day! Meditate on it for a little while, for ten minutes. And also to carry it with you in your pocket or your purse.... But always have the Gospel at hand. The Lenten desert helps us to say ‘no’ to worldliness, to the “idols,” it helps us to make courageous choices in accordance with the Gospel and to strengthen solidarity with the brothers.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Ash Wednesday, Year A

As we enter the time of Lent, we would like to share the message of Pope Francis given this Ash Wednesday, 2017. The full text is well worth reading and meditating on in the coming days.
All the faithful people are summoned to come and worship their God, “for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13).
We too want to take up this appeal; we want to return to the merciful heart of the Father. In this season of grace that begins today, we once again turn our eyes to his mercy. Lent is a path: it leads to the triumph of mercy over all that would crush us or reduce us to something unworthy of our dignity as God’s children. Lent is the road leading from slavery to freedom, from suffering to joy, from death to life. The mark of the ashes with which we set out reminds us of our origin: we were taken from the earth, we are made of dust. True, yet we are dust in the loving hands of God, who has breathed his spirit of life upon each one of us, and still wants to do so. He wants to keep giving us that breath of life that saves us from every other type of breath: the stifling asphyxia brought on by our selfishness, the stifling asphyxia generated by petty ambition and silent indifference – an asphyxia that smothers the spirit, narrows our horizons and slows the beating of our hearts....
Lent is the time to start breathing again. It is the time to open our hearts to the breath of the One capable of turning our dust into humanity. It is not the time to rend our garments before the evil all around us, but instead to make room in our life for all the good we are able to do. It is a time to set aside everything that isolates us, encloses us and paralyzes us. Lent is a time of compassion, when, with the Psalmist, we can say: “Restore to us the joy of your salvation, sustain in us a willing spirit”, so that by our lives we may declare your praise (cf. Ps 51:12.15), and our dust – by the power of your breath of life - may become a “dust of love.”

Saturday, February 22, 2020

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

If any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well, Christ tells his disciples in today's Gospel (Matthew 5: 38-48). Jesus is our supreme example of charity and self-giving: not only was he stripped of his clothes during his Passion, but he gave his very life for us.

Here are some words by St Cyprian on imitating Christ. (The image is of St. Martin of Tours, the soldier in the Roman army who cut his military cloak in two and gave half to a beggar in rags.):
St. Martin and the Beggar, Simone Martini
To assume the name of Christ without following the way of Christ – what else is that but to make a sham of the divinely given name and to abandon the path of salvation? When Christ himself teaches that the person who keeps his commandments will have life and that wisdom belongs to the one who not only listens to his words but acts on them, that the distinction of being called the greatest teacher in the kingdom of heaven is awarded to the one who not only teaches but acts in accordance with his teaching, then he means that if anything good and useful has been preached it will benefit the preacher only insofar as he lives by what he preaches....
We cannot bear the heavenly image within us unless we show a likeness to Christ in the life upon which we have now entered. This means changing from what we used to be and becoming something altogether new, so that our divine birth may be seen in us, so that we may imitate the Father by our holy way of life, and so that our lives may give honour and praise to God and he may be glorified in us. This is what he himself has taught and urged us to do, promising that those who glorify him will be rewarded. I will glorify those who glorify me, he says, and those who despise me shall be despised. To instruct us and prepare us for this glorification and produce in us a likeness to God the Father, our Lord, the Son of God, says in his gospel: You have heard it said: Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

6th Week in Ordinary Time, Year A

In today's gospel (Matthew 5:17-37), Jesus has strong words about anger and forgiveness: Whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. St. John Chrysostom, who pulled no punches in his homilies, has these powerful words to say, that sound suprisingly modern:
Crucifixion, drawing by St. John of the Cross
Christ gave his life for you, and do you hold a grudge against your fellow servant? How then can you approach the table of peace? Your Master did not refuse to undergo every kind of suffering for you, and will you not even forgo your anger? Why is this, when love is the root, the wellspring and the mother of every blessing?
If you refuse to forgive your neighbor’s offence your heavenly Father will not forgive your sins either. What does your conscience say when you repeat the words: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, and the rest? Christ went so far as to offer his blood for the salvation of those who shed it. What could you do that would equal that? If you refuse to forgive your enemy you harm not him but yourself.... 
Listen to the Lord’s words: If you are bringing your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and first go and be reconciled with your brother. Then come and offer your gift. What do you mean? Am I really to leave my gift, my offering there? Yes, he says, because this sacrifice is offered in order that you may live in peace with your brother. So if the attainment of peace with your neighbor is the object of the sacrifice and you fail to make peace, even if you share in the sacrifice your lack of peace will make this sharing fruitless. Before all else therefore make peace, for the sake of which the sacrifice is offered. Then you will really benefit from it.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Solemnity of St. Scholastica

On our patronal feast of St. Scholastica, we wish all our friends every blessing!
Those who gaze upon the infinite beauty of God never cease to find in that vision new and amazing depths, surpassing all the mind had previously comprehended. They are filled with wonder at this continual revelation, but at the same time always long to see more, knowing that any fresh vision is certain to be more splendid, more divine, than what they have already seen. The bride in the Song of Songs is in constant wonder and amazement at what she is beginning to see, yet never stops longing to see more. Listening in silence she hears the voice of the Word re-echo: Open to me, my sister, my companion, dove, my perfect one. Reflection will teach you the meaning of these words.
From a homily on the Song of Songs by St. Gregory of Nyssa

Probably 1470-80, from the Leisborn Altarpiece

Saturday, February 8, 2020

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

In a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his disciples, You are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5: 13-16). Here are some words on this Scripture passage from Jean Mouroux's book, “The Christian Experience”:
Sermon on the Mount, Fra Angelico
This love of the neighbor means means bearing witness. Being a Christian means serving as Christ served, and with Christ. Christ’s essential service is the bringing of truth, salvation, joy. Christians must take part in this service, and this they do by bearing witness. There are two images that express one aspect of this Christian function. First, You are the salt of the earth. Like salt, Christians act by contact. The power of purity and faithfulness and charity that is in them elevates their life, saves it from egoism, and gradually delivers it up into God’s hands; it gives a spiritual savor to all their actions and makes them an agent of purification and preservation. 
Then, You are the light of the world. Like light, Christians act by presence. The light of faith, which produces every kind of good work dissipates prejudices, lightens the way, leads to God. It comes and awakens that power of desire and admiration and “graceful” action that slumbers in every Christian soul, and thus, by its mere presence, it causes us to glorify God. This gospel affirmation is complementary to another. We must never act so as to be noticed by human beings, but only to please God. The purer the intention, the deeper the inwardness of our acts, the more direct and detached will be our search for God and his kingdomand the more will our light shine before all.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

February 2, Presentation of the Lord in the Temple

As February 2 falls on Sunday this year, we celebrate the feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the temple. "When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses" the Gospel says (Luke 2:22-40), Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord as it is written in the Law of the Lord. An devout old man, Simeon, takes Jesus in his arms. Origen says about this scene:
Simeon in the Temple, Rembrandt  (1669)
... He came there under the prompting of the Spirit of God, for all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. If you too wish to embrace Jesus and enfold him in your arms, strive with all your might to follow the guidance of the Spirit and come to God’s temple. Now, at this moment, you are standing in the temple of the Lord Jesus, which is his Church, the temple built of living stones. When your life and conduct are really worthy of the name of Church, you are standing in the Lord’s temple. 
If, led by the Spirit, you come to the temple, you will find the child Jesus, you will lift him up in your arms and say: “Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace as you promised.” Notice at once that peace is joined to death and dismissal, for Simeon does not say only that he wishes to go, but adds that he wished to go in peace. This is the same promise as was made to blessed Abraham: “You shall go to your ancestors in peace when you have reached a ripe old age.” Who dies in peace? Only the person who has the peace of God which passes all understanding, and which guards the heart of its possessor. Who depart from this world in peace? Only the person who understands that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, and who, being in no way at enmity with God or opposed to him, has acquired and concord through good works, and so is allowed like Abraham to go in peace and join the holy patriarchs.