Second Sunday of Lent

The Gospels of Mathew, Mark and Luke all tell the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, and we hear it every year on the second Sunday of Lent. Saint Luke explains why we should hear the story in Lent with the detail, “(they) spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.”

But before we go to today’s gospel let’s revisit the mysterious passage from the Book of Genesis 15. We should notice that “Abram put his faith in the Lord” before the covenant was made and “it was credited to him as an act of righteousness.” Abram’s faith in the God who is faithful to him is the foundation of the covenant. Saint Paul made much of this passage as he developed his doctrine of faith in his letters to the Galatians and the Romans.

Before the Law is given or accepted or practiced or understood one must have faith in God. If the sacraments in our Catholic tradition or the “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” in the Evangelical tradition correspond to the Mosaic Law, they are nonetheless founded on faith. Without this elusive quality of faith, so difficult to define and impossible to demonstrate, we have no covenant with God.

Not even Jesus can know God without faith because faith is the essence of the inner life of the Trinity. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have faith in, and are faithful to, one another.

I love the “special effects” of this story: the sacrificial animals split in half and laid on the ground in two rows; birds of prey swooping down on the carcasses as Abram shoos them off; the sunset, the fell darkness, and Abram’s sudden trance; then a smoking brazier and a burning torch passing over the aisle of slain animals and the raptured Abram, and finally God’s words.

The Jews would recreate these “special effects” in their liturgies with sacrificial animals, incense, trumpets, darkness, torches and loud shouts of prayer. Jesus and his disciples knew the story well; and the evangelists – as they described the incident on Mount Tabor – remembered its drama. In our own day, when movies have copped the emotional power and sensational experience that once belonged to religious ceremonies, we must practice lectio divina (divine reading) to understand the importance of this brief passage.

Saint Luke appropriates all the drama of Abram’s sacrifice with his story of Jesus’ transfiguration. He intensifies and focuses its catharsis on the divine command, “Listen to him!” If we’re not trembling with the Fear of the Lord when we hear those words, we know we should be.

Who is he? He is the Lord!

We, his apostles and disciples, are going to need this fear and trembling as we approach Jerusalem, and “the exodus” he will accomplish. We will be sorely tested by what we see, a spectacle too horrible to imagine or comprehend.
But we will keep our eyes open. We must see this sacrifice that Jesus completes as he dies on the cross. More importantly, we must hear him. We must still believe in him. We must listen to him as if our very lives depend on it. We must listen not only to what he says; we must hear him so that he will enter our very souls through the words he speaks. Although they are words pronounced in human language with a human tongue they are the Lord with his divine power to save us.
We must fear and tremble as Peter, James and John did on the mountain so that when we arrive at Mount Calvary we will not think about what we’re seeing. If we think we will believe Jesus has failed and his mission aborted.
The memory of his transfiguration when he appears as the Son of God and the Father’s voice declares, ‘This is my chosen Son’ will drive us through the horror of Good Friday and the stunned silence of Holy Saturday. We will wait without knowing why or for what until something entirely new, entirely unexpected and unforeseen happens.


Saturday of the First Week of Lent

You can't make a difference unless you are different. 

American Catholics suffered a great deal of rejection and ostracism as we settled in the United States. The English colonists brought their sectarian divisions with them and some colonies outlawed Catholic rituals and practices. Later immigrants, especially from Ireland andItaly, were turned away from jobs, housing, restaurants and various services. Catholic men found a dubious welcome in the military, fighting Native Americans and Mexicans.
The election of John F Kennedy to the highest office was a signal triumph for American Catholics. As we climbed out of poverty through our own parochial schools, high schools, colleges and universities, we discovered a new respectability as citizens of our own country. We discovered we had the spiritual resources even to assist our fellow citizens with our ethical teachings and political skills.

But with the memory of our early struggles we are loathe to be segregated from the society in which we live. We find ourselves not only blending in but disappearing into the melting pot of America. AsG.K. Chesterton once said, “America is a very Protestant country. InAmerica, even Catholics are Protestant.”

With that in mind, we return – or perhaps just turn – to scripture
Today the Lord is making this agreement with you:
you are to be a people peculiarly his own, as he promised you;
and provided you keep all his commandments,
he will then raise you high in praise and renown and glory
above all other nations he has made,
and you will be a people sacred to the Lord, your God.
            Deuteronomy 26: 17-19

Americans mythologize the defiant individual as The Lone Ranger, Rambo, Tarzan, Xenia and Wonder Woman. But in fact we dread non-conformity and censure the odd balls who think, dress or act differently.

Christians and Catholics feel conflicted with contrary expectations. Should we enforce conformity to the normal? But sometimes normal is not moral and we don’t know what to do. Is recreational shopping okay, though it wastes the environment; but recreational drugs are not? Is state-sponsored gambling acceptable though it trashes local economies and household finances; but abortion on demand is not? The more we think about moral issues the more the buts, howevers, thoughs and althoughs mount up. It's just too confusing. 

At some point we have to pull out of the culture and identify our own values, saying “This is who we are and this is what we stand for.” Or as my mother used to say, “Your buddy's mother says he can do it, but I say you can't! Do you want her for your mother -- or me?"  
Do you want God as your God? We cannot make a difference unless we are different. 

We must go to Jesus on this Saturday. With his teaching and his prayer he will set us apart, making us both holy and useful. 

Friday of the First Week of Lent

Thomas Merton once said, “God cannot hear the prayers of those who do not exist.” That seems to be the problem the “virtuous” face in today’s first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy.

First, God declares that the wicked person who turns away from wickedness and does justice will be forgiven and saved.

A lot of people would take issue with that. Has the wicked person really turned away from wickedness? What guarantees do we have that he’ll never sin again? Shouldn’t he be punished for his wickedness despite his apparent reform? Doesn’t letting him walk away Scot- free send the wrong signal to other wicked persons? What about reparation for his sins?

God seems to answer all these questions without directly addressing them. That is, his pleasure outweigh our concerns: Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? says the Lord God. Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live?  

Our virtuous person might decide to let that go. There’s no point in quarreling with God about his pleasure or his dealing with the wicked. That doesn’t concern me.

But if the virtuous man turns from the path of virtue to do evil, the same kind of abominable things that the wicked man does, can he do this and still live?

Finally the complaint of the virtuous bursts out of him, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” First he lets the wicked walk, and then he dooms the virtuous.

If it’s not clear what is going on here, let me explain it as I see it. The complainer in this story has claimed for himself the name and title of virtuous. Whether he deserves the name or not, he thinks he is virtuous. He thinks he can judge himself by God’s standards and he judges himself a pretty decent fellow – a virtuous man.
So in the role of a virtuous person, like an actor on stage who has forgotten that he is only playing the role of a virtuous person, he complains, “The Lord’s way is not fair!"
What about all the times I didn't run a red light? What about all the people I didn't cheat? When I could have, and gotten away with it! 
He has essentially transferred his identity -- or given his soul -- to play-acting the role of an imaginary character called virtuous, and he expects salvation for this role. But “God cannot hear the prayers of those who do not exist.” The actor is real, but his role is fictional.
Because he is so deeply committed to the appearances of virtue this fellow cannot see the evil he is doing and he cannot understand why God condemns him. 

It might be helpful to ask myself, what roles do I assume in the presence of others, of God, of myself? For instance, as a priest, am I “The Priest” who dares to represent the judgment of God to the sinners around me, condemning them for their wrongdoing? It’s an easy role to play because some people expect it of me. They might think I am a bad priest if I don’t condemn certain people! Or do I acknowledge my sins and stand with others and say, “O God have mercy on us sinners?”

When I judge another as wicked or myself as virtuous, I have claimed to be a person equal to God.  I do not exist; my prayer cannot be heard.

As Saint Francis of Assisi was fond of saying, “What a man is before God, that is what he is and nothing more.” 

Thursday of the First Week in Lent

Ask and you shall receive.

Whether we are
·       rich or poor,
·       healthy or unhealthy,
·       secure or imperiled,
·       befriended or lonely,
·       comfortable or suffering,
·       strong or weak,
·       successful or failing,
·       respected or despised
We Are Never Satisfied.

Someone might say, "Shame on us
for never being satisfied, for being so ungrateful."

But the point is we have an insatiable appetite for God.
We want to be filled with God who is 
      infinitely beyond our capacity for satisfaction.
We are shot glasses that would contain the ocean.

Having much can sometimes distract us from our basic desire, 
        as can having not enough.

In Christ we learn gratitude for what we have and
     desire for more.

We learn not to be content 
    with what we have, and not 
        to pursue what cannot satisfy.

During Lent we should do an inventory. 
Thank you God for the blessings I enjoy.

Help me to want more :
·       more patience,
·       more generosity,
·       more willingness,
·       more discipline,
·       more sorrow for my sins,
·       better health,
·       more compassion for friends,
o      family,
o      co-workers,
o      neighbors, and
o      enemies.

Give me Lord 
  • a divine dissatisfaction with the way things are and 
  • deep suspicion of this world's gifts, and
  • contempt for anything that would dare to satisfy me.

    Give me You.

Wednesday of the First Week in Lent

When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.

The Book of the Prophet Jonah is actually a comedy, a parody about the incredibly successful prophet who never wanted success. In fact he tried his mightiest to fail at the project God laid upon him – which just goes to show that God’s way cannot fail no matter how hard we try. As they say in the hospital, despite the doctor’s best efforts, the patient recovered.

I am struck by the humor of God’s repenting: “he repented of the evil that he had threatened…” It seems everyone is getting in on the act. But, as we enter the season of lent, I wonder what is repentance.

In the Book of Jonah repentance is reversing one’s intentions. God decides not to level Nineveh. Jonah goes to Nineveh. At the king’s command, the people cease doing evil and turn to God for mercy along with all their cattle, sheep, goats, cats and dogs. 

Humor is an element of repentance. After the shame, grief, guilt and confusion of the penitential process have passed, one is left with a sense of humor. Some of the happiest people I’ve ever met, and some of the funniest conversations I’ve ever enjoyed, were among recovering alcoholics.

George Bernard Shaw once said, "If you want to change people, make them laugh." The Jewish author of Jonah knew that. 

After it’s all said and done I say, “I am not God. thank God!” I don’t have to be right all the time, or courageous, or generous or patient or compassionate or powerful. I was not sent to save the church or the world; I cannot even save my self.

I met a young sister – there are a few in the world – who told me, “When I was twenty I was going to save the world. When I was thirty, I was determined to save my sisters in the convent. Now that I am forty, I am trying only to save myself.”
I said, “You’re almost there.”

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. 

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

Former veep Al Gore and many others have shown us just how imperiled our planet is. We are witnessing changes that are at least dramatic and may well be catastrophic for us. The earth, of course, will survive. Life is deeply rooted in earth and sea and air; it will go on with or without us.
It is too late to avert much of the catastrophe; we have already witnessed the extinction of many beautiful life forms. One authority says this present Great Extinction began when North Americans wiped out the mastodon centuries ago.  But the crisis has grown more severe within our lifetime. When I lived in Minnesota in the 1980's, I often saw flickers on the lawn. By 1997, when I came back, they had disappeared. But so long as there are human beings on the earth, it will never be too late to do something.
And so we must.

The faithful turn to the Book to find more helpful guidelines. Today's first reading from Isaiah is written by a man who has contemplated the weather: 
Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
So shall my word be

that goes forth from my mouth… 

In his book, Hot, Flat and Crowded, Tom Friedman reminds us that wasteful is not only poor management, it is also fiercely destructive. Too much food, too many clothes, too many big cars, suburbs that are spread out over thousands of square miles of arable land, poor insulation, wasteful energy habit – all contribute to our own extinction.

But breast beating about wasteful habits won’t change anything until we see Isaiah’s vision. When we finally recognize God’s ownership of the earth and our responsibility as stewards, then:
Mountains and hills shall break out in song before you, and all the trees of the countryside shall clap their hands. In place of the thorn bush, the cypress shall grow, instead of nettles, the myrtle. This shall be to the Lord's renown, an everlasting imperishable sign. (Isaiah 55:12-13)

Isaiah saw God in the rain and myrtle and cypresses; I see God in breathing. I begin each day with a breathing prayer, sitting in silence for thirty minutes and paying attention to my breath. 
In, out, pause;
in, out, pause;
in, out, pause.
It's actually fascinating. 

Later, when I think about my breathing, I realize that the green plants have given me oxygen to breathe, and I have given them carbon dioxide. They thank me and I thank them, and we thank God for each other. This is  the cycle of life. I am here for a while and then I am gone. But life will continue as a near infinity of life forms take hold of the carbon, water, oxygen and other nutrients which were me for a brief while.
And I remember that every molecule in my body was excreted by some other living thing in its time. That was all in preparation for me. I am grateful for it and give it back with my own excretions and eventual extinction. 
It is all good; it is beautiful. 
Add to that, the Lord's promise to remember my name, as He did Lazarus, and to summon me out of the earth once again on that Great Getting Up Morning. It is very good. 

In the meanwhile, I'll want to keep my footprint small, preferably to leave no trace, so that when He calls the wonder will be all the more astonishing and I'll be the most surprised of all. 

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter

As sacred as Lent is, and the preparation for Easter, the Church sheds its purple on a few feast days, to celebrate some of our beloved saints – especially Saints Patrick, Joseph and Peter.
The Chair of Saint Peter is, of course, the papacy. Celebrating a chair might seem odd to the literal-minded, imagination-impaired American until we remember that, even here in the United States, universities maintain endowed “chairs” for its distinguished professors. Meetings are usually chaired by the chairperson who says, “The Chair will entertain a motion to….”
Yesterday we remembered Jesus’ adamantine obedience. He cannot be moved by intense hunger, avarice or vanity to turn his back on God. It’s impossible. Satan cannot imagine the joyous, eager willingness of Jesus to serve God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength.
The feast of the Chair of Peter reminds us of the obedience we owe to our church. This is not simply the Pope who is, after all, far removed from our daily life.  
(That reminds me of a funny incident: during the last conclave after Pope John Paul II died, I stopped by a hospital in Minnesota to visit someone. A woman at the information desk was surprised to see me. She thought I would be very busy with something about the papal election. I assured her they had my cell phone number if they needed any help from me.)

Here in the United States the so-called spiritual has a kind of hegemony that allows little room for the Church or “institutional religion.” You hear remarks like, “I’m sure God doesn’t care which church you go to, so long as you go.” or “What difference does it make if I stand, kneel or sit during the Mass? God knows I am there.”

But the Church is important. it exists in it own right and it matters because God has created us as social creatures. We belong to one another, learn from and imitate one another. We must obey one another. Without authority the individual descends into insanity. God in his mercy has given right authority over me to the Pope and his appointees. 

I will confess as a young man I felt ambivalent about authority and I will always struggle to attain the virtue of obedience. But I was shocked into gratitude for the authority of the Church after November 18, 1978. Wikipedia says of that day:
James Warren "Jim" Jones was the founder and leader of the Peoples Temple, which is best known for the November 18, 1978 death of more than 900 Temple members in Jonestown, Guyana along with the deaths of nine other people at a nearby airstrip and in Georgetown, Guyana….
The greatest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until the events of September 11, 2001, the tragedy at Guyana also ranks among the largest mass suicides in history. One of those who died at the nearby airstrip was Leo Ryan, who became the only Congressman murdered in the line of duty in the history of the United States.

When the headlines first came out of Guyana, I thought, “What are those strange people doing in their jungle villages?”  But they weren’t strange people; they were Americans, worshiping the same God and saluting the same flag and fiercely devoted to the same “freedom” that I was taught to love.

Human beings are sheep. We have an instinct for flocking to find sustenance, pleasure and security. Refusing to follow good authorities, we find wicked ones. Any one of us might suppose, “I am above the rest. I can think for myself, reason for myself, decide for myself and protect myself.” That vanity will blind me to my reliance on others. I will not notice the conscientious people who provide my tap water, safe food and clean air. I will ignore the guardians of streets and bridges and buildings and the entire infrastructure that enables my “free” way of life.

Worse, I will develop a religion for myself, prey to all the really stupid ideas around me. Most of these ideas are not as outrageous as “The People’s Temple” but they can do harm. They are usually promoted by well-intentioned but misguided people.

The Chair of Peter provides as much spiritual assurance as we will ever find in this world. Wicked priests and bishops can be disciplined; well-instructed, responsible Catholics can blow the whistle on bad leaders. It is certainly not a perfect system, as recent events have demonstrated. It is human and by definition, imperfect. But it enjoys the guidance of the Holy Spirit who shepherds us throughout the centuries.

We thank God for the flocking instinct that brings us before the Chair of Saint Peter and we pray daily for our shepherds: the pope, bishops and priests. 

The First Sunday of Lent

In today's gospel from St Luke, Satan first suggests that Jesus should relieve his hunger by turning stones to bread. The poor fool has no idea what he is up against.
But I can see Jesus playing along with the Tempter, just for the fun of it. With a starved, half-crazed gleam in his eye, he picks up a roundish lump of rock and contemplates its sapid possibilities. Perhaps he licks his dry lips for a moment.
And then he drops the rock and laughs, “Satan, you're nuts! You want me to break my teeth on a rock? I can’t turn stones to bread.”

And then Satan shows him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. That’s quite a vision!  And says, “I will give you all this power and glory – for it has been handed over to me – if you will worship me.” Now the Father of Lies is telling lies. The earth and all its people belong to God. Finally, Satan grabs hold of Jesus and hoists him to the parapet of the temple, demanding that he prove his identity – “If you are the Son of God…” – as if Jesus owes him anything. Jesus, of course, refuses.

But let’s go back to that first temptation and my bold statement, Jesus cannot turn stones into bread. He’s God, isn’t he? Can’t he do anything he wants?

You forget. Jesus is an obedient God. As he says, "because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me."

This is what I mean by, "He can't do it." I could go out to my car right now with my credit card in hand, and drive to Alaska. But I can’t. I’ve got responsibilities and duties. I am not free to do anything I want, or anything someone expects of me, or anything Satan suggests to me. It’s just not possible. And thank God for that!

Jesus is bound by chains of love stronger than adamantine steel. He can no more walk away from his obedience than I can jump off a ten story roof. In fact it would easier for me to do that than for Jesus to abandon the authority of his Father.

Jesus is solidly set in his love of God. As a man he has been raised in a loving household and taught the traditions of his Jewish people. He has studied the scriptures, digesting every word as if it were his own – because it is his own. He is the Word of God made Flesh.

As God Jesus has a billion times a billion years of intense union with his Father in the Holy Spirit to recall. Can he walk away from that for a loaf of bread? For all the kingdoms of the earth? I don’t think so. The bond between the Father and the Son is so tight as to be seamless. But Satan has no idea of obedience. He cannot imagine it; he cannot see it. As he approached Jesus in the desert he saw only a hungry, vulnerable man. He could not comprehend the absolute and total loyalty of Jesus to his Father. 

As we begin this season of Lent we want to fasten ourselves firmly in the love of God. We must be grounded and rooted in God. We want to be solidly set in gratitude for everything God has done for us.
This is a two-fold project, and you can begin with either one:

First, we do as faithful Jews do, remembering the long story of God’s fidelity. We go clear back to Abraham – Then you shall declare before the Lord, your God,

‘My father was a wandering Aramean
who went down to Egypt with a small household
and lived there as an alien….

As Christians we are People of the Book. We live in that house. Every story is our story, that is to say, my story. 
Were you there when they crucified my Lord? I certainly was. I remember it as if it happened yesterday. I can tell you details about it. I may not remember what I had for breakfast, though I eat the same thing every day, but I remember His passion, death and resurrection. His story is our story is my story.
I remember his birth in Bethlehem and the events that led up to it. I remember his resurrection and the events that flowed from there. These stories are far more important to me than the American Revolution or the Civil War; though I am continually amazed at how important those incidents are in my life.
Lent is the season when I remember the story of salvation with intense, unshakeable gratitude.

Secondly, Lent is when I remember my own story and how the Lord has delivered me. I remember my sins, and they only get more embarrassing the older I get. What was I thinking? Obviously, I wasn’t thinking! Good grief!
Yes, it is good grief to remember my sins and grieve over them. Like Adam, I used to blame others. “The woman whom You put here with me--she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it.” So now it’s God’s fault that Adam sinned? How pathetic!
God’s grace was there all along, illuminating all kinds of gracious opportunities and I chose the one’s shadowed in darkness. And then I complained I was forced to do it. Jeees!

Yes, Jesus. Have pity on me.
Jesus, thank you for turning my heart back to you and sanity and common sense. I am lost without you.

During Lent we want to return to God by way of penance; that is remorse for our sins and gratitude for deliverance.

Speaking of penance, remember the Sacrament of Penance begins with P and that rhymes with E and that stands for Eucharist, which means gratitude. When you go to confession go with a grateful heart, prepared to tell the priest of all the sins God has forgiven and of all the sins God has delivered you and of all the sins God still must set you free. (But don’t go on all night, please.)

Finally, remember, the Sacrament of Penance is not about you! It’s about God. This is a sacrament and all of the Sacraments are liturgy. And Liturgy is the Church's worship of God. It's about God. Baptism is about God; Marriage is about God, Ordination is about God. Penance is not about you.

 Amen? Amen!

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”

Varying translations of the gospel say righteous or self-righteous. I prefer the simpler righteous because, as Saint Paul says, “…there is no distinction; all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)  Since no one is righteous, I don't need to classify myself among them. In any case, it's a burden too heavy to carry. 

Periodically, the headlines are aflame with stories about innocent victims who died in this or that catastrophe. Most of the civilized world was horrified when several thousand men and women were murdered in the Pentagon and the Twin Towers in 2001. Everyone but me agreed they were innocent victims.

They were certainly defenseless. More to the point, they were undeserving of such an insane, indecent and senseless assault. No one should suffer such a barbaric death.

I don’t believe any government, organization or individual has the right to kill any human being, regardless of the victim’s innocence or guilt. Jesus has commanded us, “Do not judge lest ye be judged!” 

Murderers can be neutralized by imprisonment, for the protection of society and their own safety, without our assuming the right to judge them. Judgement is God's prerogative. Likewise, the right of revenge belongs to God. When murderers are disarmed and securely imprisoned we can love them as our enemies with the dignity and respect the “Image of God” demands. We should provide them with food, shelter, medical care, security, meaningful work and time to repent and believe the good news. If they never persuade us they have actually repented, they can die of old age in prison and be buried in the prison yard. God's mercy shines upon the just and the unjust within and outside of penitentiaries. 

Capital punishment is human sacrifice; it is supposed to cleanse our hands of the guilt we share with murderers. But because God has not demanded this sacrifice, it fails to accomplish anything. 

If we do not kill them, we must come to terms with our guilt, that Original Sin that comes with being born. These people were born in our world and among our families.  Some were assaulted violently with emotional and physical abuse, drugs and alcohol before they were born. Many suffered neglect, poverty and violence throughout their lives. They were born into the same ugly political/economic world that murdered Jesus. When he died for us, he died for murderers too. They are our children; they are us.

Embracing our guilt, freed of the burden of righteousness, relieved of the twin responsibilities of judgment and revenge, we approach Jesus and ask for mercy. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. 

I welcome your comments.

Friday after Ash Wednesday

The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
and then they will fast.”

Reminder: Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays of Lent.

  • For the love of God.
  • To honor the passion and death of Jesus, who was crucified on a Friday.
  • To remember in our bodies the sovereignty of God.
  • To practice solidarity with Catholics throughout the world.
  • To practice solidarity with all those who cannot afford to eat meat on Friday or any other day of the week.
  • To reconsider our meat-eating habits.

Every religious tradition has rules about eating. Broadly speaking, it’s a physical way of practicing one’s faith. It shows that your faith makes a difference in the real world and not just the imaginary/spiritual world. It may not be a huge difference, and it may become so habitual and so deeply rooted in one’s culture as to seem no sacrifice at all, but it should not be lightly dismissed.

Perhaps the reason Catholics gave up the practice of abstaining from meat on Friday was it was described as a sacrifice though it was neither painful nor inconvenient, and “everyone knows” sacrifices are supposed to be painful and inconvenient. Forty years later we might challenge that assumption:

First, the word sacrifice comes from two Latin words and literally means, "to make holy." A sacrifice does not have to be inconvenient or painful. It can be downright fun!

Secondly, therapists who help people to regain their health or lost abilities, in my experience, don’t ask their patients to suffer a whole lot of pain. Rather, they find the easiest, safest and most convenient methods to recovery because their patients will, more than likely, stick to those methods. Even when they are pressured by other circumstances – a busy schedule or the demands of other responsibilities – the patient who wants to recover will work at it. But if a method is both inconvenient and painful, it probably won't work.

Ask yourself some realistic questions:
  • How difficult is it to abstain from meat on Friday for the next seven weeks?
  • How inconvenient will it be for your family or those with whom you share meals?
  • How much planning will it entail?
  • How much control do you have over your food?
  • Are you content with that?
  • Can you and your family do this "mindfully?" 
To be a true sacrifice it has to be done intentionally and with the right intention -- for the Love of God. On Fridays of Lent we should remember how our bridegroom was taken away from us.

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

In the last forty years Catholic have become very familiar with this exhortation from the Book of Deuteronomy, Choose Life!
During the Season of Lent we should remember the context of this command; it is more than a political statement. It is more even than a moral challenge. It is God’s invitation to belong heart and soul to him!
The Season must remind us that we have an inexhaustible desire for God, and also that God’s desire for us exceeds all bounds.

Henry David Thoreau once said, “He governs best who governs least.” Many Americans will stand up and salute at that statement, as they did on HeeHaw: Yahoo! We don’t want government to invade our dens, kitchens, bedrooms or boardrooms.
A lot of people say the Church should steer clear of those places as well.  They figure God lives in the neighborhood church with its clutch of aging citizens and that should be close enough. If they should ever happen to feel like praying, they know God is ”very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts…” (Deuteronomy 30:14) [which is to say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.]

But, to get serious about this teaching, we turn to The Catechism of the Catholic Church:
27 The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man [sic] is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for:
The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.1

The Book of Deuteronomy reminds us we cannot divide and subdivide our souls into compartments. God and the human desire for God live in every room. We will love God in the bedroom and the kitchen, the dining room and the bathroom, the utility room and the garage.  We’ll do it even in the chapel! (Many homes have one!)

Notice also the urgency in today’s readings: Today I have set before you…” and “he must deny himself and take up his cross daily!”

There is no time to waste.

That’s why I suggest, along with whatever other Lenten resolution you might make, consider “One thing at a time.” The practice of mindfulness will lead you easily to God.
Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17

Ash Wednesday

Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.

I once met a non-practicing Catholic who told me his grandson asked him, “What is Lent?”
“That’s when you have to give up something?” he said.
“Like what, Grandpa?”
“Like playing with your Lego blocks.”
I wonder what the grandson will tell his grandson sixty years from now. Will he remember the words Lent or Easter or The Love of God? Is it possible to know Jesus Christ without the practice of Lent?

“Spare, O Lord, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach, with the nations ruling over them! Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”

Jewish history is rooted in Israel and the Holy Land, but most of Jewish history has been lived elsewhere. 
Likewise, the Church belongs to Jesus through his apostles, but we are spread throughout the world, aliens in alien territory. We speak the languages, eat the foods, wear the clothing and engage in the commerce of the world around us. We share some of their values and we engage in some of their rituals, but we are not like them. We are in the world, but not of the world.

Periodically we must pull apart from the world around us, and gather back into our homes and churches to remember who we are. We must ask God to renew the covenant and restore our innocence.

Today’s gospel tells us what we must do: pray, fast, and give alms. These were the traditional practices of the Jewish people, familiar to Jesus and his disciples.
  • To pray is to pull away from the world around us and engage with our God. He is our joy and treasure, our delight and privilege. We are his people.
  • To fast is to practice awareness of God in our bodies. Every religious tradition on earth has dietary practices. Jews and Muslims do not eat pork. Buddhists abstain from meat. Catholics, no doubt, will eventually restore our dietary practices as our Church is renewed.
    Given our hard experience, we can hope the disciples of
    Jesus will also refrain from tobacco and alcohol for significant periods of time.
    During Lent Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays, and fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
  • Finally, to express our gratitude, we give alms to the poor. This is also a sign of our standing as God’s chosen. Money given to the poor seems like  money down the drain. Poverty is a bottomless pit, but God’s providence is also bottomless. It is an eternal fountain, an inexhaustible cornucopia. That's why giving alms is such a perfect demonstration of faith.

    We give gratefully and generously because we can afford to -- and because we cannot afford not to.

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday as we smudge ashes on our foreheads, fast, pray, give and remember who we are – God’s chosen people.
Then I looked and there was the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. Revelation 14:1