My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Today we come together to commemorate the Annunciation of Our dear Lord and Saviour.. I feel today is an excellent opportunity for each and every single one of us to reflect upon our life vocations. Every single one of us, like Mary, has a predestined vocation in our life. This vocation is definitely not in our lives by chance, it was planned by God for us before we were even born. God has created each one of us here upon the Earth for a specific purpose, that purpose being to manifest His glory and to share His love, so that at the end of our temporary journey here on earth, we can share the fullness of eternal life with Him. And so, each of us, just as Mary did, must ensure we take the time to discern our vocation in life, take the time to find out exactly what it is which God is calling us to do with our lives. The way the Lord wants us to serve Him might change according to whatever is our situation in life. Therefore, we must endeavour to constantly be sensitive, like Mary indeed was, to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and how we should respond to God’s call. When Mary asked the angel, “But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?”, it was not with a similar response to that which was like Zechariah who asked in doubt. For Mary, she truly and devoutly wanted to know how the Lord would make use of her for the work of redemption.
So it is of vital importance to remind ourselves constantly within our lives, that we need to ask what exactly it is which the Lord is asking of us. Sadly, Many, unfortunately, instead of seeking their vocation, seek to do their own will, rather than the Will of God in their lives instead. When we do not consult God and are simply willful in going our own way, we will bring disaster not just to ourselves but also to those that God has placed under our care. Indeed, many of us, instead of discerning the will of God in whatever we do, turn to worldly answers instead.
Today, we actually come together to celebrate not just Mary alone in her Vocation, but we celebrate both our Lord Jesus and Mary for taking up their vocation in life. Originally, today was singly celebrated as the Annunciation of Mary only, but it the church changed this to the Annunciation of the Lord. The church amended this because it is in fact both our Lord Jesus’ and Mary’s vocations that are intertwined. Mary’s response to the call to be the Mother of God is what paved the way for our Lord and Saviour, Jesus, to be incarnated and for the work of redemption of humanity. Mary in saying “Yes” to God, considered herself as being “the handmaid of the Lord.”
Try to imagine the truthful immense scale of the decision of Mary to accept her vocation to be The mother of our Saviour. This certainly was anything but an easy decision, but Mary put her complete trust in the Will of the blessed vocation that God had willed for her. Let us consider the implications of her decision to be the mother of the Lord and saviour!. As any mother will know, it is not so difficult to give birth to a baby but to look after a baby for the rest of your life, that is a different matter altogether. Marriage is another example of a difficult decision because to get married is very easy but to remain faithful and loving to your spouse every day of your life requires tremendous sacrifices and sufferings. So when Mary gave her consent, she too consented to all that would follow after that big and fundamental “Yes.” So, this also applies, for all who chooses to follow the vocation God has willed for their life. Making our decision to follow the will of God for our lives, is truly only the beginning of a lifelong commitment. We accept God’s will for the entirety of our lives, So therefore, we should not complain and or have regret when we choose to be a priest, religious, a spouse or a church worker, or whatever vocation that God has willed for us to have in his service, because every vocation comes together with all its joys and sorrows. Quite often, when people face trials in their vocation, be it in their priestly or religious life, or in marriage and family life, they regret and complain. In accepting that vocation, it entails all the obligations and demands that flow from that commitment.
Both Jesus and Mary recognized that answering God’s call required total self-emptying. It is a sacrifice of oneself, the giving one’s mind, heart and body to God completely for His service.
That was exactly why Mary said to the angel, “Let what you have said be done to me.” She was totally disposed to the will of God. To do God’s will is to completely submit our lives to Him in obedience. It is to give ourselves wholly for the service of God and to empty our lives for humanity like both Jesus and Mary did. We are called to serve both justice and truth.
Let us pray:
Saying “Yes” to the vocation that God Wills for our lives is the only wise decision. This is what was predestinated by God for us before we were born. We ask Mary the Mother of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus christ, to intercede for us with her prayers, so that, we, like she did, will have the courage and discipline to say “Yes” to God. We rejoice together with Mary that God’s will shall be done in our lives.
In today’s sermon I would like to talk about the importance of repentance. When I think about sins and when I think about some shameful acts that I did in my life I am never despaired. I do repent, I do feel sorry and very sad because I know that God wants us to be the salt to this world and to be the light to this world as we are Jesus’ followers. Yet from time to time it can really be so hard. We are all people and we make mistakes. All of us have bad days and good days. Maybe we were quarrelling with a boss or a family member or maybe we were offended with something or even dared to offend another person. What we know from the Bible is that we all have this fallen human nature. We naturally tend to sin from time to time. We sin with our negative thoughts or even greedy ones about the other people. Also a sexual thoughts might be considered sinful if they are not directed to the one person. A person who we love and who loves us. There are many ways to sin through our thoughts. Another way of making a sin is through the words. They can be said or even written. Not many people question their online activity. I am also this kind of sinner and I feel sorry for this. Sometimes we quarrel even on social networking websites and we can say some bad things or even swear in our comments. But the words are like arrows. They can really offend someone and they can make someone feel bad because of what we said. The last one is of course – our acts. All the things we do can be sinful. So we should often think about those three things:
- Sinful thoughts
- Sinful words and in the end
- Sinful acts
As Christians we do have Holy Spirit who lives in us. And I believe that every time when we sin with our thought, words and deeds we make the Holy Spirit sad. This is why repentance is very important for a Christian life. In today’s Bible reading there was a paragraph that I would like to share with you.
Repent or Perish
13 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
When I read this paragraph, the most important thing for me personally was the thing about a fig tree growing without giving fruits. I know that God loves us all and I know that He sent His only beloved Son to die for all of us. And yes we are saved by pure grace only as it is written. But still we should be always trying our best to be the best version of ourselves, to run away from every sin in order to praise our God who is in heaven. In today’s Bible reading we also read this paragraph:
Romans 5:1-2 and 5-8
5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God.
5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
This paragraph I consider as a very important instruction of how we should repent or what should we know while repenting. I see that many orthodox Christians in a country where I live have very unhealthy approach when repenting for their sins. They become so depressed and sometimes they feel that God is so far away from us and that He will never save them. There is a book issued with the blessing of local SPC (Serbian Orthodox Church) which is called MITARSTVA. This word means similar as Customs in English. And in this book it is written that we should earn our salvation with our good deeds. Many people believe in that. I used to believe in it also 12 years ago. And I remember that feeling. It really feels hopeless, it feels that sin is stronger than God and it feels that God will never save us. And this was all wrong! What I learnt (or better to say what God thought me) is that biblically we are saved by grace. And our salvation already happened when we accepted Jesus as our Savior, when we believed and additionally became baptized and reborn by the Holy Spirit. And this approach is what I call healthy repentance. That moment when we do not want to sin because we know that it is wrong, we feel that the Holy Spirit in us is sad if we are in a sin. We feel that we want to be better and we want to stop doing sin. But we are not in a deep depression. At the same moment of our fall we know that God is here, he is listening, he feels our struggle, he loves us. We are His and He is ours. And nothing can separate us, nothing can separate us from God`s love.
Let us all repent for our sins. Let us always try to do our best and to be just and righteous in our thoughts, words and acts and let us never forget how endless and how great is His love. Amen.
Today’s Liturgical Readings:
Reading I: 2 Sm 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16
Responsorial Psalm: 89:2-3, 4-5, 27 and 29
Reading II: Rom 4:13, 16-18, 22
Verse Before the Gospel: Ps 84:5
Gospel: Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a or: Lk 2:41-51a
Liturgical Colour: White.
Today, we come together to commemorate St Joseph, the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Joseph was both a very humble and Holy man. He was chosen by God our heavenly Father, to be the earthly step-father, guardian and protector, alongside Mary, of his only Begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Although we know little about the life of Joseph, we know that by occupation that he was a carpenter, for it tells us in Matt 13.55, about people asking of Jesus, “Is this not the carpenter’s Son?”
Both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, tell us that Joseph’s ancestry was of David. (Matt 1:1=16 and LK 3:23-38).
Joseph supported Mary when he found out she was pregnant. He did not wish to disgrace her, so decided to divorce her quietly, but he had a dream from an Angel who reassured him about Mary’s pregnancy and that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and the child would be the Son of God. Joseph accepted the news from the angel and accepted both Mary and the then Unborn baby and after Jesus was born, Joseph brought him up as his own
Joseph was the embodiment of true faith and without question he was obedient to all that the heavenly Father asked of him.
When an angel visited Joseph a second time after the birth of Jesus, to tell him of the danger his family was in, he immediately obeyed, left everything he owned and took his family to the strange land of Egypt, where they remained until an angel visited a third time to tell Joseph it was safe for the family to return. (Matt 2:12=23).
Can you imagine when in LK 2:41=52, when Jesus was found in the Temple after going missing, how anxious and worried Joseph (as well as Mary), must truly have been? Here was Joseph, who had spent many years moving his family and hiding them to keep Jesus safe, only to suddenly find him missing on an annual Passover? I can well imagine very mixed feelings upon finding him, relief, and joy to name just two!!
Joseph represents the true meaning of faith, of integrity, obedience, and of the vital role of fatherhood that God had entrusted to him.
As Joseph is not mentioned in the Holy Word of God during Jesus’ public ministry, we can only assume that Joseph had died prior to this time. We don’t know when Joseph was born or died, but we do know about his character :”He was a righteous man” (Matt 1:18).
Joseph is a perfect example of fatherhood and there is much we can learn from him about how to bring up our children in a righteous way, as well as learning in our lives from his examples of faith and obedience.
Joseph is the Patron Saint of Fathers, carpenters and Social justice, he is also classed as the Father of the Universal church, and the Patron Saint of the dying.
Let us pray:
O God, Who didst choose Blessed St Joseph to be the spouse of Thy most holy Mother, grant, we beseech Thee, that he whom we venerate as a protector on earth may be our intercessor in Heaven. Who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.
Second Sunday of Lent is already upon us. Do you know where the word Lent comes from? In the old English world, the word “Lenten” meant “springtime”. And I think it is safe to say that, here in San Antonio, we are ready for some springtime! In Latin, Lent, however, means something altogether different. The word for this season is Quadragesima, denotes a season of preparation by fasting and prayer, to imitate the forty day example of Christ. A little historical fact, Lent used to begin on the first Sunday of Lent, also called Quadragesima Sunday after the Gospel reading for that weekend of Jesus fasting in the desert for forty days and ended as the Triduum began the evening of Holy Thursday. When we count the days from the first Sunday of Lent to Holy Thursday, it adds up to forty, including the Sundays. Over time, however, there was a discussion that the Sundays during Lent should not be fast days. When asked about fasting on the Sundays during Lent, tradition says, Solemnities, even during the Season of Lent, ought to still be seen as a feast days. Sundays are considered Solemnities after all, are the Lord’s Day, and a day of rest. Beginning the count for Lent on the first Sunday of Lent, and Sundays are not followed as days for fasting, this would equal fewer than forty days of fasting before Easter. In order to make the forty days as Jesus did, they allowed the Sundays to be removed as days of fast and we now start Lenten fasting on Ash Wednesday and when you do the Catholic math it remains the traditional forty days.
I mention this little bit of history since the second Sunday of Lent is also a good time to check in with ourselves on how we are doing with our Lenten promises. Did we eat the Filet-O-Fish instead of the Big Mac on Friday? Inquiring minds want to know. And how are we doing with what we gave up for Lent for that matter? Was it chocolate, alcohol, whatever? You see, as lightweight as our Lenten practices seem to be nowadays, I think it is helpful to consider what Quadragesima would have been like if you lived in medieval times. St. Thomas Aquinas proposed that no food would be allowed at all on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On the other days of Lent, food would only be allowed after 3 PM (the hour of our Lord’s death on the cross). And, no animal flesh was allowed at all, neither were eggs or dairy, and Sundays were not free days from the fast either. St. Thomas Aquinas believed in the most extreme fasting during Lent. I think for the people living in medieval times, the severity of this kind of fasting was meant to be life changing, life altering, helping Christians to embrace the seriousness of their baptismal identity as a People of God. Lent was supposed to be understood as a time for transformation. Someone who saw that kind of fast would certainly undergo a makeover by Easter Sunday, as well as their waist to say the least. I am not suggesting that we bring back that kind of Lenten fasting. Nevertheless, obviously though we see the season of Lent, the most important is the love we put into it in the first place.
If you think that fasting in medieval times was serious business, check out how covenants were made in the time of Abraham in our first reading from Genesis. Covenants were meant to be truly life-changing events as well. The Lord promises Abraham that his descendants would be like the number of stars in the heaven and offers the land before him as his possession.
Abraham wants to seal this deal and so God asks him to bring a three-year-old heifer, a three year-old she-goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. Genesis says, “Abram brought him all these, split them in two, and placed each half opposite the other”. You see, that’s how the deals were done in those days, you would meet among the split animals to make the agreement which was a way of indicating, if I break my word may what happened to these animals happen to me. These kinds of covenants in those days were meant to be life altering events that helped move a person or tribe from one reality to a new reality based upon the agreement being made. These covenants were meant to be truly transformative. As we know, the Chosen People in the Old Testament broke one covenant after the other with God, which makes Jesus’ choice to die on the cross in atonement for our sins all the more remarkable.
All of these observations are meant to help us understand our Gospel reading from St. Luke about the transfiguration of Jesus. Here we are on Mount Tabor, Jesus is transfigured before Peter, John and James, foreshadowing the glory of the resurrection. Jesus is also seen conversing with Moses and Elijah, signifying to the disciples that Jesus is the fulfillment of both the Law and the Prophets. However, there’s something really unique about St. Luke’s version of the transfiguration. You see, in Luke’s Gospel it says, “And behold, two men were conversing with [Jesus], Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to conduct in Jerusalem.” The reference to exodus here is unique to St. Luke’s Gospel and is meant to help us connect the exodus of the Jews from Egypt to the Promised Land, to what Jesus conducts for us by his passion, death and resurrection. You see the exodus from Egypt was a transformative event for the Chosen People. They went from a state of being slaves to inheriting the land God promised to Abraham. The process for that transformation took the Hebrews a lot longer than forty days. It took forty years for that transformation to unfold, and it took centuries more before God was ready to offer a new exodus to the human race through his only Son our Lord.
This new exodus presented to us, through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, offers us a path from the tyranny of sin and death to the glory of the resurrection and eternal life with God. This ultimate transformation that Christians seek is what St. Paul is referring to in our second reading from Philippians when he says, “Brothers and sisters: Our citizenship is in heaven”. Think about how radical St. Paul’s message is, “Our citizenship is heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our humble body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into obedience to himself.” (“Philippians 3:21)
My family, the second Sunday of Lent invites us to accept this season as time for a radical change. Our Lenten rituals of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are meant to help us with this while we make our pilgrimage to Holy Week. We can ask ourselves this week, what areas in my life need radical transformation? In what ways can I allow this season of Lent to transform my heart to be more like Jesus? These are good questions to ask as we continue our pilgrimage into the desert with our Lord. During this season of Lent, the level of transformation God will bless us with will depend largely on our response.
The crocus, daffodils and Bradford pear trees are beginning to bloom and you know what that means- it is Lent. Growing up Dutch Reform in a Polish Catholic neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, Lent was just a time of year when it was always cold and damp, the sky was overcast, everything appeared dirt brown and my Catholic friends gave up a little bit of happiness in their life (usually chocolate candy) in preparation for Easter. Needless to say my memories of the Lenten season are less than glorious. As a young protestant, I really did not have a concept of the meaning or purpose of the Lenten season; my sacramental friends did not seem to find it a serious or edifying time either; they wanted their chocolates. We used to joke about the season, calling it “Lint” and saying it was a time to clean the dryer vent and remove the cotton fluff from your belly button. Ah, the frivolity of youth.
Later, when I was in college, I sang in the choir of a local Episcopal Church and it was here that I began to learn about the ancient sacraments and the Liturgical Church year. Over the years, with study, contemplation and prayer, my understanding of Liturgical practices and traditions deepened; like St. Paul, I began to think less like a child and more like a maturing Christian. Today I embrace this time of sackcloth and ashes. I look forward to abstaining from meat so that others might be well fed, and my spirit revels in prayer, self contemplation, repentance and the hope for the renewal that comes with the Easter resurrection.
As I sat down to write this discourse on Lent I wasn’t sure as to what to say. In the past I’ve expounded on the reasoning behind Lenten practices such as refraining from singing the Gloria or saying alleluia, extolled the benefits of fasting and prayer, and the need to take a humbling journey back to ash and dust from which we are formed so that we might be reborn in the resurrection of our Lord. I’ve even praised the beauty of the solemn hymns in minor keys, music that somehow fills us with a sense of comfort in these last dim days of winter where we long for the renewal that comes with longer days and the bright green leaves of spring.
So, I did what I always do, I asked God: “What’s the point…?” No sooner had my mind pronounced the final ‘t’, when my head was filled with with the words of Gregory the Great set to the tune of Erhalt uns Herr:
“The glory of these forty days
we celebrate with songs of praise;
for Christ, through whom all things were made,
himself has fasted and has prayed.”
While this is an excellent hymn for Lent, it doesn’t really make my top 5 and it surely does not warrant becoming a personal earworm (which it has become) through this Lenten season. But as they say, be careful what you ask for; I have my answer and now I need to understand it.
Before anyone becomes nervous that I am about to embark on the importance of numerology in the scriptures, rest assured I will not be going there! 40 is, however, an important number found throughout the bible. We all know it rained 40 days and nights on poor old Noah, Moses lived in Egypt and then the desert for 40 years each before delivering Isriael from slavery and subsequently camped out on Mt. Sinai for 40 days talking to God and receiving the 10 Commandments, not once, but twice! Later he and the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years before coming to the promised land. Kings Saul, David and Solomon reigned for 40 years each. Jesus wasn’t presented at the temple until 40 days after his birth, he fasted in the desert while being tempted for 40 days (the model for our Lenten season) before starting his ministry, he remained on Earth for 40 days after his resurrection before his ascension, and the list goes on. So what is it about 40 that makes it so prevalent?
Some interesting facts regarding 40: the average life expectancy 2000 years about was 35-40 years, hence 40 years was the length of a generation, humans can live without food (but not water) for upwards of 40 days, a red blood cell lasts about 40 days and human skin turns over about every 40 days, it takes a minimum of 40 days to make a change in ones habits, it takes about 40 minutes to dry a load of clothes in an electric dryer, and in the middle east winter grain will be ready for harvest about 40 days after the first green shoots of spring (that puts it about the time of passover).
If one looks at these examples of 40, there is an underlying cycle of beginning, duration and finally an ending leading to new beginnings; 40 is about letting go of the old and the start off something new. In all the biblical accounts the protagonist consciously removes themselves from the world through isolation, fasting and prayer while relying solely on God’s will for support and guidance; at the end of the 40 days (or years) they emerge very different, renewed, closer to God and ready to do His work! That is the point of Lent: 40 days to remove yourself from binding ties of the world, put yourself in God’s hands through fasting and prayer, and bringing about change via self examination, repentance, death to selfish desires and putting others first so that you can be resurrected with Jesus at Easter, reborn anew in the image of the Creator, ready to do His work.
Clearly the glory of these 40 days is not found in the minor keys of hymnody, nor in the giving up of chocolate candy, alleluias and meatloaf on Fridays to show how pious a Christian we are; it is found in our individual transformation from being a Christian of the world to being one of Christ’s own working in the world. In many ways, my youthful self had it right calling this a season “lint”. For just like our clothes (and belly buttons) which pickup stray fibers, dog hairs, pollen, dirt and dust which hold fast through the wash cycle only to be separated and collected by a dryer’s lint trap, we too become entangled in worldly snares, the remnants of which cling to our souls. Lent is indeed a time to give up this worldly “lint” so that we might joyfully begin our spiritual journey renewed and strengthened. For as Gregory the Great said in the last stanza:
“Then grant, O God, that we may, too,
return in fast and prayer to you.
Our spirits strengthen with your grace,
and give us joy to see your face”
Jesus was guided by the Spirit into the wilderness and tested by the devil for forty days. During this time Jesus proved his love for his Father was stronger than everything else. Our love for Jesus leads us to want to draw closer to Jesus during Lent and overcome anything in our lives from the devil that keeps us apart from Jesus. Jesus in the desert is our model during Lent. If Jesus had given in to any temptation of the devil, he would have wrecked his Father’s plans. When we succumb to temptation, we wreck God’s plans for us. Sin separates us from what God intends for us. Sin separates us from God. It has been like that since Adam and Eve committed the first sin in the garden. Because of that sin Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden. Sin separates us from Jesus. But our love for Jesus impels us to want to overcome sin during Lent so that we will not be separated from Jesus. Our love for Jesus impels us to take Lent seriously so that at the end of Lent we will be closer to Jesus. Do you love Jesus enough to fix whatever in your life is separating you from Jesus? Lent is the time to do it. Do we love Jesus enough to take Lent seriously so that at the end of Lent we can say we gave up this sin or overcame that sinful inclination so that we could be closer Jesus? Do we love Jesus enough so that when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus at the end of Lent, we can also celebrate Jesus’ new life in us because we overcame sin during Lent? Do we love Jesus more than anything keeping us from Jesus? Lent is the time to draw closer to Jesus.
When we are ill, we go to the doctor and the doctor will give us medication. If we take medicine, we hope to get better. For centuries the Church has recommended medicine during Lent to help us get better, to bring us closer to Jesus and help us overcome sin. That medicine is the three things we heard in the Gospel on Ash Wednesday (Matt 6:1-6, 16-18); prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These are a remedy to help cure our soul. This remedy is the wisdom of centuries of experience; the experience of centuries of holy people who drew closer to God during Lent with the remedy of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Not only is this remedy the wisdom of centuries of experience of holy people, it is the teaching of Jesus. As we heard in the Gospel on Ash Wednesday it is Jesus who taught us about prayer, who taught us the value of fasting, who taught us the value of almsgiving. Why would someone question what Jesus taught us and say there is a better way during Lent? Jesus in the desert is our model during Lent. Our love for Jesus leads us to want to draw closer to Jesus during Lent and overcome anything in our lives from the devil that keeps us apart from Jesus. We can do this through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
We could say that the three Scripture quotations in today’s Gospel (Luke 4:1-13) that Jesus used to rebuke the devil when tempted in the desert are about prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve (Luke 4:8, see Deut 6:13) was Jesus teaching us to put God first in prayer and worship.
Man does not live by bread alone (Luke 4:4, see Deut 8:3) was Jesus reminding that fasting shows God is more important to us than any earthly thing we want.
You shall not put the Lord, your God to the test (Luke 4:12, see Deut 6:16) was Jesus reminding us not to test God by expecting God to intervene to look after those in need but instead to help them ourselves.
To pray we need quiet time. We cannot pray if the TV is turned on, or there are other distractions around us. We often read in the Gospels that Jesus went up into the mountains to pray (Matt 14:23; Mark 6:46; Luke 6:12; 9:28). It was quiet up there. If Jesus needed quiet for prayer, how much more do we need quiet for prayer? Can we find quiet time every day to spend with Jesus and Our Lady? We read that Elijah hid in a cave, and a windstorm went by, but God was not in the windstorm, there was an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake, there was a fire, but God was not in the fire. Finally, a gentle breeze went by, and Elijah knew God was in the gentle breeze (1 Kings 19:11-13). To find God is to find a place of peace. A Church or Adoration Chapel is an obvious place but can we also as a family pray together for a significant length of time at least once day? The Rosary is a wonderful prayer for use together as a family.
Jesus was asked why his disciples did not fast while the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist fasted. Jesus replied that the while the bridegroom was with them it was not the time to fast but when the bridegroom would be taken away then it would be time for them to fast (Matt 9:14-15; Mark 2:18-20; Luke 5:33-35). Now is that time. We can fast from TV for a time and that will give us more time for prayer so then we should be fasting and praying together. We could also fast from the internet for a time so spend more time with family. Above all of course Lent is all about giving up sin. All the fasting of Lent is to provide us with greater strength to fast from sin. Fasting is for Jesus.
Almsgiving is a demonstration of our love of God and love of others. When we love God, we love others in their need and give to them from our surplus because they are also children of God. That is why we begin the Lord’s Prayer saying, “Our Father…” because we are all children of one Father in heaven. Once when talking to the Pharisees when they were concerned about externals Jesus said that if they gave alms then they would be clean (Luke 11:41). On another occasion Jesus said that giving alms earns you a purse that never grows old and treasure in heaven (Luke 12:33). Jesus taught the parable about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Rich person did not even give the scraps to the poor man. But when they died the poor man was in heaven the rich man in agony.
We could say that the three Scripture quotations in today’s Gospel that Jesus used to rebuke the devil when tempted in the desert are about prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve (Luke 4:8, see Deut 6:13) was Jesus teaching us to put God first in prayer and worship.
Man does not live by bread alone (Luke 4:4, see Deut 8:3) was Jesus reminding that fasting shows God is more important to us than any earthly thing we want.
You shall not put the Lord, your God to the test (Luke 4:12, see Deut 6:16) was Jesus reminding us not to test God by expecting God to intervene to look after those in need but instead to help them ourselves.
When we’re ill, we go to the doctor and the doctor gives us medication. If we take medicine, we hope to get better. For centuries the Church has recommended medicine during Lent to help us get better. That medicine is prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
There is a Jewish folktale Fr. Ron Rolheiser, theologian and spiritual writer, shares in his book Against an Infinite Horizon.
“There once was a young man who aspired to great holiness. After some time at working to achieve it, he went to see his rabbi.
‘Rabbi,’ he announced, ‘I think I have achieved sanctity.’
‘Why do you think that?’ asked the rabbi.
‘Well,’ responded the young man, ‘I’ve been practicing virtue and discipline for some time now and I have grown proficient at them. From the time the sun rises until it sets, I take no food or water. All day long, I do all kinds of hard work for others and never expect to be thanked. If I have temptations of the flesh, I roll in the snow or in thorn bushes until they go away, and then at night, before bed, I practice the ancient monastic discipline and administer lashes to my bare back. I have disciplined myself so as to become holy.’
The rabbi was silent for a time. Then he took the young man by the arm and led him to a window and pointed to an old horse which was just being led away by its master. ‘I have been observing that horse for some time,’ the rabbi said, ‘and I’ve noticed that it doesn’t get fed or watered from morning to night. All day long it has to do work for people, and it never gets thanked. I often see it rolling around in snow or in bushes, as horses are prone to do, and often I see it get whipped. But I ask you: Is that a saint or a horse?’”
Fr. Rolheiser comments, “This is a good parable because it shows how simplistic it is to simply identify sanctity and virtue with self-renunciation and the capacity to do what is difficult. In popular thought there is a common spiritual equation: saint = horse; what is more difficult is always better. But that can be wrong. To be a saint is to be motivated by gratitude, nothing more and nothing less”
Let me emphasize Fr. Rolheiser’s point here again, to be a saint is to be motivated by gratitude, nothing more and nothing less.
Jesus cautions his disciples to notice our attitudes and motivations when it comes to our Lenten practices. Jesus says, “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.”
St. Michael’s Family, why do we fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday? Why do we give up meat on Fridays? What is so important that we obey the Lenten practices? We do these easy rituals meant to make us reflect and shake us out of our everyday way of doing things, to take time and consider how grateful we are to God from whom the formidable gift of life comes, and to take time to deliberately care about others, specifically the less fortunate.
Family, on this day, Ash Wednesday we are called from the everyday, to be aware of the blessedness of the human lives around us, and to be a more thankful people, a people who do not take our life or the lives of others around us for granted.
During Lent, it is our duty to pray, fast and to perform acts of personal sacrifice to bring us into this new realization. Lent can be an opportunity to start our New Year’s resolution again. This can be a time to spend five minutes or more in prayer, perhaps with scripture or the rosary, if you only start with one Decade. Read and do the Lenten study and activities we have started. Lent can be time to aid the homeless or giving at a charity. Lent can be a time to make the effort to take part in some of our special devotions like the Stations of the Cross (Good Friday). There are as many ways to enter into Lent as there are baptized Christians.
We are called to complete spiritual exercises, not because we are horses. We do it because of our love for God, and because we are human. At times we humans need to be agitated from the ordinary, to be reminded that our time here is short, that “we are dust and to dust we will return”. We sometimes forget this great gift, life, can you imagine a world without you! I know the family here can’t.
We have so valuable little time to do our part for God, to give back just a meniscal of what He has given us. Ash Wednesday reminds us of our mortality, that time is fleeting, to shake us out of complacency and get to work on God’s Kingdom. We are all invited to accept St. Francis’ invitation to preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary, use words.
Reading I: Sir 27:4-7
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16
Reading II: 1 Cor 15:54-58
Alleluia: Phil 2:15d, 16a
Gospel: Lk 6:39-45
My dearest brothers and sisters in Christ:
First, let’s take a look at our Gospel reading for Today of Lk 6:39-45 (NIV):
39 He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.
41 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
A Tree and Its Fruit
43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
So what is this telling us and what can we learn from the Lord’s teaching of the Gospel today?
Each and every one of us at some point in our lives become prone to excuse our own faults and magnify the faults of others and to put our judgement upon them. You know how it goes: It could be things such as: “I’m quiet, you’re unassertive; he’s a wimp.” “I’m concerned; you’re curious; he or she is nosy.” “I’m thrifty; you’re a bit tight; that person is cheap.” “I drive with the flow of traffic; you go over the speed limit; that person is very reckless.”
Jesus knows our common propensity to justify ourselves and to blame others. As He concluded the section of His sermon dealing with the requirement of loving even our enemies, He knew that we would try to dodge its demands by judging our enemies and by excusing ourselves. So He gives a strong corrective by showing how we should focus on showing mercy, not judgement, even toward those who have wronged us (6:36-38). Then, to help us apply it, Jesus goes on to show that we must focus on judging our own sins or we will be like the blind trying to lead the blind (6:39-40). Only when we have judged our own sins can we then see clearly to help another person with their sins (6:41-42). In fact, we must judge ourselves down to the heart level, because only a good heart can produce good fruit (6:42-43). Thus Jesus is teaching us that …
To love as we ought to be doing, we should focus on showing mercy toward others but (also) on judging our own sins.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, sometimes we struggle with anger and with judgement. We see things and want to get revenge or we wish others to be punished for wrongdoing. We pray that you fill our hearts with compassion and forgiveness. Help us not to condemn but seek first to forgive others. Help us not to judge, but to serve. Amen.
Who are our enemies? Do we have them? How should we behave toward our enemies? In today`s reading we remember how Jesus instructed us to love our enemies and not to judge others. This is a very difficult instruction to obey. We live in the world that is full of injustice. Many times when we try to be good and to do all the right things we experience by many other people inconveniences of various kind. At our workplace we might have an unfriendly boss, a jealous colleague or being surrounded with people who are discriminative against us. People who might not love us for no reason. People who mind our religion, or our sexual orientation, or our freedom, or some physical characteristics. They might behave very unfriendly. We all experienced having enemies at all levels. Since childhood, in the school, at the college or later on a workplace. One difficult thing to do as a Christian is to love your enemies. This can be very difficult if a person do something which is really evil to us. If you are a child who is bullied at school by your peer school mate, how could you love him? If you work somewhere and your colleague is irrespective, arrogant, talking negatively about you to other colleagues. How could you love him? Or if your neighbor has secretly broken your window just because you are different skin color, sexual orientation, a member of different religion, different nation and you feel hated and discriminated against, how can you love that person?
Have you ever wondered how could we really love our enemies? When Jesus said – love your enemies it was so easy for him to say. But in real life it seems to be much easier if he told us to do anything else like – ignore your enemies, curse your enemies or punish your enemies and revenge. Since this is not easy let`s see what the Bible says,
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.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 and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
In the first part of this sermon we defined that we can have our enemies everywhere. In our neighborhood, at school, at work, and other places. We remembered that many people could be very unfriendly to us and do bad things to us. And we were wondering how we could love our enemies. We all know that this is really hard. And we should admit that. In my own experience being Christian is not easy because our nature is evil. We naturally want to revenge, we cannot simply love our enemies. And Jesus knew that. This is why He gave us an explanation on why should we love our enemies. And here in Jesus` words we might find the deeper meaning and the sense of why it is good and how we could successfully manage to love people who would we naturally hate. Take a look at those few sentences:
- Do to others as you would have them do to you…
- Then your reward will be great…
- Forgive, and you will be forgiven…
Does this makes sense to you now?
Loving our enemies is exactly what God has to do with us on the first place. Since the sin that we naturally do as being part of sinful nature makes us His enemies. He would naturally hate us, revenge to us and do bad to us because naturally we do things against God`s will on daily level. Consciously and unconsciously we sin. And our sin makes us God`s enemies. If we meditate on those tree sentences. First do to others as you would have them do to you. It moves to focus not to our enemies but to us. It shows us that it is good not for our enemies, but it is good for us when we love our enemies. Now there is even more sense in the next sentence when Jesus promises `your reward will be great`. It all makes sense now, right? We are not just fools who love our enemies that are treating us badly knowing that they will be treating us that way to eternity. We love them because we know that God is to revenge, not we. We forgive them because we know that God is to forgive and to them and to us. Next God promises `Forgive and you will be forgiven`. I remember the book that I read almost 15 years ago. The book was written by a Christian monk from the Holy Mount Atos in Greece. His name was Paisios. In his interview about loving enemies he said some things that were very useful for me and even today after 15 years I often remember his words. He said that everything happens with some reason. And even if God allows some enemies to come in our life that could also be happening with a reason. Sometimes it is not good for us something that we do, something that we want or that we are focus to and God let`s our enemies to damage our own plans. At the moment when that happens we are angry, we are furious and we want those enemies to be removed from our life. But Paisios advises us to wait and see what God will do. And always after some time in the future you will see and you will understand why God let those people in your life. As in the school. A child needs to have many lessons. Some lessons are interesting, super fun and very creative. Others seem to be boring, unpleasant, even not useful. A child would rather escape from those classes. But, all lessons are part of educational program. This is the same in our life. We meet people who we love and who love us, and we also meet people who behave as our enemies and people who do not love us. But they are all a part of our life experience. We could always learn something good through this experience. And let us wait to see what God will do. In the past when I was 20, 25 or 30 years old, loving my own enemies was a very unrealistic task. After I gained some life experience, now after my 35th birthday when I sit alone, think, and analyze many situations that I had in my life with my enemies. I can see that God was always there to intervene. I can see good things in things that looked very bad to me at that time. Those were all lessons. In the end, I don`t want to sound like a very wise super easy-to-do Christian. The truth is it is not easy. The truth is it is difficult. The truth is loving our enemies is something that we must learn through practice. But the truth is also that there is sense in doing so. We will be rewarded, we will be forgiven and God will deal with it. Whatever it is. Just wait for the God, and just leave it to God. As Greek monk Paisios advised.
In today’s reading from the Bible we read about the Lord’s Call of Jeremiah (Jer 1:4-5):
”The word of the Lord came to me, saying, `Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart, I appointed you as a prophet to the nations`”.
While these words from the Bible were addressed to the prophet Jeremiah, we can also learn something very important for all people in what was written here. Lord said that he formed Jeremiah in the womb and he knew him before he was born. This is how great is our God, we can apply this to every one of us and to the all creatures. God is the one who set us all apart, He is the one who formed all of us in the womb. Sometimes among our Christian sisters and brothers it seems that we want to hide some natural characteristics. For example being born as an LGBT+ person. As medical science knows this is a natural personal characteristic that people do not choose. Like the eye color, the body constitution, hair color, etc. A sentence from the Bible which we previously mentioned teaches us that God is the one who creates people in their mothers’ wombs. God knew if we would have blue or green eyes, or black or brown hair before we were born. The same way he knew what our sexual orientation would be and our personal characteristics. It is really sad that we live in the era of discriminative Christianity when many churches push people to change, hide or feel bad about their natural God-given sexual orientation. As a result many young people, but also some older people face problems because they have Jesus in their hearts but they feel denied by their local church. In this sermon I am inspired to share a spiritual hug in Christ to all those Christians all around the world who are victims of any kind of discrimination. For being LGBT+ or for being women or for being in the situation when facing discrimination because they do not physically appear religious enough for the local churches to be accepted. This has nothing to do with Our Lord. What the Bible teaches is that The Lord knows exactly who we are, how he formed us in our mom’s womb and he does not want us to be changed because He is the one who created us just the way we are. Whenever you feel discrimination or any kind of unacceptance know that God loves you. God never discriminates and He loves you. I would also like to mention that it is very important not to judge those churches who are discriminative. Many people there might not be aware that what they do is not christian. Many people are also victims of false discriminative doctrine. This is just to understand and not to judge. For all of us it is good to remember that the love is the only sign of having Christ. The only miracle that will last forever. As it is written in 1 Cor 13. Let us read 1 Cor 13:4-13:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
This chapter is read in the weddings or life partnership blessings. This can be considered as one of the most important lessons from the Bible. The lesson about love. As we read in the end of this chapter the greatest is love, then faith and hope. In the modern era where we live how can we know if there is Jesus in Christians? The indicator is – the love. Being real Christian without love is impossible because God is love. Our faith is all about love. If we physically appear to be super religious, wearing huge cross, holding holy books wherever we go, reading Bible all day etc. but if we do not have enough love for our neighbors, this cannot satisfy God. Being religious is helpful. But it must include love. If we judge other people, if we discriminate or if we think that we are superior toward others – then we should really think if the Christ is really present in our hearts. We should always keep on our mind that there are two biggest commandments and they are both about love. The first one – Love God and the second one – Love people. And that’s a short summary of what means being Christian.