The book of Tobit has a lot of ordinary events. There is fighting between husband and wife. There is the encounter with God. There is marriage. There is a profound recognition of helping the poor. There are wonderful moments and extraordinary encounters with God. All this week, the story of Tobit will guide us in the ongoing relationship we have with others. How do we seek to find God? Do we see marriage as a noble vocation? Are we able to admit that God may come to us even in ways we might at first not recognize?
Tag: new life
Choice. I am a fan of Servais Pinckaers, a Belgian Dominican priest who was a significant moral theologian of the last century. Pinckaers helped to identify the ways in which humans can understand choice. On the one hand, there is that choice which can be limited to this or that, a choice between two things. This is what we might call today license, and what Pinckaers called a freedom from. When freedom is understood as license, then anything that in any way restricts our choices is bad. Often when a teen complains to parents, “Don’t tell me what to do” they say this because they do not like having their license to do whatever they please taken away.
The other type of freedom is what Pinckaers described as a freedom for. In other words, choices are made not because it is something I want to do and you cannot stop me, but rather because I want to become someone. In this understanding, I choose to tell the truth even when it is hard to do so because I want to be honest. I choose to stop eating chocolate covered cherries by the boxful because I want to be healthy. I exercise even when I feel like sitting on the couch because I want to be fit.
It is in this sense that we can understand the choice of the first reading. “Today I have set before you
life and prosperity, death and doom.” When we first hear that question, we might ask ourselves who would possibly choose doom? Who would possibly choose death? And we would be right to wonder those things. And yet, anyone who has seen a person suffer from an addiction knows that death and doom can be chosen. Anyone who has watched someone seek to acquire an endless amount of money or material possessions, and to then be worried about it being taken away, so much so they never give it to anyone, knows how the death and doom that is greed can be chosen.
Death and doom are chosen when people only focus on doing whatever they want, not on what they can become. Death and doom are chosen because “no one can tell me what to do.” Life is chosen when we decide to become that person God has created us to be.
Sin. God hates sin. Do we? We do not often think, at least I don’t, of God hating. But God does hate. God does sometimes detest. And what God hates, what God detests, is always the same. God hates sin. God detests sin. Fortunately for us, God does not, however, hate the sinner. God does not detest the sinner. And God offers to the sinner a way back. God hates sin, but loves repentence. God hates sin, but loves the sinner.
Today’s first reading is a wonderful reminder of this. To the penitent God provides a way back, he encourages those who are losing hope and has chosen for them the lot of truth. As we are ready to begin Lent this week, how grateful we should be that God provides to us a way back. God wants us to return to him. In fact, this is what we are told to do. Return to him and give up sin, pray to the LORD and make your offenses few. Turn again to the Most High and away from your sin, hate intensely what he loathes, and know the justice and judgments of God,
Stand firm in the way set before you, in prayer to the Most High God. This is the perfect time to do so.
This is the perfect time to do so, for today is the day of salvation. Lent is that time where we seek to be transformed, to change, to become a new creation in Christ. It is the time when we turn back to God. But giving up sin, the ultimate goal of Lent and the Christian life, is just the beginning, as we learn in today’s gospel. Keeping the commandments of God is one thing. Filling our souls with God and God’s priorities is quite another.
This is what the young man seeking more from Jesus learns. This man has kept the commandments of God. This man has really been faithful. But, that is not enough. He is not allowing God to fill his life, but rather his many possessions. As a result, spiritual growth is stunted. He is not able to give all to Christ. And neither am I. I too hang on to too many things that take me away from God. If you wish to be perfect, surrender to God and seek the way of holiness. Lent is the perfect time to start.
Cross. I don’t like the cross. In my heart of hearts, I’m a coward. I’m afraid. I find it hard sometimes to separate gaining the whole world, from gaining eternal life. I find it much too easy to be shortsighted. Seeing the immediate, the now, the things that seem so close and right in front of me, the things that bring immediate reward. I’m expecting a package from Amazon today. I’m really excited. But it’s not really something amazing, or tremendous. I doubt it will change my life. But I’m really excited.
But about the cross? I’m not so excited. I’m afraid. I don’t trust. I don’t trust Jesus, and I don’t trust God. Far too often, my focus is on myself, over what I can control, and over what I can do. And yet, during those breakthrough moments when I have been able to trust God the benefit has been far greater than anything I could’ve imagined. In those moments where I think back in my life and ask myself when has God never been there for me, I can say never. I can say that God has always been there for me. Despite my selfishness, God has always been generous.
So why do I have such a hard time embracing the cross? The cross of Jesus, change the entire world. When Jesus embraced the cross, and suffered death for you and me, salvation was open for all of us. Despite our sinfulness, holiness was possible. New life was given to us. Dear God, with whatever cross you give me today, help me to embrace it like your son. Give me the grace to say yes, to take up my cross, and follow you.
Awesome. Think of Noah for a moment. Can you imagine the excitement of seeing dry land? Being surrounded by water for so long, and finally seeing the familiarity of dryland. Wow! The promise was true. God is faithful. God did not give up on the people who had sinned.
But what is interesting is what Noah does. When he first encounters the dry land he doesn’t run around to get all excited. He doesn’t immediately move onto whatever new life he is now going to be able to experience because there is no more flood. He does not start to rebuild. No. Noah gives thanks to God. And this is the sign of hope. In spite of all of the wickedness and all of the evil, that has been present on the earth, there’s hope because of Noah’s faith. Noah has seen what God can do, is faithful to the promise, and God does marvelous things.
If Noah gets excited about his ability to see dryland after seeing water for so long, imagine the blind man in today’s gospel. He can see. Not just dry land where he used to see water. No, he can see light where he once saw darkness. This is not a story simply about a man who recovers physical sight. This is a man who recovers the sight of faith. He can see. In both the first reading and in the gospel people are able to see not just physical things but much more importantly there able to see God. Pray that God will open your eyes so that you may see.
Heart. Sometimes we can get caught in our own lives, with the idea that following the letter of the law is enough. We don’t break any laws. We certainly haven’t killed, or committed adultery. That means that everything is good with God, right? These readings remind us that the law is not simply focused on a desire to make sure we do the right things. The law is really focused, unchanging our hearts in such a way that we reflect God’s holiness. It’s interesting that when Moses struck the rock twice, when he was only told to strike the rock ones, it was not that he disobeyed the commandment per se. Rather, it was that he did not manifest the holiness of God to the people.
That really is the point of today’s readings. There are these commandments that have been given to us to help us to see and understand what it means to follow God. But as Jesus reminds us in the gospel, it is most about changing our hearts, our attitudes, everything. It’s not enough just not to kill. We should not get angry. It’s not enough to be faithful in marriage. We should not let lust control our lives.
In everything that we do, it is first and foremost about whether or not God has a place in our heart. Really, about whether God has the most important place in our heart. And so today’s readings, are not just about following the law, but more importantly about following Jesus.
God wants me to change. God wants me to repent. God wants me to change my ways. I need conversion. I need to change. When I come to the realization that there is something that needs to change in my life, I face a choice. I can change the superficial, or I can really work deep within myself to change the evil that is in my heart.
That is the focus in today’s readings. We can focus, as the Pharisees did, on the external actions of little consequence. Or, we can seek to really change ourselves into really better people. This is the change that really is difficult. It is not easy to change our hearts. It is not easy to change our attitudes, those attitudes that keep us away from Christ.
But today we are challenged to seek the change that comes deep in our hearts. We are called to cast away very difficult things. The gospel list covers just about every way in which we can be away from God. It covers just about every way we can abuse others, treating them in a way like objects. We can see people only as a means to get what I want, as objects, slaves, that exist for my pleasure, or we can see them as people made in the image and likeness of God.
The purpose of a life of faith is to live in a real way this relationship with Jesus in an authentic way. We are called to imitate Jesus and his attitude toward people because he is the Son of God. We are called to get to know him better so that we are able to grow in faith. Today, remember the first word of the gospel. Repent.
Today is the prayer for the legal protection of the unborn. Life. Surely there are not many more divisive issues than abortion. Those on both sides can feel passionate about the issue. Sometimes, this passion is misplaced in the ways we talk about each other. We can use very hostile words that prevent any discussion. But what struck me in watching the women’s march were some of the horrible signs people carried. One said, “If Mary had had an abortion we would not have this problem.” Another said, “A Baby should not be the punishment for sex.” I was stunned at the level of vitriol in these two signs.
What surprises me is how this is the tenor of a march for women. What was clear is organisers saw no place for women who did not believe in abortion. Sad. Certainly, there are issues to be addressed. Women do often face many issues in society that make things difficult.
But what if it were more known what the Catholic Church does on behalf of women who need assistance when their baby is born? After all, despite the often repeated false claim, people that are truly pro-life do care about the baby after he or she is born. The Catholic Church is the largest provider of social services after the federal government.
Today, let us pray for those women faced with the difficult decisions that come with pregnancy. And let us pray that by our efforts, they may see the support we provide for them in our actions.
It cannot possibly be that THAT PERSON is a Christian! How easy it is to decide who is beyond conversion. Yet, it might even be us. But imaging how wonderful it would be if we all could celebrate God’s grace by throwing a big party when we find ourselves embracing God. Such is the case with Levi. And as Isaiah reminds us today, but turning our lives over to God, even darkness and gloom can turn to light and celebration.
The American spirit seems to like things that are made strong and tough. Trucks are advertised this way, a popular vehicle in our country. People are often encouraged to be strong in the face of adversity. Little boys are wrongly told not to cry, to “toughen up”, in the face of difficulty. We are told there is “no crying” in any number of things.
But what is it that makes someone truly strong? Is it the false elements I just mentioned? Is it the house built on rock that Jesus uses as an example in the gospels? And how is it we reconcile this idea of strength with Saint Paul who says that when he is weak, it is then he is strong? When we hear the words in today’s first reading, “Be Strong, Fear Not!” what exactly does that mean, and how and in what ways is such a phrase intended for you and me?
As is often the case, as we explore this idea of strength, the world gets turned upside down a little bit. Bold words are expressed to those in the time of Isaiah, to be strong, because they feel anything but strong at the moment. The words are meant as an encouragement, because when they consider their current situation, they do not feel very strong. Weak knees, feeble hands are the way the people are described.