“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5: 43-48)
When people talk about love today, they’re usually focused on romantic love, “falling in love”, or loving yourself. Not much talk about loving others or loving your enemies today.
“Love your enemies”, Jesus says in today’s gospel. Have a love that imitates God’s love, our heavenly Father “who makes his sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”
Is that love beyond us?
We’ve been told from earliest years that there are some people you can’t trust; they’ll take advantage of you; they’ll harm you. You have enemies in this world. Be careful.
Certainly Jesus doesn’t condemn reasonable caution. He had enemies too and he was careful what he said and how he dealt with them. Evil exists. Rather, Jesus warns against a pessimism that leads us to condemn someone or some groups absolutely. We see no possible goodness or possible change in them, only intractable evil.
We don’t see as God sees when we think like that. The sun of God’s goodness shines on this world; the rain of his mercy softens its hardest places. His love changes people for the good.
We can’t just reason our way to a love of enemies, we must pray to grow in this love. Jesus not only taught us, but showed us by his own example how to love our enemies. Look at him in his Passion, says St. Aelred:
“Listen to his wonderful prayer, so full of warmth, of love, of unshakeable serenity – Father, forgive them. Is any gentleness, any love, lacking in this prayer?
Yet he put into it something more. It was not enough to pray for them: he wanted also to make excuses for them. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. They are great sinners, yes, but they have little judgement; therefore, Father, forgive them.
They are nailing me to the cross, but they do not know who it is that they are nailing to the cross: if they had known, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory; therefore, Father, forgive them.
They think it is a lawbreaker, an impostor claiming to be God, a seducer of the people. I have hidden my face from them, and they do not recognise my glory; therefore, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Teach us, Lord, a love like yours, that never gives up or draw limits, or settles for those in its small circle. Help us to love like the sun and the rain that reach everywhere.
Jesus said to his disciples:”Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find;knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asked for a loaf of bread,or a snake when he asked for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.( Matthew 7, 7-12)
Our readings in the 1st week of Lent, most from the Gospel of Matthew, are devoted to prayer. Today’s reading faces the question– Does God answer prayer? For some, God–if there is one–doesn’t pay attention to us at all. We’re on our own. No one’s listening and no one cares.
Jesus knew his Father listens and cares. He asked for things in prayer and teaches us to pray as he did. In the Garden of Gethsemane he asked over and over that his life be spared. “Father, let this cup pass from me.” As he knocked the door opened, the answer came, yet not as he willed, but as God willed. “An angel came to strengthen him.” He went on to do God’s will. He suffered and died, and rose from the dead.
In our 1st reading from the Book of Esther, Esther and her servants “ lay prostrate on the ground, from morning until evening” praying for deliverance from their enemies. Their prayer is similar to Jesus’ prayer in the garden. They’re filled with fear, without resources, humbled, but they get what they ask, and more than they ask– an immediate, surprising victory over their enemies.
From Jesus and Esther, we learn that God hears prayers and is never deaf to them. God’s answer is more than we ask–but according to his will. He gave his only Son the gift of new life after he passed through a trial of suffering and death. God’s answer to Esther was more immediate.
From Jesus and Esther we learn too that humility leads to prayer. Both are stretched out on the ground, humble before God, and their humility leads them to cry out to the One who hears them.
Our prayers are answered in different ways, but there’s always answer and the answer comes from love.
St. Paul of the Cross recognized the mystery surrounding petitionary prayer. In a letter he responds to someone who remarks that God’s playing games; we’re not sure of the outcome. Our faith is tested when we pray for things.
“I thank the Father of Mercies that you are improved in health, and you say well that the Lord seems to be playing games. That’s what Scripture says: ‘God plays on the earth,’ and ‘My delights are to be with the children of men.’ How fortunate is the soul that silently in faith allows the games of love the Sovereign Good plays and abandons itself to his good pleasure, whether in health or sickness, in life or in death!”
Father John O’Brien, a liturgist from my community, wrote an essay in 2004 entitled: “Thomas Berry, the Easter Vigil and the Greening of the Liturgy”
“This essay”, he wrote, “ argues that the next horizon of liturgical development will require a paradigm shift in understanding and spirituality. This is a shift from a present anthropocentrism to a new role and placement for creation. Although the liturgy has used the stuff of creation to celebrate the magnalia Dei, it has emphasized that water and food, bread and wine, soil and oil, rocks and rivers are at the service of the human community. Creation exists for human use and the promotion of human redemption. If this redemptive motif prevails, humankind may flourish into the immediate future. But the earth that sustains human life will be diminished and destroyed.”
The liturgy can help us acquire this new vision, John suggested, and the Easter Vigil might be a good place to start. The play of light and darkness in the vigil, the fire in the dark, the Genesis readings, the waters of baptism and blessing are reminders of creation in the Easter story. But in his essay John recognized that people weren’t exactly flocking to the Easter Vigil then. They’re not now.
Better to start with our daily liturgy, our daily prayer? Should we look more closely at what our prayers say and how we pray every day?
Daily prayer, particularly the psalms, can help us bond with creation. The reading from Isaiah this Tuesday says God’s word comes down from heaven like rain and snow, watering the earth and providing for the human family as well. Rain and snow are more than figures of speech, they’re messengers from God, beyond human control. Created by God they lead us to God, bestowing his gifts on us. God speaks daily through created things like these, the psalms say:
“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the firmament proclaims the works of his hands.
Day unto day pours forth speech;
night unto night whispers knowledge. (Psalm 19,2-4)
Morning with the rising sun, evening with the promise of new light, with a voice not heard, without speech or words, creation speaks for God and is promised a place in the new creation with us.
The Holy Spirit, the “Lord and Giver of Life”, “God adored and glorified along with the Father and the Son” sustains creation, Elizabeth Johnson writes in her book “Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love” (2014). Key biblical images, powerful natural forces like blowing wind, flowing water, and blazing fire expand the notion of the active presence of the Spirit in the world God made.
At morning Mass candles are lit. Tongues of fire come upon us now. The fire that created the Big Bang billions of years ago is with us now, as the bread and wine, and water enter our cosmic prayer.
Can daily prayer, if we let it, give us eyes to see creation as our partner in praising God. Our readings this 1st week of Lent are about prayer. They begin Monday with the final judgment from Matthew’s gospel. Those judged ask “when did we see you” in the “the least.”
Can we say “the least” also includes creation, which today we have reduced to the least? Can prayer be a way of seeing it?
Lent recalls the forty days of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, and the forty days of cosmic cleansing in the time of Noah’s Flood.
As Noah’s Ark, containing all “flesh” (basar, Genesis 6:19), floated atop the deluge, Christ, the saving Ark, plunged into the Jordan river and cleansed all “flesh” which he assumed (basar, sarx, John 1:14).
…God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.
1 Peter 3:20-21
Humanity’s capitulation to the serpent in the garden of Eden was recapitulated and reversed by Jesus’ conquest of the tempter in the desert.
At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.
Forty Days in Forty Syllables:
Life was spoken out of chaos and void; Evil was flushed in the Flood and destroyed. Noah’s Ark saved all flesh and humankind; The Christ conquered the serpent mastermind.
25 Thu Lenten Weekday Est C:12, 14-16, 23-25/Mt 7:7-12
26 Fri Lenten Weekday Ez 18:21-28/Mt 5:20-26
27 Sat. ST.GABRIEL POSSENTI, CP
[Saint Gregory of Narek, Abbot and Doctor of the Church]
Dt 26:16-19/Mt 5:43-48
28 SUN SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT
Gn 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18/Rom 8:31b-34/Mk 9:2-10
Our Lenten readings for the 1st week teach us how to see as Jesus sees–through prayer. On the mountain Jesus teaches the Lord’s Prayer, the common prayer of God’s children. God is Father of us all, the One who gives us daily bread, forgiveness and strength when testing comes. God’s gift of prayer opens our eyes and our hearts. Like snow and rain, the gift of prayer falls on all. All can pray. (Tuesday)
Prayer is about more than ourselves and our own needs. The story of Jonah points out a world bigger than our own. As children of the world we must pray and work for its good. (Wednesday)
Never lose confidence in prayer and what it makes possible. “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find. Knock and the door with open” Jesus teaches. (Thursday)
Make sure as you approach the altar to pray that your heart is free from resentment, harsh judgment and anger. Otherwise, your prayer become weak and blind. You cannot see. (Friday)
We must pray even for our enemies. For our Father causes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust and the rain to fall on saints and sinners. (Saturday)
This week opens with the Feast of the Chair of Peter. (Monday) Our church is a teacher of prayer. The Passionists celebrate the Feast of St. Gabriel on Saturday.
Lent is an important time to teach children to prayer. Here’s a site that can help. OurChildrenPray. You may also find this new website on Prayer helpful in your own prayer:
The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
The original harmony in the garden of Eden disintegrated following the movement of disordered desires. Bewitching the senses and the mind, the seductive fruit of the forbidden tree ensnared the first couple.
Paradisal indivisibility suffered a triple collapse as self, God, and others externalized as estranged entities.
Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are prescribed as medicine for wayfarers to remedy the triple disharmony. Fasting disciplines the whole person with regard to appetite. Prayer finds God in the hidden recesses of the heart. Almsgiving restores fraternal charity and communion.
The prophet Isaiah warns his people not to turn fasting into an end in itself or use it for display.
Is this the manner of fasting I would choose, a day to afflict oneself? To bow one’s head like a reed, and lie upon sackcloth and ashes? Is this what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
Authentic fasting is hidden and bears fruit in charity to our neighbors.
Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke?
Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are as inseparable as person, God, and neighbor. We need all three for healing:
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed.
Love of God and neighbor wells like a fountain from the center of the Spirit-filled person.
And you shall be like a watered garden, like a flowing spring whose waters never fail.
At the eschatological wedding feast, no one will fast because “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
The Bridegroom celebrated the brief span of life allotted to him on earth to be with his Bride in the flesh, giving us a glimpse of the divine mirth and affection:
Then the disciples of John approached him and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.
Cracks in the cosmos caused By crunching of the fruit Requires a triple cure To cleanse the heart’s core root.
Fasting heals the person; Prayer finds God within. Almsgiving loves neighbors, Quashing the power of sin.
Person, God and neighbor— Cosmos in Trinity— Cured by consuming Christ, Crunching divinity.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.
Genesis 2:15 (Revised Standard Version)
Adam, priest and king of the Lord’s garden sanctuary, had the duty “to till it and keep it.”
The Hebrew word for “keep” (shamar) appears throughout God’s treaty with Israel: they are to “keep” the Sabbath, commandments, festivals, and covenant.
Adam had only one law to “keep” in the garden of Eden:1
You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.
The law was a matter of life and good, death and evil. Keeping the law proved Adam’s love, trust, and obedience. Preserving the law, Adam “walked” with God.
Like a father to his children, Moses gave the law to Israel:
See, I have today set before you life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I am giving you today, loving the Lord, your God, and walking in his ways, and keeping (shamar) his commandments, statutes and ordinances, you will live and grow numerous, and the Lord, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. If, however, your heart turns away and you do not obey, but are led astray and bow down to other gods and serve them, I tell you today that you will certainly perish; you will not have a long life on the land which you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land which the Lord swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them.
Law and love are one in the heart of God. Keeping the law is union with God. Christ is the Law and Love Incarnate.
Christ’s obedience on the Cross, the tree of life, reversed the disobedience of the first Adam before the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The sinless Christ swallowed death and evil, but not without a struggle.
“Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.”
“Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
The poisoned drink that killed Christ’s mortal body transmuted into living wine by drowning in his divinity.
St. Paul, zealous keeper of the Mosaic covenant, had to be blinded and knocked to his spiritual senses before proclaiming in wonder:
For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.
Walking the line between life and death is a fearful thing for mortals, but Jesus walked right into the black hole of death and evil and emerged into the Light immortal and transfigured. Jesus set us free from the enslaving fear of death (Hebrews 2:15).
The divine strategy was as incomprehensible in Jesus’ day as it is in ours:
He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. ”Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?
Christ forfeited everything to God and won heaven and the whole world. On the Cross, losers are winners.
Christ Rose Obedient Smashing Sin
1 St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Second Oration on Easter 8: “[God gave Adam] a law as a material for his free will to act on. This law was a commandment as to what plants he might partake of and which one he might not touch.” From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Genesis 1-11, Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, editors, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 62.
According to Aphraates, a 4th century Syrian ascetic and bishop in the patristic tradition: “He established a new law for Adam, that he could not eat of the tree of life.” See the Liturgy of the Hours, First Week of Lent, Wednesday, Office of Readings.
“Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God for you. Consider how their lives ended and imitate their faith. “ (Hebrews 13, 7)
Let’s listen to a leader of our church, St. Leo the Great who preached a sermon about prayer, fasting and almsgiving, the three usual recommendations for our lenten season, on Ash Wednesday. He led the Roman church early in the 5th century. The times were troubled, maybe somewhat like ours.
Barbarian tribes were pouring through Rome’s defenses along the Rhine River on its northern frontier then, threatening the Italian peninsula. In fear, most of Rome’s elite left for the safety of Constantinople, the empire’s new center. The army was not capable of defending the city. Those remaining barricaded themselves in their homes with everything they had, convinced the world was ending.
As Lent began Leo preached this sermon on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Pray, fast and give alms. Yet the pope’s eye focused on the most important of these lenten recommendations for his time – almsgiving.
Leo puts it in more elegant language than mine, but he tells his people “It’s time to stick together.”
“There is no more profitable practice as a companion to holy and spiritual fasting than that of almsgiving. This embraces under the single name of mercy many excellent works of devotion, so that the good intentions of all the faithful may be of equal value, even where their means are not.,, The works of mercy are innumerable. Their very variety brings this advantage to those who are true Christians, that in the matter of almsgiving not only the rich and affluent but also those of average means and the poor are able to play their part. Those who are unequal in their capacity to give can be equal in the love within their hearts.”
“The works of mercy are innumerable.” Rich or poor can show mercy, according to what you can do, I hear the pope saying. You may not be able to go to church as you did in another Lent, or pray some prayers you said before, or give up some things you did in other years, but you can reach out to others in these unsettled times. Forget yourself and think of someone else and do something for them. “The works of mercy are innumerable.” Love makes them all equal.
I hear Pope Francis talking like that too. What can we do for others?