Category Archives: Religion

Saturday, 3rd Week of Lent

Lent 1

In Luke’s gospel Jesus often sides with people living in complicated situations they find hard, almost impossible to get out of – tax collectors, prostitutes, widows, sinners like the prodigal son. They call out for God’s mercy, and Jesus shows them mercy.

A number of tax collectors appear in the gospels. There’s the tax collector in Luke’s account today, there’s Zachaeus the chief tax collector in Jericho. There’s also Mathew, the tax collector in Caphernaum, whom Jesus asked to follow him. There’s no evidence that Jesus asked all Matthew’s friends– also tax collectors– to leave their posts and give up the dirty profession they’re engaged in.

The chief tax collector Zachaeus promised a substantial gift to the poor after receiving Jesus into his house, but again there is no evidence he gave up his job as chief tax collector in Jericho. Nor did any of the tax collectors under him.

There’s no evidence the tax collector in the parable today did so either. Still, God’s mercy was at work in them.

We’re reading from Hosea these last two days, the prophet whose wife left him. If I read him right, as Hosea calls out to Israel to come back to God, he’s also calling out to his wife to come back. He seems aware she may not think it possible to come back, so he keeps inviting her. Come back to me. It’s mercy calling out.

We’re reading the parable about the tax collector praying in the back of the temple from Luke’s Gospel. (Luke 18, 9-14) Staying at a distance, eyes down, the tax collector says only a few words:“O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” He recognizes his distance from God and calls for mercy.

The Pharisee’s prayer is so different, so full of himself. He sees no need for mercy. There’s nothing in him that needs redemption. He seems to ask only for applause and approval.

The tax collector asks only for mercy. His prayer is heard so shouldn’t we make it our own? Tax-collectors,  widows and sinners stand closest to where all humanity stands. We all need God’s mercy. We come to God empty-handed.
“O God come to my assistance. O Lord make haste to help me.”

Call for God’s mercy, St. Paul of the Cross often counseled: “I wish you to remain in your horrible nothingness, knowing that you have nothing, can do nothing and know nothing. God doesn’t do anything for those who wish to be something; but one who is aware of his nothingness in truth, is ready. ‘If anyone thinks himself to be something, he deceives himself,’ said the Apostle, whose name I bear unworthily. (St. Paul of the Cross, Letter 1033)

“O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Cyril of Jerusalem: The Power of the Cross

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386), whose feast is celebrated March 18th, was bishop of Jerusalem when the Holy Land was a center for Christian pilgrims. Scholars, like St. Jerome and St. Paula, came to pray and study at the places where Jesus was born and died and rose again. After centuries of persecution, ordinary Christians flocked to the place and an age of pilgrimage began. “The whole world is going to an empty tomb,” St. John Chrysostom said.

From then till our time, the church in Jerusalem powerfully influenced the liturgical, catechetical and devotional life in churches throughout the world. The Stations of the Cross originated here. Cyril was an important catechist of the Jerusalem church, honored today by Christian churches of the east and west for his masterful lenten sermons, preparing catechumens for baptism.

Cyril preached and celebrated the liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, recently built by the Emperor Constantine over the tomb of Jesus where he rose from the dead and calvary where he died. The church still stands today.  Here’s an excerpt from one of his catechetical sermons, preached in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, near where the relic of the cross and the tomb of Jesus were honored. See how he uses places and events remembered close by, Siloam and the man born blind, Lazarus from Bethany, the relic of the Cross.

“The Catholic Church glories in every deed of Christ. Her supreme glory, however, is the cross. Well aware of this, Paul says: God forbid that I glory in anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!

“At Siloam, there was a sense of wonder, and rightly so: a man born blind recovered his sight. But of what importance is this, when there are so many blind people in the world? Lazarus rose from the dead, but even this affected only Lazarus: what of those countless numbers who have died because of their sins? Those miraculous loaves fed five thousand people; yet this is a small number compared to those all over the world who were starved by ignorance. After eighteen years a woman was freed from the bondage of Satan; but are we not all shackled by the chains of our own sins?

“For us all, however, the cross is the crown of victory. It has brought light to those blinded by ignorance. It has released those enslaved by sin. Indeed, it has redeemed the whole of mankind!”

The relic of the cross, rescued from the refuse of Calvary, honored by Cyril in the Jerusalem church. was not just a grim reminder of the suffering of Jesus; it was bathed in the glorious memory  of Jesus’ resurrection celebrated close by in his empty tomb.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

For Morning and Evening Prayers today, 4th week.

St. Patrick: March 17th

National Gallery of Ireland

Let’s not forget the saint at the heart of celebrations today:

From the Confession of Saint Patrick, bishop

Through me many peoples have been reborn in God

I give unceasing thanks to my God, who kept me faithful in the day of my testing. Today I can offer him sacrifice with confidence, giving myself as a living victim to Christ, my Lord, who kept me safe through all my trials. I can say now: Who am I, Lord, and what is my calling, that you worked through me with such divine power? You did all this so that today among the Gentiles I might constantly rejoice and glorify your name wherever I may be, both in prosperity and in adversity.

You did it so that, whatever happened to me, I might accept good and evil equally, always giving thanks to God. God showed me how to have faith in him for ever, as one who is never to be doubted. He answered my prayer in such a way that in the last days, ignorant though I am, I might be bold enough to take up so holy and so wonderful a task, and imitate in some degree those whom the Lord had so long ago foretold as heralds of his Gospel, bearing witness to all nations.  How did I get this wisdom, that was not mine before? I did not know the number of my days, or have knowledge of God. How did so great and salutary a gift come to me, the gift of knowing and loving God, though at the cost of homeland and family? I came to the Irish peoples to preach the Gospel and endure the taunts of unbelievers, putting up with reproaches about my earthly pilgrimage, suffering many persecutions, even bondage, and losing my birthright of freedom for the benefit of others.  

If I am worthy, I am ready also to give up my life, without hesitation and most willingly, for his name. I want to spend myself in that country, even in death, if the Lord should grant me this favour. I am deeply in his debt, for he gave me the great grace that through me many peoples should be reborn in God, and then made perfect by confirmation and everywhere among them clergy ordained for a people so recently coming to believe, one people gathered by the Lord from the ends of the earth.

As God had prophesied of old through the prophets: The nations shall come to you from the ends of the earth, and say: “How false are the idols made by our fathers: they are useless.” In another prophecy he said: I have set you as a light among the nations, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.  It is among that people that I want to wait for the promise made by him, who assuredly never tells a lie. He makes this promise in the Gospel: They shall come from the east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is our faith: believers are to come from the whole world.

Friday, 3rd Week of Lent

Lent 1


Love is the message Jesus offers in our gospel reading today. Love God and love your neighbor, he says to the scribe asking about the greatest commandment . (Mark 12, 28-34) We expect to hear about love on a lenten Friday, since every Friday is associated with the Friday called Good. Lenten Fridays especially prepare us for that great day of love.

The gospels dwell on what took place that day in great detail. Historians, scholars, artists approach the mystery of Jesus’ passion and death in different ways. What political or religious factors were behind it? Who were the people involved? What was crucifixion like? The day is a fascinating conclusion to a fascinating life.

But, above all, it’s a day about love. Hosea, the prophet we hear from in our first reading today was a man in love with a woman who betrayed him for another, but he never forgot her. She was the love of his life, and he saw everything else in the light of that experience. In an instance, he would take her back.

Why did Jesus suffer such a death, we ask? As God’s Son, no one could take his life from him. The only answer we can give is that Jesus gave himself up to death and accepted death on the Cross out of love for his Father and out of love for us. Love caused him to say in the Garden, “Your will be done.” Love called words of forgiveness from the cross: ”Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The cross was not something Jesus endured; he embraced  it with his whole heart, his whole mind and all his strength. Before his cross, we stand before Love.

We should not avoid praying before the cross. All the saints recommend this prayer:

“When you experience dryness in your prayer, gently stir your spirit with loving acts then rest in God. Softly say to him, ‘How bruised your face, how swollen, how disfigured with spit. I see your bones laid bare. What suffering, what blows, what grief. Love is one great wound. Sweet are your wounds, sweet is your suffering. I want to keep you always close to my heart.” (Paul of the Cross:Letter 23)

Lord Jesus Christ,
the scribe in today’s gospel repeated the command to love
and you praised him for it.
May I keep before me the great commandment
to love God and my neighbor
and live it as you did.
Give me that grace. Amen.

Thursday, 3rd Week of Lent

From the day that your fathers left the land of Egypt even to this day,
I have sent you untiringly all my servants the prophets.
Yet they have not obeyed me nor paid heed;
they have stiffened their necks and done worse than their fathers.
When you speak all these words to them,
they will not listen to you either;
when you call to them, they will not answer you.
Say to them:
This is the nation that does not listen
to the voice of the LORD, its God,
or take correction.
Faithfulness has disappeared;
the word itself is banished from their speech. (Jeremiah 7:23-28)

Human beings don’t respond well to God, our pessimistic reading today from Jeremiah says. Nor will people listen to you when you speak to them, God says to the prophet. It’s like that since they came from Egypt. It’s like that today.

In Luke’s Gospel, also read today, Jesus is dismissed as a devil by some in the crowd as he gives a mute person power to speak. By the devil’s power he does this, they say. It’s not the only time it happens. From the beginning of his ministry at Nazareth, Luke’s Gospel read Monday this week reminds us, Jesus was dismissed by his own people

They are not the only ones slow to believe. Naaman the Syrian was ready to go home after they told him his leprosy could be cured by going into the Jordan. It’s only a trickle of a river, he says. He looks for something bigger.

“How slow you are to believe,” Jesus said to the disciples on the way to Emmaus . The same can be said of us.

Yet, the mercy of God is stronger than our unbelief, our Lenten readings say. Jesus continues on to Jerusalem, no matter how unbelieving his own people at Nazareth are,  or the people of Caphernaum, or the leaders of his people, or the crowds in other cities where he taught and worked wonders , or his own disciples, or outsiders like Naaman –or we are.  

No matter how strong human unbelief, Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem, proclaiming the mercy and love of God to a people slow to believe.  So we stay close to him and listen to his word.

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” our responsory says today. Even today, he speaks in an unbelieving world.

Wednesday, 3rd week of Lent

Lent 1

“Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19)

We often hear the Sermon on the Mount during the days of Lent. Let’s listen carefully to Jesus’ words on the mountain today. Before him, Moses brought God’s word to the Israelites from a high mountain. Now, Jesus teaches God’s word as Moses did. He does not abolish what the great patriarch taught; he brings it to fulfillment.

Sublime promises are made here, our God is gracious and near. But we are reminded that sublime things are reached by small steps. We must keep the “least commandments,” to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Lent is a time for remembering that small things like a cup of cold water, a visit to the sick, feeding someone hungry, clothing someone naked, speaking a “word to the weary to rouse them” are important commandments of God.

Yes, lent calls us to think great thoughts and embrace great visions of faith. But the law of God often comes down to small things, and the greatest in the kingdom of God are the best at seeing them.

“The most important things for you are: humility of heart, patience, meekness, charity toward all, and seeing in your neighbor an image of God and loving him in God and for God.” ( St. Paul of the Cross, Letter 1114)

What small step do you want me to take today, O Lord?
Help me see what’s right before me.
There’s a neighbor before me now,
made in your image.
What small gift can I give?

Tuesday, 3rd Week of Lent

Lent 1


In our lenten reading for today Peter’s question about forgiveness (“How many times must I forgive my brother?”) isn’t just his question. It’s a question we all ask.

Jesus answers that we should forgive as God forgives–beyond measure –and he offers a parable about two servants who owe money (a big reason people fight among themselves). The first of the servants owes his master five thousand talents, a huge sum. In an unexpected display of mercy, his master forgives the entire debt.

After being forgiven so much, however, that servant sends off to debtors prison another servant who owes him a few denarii, a mere pittance compared to his debt of ten thousand talents. He won’t forgive this small thing.

Now, isn’t the reason we don’t forgive others just as small? So many grievances and grudges people have against one another are based on small slights they receive, real or imagined. And the small slights never stop. They’re constant and they need constant forgiveness.

In this holy season, we look at God’s immeasurable forgiveness found in the passion and death of Jesus and learn from him. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Seeing God’s forgiveness, the saints say, helps us to forgive. He’s forgiven us so much. Shouldn’t we forgive too?

We need to keep the example of Jesus always in mind, especially the example he gave from the Cross. The founder of my community always  recommended that:
“Always bring to prayer some mystery of the life and passion of Jesus Christ. If then, the Holy Spirit draws you into deeper recollection, follow the breath of the Spirit, but always by means of the Passion. You will thus avoid all illusion.” ( St.Paul of the Cross, Letter 791)

How many times must I forgive today, Lord,
how many times must I be patient, kind, understanding,
willing to carry on even if no one sees or cares?
How many times did you?
Bless me with the graces of your passion and death.

Naaman and Two Mule Loads of Earth

Our first reading today from the Book of Kings about Naaman the Syrian is one of the stories that caused trouble for Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth. He questioned the faith of the people of Nazareth and they were angered enough to want to throw him off the cliff outside the town. 

Naaman’s story is filled with interesting lessons – the little Jewish slave girl who brings the great general with leprosy to Israel is a wonderful apostle, Israel’s king terrified about the political consequences of the visit is a good example of how a political viewpoint can blind you to everything else.

Naaman himself was angry because the prophet never came to the door when he appeared with his big military retinue, then he was told to go and wash seven times in the Jordan. The waters of the Jordan, which he didn’t think much of, cured him. God works in sacraments that appear so small. He brings new life in the waters of Baptism.

Our reading today, though,  omitted part of the story I like. Returning to the Prophet Elisha after he’s cured, Naaman wants to shower the prophet with gifts, but he won’t take any. “Naaman said: “If you will not accept, please let me, your servant, have two mule-loads of earth,* for your servant will no longer make burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the LORD.”

“Two mule-loads of earth.” The Empress Helena brought earth from the site of Calvary to the church of the Holy Cross in Rome in the 4th century when she brought relics of the cross to be honored there. The earth is still there.

We’ve placed rocks from many countries of the world in our Mary Garden at the foot of the statue of Mary and her Child. (Above)

Earth itself is holy. So simple it can be ignored. Yet all life depends on 6 inches of soil. Of all the memorabilia Naaman could have taken from Israel, he took two mule-loads of earth. He learned to appreciate the gifts of God that appear so small. He had it right.

Monday, 3rd Week of Lent

Lent 1


Luke’s Gospel begins the ministry of Jesus with his rejection in his hometown of Nazareth. Rejection is an important part of the mystery of his death and resurrection.  Jesus lived most of his life in Nazareth among “his own.” (Luke 4,24-30) Yet, as he begins his ministry he is rejected by ” his own”  in their synagogue, a rejection Jesus must have carried with him;  how could he forget it?

Crowds welcoming  him to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday call him “the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee,”  but not many from Nazareth accompanied him there.  Some women from Galilee, most importantly his mother Mary, stand by his cross as he dies. Still, Jesus didn’t find much acceptance in Nazareth.. “He came to his own and his own received him not.”

The Cross on Calvary draws attention to the physical sufferings of Jesus in his passion–the scourging, the thorns, the crucifixion. But let’s not forget his interior sufferings, especially rejection from “his own,” who knew him from the beginning. Only a few followed him to Jerusalem.

The lenten gospels tell us rejection doesn’t stop God’s mercy and love. On Calvary Jesus shows God’s love in his outstretched arms.

We share in the great mystery of his death and resurrection. We may never be nailed to a cross as he was, but there are other ways to bear a cross. Rejection by “our own,” perhaps someone close to us, may be one way we share in the sufferings of Jesus.

Lord, help me  face the slights the come from those close by, from my Nazareth, from “my own.” The mystery of your Cross is not played out on Calvary alone, It’s played out in places and people close by, where we live now. Give me the grace to live in my Nazareth as you did in yours.