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.

Water for a New Garden

Here’s St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Instruction to Catechumens and his description of the Spirit as living water. Fire and wind are the forceful, powerful symbols that describe the Holy Spirit, but don’t forget water. It’s the symbol Jesus used when the met the Samaritan woman in today’s gospel: 

The water I shall give him will become in him a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life. This is a new kind of water, a living, leaping water, welling up for those who are worthy. But why did Christ call the grace of the Spirit water? Because all things are dependent on water; plants and animals have their origin in water. Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same in itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.

  In the same way the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple and indivisible, apportions grace to each one as he wills. Like a dry tree which puts forth shoots when watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit. Although the Spirit never changes, the effects of his action, by the will of God and in the name of Christ, are both many and marvelous.

  The Spirit makes one a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one person’s self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the needs of the body, trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same. In each person, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good.

  The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden, for he is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as he approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console. The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him, and then, through him, the minds of others as well.”

Jesus promises the Samaritan woman the gift of living water. So, according to Cyril, the Holy Spirit is a fountain of living water bringing life to a new garden. At Pentecost the heavens opened as in the beginning. At Pentecost there’s an outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh, Peter says,  and a new kind of water is poured out on the earth:

“Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams.” Acts 2,17 Then, many came to be baptized. We’re welcoming new members to our church this Easter.

   Fire can go out, winds die down, but a fountain of living water keeps flowing, now, tomorrow, all through the years, until God’s work is complete in the garden of creation.

3rd Week of Lent: Readings and Feasts

 MARCH 13 Mon Lenten Weekday6 2 Kgs 5:1-15ab/Lk 4:24-30 

14 Tue Lenten Weekday Dn 3:25, 34-43/Mt 18:21-35 

15 Wed Lenten Weekday Dt 4:1, 5-9/Mt 5:17-19 

16 Thu Lenten Weekday Jer 7:23-28/Lk 11:14-23 

17 Fri Lenten Weekday [St Patrick, Bishop] Hos 14:2-10/Mk 12:28-34 

18 Sat Lenten Weekday

[St Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop Doctor ] Hos 6:1-6/Lk 18:9-14 


1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a/Eph 5:8-14/Jn 9:1-41 or 9:1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38

Last week’s weekday readings ended with the story of the Prodigal Son; this week’s end with the tax collector who prays in the temple and finds mercy. There are also readings from the Book of Hosea this week; he’s the prophet whose unbroken love for his unfaithful wife reminds us of God’s relationship with humanity. God wants us back.

The Sunday’s readings from cycle A, the Temptation of Jesus and his Transfiguration are basic catechetical teachings. The 3rd Sunday readings, from the Book of Exodus and John’s multi-leveled account of the meeting of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, prepare us to meet him in sacraments. 

The story of Naaman the Syrian general (Monday) is also a multi-leveled story. Naaman’s appreciation of the saving water of the Jordan recalls the mystery of baptism, celebrated in the Easter mysteries.

Naaman and the Samaritan woman, both interesting characters, remind us that sacraments are meant for complicated people who are drawn gradually into the mysterious reality of God’s grace.

Sacraments can be easily forgotten or unappreciated, simple signs as they are. They draw on the natural world, which can also be unappreciated, as we are learning today. 

Can a renewed appreciation of nature lead to a greater understanding of the sacraments? Can figures like the Samaritan woman and Naaman Can figures like the Samaritan woman and Naaman remind us that the sacraments are meant for people immersed in their own time and place?


For this week’s homily please watch the video below.

3rd Sunday of Lent a

When I was a boy, many years ago, I learned about my faith through the questions and answers of the catechism. “Who is God?” “God is a pure spirit, infinitely perfect.” “Where is God?” “God is everywhere.” “Why did God make you?”  “God made me to know him, to love him and to serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next.”

If I were to enter the Catholic Church today I would be given a copy of the Apostles’ Creed” which is a summary of our faith, and I would be asked to listen carefully to this reading from John, the meeting of Jesus with the Samaritan woman. It’s one of the great catechetical gospels we read in lent. 

John’s gospel says that Jesus set out from Judea, where John the Baptist was baptizing, for his native Galilee, and he that he “had” to pass through Samaria where he met a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. 

He “had” to meet this woman. So it’s not by chance that Jesus meets her.

“It was about noon, and Jesus, tired from the journey, was sitting by the well.” 

The Samaritan woman came for water. She comes alone at noon, not the usual morning or evening time, when women came in groups with their water jars.

And…she doesn’t hesitate at the sight of a man there, obviously a Jew, whom the Samaritans intensely disliked. She answers sarcastically when Jesus asks for a drink! 

“What! You a Jew, ask for a drink from a Samaritan woman?” She’s a strong woman.

But Jesus, tired as he is, keeps talking to her, about thirst and the living waters God provides, and gradually, as he talks, the woman recognizes he’s speaking about more than water in the well. He’s speaking about the fulfillment of all the dreams associated with this holy place. 

Jesus tells her something, however, she’d rather not hear: 

“You have had five husbands, the man you are living with now is not your husband.”

She must have heard this, less as an accusation than as the truth; she doesn’t turn away. 

She puts down her water jar and hurries to the town to tell her neighbors about the one she’s met. For two days Jesus stays in that town, the gospel says. The tired One who sat by Jacob’s well and talked to the woman is welcomed as a Savior.

Those entering the Catholic Church today are usually given a copy of the Apostles’ Creed, and the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman, from St. John’s gospel, is read. What should we take from this story?

The story reminds us of two important things. 

First, that God gives the gift of faith. We don’t bring ourselves to faith; it’s God’s gift.  And God keeps offering  this gift. Through faith God keeps helping us see who we are, our place in this world, and promises us what we can’t imagine.

Secondly, it reminds us that we receive faith like the Samaritan woman. We’re people of our own time and place, with our own opinions, prejudices and experiences of life. But whoever we are, God offers us the gift of faith. 

God continually engages us from our experiences, however complicated and disturbing they are.  

It’s important, too, to see that Jesus, weary as he is, keeps talking to the Samaritan woman. God keeps talking to her. 

Some think that our church can’t say anything meaningful to people today. It’s too old and tired, and our world is too complicated for its message.  Our gospel however seems to say an old and tired church should keep talking to the world today. Like the tired Jesus, it has something important to say.

Jesus at the well is an image of our loving, patient God. He’s also an image for our church.

Saturday, 2nd Week of Lent: the Prodigal Son

Rembrandt, Return of the Prodigal, Moscow

The story of the prodigal son is one of the longest in the gospel, but it’s also one of the most important. It’s not just about one boy who goes astray, of course, it’s about the whole human race– all of us– are the subject of this story.

“Give me what’s mine,” the son says boldly to his father. We all tend to say that. And the boy takes off for a faraway country, a permissive paradise that promises power and pleasure, in fact, it promises him everything;  he can do anything he wants.

But they’re empty promises, and so the boy who had so much ends up with nothing, in a pigsty feeding pigs, and they eat better than he does.

Then, he takes his first step back. He “comes to himself,” our story says; he realizes what he has done. “I have sinned.” 

How straightforward that reaction! Not blaming anybody else for the mess he is in: not his father, or the prostitutes he spent so much of his money on, or the society that fooled him. No, he takes responsibility. That “coming to himself” was the first gift of God’s mercy.

He doesn’t wallow in his disappointment and his sins and his failures and what they’ve brought him. They don’t trap him. He looks beyond them to the place where he belongs, his father’s house. It wont be an easy road, but he starts back home.

There he’s surprised by the welcome he receives. More than he ever expected. The father takes into his arms and calls for feast.

This is our story too. The story of God’s mercy. Let’s ask for the gift to know ourselves. Let ask for the gift to keep going to our father’s house. Let’s ask for the gift to know God’s embrace, God’s warm embrace. The embrace of his love.

Our first reading from the Prophet Micah reminds us that nations stray as well as individuals. Let’s not forget God’s mercy falls on the world as well as each person.  We pray for a world that can wander far from God.

How easily we leave your side,

Lord God,

for a place far away.

Send light into our darkness,

and open our eyes to our sins.

Unless you give us new hearts and strong spirits,

we cannot make the journey home,

to your welcoming arms and the music and the dancing.

Father of mercies and giver of all gifts,

guide us home

and lead us back to you.