Tag Archives: judgment

Friday, 1st Week of Lent: Anger and Prayer

Lent 1


Our readings this week are about prayer, not so much the words of prayer–Jesus warned about wordy prayer – but about attitudes that make prayer possible and flow from prayer.

The gift of prayer is always ours, like rain and snow it comes down from heaven, but then there’s the ground it falls on.

In yesterday’s first reading, Queen 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 who prayed prostrate on the ground in Gethsemane. They’re fearful, without resources, humbled, but they do not settle for being humbled, they reach to the One who can raise the up. Humility leads them to pray.

Esther gets more than she asks for– an immediate, surprising victory over her enemies. Jesus is also heard as he prays– after he drinks the cup of suffering he is raised up. Humility leads to prayer and new life.

Today’s reading looks at anger and its relationship to prayer.  

God gets no pleasure from the death of the wicked, Ezekiel says in our first reading, but God rejoices when someone ‘turns from his evil way that he may live,” God is not an angry God, looking to punish. God looks for reconciliation. (Ezekiel 18:21-28)

Jesus also looks for reconciliation, the gospel reminds us, and he sees it as a condition for prayer.

“If you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.

A reconciling person lives respectfully. “Respect” is a wonderful word. It means “to look again” in Latin, to look again at someone to see a value we’ve denied or missed in them. It means looking again at the world around us, or the family we live in. We can give up hope; we can lose our appreciation. Be reconciled, be ready “to look again” Jesus says, or you can miss the gift God gives at the altar.

The anger Jesus condemns in the gospel is that definitive anger that “kills” another, that condemns forever.

The sign of peace we offer at Mass is a sign of God’s call for reconciliation.

Respect is a form of love, St. Paul of the Cross writes, it’s “love loving your neighbor, putting up with the faults of others, looking at all with charity and compassion, having a good opinion of everyone and a bad opinion only of yourself. A simple eye lets you see your neighbor as full of virtues and yourself full of vices, but without discouragement, peacefully, humbly.” (Letter 525)

let me look again at those I judge,
let me see them again as you do,
with mercy and forgiveness.
Make me an instrument of your peace,
bringing life and hope to others, not death

The World to Come

There was an evangelist on TV a couple of years ago, Harold Camping, who was predicting the end the world. He calculated from the Bible that the world was going to end on May 21, 2011 at 6 PM. It was going to be an awful, terrifying event–fires, earthquakes; everything was going to be blown up and destroyed.

Harold had no use for any the churches. They were taken over by the devil, he said. Read the bible, hold on to it; it was the only thing that would save you, he said.

I remember signs on the buses and on billboards announcing judgment day. It was surprising how many people were paying attention to him. Harold not only had the date wrong; he also had God’s plan for our world wrong.

Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which we’re reading at Mass today, sees such a different picture. (Romans 8, 18-25) Paul speaks of a glory that will be revealed. The resurrection of Jesus has changed the way we look at our death and also the way we see the future of creation itself.

The destiny of the created world is linked to our destiny. It wont be destroyed. “Creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God.” It “groans in labor pains” until that day comes, when there will be a “new heaven and a new earth.”

Just as we hope to share in the resurrection of Jesus, we also hope that creation share in it. We ready ourselves now for the future we’ve been promised by a life of loving and caring, a love and care that should extend to the created world. Loving and caring for creation is so urgently needed today, when it suffers from so much human abuse.

“I look forward to the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.” Those words of the creed are so important. I look forward, not in fear but in hope. I look forward to sharing in the glory of the resurrection of Jesus. I look forward to a world to come, when the creation we know now shares in the glory we know then.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

In the parable from Luke that we read this Sunday the rich man is so absorbed in himself and his “good” life that he sees nothing else, not the poor man at his door nor his own inevitable death and judgment. Living in the bubble of the present, nothing else, no one else matters to him.

Jesus often warns against this kind of blindness. The scriptures are filled with similar warnings too. Psalm 49 says “In his riches, man lacks wisdom; he is like the beasts that are destroyed” (Psalm 49). Having too much can make you lose perspective.

It would be a mistake to see this parable directed only to the rich, however. That same psalm calls for “people both high and low, rich and poor alike” to listen.

You don’t have to be rich to be like the rich man in the parable. People who don’t have much can also be small-minded and shortsighted and self-absorbed and blind to those around them. Not only the rich, but we all can be self-centered and locked in our own small worlds, in love with success and blind to the poor at our gate.

The parable says that we’re destined for a life beyond this and how we live and how we help one another now is really what matters. We won’t be judged by how well we took care of ourselves, or the honors we have accumulated. We’ll be judged by how we reached out to one another, especially the poorest, the slowest, and those who seem to fail at life.

The rich man in the parable suddenly became aware of this. He finds himself left out, with not a drop of water to quench his thirst. The tables are turned.

Jesus’ parable reminds us that the kind of blindness the rich man has is very difficult to break down. “Send someone back from the dead to tell my brothers,” the rich man pleads. But even if someone comes back from the dead, they will not believe.

No matter how often we hear them, the parables of Jesus have their surprises. Did you notice that the rich man has no name in the parable, yet the poor man does? His name is Lazarus. Probably in his lifetime, everyone knew the rich man’s name, as one of the rich and famous. Probably few knew the name of the beggar looking for scraps of food at the rich mans’s door.

But God knew poor Lazarus’ name. He knew Lazarus on earth and beyond this life in heaven. Probably a good test: how many Lazarus’s do we know?

source of all good,
good beyond what we have or can see,
give us wisdom to know you and your gifts
and to see others as you see and love them.
Like the blind man, we want to see.

The Poor at Our Door

The rich man in the parable from Luke that we read at Lenten Mass today is so absorbed in himself and his “good” life that he sees nothing else, not the poor man at his door nor his own inevitable death.

The scriptures often speak of that same kind of blindness: “In his riches, man lacks wisdom; he is like the beasts that are destroyed” (Psalm 49). The warning is not just for the rich, however. The same psalm calls for “people both high and low, rich and poor alike” to listen. A small store of talents and gifts can be just as absorbing and make us just as shortsighted as a great store of riches. Whether we have much or little, we can be blind to the poor at our gate.

We’re destined for a life beyond this one and what we do and how we live here will count there. A judgment is comingJesus’ parable offers another reminder. Even if someone returns from the dead, even if Jesus rises from the dead, some will not believe. In him, God offers a share in his risen life. A great gift has been given, but like the sign of Jonah, some will not believe.

One way to adjust our way of thinking is prayer. Our blindness comes because we only see what’s before our eyes. One proof we see is that we’re not blind to the poor before us.


source of all good,

good beyond what we have or can see,

give me wisdom to know you and your gifts

to see as you see and love as you love.

Like the blind man, I want to see.


There’s Gonna Be a Great Day

6th Sunday of Easter

Last weekend in the New York area we were waiting for the end of the world. That’s what the signs in the buses and on billboards predicted. It was a message from Harold Camping, president of Family Radio, who calculated from clues he deciphered in the Bible that  May 21st was the day of judgment and later in October the world would finally come to an end.

Of course, it didn’t happen.

I must confess to being a long time viewer of Harold on his television program Open Forum, which comes on after the Evening News. Monday after the fateful day, I watched him respond to reporters asking for an explanation. The poor reporters didn’t have a chance. Harold has been dealing with questioners like them for years. They didn’t rattle him at all.

A spiritual earthquake occurred, Harold said. He hasn’t given up. The world’s going to end in October, just as he said.  He’s sure of it. I’m not.

I think my interest in Harold comes from his interest in the future when, according to traditional Christian belief,  Jesus “will come to judge the living and the dead.”

For Harold the last judgment is going to be like a scene from The Terminator and other grim science fiction movies that hold the popular imagination today.  The last days are dark days when God gets even with the human race for its sinfulness and unbelief. The world falls apart in scenes of horrible cosmic death and destruction. Not many will be saved.

We are living in tough times and some people think our world isn’t going to make it. That’s why they listen to people like Harold.

What we need to do is listen to the Easter message of Jesus. It’s so different. Listen to him speaking in the gospel today to his disciples who fear they will be abandoned and  wonder about their future. Their world was shaken too.

“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”  “He will lead us to God,” St. Peter says. ( I Peter 3,18)  He gives us the Spirit of truth who will guide us from within. Jesus Christ is our Savior, a saving God.

Our first reading today describes a church experiencing a mysterious, unpredictable growth. From Jerusalem the gospel takes root in neighboring Samaria, an unlikely place to welcome it. From there it reaches to the ends of the Roman world. We believe that the mystery of the Resurrection of Jesus set in motion a great surge of grace.  God reaches out to creation, not to destroy it, but to bring it the blessing of life.

When we say Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead,  we’re not predicting death and rejection. God blesses all time with love. We don’t have to worry about the day or the hour for this to happen. God offers us signs that he is still with us and will stay with us all days. The Eucharist is one of them.

God is with us “now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”

Turning Your Back On Your Own

During lent we’re supposed to turn to God, to pray, fast and give alms. Every church I know has something extra going on for Lent.

But there’s a line from Isaiah in last Friday’s first reading that keep’s coming to me.  It comes after he pointedly says that all the above can just be a gesture if they don’t lead to acts of justice, “releasing those bound unjustly…sharing your bread with the hungry…clothing the naked when you see them…not turning your back on your own…”

“Not turning your back on your own.” That’s the phrase I hear. Who are our own and how do we turn our backs on them? It’s the curse of familiarity that we so often misunderstand or peg into a category those we know. Often enough, we judge them by what they’re done or not done, and end up not knowing them at all. Our memories, unfortunately, are long and narrow. Our appreciation is often driven by self-interest.

Lent is a good time to turn to our own. Putting away our categories, our experiences, our memories and expectations, it’s time to look again at the promise in people we know.

I have some looking to do.