First Sunday of Lent, Feb. 21
Luke 4: 1-13
“Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” (Hebrews 2: 18).
We have all probably heard the expression: “It takes one to know one,” or the same thing, “It takes one to help one.” I hear this all the time in dealing with alcoholism: It takes an alcoholic to help an alcoholic. There is a lot of truth in these sayings, but they are not infallible. I do well helping another alcoholic to understand the disease he or she has. But this is not to say that others who are not alcoholic cannot help them too. However, I do find it valuable to have experienced the same feelings the person in need of help is feeling. When another alcoholic tells me he feels hopeless, I can dig that. I’ve been there and felt that many times too. I think this is what the author of Hebrews is trying to tell us in the above quote: Jesus was tempted to abandon God, so he is able to help us when we have the same temptation. Jesus literally knows how we feel. Scripture tells us he was like us in all things but sin. He knows what it is to be human. In his humanness he encountered every problem we do and overcame every temptation we might have had. He knows well who and what we are.
Basically, every temptation we have tries to get us to turn our backs on God and do things our own way. This is exactly what the Devil tried to do with Jesus in today’s Gospel. Many times we blame God for our difficulties or crises we are experiencing and want nothing more to do with him. We try and run away from him. I tried this in my own life, but finally came to realize I was heading in the wrong direction. It was only when I allowed God back into my life and started to run toward him in prayer that things took a turn for the better and eventually for the best.
To turn back to God takes us back to the fundamental act of surrendering to God. Nothing is going to go right for very long until I do this and keep renewing it when I go off on my own again. Jesus tells us in Scripture in the parable of the Vine and the Branches that without him we can do nothing. And he is not just speaking words. As we see any number of times in the Gospels: If Jesus is not steering the boat, the winds and storms will capsize it. With him, there are calm and peaceful seas.
In view of all this, let us now pray in silence the opening prayer for today’s Liturgy:
Lord our God, you formed us from the clay of the earth and breathed into us the spirit of life, but we turned from you and sinned. In this time of repentance we call out for your mercy. Bring us back to you and to the life your Son won for us by his death on the cross. Amen, Amen. So be it, So be it.
Feast of the Chair of Peter, Feb. 22
Mt. 16: 13-19
The Lenten weekdays give way to solemnities and feasts. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter.
In celebrating this feast, we are not honoring a chair but rather the one who sits in the chair, the cathedra. Every cathedral has a cathedra, a chair, which is symbolic of the power and person of the Bishop who governs the diocese. The word cathedral itself comes from this word cathedra. The Chair of Peter of which we speak in this feast is thought to be the actual chair St. Peter used as Bishop of Rome. It is encased in a gold reliquary, sculpted by the famous sculptor, Bernini, and is seen at the very end of the cathedral of St. Peter in Rome.
Today we pray for the man who now occupies that chair of authority, Pope Benedict XVI. He is our leader, our guide, the head of our Church and represents Jesus Christ and his ministry here on earth. We pray for him and for our local Bishops every time we offer the Sacrifice of the Mass. They are not gods, but they are our leaders. They are human beings and make mistakes just like we do. We may not always agree with them, but that is OK too. They, like us, are giving it their best shot. Let us continue to pray for them all and to always give them the respect and honor that is their due as our leaders. Like everyone else, let God be their judge. That is not part of our job description. And let us all hope that each day they remember all of us in their prayers.
Tuesday of the First Week of Lent, Feb. 23
Mt. 6: 7-15
Jesus was a man of prayer. How often in the Scriptures do we see him going to a private, quiet place to pray to his Father. He prays before his baptism by John the Baptist, and before the transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. He prays all night before he chooses the Apostles and before his passion and death on the cross. His disciples saw this and asked him to teach them to pray. His response to their asking was to teach them the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father.
The first two words of this prayer, Our Father, are really all we need. They tell us we are all children of God! God is our Father and he loves us, cares for us, listens to us and knows what we need before we ask. He forgives us as any Father forgives his children. He calls us to communicate with him daily. When I stop and think that this is God who wants to listen to me, communicate with me, it blows my mind. My God and Creator, Lord of the universe, listens and speaks to me. What a privilege, what a miracle, what a gift! How can I not pray? How can I not take advantage of his goodness and love for his daughters and sons? How can I continue to go my own way as though he was not there or did not care?
My God, my Father, my heart overflows with gratitude toward you for all you are to all of us who you love so much.
Wednesday of the First Week of Lent, Feb. 24
Luke 11: 29-32
Many of the prophets, upon being called by the Lord, headed out in a direction away from the Lord to escape doing the job. Jonah is no exception to this. He wanted nothing to do with the Ninivites and attempted to run in the other direction. Sorry, Jonah, that’s the wrong thing to do! As we all know, the boat he was trying to escape on ran into a terrible storm and was about to capsize when the crew blamed Jonah for their bad luck because he was disobeying the Lord. They threw him overboard and he was swallowed up by a whale which spewed him out of its mouth close to the location where the Lord wanted him to go in the first place.
Jonah finally began to preach repentance to the Ninivites and lo and behold, instead of getting rid of Jonah or killing him, they listened to him and repented. Chalk one up for the Lord! This story shows us that God’s forgiveness and compassion know no bounds; he even forgave the terrible Ninivites when they listened to Jonah. He will forgive us, too, no matter what, if only we approach him and ask him.
Thursday of the First Week of Lent, Feb. 25
Mt. 7: 7-12
The first reading for today’s Liturgy shows God answering the prayer of Queen Esther. In the Gospel for today, he assures us he will hear our prayer too: “Ask, and you will receive. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened to you.” God gives us a guarantee that he will grant every good thing asked for to those who ask, seek, and knock. How can we turn down such an invitation?
Let us take the time to pray every day, asking our heavenly Father to show us the way, the truth, and to give us happiness and joy in his abundant life. Let us not forget to pray to such a loving and devoted Father.
Friday of the First Week of Lent, Feb. 26
Mt. 5: 20-26
“Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”
Freedom carries along with it responsibility. I have a free will. I can do as I wish. But what I do, I am responsible for. Both readings for today’s Liturgy are telling us this important fact.
I have spoken before in these homilies about the five criteria for normal and mature behavior and this is one of them: I am responsible for my own actions. Yet, we all are prone to blame what we do on others. It’s like that comedian, Flip Wilson, who used to be on TV and would always say: The devil made me do it. The devil doesn’t make us do anything! We are responsible for what we do. But we alibi, blame others, make excuses and rationalizations, all of which amount to nothing.
How are we at accepting the responsibility that is ours for our own actions? This is something to take a good look at during this season of Lent.
Saturday of the First Week of Lent, Feb. 27
Mt. 5: 43-48
When I was a child and my Mom asked me to do something, she expected me to do it – no questions asked. And Mom didn’t like to ask me to do something and have me ask in return: Why? She just wanted me to do it. I figure God works in the same way. When he tells us, as he does in today’s Gospel, to love our enemies, he expects us to do it. No ifs, ands, whys or whats about it – just do it!
He also asks us in today’s Gospel to walk in his ways, observe his statutes, hearken to his voice. Only if we do this, only if we fulfill the expectations of God for us, will we be a people sacred to the Lord our God. It is up to us to carry out his expectations for us. Psalm 119, the responsorial psalm for today, puts it quite succinctly: You have commanded that your precepts be diligently kept.
Oh, that I may be firm in the ways of keeping your statutes. Lord, help me to walk in your footsteps and do all that you command.