Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 22 
Mark 2: 1-12

For one reason or another, the Gospel chosen to be read for this Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time has always been a favorite of mine. This Gospel tells the story of four men carrying their paralyzed friend to Jesus in the hopes that Jesus will cure him. I think what impresses me the most here is the degree of friendship these four men had for their buddy. I often wonder what they all did together after Jesus cured him and told him to take up his mat and go home. I’ll just bet there was a beer party and a half! And I’ll also bet that the four friends were just as happy as the one whom Jesus cured from paralysis.

One of the worst faults we all blunder into from time to time is taking the good things God has given us for granted. We don’t live in a palace by any stretch of the imagination here at Franciscan Retreats. My room is small but it is clean and comfortable, warm in the winter and cool in the summer and it contains all I need for a rather comfortable life. Yet, how often do I thank God for the place I call home? I take it for granted instead of realizing how blessed I am and thanking God for it.

And another thing we take for granted all too often is our friendships. Where would we be without our friends? One of the biggest problems about growing older – into the late 70’s, 80’s or 90’s – is the fact that we lose our friends. They go to the Lord before we do. It is nice to remember them and to think of the good times together and all they did for us. It is not so good for me to realize how many times I took them for granted.

I play the accordion a little bit and play for a sing-a-long at most of the retreats here. It is fun and I enjoy it and hope the retreatants do also. And at every retreat I mention my good friend George that I met while serving in St. Cecilia’s Parish in Ames, Iowa. George was a wonderful accordion and key-board player and we had many good times in his home together singing, playing together, talking, and just being good, wonderful friends. During my four year stay at Ames, I had some heart problems that finally ended in by-pass surgery in December, 1999. There is more to that than meets the eye with all the hospital visits for this and that, all the tests and so forth. It takes a lot of time. George was always ready to drive me to Des Moines for all of these goings on. He would literally stay there all day if necessary. His friendship knew no bounds. George passed away a few years ago from cancer. I think of him often and of all he did to help me. He was a true friend and I am grateful to God for this gift. I didn’t take him for granted too often, but I know that sometimes I did. I regret this and know that he is still watching over me today.

Friendships are among life’s most beautiful and precious possessions. Take a little time today to pray for your friends, living and deceased, and to thank God for them. They are truly among his greatest gifts to all of us.

Fr. Howard

 


Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time, Feb. 23 
Mark 9: 14-29

In the Gospel chosen to be read today, a man brings his son possessed by a mute spirit (a “demon”) to Jesus’ disciples hoping for them to cure him. They were unable to do so. In rather dramatic fashion, Jesus then drives out the spirit and commands it never to enter the boy again. Later the disciples wonder why they were unable to cast out the spirit. Jesus said to them, “This kind can only come out through prayer.” The disciples found out something that some of us also find out in our lives: It takes prayer to the Lord Jesus to chase out an addiction that is destroying us.

A while back we wrote about “demons” and “unclean spirits”, and said they were various conditions that the people of those times did not understand and called them all by the same name, “demons.” And many of these “demons” the people themselves were powerless over – their will power was unable to handle them. They were helpless over these demons. Today we call them addictions to drink, food, smoking, gambling, sex, drugs, emotions, etc. Willpower is powerless over these things. God must be called upon for help here.

Those of us who fall victim to one or more of these addictions all try to overcome them by our own willpower; and we all fail. We prove to ourselves that we need God in our lives to get back to sanity, wholeness, holiness and recovery from these addictions. It took the human race thousands of years to learn this truth that Jesus makes known to his disciples in today’s Gospel passage.

Thank you, Lord, for being there for us in these times of dire need.

Fr. Howard

 


Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time, Feb. 24 
Mark 9: 30-37

When reading this Gospel chosen to be read today, I always feel the frustration of the Lord Jesus, if that is possible. Here he is teaching his disciples and telling them of his coming passion and death – things that must have been terribly difficult for him to talk about – and the disciples, instead of listening intently to what Jesus was telling them, are arguing amongst themselves about which one of them is the greatest! They just didn’t get it! But the good Lord went with the flow instead of blowing his stack at their lack of attention to his words.

Jesus then spoke to them concerning a different topic: service to others. Almost every page of the Scriptures shows Jesus as the Compassionate One, the Healing One, and the Servant of all. To me this is one of the greatest messages of the Scriptures – serving others with our God-given gifts and talents.

Let us reflect now on our service to others, both in and outside of our families. Where can I improve and make progress in this most important teaching of the Gospels?

Fr. Howard

 


ASH WEDNESDAY, Feb. 25 
Joel 2: 12-18

“Remember, you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

These are the words the minister will say today as he/she signs you on the forehead with the blessed ashes. Not very reaffirming words, are they? How would you like it if your best friends came up to you and said, “Hi, you big pile of dirt.”? That, I dare say, would test that friendship a bit. Yet, that is what we are. We are dust, dirt – nothing more, nothing less.

Today we begin the season of Lent. For me, Lent is a time of inventory, a time to take a searching and fearless look at myself. First, we should note that inventory is not a history. If you were taking an inventory in a grocery store, you wouldn’t count the can of beans you sold twenty years ago; you count the can of beans on the shelf right now. Secondly, the inventory must be searching, thorough, fearless, honest and humble in order to see myself as I truly am. Above all, it must be honest. We have to get rid of our neat little habits of denial, our alibis, our manipulating, rationalizing and just plain lying. Let’s set aside our delusions. Let’s get down to the reality of the matter. Who am I really? What are my good points and what do I see in myself that needs changing to make me a better human being?

While I am asking these questions, taking this inventory, I should be focusing on the Great Commandment: the love of God and the love of neighbor. What is on the shelf right now that is blocking me from loving God more and from loving my neighbor more? This, in a nutshell, is what the season of Lent is all about for me. It is work. It is scary, but it needs to be done – just like spring house-cleaning.

Fr. Howard

 


Thursday after Ash Wednesday, Feb. 26 
Luke 9: 22-25

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

This little quote reminds me of the spiritual principle of surrender, of turning my will and life over to God, putting him in the driver’s seat and letting him be in control. Keeping the idea of yesterday concerning our being dirt in mind, if we turn this dirt over to God, what is he going to do with it? He is going to give it back to us as top soil.

Now there is dirt and there is dirt. My Dad was a pretty good gardener, one of those that if he touched it, it would grow. I can remember him going to the nursery on occasion for a bag of top soil for planting flowers. Top soil is in the dictionary, I discovered, and it is described as surface soil usually including the organic layer in which plants have most of their roots and which the farmer turns over in plowing. To me this means the good stuff in which the flowers will really grow well. This top soil is what Jesus gives us back in exchange for our common dirt when we let him be in control, when he is our way, truth and life. Only then are we truly happy and at peace. Only then will we bear good fruit.

Fr. Howard

 


Friday after Ash Wednesday, Feb. 27 
Isaiah 58: 1-9

During the season of Lent, we hear the word “fast” or “fasting” a lot. The Prophet Isaiah in the first reading for today’s Liturgy tells us how to fast so as to please the Lord. Many of us have been taught and believe that if we cut back a little on the amount of food we eat in one day that we are fasting. And maybe there is something to this. But according to Isaiah, the good Lord could care less about this type of fasting. Isaiah quotes God: “Is this the fasting I wish, that a man bow his head like a reed and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast?”

And then he goes on to tell us the type of fasting that is acceptable to the Lord, which amounts to putting into practice the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. Let’s refresh our memories of what these are by listing them here for all to consider:

The Spiritual Works of Mercy are: Convert the sinner, Instruct the ignorant, Counsel the doubtful, Comfort the sorrowful, Bear wrongs patiently, Forgive injuries, and Pray for the living and the dead.

The Corporal Works of Mercy are: Feed the hungry, Give drink to the thirsty, Clothe the naked, Shelter the homeless, Visit the sick, Visit those in prison, and Bury the dead.

Let’s take note of these as we try and figure out how to “fast” during Lent.

Fr. Howard

 


Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Feb. 28 
Isaiah 58: 9-14

Today’s first reading from Isaiah follows yesterday’s and continues the theme of what to do during the season of Lent that will indeed please the Lord. This reading should be read by all of us, and needs no explanation or homilizing. So, I am simply going to quote the words of Isaiah here from chapter 58, verses 9-14:

“Thus says the Lord: If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; Then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday; Then the Lord will guide you always and give you plenty even on the parched land. He will renew your strength and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails. The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake, and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up; “Repairer of the breach,” they will call you, “Restorer of ruined homesteads.”

If you hold back your foot on the Sabbath from following your own pursuits on my holy day; If you call the Sabbath a delight, and the Lord’s holy day honorable; If you honor it by not following your ways, seeking your own interests, or speaking with malice – Then you shall delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will nourish you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Lord, please continue to teach me your ways, that I may walk hand in hand with you in your truth.

Fr. Howard

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