Father Howard Hansen’s Reflections
for The Ninth Week in Ordinary Time 2011
Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
March 6, Mt. 7: 21-27
Often times when people come to me for confession, I begin by asking them if they are happy. If they answer “yes,” that is a clue for me that they are on the right track, they are OK, they are doing things the right way, the way of the Lord. If they answer “no,” or “not very,” or something like that, I know there is something amiss and then let’s talk about it.
The last part of our Gospel (Mt. 7: 24-27) for this Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time is about the virtue of prudence. St. Thomas Aquinas defines prudence in 3 Latin words: recta ratio agibilium = the right way of doing things. The prudent man in today’s Gospel is the man who built his house on rock. The winds blew, the floods came, but it didn’t bother the home at all. It was solid. The other man, the fool, built his house on sand and when the rain and floods came the house washed away. The prudent man is wise, good, smiling, because he is doing things the right way. The imprudent man, the fool, is probably scowling with no smile in sight because he is doing things the wrong way.
Every human being with the use of human reason has at their very core what is called the natural law. Human beings are presumed by law to have this by the age of 7. The natural law is the law of our very nature, part of our essence, our whatness. And it is from the natural law that we learn what is right and what is wrong. Then, we have a choice – to do the right or to do the wrong. This law is universal. Every human being has it in their heart, their inner soul. You can’t escape it. To follow it equals a smile, not following it equals a scowl. What is contained in this law? For me it is very simple: Do unto others as you would have them do to you. The good old Golden Rule. The great philosopher, Thomas Hobbs, complicated matters a bit and lists 19 laws in the natural law. Obviously we cannot go into all that here. But if you go to Wikipedia, you can find them listed and discussed if you are interested. I prefer to keep it simple.
The important thing to remember is that this law is present in all of us. We do know what is right and what is wrong, we know that 2+2=4. Our choice is sometimes affected by ignorance but one way or the other we do know the difference between right and wrong.
Don’t get into all that gobbledegook about maybe, perhaps, possibly, etc. If you have a doubt about something, resolve it. Acting in the state of doubt is stupid and foolish like the imprudent man in the Gospel. Doing what is wrong is selfish, darkness. Doing what is right is love, serving others with our gifts.
So the choice is up to us because of our God-given free will. I can choose to do wrong and end up weeping and miserable. Or I can choose to do the right and end up smiling and happy.
What is my choice? What is yours?
Monday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
March 7, Mark 12: 1-12
“They will respect my son.”
Today’s Gospel selection is the parable of the Leased Vineyard. An owner leases his vineyard to others and then goes on a trip. When he returns, he wants his rightful share of the harvest. He sent his servants a couple of times to receive his share but both times the ones who had leased the vineyard beat or killed his servants. Finally, the owner sent his son sure that they would respect him. But they rejected and killed the son also.
We can see in this parable the parallel of God the Father, the owner of the vineyard, leasing his kingdom to Israel, and sending the Prophets to remind them to give God his share of the harvest for what they had received. They killed the Prophets and also the Son whom he sent after the Prophets. This parable also gives us the opportunity to look at the idea of respecting God and our Neighbor in our daily living.
The word respect comes from the Latin respicere which literally means to “look at again,” to look back, to regard. It is an act of giving particular attention of high or special regard. Respect is a beautiful virtue and one that is necessary for any relationships with others. It means that I think enough of the dignity and worthiness of God and Neighbor to look back at you again and again. Respecting someone means they are special to us. This certainly applies to God and to every living creature, human and beast, that we come in contact with. Respect is the complete opposite of prejudice, hatred, war, capital punishment and a lot of other nasty things that hurt others.
It also seems to me that our respect goes out too to animals and pets. They are not to be abused. God gave them to us as gifts. They all have the precious gift of life which we should all respect.
Let’s all take the time today to think about the virtue of respect in our lives. Am I totally satisfied with the respect I have for God, Neighbor, animals, the environment and the beautiful world in which I live? Where can I improve?
Tuesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
March 8, Mark 12: 13-17
After what we just said yesterday about the virtue of respect, up pops the Pharisees and Herodians in today’s Gospel “sent to Jesus to ensnare him in his speech.” Obviously, they did not respect Jesus’ person.
From the very first time I read it, I have always been in awe at the response given to the Pharisees and Herodians by Jesus when they asked him if it was lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not. Jesus told them, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Do you suppose we could use this Scripture quote in favor of the separation of church and state? Anyhow, the Pharisees and the Herodians “were utterly amazed at him too.” I only wish that their amazement was enough to bring them to respect Jesus, but we know it didn’t. They went on and on, playing their little games with Jesus and becoming more and more frustrated at his seeing through them.
A thought for today out of all this? Do we play games with God through our alibis, excuses, rationalizations, delusion, denial and manipulation?
ASH WEDNESDAY, the beginning of Lent
March 9, Joel 2: 12-18, Mt. 6: 1-6, 16-18
“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord your God.” (From the First Reading for Ash Wednesday from the Prophet Joel.)
When considering the meaning of words used in Sacred Scripture from the Greek or Hebrew, I often make the remark that my receiving a passing grade for these two languages in the seminary is another proof for the existence of God. The prof must have been deaf or blind or just a real nice guy. I suspect the latter. But I do have a book (!!!) that explains the proper, detailed meanings of these words. And that book, Expository Dictionary of the Bible Words is in English, which I do understand.
The reason I mention all of this is because the Season of Lent, which begins today, calls us all to turn. This is what Lent is all about. The Hebrew word for repentance is to turn, like the U turn we find ourselves making often while driving when we discover we are going in the wrong direction.
There are 4 Hebrew words for the English word turn each with a slightly different nuance of meaning. They are SUR, PANAH,SHUB, and NATAH. SUR is a verb that appears around 300 times in the Scriptures with the meaning remove or depart, turn away, turn aside. PANAH is found 135 times in Scripture meaning to turn or look, turn away, look away or look toward, turning around. SHUB occurs over 1000 times in Scripture and NATAH about 200 times. NATAH means started, started out, turn away.
The one we are after for our Lenten purposes is SHUB, used exclusively for human beings expressing sorrow for sins. It has the primary meaning of turn, return, as well as other related words such as repent, which is the main idea we are trying to track down here. The Hebrew word for repent is NAHAM and describes the process of changing one’s mind. Repenting also carries the idea of being sorry or regretting a particular action. In the New Testament, the Greek word METANOEA is used to mean repent and refers exclusively to turning from one’s sin.
So there you have it. Today we enter a Liturgical Season of turning – one meant to emphasize here the relational paradigm in modern thought. This, of course, brings into play the Great Commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind, all your heart, all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself. When I look at myself openly and honestly and do a thorough examen, what do I see that is keeping me from loving God and my neighbor more? I want to turn away from these preventive defects – make a U turn – and go in the other direction toward a greater and more intimate love of God and my neighbor.
And following that old AA cliche that shows up periodically in these homilies: Let’s Do It, Dammit.
A big paradox! You have to lose your life for the sake of Christ if you want to find it, save it. We lose the temporal life we have with all its allurements, its vitality, for the life of Christ, the life of the cross. In order to live for Christ we must die to ourselves. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily.” Once again, it is not all about me. It is all about the values of Jesus that raise us to new life. It is about giving up, turning away from violence, hatred, war, killing, selfishness, greed, lust to the extreme, anger and rage in place of love, caring, compassion, forgiving others, service to others, denial of self and on and on with the many values of Christ that bring us true happiness and peace. This is what Lent is about; we must focus on our crosses, carry them to the best of our ability, and accept them, whatever they are, with patience, love and thanksgiving to God. And all of us know how much easier it is to say these things and write these things than to actually do them. I never stop being human and that human tug of pleasure instead of pain is forever in there trying to prevent me from turning in the direction I should go.
I believe, too, that there is more to the various Liturgical Penitential Seasons of the Church than “giving up things,” giving gifts, Christmas trees and Easter eggs. These Seasons have a distinctive meaning and purpose for us to accomplish. As we have already seen a dozen times, Lent wants us to turn from the old person to the new person enhanced by the values of Christ. And I believe God’s grace is just super available to us at these special times of the year.
God is near to us in Lent. Let us ask his help for some honest changing, turning, in our lives.
Friday after Ash Wednesday
March 11, Mt. 9: 14-15
The readings for today’s Liturgy are all about fasting. In general, there are 2 or 3 words in Hebrew and Greek in the Bible for fasting and quite simply it is about not overindulging in food. Various other authors in Scripture, such as Isaiah in the first reading today (Isaiah 58: 1-9) give us a different aspect. I personally see nothing against limiting the amount of food I take in during Lent or whenever. I also do not think this giving up things is at the top of the virtue ladder either. It’s just common sense what with all the talk about the obesity that exists in our society today.
But if we really want to carry the cross, die to ourselves, we will take a serious look at what Isaiah means by fasting in the above given site. The Prophet speaks with the voice of God saying, “This rather is the fasting I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke, setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke, sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and homeless, clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.” WOW!!! That puts a little bite into fasting that giving up peanut butter and jelly sandwiches doesn’t even come close to.
Let’s spend a little time today asking God just what he is trying to tell us about fasting during Lent. Take the list given above from Isaiah one at a time and reflect on them. And let’s make haste slowly here.
Saturday after Ash Wednesday
March 12, Luke 5: 27-32
“Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the custom post. He said to him, “Follow me.”
Today’s Gospel from St. Luke is a good one to wrap up our start of the Season of Lent. We got our feet wet, tested the turning water, if you will, and now we can get to it.
Jesus invites us to “follow him,” just as he did with the Twelve. I believe we can look at these words in Scripture today and regard them as a personal invitation. So let’s sharpen up our willingness and go for it. The desire to do something, to be willing to do it even though it hurts, is always the first necessity in getting anything accomplished.
I would like to close this brief Saturday homily with a short prayer that is special to me and probably to every recovering alcoholic I know. It is often referred to as the Step Three Prayer and is found on page 63 of the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous. It goes like this:
“God, I offer myself to Thee – to build with me and to do with
me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may
better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them
may bear witness to those I would help of Thy power, Thy love,
and Thy way of life. May I do your will always.”