"Since we have a great high priest ... Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession." These are the opening words of THIS SUNDAYS NEW TESTAMENT READING...
SUNDAY 28 FEBRUARY
Scripture: Luke 13: 1 – 9
How wonderful to be given a second chance! We have all made mistakes and experienced failure. It seems to be a natural part of life. When given a second chance do (did) we grasp the opportunity and make a real attempt to do better?
Lent is a time for us to try to do better and to be better; a chance to experience real metanoia – a change of heart in order that we may improve our lives. Often we revery to our old ways and habits once Lent is over. How sad! It means that we have not really had a genuine conversion experience. This is what Lent is about – an effort to rid ourselves of certain bad habits and attitudes in order that we may live better lives.
Jesus has come to give us a second chance. He preaches, teaches and leads by his own example so that we may change and transform our lives to become better people. Through the care, effort and work of his Church he helps us to bear fruit so that we will not be cut down like the fig tree which was taking up the ground but producing nothing.
Did he not say “By their fruit you will know them?” Matthew 7: 16 Are we producing the fruit of Christian living? Do people readily recognise us as followers of Jesus by the way we live our lives, through our attitude, behaviour and lifestyle?
It is not as if he holds our guilt and failure against us. He gives us every opportunity to start again. Every time we go to Confession we are given a second chance. We are ransomed, healed, restored and forgiven. Our hearts are made new and we are restored to the innocence of our Baptism. So why do we choose to live in the filth of our sins and not grasp the opportunity to be made new, to start again? Perhaps we grow accustomed to the stench of our sins and no longer notice them. So we choose to live with them by dulling our consciences and sense of right and wrong by many excuses, justifications, lies to ourselves and, the age old irrational reasoning – ‘well everyone else is doing it.’
Think about what Jesus is wanting to do for you “leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it; it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.” Take full advantage of the opportunity Lent offers for renewal, change and transformation. In his mercy Jesus is wanting to give you all the help you need to become a better person and to produce fruit in abundance. After all this, there can be no excuses when eventually we stand before God.
Make a firm commitment to go to Confession on Saturday or at the Parish Penitential Service before Easter. Use this God-given opportunity to make a fresh start. Then feel the difference: Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven!
Change my heart O God. Strengthen me by your love that I may be better and do better. Amen.
MONDAY 29 FEBRUARY
Scripture 2 Kings 5: 1 – 15 and Luke 4: 24 – 30
Often, a well-meaning act or casual comment, goes horribly wrong, and all because it is misunderstand or seen in a different light, a light that is not familiar to the hearer.
In today’s Scripture from the Second Book of Kings, a servant girl to the wife of Naaman, a commander in the army of King Aram, suggests that Naaman would do well, to present himself to the prophet Elisha who would cure him of his leprosy. When Naaman tells his king about this recommendation, he is given a letter by this king, to the king of Israel. Naaman goes to the king of Israel, not to the prophet, and the king tears his clothes in a rage to show his indignation at being asked to cure someone from a foreign country. Why did Naaman choose to go to the king? Was it a simple error of judgment, or was it out of pride? After all, isn’t a king far more important than a prophet like Elisha? Then, in an attempt to save the day, Elisha sends a note to Naaman, telling him to bath in the river Jordan, but again the message is misunderstood, because Naaman feels that he has been snubbed by the prophet.
“How dare he send a messenger, rather than appear to me in person! How dare he tell me to bathe in the river Jordan, a filthy, dirty, stinky river that could not be compared with any of the great rivers of Naaman’s own country. This is how Naamam was thinking.
It takes a servant of Naaman’s to bring him down to earth. This servant points out that, if the prophet had come himself and asked Naamam to do something difficult, Naaman would probably have done it without a fuss. But because it was a simple request, brought by a messenger, Naaman felt that Elisha was not really sympathetic or overly concerned with his problem. Thankfully, the servant was thinking sensibly, and fortunately, Naaman listens to the servant and, goes to the Jordan River, bathes and is cured. This must surely remind us that pride often causes us to ignore the truth and we hurt ourselves in the process by ignoring it.
In the Gospel passage we see this same scenario being played out again, when Jesus points out, that no prophet is accepted in his own land. He reminds his audience, that there were many lepers in Israel at the time of Elisha, but it was a Syrian, Naaman, who was healed – not a Jew. Unfortunately, driven by pride, those in the synagogue, become very angry at this comment, and miss the point Jesus is trying to make. Instead they plan to kill him.
Often we react in a similar fashion, and as a result we miss the very same lesson that Jesus was trying to teach the Jews. We often fail to think things through and, as a result, we miss the boat. So when we feel offended by a comment, let us first stop to think, then pray for guidance and only after we have done this, react to the comment we have heard.
Always look before you leap, don’t react impulsively to the comments and actions of others. First stop and think, then pray for the person who may be trying to embarrass you, and you will feel and react far better. Who knows, you may even make them regret their comment or action because of your lack of response, and maybe they will become more aware of their own faults and failings as a result. Then you will have helped someone not caused a rift with them.
Lord Jesus Christ, you said we should turn the other cheek when we have been slapped in the face. Help us to be more self-controlled in our comments and responses to others, so that we may bring your message of love and concern to everyone we meet. Amen.
TUESDAY 1 MARCH
Scripture Psalm 24, Matthew 18: 21 – 35
“Remember your mercy, Lord”
Peter seems rather pleased with himself that, when speaking with Jesus, he would be considerate enough “to forgive his brother – as often as seven times”.
Jesus puts quite a dampener on Peter’s enthusiastic gesture when He responds; “Not seven, I tell you seventy-seven times”.
How quick we are to forget the many times that we have wronged others and expect immediate compassion! Yet we, who are also often the “wronged,” hold on to our disappointments and fail (sometimes refuse) offer our own forgiveness!
The Scriptures mention many times the need for us to be humble in our attitude and, in particular, forgiving in our actions: Remove first the plank from your own eye before you remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.
We acknowledge that we also make mistakes and that, in our human frailty, we need Jesus to overlook these weaknesses. On our part we ought to show our love for others by having a forgiving nature.
We ask: “REMEMBER YOUR MERCY, LORD” for the many times we sin and yield to temptation in our human weakness. As we rejoice in God’s mercy we need to be merciful too. In doing so we become God’s instrument to bring mercy and forgiveness to those around us. We can do this! Jesus gives us the help and strength we need.
Is there someone who needs your forgiveness? Today, be Merciful like the Father. Let it go, let them go!
Father, help me to be the person you want me to be. Guide me in your way of mercy so that I too may be as merciful and forgiving as Jesus taught. Amen
WEDNESDAY 02 MARCH
Scripture: Matthew 5 : 17
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.”
Jesus told the people that He had not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfil them. The first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures are known as the Law (The Torah). The other books which form the Hebrew “Bible” are called The Prophets and The Writings. When Jesus referred to the Law and the Prophets, He was referring to those books which detail the covenant between God and the Jewish people which formed the foundation of Judaism.
Jesus reiterated that He had not come to replace the covenant which God had made with His people, but rather to complete God’s Plan of Salvation for mankind which the Father had instituted after mankind sinned and turned against the wise council of God. (Genesis 3:1-20).
In the Books of the Prophets we read about God’s great love and concern for His wayward people. When they turned away from Him, He reprimanded them but continued to lead and guide them, promising to send a Redeemer who would lead them back to Him.
The Father affirmed the Son during the Transfiguration where Jesus was seen as the one chosen by God to bring His great Plan of Salvation to fulfilment. By His birth, life and ultimate death, Jesus completed (fulfilled) all the requirements to bring mankind back into a covenant relationship with God. Jesus’ final words on the cross, “It is finished” confirmed for us that His mission was complete. After Jesus’ resurrection, He met with two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus and “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)
Jesus has warned that “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matt. 5 :19)
Do you know what The Ten Commandments are? Turn to Deuteronomy 5 : 6 -21 and read through them. Remember that no one commandment is any more or any less serious than any other and to break one commandment means you are guilty of breaking them all (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2069).
Father, You brought your great Plan of Salvation to completion in the person of Jesus Your beloved Son. Help me always to remember the great sacrifice He made in order to save us from our sins. Help me always to try to obey Your commandments and never let me forget your mercy and compassion so freely, lovingly and willingly given when I come before you with a humbled, contrite heart. Amen.
THURSDAY 3 MARCH
Scripture: Luke 11: 14-23
Jesus, the twelve Apostles and the other seventy disciples are on a frenetic mission to bring the Good News to all the towns and villages. Our Lord has given them power to cast out devils – this practice of exorcism was common in Israel at the time of Jesus. As Jesus casts out the devil which had rendered the man a mute, those who were sensitive to Him were amazed at His power. So were those who did not believe that He was the Messiah. The issue in this passage of scripture is where did Jesus get His power from?
To us it is now obvious but to those people two thousand years ago, it was not. The religious leaders who had so much to lose if Jesus was the Promised One, did their best to sow doubt in the minds of the crowd. They wanted Jesus to prove by a sign from heaven that His power came from God and not satan.
We must remember that the Jews knew that satan was directly opposed to God, full of darkness and the epitome of evil. He hated God and so rightly to accuse Jesus of getting His power from the devil would destroy the reality that He was the Son of God.
Jesus pokes holes in their logic by questioning where their “experts” get their power from and why satan would start undermining his own kingdom. He makes it clear that the source of His power is greater than that of satan. We must remember that at the heart of Jesus’ mission was the utter destruction of the power the devil held over mankind. Having said all this, Jesus ends off with one of the most unequivocal sentences in the Bible, a sentence which we need to ponder today. “Whoever is not for me is against me”.
To put it bluntly, if you are not loyal to Me who derives all power from God, then you are loyal to the devil! This devil has an insatiable desire to lead us away from the things of God. He wanted Jesus to use His power from God for His own personal benefit and to use it to avoid the crucifixion (remember the temptation in the desert on the First Sunday of Lent?). Satan wants to use us to establish his kingdom of lies, untruths and evil here on earth. Jesus warns us not to fall into his trap and to do all we can to establish God’s Kingdom on earth.
Think about all you did and said today. Did you act for Jesus today? Were there opportunities you missed to witness to the truth of our faith? If so, how can you rectify these and do better tomorrow?
Father, each day we pray the words Jesus taught “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Strengthen me to do your will today and protect me from the evil one. Amen.
FRIDAY 4 MARCH
Scripture Mark 12: 28 – 34
Between the Pharisees, the Scribes and the Sadducees Jesus has been having a hard time. If you read the Scripture immediately preceding this passage you hear them attempt to trap him through argument about one issue or another – e.g. “should we pay taxes”, or “if a woman is married more than once, whose wife is she in the afterlife?”
A Scribe, who had been listening, approaches Jesus and asks “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Whether he was seeking to trap Jesus or merely looking for clarification is unsure, but the answer that he gets leads him to say, “Well spoken, Master.” One of few occasions where there is agreement between Jesus and a member of this religious hierarchy!
Jesus says, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength, and you must love your neighbour as you love yourself.”
There are four aspects to that commandment that we need to look at:
Firstly, we are told to love God “with all your heart and with all your soul.” In other words, passionately! When a person is passionate about something it drives them, it defines how they live. If that is a cause then that cause becomes the lifework; if it is a person then it is that person who is put first always – ahead of self.
So, are you passionate about God? Are you passionate about Jesus? Jesus who said, “I have come to start a fire, and how I wish it was already burning!” (Luke 12: 49)
Secondly, we are told to love God “with all your mind.” In other words we are to use our God-given intellect to examine Scripture and God’s revelations through it, and come, each of us, to the realization, understanding and internalization of God’s amazing love for us and His plan of salvation. Am I convinced, in heart and mind, of that love for me?
Thirdly, we are told to love God “with all your strength.” So we are to use our gifts, talents, influence, finances or whatever He has given us for His greater glory and the advancement of His Kingdom here on earth. Am I doing that?
Finally, we are told that we must “love your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus has broadened our understanding of who “neighbour” is – any person in this world, created in the image and likeness of God. God has brought us into being through love. Most of us, if not all of us, have had an experience of being loved by someone. How wonderful that is! We must show that we are grateful for all that love by loving others – by reaching out, as Jesus would, and making a difference in someone else’s life. How am I doing with that command?
Review your own response record to the two commandments of Jesus. Choose one area where your response is not as it might be, and decide on practical ways in which this can be improved. At the end of each week review your progress.
God our Father, Your Son Jesus came to show us the face of Your love and mercy. Help me to show how grateful I am by strengthening me to love others just as You love me – unconditionally. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
SATURDAY 5 MARCH
Scripture: Luke 18:9-14
When we hear about someone’s fall from grace, it’s tempting to be judgmental. ‘How could he have done that?’ ‘I would never have thought that he, of all people, would do such a thing.’ ‘It’s shocking.’ ‘He has really gone down in my estimation.’ And yet, don’t we all sin?
The best escape from confronting our own weaknesses and hidden secrets is by directing the spotlight towards others. If we focus on them, we don’t have to deal with what’s going on inside ourselves.
If we compare ourselves with others, we can make our own failings seem much less serious. We can rationalise our own actions or dismiss them as insignificant slip-ups. Instead of taking responsibility for what we have done we can pass the buck, shift the blame to others, as Adam did: ‘The woman made me do it.’
Another way to avoid facing the flaws in ourselves is to direct our attention to our good deeds, especially our religious observances: ‘I received the ashes on Ash Wednesday, I’m fasting every Friday in Lent, I’m abstaining from meat and poultry and eggs every day in Lent including Sundays, I pray the rosary daily, I attend Mass on Sundays and weekdays, I hand in my Lenten envelope religiously and I carry out works of mercy regularly.’ I… I… I…
Religious observances, such as these, if carried out in the right spirit, are of great spiritual benefit. The principles are highly recommended in the Scriptures. But all our Lenten sacrifices are useless if they are not matched by a humble, contrite heart, centred on God. God is nauseated by insincere religious observances and sacrifices (Isaiah 1:11; Amos 5:21). He is not fooled by hypocritical gestures. He knows full well what is going on in us, because ‘The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7).
Don’t judge anyone. Pray for those who have fallen. Call, email, visit or invite someone who has become isolated because of something that he or she has done.
God, be merciful to me, a sinner. Thank you for your grace at work in my life. Help me not to compare my behaviour with that of others but rather to seek the highest standards of love and mercy, for love of you and for the sake of your glory. Amen.
These Daily Reflections for Lent 2016 are written by Fr. Desmond Nair, Lawrence Surgeson, Deacon Mark Wardell, Veronica Donnelly, George Cominos, Irene Helsdon and Fr. Justin Stirton. Please acknowledge the authors when copying and distributing. We wish you a fruitful and blessed Lenten Journey.