Peace to you and your house!
Our Lenten journey has begun and the traditions of prayer, fasting, alms giving and care for the poor assist us in our penance, i.e., “turning our hearts to God.” Last weekend we were reminded that no one can serve two masters. We have to choose one or the other. For many of us this means choosing to serve God rather than ourselves and our own appetites or inclinations. We do this by serving our spouse, our children or grandchildren, a stranger or neighbor in need, friends and that sort of thing.
The readings this weekend take us with Jesus and his time in the desert. He unites us with him in his own struggle with temptation. His forty-day struggle reminds us of the forty years of Israel and their failures but Jesus reverses the failure by his obedience to God’s word. The temptations Jesus faces ask him to use his divine power to provide for his own needs like food and then he is tempted to produce a sign that would compel others to give him worldly glory. The final temptation Jesus faced was to make the choice to serve God or the devil. This is important for us to remember because it shows his humanity: he too had to wrestle with human nature and conform his will to doing God’s will. He also shows the community of believers how they are to respond to such temptations—look to God’s Word as the guide and follow it. Although we know and remember at Easter that his victory is ours, right now at the beginning of Lent we draw strength from his example and we try to imitate him in our own struggle against sin. It is good to have resolutions in Lent by which we seek to exercise control of our own desires and our own will. It is also beneficial when we fail in these things so that we remember that it is not by our own power that we are saved. God repeatedly saves us. God is gentle and loving as we discover these things through his mercy and we are saved from excessive pride. Sometimes we discover that some of our best made plans must change because God has a better one!
May God bless you with peace and love! +++ Fr. Peter
Peace be with you!
We continue to listen to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from Mathew’s Gospel. From Mathew, Jesus’ teaching is described as a higher form of righteousness. Jesus points out a manner of life that comes from the heart with wisdom and understanding. At first glance this may make us feel more distant from God because it is harder to live that way. On the other hand, we know that Jesus came to assure us that God intensely loves and cares for us. We also know that Jesus came to bless and to heal our brokenness. Having these two important keys for understanding, we can understand Jesus’ teaching as deeper rather than higher. Jesus goes to the roots of the law, the depths of the heart and leads us to a deeper relationship with God. When we grow in depth and spirituality, we encounter the darkness affecting the human spirit and the deep flaw of human nature. As we near God in his marvelous light, more of our own imperfections show up. But Jesus is the Divine Physician who exposes our wounds and leads us more deeply into the way of prayer and healing!
We experience inner conflict when we are confronted with the reality that our own thoughts and behaviors do not always conform to the way of life that Jesus calls us to. This weekend our attention is directed toward God’s law that we must love our neighbor as ourselves.
We know that everything flows from the love of God. This is the first and most important Commandment. Loving your neighbor as you love yourself—well, what if we don’t love ourselves or we don’t understand how to love ourselves properly? Then we are not going to be able to love anyone else properly. There is a balance here. It falls in between always putting ourselves down and always being selfish, arrogant and egotistical.
Jesus invites us to ask him to show us how to love ourselves so that we may love our neighbor correctly. If we ask, he will show us how beautiful God’s love is, first for ourselves, then for everyone else. When we experience and understand that God loves us unconditionally, even with our sins and faults, we change. We begin to love ourselves humbly, that is in truth. Then we begin to love others with God. When our love is perfected, our love will entirely reflect God’s own love—even for those who make themselves enemies.
God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter
May God’s holy light shine in your hearts!
The first reading from Sirach tells us that if we choose, we can live God’s commandments! Following this bold, clear statement, the sage adds that there are two roads: one is toward good, the other is toward evil. It is obvious that we believe in God, we believe in Jesus and we believe that there is right and wrong. If we didn’t share these same beliefs, we wouldn’t come here to worship together. But believing these things and truly taking them to heart and living them out in concrete ways requires a conscious choice and an effort. The teachings of Jesus remind us that there is more to true Christian living than just having good intentions. Jesus points out that what is present and active inside a person’s heart is already known to God and if what is there is not good, it needs to change. We need to know that. We also need God’s grace to push the wrong things out of our hearts. We can blame other people or use them as an excuse for our own hardness of heart and bad behavior. Change from within removes barriers that cause us unhappiness, distress, tension in our relationships and sin, which separates us from God. We all want to be good and do the right thing! We want good things to happen! Sometimes things just go the wrong way or we don’t take the steps we should to correct them. Today, Jesus points to our hearts as the starting point of our words and actions and that we are accountable for what is there; no one else. St. Paul provides a special key—it all revolves around forgiving and being forgiven and that leads us to the Cross of Jesus! The Cross is where every sin must go: every hurt must be laid down there, every offense committed must seek mercy there. Every heart finds cleansing and instruction on how to live before the Cross of Jesus. If there is something in your heart that needs to change, don’t wait! Ask the Lord for help today! Ask for forgiveness, and give the gift that you are given! +++ Fr. Peter
May the Light of Christ fill you!
Jesus tells us that a candle is not lit to be put under a bushel basket. It is lit and put up in a high place so that it’s light will be seen. A Christian community is evangelized in order to evangelize! That is what a true community is like: it is a group of men, women and young people who have found the truth and joy of Christ and the Gospel and they sincerely try to follow it and share it with others. When they assemble for the liturgy, they experience God’s action of grace: a purifying renewal, they are strengthened in purpose and vision and support each other. They carry on the mission together. It has never been an individual journey or conversion. It has always been and will always be a community on pilgrimage and conversion. It is a family of faith that believes in God and has a deep reverence and respect for God. In this family setting each one finds companionship as a source of strength and in moments of weakness they help one another. Although different, they are united in faith. By loving and supporting one another they give light and example. Christians preach by their own lives. They avoid harboring grudges and harsh judgements toward others because they know this is a sin against the Body of Christ and the unity that we are called to. Everyone who loves God and receives his holy word hears the call to follow him in a new way each day. Our nation and our towns need to be guided by the light of the Gospel. Each person has some positive thing from God to contribute and promote what is good! This is a reality that God makes happen in his people’s lives. One day when the mailman delivered the mail, I smiled and waved saying “Thank you! Have a good day!” He responded: “Thanks for saying that. I was just chewed out by someone a few minutes ago.” I had no idea what he was going through but a simple word and gesture became a light to dispel the darkness and gloom. God is always at work to help his people!
May his blessings always be with you! +++ Fr. Peter