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Friday of the 3rd Week of Lent
The Greatest Commandment
One day after I celebrated the morning Mass, a woman approached me because she wanted to confess. According to her that she committed a grave sin because she violated the third commandment of God which is, “to keep holy the Lord’s Day.’ She told me that she missed the previous Sunday Mass since she could not leave her daughter who was badly ill at that day. I told her: “Ma’am, you would commit a mortal sin if you leave your ailing daughter and then go to Mass without somebody taking care for her.” But I still heard her confession and gave the absolution.
In today’s gospel, one of the scribes comes up to Jesus and asks Him an honest question that people also often ask: “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Actually there are six hundred thirteen precepts and the scribes made it a lifetime practice to study these six hundred thirteen precepts of the Old Testament along with the numerous rabbinic commentaries. They make this question maybe to test and to see if Jesus correctly understands the law as they do. Or maybe the scribe is sincere too in asking such question because at the end he embraces Jesus’ answer and makes it as his own. Jesus surprises them with His profound simplicity and mastery of the law of God and its purpose. Here Jesus lays out plainly and simply, how we must live our lives: loving God with everything we are and loving our neighbor as ourselves. The love of God comes first and the love of neighbor is firmly grounded in the love of God.
The first part of Jesus’ answer is from the Book of Deuteronomy (6:4). This is called Shema or “Listen up!” This is important for the Jewish people because this is their morning and evening prayers. For them these are the words to live by as well as the words to die. This is the first sentence every Jewish child should memorize and the prayer every religious Jew hopes to have on their lips when they die.
The second part is taken from the Book of Leviticus (19:18). This second commandment is the manifestation of the first. There is an intimate connection between our love of God and love of our neighbor.
Christ gives us the two great commandments of love and calls us to live them but how? I read these three beautiful ways on how to live these commandments:
First, Love through obedience. God wants us to obey Him. The great opportunity to obey Him is here by doing what He gives us to do with all its ups and downs. God does not look at what actions we can carry out, rather, He looks to see if we are willing to submit our human will to His divine will. True love is shown by obedience.
Second, Love through charity. We Catholics are called to love God above all else and thus to love all men and women more than ourselves and without partiality. We cannot say that we love God if we do not live charity beyond the boundaries of our comfort zone. God is radical and calls us to love Him in others. “What you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do this to me,” He said. True love is shown by our charity.
Third, Love through prayer. We are reminded by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 2658) that “love is the source of prayer.… It enables us to respond to Him by loving as He has loved us.” To love God we need to obey and to love others more than ourselves. However, this is impossible without prayer. If prayer enables us to respond, it is only because prayer is where we transform our wills. Becoming like Christ is the purpose of prayer. To love Christ is to become like Christ. To make this change takes prayer. Thus true lovers pray.
Wednesday of the 3rd Week of Lent
Teaching about the Law
Jesus in today’s gospel says that: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfil,” (v. 17).
But what kind of law does Jesus refer to in today’s gospel? The Law that our Lord refers to is the Law that Moses received from Mt. Sinai. It applies also to the first books of the Old Testament (Pentateuch) that include the Ten Commandments. For the Jews, the Law is the complete and precise expression of God’s will; a complete and secure guide of conduct which govern the moral, religious and secular life of Israelites. And Jesus grew to adulthood as a devout Jew by living this Law. This Law explains God’s commandments and ordinances as well as His whole teaching or way of life which He gives to His people. The law is also used to describe the scribal law. And Jesus often condemns this scribal law because it places burdens on people which God has not intended. However, Jesus makes it very clear that the essence of God’s law which is His commandments and way of life must be fulfilled.
And so I would like you to join me in reflecting these three words of Jesus about the law:
First He says: “I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.” God prepares His people for salvation through the law and the prophets. And Christ comes in order to fulfil, complete, perfect and bring to maturity the law and the prophets and give them its proper interpretation. His emphasis is on mercy and not on legalistic minutiae; on far-reaching love and not on destructive petty details; on positive heartfelt commitment and not on external prohibitions. And about fifteen times in the gospel of St. Matthew that Jesus mentions the word “fulfil.” But this law will not remain as a law but it must move also to our hearts as demonstrated by the Beatitudes.
Second He says: “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments…will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.” I read this first rule of the Teenage Creed that says: “Laws are meant to be broken.” Why this is so? Maybe because as we mature we discover so many “Do this, don’t do that” rules which are in conflicts with our subjective happiness. These rules are seemingly oppressive because they are in direct opposition to our personal fulfilment. And so we permit patterns of sin to develop despite what our consciences tell us. If this is the way, then the devil has wittingly suggested his criteria to us. If we are not careful, we may form attitudes that will make us struggle against God and His criteria: the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the cross and the teachings of the Church.
Third He says: “Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Our true freedom lies not in the rejection but in the acceptance of God’s moral law. Moral law has “its origin in God and always finds its source in Him,” (Pope John Paul II, The Splendor of Truth, no. 40). God is not a heartless dictator but a Father who loves us and wills our very best. He says: “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?” (Matthew 7:9-10). Jesus posits the question because he knows the Father and His law is a sign that He loves and cares for us. God is incapable of not desiring what is truly best for us. God is and will always be love. And we are meant to be with God forever. Try keeping that message just to yourself.
Thursday of the 3rd Week of Lent
Jesus and Beelzebul
Thomas Brooks has this to say about Satan. He says: “Satan promises the best but pays with the worst. He promises honor and pays with disgrace. He promises pleasure and pays with pain. He promises profit and pays with loss. He promises life and pays with death.”
Because of Jesus’ numerous healings and exorcisms to many people, these bring them freedom from troubles and oppression of evil spirits. But some of the Jewish leaders, in today’s gospel, react vehemently to Jesus’ healings and exorcisms and they oppose Him with malicious slander and resort to character assassination when honest opposition is hopeless. There is nothing as cruel and uncharitable as slander. They always tend to think the worst and very often people would prefer to hear the bad and the derogatory remarks rather than the good and complimentary story. Sometimes we are guilty of this particular sin too. How often do we deliberately repeat slanderous and malicious stories and murder reputations to someone whom we dislike over a cup of coffee?
The Jewish leaders ask: How can He get the power and authority to release individuals from Satan’s power? They assume that He has to be in league with Satan. They attribute His power to Satan rather than to God. But Jesus answers them with this smart statement: “For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons. If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people drive them out? Therefore they will be your judges.” It is as if Jesus is saying to them: “Yes, one of your fingers is pointing on me but look, the other three fingers are pointing on you too.”
But I would like more to reflect about what Jesus is saying in today’s gospel reading. He says: “Whoever is not with me is against me and whoever does not gather with me scatters,” (v.23). With Jesus we cannot evade decision; we cannot remain noncommittal; we cannot protect ourselves against risks. Why? It is because there is a cosmic war that is going on between good and evil. In this kind of war we cannot remain neutral or noncommittal. If we refuse to side with God, it can mean, we accept or take side with Satan. Now we know that God will eventually win this war. And so, why we allow ourselves to be on the losing side? How to take side with God? It can be shown in this way:
First is through our obedience to Him. Jesus Himself encounters personal opposition and battles with Satan when He was put to the test in the wilderness just before His public ministry. But He overcomes the evil one through His obedience to the will of His Father. We can do the same. The call of obedience is disturbing since we human beings want freedom, choice and doing what feels good. And on the process, we misuse our freedom and choice. Sin enters and damages us spiritually. Therefore, we need obedience or relying on an authority outside of ourselves that guides us. We have to rely on God, His Word and Sacraments and the leaders He puts in charge of our lives.
Second is by loyalty to Him. I read this story of a young man in the army who made a confession to his compatriot that he never went about with another girl if he was within fifty miles of home, his loyalty went fifty miles away. How far does our loyalty to Jesus Christ go?
Butt Prints In The Sand
One night I had a wondrous dream,
One set of footprints there was seen,
The footprints of my precious Lord,
But mine were not along the shore.
But then some stranger prints appeared,
And I asked the Lord, “What have we here?”
Those prints are large and round and neat,
“But Lord they are too big for feet.”
“My child,” He said in somber tones,
“For miles I carried you alone.
I challenged you to walk in faith,
But you refused and made me wait.”
“You disobeyed, you would not grow,
The walk of faith, you would not know.
So I got tired, I got fed up,
and there I dropped you on your butt.”
“Because in life, there comes a time,
when one must fight, and one must climb.
When one must rise and take a stand,
or leave their butt prints in the sand.”