Once again we begin our spiritual journey into the desert of Lent. Are we willing to make this journey; to leave some of our comforts?
That is true for each of us too. Are we willing to go into this time of the desert. This time of giving up meat on Fridays of Lent, of
doing more in the way...
of giving alms,
of watching our tongue,
of not making judgements,
of having more compassion and mercy,
of going out of our way for another?
Maybe you are asking yourself why. Why give up my comforts, my pleasures, my conveniences, etc.?
The Church has given us more freedom to go into the desert the way we want. The desert is always the place where we can look more deeply into our spiritual lives. But...it is so easy to say no to this invitation to the desert of Lent.
The readings of this Sunday and all of the Sundays of Lent can be a help. But whatever you decide to do during your trip in the desert of Lent, don't give up. Often when we do things that are uncomfortable and that help us to look deep within, we fail. Doing something extra, giving up something, doing more prayer, etc., is always difficult. We want to be comfortable. So, when we fail at whatever we decide to do for Lent, we give up until next year. But who knows if we will have a next year. A good Lent is to see the struggle we go through, and to see it is hard, and we want to escape the being uncomfortable.
So if you fail, don't give up. Start again; the journey is only 40 days.
The first reading from Genesis is the story of Noah. It is important because it demonstrates how much God loves the humans in His creation. When the human race forgets its creator, God does not just wipe them all out and give up. But He loves his sinful humanity and chooses Noah to build the ark and to start over. It shows the patience of God in not destroying humanity right away but gives a human, Noah, time to build the ark, before the flood, so that humans will not be totally destroyed. Wow! What patience, what mercy. And guess what; he does the same for each of us. Even when we fail, when we sin, God is patient and loving and merciful with each of us. He calls us into the ark, the Church, so we will not be spiritually destroyed.
And even more, God makes a guarantee, a pact, a covenant with us that He will not destroy us. And the reading says that He seals this agreement with a bow. We need to continually be reminded of how much God loves each of us. We need this Lent to once again look deep into our spiritual selves and to see our failures, our sins, and come before God for his mercy.
But if we can't or won't see our sins, then we may not experience God's great love and mercy. Why are we often so afraid to see our sins? Boy, looking at our sins can be so hard to do at times. It is much easier to blame the other, or to blame the fact we were tired, or to say, well I am only human. But to see our sin...we say, no not me. I am pretty good most of the time. And we leave our journey of Lent, our chance to experience God's love and mercy. Why are we afraid?
In the second reading, St. Peter addresses the new Christian converts. For sure, they are on a journey of suffering, rejection, and persecution. Remember that during that time, Christians were physically martyred. He encourages them to remember that are on their journey to eternal life, the promise made to them and to us at our baptism.
When times are difficult, when we see our own failures, in what we say and do, or in what we fail to say and do; remember these words we heard in today's gospel...
Something worth thinking about
FIRST READING Saturday 2-18-12
by the Irish Jesuits
James has some astute comments to make about our tongues as an instrument of speech. Again, few of us will feel exempt from the lash of James’ own tongue in this passage.
He begins by suggesting that few are competent to become teachers of the faith, for the simple reason that such people have to be much more accountable for what they do and say. Teachers, in particular, because of the influence they have, will always be held more accountable. They can make or break a person’s character. Remember Jesus’ castigation of the Pharisees and the Scribes for not practising what they preached. “They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearances say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation” (Luke 20:47). Among teachers, of course, we can include all religious leaders – bishops, priests, religious, as well as parents and teachers and any who are responsible for the formation of the young and vulnerable.
In fact, says James, a person who has full control over his tongue can be said to be in control of his whole self. Since the tongue is so difficult to control, anyone who controls it perfectly gains control of himself in all other areas of life as well.
He compares the tongue to the bit in the horse’s mouth. It is only a small piece of metal but with it we can control the whole animal. Huge ships, tossed on stormy seas in driving winds, can be steered in any direction by a relatively small rudder. The tongue, too, is a very small part of our body but it has influence totally out of proportion to its relevant size.
The tongue can be compared to a tiny spark which can set a whole forest on fire. It exists in our body as “a world of malice”, the source of all kinds of evils, “defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire”. Marriages have been broken, murders committed and wars started by what has issued from people’s tongues.
It seems that we can tame even the wildest animals but “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”. It can be a “whole universe of malice”. It can do an enormous amount of harm and in the process defiles one’s whole self.
“From the very same mouth come blessing and cursing.” The very same tongue can either sing the praises of God or pile curses on brothers and sisters who are made in the likeness of God – and in the process curse God their Creator. That is a situation which should not happen, says James.
The reading is very simple in its message and may seem in some ways to exaggerate but, if we are honest, we know that there is an enormous amount for us to reflect on here in our own use of speech. So much time can be wasted, so much poison can be spread about through our injudicious gossip. We can literally spend hours doing this. We can be so totally lacking in love, compassion and sensitivity as we consistently undermine the good names of those around us.
We can offend by telling lies or by suppressing truth that should be revealed. We can utterly destroy people’s reputations, apart from the harm that our negative attitudes do to ourselves. Perhaps James is not exaggerating so much after all.
And one wonders what kind of compensation we should or can give to those who have been seriously hurt by our irresponsible words?
At the same time, there is so much good we can do, so much upbuilding of others that can be done by the way we speak, by our being generous in praise and encouraging words. The gift of speech is exactly that, a wonderful gift which can do so much good.
Imagine, loosing everything; your country, your business, your home, you traditions, you religion, your job. In fact, loosing everything and then being taken to a foreign country with a different language and different traditions.
This is what happened to the people in Exile in Babylon in the first reading.
God had allowed this to happen to His People in hopes it would lead them away from their stubbornness and hardness of heart.
This Exile was from 598 B.C. through 538 B.C. Isaiah was taken into exile with them.
In the first reading that we hear that Isaiah is giving hope to a people that are down and out in their exile. They feel that God had abandoned them. They have no hope for the future. Isaiah assures them that God had made a promise that He would never abandon them.
It is amazing how God works. Those in exile were freed by a pagan king, Cyrus, who did not even believe in the God of the Jews. Pagan Cyrus not only freed them, but also sent them back to Jerusalem with the means to rebuild their homes, and the temple that had been leveled.
At sometime or other, we have all been down in the dumps. We may even have felt that God had abandoned us. This reading certain gives us courage to keep going.
We know that God was faithful in keeping his promise to the people in Exile and He will be faithful to each of us.
Isaiah truly gives hope for a new start for the people in exile; God did not abandon them. Every time we recognize that we have sinned, have turned away from God, much like those in exile in Babylon, we can be freed; we can be rescued from our sin and given a new start. Today is a new start. God will not abandon us.
Are you ready to look deep into your spirit and see what you have done or failed to do that is sin in your life today?
We have nothing to fear. Jesus always comes with mercy and compassion to heal, not to condemn.
In the second reading, Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, Paul is under attack. Some of the Corinthians are doubting what Paul has told them. Paul reassures them that he was chosen by God, and sealed with the Spirit.
The same was true for each of us. At our baptism, we were called, chosen, sealed and anointed. We will never be abandoned by God. We can turn from Him but He will never turn from us.
In the Gospel of Mark we see, once again, the great mercy and love that God has for each of us.
The people of that time believed that physical disease and illness were a sign of sin.
So, to be healed by Jesus was more that just physical, it was the forgiveness of sin and also meant a new start spiritually.
The Scribes are scandalized when Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic.
They know that only God can forgive sins.
Yet they will not recognize Jesus as divine.
You and I can be, at times, like the paralytic in the Gospel.
Jesus had great compassion and healed him and Jesus does the same for us when we come before him with our disease, our sin.
can all be ways that we help lower a person through the roof of their life to find the mercy of God.
Pray to be ready with the courage
to lower away this week
St. Paul Miki was born in 1580 in Japan. He was a Jesuit brother known for his ability to inspire people to authentic conversion. At the time, many disparate cultures were present in nearby Southeast Asia; vying for spices, resources, influence, and territory. Many of these cultures were traveling northwards into Japan. In 1587, when approximately 200,000 Christians were identified, Japan issued an edict of persecution to all those faithful to the Bible.**
St. Paul and his Companions were a group of Franciscans, Jesuits, and Japanese Christians identified through the edict. The 26 individuals were arrested, mutilated, and martyred, in 1597, at the hill of Nagasaki. They are remembered for their courage, dedication, and joy despite the religious persecution they endured.**
From an account of the martyrdom of Saint Paul Miki and his companions, by a contemporary writer.
You shall be my witnesses The crosses were set in place. Father Pasio and Father Rodriguez took turns encouraging the victims. Their steadfast behavior was wonderful to see. The Father Bursar stood motionless, his eyes turned heavenward. Brother Martin gave thanks to God’s goodness by singing psalms. Again and again he repeated: “Into your hands, Lord, I entrust my life.” Brother Francis Branco also thanked God in a loud voice. Brother Gonsalvo in a very loud voice kept saying the Our Father and Hail Mary. Our brother, Paul Miki, saw himself standing now in the noblest pulpit he had ever filled. To his “congregation” he began by proclaiming himself a Japanese and a Jesuit. He was dying for the Gospel he preached. He gave thanks to God for this wonderful blessing and he ended his “sermon” with these words: “As I come to this supreme moment of my life, I am sure none of you would suppose I want to deceive you. And so I tell you plainly: there is no way to be saved except the Christian way. My religion teaches me to pardon my enemies and all who have offended me. I do gladly pardon the Emperor and all who have sought my death. I beg them to seek baptism and be Christians themselves.” Then he looked at his comrades and began to encourage them in their final struggle. Joy glowed in all their faces, and in Louis’ most of all. When a Christian in the crowd cried out to him that he would soon be in heaven, his hands, his whole body strained upward with such joy that every eye was fixed on him. Anthony, hanging at Louis’ side, looked toward heaven and called upon the holy names — “Jesus, Mary!” He began to sing a psalm: “Praise the Lord, you children!” (He learned it in catechism class in Nagasaki. They take care there to teach the children some psalms to help them learn their catechism.) Others kept repeating “Jesus, Mary!” Their faces were serene. Some of them even took to urging the people standing by to live worthy Christian lives. In these and other ways they showed their readiness to die. Then, according to Japanese custom, the four executioners began to unsheathe their spears. At this dreadful sight, all the Christians cried out, “Jesus, Mary!” And the storm of anguished weeping then rose to batter the very skies. The executioners killed them one by one. One thrust of the spear, then a second blow. It was over in a very short time.
This is also the day candles are blessed because baby Jesus is taken to the temple and shown as light
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