1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians
1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians
1 Timothy
2 Timothy

1 Peter
2 Peter

Ἡ Καινὴ Διαθήκη

Who was Josephus?
Maps, Graphics

War, Volume 1
War, Volume 2
War, Volume 3
War, Volume 4
War, Volume 5
War, Volume 6
War, Volume 7

Ant. Jud., Bk 1
Ant. Jud., Bk 2
Ant. Jud., Bk 3
Ant. Jud., Bk 4
Ant. Jud., Bk 5
Ant. Jud., Bk 6
Ant. Jud., Bk 7
Ant. Jud., Bk 8
Ant. Jud., Bk 9
Ant. Jud., Bk 10
Ant. Jud., Bk 11
Ant. Jud., Bk 12
Ant. Jud., Bk 13
Ant. Jud., Bk 14
Ant. Jud., Bk 15
Ant. Jud., Bk 16
Ant. Jud., Bk 17
Ant. Jud., Bk 18
Ant. Jud., Bk 19
Ant. Jud., Bk 20

Apion, Bk 1
Apion, Bk 2


Gospel of--
-- Nicodemus
-- Peter
-- Ps-Matthew
-- James (Protevangelium)
-- Thomas (Infancy)
-- Thomas (Gnostic)
-- Joseph of Arimathea
-- Joseph_Carpenter
Pilate's Letter
Pilate's End

Apocalypse of --
-- Ezra
-- Moses
-- Paul
-- Pseudo-John
-- Moses
-- Enoch

Clementine Homilies
Clementine Letters
Clementine Recognitions
Dormition of Mary
Book of Jubilees
Life of Adam and Eve
Odes of Solomon
Pistis Sophia
Secrets of Enoch
Veronica's Veil
Vision of Paul
Vision of Shadrach

Acts of
Andrew & Matthias
Andrew & Peter
Paul & Perpetua
Paul & Thecla
Peter & Paul
Andrew and Peter
Thomas in India

Daily Word 2019


Sundays, 1-34, A
Sundays, 1-34, B
Sundays, 1-34, C

(Ordinary Time)
Weeks 1-11 (Year 1)
Weeks 1-11 (Year 2)

Wks 12-22 (Year 1)
Wks 12-22 (Year 2)

Wks 23-34 (Year 1)
Wks 23-34 (Year 2)

Saints Days


Clement of Rome

Ignatius of Antioch

Polycarp of Smyrna

Barnabas,(Epistle of)

Papias of Hierapolis

Justin, Martyr

The Didachë

Irenaeus of Lyons

Hermas (Pastor of)

Tatian of Syria

Theophilus of Antioch

Diognetus (letter)

Athenagoras of Alex.

Clement of Alexandria

Tertullian of Carthage

Origen of Alexandria

Weekdays of Lent

Ash Wednesday    Thurs after A.W.     Fri after A.W.     Sat after A.W.

Week 1


Week 2


Week 3


Week 4


Week 5


Holy Week

H Thursday
Good Friday

Readings for Mass, Irish Liturgical Calendar. (Text: NRSV).
The homilies are from the ACP website, in the section: Liturgy Resources.


Ash Wednesday, Year A

1st Reading: Joel 2:12-18

Return to me with all your heart. Spare your people, Lord

"Now, now," says the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments."

Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil. Who knows whether he will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, a cereal offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God?

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants.

Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, "Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, `Where is their God?'" Then the Lord became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people.

Responsorial: from Psalm 51

R./: Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we have sinned

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
 In your compassion blot out my offence.
 O wash me more and more from my guilt
 and cleanse me from my sin. (R./)

My offences truly I know them;
 my sin is always before me.
 Against you, you alone, have I sinned:
 what is evil in your sight I have done. (R./)

A pure heart create for me, O God,
 put a steadfast spirit within me.
 Do not cast me away from your presence,
 nor deprive me of your holy spirit. (R./)

Give me again the joy of your help;
 with a spirit of fervour sustain me.
 O Lord, open my lips
 and my mouth shall declare your praise. (R./)

2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20 -- 6:2

Do not receive the grace of God in vain

We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, "At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you." See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Your Father who sees in secret will reward you

Jesus said to his disciples, "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.


A time for cleansing the heart

As we receive the ashes on our foreheads, we want to live Lent as a time of cleansing and holy desire, helped by some Gospel practices: prayer, fasting and alms-giving. We begin this season by receiving ashes on our foreheads, often in the form of a cross. The forty days of Lent echo the time Jesus spent in the desert before his public ministry. Lent is meant to help us to a more effective Christian lifestyle.

The Christian life, said St Augustine, "is an exercise of holy desire." It does not ask that we suppress our normal desires, but to raise and purify them. Our desires are too small if our ultimate values are those of this world; for God wants us to have so much more, no less than his very Self. During Lent we tune in to higher desires, to deep-down longing for God. And Jesus shows us the way of prayer, fasting and alms-giving, the classic Lenten practices. Of these, prayer has first place. Our eternity will be our relationship with the living God, a relationship that begins in this life, or it does not begin at all. Our most shared prayer is during the Mass, the loving sacrifice of Christ which opens heaven to us. Prayer is the daily practice of our friendship with God, and it opens the way to eternal life.

Fasting is more tricky for us today and is perhaps practice more by Muslims than by Catholics. But while we appreciate our food and the conviviality that often accompanies a good meal, we should also find a place for fasting. The main goal of Lenten fasting is not a well-toned body to be proud of. Some saints were quite corpulent, others were virtual skeletons, but they had this in common: they practiced voluntary self-denial, to sharpen their appetite for God. All of us resonate in some way to the ideal of alms-giving as compassionate sharing. Lent is good time to rid ourselves of some clutter in our life. With a bit more vision, could we perhaps do more to serve the needy, not to be praised as generous, but to imitate God's generosity to us?

Augustine sees cleansing as preparing us to practice holy desire, which is possible only to the extent that we free ourselves from infatuation with this world. It is like filling an empty container. "God means to fill us with what is good " so cast out what is bad! If God wishes to fill us with honey and we are full of sour wine, where is the honey to go? The vessel must first be emptied and cleansed.

The ashes on Ash Wednesday make tangible the transience of things and our own mortality. We try to start Lent as humble mortals, embodied spirits who are from the earth and will in time go back into the ground. "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." But the ashes are not intended merely to commemorate the transience of creation. The ashes used this Wednesday are made from the palms of last year's Passion-Sunday. Jesus died and was buried in a tomb, the place of decay and the place of dust -- yet at Easter he rose from the dead to new life.

Our ultimate destiny is not dust and ashes but a sharing in the Lord's risen life, becoming conformed to the image of Christ. As we journey towards that destiny we hear the call to grow more fully into the image of God's Son, which is a call to turn away from sin, to repent. The ashes are a sign of our desire to do just that. The traditional practices of Lent that we heard about in the gospel put before us the essentials for growth into the image of God's Son " a greater love of God (prayer), a more generous love of neighbour (alms giving), and a truer love of ourselves (fasting). We recommit ourselves on Ash Wednesday to build our lives on those three loves, so that we may more fully become all that God is calling us to be.

Lenten Projects

The more active women in a certain parish once decided that their Lenten project should be something to benefit the whole parish. They met several time to discuss what each of them thought would be most beneficial project they could sponsor. One woman suggested they have a children's Easter fashion show. She knew her daughter would love to do something like that. Another woman suggested a "house walk" where some of the owners of the newest and biggest houses in the community could let the rest of the community see how they decorated their houses for Easter.

Several similar ideas were put forth but support for each idea was rather evenly split. Finally, one woman who had been silent during the whole discussion suggested that a Lenten project that would benefit the entire parish might best be one in which everyone in the parish could participate as they lived out the season of preparation for Easter. The other women were a bit surprised at her suggestion. No one had stopped to think "outside the box" of spring fashion shows and hose walks. As they thought about it & discussed what they might do, they came to realize that they had gotten caught up in ideas that didn't really reflect the spirit of Easter. This shared insight helped them focus on ways in which their project would be one that would help the whole community appreciate the spirit of resurrection.




Thursday after Ash Wednesday

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

A warm call to fidelity. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live!

Keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.

But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Responsorial: Psalm 1

R./: Happy are they who hope in the Lord

Blessed are they who who follow not
   the counsel of the wicked
 Nor walk in the way of sinners,
   nor sit in the company of the insolent,
But delight in the law of the Lord
   and meditate on his law day and night. (R./)

They are is like a tree
   planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
   and whose leaves never fade.
   Whatever they do will prosper. (R./)

Not so the wicked, not so;
   they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
For the Lord watches over the way of the just,
   but the way of the wicked vanishes.
Blessed are they who hope in the Lord. (R./)

Gospel: Luke 9:22-25

Jesus predicts his passion. Disciples must carry their daily cross after him.

Jesus said to his disciples, "The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." Then he said to them all, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?"


Choosing Life

The one who said that his life purpose was "that they may have life and have it to the full" (Jn 10:10) also said that his friends must share in his death and carry their cross with him. Between these two statements there is paradox but not contradiction.
From the start of the church it has been a fixed principle that only through dying with him can we enter the fullness of life.

Deuteronomy, a book much loved and used by Jesus, sees fidelity as the key to the future of God’s people. "By walking in his ways, you shall live" Moses says, "but if your heart turns away and you do not hear, you shall perish!" In this, his final address to the people he has led out of slavery and into the Promised Land, Moses ends with the heartfelt appeal: "Choose life!"

But what about self-denial during Lent? If we want to be followers of Jesus we must be ready for some measure of self-sacrifice. Lent is traditionally a time for self-denial. We pray about what change may be needed in our lives, what we should give up, or take up, in order to follow Christ more closely. Is there some misguided attachment holding us back, or some habit that is not for our good? Self sacrifice and renunciation are more difficult today because modern culture encourages us to indulge all our desires.

Voluntary renunciation has a positive meaning. Giving up something for Lent is always with a view to living life more fully. Deuteronomy puts it positively, "Choose life," and Jesus says in the gospel that if we lose our life for his sake we will save it. We pray this Lent that the Lord’s grace will guide us to keep on choosing life.



Friday after Ash Wednesday

1st Reading: Isaiah 58:1-9

True religion is contrasted with merely external observance

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. "Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?"

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like rushes, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

Responsorial: from Psalm 51

R./: A humbled, contrite heart, O Lord, you will not spurn

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
 In your compassion blot out my offence.
 O wash me more and more from my guilt
 and cleanse me from my sin. (R./)

My offences truly I know them;
 my sin is always before me.
 Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
 what is evil in your sight I have done. (R./)

For in sacrifice you take no delight,
 burnt offering from me you would refuse,
 my sacrifice a contrite spirit.
 A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 9:14-15

Jesus predicts fasting in the future, once the bridegroom has left this world

Then the disciples of John came to Jesus, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.


What use is fasting?

The audience was probably angry when Isaiah accused them of rebelling against God. They saw themselves as devout Jews, faithful to tradition. But this uncompromising prophet replied that even if they fasted for religious purposes, they were still unworried about oppressing their workers. The traditions they practiced were not really what God required. Their rituals had become merely a traditional activity with no moral benefit. Even on their fasting-days, they ended up arguing, self-righteous and disunited. Today, we too can fall into this syndrome, putting questions of ritual, etiquette and procedure on a higher pedestal than they deserve, while leaving the substance of charity (i.e. loving service, as prescribed by Jesus, the washer of feet) on the back burner.

The ideal of "walking-with-God" is not fulfilled by attending in church one day a week. We become so wrapped up in our own concerns, we hardly have time for conversing with God our Maker. But spurred on by the prophet Isaiah, we clearly that God is offering us a special blessing in this season of Lent. The fasting God prescribes wants from us this Lent is to clothe the naked, to right some injustice, to feed the hungry and to advocate for those who have no home. We need to think and pray about loving our neighbour as ourselves. As always, the living Word is here to help and guide us.

We normally link fasting with reducing our intake of food. But Isaiah defined fasting in a new way. We need to identify and reduce the things that damage and oppress other people promote justice on behalf of those in need. Genuine fasting cannot be separated from another classic Jewish ideal: almsgiving, or sharing our resources with others.

Ash Wednesday recommends the three great Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Isaiah reminds us that all three stand or fall together. They are three pillars of a worthy life. . Fasting is saying "no" to something. Isaiah reminds us that such saying "no" is with a view to saying "YES" to a greater service of our neighbour. Any service done in love is very acceptable to God and gives substance to anything else we may do for Lent.




Saturday after Ash Wednesday

1st Reading: Isaiah 58:9-14

If they are converted, they are blessed, with waters that never fail

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, "Here I am." If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Responsorial: from Psalm 86

R./: O Lord teach me your way, that I may walk in your truth

Turn your ear, O Lord, and give answer
 for I am poor and needy.
 Preserve my life, for I am faithful:
 save the servant who trusts in you. (R./)

You are my God, have mercy on me, Lord,
 for I cry to you all the day long.
Give joy to your servant, O Lord,
 for to you I lift up my soul. (R./)

O Lord, you are good and forgiving,
 full of love to all who call.
Give heed, O Lord, to my prayer
 and attend to the sound of my voice. (R./)

Gospel: Luke 5:27-32

The tax collector sits at table with Jesus, who welcomes sinners to him

After this Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up, left everything, and followed him.

Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus answered, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance."


The Man For Others

The Jesus we follow is one who heartily loves and accepts each individual in their unique personhood, just as our genes and our past experiences have made us. His open acceptance of Levi’s dinner invitation with his friends, which later led to Levi becoming a trusted disciple, is typical of this "Man For Others." The converted tax collector is not despised as a second-class citizen, simply for the job he did and the company he kept. Although he came late into the Lord’s circle of friends, he made a great contribution to the early church by retelling his memories of Jesus.

How refreshing to hear Christ’s warm welcome of Levi echoed in the words of pope Francis, in his call for the doors of the church to be open wide so that all may enter. Certainly Jesus believes in conversion: but he calls people to it in such a non-judgmental way and awaits their positive response. How fully he would endorse Isaiah’s conviction on this matter: "Then you shall call and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help and he will say, "Here I am."

Isaiah foreshadows the warm acceptance with which Jesus welcomes all who come to him. It is one of the prophet’s most stirring promises, in God’s own name: "Then you shall call and the Lord will answer ‘Here I am’." The promise that our God will always be near us, to guide us in our actions and in our acceptance of what we cannot presently change, is a deep source of serenity. Isaiah adds a series of powerful metaphors, to reinforce the message of a caring God. He will make your bones strong; you shall be like a watered garden, like a flowing spring, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt. This is the kind of conviction on which a person of faith can build and which gives full meaning to any good effort we may be making for Lent.

Stern moral critics objected to Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. In their eyes, eating with tax collectors and sinners risked being contaminated by them. They would keep separate from such people in order to preserve their moral health and their reputation. But Jesus did not share this concern. Rather than being infected by our sins, his goodness, that is, God’s goodness in him, can make us well. He is not diminished by our faults; but we are ennobled by his holiness. Christ does not desert us, even if we let him down by what we do or fail to do. He continues to interact with us, as our motivator and inspiration in life.

Weekday Readings for the 1st Week of Lent


Monday, Week 1 of Lent

1st Reading: Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18

Practical guidance for worship and for social compassion

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my sabbaths: I am the Lord your God. Do not turn to idols or make cast images for yourselves: I am the Lord your God.

When you offer a sacrifice of well-being to the Lord, offer it in such a way that it is acceptable on your behalf. It shall be eaten on the same day you offer it, or on the next day; and anything left over until the third day shall be consumed in fire. If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is an abomination; it will not be acceptable. All who eat it shall be subject to punishment, because they have profaned what is holy to the Lord; and any such person shall be cut off from the people.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.

You shall not defraud your neighbour; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a labourer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbour. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbour: I am the Lord.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.

Responsorial: from Psalm 19

R./: Your words, o Lord, are Spirit and they are life

The law of the Lord is perfect,
 it revives the soul.
The rule of the Lord is to be trusted,
 it gives wisdom to the simple. (R./)

The precepts of the Lord are right,
 they gladden the heart.
The command of the Lord is clear,
 it gives light to the eyes. (R./)

The fear of the Lord is holy,
 abiding for ever.
The decrees of the Lord are truth and all of them just. (R./)

May the spoken words of my mouth
 And the thoughts of my heart,
 win favour in your sight, O Lord,
 my rescuer, my rock! (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46

The final judgment, based on "As you did it to these.."

Jesus said to his disciples, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me." Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited ou?" And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."

Then he will say to those at his left hand, "You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me." Then they also will answer, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?" Then he will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me." And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."


Live sparingly, for love’s sake

When Jesus identifies himself with people in critical need, like hunger and thirst, nakedness and imprisonment, he is inviting us examine our conscience on basic social issues, about compassion, sharing and justice.

The underlying value of our social and economic life all need shaking up, if we are to fulfil the command in Leviticus: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." How this contrasts with the ultra-capitalist culture of xx developed world. Our market-based economy seems to funnel wealth upward to the already wealthy few. It also sanctions bloated salary "top-ups" for already highly paid managers, while cutting medical and social helps to those less fortunate. Some acute political observers are calling for systemic reform and a fairer distribution of resources if we are to avoid social disorder and revolution.

This could happen if well-off people were to take the Lenten message to heart, and look with empathy at the lives of those at the bottom of the pay-scale. By committing to more fairness, rich people could help the destitute gain self-respect; by gracious acceptance the poor can teach the proud how to be humble before God and neighbour.

The deepest basis of morality is our shared identity as children of God. "Love your neighbour as yourself" is a bedrock principle. Unless this divine law is followed, then at the judgment Jesus can do nothing else but say: "I do not know you!" Our final judgment will ratify how we have responded to the moral obligations of our human nature. Listing some of these, Jesus added this sublime ideal: "As often as you did it for one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it for me." He invites us to see our neighbours as bone of our bones, flesh of our flesh.

The villagers in Nazareth did not recognize the grace of God present to them in Jesus. To them he seemed no more than "the carpenter, the son of Mary," too ordinary a man to be in any way God’s special instrument of grace. And when, years later, he was crucified by the Romans, his critics regarded this as the final proof of his insignificance.

"‘Tis we, ’tis our estranged faces / that miss the many-splendoured thing" wrote Francis Thompson. At the Last Judgment, many will ask, "when did we ever see you in need of our help?" Just as xx contemporaries ignored God’s presence in him, it is often hidden from us too. We need a sharper, clearer vision in order to perceive the deeper truth. God can be found in simple things and in the needs of others around us. Did Jesus not say, "whoever welcomes a child welcomes me"? There can be more potential in our daily encounters than we realize at the time, a chance to do something precious and pleasing to God.


Tuesday, Week 1 of Lent

1st Reading: Isaiah 55:10-11

God's word comes down from heaven like rain, to make the earth fruitful

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Responsorial: from Psalm 34

R./: The Lord will rescue the just from all their distress

Glorify the Lord with me.
Together let us praise his name.
 I sought the Lord and he answered me;
 from all my terrors he set me free. (R./)

Look towards him and be radiant;
 let your faces not be abashed.
This poor man called; the Lord heard him
 and rescued him from all his distress. (R./)

The Lord turns his face against the wicked
 to destroy their remembrance from the earth.
The Lord turns his eyes to the just and his ears to their appeal. (R./)

They call and the Lord hears and rescues them in all their distress.
The Lord is close to the broken- hearted;
 those whose spirit is crushed he will save. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 6:7-15

Guidance about prayer and the spirit of forgiveness

Jesus said to his disciples, "When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

"Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.


As the rain and the snow come down from heaven

During Lent we renew an attentive listening to the word of God in Sacred Scripture. Taking the message of the Bible to heart is a lifelong task. Today’s reading from Isaiah symbolizes the cycle of life in the rain and snow that fall from the sky and moisten the earth, giving life to all plants and trees. Divine inspiration is like the rain and the snow, and the new life arising in the plants and trees represents our newly-inspired lives. This vibrant, living image concludes the great second section of Isaiah (chapters 40-55), regarded by many as the most sublime literature of the Old Testament. This poetry bubbles with hopes and ideals, calling us to trust in God. The author was "Second Isaiah" the greatest literary genius of the Old Testament.

"See!" God says, "I have written your name on the palm of my hand" (Is 49:16). And why? "Because you are precious in my eyes and because I love you" (43:4). God’s love offers unconditional forgiveness. This is the type of love that we aspire to as we pray in the Our Father, "Forgive us ur trespasses."

A sincere desire for spiritual growth breathes through the liturgy of Lent, as it does through the Lord’s Prayer. This is the time to let the divine word come fully alive in us, "that it may not return to me empty, but achieve the end for which I sent it."

Although the Gospels often reported occasions when Jesus prayed, only rarely do they report what he prayed about. Just once does he teach his disciples the particular intercession which we know as the Lord’s Prayer. This is one formula shared by all Christians. In it Jesus teaches what is essential for genuine prayer, namely to put God’s will above our personal preferences. We must let go of selfish desire, in order to want what God wants, for the world and for ourselves. The Prayer then invites us to ask for basic needs, for food, both material and spiritual, for forgiveness, and for God’s help in times of trouble.

He wants us to broaden our focus from just our personal needs and pray as members of a community. It is a prayer that speaks of OUR needs rather than just MY needs. We intercede not just for ourselves but for others. We pray the Lord’s prayer as members of a living community of faith and love.


Wednesday, Week 1 of Lent

1st Reading: Jonah 3:1-10

When Jonah's preaching bears fruit, God has mercy on Nineveh

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, "Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you."

So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days" walk across. He began to go into the city, going a day's walk. And he cried out, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: "By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish."

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Responsorial: from Psalm 51

R./: O Lord you will not spurn a humble and contrite heart

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
 In your compassion blot out my offence.
 O wash me more and more from my guilt
 and cleanse me from my sin. (R./)

A pure heart create for me, O God,
 put a steadfast spirit within me.
 Do not cast me away from your presence,
 nor deprive me of your holy spirit. (R./)

For in sacrifice you take no delight,
 burnt offering from me you would refuse,
 my sacrifice a contrite spirit.
 A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn. (R./)

Gospel: Luke 11:29-32

The only sign given will be the sign of Jonah, who returns from the dead after three days

When the crowds were increasing, Jesus began to say, "This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!


Learning from Jonah

The Book of Jonah re-echoes thoughts from earlier books of the Bible. The pensive thought of the Assyrian king, "Who knows God may relent and forgive?" echoes earlier texts like the penitential prayer in Joel 2:14. The inspired author of Jonah had meditated so long on earlier prophecies that his preaching and writing became like a tapestry of biblical passages.

This author was deeply frustrated at Israel’s hardness of heart. Why do they, his own people, with their rich heritage of faith, refuse to reform their ways and respond to God with honesty and justice, with prayer and hope? "Look," Jonah says, "the pagans, even the worst of them, the cruel Assyrians, are more ready to improve than my own people!"

In passing Jonah draws attention to the kindness of strangers, such as the sailors who did not want to throw him overboard. He sees goodness in unlikely places, and change of heart where it was least expected. That is how Jonah’s people regarded the Assyrians. The same resonance today might attach to such words as Stalinist or Nazi, paedophile or ISIS terrorist!

The basic message of Jonah is, there’s always hope! While life lasts we must never lose hope in others or indeed in ourselves. Things can improve, in the personal or international scene, xxto resolve tensions in places like Ukraine, Congo or Syria, or hardships in Yemen and Venezuela, and the perennial risk posed by nuclear weapons and climate change. Surely conversion can take place. If the pagans of Nineveh came to believe in God and changed their ways, there is hope for all of us! On seeing the repentance of the Ninevites, God showed them mercy. If such repentance is possible, how can we give up hope in our time?

Jesus draws on the example of Jonah when announcing that the time of salvation is now. . . so that like the people of Ninive we should eagerly grasp the grace of the present moment and so draw near to God.


Thursday, Week 1 of Lent

1st Reading: Esther 4:29-42

Queen Esther's prayer wins God's help in a time of crisis

Queen Esther, seized with deadly anxiety, fled to the Lord. She prayed to the Lord God of Israel, and said: "O my Lord, you only are our king; help me, who am alone and have no helper but you, for my danger is in my hand. Ever since I was born I have heard in the tribe of my family that you, O Lord, took Israel out of all the nations, and our ancestors from among all their forebears, for an everlasting inheritance, and that you did for them all that you promised.

Remember, O Lord; make yourself known in this time of our affliction, and give me courage, O King of the gods and Master of all dominion! Put eloquent speech in my mouth before the lion, and turn his heart to hate the man who is fighting against us, so that there may be an end of him and those who agree with him. But save us by your hand, and help me, who am alone and have no helper but you, O Lord, who have knowledge of all things."

Responsorial: Psalm 137

R./: Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.

I thank you, Lord, with all my heart,
 you have heard the words of my mouth.
Before the angels I will bless you.
 I will adore before your holy temple. (R./)
 I thank you for your faithfulness and love
 which excel all we ever knew of you.
 On the day I called, you answered;
 you increased the strength of my soul. (R./)
You stretch out your hand and save me,
 your hand will do all things for me.
Your love, O Lord, is eternal,
 discard not the work of your hands. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 7:7-12

Ask, and it will be given you. Jesus teaches prayer

Jesus said to his disciples, "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 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? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

"In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets."


Prayer in time of crisis

Esther’s story illustrates the Gospel promise: "Ask and you shall receive." Because of her earnest prayer, God intervened to save her people from mortal danger. Esther was a secret Jewess, married to the pagan king Ahasuerus; and when her people were threatened with destruction, she took the risk of going to her husband to plead on their behalf. She knew that this could cost her very life, yet to stay in her comfortable ivory tower while her people were killed would burden her with guilt all her days. Her uncle Mordecai persuaded her to take her courage in both hands and beg the king to spare her Jewish people.

But first Esther prayed about it. She said, "My Lord, you alone are God. Help me, for I have no help but you." Times of crisis can lead us to more earnest prayer. Trivial ambition and even even our own safety can be forgotten, for the sake of the greater good. Queen Esther first prayed for God to show her how to win the heart of her husband and so to save her people from destruction.

Prayer in this spirit is powerful, because we are in touch both with the best part of ourselves and with the loving Creator who called us into life and who holds our future in his hands. The Gospel today asks us to trust God unconditionally. "Which of you would hand their child a stone if the child asks for bread?" We must trust him entirely, and hand over our lives into his care.

Jesus says, ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you..’ What are we to seek? What should we ask for? Ultimately, we should want what God wants.

Though we cannot find God fully in this life, we can recognise signs of his presence. We are pilgrims on a journey, trusting that God is our final destination. In an inspiring phrase from the letter to the Hebrews, ‘we run with perseverance the race that is set before us.’ In keeping up this searching spirit, we open ourselves to all that God wants to give us.


Friday, Week 1 of Lent

1st Reading: Ezekiel 18:21-28

Personal responsibility to replace the idea of shared guilt

But if the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die. None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live?

But when the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity and do the same abominable things that the wicked do, shall they live? None of the righteous deeds that they have done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which they are guilty and the sin they have committed, they shall die. Yet you say, "The way of the Lord is unfair." Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?

When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die.

Responsorial: from Psalm 130

R./: If you O Lord should mark our guilt, who would survive?

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,
 Lord, hear my voice
 O let your ears be attentive
 to the voice of my pleading. (R./)

If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt,
 Lord, who would survive?
But with you is found forgiveness:
 for this we revere you. (R./)

My soul iswaiting for the Lord,
 I count on his word.
 My soul is longing for the Lord
 more than watchman for daybreak.
Let the watchman count on daybreak
 and Israel on the Lord. (R./)

Because with the Lord
 there is mercy and fullness of redemption,
 Israel indeed he will redeem
 from all its iniquity. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 5:20-26

True justice goes deeper than simply keeping a set of laws

Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

"You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, "You shall not murder"; and "whoever murders shall be liable to judgment." But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, "You fool," you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.


Doing the right thing

Ezekiel calls on his people to persevere in doing good and not slide back into wrongdoing. According to Jesus the discernment of good and evil happens deep within our hearts. Over and above just keeping the law, we must actively seek to do some positive good.

More than just avoiding wrongdoing, like thievery, violence or slander, we are required to positively do good, and build up loving relationships. It is important to mend our fences, socially, before we can properly relate to God. Before offering sacrifice, Jesus says , "Go first and be reconciled to your brother or sister." Peacemaking first, then worship.

Reconciliation begins in the heart, when we want to heal the offence we have caused. With that intention, we can in good conscience join in the Eucharist. Linked to this is Ezekiel’s message about consistency in doing what is right, for "If the virtuous person turns from the path of virtue to do evil… has broken faith and committed sin."

Can we really rise to this ideal of consistently doing the right thing? Only if God gives us a new heart and… puts his own spirit within us (Ezek 36:26-27). Ezekiel says that whatever we have done in the past, God will renew us if we turn back to him. He imagines God saying, "I have no pleasure in the death of anyone… Return to me and live!"

But Jesus invites to go still further in doing the will of God. He asks for a deeper virtue than merely avoiding lawbreaking. The Old Law said, "You shall not kill." But Jesus goes beyond, to banish the sort of attitudes that lead people to injure each other. He wants to heal our underlying passions. For this, we need renewal of our personality, a true "conversion" of heart and mind. We need the Holy Spirit to transform our outlook. This is well expressed in the traditional prayer: "Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love." During Lent we call on the Holy Spirit to stir up in us the sort of love that was lived by Jesus and that is expected from all the children of God.


Saturday, Week 1 of Lent

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 26:16-19

Walking in the way of the Lord

This very day the Lord your God is commanding you to observe these statutes and ordinances; so observe them diligently with all your heart and with all your soul. Today you have obtained the Lord's agreement: to be your God; and for you to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, his commandments, and his ordinances, and to obey him. Today the Lord has obtained your agreement: to be his treasured people, as he promised you, and to keep his commandments; for him to set you high above all nations that he has made, in praise and in fame and in honour; and for you to be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.

Responsorial: from Psalm 119

R./: Happy are those who follow the law of the Lord

They are happy whose life is blameless,
 who follow God's law.
They are happy those who do his will,
 seeking him with all their hearts. (R./)

You have laid down your precepts
 to be obeyed with care.
 May my footsteps be firm
 to obey your statutes. (R./)

I will thank you with an upright heart
 as I learn your decrees.
 I will obey your statutes;
 do not forsake me. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 5:43-48

Our vocation is to become perfect, in God's image

Jesus said to his disciples, "You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.


Following the way of the Lord

God chose the Israelites (and we belong to the new Israel), to be his special people. Our best gift is an awareness of the divine presence within xx, which then moves us to live as God’s children. The divine presence is all around us like the sunshine and the very air we breathe. From our mother’s womb, the love of God has enfolded us.

In response to this love each person is called to love God "with all your heart and all your soul." Deuteronomy repeatedly uses the words "now" and "today" to say that our response to God should be ongoing. "Today you are entering this bond with the Lord." Our comitment needs renewal xx day. The book of Joshua extends this message of Deuteronomy and calls for our response "by day and by night" (Josh 1:8). Lent is a time for renewing personal prayer, leting the rhythm of God’s spirit take us over. Happy are they who follow the law of the Lord.

But the call is to perfection, not to perfectionism. To be a perfectionist is to be a martinet, demanding that everything be done precisely right, down to the last detail. While Jesus said, "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect," it is not about punctiliousness. The corresponding words in Luke’s gospel resemble those, except that where Matthew has "perfect", Luke has "merciful." "Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful." This was Luke’s inspired interpretation of what perfection meant for Jesus.

To follow Jesus fully we need to learn to love without condition, even so far as loving those who have harmed us or make life difficult for us. We are to go on loving, regardless how people respond to us. This is the summit of idealism in the Sermon on the Mount. Perhaps this ideal seems unrealistic and we may never quite match up to it, but we can grow towards it with God’s help. Later on in Matthew’s gospel we are assured that "for God, all things are possible."

Weekday Readings for the 2nd Week of Lent


Monday, Week 2 of Lent

1st Reading: Daniel 9:4-10

Daniel's prayer of shame and repentance

I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, "Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

"Righteousness is on your side, O Lord, but open shame, as at this day, falls on us, the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you.

Open shame, O Lord, falls on us, our kings, our officials, and our ancestors, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.

Responsorial: from Psalm 79

R./: Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins

Do not hold the guilt of our fathers against us.
Let your compassion hasten to meet us
 for we are in the depths of distress. (R./)

O God our saviour, come to our help,
 come for the sake of the glory of your name.
 O Lord our God, forgive us our sins,
 rescue us for the sake of your name. (R./)

Let the groans of the prisoners come before you;
 let your strong arm reprieve those condemned to die.
But we, your people, the flock of your pasture,
 will give you thanks for ever and ever.
We will tell your praise from age to age.. (R./)

Gospel: Luke 6:36-38

Imitating the divine mercy

Jesus said to his disciples: "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged;do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."


Contrition and compassion

It was a strong Jewish tradition to call to God for mercy, sure that it would be granted. Praying for mercy like this is maybe not so popular these days, but contrition is not a practice that we should neglect. Recognising our faults opens our hearts to God’s grace and encourages us to renewal. There is much in today’s first reading for us to adopt, in our own life and times.

It’s not that Daniel himself was notably sinful, but he felt a shared responsibility for the sins of his people. This is clear from his "Confiteor" mainly expressed in the plural. "We have sinned and done wrong." He does not say exactly how, but probably refer to the godless situation that led to the people being exiled in Babylon. Daniel felt an intense need for conversion in his personal life, but especially for his people’s return to the practice of their faith. He makes a heartfelt plea for reform and renewal.

"We have acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments." This was true before and after the exile, when many in Israel drifted away from their religion and adopted foreign ways. In particular, Daniel regrets his people’s stubborn refusal to repent, even when they got clear and firm guidance from prophecy, "We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name."

The young prophet Daniel admits to being "shamefaced" in the presence of God. Shame can be harmful but it can also be purifying. It can lead to humility and honesty. It can help the adult to be again as a child in spirit, in trust, willing to learn.

Our Gospel today names the moral ideal for Christians. St Luke expresses the supreme moral ideal of Jesus as, "Be merciful, as your Father is merciful." This is quite a challenge for Jesus does not allow us to practice mercy in tiny instalments. After being offended, we need to forgive the other person fully, with a pardon so full that it runs over like liquid from an overflowing vessel. We seek to show more love than the other showed hate, and in this way overcome evil with goodness. Even if we never quite achieve this, it remains a target to aim at and to pray about.

Some fasting during Lent can reduce our spirit of aggressiion or arrogance, if it is accompanied by a real surrender to God. Fasting reminds us of the kind of mildness and compassion God expects of us.

Guided by compassion, we pray for mercy with the confidence of Daniel in today’s reading. We can admit to God that "we have rebelled and departed from your commandments." When confessing our sins like this, we are already within the circle of God’s love and our sins are wiped out by God’s spirit that is already within us.


Tuesday, Week 2 of Lent

1st Reading: Isaiah 1:10, 16-20

A call to personal conversion, to remove our sins from God's sight

Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Responsorial: from Psalm 50

R./: I will show to the upright the saving power of God

I find no fault with your sacrifices,
 your offerings are always before me.
 I do not ask more bullocks from your farms,
 nor goats from among your herds. (R./)

But how can you recite my commandments
 and take my covenant on your lips,
 you who despise my law
 and throw my words to the winds. (R./)

You do this, and should I keep silence?
 Do you think that I am like you?
 A sacrifice of thanksgiving honours me
 and I will show God's salvation to the upright. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 23:1-12

Unlike any worldly hierarchy, in Jesus' circle the greatest will serve the others

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves ill be exalted."


Charity and integrity

The Biblical phrase "orphans and widows" refers by extension to all the helpless and needy people of the world. Isaiah mentions them after a stern warning that to neglect the poor incurs this response from God: "I close my eyes to you . . . I will not listen." We can imagine the prophet raising his voice in the next phrase: "Wash yourselves clean!" This "washing" of the spirit is done by caring for people in need.

This is a hard teaching, for we have all ignored beggars in our streets and driven comfortably past slums where we would not live ourselves; and how often have we wasted food at times when some were sleeping hungry in the streets. Somehow Lent invites us: "Come now, let us set things right!" It offers us a new start. "Though your sins be like scarlet, they may be as white as snow; though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool." A new integrity is offered to us here and now.

"But if you refuse and resist, the sword shall consume you.." We may wonder why Isaiah’s message of forgiveness and new life ends on such a warning note. Charity and integrity are a matter of life and death, and Lent calls us to meditate seriously about such things.

Jesus blames the Pharisees for laying heavy burdens on the shoulders of ordinary people. By contrast, his own invitation was, "Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest." Most of us have to cope with burdens of one kind or another as we go through life. Some burdens are necessary and unavoidable; they are the burdens of love, from having responsibility for others. Jesus opposes any forcing of needless burdens on others. We can all be guilty of this tendency, whether from a dominant temperament or by insisting that things must be done in our own way.

We are meant to make life less burdensome for the people around us and help them in any way we can. This would be in the spirit of the one who said, "Come to me all you who are overburdened and I will give you rest." The divine mercy helps us to shoulder our own burdens, and help others to carry theirs. As St Paul knew from personal experience, God makes up for our weakness, and in times of crisis we can turn to him for strength.


Wednesday, Week 2 of Lent

1st Reading: Jeremiah 18:18-20

In desperate straits, Jeremiah pins his hope on God

"Come, let us decide what to do with Jeremiah," people say. "There will still be priests to guide us, still wise men to advise us, still prophets to proclaim the word. Come, let us bring charges against him, and let us not heed any of his words."

Give heed to me, O Lord, and listen to what my adversaries say! Is evil a recompense for good? Yet they have dug a pit for my life. Remember how I stood before you to speak good for them, to turn away your wrath from them.

Responsorial: from Psalm 31

R./: Save me, O Lord, in your steadfast love

Release me from the snares they have hidden
 for you are my refuge, Lord.
 Into your hands I commend my spirit.
It is you who will redeem me, Lord. (R./)

I have heard the slander of the crowd,
 fear is all around me,
 as they plot together against me,
 as they plan to take my life. (R./)

But as for me, I trust in you, Lord,
 I say: 'You are my God.
 My life is in your hands, deliver me
 from the hands of those who hate me.' (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 20:17-28

Leaders: remember that the greatest must be as servants

While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised."

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favour of him. And he said to her, "What do you want?" She said to him, "Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom." But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" They said to him, "We are able." He said to them, "You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father."

When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be our servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."


The cost of discipleship

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Evangelical pastor who was hanged in Berlin in 1945 for his part in trying to remove Adolf Hitler from power, wrote an autobiographical memoir called The cost of discipleship. Both of today’s readings mention the hardship that prophets had to face, for speaking truth to power. Jeremiah’s people and even own family have turned against him, and the Jewish leaders wanted to destroy Jesus, for threatening their status quo. But Jeremiah was trying to serve the welfare of his people. "Remember, Lord, that I stood before you to speak in their behalf." What he wanted for them was health, peace and life. The mission of Jesus, likewise, was to help the needy and marginalised. "I am come to seek and to save what was lost."

Courageous and costly service like this needs a spiritual foundation. Jeremiah’s preaching was motivated by his sense of what God wanted for his people. But in his confession he also prays that those who rejected him may be punished. It seems likely that the prophet’s so-called "confession" was written as a personal diary, never intended for publication. A later editor must have found this diary after the prophet’s death, and inserted parts of this candid document among Jeremiah’s other writings. When cursing his enemies, he was not at his best. But when venting his feelings and emotions he was saying, "Here, dear God, is how I feel. Please help me!"

Even when he felt in utter darkness, he prayed to know the Lord’s will. He knew that God knows what we go through, and that in the end we are safe in God’s hands. Even Jesus did not claim to know every detail of the Father’s plan (Matt 24:36) and so he could not promise James and John the privileges they sought.

(Drinking from the Lord’s cup.) Jesus asked James and John, "Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?" Were they were willing to share his cup, a symbol for following wherever he may lead, even at the risk of their lives. Later, in Gethsemane Jesus prayed, "Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me;" but he went on to drink that cup in full, on the cross, giving himself into the Father’s hands. At the last supper, he shared the chalice of sacrifice with his disciples, and all willingly drank from it. Not long afterwards all deserted him and fled.

In spite of their promises, James and John failed to follow Jesus when the risk grew too great. We too are challenged to follow where he leads. Like the apostles, we share at the Lord’s table and drink from his cup. Sharing in the Eucharist commits us to his way of service. This spirit of self-giving service towards others, not lording it over them, is the moral legacy of Jesus. By sharing in his Mass, will commit to following the one who came not to be served but to serve.


Thursday, Week 2 of Lent

1st Reading: Jeremiah 17:5-10

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord rather than in mere mortal power

Thus says the Lord: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the desert, in an uninhabited salt land.

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.

The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it? I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.

Responsorial: from Psalm 1

R./: Happy are they who put their trust in the Lord

Blessed are they who who follow not
   the counsel of the wicked
 Nor walk in the way of sinners,
   nor sit in the company of the insolent,
But delight in the law of the Lord
   and meditate on his law day and night. (R./)

They are is like a tree
   planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
   and whose leaves never fade.
   Whatever they do will prosper. (R./)

Not so the wicked, not so;
   they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
For the Lord watches over the way of the just,
   but the way of the wicked vanishes.
Blessed are they who hope in the Lord. (R./)

Gospel: Luke 16:19-31

The contrasting futures of the uncaring wealthy and poor Lazarus

Jesus told them this parable, "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house—for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"


Seeking social fairness

Jeremiah’s lament and the parable of the Rich Man and the Poor Man illustrate the weakness of human nature. Even the prophet who trusted in God was tested by the heat of the desert and the hardships of life. The Lazarus parable is located not in the desert but in the gateway of a wealthy man’s villa. Inside there is feasting, and outside destitution. As the Rich Man wipes his hands with a piece of bread, then tosses it away, poor Lazarus would love even those few crumbs, just to stay alive. The poor man was barely surviving while the lavish party went on inside. It is an image painfully apt for our own times.

Jeremiah’s poem developes the contrast between the ungodly and the righteous. The person whose heart is turned away from the Lord… "is like a barren bush." It bears no fruit and is fit only for kindling. The other plant, signifying the person who trusts in the Lord, stands on the same dry ground, but continues to bear fruit. Its roots sink deeply beneath the surface into the hidden water of God’s holy will. This description fits the prophet himself. His life was in ruin, with even his own family turned against him; the king spoke to him only in secret and left him exposed to his enemies in daylight. The prophet died, rejected and persecuted, in the foreign land of Egypt. Yet, with his heart attuned God’s will, Jeremiah became one of the key figures in Israel’s survival as a people. His influence on their faith was immense. The book of Jeremiah sustained Jesus in prayer and continues to be a support for Christians as well as Jews. Even when he felt himself useless, Jeremiah helped to keep his nation’s faith alive.

Although rejected, Jeremiah kept his integrity, and Lazarus kept his integrity too, even while begging at the rich man’s door! Destitution usually destroys confidence and self-respect, but poverty can coexist with inner peace and strength. The beggar can be nearer to God than the banker, the cardinal, the CEO or the cabinet minister. People living in comfortable, gated communities may feel a twinge of conscience at hearing today’s parable. The true measure of a life is the generosity of one’s heart.

When someone is said to be "worth" or "valued at" so many millions (of Euros or Dollars), this assessment clashes with Gospel values. A person’s worth cannot be measured in money like that. The parables are meant to make us think about deeper values, about what is really right and wrong.

"Mr Rich" — for he is often called Dives (Latin for "Rich") — lived in his priveleged, well-guarded world and made no effort to relieve or even understand the plight of the beggar at his gate. All of us can insulate ourselves like that in our own little worlds. We need to look outside more, to see how poor people have to struggle!

Jesus challenges us to learn empathy and let others enter our world. That is what he himself did. He entered our world and invites us to enter his. We can do the same for each other. When we cross the threshold into another person’s world, meeting people who are very different from ourselves, we may discover that we not only have something to give them but a great deal to receive as well.


Friday, Week 2 of Lent

1st Reading: Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13 17-28

Jacob's sons envy their brother Joseph, and sell him into slavery

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him. Now his brothers went to pasture their father's flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, "Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them." He answered, "Here I am."

The man said, "They have gone away, for I heard them say, 'Let us go to Dothan.'" So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, "Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams." But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, "Let us not take his life." Reuben said to them, "Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the desert, but lay no hand on him"—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his rob, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

Responsorial: from Psalm 105

R./: Remember the marvels the Lord has done

When the Lord called down a famine on the land
   and ruined the crop that sustained them,
He sent a man before them,
   Joseph, sold as a slave. (R./)

They had weighed him down with fetters,
   and he was bound with chains,
Till his prediction came to pass
   and the word of the Lord proved him true. (R./)

The king sent and released him,
   the ruler of the peoples set him free.
He made him lord of his house
   and ruler of all his possessions. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46

Greedy for property, the wicked tenants kill the landowner's son

Jesus said to the crowds, "Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance." So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time." Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes'? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom."

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.


Divine providence at work

The story of Jacob’s sons is told in some detail (Gen 37-50) in the final chapters of the Book of Genesis. Its main theme is made clear when Joseph calmly tells his brothers: "While you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve his purpose, the survival of many " (50:19-20). God can use even a misguided and violent action to a positive end, even to the benefit of those who cared little for us. It was through Joseph’s perseverance that his family survived, to flourish in Egypt where they developed their distinctive religious traditions. In Jesus. case, his rejection by the Jewish leaders led to a gloriously new Israel, joining Jew and Gentile into one, worldwide family (Romans 11).

The survival of Joseph and the destiny of Jesus are splendid examples of divine providence at work. A divine plan permeates our existence. At times we may barely glimpse it, and some times we feel it clearly, yet always we are being directed and guided by a merciful providence. In his frequent use of the Hebrew scriptures Jesus was referring to his Father’s guiding plan. The early Christians firmly believed in this saving plan, that culminated in Jesus. They fully embraced the idea in today’s parable that, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the keystone. It was the Lord who did this and it is marvellous!"

Lent puts us into closer touch with divine providence, and helps us to begin again to desire our highest ideals, planted in us by God. It offers serenity even in the face of problems and disappointments if we can believe in a providence that directs everything towards some final good. If this belief of the patriarch Joseph becomes our own, it will have a marvelous effect, a truly rich harvest of grace.

The parable about the vineyard-owner’s son killed by his tenants was a graphic pointer to the Lord's own passion and death. At the end of the parable, he quotes from the psalms, "It was the stone rejected by the builders that became the keystone," a prophecy of his resurrection. The One who was rejected by the religious and political leaders, rose from the dead and in so doing became the keystone of a new temple, the community of people who faithfully believed in him.

What may initially be repugnant to us can become a therapy by which God heals us. Parts of life that we tend to reject may be the very channels through which Christ teaches and draws us to himself. Our faith tells us that God always has a purpose for whatever happens. Although we may neglect God, God never neglects us.


Saturday, Week 2 of Lent

1st Reading: Micah 7:14-15, 18-20

Israel's God is a God of mercy

Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock that belongs to you, which lives alone in a forest in the midst of a garden land; let them feed in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old. As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, show us marvellous things.

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency. He will again have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and unswerving loyalty to Abraham, as you have sworn to our ancestors from the days of old.

Responsorial: from Psalm 103

R./: The Lord is kind and merciful

Bless the Lord, O my soul;
   and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
   and forget not all his benefits. (R./)

He pardons all your iniquities,
   he heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction,
   he crowns you with kindness and compassion. (R./)

He will not always chide,
   nor does he keep his wrath forever.
 Not according to our sins does he deal with us,
   nor does he requite us according to our crimes. (R./)

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
   so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
 As far as the east is from the west,
   so far has he put our transgressions from us. (R./)

Gospel: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

The parable of the Prodigal Son

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable: ""There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.

"But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands." ' So he set off and went o his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.

"Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"


There's always Hope

Jesus told a remarkable story about a headstrong young man who demanded to get his inheritance early and then went off and wasted it by dissolute living. But when he hit rock bottom, the prodigal waster still had some hope that his Father might receive him back home. The Micah passage also talks about hope. The people of Judah have been "trampled underfoot," and driven off to a foreign land. This disaster was due to the people’s sins, insisted the prophet, and must not be explained just by the enemy’s vastly superior army. Even now that the exile has ended and the poverty-stricken people have returned to Jerusalem, they are insignificant numerically and economically. The prophet begs God to "show us wonderful signs… as you have sworn to our fathers from days of old" (v 15, 20).

The prodigal son survived on his memories and eventually plucked up the courage to seek a way back. He came to his senses because the remembered goodness of the father finally inspired the young man and overcame his wayward resistance. It feels as if the father’s desire had reached across miles and mountains to touch the heart of the son.

Our Church needs a new injection of courage and confidence. Trust in God’s care is a legacy we need to pass on to future generations. Instead of letting the tidal wave of media scorn sweep us away, let’s remember the recovery of the Prodigal Son. All of God’s sons and daughters are called back to the right path, to a joyful homecoming. We may ultimately celebrate with the father upon the return of the prodigal son.

Remarkably the Father says, "this son of mine was dead and has come back to life." Then he tells his elder son, "your brother was dead and has come back to life." There is more than one form of resurrection. The new life that we long and hope for beyond this earthly life can be anticipated in various ways in the course of our time here and now. In the parable, a kind of resurrection for the younger son took the form of a journey from a self-imposed isolation to an experience of community. His journey took him from hopeless guilt to being warmly welcomed home.

It was the father’s creative, unconditional love that raised Jesus from the dead. The parable of the Prodigal shows how God’s compassion is always at work, bringing people back from isolation to new life. In contrast to that father, the elder son considered his brother morally dead and would happily leave him remain in his self-imposed tomb. While the father’s response to his prodigal son was compassion, the elder brother’s response was rigid anger. The parable challenges us to embody in our own lifestyle the life-giving compassion of the father rather than the deadening anger of the elder son .

Weekday Readings for the 3rd Week of Lent


Monday, Week 3 of Lent

1st Reading: 2 Kings 5:1-15

Naaman the Syrian takes the prophet's advice and is cured of leprosy

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman's wife. She said to her mistress, "If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, "Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel."

He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, "When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy." When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, "A I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me."

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, "Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel." So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha's house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean." But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, "I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?" He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, "Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, 'Wash, and be clen'?" So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant."

Responsorial: from Psalm 42

R./: My soul is thirsting for the living God. When shall I see him face to face?

As the deer longs for running streams,
   so my soul is longing for you, O God. (R./)

My soul is thirsting for God, the living God.
   When shall I go and behold the face of God? (R./)

Send forth your light and your fidelity;
   they shall lead me on
 And bring me to your holy mountain,
   to your dwelling-place. (R./)

Then will I go in to the altar of God,
   the God of my gladness and joy;
Then will I give you thanks upon the harp,
   O God, my God! (R./)

Gospel: Luke 4:24-30

Nazareth's rejection shows how no prophet is accepted in his own place

Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.


A God of Hope

Leprosy (also known as Hansen’s disease) was a terrible scourge, which happily has almost entirely disappeared. Contrary to popular belief, it is not very contagious, but the Gospel mentions how widespread it was in biblical times: There were many lepers in the time of Elisha. Poor Naaman had tried everything and almost given up hope of a cure. He seemed rejected even by the prophet Elisha and was on his way home to Syria, angry and discontented, when his staff begged him to do the little thing suggested and bathe seven times in the Jordan. This story teaches two main things: Life has many burdens, but nothing is ever completely hopeless.

Some atheists would like to revile and insult God, if they believed in a God, for making such an unjust and imbalanced world. They feel that if God made this world, he made a hopeless mess of it. But granted the many heartaches and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, through Jesus we learn a more positive view of the world. He encourages us to appreciate the blessings of life (Lilies of Field, Birds of Air, Seasons of Growth & Harvest; Joy of Children; Practice of Mercy and Charity) and to be grateful for each day of life.

The darker side –sickness, misfortune, loneliness and neglect, the pains of old age — he invites us to embrace in a spirit of faith, as a sharing in his cross. Accepting with patience what we cannot change has a therapeutic power for us. Another great teacher of hope, the apostle Paul, held that all of creation "groaning in one great act of giving birth.." All of his hard times as a missionary were seen in this light: "I fill out in my own flesh what is lacking in the suffering of Christ, for the sake of his body." This was the spirit that kept St Francis Xavier going, in Far East, despite sickness, weariness, fever and failure.

In the movie The King and I, the English schoolmistress, Anna, advises the children, "Whenever I feel afraid, I whistle a happy tune…" Good advice, as far as it goes. But our faith invites us to go further and put our hope in the Lord, who will not let us down. The founder of the Passionists, St Paul of the Cross, had a great devotion to Our Lady of Holy Hope, whose heart was always hopeful because: "He who is mighty has done great things in me." No matter what age we’re at, there are wellsprings of hope, both for ourselves and for others. If, like the Syrian army-officer Naaman, we put aside our pride and trust in the Lord, he will never let us down.

Jesus challenged the narrow view the villagers of Nazareth had of God. Just as they felt that Jesus belonged to them and demanded that he do in his home town what they heard he did elsewhere, they were convinced that God belonged only to Israel. When Jesus reminded them of some places in Scripture where God seemed to favour the pagans over the Jewish people they were furious and they forcibly drove Jesus out of town.

His rejection in Nazareth anticipated his even more brutal rejection in Jerusalem. His neighbours’ God was too small and he wanted to broaden their understanding and to realize, as St Peter later said, that "God has no favourites." The God of Jesus was more generous, more expansive, more inclusive than they could imagine. Jesus was trying to show that there was much more to God than we might expect. He is more like the father in the parable of the prodigal son and his mercy is open to all. Jesus’ vision of God is to be still embraced by us, because it is fundamentally "good news" for all who are willing to receive it.


Tuesday, Week 3 of Lent

1st Reading: Daniel 3:25, 34-43

Nebuchadnezzar admires the miraculous escape of the young Jews

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, "Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?" They answered the king, "True, O king." He replied, "But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god."

Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said, "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!" So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king's counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them.

Nebuchadnezzar said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king's command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way."

Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, within the province of Babylon.

Responsorial: from Psalm 25

R./: Remember your mercies, O Lord

Your ways, O Lord, make known to me;
   teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
   for you are God my saviour. (R./)

Remember that your compassion, O Lord,
   and your kindness are from of old.
 In your kindness remember me,
   because of your goodness, O Lord. (R./)

Good and upright is the Lord;
   thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
   he teaches the humble his way. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35

The forgiving spirit Jesus wants in his church

Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, is lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, 'Pay what you owe.' Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."


Making a fresh start

The blow to Israel's life through invasion and exile, was devastating, leaving them with "no prince, prophet or leader.. no place to find favour with you." But after such destruction the faithful survivors, like Daniel, turned back to God, unreservedly. Daniel confessed: "We have sinned and have done every kind of evil". God preserves the faithful from both the flames and the teeth of lions.

Just as Daniel and his people found their future within a renewed community, so the Gospel parable also speaks of renewal. The forgiveness one receives from God must then be offered and passed on to all our ellow human beings. "Should you not deal mercifully with your fellow servant," our Father asks, "as I dealt with you?" What we receive with gratitude builds us up; we cannot be our best unless we give share things unreservedly. The gift from God most difficult to share and bestow upon another is forgiveness; yet it's often the one of which we stand most in need. By giving we receive, and by it communion with others and with God is made. In Lent we seek forgiveness from God, but on the way we also seek to be reconciled with our immediate neighbours.

Peter has a high profile in Matthew's gospel. It is only there that Jesus addresses him as the rock on which he will build his church. It is only in Matthew that we find Peter asking the question, "Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?" In the Scriptures, seven is a symbol of fullness and completion. While to forgive someone seven times would seem about as far as one could possibly go, still Jesus said that we should forgive seventy seven times. in other words, there is to be no limit to our willingness to forgive.

Of course Jesus was well aware of the human tendency was to put strict limits on forgiveness, as is clear in the parable he told to Peter and the others. In that story, even the fortunate person who had been generously forgiven a huge debt could not find it in his heart to forgive another to a much lesser extent. Foremost in Jesus' mind is how forgiving God was. In today's gospel he calls on Peter and on all of us to be God-like in our readiness to forgive. This is a major part of what he meant earlier in Matthew's gospel, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."


Wednesday, Week 3 of Lent

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9

God's people have clear duties and a high destiny

So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!" For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?

But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children's children after you.

Responsorial: from Psalm 147

R./: Praise the Lord, Jerusalem

Glorify the Lord, O Jerusalem;
   praise your God, O Zion.
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;
   he has blessed your children within you. (R./)

He sends forth his command to the earth;
   swiftly runs his word!
He spreads snow like wool;
   frost he strews like ashes. (R./)

He has proclaimed his word to Jacob,
   his statutes and his ordinances to Israel.
He has not done thus for any other nation;
   his ordinances he has not made known to them. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 5:17-19

Deeper than the letter of the law is seeking the will of God

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.


Conservation and renewal in matters of faith

The Book of Deuteronomy provides a set of laws meant to help the Jewish people to stay faithful to their God. Most of this fifth book of the Bible consists of motivational sermons, all centred on one great virtue, faithfulness. This Book often refers to "today" as the very day God gave the law to Moses, to be passed on to the people in God’s name. It portrays a warmly loving God who deserves all our love in return. "Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I command you today" (Deut. 6:5-6).

Their God is closer to them than any pagan god, and therefore should be loved with all their heart. Clearly Jesus treasured this book, since he draws from it his basic inspiration and teaching. Whether in the temptation in the desert (Matt 4:1-11) or in declaring what is the first and greatest commandment (Mk 12:28-34), Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy. He used this book as a foundation text and may have had it in mind when he said: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them." He would agree with Moses that if the Jews were to stay faithful to the Lord their God, the whole world could learn from them and declare: "This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people."

Jesus used a wealth of imagery to lead us to treasure what is truly important in life. He compares his saving message to new wine; but this fermenting wine needs wineskins that are flexible enough to carry his dynamic message. The hidebound, static, legalist forms of religion would no longer do. At the same time, he kept faith with tradition, the best of own Jewish culture. Their Scriptures had guided and inspired him. He did not come to abolish the Law but to highlight its best aspects. He was not creating a new religion out of nothing.

Our Lord’s example tells us not to toss aside all the religious devotions of our past; but neither are we to canonize them. Our church always needs reform and renewal; and the new wine of the Holy Spirit needs new wineskins, people who are open to new and improved ways of sharing our faith. True renewal involves honouring what is best in our tradition by letting its potential touch our lives today, right here and now.


Thursday, Week 3 of Lent

1st Reading: Jeremiah 7:23-28

Life's highest goal is obedient response to God

But this command I gave them, "Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you." Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but, in the stubbornness of their evil will, they walked in their own counsels, and looked backward rather than forward.

From the day that your ancestors came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day; yet they did not listen to me, or pay attention, but they stiffened their necks. They did worse than their ancestors did. So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you. You shall say to them: This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.

Responsorial: from Psalm 95

R./: If today you would listen to his voice, harden not your hearts

Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord;
   let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
   let us joyfully sing psalms to him. (R./)

Come, let us bow down in worship;
   let us kneel before the Lord who made us.
For he is our God,
   and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides. (R./)

Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
   Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
   as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me;
   they tested me though they had seen my works. (R./)

Gospel: Luke 11:14-23

Healings proved that Jesus acts with the authority of God

Jesus was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons." Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven. But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? ? for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.

When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armour in which he trusted and divides his plunder. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever oes not gather with me scatters.


Seeking what is right

Basic virtues, like compassion, forgiveness, prayer, understanding, loyalty, loving affection, makes the difference between heaven and hell, life and death. Jeremiah clearly expressed this: "Only if you reform your ways and your deeds; if each of you deals justly with his neighbour, if you no longer oppress the resident alien, the orphan, and the widow; if you no longer shed innocent blood, or follow strange gods to your own harm will I [your God] remain with you." (7:5-7) Jesus too is clear about the right thing to do. To his detractors he says: 'If I have done a good thing, how can you think I acted with an evil spirit? If I show mercy to a mute person, do not accuse me of sin!' The messianic age is at hand if we can speak kindly, love compassionately, protect courageously, receive even the alien warmheartedly.

Jeremiah and Jesus are not so different as we might suppose. We must not be stiff-necked, but faithful, listening and responding to God. Jeremiah ends with the word "faithfulness." In the Hebrew the phrase implies: be what you are supposed to be! He calls for consistency, fidelity, in our relationship with God and with our neighbours, even the refugees in our midst. Lent invites us to help the needy and the stranger, that these basic virtues become second nature to us. Then we will be acting under the finger of God and promoting the kingdom of God in our world.

His critics were completely wrong about Jesus, declaring that he heals by means of Satan's power. Instead of acknowledging that God was powerfully at work in Jesus, they declared that Satan was at work in his life. It is hard to conceive of a greater error than that. They were calling good evil. In response to their grave misjudgement, Jesus declared that his healing work was done through the finger of God. God was at work in Jesus and some of his own contemporaries could not see it. We can all be blind to the finger of God, to the working of God among us.

We are graced in some way by God and we hardly notice it. The Lord blesses us and rather than recognize the blessing and giving thanks for it we focus on what we do not have or what is wrong in our lives. We need to keep on praying for the gift to see as Jesus sees, which is the opposite of how people in the gospel saw. Jesus saw the working of God in creation, in the sower, the vineyard, the flowers of the field and birds of the air. He saw God's presence in those whom many people had written off. Jesus teaches us to see with generous and hopeful eyes. When we see with those kind of eyes, then, in the words of Paul, we will be inspired to give thanks in all circumstances.


Friday, Week 3 of Lent

1st Reading: Hosea 14:2-10

How God supports those who trust in Him

Take words with you and return to the Lord; say to him,
 "Take away all guilt; accept that which is good,
 and we will offer the fruit of our lips.
 Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses;
 we will say no more, 'Our God,' to the work of our hands.
 In you the orphan finds mercy."

I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely,
 for my anger has turned from them.
 I will be like the dew to Israel;
 he shall blossom like the lily,
 he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon.
His shoots shall spread out;
 his beauty shall be like the olive tree,
 and his fragrance like that of Lebanon.
They shall again live beneath my shadow,
 they shall flourish as a garden;
 they shall blossom like the vine,
 their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
 O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?
It is I who answer and look after you.

I am like an evergreen cypress;
 your faithfulness comes from me.
Those who are wise understand these things;
 those who are discerning know them.
For the ways of the Lord are right,
 and the upright walk in them,
 but transgressors stumble in them.

Responsorial: from Psalm 81

R./: I am the Lord your God: listen to my voice

An unfamiliar speech I hear:
   I relieved his shoulder of the burden;
   his hands were freed from the basket.
 In distress you called, and I rescued you. (R./)

Unseen, I answered you in thunder;
   I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
Hear, my people, and I will admonish you;
   O Israel, will you not hear me? (R./)

There shall be no strange god among you
   nor shall you worship any alien god.
 I, the Lord, am your God
   who led you forth from the land of Egypt. (R./)

If only my people would hear me,
   and Israel walk in my ways,
 I would feed them with the best of wheat,
   and with honey from the rock I would fill them. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 12:28-34

Jesus endorses love as the greatest commandment

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other;' and 'to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,' and 'to love one's neighbour as oneself,' .. this is much more important that all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that no one dared to ask him any question.


The Great Commandment

Our holy Scriptures call us to a positive holiness that is more than the avoidance of sin. The prophet Hosea appeals to his people to "return to the Lord, your God" as to a loving partner. Then, in today’s Gospel, our love for God and love for our neighbour are closely interlinked. This desire for God is an active response, not a theoretical notion. Rather than indulging in theological argument, the people should reach out with practical, compassionate love to others, in God’s name.

Hosea and Jesus both echo the familiar language of the Jewish liturgy. Our liturgy here on earth should reflect the beauty and peace of God. According to Hosea the dew of heaven rests upon Israel; just as we still invoke God’s Spirit to bless our Eucharist like the dewfall. Jesus says "Amen" to this anticipation of the life to come: "You are not far from the kingdom of God," he says. If we live by the great commandment of love, that kingdom is where we are all meant to be.

The scribes (or teachers of the law) are generally shown arguing with Jesus. But the scribe in today’s Gospel is an exception. Jesus totally approves this man’s outlook and assures him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." They were in full agreement about the two great commandments of the Law. The first calls us to love God with all our might, and the second to love our neighbour as ourselves. The interplay of those two loves is the vital point.

It’s worth noting how the two great commandments differ about the intensity of love required. Only God is to be loved with ALL our heart and soul, our mind and strength. It is to God alone that our total love is due. The is the essence of adoration, and it is our highest human faculty.

But to love God in this way necessarily involves us with God’s love for humanity and leads to the second commandment. All of our human brothers and sisters are made in the image and likeness of God. And therefore, active regard for and love of our neighbour is where the pure and total love of God invariably leads us.


Saturday, Week 3 of Lent

1st Reading: Hosea 6:1-6

God wants our love more than ritual sacrifice

"Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his appearing is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth."

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early. Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have killed them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Responsorial: from Psalm 51

R./: What I desire is mercy, rather than sacrifice

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
   in your great compassion wipe out my offense.
Wash me thoroughly from my guilt
   and cleanse me of my sin. (R./)

For I acknowledge my offense,
   and my sin is always before me:
 Against you alone have I sinned,
   and done what is evil in your sight. (R./)

A clean heart create for me, O God,
   and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
 Cast me not out from your presence,
   and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. (R./)

Give me again the joy of your salvation,
   and preserve in me a willing spirit.
 O Lord, open my lips,
   and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. (R./)

Gospel: Luke 18:9-14

Pharisee and Tax-collector pray differently. A lesson in humility

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."


How to pray

The Bible is a rich resource of practical guidance for our spiritual life. But merely knowing what it says is not enough. Even the devil can quote Scripture for his purpose, as Shakespeare put it. If a little learning is a dangerous thing, knowing without doing is still more dangerous. Knowing the Bible as literature will be life-giving only if it also embraced in our outlook and behaviour.

The trust that God answers prayer is deeply embedded in Scripture, and Jesus highly commends prayer to his followers. Hosea quotes the liturgical prayer: "Come, let us return to the Lord" and adds the prediction: "He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up." This promise of salvation runs all through the Old Testament; and Jesus stands within this biblical promise by rising from the dead "on the third day." God answers the inward appeal of our heart, but is not impressed by any kind of arrogance, or merely reciting prrescribed formulas of prayer. Our words can become prayer only when they rise from a humble heart.

The Pharisee and the Tax-collector have very different approaches. One spends his prayer-time listing his own virtues and achievements; and the other just asks for mercy, humbly aware of being a sinner. Jesus clearly favours the latter approach!

Two men went into a church to pray, but they were quite different in their outlook. One of them offered a self-satisfied prayer: "I thank you God that I’m not like all the sinful throng." The other just asked quietly, "God, be merciful to me a sinner." Both wanted to speak with God but only one of them was heard. What distinguished them was their differing self assessment. Which of them do we most resemble? While the proud, devout man thought himself better than his neighbours, the other one recognised his poverty before God. In truth, both of them were equally needy, but only one of them recognised it.

We always come before God with empty hands. In the Our Father Jesus teaches us to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses." A beloved formula of the Eastern church that has been prayed down through the centuries is the Jesus prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me, a sinner." This can be prayed to the rhythm of our breathing. It is a longer version of the prayer of tax collector. It reminds us of our poverty before God and this is a prayer that will always be answered.

Weekday Readings for the 4th Week of Lent


Monday, Week 4 of Lent

1st Reading: Isaiah 65:17-21

"Rejoice in what I am creating!" Good things in store for those who love God

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.

I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.

They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

Responsorial: from Psalm 30

R./: I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me

I will extol you, O Lord, for you drew me clear
   and did not let my enemies rejoice over me.
 O Lord, you brought me up from the nether world;
   you preserved me from among those going down into the pit. (R./)

Sing praise to the Lord, you his faithful ones,
   and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger lasts but a moment;
   a lifetime, his good will.
 At nightfall, weeping enters in,
   but with the dawn, rejoicing. (R./)

Hear, O Lord, and have pity on me;
   O Lord, be my helper.
You changed my mourning into dancing;
   O Lord, my God, forever will I give you thanks. (R./)

Gospel: John 4:43-54

Jesus cures the son of a royal official, his second miracle in Cana

When the two days were over, he went from that place to Galilee (for Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honour in the prophet's own country). When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the festival; for they too had gone to the festival.

Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, "Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe." The official said to him, "Sir, come down before my little boy dies." Jesus said to him, "Go; your son will live." The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, "Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him." The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live." So he himself believed, along with his whole household. Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.


The faith of a Roman offficer

As Isaiah looks forward to a new heaven and a new earth, we too look forward to a life beyond the here and now. So Jesus gave hope to the Roman offficer at Capernaum, who begged for help when his son was nearly dead. He gave him a promise, ‘Go home. Your son will live.’ This pagan centurion trusted what Jesus said and set off for home, sure that the lad would recover. Do we share this trust that the Lord can take care of us too? Do we know that he loves us, whatever our background or status? Can we believe that whatever may happen, we are safe in God’s hands? Let us today repeat the officer’s prayer of faith: "Yes, Lord, I believe."

Jesus really can work miracles, now no less than then. After taking the initiative of coming to Jesus, the centurion believed his son would recover. The Gospel notes this as the second sign given by Jesus. The first sign was the turning of water into wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:11). These are signs of new life and joy, promises that the old will be swept away and the pains of the past be remembered no more. They point to a new creation beyond the reach of death. You have changed my mourning into dancing. O Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

Many people asked Jesus for help as he went around the villages, teaching. But the centurion was particularly insistent, and in response to his perseverance, Jesus grants his request, though in an unexpected way. He did not go to the boy’s sick-bed but simply said, "your son will live." The centurion had to take the word of Jesus and he did just that. The Lord’s word was enough, and on the way home he found that it was true.

We may often feel that the Lord is ignoring our prayer, or does not answer as we expected. If that happens, we need to persevere like the man in the gospel. Jesus really does respond to prayer, in one way or another. We must just take him at his word and let his promise be enough for us.


Tuesday, Week 4 of Lent

1st Reading: Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12

Life-giving water flows out from the Temple of God

Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar.

Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side. Going on eastward with a cord in his hand, the man measured one thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the waist.

Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed. He said to me, "Mortal, have you seen this?" Then he led me back along the bank of the river.

As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on the one side and on the other. He said to me, "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes.

On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing."

Responsorial: from Psalm 46

R./: The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold

God is our refuge and our strength,
   an ever-present help in distress.
Therefore we fear not, though the earth be shaken
   and mountains plunge into the depths of the sea. (R./)

There is a stream whose waters gladden the city of God,
   the holy dwelling of the Most High.
God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed;
   God will help it at the break of dawn. (R./)

The Lord of hosts is with us;
   our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
 Come! behold the deeds of the Lord,
   the astounding things he has wrought on earth. (R./)

Gospel: John 5:1-3, 5-16

Jesus cures the paralysed man near the pool of Bethzatha, on the Sabbath

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids .. blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be made well?" The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me." Jesus said to him, "Stand up, take your mat and walk." At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Now that day was a Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, "It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat." But he answered them, "The man who made me well said to me, 'Take up your mat and walk.'" They asked him, "Who is the man who said to you, 'Take it up and walk'?" Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, "See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you." The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the Sabbath.


Appreciating the water of Life

We live in an age of pollution and looming environmental crisis, aware that global warming threatens the very future of life on earth. As Pope Francis has wisely reminds us in his encyclical "Laudato Si," this world is our shared home; but by contaminating the earth’s air and water, we are putting in peril the conditions for life of future generations. The pope has called us to practice inter-generational justice, and actively protect our environment and leave the earth unharmed for those who will follow us. Therefore the fresh-water image in Ezekiel’s prophecy is very relevant for today and we ask God to help us protect this lovely planet. Only by the mercy of God, it seems, can the process of destruction be reversed. Only God can convert human hearts to responsible stewardship of the earth.

Ezekiel offers us reasons to hope and pray. He inspires us also to seek another kind of purification, of our inner selves. We need a stream of grace to flow through us, to cleanse our hearts, brighten our hopes and infuse us with new life and vigour. Sometimes we seem only half alive; we are as lame as the man in John’s gospel, waiting for the movement of the water.

The healing miracle at the pool near the Sheep Gate can bring echoes of our Baptism. Lent is the time when catechumens are preparing for Baptism on Holy Saturday. It invites us to throw off anything that is unworthy in us and turn aside from sin so that our best self can prevail.

As the waters of Ezekiel’s prophecy flowed from the Holy of Holies in the temple, let’s see what we can do to revive the spirit in our local church, during Lent. Through prayer and liturgy we can feel the touch of God’s presence. Reflecting upon Ezekiel we seek our own source of life-giving water. Like him we will notice new signs of life about us where previously we saw only the dry desolation of the desert.

Finally, the lame man at the pool of Bethesda shows how worthwhile it is to wait with patience. This vital virtue is urged by the prophets, especially Isaiah who said: "By waiting and calm you shall be saved. Your strength resides in quiet and in trust." (Is 30:15). Like the lame man by the pool, we trust that Jesus offers the healing we need. He could have waited forever and remained lame, if he did not recognise the coming of the Lord.


Wednesday, Week 4 of Lent

1st Reading: Isaiah 49:8-15

God promises the exiles, "You'll be a sign of salvation!"

Thus says the Lord: 'In a time of favour I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you; I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages; saying to the prisoners, "Come out," to those who are in darkness, "Show yourselves." They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them. And I will turn all my mountains into a road, and my highways shall be raised up.'

Lo, these shall come from far away, and lo, these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Syene. Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.

But Zion said, "The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me." Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.

Responsorial: from Psalm 145

R./: The Lord is gracious and merciful

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
   slow to anger and of great kindness.
The Lord is good to all
   and compassionate toward all his works. (R./)

The Lord is faithful in all his words
   and holy in all his works.
The Lord lifts up all who are falling
   and raises up all who are bowed down. (R./)

The Lord is just in all his ways
   and holy in all his works.
The Lord is near to all who call upon him,
   to all who call upon him in truth. (R./)

Gospel: John 5:17-30

Jesus speaks of God as loving father and life-giver

But Jesus answered them, "My Father is still working, and I also am working." For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.

Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he ill show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. Anyone who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.

"Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out .. those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

"I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.


Seeing the bigger picture

Isaiah's vision of his people returning from exile and today's section from St John both invite us to see the larger picture. The prophet thinks of God splitting the mountains to bring his people home from afar. Almost in the same breath he imagines this mighty God as a mother, tenderly loving the child of her womb. Even if these images are mismatched, they serve to enhance the manifold mystery of God. John's gospel ponders the mysteries of the Godhead. Today he ponders the equality of Father and Son, alongside the subordination of Jesus to the Father. Questions about life and death, judgment and resurrection, sin and grace, heaven and damnation, life received and life possessed, are the subject of John's contemplation. Such are the possibilities of our own life. We can be so deeply touched by inner joy that we want to summon the mountains to break out in song. The depth of God's goodness and majesty .. the plunging into the eternity behind us and the sweep of contemplation into another future eternity .. causes the soul to sing!

How petty seems the argument about whether or not good works should be done on the Sabbath! Jesus cures a lame man at the pool of Bethesda, and jealous people bicker over a violation of Sabbath rest. Long before, Isaiah had explained how to keep the Sabbath free from profanation: People should "do what is just . . . and let the foreigners join themselves to the Lord" (Is 56:1-8). God works on the Sabbath by keeping the created world going, by bringing infants to birth and by calling others in death. But legalists can be blind to the wonderful and the tender, preferring to argue a point of legal procedure. A tiny hill turns into a mountain, blocking their view of God's beautiful world of people and natural phenomena.

We can easily become narrow, prejudiced, blinded, tied up in all types of red tape while on our screens we see how some people are dying of starvation, refugees are deprived of what they need for a full life, and the potential of many young people goes untapped for lack of educational resources. We allow fear and greed to keep us protecting our own piece of turf! Lent could still purify us so as to live more aware of the wonderful grace of God, of the awesome gift of life, and of our good planet earth. The Lord is faithful in all his words and holy in all his work

Jesus wanted all men and women to find life through believing in Jesus. As the evangelist says a little earlier in his gospel, "God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through him." God wills life and that is why Jesus says, "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full."

A similarly positive image of the love of God is in today's first reading. Just as a mother cherishes the child of her womb and gives life to her child, even more so does God cherish us and work to bring us to fullness of life. God guides us to springs of water. When we pray in the Our Father, "your will be done," we are praying that a culture of life would prevail over a culture of death. We are also committing ourselves to doing God's will by protecting life, by bringing life to others, by helping others to life fully human lives, lives that are shaped by the Holy Spirit and lead to eternal life.


Thursday, Week 4 of Lent

1st Reading: Exodus 32:7-14

Though his people rebel, Moses begs another chance for them

The Lord said to Moses, "Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'" The Lord said to Moses, "I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation."

But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, "O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, "It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth"? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, "I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Responsorial: from Psalm 106

R./: Remember us, O Lord, for the love you have for your people

Our fathers made a calf in Horeb
   and adored a molten image;
They exchanged their glory
   for the image of a grass-eating bullock. (R./)

They forgot the God who had saved them,
   who had done great deeds in Egypt,
 Marvellous deeds in the land of Ham,
   terrible things at the Red Sea. (R./)

Then he spoke of exterminating them,
   but Moses, his chosen one,
 stood before him in the breach
   to turn back his destructive wrath. (R./)

Gospel: John 5:31-47

The witness of Jesus shows us the way to God

Jesus said to his disciples, "If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true. You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John's. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.

"You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?"


Winning Hearts, Not Arguments

Today’s readings describe different responses to angry criticism, which is such a common human response to current events. Our Jewish forebears had a positive genius for complaining, on their long camino through the Sinai desert. So much so that God tells Moses how stiff-necked they are, how unwilling to be led. In today’s text, the Lord is ready to abandon the Hebrews and produce a new people, founded not on Abraham but on Moses and his sons. "I will make of you a great nation." We may wonder, is this a projecting into the mind of God of Moses’ own frustration? He had hesitated himself, at times, especially when told to strike the rock to find water (Num 20:6b-13). If Moses is confusing his own inclination with the will of God, then how well he is mirroring ourselves. Like Moses we too can imagine that our own inclinations are an expression of God’s holy will!

Like Moses, Jesus often had to face the arguments of his critics. On witnessing how he healed a man who had been lame for many years, they carped that such activity was forbidden on the Sabbath. Both Jesus (and the early church) patiently and carefully explained the reasons for his actions. Jesus appealed to their experience of John the Baptist, again to his own miracles as works of his heavenly Father, to the interior presence of God the Father within the mind of each person, and to the Scriptures.

From a pastoral perspective, we should value winning hearts above winning arguments. During a lively discussion often we must decide to concede a minor point in order to reach a positive outcome. Inner conviction and patient serenity will eventually win the day. This attitude enables us to persevere and lessens the temptation to quit. Perhaps our faith community will eventually, after apparent failure and long delay as in Moses’ case, cross the river Jordan and enter the promised land. Our deeper aim is not to win arguments but to win hearts for God.


Friday, Week 4 of Lent

1st Reading: Wisdom 2:1, 12-22

Malice against the good foreshadows the Passion of Jesus

Foolish people reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves, "Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end, and no one has been known to return from Hades. Let us then lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training.

"He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father.

"Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God's child, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, so that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected."

Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hoped for the wages of holiness, nor discerned the prize for blameless souls;

Responsorial: from Psalm 34

R./: The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

The Lord confronts the evildoers,
   to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
When the just cry out, the Lord hears them,
   and from all their distress he rescues them. (R./)

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
   and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
 Many are the troubles of the just person,
   but out of them all the Lord delivers him. (R./)

He watches over all his bones;
   not one of them shall be broken.
The Lord redeems the lives of his servants;
   no one incurs guilt who takes refuge in him. (R./)

Gospel: John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30

Jesus goes up to Jerusalem privately; the crowds wonder about him

After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He did not wish to go about in Judea because the Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill him. Now the Jewish festival of Booths was near. So his brothers said to him, "Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world." (For not even his brothers believed in him.) Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil. Go to the festival yourselves. I am not going to this festival, for my time has not yet fully come." After saying this, he remained in Galilee.

But after his brothers had gone to the festival, then he also went, not publicly but as it were in secret. Now some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, "Is not this the man whom they are trying to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, but they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah? Yet we know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from." Then Jesus cried out as he was teaching in the temple, "You know me, and you know where I am from. I have not come on my own. But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me." Then they tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come.


Our journey of discovery

Wisdom tells of an upright person who was hated and persecuted by his hearers for claiming to be a child of God, a claim they mocked and rejected. Jesus himself suffered a similar rejection. When his own relatives wanted to restrain him, he answered, "I was sent by One whom you do not know. It is from him that I come." The Just One in the Book of Wisdom was persecuted, nobody laid a finger on Jesus yet, for his hour had not yet come. This points forward to the Last Supper and the Passion, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Because he dearly loved his followers, he would leave them a lasting legacy. During the Supper he made this promise: "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you." (Jn 14:18)

As the response to the Psalm we repeated this mantra: "The Lord is near to broken hearts." Broken hearts are painful and lonely, but they also enable us to reach even more deeply into our roots, where God is very near with the loving providence of his mysterious clasp. Our God is close to those in trouble; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves. Many are the troubles of the just, but from them all the Lord will save them.

Whenever St John mentions "the Jews," he has in mind the Jewish religious leaders. This Evangelist sees a distinction between the leaders and the people as a whole. While John does not claim that all the Jews wanted to kill Jesus he does mention their sceptical doubts about him when they said, "we all know where he comes from." They only knew that he came from Nazareth, an insignificant place up north, far away from Jerusalem. In reply, Jesus declares that he really comes from God, the Almighty Father who sent him. The evangelist St John reminds us that there is more to Jesus than we can realize or understand. When it comes to knowing him, we are always on a journey of discovery. What really matters is to keep travelling that journey, to keep getting to know Jesus more fully.


Saturday, Week 4

1st Reading: Jeremiah 11:18-20

The Just One is led like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter

It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew; then you showed me their evil deeds. But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. And I did not know it was against me that they devised schemes, saying, "Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will no longer be remembered!"

But you, O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously, who try the heart and the mind, let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.

Responsorial: from Psalm 7

R./: Lord, my God, I take shelter in you

Lord God, I take refuge in you.
From my pursuer save me and rescue me,
 lest he tear me to pieces like a lion
 and drag me off with no one to rescue me. (R.)

Give judgement for me, Lord;
 I am just and innocent of heart.
 Put an end to the evil of the wicked!
 Make the just stand firm,
 you test mind and heart, O just God! (R.)

God is the shield that protects me,
 who saves the upright of heart.
God is a just judge slow to anger;
 but he threatens the wicked every day. (R.)

Gospel: John 7:40-53

The authorities wonder about Jesus: can he be the Messiah?

When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, "This is really the prophet." Others said, "This is the Messiah." But some asked, "Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?" So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why did you not arrest him?" The police answered, "Never has anyone spoken like this!" Then the Pharisees replied, "Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law .. they are accursed." Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, "Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?" They replied, "Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee." Then each of them went home.


Interpreting the Bible honestly

The Jewish leaders disagreed in their assessments of Jesus, but generally refused to believe he could be the Messiah. While the same argument raged among the Jewish laity, some of them decided in Jesus’ favour. For example, the temple guards openly expressed admiration for him: "No one ever spoke like that before!"

Theologians and laity still debate the basics of our faith: Who is Jesus for us? How can he lead us to salvation? How should his church be organised? What attitudes and behaviours does God require of us? Is anything definitively right or wrong? Christians are still divided into denominations, each quoting the Bible as their authority. Because Lent calls us to deeper prayer and study, we might want to review our guidelines for reading the Bible profitably. The prophecy of Jeremiah and words from John’s Gospel offer some help for interpreting the Bible today.

Although Jeremiah was "like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter" he was fully open to the Lord’s revelation. And what St John says about Nicodemus suggests that we should keep an open mind about texts that are difficult to interpret. We should think hard before deciding.

As Nicodemus told his colleagues on the Jewish Council, we should be slow to condemn what we do not understand. Like him, we need to know the facts before rejecting or accepting something as true. And in order to understand, we must respect differences of opinion. If Jesus’ messiah-ship was a public issue among his people and their religious leaders during his lifetime, it’s no surprise that theological debate continues today.

Jesus never taught his disciples to abandon their Jewish faith. Rather, he sought to bring this faith to its perfection. His teaching gained the respect of honest people, who valued whatever is good and wholesome. The unlearned temple guards said to the theologians: "No one ever spoke like that before!"

The Bible should not be used to make what is good look bad, nor make what is bad look good. Biblical interpretation should be honest and fair. Honest, decent people who have a positive attitude toward their neighbours, people who are slow to condemn and who are tolerant of other people’s convictions, have the best chance of interpreting the Bible fairly and honestly, as God’s guidance to us here and now.

Weekday Readings for the 5th Week of Lent


Monday, Week 5 of Lent

1st Reading: Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17, 31-62

Susanna is falsely accused; Daniel's questions uncover the truth

There was a man living in Babylon whose name was Joakim. And he took a wife named Susanna, the daughter of Hilkiah, a very beautiful woman and one who feared the Lord. Her parents were righteous, and had taught their daughter according to the law of Moses. Joakim was very rich, and had a spacious garden adjoining his house; and the Jews used to come to him because he was the most honoured of them all.

That year two elders from the people were appointed as judges. Concerning them the Lord had said: "Iniquity came forth from Babylon, from elders who were judges, who were supposed to govern the people." These men were frequently at Joakim's house, and all who had suits at law came to them there.

When the people departed at noon, Susanna would go into her husband's garden to walk. The two elders used to see her every day, going in and walking about, and they began to desire her. And they perverted their minds and turned away their eyes from looking to Heaven or remembering righteous judgments.

Once, while they were watching for an opportune day, she went in as before with only two maids, and wished to bathe in the garden, for it was very hot. And no one was there except the two elders, who had hid themselves and were watching her. She said to her maids, "Bring me oil and ointments, and shut the garden doors so that I may bathe." Now Susanna was a woman of great refinement, and beautiful in appearance. As she was veiled, the wicked men ordered her to be unveiled, that they might feed upon her beauty. But her family and friends and all who saw her wept.

Then the two elders stood up in the midst of the people, and laid their hands upon her head. And she, weeping, looked up toward heaven, for her heart trusted in the Lord. The elders said, "As we were walking in the garden alone, this woman came in with two maids, shut the garden doors, and dismissed the maids. Then a young man, who had been hidden, came to her and lay with her. We were in a corner of the garden, and when we saw this wickedness we ran to them. We saw them embracing, but we could not hold the man, for he was too strong for us, and he opened the doors and dashed out. So we seized this woman and asked her who the young man was, but she would not tell us. These things we testify." The assembly believed them, because they were elders of the people and judges; and they condemned her to death.

Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and said, "O eternal God, who dost discern what is secret, who art aware of all things before they come to be, thou knowest that these men have borne false witness against me. And now I am to die! Yet I have done none of the things that they have wickedly invented against me!" The Lord heard her cry. And as she was being led away to be put to death, God aroused the holy spirit of a young lad named Daniel; and he cried with a loud voice, "I am innocent of the blood of this woman."

All the people turned to him, and said, "What s this that you have said?" Taking his stand in the midst of them, he said, "Are you such fools, you sons of Israel? Have you condemned a daughter of Israel without examination and without learning the facts? Return to the place of judgment. For these men have borne false witness against her." Then all the people returned in haste. And the elders said to him, "Come, sit among us and inform us, for God has given you that right." And Daniel said to them, "Separate them far from each other, and I will examine them."

When they were separated from each other, he summoned one of them and said to him, "You old relic of wicked days, your sins have now come home, which you have committed in the past, pronouncing unjust judgments, condemning the innocent and letting the guilty go free, though the Lord said, 'Do not put to death an innocent and righteous person." Now then, if you really saw her, tell me this: Under what tree did you see them being intimate with each other?" He answered, "Under a mastic tree." And Daniel said, "Very well! You have lied against your own head, for the angel of God has received the sentence from God and will immediately cut you in two."

Then he put him aside, and commanded them to bring the other. And he said to him, "You offspring of Canaan and not of Judah, beauty has deceived you and lust has perverted your heart. This is how you both have been dealing with the daughters of Israel, and they were intimate with you through fear; but a daughter of Judah would not endure your wickedness. Now then, tell me: Under what tree did you catch them being intimate with each other?" He answered, "Under an evergreen oak." And Daniel said to him, "Very well! You also have lied against your own head, for the angel of God is waiting with his sword to saw you in two, that he may destroy you both."

Then all the assembly shouted loudly and blessed God, who saves those who hope in him. And they rose against the two elders, for out of their own mouths Daniel had convicted them of bearing false witness; and they did to them as they had wickedly planned to do to their neighbour; acting in accordance with the law of Moses, they put them to death. Thus innocent blood was saved that day.

Responsorial: Psalm 23

R./: Though I walk in the valley of darkness I fear no evil, for you are with me

The Lord is my shepherd;
 there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures
 where he gives me repose.
 Near restful waters he leads me,
 to revive my drooping spirit. (R./)

He guides me along the right path;
 he is true to his name.
 If I should walk in the valley of darkness
 no evil would I fear.
You are there with your crook and your staff;
 with these you give me comfort. (R./)

You have prepared a banquet for me
 in the sight of my foes.
 My head you have anointed with oil;
 my cup is overflowing. (R./)

Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me
 all the days of my life.
 In the Lord's own house shall I dwell
 for ever and ever. (R./)

Gospel: John 8:1-11

Mercy shown to the woman caught in adultery

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, No one, sir." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again."


Defending the defenceless

Susanna’s story illustrates the depth of her faith: "she trusted in the Lord with all her heart." By contrast, lust drove her accusers to suppress their consciences, driving out any thought of mercy or justice. Her story suggests that if we reach out to God, we get a true perspective on things, even in very dark moments. Things may look hopeless but the Lord knows our need. In that spirit Susanna prayed: "Eternal God, you know what is hidden and are aware of all things." She did not lash out against her accusers or faint in panic, but trusted God and declared her innocence aloud. Then, in the light of her obvious innocence Daniel is led to find the right solution.

We pray for the wisdom to know when to choose silence and when to speak. It is this kind of character that we seek in the presence of God. He becomes our light, our witness, our justification. It can be true of us too, what was said about Susanna, "blessed is God who saves those who hope in him."

In the Gospel, an unfortunate woman was dragged into Jesus’ presence. We admire his restraint in responding to the case put to him, for he simply bent down and started doodling on the ground in the dust. Then he looked up and suggested, ‘Let whoever among you is without sin be the first to stone her.’ The accused woman showed equal restraint. She might have accused the man who was caught with her but was let off scot free. Clearly her accusers were just using the woman to put Jesus into a dilemma. But he refused to be trapped, and so did the woman lying on the ground, who projected more dignity by her silence than the pomposity of her accusers. Eventually they went off one by one, beginning with the elders.

The judges who brought the sinful woman to Jesus were suggesting a radical punishment for her moral failure: death by stoning. The story shows that this was not Jesus’ response to moral failure. The situation was far more complex that the crude solution proposed in the Law of Moses. The ones judging the woman saw her only in terms of one wrong action. Jesus’ assessment was far more generous, taking into account the whole shape of her life rather than just one little part of it. Seeing the whole picture, he saw a good future, which her accusers would have denied her.

When Jesus looks at us he sees us through and through. Knowing the full story about us, he does not judge us on our lapses. Our story is still unfinished, and will only be complete when he returns to transfigure our lowly bodies into full union with himself.


Tuesday, Week 5 of Lent

1st Reading: Numbers 21:4-9

The brazen serpent; anyone bitten can look at it and live

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food." Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, "Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live." So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Responsorial: from Psalm 102

R./: O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you

O Lord, hear my prayer,
   and let my cry come to you.
Hide not your face from me
   in the day of my distress.
 Incline your ear to me;
   in the day when I call, answer me speedily. (R./)

The nations shall revere your name, O Lord,
   and all the kings of the earth your glory,
When the Lord has rebuilt Zion
   and appeared in his glory;
When he has regarded the prayer of the destitute,
   and not despised their prayer. (R./)

Let this be written for the generation to come,
   and let his future creatures praise the Lord:
The Lord looked down from his holy height,
   from heaven he beheld the earth,
To hear the groaning of the prisoners,
   to release those doomed to die. (R./)

Gospel: John 8:21-30

When they have lifted up the Son of Man, the truth will be finally revealed

Again he said to them, "I am going away, and you will search for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come." Then the Jews said, "Is he going to kill himself? Is that what he means by saying, "Where I am going, you cannot come"?" He said to them, "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he." They said to him, "Who are you?" Jesus said to them, "Why do I speak to you at all? I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him." They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him." As he was saying these things, many believed in him.


The Serpent and the Cross

The symbol of Israel’s sin, the bronze-coloured snake with its poisonous bite, eventually became a symbol of healing and salvation. Moses made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, so that all who looked upon it admitting their sin and regretting their offense were cured by the Lord. Acknowledgment of sin purifies the mind and heart, exposing all excuses and calling evil by its proper name "sin" i.e. an offence against the God who guides our lives. The people came to a new outlook when they admitted that sin brought death, that their grumbling was destructive, and that their contempt for the Manna provoked God’s anger.

This bronze serpent has a somewhat murky history. Long before Moses cast this figure in copper, the serpent was a popular figurine in Canaanite fertility rituals. It was a serpent that symbolized the devil in Genesis 3. Perhaps it was because of this pagan background that Moses’ bronze serpent later became an object of false worship and was destroyed as an idol by King Hezekiah (2 Kgs 18:4).

Paradoxically the early church recognized in this symbol a sign of Jesus on the cross. Saint Paul wrote: "For our sake God made the sinless one to be sin, so that in him we might become the very holiness of God" (2 Cor 5:21). In the goodness, compassion and forgiveness of Jesus we recognize by contrast our own violent and harsh attitudes. The very image of Jesus on the cross shows the effects of human violence but also reveals "the kindness and love of God our Saviour" (Tit 3:4). The "miraculous interchange" of which the liturgy speaks is that while Jesus conforms to us externally (adopting our humanity), we are enabled to conform to him internally, becoming children of God. His goodness forces the poison of our sinfulness out of our system, by his enduring with love the violence of the crucifixion, and through his act of loving self-surrender, we come to belong like Jesus to the God who is above all and in all and through all.


Wednesday, Week 5 of Lent

1st Reading: Daniel 3:14-20, 24-25

Trusting in God, they are saved from the fiery furnace

Nebuchadnezzar said to them, "Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?"

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up."

Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary, and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counsellors, "Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?" They answered the king, "True, O king."

He replied, "But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god."

Responsorial: from Daniel 3

Response:To you be glory and praise for ever!

Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
   praiseworthy and exalted above all forever;
 And blessed is your holy and glorious name,
   praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages. (R./)

Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory,
   praiseworthy and exalted above all forever. (R./)

Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom,
   praiseworthy and exalted above all forever. (R./)

Blessed are you who look into the depths
   from your throne upon the cherubim;
   praiseworthy and exalted above all forever. (R./)

Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven,
   praiseworthy and glorious forever. (R./)

Gospel: John 8:31-42

Jesus promises that the truth will make us free

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, "You will be made free"?"

Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. I declare what I have seen in the Father's presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father."

They answered him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are indeed doing what your father does." They said to him, "We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself." Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me.


The Truth will set us free

In this drama from the book of Daniel the young men put their trust in God, no matter what might happen. Their reply to the king’s threat was: "If our God can save us, may he save us! But even if he will not, we will not serve your god!" Bravely they accepted the consequences for holding firm to Jewish traditions. They put their chances for survival into the hands of God. The cost was clear and they choose integrity over conformity. When by a miracle they were saved from the fiery furnace Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed: "Blessed be the God who saves the servants that trust in him."

Similarly, Jesus had decided at all costs to do the will of the One who sent him (John 5:30). Unlike the young men who were thrown into the furnace, he was not saved from the violent death of crucifixion. But when dying on the cross, his prayer too was being answered by the God of all. In the letter to the Hebrews it says that Jesus "was heard because of his reverence… and he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him." (Hebr 5:7-9)

At the centre of Jesus’ heart and soul was unconditional trust and obedience. He came into our world "to do the will of the One who sent me." Utter trust in the Father was central to his heart’s desire. Our identity as Christians is meant to be similarly focussed. Our Lord assures us: "If you live according to my teaching . . . you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." At crucial moments we may experience our own version of the "fiery furnace". If we can hold firm, we will have been fully tested, as children of God. And in our final act of dying, we will have the blessed vision of eternal truth.

In past centuries, philosophers and writers have often pondered and debated the ideal of truth, which is so basic for our knowledge and for communication. One notorious distortion of the ideal of truth was the Nazi slogan Arbeit Macht Frei ("Work makes free") printed over the gates of every concentration camp. Keeping people in prison with a false hope of release showed utter disrespect for truth. In our own day, contradictory versions of the news compete on TV and social media. Computers and smartphones give a platform where everyone can have their say. Pressure-groups and politicians rival each other at spinning their slanted "truth" over what they call "False News" from other sources. More than ever before we need to love truth as a major value, and pray to the Holy Spirit to help us distinguish truth from falsehood of all kinds.

Jesus promised that "the truth will make you free; " and linked this promise to his own person: "I am the truth." Along with truth, he promises us freedom, when he says, "If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." What he offers is what St Paul called "the glorious freedom of the children of God." Then the Holy Spirit  he shares with us gives us power to live as God intends, to bring out what is best in us. True freedom empowers us to love and share ourselves with others as Jesus did – he who was "The man for others." We pray for truth and freedom – and hope – in a special way during this COVID-19 emergency, so that we can live by the light of God’s truth.


Thursday, Week 5 of Lent

1st Reading: Genesis 17:3-9

Abraham believe in God's promises, despite delays and disappointments

Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God."

God said to Abraam, "As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations."

Responsorial: from Psalm 105

R./: The Lord remembers his covenant for ever

Look to the Lord in his strength;
   seek to serve him constantly.
 Recall the marvellous deeds that he has wrought,
   his portents, and the judgments he has uttered. (R./)

You descendants of Abraham, his servants,
   sons of Jacob, his chosen ones!
He, the Lord, is our God;
   throughout the earth his judgments prevail. (R./)

He remembers forever his covenant
   which he made binding for a thousand generations --
Which he entered into with Abraham
   and by his oath to Isaac. (R./)

Gospel: John 8:51-59

The mysterious relationship between Jesus and Abraham

Jesus said, "Truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death." The Jews said to him, "Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, 'Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.' Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?"

Jesus answered, "If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whomyou say, 'He is our God,' though you do not know him. But I know him; if I would say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad." Then the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am." So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.


Abraham’s world-wide family

God’s famous promise to Abraham reach forward into the future, even into our present age. It anticipates a day when all the nations of the world will be united as members of one great family, like relatives, all of them related to Abraham, our father in faith. What unites earth’s different races will not be common genealogy or shared DNA. It will be sharing the same faith in one all-wise and all-powerful God, and in a way of salvation where no one travels alone, where all have a fair share of earth’s riches, and the dignity of all is respected.

The promises to Abraham advise us to think big, to respond generously, to seek and dream the divine ideal of one world, one people.

The critics of Jesus objected to his claim to give them true freedom. Angrily they muttered, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. How can you set us free?" (John 8:33). They scorned his extraordinary claim, "Before Abraham was, I am." But in truth the origins of Jesus go back to eternity. "Before Abraham came to be, I AM." By this phrase, I am, Jesus relates himself with Yahweh. The name for this mysterious, ever-present God was very special and sacred to Israel. In the Hebrew language it means He-who-is-always-present.

Jesus means even more to us than Abraham "our father in faith". He is the Son who was with the Father before the universe was made, and who directed world history so that Abraham eventually emerged as an icon for all people of faith. As sharing in the great I AM, Jesus is Lord of history. His hopes and plans will remain unfulfilled until all human beings feel themselves united as one family. This ideal is echoed in St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians: "There is no longer among you Jew or Greek, slave or free person, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, you are the descendants of Abraham, which means you inherit all that was promised." (Gal 3:27-29)


Friday, Week 5 of Lent

1st Reading: Jeremiah 20:10-13

Though many plot against God's servant, he is safe in God's hands

For I hear many whispering: "Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!" All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. "Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him."

But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonour will never be forgotten.

O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.

Responsorial: from Psalm 18

R./: In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice

I love you, O Lord, my strength,
   O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer. (R./)

My God, my rock of refuge,
   my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!
 Praised be the Lord, I exclaim,
   and I am safe from my enemies. (R./)

The breakers of death surged round about me,
   the destroying floods overwhelmed me;
The cords of the nether world enmeshed me,
   the snares of death overtook me. (R./)

In my distress I called upon the Lord
   and cried out to my God;
From his temple he heard my voice,
   and my cry to him reached his ears. (R./)

Gospel: John 10:31-42

Amid growing danger to his life, Jesus goes off to a quiet place

When the Jews took up stones again to stone him, Jesus replied, "I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?" The Jews answered, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God." Jesus answered, "Is it not written in your law, "I said, you are gods"? If those to whom the word of God came were called "gods," and the scripture cannot be annulled, can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, "I am God's Son"? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father." Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands.

He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there. Many came to him, and they were saying, "John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true." And many believed in him there.


How can we know what God wants for us?

Both Jeremiah and Jesus were hounded by former friends and even their relatives turned against them. People can change their attitudes when they feel their personal interests or security threatened. Jeremiah trusted in God who rescues the life of the poor, and Jesus devotes his energies to helping the helpless, the blind and the crippled, and returning them to a full enjoyment of life. Both Jeremiah and Jesus were condemned because they upset the conventional wisdom that cared more for ritual than for actual people. Their opponents were not bad, but were deeply misguided. They knew their laws by heart; but these had become ossified, and were no longer able to express the mercy of God.

If they are applied rigidly, the rules of religion can become like idols, venerated in place of God. They can be mis-quoted as God’s judgment upon each individual action. Religious folk sometimes find false security in fixed statutes that are unchangeable. Pope Francis has warned against this temptation. "To be ruled by Christ" he said "means always reaching out what lies ahead." Jesus condemned a hidebound view of the commandments by comparing the legalist Pharisees to "white-washed tombs" (Matt 23:27). Jeremiah calls God the One who probes the mind and heart. The confidence of Jesus is rooted in knowing that "the Father is in me and I in him."

The leaders bitterly opposed this claim. "You are only a man and you claim to be God," they said. Jesus claims a unique relationship with God, so that his words have the authority of God, his Father. The fourth gospel begins with the insight that the Word who was God became flesh and lived among us. Jesus is truly God in human form. That truth is at the core of Christian faith.

Because Jesus is the revelation of God, the healings he works are the work of the Father. The will of God the Creator will always be mysterious to us, and particularly in a time of worldwide disaster such as the Covid pandemic or the dire state of our global environment. But Jesus has partially unveiled that mystery, in order to draw us into the life of God. He has revealed that God is, ultimately, mysteriously, infinite love: "God is Love." "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son." That is the mystery we celebrate in Holy Week, and it challenges all God’s children to lovingly and responsibly do our part in resolving the evils that threaten our world today.


Saturday, Week 5 of Lent

1st Reading: Ezekiel 37:21-28

I will bring them back, and I will cleanse them

Say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from every quarter, and bring them to their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.

They shall never again defile themselves with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. I will save them from all the apostasies into which they have fallen, and will cleanse them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes. They shall live in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your ancestors lived; they and their children and their children's children shall live there forever; and my servant David shall be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Then the nations shall know that I the Lord sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary is among them forevermore.

Responsorial: from Jeremiah 31

R./: The Lord will guard us, as a shepherd guards his flock

Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
   proclaim it on distant isles, and say:
He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
   he guards them as a shepherd his flock. (R./)

The Lord shall ransom Jacob,
   he shall redeem him from the hand of his conqueror.
Shouting, they shall mount the heights of Zion,
   they shall come streaming to the Lord's blessings:
The grain, the wine, and the oil,
   the sheep and the oxen. (R./)

Then the virgins shall make merry and dance,
   and young men and old as well.
 I will turn their mourning into joy,
   I will console and gladden them after their sorrows. (R./)

Gospel: John 11:45-56

Caiaphas prophecies that one must die for the people

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, "What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation." But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed." He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to put him to death.

Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews, but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness; and he remained there with the disciples.

Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and were asking one another as they stood in the temple, "What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?"

The value of giving

What is required in order to gather all the dispersed children of God joined into one family of faith and love, as the prophets foretold, is not that we lose what we have but be willing to share everything. God’s gifts are meant to be shared so that each of us leaves a legacy of good during our time in this life.

To share the best we have is where it pinches. We hardly hesitate to share our superfluous items. Indeed often we are pleased to de-clutter and clean house, give things away in order to have more living space. But the Bible does not want us simply to get rid of outworn things; it calls us to share as one family. Ezekiel, with his eye for practical details, adds that we must be united in politics (one prince), in worship (one sanctuary), and in our sense of belonging (one land).

Jesus interacted with the politics, religion and social customs of his time too. He cured the sick and the handicapped and was prepared to break any religious taboo that held people back from healing and health. His attitude to freedom and equality as children of God was feared as a threat to the status quo, and even to the official priesthood appointed by the Romans. By eating and drinking with non-observant Jews and outsiders, Jesus was turning conventional status upside down.

To fulfil his mission of service to the poor, Jesus seemed to lose everything, even his very life, dying in the most shameful and painful form of execution. But for giving himself without reserve for our sake, he was raised up to glory by God, the all-just, all merciful Father. He who scattered Israel, now gathers them; He guards them as a shepherd guards his flock, turning their mourning into joy, and gladdening them after all their sorrow.

Readings for Holy Week


Monday of Holy Week

1st Reading: Isaiah 42:1-7

My servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, the One in whom my soul delights

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

Responsorial: from Psalm 27

R./: The Lord is my light and my salvation

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
   whom should I fear?
The Lord is my life's refuge;
   of whom should I be afraid? (R./)

When evildoers come at me
   to devour my flesh,
 My foes and my enemies
   themselves stumble and fall. (R./)

The Lord is my light and my salvation. (R./)

Though an army encamp against me,
   my heart will not fear;
Though war be waged upon me,
   even then will I trust. (R./)

I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord
   in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord with courage;
   be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord. (R./)

Gospel: John 12:1-11

Mary's gesture of love, pouring ointment on Jesus' feet

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus" feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.


In memory of her

We are within Holy Week, a time to prayerfully reflect on the final journey of Jesus to his Passion. Due to the need for physical distancing during the pandemic, we won’t be able to meet in church, but let’s remain aware of each other, and pray for each other.

Most of the people Jesus met in his final days were against him. Yet in today’s gospel story, a week before he was crucified, he was honoured in a most personal and inspired way. One evening, while dining with his friends in Bethany, his hostess, Mary, went to great expense to show her devotion to him. In spite of the sarcastic words of Judas, Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive perfume and dried them with her hair. A few days later, during the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.

Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus, was inspired to anticipate that servant-spirit of Jesus himself. Her extravagant  gesture was an inspired act that mirrors how Jesus gives himself to all of us. Despite the cost of the ointment, Jesus defends her generous act as preparing him for his death and burial. He welcomed the anointing as a loving gesture that mirrors his love for us, the kind of honour we ought to show to each other. Sometimes we are blessed to meet people like Mary who affirm and encourage us when we most need it. Hopefully, we too can be for others what she was for Jesus, a generous friend in an often surly world.

This anointing is so iconic that we should make more of it in our liturgy. She honoured and loved him as a man of God, devoted to love and fairness, who had unique empathy for all, including herself. She dared to show her love by anointing him with perfumed oil, despite the seeming extravagance. Jesus accepted this anointing as preparing for his burial. A little earlier, the high priest Caiaphas reckoned that "One man must die for the sake of the nation," and Jesus himself said how the seed must die, in order to bear fruit (Jn 12:24). In veiled language he predicted being "Lifted Up" in order to draw all people to himself (12:32). Therefore the anointing was a prophecy in action, preparing for the Lord’s sacrificial death.

How strange that this iconic story is so little known. Some are adamant that whatever quasi-ministry may be implied in this anointing in Bethany, or in Mary Magdalene’s Easter announcement, is no basis for ordaining women as priests. Perhaps that’s why our Lord’s instruction that "What she has done shall be told, in memory of her" (Mt 26:13) is widely ignored. Gospel texts such as these invite us to reconsider the kind of ministry Jesus intended for his community. It has nothing to do with status and power, and is all about actual, loving service.


Tuesday of Holy Week

1st Reading: Isaiah 49:1-6

The life of God's servant seems a failure, but it bears great fruit

Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified."

But I said, "I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God." And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honoured in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength, he says, "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."

Responsorial: from Psalm 71

R./: I will sing of your salvation

In you, O Lord, I take refuge;
   let me never be put to shame.
 In your justice rescue me, and deliver me;
   incline your ear to me, and save me. (R./)

Be my rock of refuge,
   a stronghold to give me safety,
   for you are my rock and my fortress.
 O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked. (R./)

For you are my hope, O Lord;
   my trust, O God, from my youth.
 On you I depend from birth;
   from my mother's womb you are my strength. (R./)

My mouth shall declare your justice,
   day by day your salvation.
 O God, you have taught me from my youth,
   and till the present I proclaim your marvellous deeds. (R./)

Gospel: John 13:21-33, 36-38

Jesus warns of betrayals; but those who stay faithful will follow him hereafter

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, "Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me." The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?" Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, "Do quickly what you are going to do." Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, "Buy what we need for the festival;" or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, "Where I am going, you cannot come."

Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus answered, "Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward." Peter said to him, "Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.


From darkness to life: The paradox of the Passion

To his followers, the brutal execution of Jesus must have seemed a total disaster. For people who stood watching his crucifixion from a distance (Mk 15:40) and others who had fled for their lives but who heard the story later, it seemed an unmitigated tragedy. The inspiring good news of Jesus that had filled them with enthusiasm now seemed a sad delusion. With his death, all their hopes lay in ruins. They had not taken seriously his various predictions that he would have to suffer but would then rise again. (Mk 8:32).

Only later, after their glimmering, puzzling visions after the resurrection did they take those predictions to heart and understand them for the first time. They were helped by studious members of their group who came to realise that all Jesus’ sufferings were foretold in prophecy; and most clearly in the Isaiah poems about God’s loving Servant. It suddenly dawned on them that prophecies which had first applied to the whole people of Israel were now fulfilled in Jesus. It was to him that God’s promised, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified." The apparently futile aim of Jesus to renew and purify his Jewish people did not end with his death. In fact his death on the cross achieved more than any other action in his life. Its effect was a new gift of spiritual life for people everywhere ("I will draw them all to myself.") His friends now saw in Jesus the fulfilment of Isaiah 49:6, "I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."

In his account of the Last Supper St. John interweaves two strands: imminent loss and future triumph. Even among the Twelve who sat at table with Jesus, there was one who would betray him, another who would deny him. He had to contend with their general incomprehension of what awaited him next day. But the Evangelist knew that Jesus faced this supreme trial with a firm hope and willing acceptance. This is also our hope, as we gather around his memory with reverence, this Holy Week.

St John tells how Judas headed off into the dark, while the disciple Jesus loved reclined next to him, literally, "close to his chest." In his opening chapter John said that Jesus was "close to the Father’s chest" (or in the Father’s bosom). The phrase suggests that Our Lord’s affection for this beloved disciple was like Jesus’ own relationship with the Father.

The "beloved disciple" is an inspirational image of the kind of person we are all called to become. This disciple is not named in John’s gospel, because we are all invited to link our name to his, to identify with him and learn from him. For St John the evangelist, we are all called to be beloved disciples of Jesus. We can be as close to Jesus as he is to the Father. "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; remain in my love…" He wants us as joined with him as he is with his Father. That is our priveleged calling, this Holy Week.


Wednesday of Holy Week

1st Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9

The Suffering Servant trusts in God for rescue

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens, wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.

The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.

Responsorial: from Psalm 69

R./: Lord, in your great love, answer me

For your sake I bear insult,
   and shame covers my face.
 I have become an outcast to my brothers,
   a stranger to my mother's sons,
 because zeal for your house consumes me,
   and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me. (R./)

Insult has broken my heart, and I am weak,
   I looked for sympathy, but there was none;
   for consolers, not one could I find.
 Rather they put gall in my food,
   and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. (R./)

I will praise the name of God in song,
   and I will glorify him with thanksgiving:
See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
   you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the Lord hears the poor,
   and his own who are in bonds he spurns not. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 26:14-25

Christ knows that Judas will betray him, yet lets him share at his table

Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What will you give me if I betray him to you?" They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, "The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'" So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me." And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, "Surely not I, Lord?" He answered, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man must go as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born." Judas, who betrayed him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" He replied, "You have said so."


What was Judas thinking?

Today is "Spy Wednesday," so called from the betrayal by Judas Iscariot, one of the inner circle. Poor Judas was doubtless a talented man, probably very astute, who was moved by idealism to follow Jesus; but when it came to the test he proved unreliable, profoundly untrustworthy. The Gospels offer some clues about what led to that ultimate act of treachery: selling Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. We might even feel a twinge of pity for Judas, about whom those chilling words were spoken, "It would have been better for that man not to have been born!" But rather than spend time trying to assess the level of Judas’ guilt, or guessing at his motivations, why not ponder how we ourselves can be untrustworthy and in need of repentance. The story of Judas is a sobering lesson for every reader. "There but for the grace of God go I!" we may well say.

The fate of Judas invites us to pray especially for people who have tragically taken their own lives, to escape from the depths of despair. We pray that any poor soul who is tempted to suicide may find compassion and new hope with the help of their friends. We could support the Samaritans who offer counselling to troubled people, and invest some of our time to just listen to others in their time of need. On the example of Jesus, each of us could ask the Lord God to help us be healers who share the gift of encouragement, "that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.

The evangelists were painfully aware that Jesus was handed over by one of his friends. But while this was embarrassing, they made no attempt to gloss over the fact. When Jesus predicted that one of them would betray him, all were "greatly distressed." The idea of betrayal alarmed the whole circle of his friends.

Any of us can have a painful experience of betrayal. Perhaps we confided in someone who later used our personal secrets against us. The message of "Spy Wednesday" is that malice need not have the last word; God had the last word by raising his Son from the dead. From this betrayal and the many other injuries suffered by Jesus, God brought great good. Good can also emerge from any of the misfortune we have to bear in life. This story invites us to trust that God can work in life-giving ways in us, no matter how others may treat us.


Holy Thursday

1st Reading: Exodus 12:1-2, 11-14

Israel's departure from Egypt, and how this is to be celebrated for all time

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labour.. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, "Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?" He answered, "Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and thought, "Surely the thing is known."

Responsorial: from Psalm 116

R./: Our blessing-cup is a communion with the Blood of Christ

How shall I make a return to the Lord
   for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
   and I will call upon the name of the Lord. (R./)

Precious in the eyes of the Lord
   is the death of his faithful ones.
 I am your servant, the son of your handmaid;
   you have loosed my bonds. (R./)

To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving,
   and I will call upon the name of the Lord.
 My vows to the Lord I will pay
   in the presence of all his people. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

When we proclaim Christ's saving death in bread and wine, it makes him ever present with us

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Gospel: John 13:1-15

The example of Jesus washing their feet shows us how to live

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples" feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean." After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord-and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.


How to join in the Last Supper

When Jesus says, "Do this in memory of me!" clearly he means us to understand what "This" was and is. What exactly had he in mind through the symbols of the broken bread and the shared cup of wine? We need to get behind the formal Catechism answer about the "holy sacrifice of the Mass," and think anew about the meaning of that paschal meal. The Last Supper was celebrated in the context of the Jewish Passover meal and tonight's first reading explains the meaning of this feast. In words and symbols it recalled the greatest saving act of God in the Old Testament, the exodus from Egypt, setting God's people free from slavery. It opens us up to the idea that God enters our lives to save us and set us free from whatever oppresses us. So "opened up," we are prepared for the good news that the definitive saving work of God is done in and by Jesus Christ.

We reflect on what St John calls the "hour" of Jesus, the high point of his saving work, the new exodus, his passing from this world to the Father through which he brought into being a new relationship between God and us human beings. Sharing in this new exodus is our ultimate liberation, freeing us from enslavement to material things and petty self-interest and setting us free to love generously, the very purpose for which we were originally created in the image of God. Through his love-without-limit, in his own utterly unselfish heart Jesus overcame all human selfishness and with it, human sin. Precisely this love, which the Father wants us all to have and to share, is the very heart of Jesus' exodus. It is just this self-giving kind of love which Jesus wants to be kept alive among us. With his disciples in the Last Supper he anticipated his death for us on the cross, giving himself in the sacramental symbols of bread and wine. From then on the celebration of our Eucharist is the living memorial through which we are joined to Our Lord's saving act of love. It is our way to share in the new exodus, to be freed from the isolation of self-concern so that they become fully human as God wants us to be.

St John implies that we are united with Jesus by letting him wash our feet, accepting his great act of loving service. Having accepted the gift we must embrace it as a value to practice in our lives. What Jesus does for us in his Passion shows us how to live. In some real sense, we must live like Jesus, "for" God and others. There is a close link between Jesus washing their feet and then their going on to wash the feet of others in the future. If the Eucharist is the place where the Lord washes our feet, daily life is the place where we can wash the feet of others. Eucharist leads to life leads to Eucharist. True Eucharist piety must lead to service of others. Jesus who broke the bread of the Eucharist also washed the feet of his disciples. We must follow his example both at the altar of the Eucharist and at the altar of life.

The washing of the feet

There is much more to the washing of the feet than an example of humble service. The act of loving service goes to the heart of Jesus' death and resurrection. The "lifting up" in John's Gospel is truly an act of loving service. The words at the start of this reading make that clear: Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father. These words make it clear that whatever happens next points most deeply to the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Can we accept such astonishing love from God?


Good Friday

1st Reading: Isaiah 52:13-53:12

The humiliations of the suffering servant, who bore the sins of his people

See, my servant will prosper,
 he shall be lifted up, exalted, rise to great heights.
 As the crowds were appalled on seeing him --
 so disfigured did he look that he seemed no longer human --
 so will the crowds be astonished at him,
 and kings stand speechless before him;
 for they shall see something never told
 and witness something never heard before:
 'Who could believe what we have heard,
 and to whom has the power of the Lord been revealed?'
 Like a sapling he grew up in front of us,
 like a root in arid ground.
Without beauty, without majesty (we saw him),
 no looks to attract our eyes;
 a thing despised and rejected by men,
 a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering,
 a man to make people screen their faces;
 he was despised and we took no account of him.
 And yet ours were the sufferings he bore,
 ours the sorrows he carried.
But we, we thought of him as someone punished,
 struck by God, and brought low.
Yet he was pierced through for our faults,
 crushed for our sins.
 On him lies a punishment that brings us peace,
 and through his wounds we are healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep,
 each taking his own way,
 and the Lord burdened him
 with the sins of all of us.
Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly,
 he never opened his mouth,
 like a lamb that is led to the slaughter-house,
 like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers,
 never opening its mouth.
By force and by law he was taken;
 would anyone plead his cause?
Yes, he was torn away from the land of the living,
 for our faults struck down in death.
They gave him a grave with the wicked,
 a tomb with the rich,
 though he had done no wrong
 and there had been no perjury in his mouth.
The Lord has been pleased to crush him with suffering.
 If he offers his life in atonement,
 he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life
 and through him what the Lord wishes will be done.
His soul's anguish over
 he shall see the light and be content.
By his sufferings shall my servant justify many,
 taking their faults on himself.

Hence I will grant whole hordes for his tribute,
 he shall divide the spoil with the mighty,
 for surrendering himself to death
 and letting himself be taken for a sinner,
 while he was bearing the faults of many
 and praying all the time for sinners.

Responsorial: from Psalm 31

R./: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit

In you, O Lord, I take refuge;
   let me never be put to shame.
 In your justice rescue me.
   Into your hands I commend my spirit;
 you will redeem me, O Lord, O faithful God. (R./)

For all my foes I am an object of reproach,
   a laughingstock to my neighbors, and a dread to my friends;
   they who see me abroad flee from me.
 I am forgotten like the unremembered dead;
   I am like a dish that is broken. (R./)

But my trust is in you, O Lord;
   I said, You are my God.
 In your hands is my destiny; rescue me
   from the clutches of my enemies and persecutors. (R./)

Let your face shine upon your servant;
   save me in your kindness.
Take courage and be stouthearted,
   all you who hope in the Lord. (R./)

2nd Reading: Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9

We have in Christ a great high priest who understands us fully. By his sufferings he accomplished our salvation

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Gospel: John 18:1-19:42

With dignity and strength, Jesus goes the royal road to Calvary

After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, "Whom are you looking for?" They answered, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus replied, "I am he." Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, "I am he," they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, "Whom are you looking for?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus answered, "I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go." This was to fulfil the word that he had spoken, "I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me." Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave's name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?"

So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people. Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, "You are not also one of this man's disciples, are you?" He said "I am not." Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, "I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said." When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, "Is that how you answer the high priest?" Jesus answered, "If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?" Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, "You are not also one of his disciples, are you?" He denied it and said, "I am not." One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, "Did I not see you in the garden with him?" Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate's headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, "What accusation do you bring against this man?" They answered, "If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you." Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law." The Jews replied, "We are not permitted to put anyone to death." (This was to fulfil what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.) Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Pilate asked him, "What is truth?" After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, "I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" They shouted in reply, "Not this man, but Barabbas!" Now Barabbas was a bandit.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, "Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him." So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!" When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him." The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God." Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, "Where are you from?" But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, "Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?" Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, "If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor." When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge's bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha.

Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, "Here is your King!" They cried out, "Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!" Pilate asked them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but the emperor." Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write, "The King of the Jews," but, 'This man said, I am King of the Jews.'" Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written."

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it." This was to fulfil what the scripture says, "They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots." And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), "I am thirsty." A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, "None of his bones shall be broken." And again another passage of scripture says, "They will look on the one whom they have pierced."

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.


All Completed and Fulfilled

The dying words of Jesus were, "It is accomplished" "Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." This was the crucial moment that links us all with the divine mercy of God. "In the beginning was the Word." Then at the end of his earthly life, the Risen Lord breathed on his followers, to share his own Spirit with them. The fourth Gospel links this gift of the Holy Spirit with the whole creative process as told in the Book of Genesis. "In the beginning God created heaven and earth" (Gen 1:1); and "On the seventh day God had completed the work he had been doing" (Gen 2:2). "He blew into his nostrils the breath of life" (Gen 2:7).

Were you there when they crucified my Lord? .. As the song says, it causes us to tremble when we hear those dying words of Jesus "It is accomplished!" Something wonderful was accomplished, completed, achieved to the uttermost, engraved forever on the memory of his followers. "I have come to seek and to save what was lost." This was his stated purpose "not to be served but to serve." His life ended on a rocky hill outside Jerusalem, with a final act of self-surrender to the Father, on our behalf. It was a unique moment whose fruits go on forever.

The moment of his death is sacred in the hearts of all who trust in him, as the foundation of guaranteed contact between us and the mercy of God. The self-giving spirit of Jesus as he left this world is poured out and handed on to us. It is through his sacrifice on our behalf that all is consummated. His cross offers us the grace and mercy of God, whatever our state may be. As Joseph Mary Plunkett wrote, back in 1916, I see His Blood Upon the Rose.

I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.

On the eve of his execution Joseph Plunkett found in Christ the key for coping with his own cross. The memory of the passion helped him find God’s presence everywhere, and especially when called to share in the cross of Jesus.

All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.

Yet the saving power of the cross needs to be welcomed and absorbed by each of us and then adopted into our lifestyle. The Lord calls us in turn to bring his love and compassion to bear in our lives, reaching out to others as he did, to bring them into the warmth of God’s grace and mercy.

Jesus dies with the words "It is accomplished." This Gospel beings with the words "In the beginning" and in John 20 we are told that the Risen Lord "breathed upon" the apostles. These details remind us consistently of Genesis 1-2, where "In the beginning God created heaven and earth" (Gen 1:1); "on the seventh day God had completed the work he had been doing" (Gen 2:2); blew the breath of life into his nostrils, (Gen 2:7). The evangelist is teaching us "if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation" (2 Cor 5:17).

Not for God's sake but for your own

Calvary sets in consoling relief the experience of all who suffer, whether the nightmare of physical pain or the emotional trauma of significant loss or the prospect of imminent death. The human Jesus, struggling to come to terms with the reality of his predicament, echoes every human experience of suffering and of loss and reflects the complexity and confusion of emotions that attend all those caught in the slipstream of pain and loss and death.

This Friday, in homes and in hospitals all over Ireland, those who experience pain and desolation in whatever form, all those who like Mary stand at the foot of the cross, will sense something of the complexity of emotions that were present on Calvary: the same confusion, the same disillusionment, the same desolation, the same anger, the same reproach. How many indeed this Friday will, in whatever shape or form, echo the great lamentation of Jesus as he died on the cross: My God, what have you done to me, answer me?

All who are suffering in whatever form this Good Friday, all who struggle to make sense of what, by any human estimate, seems to be senseless will find an echo of their pain in the sufferings of Jesus because the contradiction of the cross is that what it represents, the sufferings of Christ, continues to save and to heal and to comfort.

Contemplating Jesus on the cross brings comfort and resilience and strength to those who need it. And it reminds us that it is through his suffering that everyone and everything is redeemed, that the power and the presence and promise of God are now accessible to us in our suffering and in our need. Contemplating Jesus on the Cross reminds us that in our present frail and redeemed bodies we carry the saving power of God. Kiss the cross on Good Friday, not for God's sake but for your own. (from a Good Friday reflection by Brendan Hoban)