Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving: these disciplines, prescribed by Jesus himself in the Sermon on the Mount, along with strict instructions not to flaunt them in public to win recognition and praise (Matthew 6:1-18), have been embraced by all the saints at the beginning of every Lent for almost two thousand years. But mention Lent, and many react with a grimace or slight shudder—even now, years after official obligations have been reduced to a minimum! No wonder the Eastern Rite’s “Lenten Announcement” sounds surprising: “Let us receive with joy, O faithful people, the divinely inspired announcement of Lent! The Lenten Spring shines forth! Begin the fast with joy! Let us fast from passions as well as food, taking pleasure in the good works of the Spirit, and accomplishing them in love!” Saint John Chrysostom, whose feast is September 13, elaborates: “Do you fast? Give proof by your works. If you see a poor person, take pity. An enemy, be reconciled. A friend gaining honor, don’t be jealous.” A positive approach! May the saints help us keep such a Lent!
“If you choose you can keep the commandments,” Sirach tells us. God “has set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand” (Sirach 15:15, 16). This is a great mystery: God does not control us so completely that we cannot choose our own path. We have certain boundaries, of course, but no one but we can choose our way within those boundaries.
In today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us of our freedom and our responsibility for our lives. He calls us to look beyond the words of the commandments, all the way to their meaning. Look beyond the adultery to the selfishness that poisons our love. Look beyond the murder to the anger that eats away at our compassion. Look beyond the perjured testimony to the lies and deception that drive our behavior.READ MORE
The person who has been “saved,” who has “heard the good news of salvation,” still lives in an unsaved world, a world sadly oblivious to the presence of God. Today’s readings outline how the disciple is present in the world.
The outline begins with Isaiah: “Share your bread . . . shelter the oppressed . . . clothe the naked” (Isaiah 58:7). Those who hear the word of salvation are not insensitive to the urgent needs of others. Then Paul reminds his flock that he brought Christ to them not in eloquence or wisdom, but by being with them in the “weakness and fear” of their daily lives (1 Corinthians 2:3). Finally, Jesus tells his disciples to go out into the gloom and darkness of the streets of the world and let God’s light shine through their good deeds.READ MORE
The Church’s celebration three weeks ago of the Baptism of the Lord signaled the “official” end of the Christmas season. Today’s feast of the Presentation of the Lord seems to extend the Incarnation celebration a bit longer. In fact, some have called this feast a “second Epiphany.”
The first reading recalls the anticipation of Advent, as Malachi writes, “Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me.” The reading from Hebrews reminds us of the Incarnation, proclaiming that Jesus had a “share” in our own “blood and flesh.” The Gospel finds the infant Jesus on his first visit to Jerusalem and his human parents once again surprised and in awe over the events surrounding his birth.READ MORE