Archive for February, 2012
Today is Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday begins the great season of Lent, when we are invited to “return sincerely to the Lord our God with fasting prayer and mourning” (Jl 2:12) and to offer to God a sacrifice of a humble and contrite spirit. It is the time of the year when we are reminded again that we are dust, and to dust we will return. On a more positive note, we are reminded “to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”
Today is universal day of fasting and abstinence. Catholics all over the world are encouraged to pray, to fast and abstain, and to share to the poor and the needy. Simply put, to do penance. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer and almsgiving (Cf. Tob 12:8; Mt 6:1-18), which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God and to others (CCC 1434).
What is penance? What does it mean to do penance? “Penance is concrete daily effort of a person, supported by God’s grace to lose his/her own life for Christ as the only means of gaining it; an effort to put off the old man and put on the new; an effort to overcome in oneself what is of the flesh in order that what is spiritual may prevail; it is a continual effort to rise from the thing of here below to things above, where Christ is. Penance is ,therefore, a conversion that passes from the heart to deeds to the Christian whole life” (JP, PR)
Penance such as prayer, fasting and almsgiving prepare us for the liturgical feast; they help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart (Cf. CIC, cann. 1249-1251; CCEO. Can. 882)
How do we make our penance fruitful and meaningful?
- Let us do our penance out of personal conviction and in freedom. Let us guard ourselves of legal formalism and superficiality which the prophets had already denounced, pride and ostentations if one fasts “in order to be seen by men. It must be done in secret, with sincerity and voluntarily.
- Let us fast, pray and share to the needy as our penance out of our love for God and neighbor. This is the greatest commandment. This is the summary of the all the laws of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. Nothing more, nothing less and nothing else.
- “This rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread to the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked, and not turning your back on your own” (Is 58:6-8).
- Penance finds its fulfillment, meaning and relevance only in the context of “Jesus call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, “sackcloth and ashes”, fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance (Cf. 2:12-13; Is. 1:16-17; Mt. 6;1-6; 16-18).
Interior repentance is a radical orientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our hearts, an end to sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of the spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of the heart) (Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1676-1678; 1705; cf. Roman Catechism, II, V, 4).
Fasting, prayers and almsgiving are interconnected and complimentary. Fasting is the soul of prayer. Mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So when you pray, fast; when you fast, show mercy.
Starting this Ash Wednesday as we begin the season of lent, strive to be humble and “return to God with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts not your garments, and return to the Lord your God. For gracious and merciful is He, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Jl 2:12-13).
“When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them.” (Mk 2:11).
“Jesus is now back in Capernaum after a long Galilean tour of teaching and healing. The flames of his fame—fanned by his words, fed by the flow of miracles—are blazing forth in every part of Palestine. Never was a man’s name on as many Palestinian tongues as is this Man’s. His doctrine, his deeds, his doings—all that he says and every good thing that he does—are discussed in every home, at every festive meal, in every synagogue. The believing among the sick and the penitent among the afflicted seek him with a hope of being healed; those who hunger and thirst after righteousness hang on his every word and find peace to their souls as they live in harmony with his teachings; the rulers and the rebellious rate him as an evil troublemaker and seek ways to entrap and defame and even to slay him.” (Bruce R. McConkie. The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979-1981], 2: 47.)
They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven (Mk 2:1-5),” “rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this (Mk 2:11-12).”
This miraculous healing is remarkable on many levels. If faith precedes the miracle, then friendly foursome had faith even as great as a grain of mustard seed. So many of us would have seen the crowd huddled around the door and given up exclaiming, “I hate crowds.” Others might have edged as close as possible, hoping to hear a word or catch a glimpse. Still others when hindered by the press might begin to press others out of their way.
But faith is the power to see things which are unseen. This includes the power to see possibilities that others do not or will not. Such is the faith of the four men. Their faith was the kind of faith that thinks of a way to accomplish the impossible. Theirs was the faith that breaks down barriers, tears up roofs, and uses ropes or whatever is needed to accomplish the task. His ingenuity and persistence are an example to all of us on the path of discipleship. If we are hindered by ‘the press,’ or turn back because we can’t seem to get close enough to the Lord, it is only because we lack the faith and persistence to receive both forgiveness and a physical blessing at his hand. Indeed, only persistence amidst the press brings us to the presence of the Master.
The story is one of the many “faith-making miracle stories” that can be found throughout the gospel, Unlike most “faith-making miracle stories” in the gospel, here Jesus did not heal the paralyzed man because of his faith. Jesus did not heal him because he asked for it, he prayed for it. Rather, Jesus healed him because of the faith and prayer of the four men who brought the paralyzed man to him for healing, deliverance and reconciliation. The words of the gospel said it best:
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven (Mk 2:1-5),” “rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this (Mk 2:11-12).”
The central message of the gospel story is this: the prayer of intercession works. The story proves to us the validity and the power of intercessory prayer. Intercession belongs to the prayer of petition. We are indulging in intercessory prayer when we are asking others to pray for us or praying in behalf of others.
What does the prayer of intercession consist? Intercession consists in asking on behalf of another. It conforms us and unites us to the prayer of Jesus who intercedes with the Father for all, especially sinners. Intercession must extend even to one’s enemies. Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2634) says: “Intercession is a prayer of petition which leads us to pray as Jesus did. He is the one intercessor with the Father on behalf of all men, especially sinners (Rom 8:34). He is ‘able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them,’ (Heb 7:25). The Holy Spirit, ‘Himself intercedes for us…and intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.’” (Rom 8:26-27)
When you know someone who has a problem, who is in crisis, in great trouble and danger, or afflicted with various diseases and disabilities, like what the four men did in the gospel story, let us also bring him to Jesus for healing, deliverance and reconciliation. Let us never ever hesitate to approach Jesus who will always be there to help and save us, who will always be there to listen and grant what we ask for our families, relatives, friends and even our enemies.
“It is hard for us today to imagine the awful condition of the leper in New Testament times. He was considered legally dead. But, worse, he was considered morally unclean. Forbidden to enter any walled city—lashed thirty-nine times if he did—he wandered, muffled to the eyes, crying ‘Unclean!’
“Under Jewish law, no one could greet him. Under the law, no one could approach within six feet of the leper—one hundred feet if the wind came from his direction. Any building he entered was considered defiled and had to be purified. The common practice was to throw stones at or run and hide from any leper who approached.
“Such was the man who came to Jesus. What compassion and greatness he must have sensed in the Master to break the law in this manner. And what was the response? Against all law and tradition, Jesus reached out and touched the leper and by His touch cleansed him of his filthiness. By His touch, to save His brother, Jesus descended lower than any man—exactly as He did, later, to save each of us.
“We are that leper, each of us unclean in his own way, each of us crying, ‘If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.’ Each of us trusts that because of His infinite love, we will receive His touch.” (William B. Smart, Messages for a Happier Life: Inspiring Essays from the Church News [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989], 136.)
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Reflection: Be made clean. The Jews consider leprosy as a curse from God, a punishment for serious sins. Lepers are numbered among the living dead. They are social outcasts, an embarrassment to their families and to the community.
The Book of Leviticus prescribes that one who bears the sore of leprosy shall keep his garments rent and his head bare, and shall muffle his beard; he shall cry out, “Unclean, unclean!” He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp (Lv 13:45-46). Lepers are forbidden to enter the city or the Temple. No one is to speak or mingle with them. Anyone who touches a leper is considered unclean and impure, prohibited from participating in any Temple sacrifice and worship.
Jesus does exactly the opposite: he interacts with a leper. He stretches out his hand, touches the leper, and speaks with him. His actions show his compassion and love for the leper. Jesus heals the leper so he may be reinstated into the community and restored in his dignity as a child of God.
What Jesus sees in us are not our mistakes, failures, or sins but our contrition and desire to be healed and made whole. Jesus wants that our hearts be cleansed from bitterness, our eyes from malice, our minds from revenge, our lips from lies, our hands from hurting, and our lives from selfishness and slavery to sin. Jesus is telling us now, “I do will it. Be made clean.”
Sympathy is not enough; compassion is expressed in good deeds.
Mark 7:21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications
Spencer W. Kimball
“Transgression and uncleanness and filth are found in all sexual sins. In clarifying a parable, the Savior said: .
‘.. Out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.’ (“mark 7:21″mark 7:22″mark 7:23Mark 7:21-23.)
“It is not the soil of earth or the grease on a person’s hands that defile him; nor is it the fingernails ‘edged in black,’ the accumulated perspiration from honest toil, or the body odor resulting from heavy work. One may bathe hourly, perfume oneself often, have hair shampooed frequently, have fingernails manicured daily, and be a master at soft-spoken utterances, and still be as filthy as hell’s cesspools. What defiles is sin, and especially sexual sin.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969], 62)
Reflection: From their hearts. One is right before God not because of the clean food one eats or because of the washing ritual prescribed by the Pharisees. What matters is conversion or change of heart. To be a child of God and a disciple of Jesus is to have a contrite heart and to live an honest and holy life.
We can all relate with God and enter into communion with God. We are not categorized as clean or unclean. We can share in God’s life and work in God’s vineyard. Jesus calls for purity of heart which expresses itself in inspiring others, doing good for others, caring for people in need, forgiving, and seeking forgiveness.
What is in your heart? What comes out of your lips?
“In the court of most Jewish homes sat water pots. These stored water not only for cleansing and cooking, but also for the ritual washing of the hands and feet of guests. The host would show respect for the guest by offering a filled pot, and the guest would plunge the lower part of both arms into the water, which ceremonially washed off any pagan contamination. It was also the practice among many Jews to so wash before eating. The criticism leveled at the Lord about the disciples eating grain in a field without first washing had to do with this practice. (See Mark 7:1–5.)
“The custom of ritual washing required a great amount of water if one entertained many guests. Thus, the water pots were often quite large. At the marriage feast in Cana, during which Jesus performed his first miracle (see John 2:1–11), John tells us that there were six empty water pots ‘after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece’ (John 2:6). Firkin translates the Greek word metretes, a unit of measure equal to about ten (U.S.) gallons. The total amount the six pots held would therefore be between 120 and 180 U. S. gallons.” (Richard D. Draper, “Home Life at the Time of Christ,” Ensign, Sept. 1987, 58)
“The Pharisees and the Essenes…believed in something called the ‘oral’ Law. This was a body of oral traditions which interpreted the written Law of Moses and applied it to new situations. It was often claimed that these traditions had been given to Moses on Mount Sinai; but actually they were attempts of later teachers to ‘fine-tune’ the Law of Moses. This was done (in the absence of revelation) in an effort to extend or even to alter the requirements of the Law in the face of changing social circumstances.” (Stephen E. Robinson, “The Law after Christ,” Ensign, Sept. 1983, 69)
“Often called ‘the tradition of men’ or ‘the traditions of the fathers’ (Mark 7:8; Gal. 1:14.), these interpretations and commentaries on the law in large measure came to govern Jewish life. Had the Pharisees been more intense in their study of the law itself rather than in the commentaries upon it, they might have recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah. And had they been more eager to apply its teachings rather than to seek for further things they could not understand, they might have been able to accept him.” (Robert L. Millet, “Looking beyond the Mark: Why Many Did Not Accept the Messiah,” Ensign, July 1987, 61)
Traditions can be good or bad. The Pharisees are not the only ones guilty of placing traditions before the word of God. Let us not allow ourselves to be hindered and prevented by merely human tradition particularly that deals with ritual purity from knowing, doing and believing what is right, just, and true. There are many Christian, whose faith and commitment, after sacrificing all they have for the work of God, fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions.
In today’s gospel story we heard that Jesus heals Peter mother-in-law who was threatened by a convulsion caused by a high fever which was considered a deadly disease in the ancient times.
The healing of Jesus was considered a miracle for three reasons:
- Caused by the personal intervention of Jesus
Because of this healing miracle of Jesus, news spread near and far, that Jesus has the power over sickness and death. As a result, “When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him” (Mk 1:32-34).
What is something unique in the story is this. In spite of being busy doing the “work of God” Jesus never fails to forget the “God of work.” As the gospel writer relates, “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed” (Mk 1:35).
What usually is our justification for failing to pray, for failing to go to Mass? Usually it may be one of the three or combination of them all.
- I’m busy.
- I’m self-sufficient so what’s the use of praying.
- My work, apostolate, service is my prayer.
If there is any person who has the credibility or right to say them all is no other than Jesus. But Jesus never fails to find time and place to be alone with God the Father in prayer, intimacy and friendship.
Ezra Taft Benzon says it best when he wrote:
“[Jesus] communed constantly with his Father through prayer. This he did not only to learn the will of his Father but also to obtain the strength to do his Father’s will. He fasted and prayed forty days and forty nights at the beginning of his ministry. (Mt. 4:2; Mk 1:13; Lk 4:2) He prayed all night just before choosing his twelve apostles. (Lk 6:12-13.) He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Mt 26:39) It would seem that during his earthly ministry he never made a major decision or met a crisis without praying.” (Come unto Christ [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 44.)
When you have problems, when you are in trouble, in crisis, and difficulties, when you are confronted with major decisions and tasks in life never fail to find time and place to be one with God in prayer, communion and friendship. With God everything is possible. With God we bear abundant fruits. With God, like Jesus, we can also overcome the world.
Reflection: Rest a while. Jesus invites his disciples to a quiet place to rest, giving them a chance to recharge and refresh themselves. Returning from a mission of preaching and healing, the disciples are offered an opportunity to pause a while and spend time with God. People see them leave and get ahead of them at their place of retreat. Jesus’ heart is moved with compassion for the people. Allowing the disciples their moments of rest, Jesus proceeds to minister to the crowd.
Jesus suggests that we take time from our hectic schedule to be with God in prayer, listening to God speak to us. Our prayerful communion with God must then lead us to be more committed to the well-being of God’s people. Our resting in the Lord refreshes us for better service.
Do I resent it when someone intrudes into my scheduled rest to ask for my help?