Daily Reflections by Father Bert

March 24
The Third Sunday in Lent, Cycle: Lectionary: Exodus 3: 1-8, 13-15. Psalm 103: 1-2, 3-4, 6-7. 8.11. I Corinthians 10: 1-6, 10-12. Luke 13:1-9:

“Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” Moses heard these words over three thousand years ago as he looked and saw a thornbush on Mount Horeb that was burning yet not consumed. He carefully approached the sight and heard those words. A midrash commentary tells us, “No place is devoid of God’s presence, not even a thornbush.” (Exodus Rabba 2:5). How many miracles may be happening around us, but we, in haste, never stop to notice them? (Etz Hayim, p.327).

“Moses, Moses” is indicative of a Divine calling and commissioning. Moses’ immediate response is Hinneni (Here I am) is a Yes to God’s call. Moses enters into dialogue with God and is courageous enough to ask what God’s name is. God says in Hebrew “ehyeh-asher-Ehyeh” which is a verbal construct indicating being and living. Since this is so crucial an event I share with you what I discovered in the book called Etz Hayim:

Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh. This phrase has been translated , “I Am That I Am,” “I Am Who I Am”, and “ I Will Be What I Will Be, “ it evokes YHVH the specific proper name of Israel’s God, known also as the Tetragrammaton, “the four consonants.” The phrase also indicates that the earliest recorded understanding of the divine name was as a verb derived from a stem meaning, “to be” (YHVH). Because it is the sound of wind and breath, the way in which we sense the invisible, it could express the quality of absolute Being, the eternal, unchanging, dynamic Presence. Or it can mean, “He causes to be.” ( Etz Hayim, p.330).

The words of God and the Holy Name of God overwhelm Moses but he becomes aware of the presence of God and his own commission to be the prophet who will lead Israel to freedom from Egypt through the Exodus. The most sacred name of God is not to be pronounced except as Lord (Adonai). Only during Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement is this later to be pronounced by the high priest designated for that year.

Psalm 103 spells out God’s name through God’s action of loving-kindness, mercy, tenderness, and forgiveness of our sins. (verse 8).

Paul refers to the Exodus in our selection for today and speaks of Jesus as being the rock that followed the cloud in the desert and protected the people who wandered through the desert.

Jesus in two examples of tragic deaths: the first for those on pilgrimage who are murdered by Pilate and secondly those who died when a large tower collapsed. Jesus shows that tragic deaths do not imply sin but are meant for us to think about sudden deaths of those we know as a way of leading us to transform our lives into the spirit of Jesus. In the parable another year is asked for before the unproductive fig tree is cut down and this demonstrates how God gives us a second chance. Amen.

March 23
Lectionary for Saturday: Micah 7:14-15, 18-20. Psalm 103: 1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12. Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32:

We are blessed by the Lord in all three of our readings for today’s Liturgy of the Word. The theme of compassion inundates the message from God for us as we live and work through another day. In what is known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son the story of compassion is unsurpassed for its beauty, its theme, and the three principal persons involved: a father, a wayward son, and a son who lives by the letter of the law. As we listen to the parable we come to realize that the father is extravagant in his compassion for the prodigal, younger son and loves the elder one with all his heart. The parable could equally be called the Ever Compassionate Father.

Recently, I have been reading a posthumous book on the great Catholic spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen. It is called “Discernment”. This book has been put together by those entrusted with his files and unpublished works. This is a treasure and I am enjoying it, but the book he wrote on the Prodigal Son is his most influential book in the spiritual lives of his readers. The cover is the famous painting of an Italian painter and Henri used his meditation for the writing by looking and contemplating the parable. If you have time to read it or get his book, you will not be disappointed. It is the best book ever on this parable. Henri Nouwen has meditated on the subject of the heart of God and opens our hearts to the profound message of love and compassion found in the painting and the book.

God is the Person who never gives up on each one of us whether we are good, bad, or totally indifferent. I had a new insight in reflecting on the parable this morning and was overcome with joy to realize that the last word of love and compassion is addressed to the elder son. I offer the words of Jesus for us to further reflect on these sacred and warm words:

My son, you are with me always and everything I have is yours! But WE must celebrate and rejoice: this brother of YOURS was dead, and has come back to life. He was lost, and is found.

Lent is more about God’s compassion, love, and forgiveness to each one of us no matter whether we are like the younger son or the elder son or just plain indifferent to the spiritual life. God takes us where we are and who we are. Amen

March 22
Lectionary for Friday: Genesis 37:3-4.12-13. 17-28. Psalm 105: 16-17, 18-19. 20-21. Matthew 21: 33-43; 45-46.

Joseph, the last son of Jacob (Israel) is one of my favorite persons in the Bible. We have insights into his earlier dreamy years and his being favored over the other children by Jacob in chapter 37. Joseph, eventually grows into manhood because of their rejection and his eventual rise to power as a great leader among the Egyptians. His personality and character shine through the long saga about him in chapters 37 to the end of the book of Genesis. It is a worthwhile read on a Sunday afternoon!

From the arrogance of his early years which angered his brothers so hotly that they were ready to kill him, but Reuben and Juda save him and he is sold by them to some merchants heading to Egypt. There he finally matures and eventually wins the favor of Pharaoh. As vizier Joseph builds up the supply of grain and then reaches out to his own family and saves them from starving. He brings joy to his aging father Jacob and saves the family. I like his single-mindedness, his fidelity to Pharaoh and his innocence in the false story Potiphar’s daughter brought against him. He is a leader with vision, forgiveness, honesty, and steady fidelity to his work that helped save so many people. For this reason he is a good model for social justice, truthfulness, and planning well. The phrase used in Genesis that is equally applied to Joseph, the husband of Mary is “Go to Joseph” when you are in need. The Latin version of this is used in church circles and monasteries in devotions to the Saint Joseph: ITE AD JOSEPH ( Go to Joseph).

In the lengthy parable about the wicked tenants, we learn from scholars that this parable is more an allegorical one where each character and situation in the story has a clear meaning. It is more a parable of the history of salvation and the way in which Jesus is the son of the father in the parable; the servants and slaves are the prophets. Even the death of Jesus outside the walls of Jerusalem is implied in the story where the son is killed outside the vineyard.

We are again and again reminded of our Lenten journey where the Paschal Mystery is unfolded during these forty days especially in the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist. Amen.

March 21
Lectionary: Thursday: Jeremiah 17:5-10. Psalm 1: 1-2, 3-4, 6. Luke 16: 19-31:

Biblical images help us visualize events in salvation history through the talented and creative inspired writers of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). Images attract us and motivate us just as clever commercials do. Today two great writers, the prophet Jeremiah and the Psalmist who wrote the introductory Psalm of the Psalter use the same imagery; so much so, that I personally think Jeremiah wrote both! The image they give us is that of a flourishing tree planted by the streams of clear water in which it produces food during all of the seasons. Blessings occur when this happens and when we are likened to a verdant tree that produces good fruit.

St. Luke then paints a beautiful and thought-provoking parable from among the many that Jesus created. This parable is unique to Luke and is the only one in which a personal name is given to one of the persons figured in the story-like parable, that of Lazarus. His name is symbolic, too, for it means “God is my helper.” I link Lazarus to one who had only God to trust in, and was considered by most as a lowly worthless person who ate the scraps left behind by another un-named person who was very rich. Later Latin writers give him the name “Dives” which means a rich man, but that is not in the text that Luke handed down to us. He fits most of the poor mentioned in the Psalm who are named the ‘Anawim or the Poor of Yahweh.

The text of the parable made me think of the earliest New Testament hymn in which Jesus is mentioned as being rich but becoming poor for our salvation (Philippians 2:5-11).

The setting of the parable is during a time in which Jesus is arguing and criticizing some Pharisees who place their wealth above concern for God’s people. Luke may also be directing the parable not at Pharisees but at his own richer communities or churches that are not concerned with the needy, the marginal, and the poor.

Blessings could have been given to those who had the riches if they only shared them with those most in need. Like “Dives” they preferred to stay confident in what they had and did not worry about what may come in the afterlife. All should have learned for they had both the Prophets and Moses the Law Giver who taught the love of God and neighbor within the great gift of a covenant with God based on Hesed (loving-kindness) and Tsadiqah (righteousness, holiness, justice).

All three reading are in harmony in sharing the covenant, the blessings, the images, and the lesson to be learned about love and fidelity to promises made. Those who were rich did not observe the stipulations (commandment, rules, and ordinances) of the covenant and broke their vows and promises to the Lord thus receiving the curses that Jeremiah mentions.

After thinking and meditating on the parable I read parts of the great work on Parables done by Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish Scripture scholar at Vanderbilt who captured my attention with this short paragraph:

The rich man refused to give alms, even when a poor man was at his gate. Of course he will suffer in the afterlife. He had laid up nothing for it. Jesus’ Jewish audience knew this. They would not have been on the side of the rich man, they would not have regarded his wealth as a sign of righteousness, and they would not have been surprised at his fate.

Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a controversial Rabbi, Harper, 2015, page 274.

March 20
Readings for Liturgy of the Word: Jeremiah 18: 18-20. Psalm 31: 5-6.14, 15-16, Matthew 20: 17-28:

Central to this Season of Lent are the Paschal Mysteries of Jesus: His rejection, sufferings, death, and glorified resurrection. In a sense, every Eucharist contains these mysteries which are also remembered in the Eucharistic Prayers. Today, this official first day of Spring, we focus in our reading from the Gospel of Matthew on the third prediction of Jesus about his suffering, death, and resurrection. These mysteries are seen within the context of the mother of James and John of Zebedee asking that her sons have a special place in the messianic kingdom of Jesus. Matthew relates how the other ten disciples are indignant with James and John; they struggle with who is the greatest among them and why should James and John should be privileged ones in the kingdom that Jesus brings.

The request and the grumbling of the ten disciples leads Jesus to pronounce his third prediction of how far removed from his thoughts they have about him and the messianic kingdom. He then uses this as an occasion to teach them about the meaning of being a faithful disciple who will be involved in the same mysteries that Jesus will undergo. Unfortunately, they still do not understand what he means when he says he will suffer and die and then rise again on the third day. He will be a suffering servant of the Lord in his mission of bringing the kingdom about for all humankind.

His role as a Suffering Servant of God is about their salvation and ours, but they still do not understand who he really is and what his role is in the history of the world’s salvation. How can they become creative agents of God’s salvific plan when their thoughts are far from those of Jesus?

Jesus has addressed his words to both the mother of James and John and to the other ten disciples to make it clear through his third announcement of what is about to happen on the days to come in Jerusalem. They and we must learn from this episode of Jesus how to overcome our thoughts of ambition, status, power, and pride.

The astounding fact is that all of the Gospels focus three times on the Paschal Mysteries of Christ. Only John does it through the symbolism of the “hour” when all will be accomplished; he, too, mentions this “hour” three times. We learn from our own experiences in life that when someone mentions what they expect of us three times, we had better listen and understand that this is something serious. Jesus becomes very clear when he says, “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant(doulos), and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:27-28). Jesus had learned this lesson many years ago from his mother who when first being asked to be Jesus’ mother and disciple said, “Here I am, the handmaid (doule) of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” Amen.

March 19
Lectionary: II Samuel 7:4-5, 12-14, 16. Psalm 89: 2-3, 4-5, 27. 29. Romans 4:13. 16-18.22. Matthew 1:16, 18. 21, 24. Or Luke 2: 44-51:

Today we venerate a holy man named Joseph, the husband of Mary, a descendant of David and Abraham through flesh and faith respectively. He has been chosen to be a continuation of the promise of God made through Nathan to David that the house (home) of David would endure forever.

Joseph is said to be a righteous person which means he was totally dedicated to God’s will and lived out the prescriptions of the Torah or Law of God. His holiness is seen in his relationship to Mary who is declared blessed for having believed and blessed among all women for giving birth to Jesus, the holy begotten Son of God. From the sparse amount of information about Joseph in Scripture we learn he is always in the company of Mary and Jesus and never leaves them from the beginning as we see in the Gospel of Matthew to the end as we know from the Gospel of Luke.

Yes, all we know about this holy man Joseph is found in the New Testament Gospel of Matthew and Luke and in a reference to Joseph in the Gospel of John that affirms his legitimacy as the parent of Jesus. It is the Judeans themselves who confirm this about who Jesus is—“Is this not this Jesus, the son of Joseph whose father and mother we know?” (John 6:42).

I end this reflection with a prayer I dedicated to St. Joseph’s role as spouse of Mary and Patron of the Universal Church:

Joseph, you are the saint who can aid us in our concern for justice and peace. You accepted the Virgin Mary as your wife and then safeguarded her and Jesus from unjust, selfish, and power-hungry rulers.

You make us aware of how to care for one another as members of Mary’s family, and God’s household. Teach us to be compassionate to our aging family members. Assist them in their last and final hours and bless them with your presence and that of Jesus and Mary. Be our model as we approach the last stages of our lives. May we entrust our hearts and spirits to you, the patron and model for a happy death.

Keep us open to the little surprises of grace that come through our daydreams, our nightly dreams, and the mysteries of life and nature. May we never harm or despise the little children with whom we come into contact.

Joseph, it is you who teach us the virtues of patience and silence. Even in the Scriptures the only word we know you spoke was the name of “Jesus” as we are told in Matthew 1:21. Help us to understand the importance of patience, especially when we find no answers to our burning questions and issues. We see you as our model for patient prayer—open to the mysteries of God.

We thank you for the protection you offered the Holy Family and which you now direct to the Church and all its members. May you, too, be our patron and model and obtain from you the grace of imitating your love for Mary and for God in your beloved son Jesus.

And may the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be glorified in all places through you, Joseph, and your immaculate spouse Mary. Amen.

March 18
Lectionary: Daniel 9:4-10. Psalm 79: Luke 6: 36-38:

Frequently during Lent, the Liturgy of the Word contains the justice and mercy of God seen as separate themes, but really together in the context of the covenant theme presented especially in the Torah and the Psalms. Today I believe we can hear or read this in all of the three selections from Scripture: Daniel, Psalm, and Gospel of Luke.

Daniel speaks twice of the mercy or compassion of God, while mentioning the justice of God once. He calls our relationship with God a “merciful covenant” seen, as we read on, in the fact of our failure to keep the merciful covenant and our need forgiveness and a return to the restored relationship. The justice of God is always involved when we sin; then the mercy and forgiveness of God follows after our return to God. Most often God’s compassion and mercy seem to be stronger than God’s justice for we are always reading how the People of God are forgiven and we, too, are forgiven. God’s mercy outweighs the justice that is meted out.

The Psalm helps us pray about this seesaw action of compassion (mercy) and justice: “May your compassion come quickly to us; …do not deal with us as our sins deserve.”

Jesus says to us his disciples: “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.” Then in the following words of our brief reading from Luke it seems that the third pillar of our Lenten trio—prayer, fasting,almsgiving—comes to the fore. Generosity is highlighted as a result of our not judging and condemning one another. By our compassion and our generosity we get out of ourselves and reach out to others. Graces are then heaped up for us and our spiritual bushels are spilling over because of God’s compassion and forgiveness. Joel B. Green in his commentary has this insight about our passage: “Jesus gives us an image of God as the merciful Father (v.36) whose own practices are not stingy or calculated but lavish and full of grace.” Amen.