Daily Reflections by Father Bert
Lectionary for 7th Sunday (A): Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18. Psalm 103: 1-2, 3-4,8.10. 12-13. I Corinthians 3: 16-23. Matthew 5: 38-48:
Both our reading from the Book of Leviticus and the Gospel passage from the Sermon on the Mount in St. Matthew’s Gospel are an invitation to holiness. These two calls to be holy like God are like bookends in literary technique which we call an “inclusion.” They hold within them the content of what holiness in the Bible means. Both Leviticus and Matthew are complementary.
In Leviticus we read, “Be holy, for I the Lord am holy.” In Matthew we hear Jesus saying, “You must be perfected as your heavenly Father is perfect. Both in the original Greek of St. Matthew this word perfection means to be complete, to have wisdom, and to be mature. I noticed in the translation found in the Lectionary I read from the word “perfected” was used thus indicating that this does not happen overnight; neither does wisdom nor completeness or maturity. The same is true for the Hebrew word used for perfection or wholesomeness. It, too, implies wisdom and maturity.
We often compare what Luke says about this invitation where he calls us to be all merciful which in Hebrew would be the word used for covenantal fidelity and wholeness, namely, Hesed. This is the holiest singular word that is found in the Hebrew Bible. These different nuances all help us to see that this is not simply a pious platitude but an encouragement by God to become close to God as a friend does to a friend and to observe all the commandments of love that are part of the Mosaic law. God’s call to us to be holy shows the dignity and reverence with which we are treated and related to God as an image and likeness of our Creator.
Nature and grace are involved in this summons to be perfect. It is not an impossible dream. Our value as persons is great in the eyes of God. Friendship with God is cultivated through our friendship with one another and our love which is extended beyond what is humanly possible, namely, to love even our enemies. Perfection and mercy complement each other and encourage us to be like God.
Perhaps, the greatest challenge in holiness demands of us to love our enemy and to forgive those who harm us.
Martin Buber states that holiness is found not in rising above the level of one’s neighbors but in relationships, in human beings recognizing the latent divinity in each of us. As humans we can be Godlike by exercising our power to sanctify moments and objects in our lives. The Scriptures are holy not only because they come from God but because they lead us to God.
The Ecumenical Council of Vatican II in its Constitution on the Church has a treatise on the Universal Call to Holiness. It would be good spiritual reading for this season of Lent which is fast upon us. (No pun meant!) Amen.
Lectionary: James 3:1-10. Psalm 12: 2-3, 4-5, 7-8. Mark 9: 2-13:
James gives us one of the best remedies for an uncontrollable tongue with today’s selection in the Liturgy of the Word. I recall a scene from one of the films about Pope Francis. He is moving along waving to the crowd and stops for a moment where a loud group is cheering him as he passes, he shouts up to them and yells “Stop gossiping”! As I read James brief description of the tongue as a rudder of a ship or a tiny flame in which the unbridled tongue wreaks havoc which comes from this little instrument of what brings about our wayward thoughts and speech about others. James needs to curb the tongue of those for whom he is writing, that is, his own community audience. His words fit any age and stage of our life; his words are timeless. We need to listen to James because his writing is about human wisdom and those who have no control over their tongues lack human wisdom in the spiritual and biblical sense. He tells us that if a person is without fault in speech he is a very wholesome person. James tells us the tongue “is a small member, yet it makes great pretensions.” We use our tongues to praise God, and use them to curse others who are made in God’s likeness. “Blessing and curse come out of the same mouth. This ought not to be, my brothers and sisters.”
The Psalm 12 also is about the dangers of speech, tongue, and heart in relating to God and others. The Psalmist expresses displeasure with those in leadership who have smooth tongues and are proud of themselves and their words. It tells us that God will rise up and offset what the liars and slippery mouthed are doing to the poor and needy. The poet (psalmist) repeats certain words deliberately to offset the double-tongued smooth talkers who also have, in his words, a double heart (another way of expressing their duplicity).
In our prayers before meals we usually pray that the conversation among us will be wholesome, good, and uplifting. And adding to this we ask people to be quiet during the hour or half-hour before regularly scheduled prayers in the late afternoon. There is much James-like wisdom in these practices that deal with the tongue. Marianists may also use the Silence of Words, one of the purification virtues. .
The Transfiguration theme comes at a good moment as we are not far from Lent. This mystery of Jesus being transfigured in a theophany with Moses and Elijah and hearing the voice of God declare Jesus as the Beloved one in whom we must listen to by being quiet and attentive to the revelation given to us. There is a mention of the Transfiguration in Peter’s Epistle and also a symbolic clap of thunder in which John hints at the Transfiguration in his Gospel (John 12:29). There is also a recollection of the Transfiguration in II Peter 1: 16ff). God witnesses to his own son in the testimonial words: “This is my son, my beloved, listen to him.” The Transfiguration is meant to strengthen his apostles as they soon enter into the mystery of Jesus’ sufferings, death, and resurrection. This will be recalled in the Liturgy of the Word in one of the Sunday Gospels of Lent. We, too, are prepared for this by hearing this today since Lent begins next Wednesday, Feb. 24th.
Lectionary: James 2:14-24, 26. Psalm 112: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6. Mark 8: 34-9:1:
By following the strong advice of James given to us in his letter, we learn that faith needs to be put in practice like the other virtues. We will be able to do this and see results if we follow his lead in living in the presence of Jesus and giving his life for him as the first of the apostles to be martyred (62 A.D.). He listened to the Father and to his Son Jesus and then shared his thoughts with us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We will experience the blessings and the happiness of what the Psalm sings: Happy are those who do what the Lord commands.” (v. 1).
James recalls the great ancestor and “Father of faith” in the person of Abraham and spells out how he did what the Lord commanded him to do and thereby was righteous and just in his faith followed up by good works. “You must perceive that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
Our Psalm proclaims this in song by chanting: “Well for the person who is gracious and lends, who conducts his affairs with justice.”
As we saw yesterday we are in the middle of the Gospel of Mark where the first foretelling of Jesus’ death and resurrection is heard and Jesus explains how we, his followers, must take up our cross and follow him. This is the central message of the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of the Cross. Jesus will bring this message to us two more times in his teaching and preaching. This first prediction happens just before the Transfiguration of the Lord. The Father reveals to us that Jesus is his Beloved Son and we are to listen to him. We need to remind ourselves that we are never alone when we listen to the words of Jesus about the cost of our discipleship.
Biblical scholars tell us that whenever Jesus says “must take up one’s cross” that means this is a divine imperative. The collection of sayings in our passage helps us to have “right thinking” about the meaning of suffering in our lives. Amen.
Lectionary: James 2: 1-9. Psalm 34: 2-3. 4-5.6-7. Mark 8: 27-39:
James becomes more direct and personal in his pushing us to pray for wisdom. He writes to us, his sisters and brothers, to make us aware of what it means to fulfill the commandment of love. We are not to show favoritism to those who are well dressed, attractive, and even rich. All brothers and sisters are equal and worthy of our love. Our own striving for wholesomeness through wisdom helps us to show justice, affection, and care for one another. Discrimination is not to be part of our lives as followers of Jesus. James tells we are heirs of the kingdom of God by living our lives as he suggests we do. Of course, faith, hope, and love are the keys to wisdom while wisdom intensifies these God-relational virtues.
Psalm 34 is a psalm of thanksgiving and a wisdom psalm fitting in well with what we are reading or listening to from the Letter of James. Our Response verse is: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” (v.7). This humble prayer and song is offered to the Lord and is important because the Lord is worthy of our praise and thanksgiving. One of the verses of this Psalm, verse 8, can serve as a Communion reflection during the season of Lent. The verse is beautiful: “O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.”
We are now in the middle of Mark’s Gospel which will continue till the beginning of Lent. I suggest we keep reading it as a way of supplementing our attention to the Liturgy of the Word. Today, Jesus foretells his suffering, death, and resurrection for the first time.(Mark 8:31). There will be two more such predictions separated from this first by the Transfiguration of Jesus.
I think Mark offers us a compendium of passages that help us enter into his mystery which is that of the Cross. The passages get to the heart of the Gospel known as the Gospel of the Cross. In a sense they are a scriptural Way of the Cross helping us to enter more deeply into the spirit and atmosphere of the Lenten Season. This journey with Jesus is presented to us by Mark 8: 31-16:8. The whole of the Passion Narrative is our nourishment for the coming season of prayer, fasting, and generosity to the poor. Amen.
Lectionary: James 1: 19-27. Psalm 15: 2-3,4-5. Mark 8:22-25:
We have four of our five senses mentioned in our readings today. That ought to alert us to the messages contained within the Liturgy of the Word. In the first reading from James we become aware of the harm anger can do. This usually issues from our mouth taking what is within our hearts and thrusting our anger in words against some issue, person, or disadvantage we may be experiencing. James helps us to be aware of the gift of the Holy Spirit when anger rears its ugly head. That gift is wisdom and is a principal golden thread throughout James’ Letter. Wisdom helps us curtail our tongue and also puts things in perspective, thereby, allowing us to reason about what is best to say and to dot when we are angry. Never mind about just anger. James is addressing anger in general and not showing the ordinary ways of handling it. Wisdom is a gift of the Spirit that helps us always see the bigger picture even when it does not fit our framework. Another offshoot of wisdom is calmness and even silence that helps calm the savage beast of anger which puts a bad taste in our mouth.
As followers of Jesus we are summoned to pray for others, not pass judgment on them, and to be patient with situations not under our control. The Word of God is what is all important; it helps us put our energy into doing good and speaking clearly as we hear Jesus saying, “Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no be no” all the rest belongs to the prompter of anger and Evil One. James makes wisdom practical at every step. Here the good he expects out of us is to be kind and generous to orphans and widows, who are the poor of God.
Psalm 15 and its response takes up the deeds of justice as its main point. The one who practices just deeds is blessed. “He who does justice shall live on the Lord’s holy mount.” (v.1).
In Mark the mission of Jesus is urgent. He moves from village to village while teaching both crowds and disciples as he does so. Near Bethsaida, a blind man is brought to him. Jesus separates him from the people and performs a ritual that gives the man a few moments of myopia. Jesus, after hearing that men seem like trees walking, Jesus clears his vision. Jesus tells him not to return to the village but to stay away, perhaps, to keep the miracle as a private healing of Jesus over this poor blind man.
As we move along in the liturgical year just before Lent it is good to keep in mind that Mark will be announcing the sufferings, death, and resurrection Jesus will undergo. Here are the passages where Jesus foretells the Paschal Mystery that will unfold: Mark 8: 27-33; 9:30-37, and 10: 32-34. Amen.
Lectionary: James 1: 12-18. Psalm 94: 12-13, 14-15, 18-19. Mark 8: 14-21:
Many are interested in becoming teachers and educators. The men and women who have taken vows were the founders and foundresses of many educational endeavors and institutions. Some of the religious have also a mission to educate the young and the poor. Most of the ones who entered that profession with me have put in fifty or more years into teaching in High Schools, Universities, and Grade Schools. It is here where the Letter of James helps us to deepen our values not only in education but in life outside the classroom. There is much contemporary wisdom in this letter written by one named James. The writer knows we are all learners and he strives to share his wisdom so that we may become educators and teachers. An educator is one who not only is present in the classroom but also is working with students to become as wholesome and learned as possible.
Not only does James support us today as teachers (parents above all) and educators but also in the Psalm we are aware of learning and teaching. Like James, the Psalms help us to focus on God as the Father of heavenly light (wisdom and knowledge) who want us to grow into the fullness of our call. The Response rings out with these words : “Happy are the ones you teach, O Lord.” What follows in the Psalm are justice, an upright heart in cherishing the words and sentiments of this Psalm. Many of the scriptural characteristic virtues appear in most of the Psalms.
In the brief Gospel passage proclaimed today we are presented with a scene of Jesus with his disciples trying to teach them. They have already experienced two great miracles of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish, now he talks to them about what is happening around them and bases his argumentation in the form of six questions. They do not comprehend that when he says the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod, he is speaking of not ordinary bread but the yeast that is within the bread that would not be appropriate for the Passover and is a symbol of something considered breaking the commandment for unleavened bread during the Passover..
Unfortunately, the disciples are slow of mind and comprehension and scramble with one another for suitable answers to his six questions. They still do not get what he is talking about. Nor did they comprehend the multiplications of bread and fish. They are dumbstruck or should we intimate that they are simply dumb to begin with as Mark seems to do in these earlier teaching days of Jesus. Jesus wants them to think above the ordinary and to rise to a higher level to understand their call to become learned disciples and missionary apostles. That will take more time as we learn from the Gospels. In this scene the disciples are more concerned about eating bread than to listening to Jesus.
I thought it would be interesting for you and me to pick out the one question that seems to be touching me and where I may have some learning to do. Just survey today’s Gospel and see which question prompts me to answer the Lord. Amen.
Sons of the Wise, they know not rest
Throughout this life, and when they rise, amid the blest renew the strife.
The path they trod before them lies, They view their goal:
By grace of God with eager eyes—They see life whole.
Lectionary for Monday, Feb. 17: James 1:1-11. Psalm 119: 67.68, 71, 72, 75,76 , Mark 8; 14-21:
We turn to a new book in the New Testament today, that of James. Traditionally, he is considered as the first apostle to be martyred and was one of the pillars in Jerusalem for the foundling Church. His “letter” is more of a treatise or essay than a letter and it has a strong Hebrew touch to it though written in excellent Koine Greek. He displays his former ways of living the Torah in what he writes and helps the Jewish Christians of his time to grow in the new way of life they have embraced as baptized Christians. This is also a book of great practical wisdom with colorful phrases and metaphors.
Notice how he addresses the readers as members of the Twelve Tribes in the Diaspora. This shows us the listeners are former Jews who have come over to the following of Jesus. They are scattered outside of Israel and thus are said to be of the Diaspora. If we keep in mind the theme of wisdom we have a good insight into what he is teaching the listeners to develop by growing in wisdom. Another important theme is that of social justice which is strongly emphasized in this communication of James. James knows and teaches what is right and what is wrong. These ideas have to be seen through the influence of the Holy Spirit imparting the wisdom described.
Psalm 119 is the greatest psalm honoring the holiness and the wisdom of the Torah. For one who is steeped in Judaism it becomes a handy handbook for those accomplishing God’s will through the Torah. Each of its 22 stanzas develops the meaning and content of the Torah. We have selected verses from it in our Liturgy of the Word but they all center upon the Torah and its different dimensions seen in a pattern of eight words scattered throughout the Psalm and its individual verses. What words? Torah, Word, Statute, Commandment , Good Deeds, witness, and precepts.
Mark gives us another event in the life of Jesus that shows us his conflict with the Pharisees and lawmakers. They want proof of his authority and his power to perform signs (miracles). Jesus does not give signs to an unworthy generation. This will happen again in the Gospel where only the sign of Jonah is given. As they become silent, Jesus and his disciples move on by boat to another location along the lake. There he may hope to find people open to his message about the kingdom and repentance. Amen.