March 4 Monday (St. Casimir): Mk 10:17-27: 17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: `Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” 21 And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. 23 ..27
The context: A rich young man comes to Jesus in search of eternal life and expresses his genuine desire to be accepted by Jesus as a disciple. Jesus’ shocking challenge refused: Jesus reminds the rich man of the commandments that deal with his relationships with other people and challenges him to sell what he has and give to the poor. The young man fails to realize that his riches have really built a wall between himself and God. His possessions “possess him.” Jesus’ challenge exposes what is missing in his life, (a sense of compassion for the poor), and what blocks him from the goodness he seeks (his unwillingness to share his blessings with the needy). Jesus thus makes it clear that a true follower of His who wants to possess eternal life must not only be a respectable person who hurts nobody, but also someone who shares his riches, talents and other blessings with the less fortunate. Unfortunately, the rich man is unwilling to accept Jesus’ idea that wealth is something to be shared with others and not just something to be owned. So Jesus uses a vivid hyperbole or “word cartoon” to show how riches bar people from Heaven by presenting a big camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle. The disciples are shocked when Jesus challenges the Jewish belief that material wealth and prosperity are signs of God’s blessings by declaring that true religion consists in sharing our blessings with others without getting inordinately attached to them.
Life messages: 1) Jesus uses the premature farewell of the rich young man to teach the lesson that we do not possess in our life anything which we refuse to surrender to the Lord. Instead, that thing often possesses us, and we become the prisoners of our possessions, thereby violating the First Commandment, which demands that we give unconditional priority to God. 2) Our following of Jesus has to be totally and absolutely unconditional. Our attachment may not be to money, but to material goods, to another person, a job, health, or reputation. We must be ready to cut off any such attachment in order to become true Christian disciples, sharing our blessings with others. St. Teresa of Calcutta, (Mother Teresa), gives the message of today’s Gospel thus: “Do something Beautiful for God.” Do it with your life. Do it every day. Do it in your own way. But do it!” (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/19
March 5 Tuesday: Mk 10:28-31: 28 Peter began to say to him, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many that are first will be last, and the last first.”
The context: A rich young man approached Jesus asking how to gain eternal life. Jesus asked him to sell his possessions share the money with the poor and then become his disciple. But the rich man went away refusing Jesus’ terms and conditions. Watching this scene Peter declares that he and his fellow Apostles, all Jesus’ followers, have left everything and followed Jesus, and he asks what their reward will be.
Jesus’ warning and promise: Jesus wants every Christian to embrace the virtue of poverty of spirit by practicing real and effective austerity in the possession and use of material things. But those who are specially called to Christian ministry, particularly the Apostles and their successors in priestly and religious ministry, should practice absolute detachment from property, time, family, etc. so that they can be fully available to everyone, imitating Jesus himself. Such detachment gives them lordship over all things. They are no longer the slaves of things and the burden things involve. They will be able to share St. Paul’s attitude and live, “As having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (Corinthians 6:10). Jesus also considers persecutions and troubles as rewards because they help us to give powerful witness to the Good News and opportunities to grow in maturity and responsibility. Jesus assures Peter and the Apostles (and us), that anyone who has generously left behind his possessions will be rewarded a hundred times over in this life and will have eternal bliss in the next life. By shedding their selfishness in this way, they will acquire charity, and, having charity, they will gain everything. In place of material wealth, Jesus promises all his disciples the blessing and joy of rich fellowship with the community of believers. These words of our Lord particularly apply to those who by Divine vocation embrace celibacy, giving up their right to form a family. They will become members of every family, and they will have many brothers, sisters and spiritual children.
Life message: Let us try to become true disciples of Jesus by sacrificially sharing our blessings with those around us, thereby inheriting additional blessings from a generous God. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/19
March 6 Ash Wednesday: Introduction: Ash Wednesday (dies cinerum) is the Church’s Yom Kippur or the “Day of Atonement.” Its very name comes from the Jewish practice of doing penance wearing “sackcloth and ashes.” The Old Testament tells us how the people of Nineveh (Jonah 3:5), King Ben Hadad of Syria (1 Kg 20:31-34), and Queen Esther (4:16) fasted wearing sackcloth and ashes. In the early Church, Christians who had committed serious sins were instructed to do public penance wearing sackcloth and ashes. The Church instructs us to observe Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as days of full fast and abstinence. Fasting is prescribed to reinforce our penitential prayer during the Lenten season. The prophet Joel, in the first reading, insists that we should experience a complete conversion of heart and not simply regret for our sins. Saint Paul, in the second reading, advises us “to become reconciled to God.” Today’s Gospel instructs us to assimilate the true spirit of fasting and prayer.
The blessing of the ashes and the significance of the day: The priest dipping his thumb into ashes (collected from burnt palms of the previous year’s Palm Sunday), marks the forehead of each with the sign of the cross, saying the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” By marking the sign of the cross with ashes on the foreheads of her children, the Church gives us: 1- a firm conviction a) that we are mortal beings, b) that our bodies will become dust when buried and ashes if cremated, and c) that our life-span is very brief and unpredictable; 2- a strong warning that we will be eternally punished if we do not repent of our sins, become reconciled with God, asking His pardon and forgiveness, and doing penance; and 3- a loving invitation to realize and acknowledge our sinful condition, to return to our loving and forgiving God with true repentance as the prodigal son did and to ask Him for the renewal of our life.
Ash Wednesday messages: # 1: We need to purify and renew our lives during the period of Lent by repentance, which means expressing sorrow for our sins by turning away from occasions of sins and returning to God. We need to express our repentance by being reconciled with God daily, by asking for forgiveness from those whom we have offended and by giving unconditional forgiveness to those who have offended us.
# 2: We need to do prayerful fasting and little acts of penance for our sins, following the example of Jesus before his public ministry. Fasting reduces our “spiritual obesity” or the excessive accumulation of “fat” in our soul in the form of evil tendencies, evil habits and evil addictions. It also gives us additional moral and spiritual strength and encourages us to share our blessings with the needy. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/19
March 7 Thursday (Sts Perpetua & Felicity, Martyrs): Lk 9:22-25: 23 And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
The context: After Peter had made his famous declaration of Faith in Jesus as God and the Messiah, Jesus plainly warned his disciples about his suffering death and Resurrection. But the Apostles were unwilling to accept such a fate for their master. Hence, Jesus declared the three conditions of discipleship which he expected from his followers, as given in today’s Gospel.
The triple conditions: 1) Deny yourself. 2) Take up your cross. 3) Follow Me.
1) Denying oneself involves a) cleansing of the heart by the eviction of self from the heart and the cleansing of all evil tendencies and addictions from the heart, with the help of the Holy Spirit, b) the enthronement of God in the heart and the dedication of oneself to Him, and c) the surrendering of one’s life to the enthroned God through the loving, selfless service of others for God’s glory.
2) Taking up one’s cross means, not only accepting gracefully from God our pains and suffering, but also accepting the pain involved in serving others, in sharing our blessings with them and in controlling our evil tendencies. Carrying one’s cross becomes easier when we compare our light crosses with the heavier ones given to terminally-ill patients and to exploited people living under subhuman conditions. The realization that Jesus carries with us the heavier part of our cross also makes our cross-bearing easier and more salvific.
3) Follow Me means to follow Jesus by obeying the word of God and adjusting one’s life accordingly. The disciple should be ever ready to obey as Jesus directs him or her through His words in the Bible and through the teaching authority He has instituted in the Church.
The paradox of saving/losing and losing/saving life: According to Bible commentators, the word “life” is here used, clearly, in a double sense: the earthly life of man in flesh and time and his eternal Life of happiness in Heaven. Hence, what Jesus means is that whoever wishes to save his (earthly), life will lose his (eternal), Life. But whoever loses his (earthly), life by spending it for Jesus and the Gospel, will save his (eternal), Life.
Life message: We need to love the cross, wear the cross, carry the crosses we are given and transform these God-given crosses of our life into the instruments of our salvation by working with the Holy Spirit. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/19
March 8 Friday (St. John of God, Religious): Mt 9:14-15: 14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
The context: Today’s Gospel passage gives Jesus’ reply to the question asked by a few disciples of John the Baptist about fasting and feasting. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving were the three-cardinal works of Jewish religious life. Hence, John’s disciples wanted to know why they and the Pharisees fasted, while Jesus’ disciples were seen feasting with him and never fasting.
Jesus’ reply: Jesus responded to their sincere question using three metaphors: the metaphor of the “children of the bridal chamber,” the metaphor of patching torn cloth and the metaphor of wineskins (Mark 2:18-20; Luke 5:33-35). In today’s Gospel passage taken from Matthew, Jesus compares his disciples with the children of the bridal chamber. These people were selected friends of the bridegroom who feasted in the company of the bride and groom during a week of honeymoon. Nobody expected them to fast. Jesus declares that his disciples will fast when he, the Bridegroom, is taken away from them. One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy, and it is mentioned next after love in St Paul’s list, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22). Hence, we are to welcome the joys of Christian life as well as the crosses it offers us. The Fathers of the Church interpret the image of the bridegroom and bride as referring to Christ and his Church. Some explain it tropologically: as long as the Spouse is with us we are not able to mourn; but when by our sin he departs, then is the time for tears and fasting. Yet others apply the words of Christ to the Holy Eucharist. The parable does not condemn the strictness of John nor does it condemn fasting. The disciples of Christ kept the fasts prescribed by the Law, but they did ignore those imposed by the Pharisees.
Life messages: 1) Fasting reduces the excessive accumulation of fat in our soul in the form of evil tendencies and evil habits (= spiritual obesity). In addition, fasting gives us additional moral and spiritual strength. It offers us more time to be with God in prayer. It encourages us to share our food and goods with the needy. We fast so as to share in the sufferings of the Body of Christ (Col 1:24).
2) We need to be adjustable Christians with open and elastic minds and hearts: The Holy Spirit, working actively in the Church and guiding the teaching authority in the Church, enables the Church to have new visions, new ideas, new adaptations and new ways of worship in the place of old ones. So we should have the generosity and good will to follow the teachings of the Church (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/19
March 9 Saturday (St. Frances of Rome, Religious): Lk 5: 27-32: 27 After this he went out, and saw a tax collector, named Levi, sitting at the customs post; and he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And he left everything, and rose and followed him. 29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house; and there was a large company of tax collectors and others sitting at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
The context: Today’s Gospel episode of Matthew’s call as Jesus’ Apostle reminds us of God’s love and mercy for sinners and challenges us to practice this same love and mercy in our relations with others.
The call and the response: Jesus went to the tax collector’s post to invite Matthew to become his disciple. Since tax collectors worked for a foreign power and extorted more tax money from the people than the area owed, they were hated and despised as traitors by the Jewish people and considered public sinners by the Pharisees. Jesus could see in Matthew a person who needed Divine love and grace. While everyone hated Matthew, Jesus was ready to offer him undeserved love, mercy and forgiveness. Hence, Matthew abandoned his lucrative job, because for him, Christ’s call to follow Him was a promise of salvation, fellowship, guidance and protection.
Scandalous partying with sinners: It was altogether natural for Matthew to rejoice in his new calling by celebrating with his friends. Jesus’ dining with outcasts in the house of a traitor scandalized the Pharisees for whom ritual purity and table fellowship were important religious practices. Hence, they asked the disciples, “Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?” In answer to their question, Jesus stressed his ministry as healer: “Those who are well do not need a physician; the sick do.” Then, in Matthew’s account, quoting Hosea, Jesus challenged the Pharisees, “Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’ (Hos 6:6)” Finally, Jesus clarified his position, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Life messages: 1) Jesus calls you and me for a purpose: Jesus has called us, through our Baptism, has forgiven our sins and has welcomed us as members of the Kingdom. In fact, He calls us daily through the Word and through His Church to be His disciples and to turn away from all the things that distract us and draw us away from God.
2) Just as Jesus did, and Matthew did, we, too, are expected to preach Christ through our lives, by reaching out to the unwanted and the marginalized in society with Christ’s love, mercy and compassion. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/19