March 11-16: March 11 Monday: Matthew 25: 31-46 : “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. 34 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? 38 And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? 39 And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ 40 And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 …46
The context: Today’s Gospel describes the Last Judgment and its criterion using as an image the Palestinian shepherds’ practice of the nightly separation of the over-active and less docile goats from the docile sheep. Jesus promises that he will come in all his glory as a Judge (Christ’s Second Coming), to reward the good people and punish the bad people. This will be the final and the public separation of the good people from the evildoers. The lessons: The parable teaches us that the main criterion of the Last Judgment will be the works of Christian charity, kindness and mercy we have done for others, in whom we have actually served Christ, knowingly or unknowingly. The parable tells us that Christ, the Judge, is going to ask us six questions, and all of them are based on how we have cooperated with God’s grace to do acts of charity, kindness and mercy for others, because Jesus actually dwells in them. The first set of questions: “I was hungry, thirsty, homeless. Did you give me food, drink, accommodation?” The second set of questions:” I was naked, sick, imprisoned. Did you clothe me? Did you help me by visiting me in my illness or in prison?” If the answers are yes, we will be eternally rewarded because we have cooperated with God’s grace by practicing charity. But if the answers are negative, we will be eternally punished. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “If sometimes our poor people have had to die of starvation, it is not because God didn’t care for them, but because you and I didn’t give, were not instruments of love in the hands of God, to give them that bread, to give them that clothing; because we did not recognize Christ, when once more Christ came in distressing disguise.”
Life messages: 1) The Holy Bible, the Seven Sacraments, the Ten Commandments and the precepts of the Church are all meant to help us to practice corporal and spiritual works of charity (mercy), in this life so that we may become able to receive God’s love, our eternal reward of Heavenly bliss.
2) Sins of omission (in which, we fail to recognize those in need as our brothers and sisters in Christ and we fail to serve them in love), are very serious matters leading us toward eternal punishment. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/19
March 12 Tuesday: Mt 6:7-15: “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 ..15
The context: In today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs the crowd that they should not pray like the Gentiles, repeating empty phrases. He means that true piety is not so much a matter of the number of words as of the frequency and the love with which the Christian turns towards God in all the events, great or small, of his day. So Jesus teaches a model prayer – Our Father. After we place ourselves in the presence of God our Father, there are seven petitions, the first three theological, for the glory of the Father, which draw us towards Him, and the last four petitionary, as we present our needs to Him and commend ourselves to His grace.
A prayer in two parts: In the first part, we address God, lovingly acknowledging Him as our Heavenly Father, praising and worshipping Him and asking that His Holy Will be done on earth and in our lives as perfectly as it is done in Heaven. In the second part, we ask God for our present needs (daily bread), our past needs (forgiveness of sins) and our future needs (protection against the tempter and his temptations), and we ask for His blessings. In this part we also bring the Trinitarian God into our lives. We bring 1) God the Father, the Provider, by asking for daily bread, 2) God the Son, our Savior, by asking forgiveness for our sins and 3) God the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete Who is our Guide, Advocate, Comforter and Illuminator, by asking for protection and deliverance from evil.
Special stress on the spirit of forgiveness: We are told to ask for forgiveness from others for our offenses against them and to give unconditional forgiveness to others for their offenses against us as a condition for receiving God’s forgiveness. Jesus further clarifies, “If you forgive others their wrongs, your Father in Heaven will also forgive yours. If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive you either” (Mt 6:14-15).
“For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory, now and forever. Amen.” The manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew do not contain this phrase, nor do any of the Catholic translations. Martin Luther added this doxology to Our Father in his translation of Matthew’s Gospel, and the King James editions of the Bible keep it. The doxology is actually taken from the Divine Liturgy or Catholic Mass. Known as the final doxology, it takes up the first three petitions to our Father. By the final “Amen,” which means, “So be it”, we ratify what is contained in the prayer that God has taught us. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/19
March 13 Wednesday: Lk 11:29-32: 29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the men of Nineveh, so will the Son of man be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will arise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
The context: Since there had been many false prophets and false messiahs in the past, and since their pride and prejudice did not permit them to see the Messiah in a carpenter from Nazareth turned wandering preacher, the Jewish religious leaders demanded that Jesus show some “Messianic” signs and miracles taken from their list. They would not accept that Jesus’ numerous miraculous healings were the Messianic signs foretold by the prophets.
Jesus’ negative response: Calling them an apostate generation who refused to believe in their own prophets and denied the hand of God in the miracles he worked, Jesus warned these religious leaders that they would be condemned on the Day of Judgment by the people of Nineveh and by the Queen of Sheba from the South. This is one of the instances in which Jesus held up Gentiles as models of Faith and goodness (other examples: the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15, the centurion in Luke 7, the Good Samaritan story in Luke 10; etc.). The pagan Ninevites heard the voice of the Lord God in the prophet Jonah, repented, and were spared. The Queen of Sheba recognized God’s Wisdom in King Solomon and traveled to Israel to receive more of it. Nevertheless, Jesus gave the religious leaders challenging him, “the sign of Jonah.” It was the undeniable Messianic sign of his own Resurrection from the tomb on the third day after his death, just as Jonah had spent three days in the belly of the giant fish before finally going to Nineveh to accomplish the mission God had originally given him.
Life messages: We need to recognize God-given signs in our lives: 1) Let us examine our conscience and see if we are able to see God’s presence in ourselves and in others, His hands behind the small and big events of our lives and His provident care in our lives. 2) Let us open our ears to hear God’s message given to us by others and by nature. 3) Let us read God’s message in the Bible and adjust our lives accordingly. 4) Let us try our best to be open to God and receptive to His Spirit through our active participation in the liturgy instead of looking for signs in weeping Madonnas, bleeding crucifixes and visionaries. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/19
March 14 Thursday; Mt 7:7-12: 7 “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 12 So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.
The context: In today’s Gospel, taken from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus outlines the conditions for fruitful and effective prayer.
- The first condition is trusting Faith in the goodness and promises of a loving Father. As a loving Father, God knows what to give, when to give and how to give, irrespective of what we ask for. As One who knows our past, present and future, God knows what is best for us at any given time. He is a loving Father, and He will not give us evil things as the grudging and mocking gods in Greek stories gave their worshippers. Jesus explains this with two examples. Even a bad parent will not dare to give a bread-shaped piece of limestone to his child asking for bread, or a stinging scorpion instead of a fish. So, all the experiences in our lives, including illnesses and tragedies, are permitted by a loving God with a definite purpose – to work in us for our ultimate good
- Persistence in prayer is the second condition Patient, trusting persistence reflects our dependence on, and trust in, God. That is why Jesus asks us to keep on asking, seeking and knocking.
Life messages: 1) We need to stop giving lame excuses for not praying, like a) we are too busy; b) we believe that prayer doesn’t do that much good, other than giving us psychological motivation to be better persons; c) a loving God should provide for us and protect us from the disasters of life, such as disease or accidents, without our asking Him; or d) prayer is boring.
2) We need to remember the fact that prayer is a conversation with God that is, listening to God speaking to us through the Bible and talking to God.
3) We can’t have a close relationship with anyone, especially with God, without daily, persistent, and intimate conversation. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/19
March 15 Friday: Mt 5:20-26: 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 21 “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, `You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, `You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 ..26
The context: For the Scribes and the Pharisees, the external fulfillment of the precepts of the Mosaic Law was the guarantee of a person’s salvation. In other words, a man saved himself through the external works of the Law. Jesus rejects this view in today’s Gospel passage, taken from the Sermon on the Mount. For Jesus, justification or sanctification is a grace, a free, strengthening gift from God. Man’s role is one of cooperating with that grace by being faithful to it, using it as God means it to be used. Jesus then outlines new moral standards for his disciples.
Control of anger: Anger is the rawest, strongest and most destructive of human emotions. Describing three stages of anger and the punishment each deserves, Jesus advises his disciples not to get angry in such a way that they sin.
1) Anger in the heart (“brief stage of insanity” Cicero): It has two forms: a) a sudden, blazing flame of anger which dies suddenly. b) a surge of anger which boils inside and lingers, so that the heart seeks revenge and refuses to forgive or forget. Jesus prescribes trial and punishment by the Village Court of Elders as its punishment.
2) Anger in speech: The use of words which are insulting (“raka“=“fool”), or damaging to the reputation (“moros” = a person of loose morals). Jesus says that such an angry (verbally abusive) one should be sent to the Sanhedrin, or Jewish religion’s Supreme Court, for trial and punishment.
3) Anger in action: Sudden outbursts of uncontrollable anger, which often result in physical assault or abuse. Jesus says that such anger deserves hellfire as its punishment. In short, Jesus teaches that long-lasting anger is bad, contemptuous speech or destroying someone’s reputation is worse and harming another physically is the worst.
Life messages: 1) Let us try to forgive, forget and move toward reconciliation as soon as possible. St. Paul advises us “Be angry (righteous anger), but do not sin” (Eph 4: 26). 2) When we keep anger in our mind we are inviting physical illnesses like hypertension and mental illnesses like depression. Let us relax and keep silence when we are angry and pray for God’s strength for self-control. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/19
March 16 Saturday: Mtb5: 43-48: “You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The context: Today’s Gospel passage is perhaps the central and the most famous section of the Sermon on the Mount. It gives us the Christian ethic of personal relationship: love one’s neighbors and forgive one’s enemies. Above all, it tells us that what makes Christians different is the grace with which they treat others, interacting with them with loving kindness and mercy, especially when those others don’t deserve it. The Old Law never said to hate enemies, but that was the way some Jews understood it. Jesus commands that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us in order to demonstrate that we are children of a merciful Heavenly Father. A Christian has no personal enemies. If we only love our friends, we are no different from pagans or atheists.
We need to love our neighbors and our enemies, too: The Greek word used for loving enemies is not storge (affection or natural love towards family members), or philia = friendship (love of close friends), or eros (=romance) (passionate love between a young man and woman), but agápe =unconditional love which is the invincible benevolence or good will for another’s highest good. Since agápe or unconditional love is not natural, practicing it is possible only with God’s help. Agápe love is a choice more than a feeling. We choose to love, not because our enemies deserve our love, but because Jesus loves them so much that he died for them and they too are the children of our God. We have in the Acts of the Apostles the example of St. Stephen, the first martyr, who prayed for forgiveness for those who were putting him to death, saying. “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60)
Life Message: We are to try to be perfect, to be like God: 1) We become perfect when we fulfill God’s purpose in creating us: with His help, to become God-like. We become perfect when, with His ongoing help, we try to love as God loves, to forgive as God forgives and to show unconditional good will and universal benevolence as God does. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/19
March 17: St. Patrick’s Day (Celebrated on March 16th Saturday, this year) : St. Patrick was born to Roman parents in Banwen in Wales. So he called himself both a Roman and a Briton. He was the son of a deacon named Calpornius and his mother was named Conchessa. Patrick was taken captive by the Irish marauders at about the age of 16. While in captivity for six years, he learned Irish (Gaelic), which would be essential for his later mission in Ireland. Since his master was a high priest of the Druids, Patrick had access to information about this religion from him, which might have proved very useful to him in his later mission, converting the Irish to Christianity. While Patrick was working as a shepherd in Ireland, he underwent a conversion experience and became a man of deep prayer. He managed to return to his native England and then went to France for training as a missionary. A few years after his ordination, Fr. Patrick was consecrated bishop at the age of 43, and the ecclesiastical authorities sent him to Ireland, probably in 432.
Before Patrick came to Ireland, there was a strong belief there in all kinds of gods, including the sun. Patrick tapped into these pagan beliefs and taught the people the true faith about the true God. He understood the Irish clan system. Hence, he knew that if the chieftains of the various clans became Christian, the rest of the clans would also. Patrick used every means possible to spread the word of God. The shamrock was the sacred plant of the Druids, and a legend says Patrick used it to teach the people about the Trinity. He worked night and day to bring the faith all over Ireland. He was a charismatic person who preached with authority and acted with miracles. We have two of Patrick’s writings, his Confessions in which we see his humility and his Letter to Coroticus in which we see the courage of his Christian convictions.
Contrary to popular belief, it was not St. Patrick who brought the Christian faith for the first time to Ireland. It was there already before him in the south and east of Ireland, probably due to traders and contacts with the continent. But it was St. Patrick who revitalized the faith of the local minority of Christians and converted the whole country to the Christian faith. First, he went to the west and north, where the faith had never been preached. He managed to obtain the protection of local kings and made numerous converts. He ordained many priests, divided the country into dioceses, held Church councils and founded several monasteries. All this groundwork done by St. Patrick later enabled the Church in Ireland to send out missionaries whose efforts were greatly responsible for Christianizing Europe. Patrick died on March 17th, 493(?) and was buried in Ulster in County Down. As we celebrate the feast of this great missionary saint, let us ask ourselves whether we are grateful to God for the gift of faith which has been passed down to us. Do we, like Patrick, use every means to pass on this faith and spread it? St. Patrick’s life of solid spirituality and dependence on God should serve as a model for us to get our priorities correct. (Fr. Tony)