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Feb 15-20: Feb 15 Monday: Mk 8:11-13: The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven, to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them and getting into the boat again he departed to the other side. USCCB video reflections: http://www.usccb.org/bible/reflections/index.cfm; https://catholic-daily-reflections.com/daily-reflections/
The context: The Pharisees of Jesus’ time had a long list of fifty extraordinary signs which they expected from the real Messiah, to distinguish the promised Messiah from false messiahs. Some of the false messiahs in the past had claimed that they could divide the Jordan River into two sections or cause the huge stony walls of Jerusalem to fall by a single word. Hence, the Pharisees demanded that Jesus show some miracles from their list of Messianic signs.
Jesus’ reply: Jesus knew that the proud, hard-hearted, prejudiced Pharisees were unwilling to accept the signs he had been working as the Messianic signs foretold by the prophets. Others of them, he knew were not interested in his message but only in seeing signs and wonders. Hence, according to Mark, Jesus unequivocally denied the demand for an additional Messianic sign. But according to Matthew 12:38-42 and Luke 11:29-32, Jesus offered them another sign–the miracle of Jonah, the sign of the death and Resurrection of Christ, knowing well that not even this remarkable proof would lead the Pharisees to shed their pride.
Life messages: 1) It is very sad to see superstitious Christians travelling miles to see a miraculous statue of a Madonna shedding tears of blood or oil. At the same time, they fail to see the presence of Jesus as he promised, in the Bible, in the Holy Eucharist, in a worshipping community or in the fellow Christians.
2) Let us pray for the grace of increased Faith in the genuine teachings of Jesus. Fr. Tony (https://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/21
Feb 16 Tuesday: Mk 8:14-21: 14 Now they had forgotten to bring bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” 16 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “We have no bread.” 17 And being aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” USCCB video reflections: http://www.usccb.org/bible/reflections/index.cfm ; https://catholic-daily-reflections.com/daily-reflections/
The context: The Jews considered fermentation by yeast as equivalent to putrefaction and, hence, something evil. That is why Jesus equated evil influence with leaven. Jesus considered the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the immoral life of the king Herod as leaven corrupting the dough of Israel. Hence, he gave the warning against their evil influence to his disciples while they were crossing the Lake in a boat.
The misunderstanding and correction: The Apostles in the boat misunderstood Jesus’ warning as a scolding for their having forgotten to bring enough bread for all of them. Hence, Jesus reminded them of his miraculous provision of bread in the feedings of the four thousand and of the five thousand people as evidence that they did not have to worry about food they had forgotten to bring for their supper. Twelve baskets full of left over after miraculously feeding four thousand people represent the twelve tribes of Israel whom God first established as his chosen people to preserve the belief in the one true God. The seven baskets left over after feeding the five thousand people represent the seven nations of the Gentiles to whom salvation is extended. Jesus clarifies by these miracles that while salvation is universal, the way to salvation is through him the Messiah. He warns his disciples to beware of the false way of salvation offered by the two extreme philosophies of the Pharisees and the King Herod and the Herodians.
Life messages: 1) With trusting Faith, let us rely on the miraculous provision God has in store for us in our daily life (as the word of God and the Holy Eucharist), when we do our share of work sincerely. 2) Let us take Jesus’ warning against allowing the evil influence of the society around us to define and defile us but let us rely on the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us and guiding, protecting and enlightening the Church. (https://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/21
USCCB video reflections: http://www.usccb.org/bible/reflections/index.cfm https://catholic-daily-reflections.com/daily-reflections/reflections.com/daily-reflections/ 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, King Ben Hadad of Syria, and Queen Esther 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 all Fridays of Lent, including Good Friday, as days of full fast and abstinence. Fasting is prescribed to reinforce our penitential prayer during the Lenten season.
Scripture lessons summarized: The prophet Joel, in the first reading, insists that we should experience a complete conversion of heart and not simply regret for our sins. Today’s Responsorial Psalm, (Ps 51), offers us an act of contrition with a plea for mercy and a prayer for a “clean heart” with which to live holy lives. 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 of us 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 that a) we are mortal beings, b) our bodies will become dust when buried and ashes if cremated, and c) our life-span is very brief and unpredictable; 2- a strong warning that we will suffer eternal misery if we do not repent of our sins, become reconciled with God, asking His pardon and forgiveness, and do penance; and 3- a loving invitation to realize and acknowledge our sinful condition and return to our loving and forgiving God with true repentance and a renewal of our life as the prodigal son did.
Ash Wednesday messages: # 1: We need to purify and renew our lives during the period of Lent by repentance, which means expressing sorrow for sins by turning away from occasions of sins and making a right turn to God. We need to express our repentance by becoming 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 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. It offers us more time to be with God in prayer. It encourages us to share our food and goods with the needy. Fasting also makes our minds clearer and more receptive to receive the sacred nourishment of God’s word and Holy Eucharist. (Thomas Merton, OCSO). (https://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/21 (Ashes on the head, not on forehead this year- see the pages 7 &8)
GETTING READY FOR A DIFFERENT KIND OF ASH WEDNESDAY
The Vatican issued new guidelines for the distribution of ashes during the pandemic — you can read about them here — and now different corners of the United States are getting ready to put them into practice.
It said priests should bless the ashes with holy water at the altar and then address the entire congregation with the words in the Roman Missal that are used when marking individual’s foreheads with ashes: Either “Repent and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
The sprinkling of ashes on individual heads would take place without any words said to each person.
Dioceses will respond to this adaptation based on how the effects of the pandemic in their respective regions, said Father Andrew Menke, executive director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.
Some dioceses have announced their plans to follow this step.
Father Tom Kunz, associate general secretary and vicar for canonical services in the Pittsburgh Diocese, said the different approach with ashes “will help the priest or deacon to avoid having direct contact with a large amount of people.” He also said this method is common in other countries.
“Even in a pandemic, Lent is a season of grace and an important moment in the church’s penitential practice,” he told The Pittsburgh Catholic, online diocesan news site.
The website of the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, posted videos in English and Spanish reviewing the practice of sprinkling of ashes on people’s heads explained by Father Thu Nguyen, diocesan director of liturgy and worship.
The Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida, in its online guidelines for parishes during Lent, said if parishes “choose to distribute ashes during the current health crisis” the ashes cannot be self-imposed but must be given by a minister wearing a face mask.
It gave parishes a few options, including the sprinkling of ashes on the head. It also said ashes could be imposed individually with a moistened swab or cotton ball “out of an abundance of caution”; or ministers could place ashes on foreheads with their thumbs as usual, making sure to sanitize after every two or three people.
The description on the diocesan website also stressed the “reception of ashes is not mandatory nor required.” It also said parishioners should know “their own internal disposition and intention to repent and start over” is the key to Ash Wednesday and that ashes are “an external sign of that internal reality. They may enter into Lent with a repentant heart even if they decide that receiving ashes is not the right thing for them this year.”
We’re doing sprinkling in my diocese; I’ve heard of other places where priests and deacons will be trying to apply ashes with swabs or Q-tips, which seems to me time-consuming and difficult, especially if you have a large crowd.
But the pandemic may keep people away from churches this year. We’ll see.
Below is the video from the Diocese of Fort Worth, explaining how they’re going to do it.
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