Our reading this weekend from Romans begins, through one man sin entered the world. Our first reading from Genesis gives us the story of Adam and Eve in the garden and the “most cunning” of all the animals tricking them into disobeying God’s command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge.
Before they disobeyed God, they were perfectly happy and at peace. Afterwards, they began blaming others (Eve blamed the serpent, Adam blamed Eve); they experienced shame (they realized that they were naked); and they were alienated from God and each other. We see further effects of their sin in Cain’s jealousy, which led him to murder his brother.
These stories are good reflections for the beginning of Lent. God wants us to be happy, God wants us to be at peace with all, God wants the best for us. But we ourselves mess it up by the way we act and treat others, bringing shame, blame, and alienation into our lives.
Lent is a time to reflect and change for the better. God does not want us to be alienated from Him or others. God does not want us to live in shame. If we turn to Him, we will find his forgiveness is there waiting for us, wiping out our guilt and shame. His grace is there to help us improve our lives and do better in the future.
I hope we will all take advantage of this special season the Church gives us, so that when we celebrate Easter we will be united with God and others, free of guilt and shame.
There are several opportunities for spiritual growth being offered here at Pius (see bulletin or website for information about reflections, prayer workshops, and bible study). Our Lenten communal reconciliation service will be held on Tuesday evening, March 28th, at 7:00pm, an opportunity to allow God’s forgiveness to wash away shame and guilt.
I invite you to reflect on one thing that you would like to be different in your life on Holy Saturday evening, as we celebrate the Resurrection. What can you do as we go through Lent to make sure it happens? And let us support each other in prayer, as we struggle to grow.
Church sign of the week: When you are hanging on by a thread, make sure it is by the hem of His garment.
Our readings today have a very strong message, a message that is hard to hear. But the message is clear: we must love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. No way around it: it applies to us.
It might seem impossible, but here is a very important distinction which makes it a little more doable. When Jesus speaks of “love of enemy,” he is not talking of feelings of affection or sympathy or tenderness toward the one who does evil to us. It is difficult to change the feelings of the heart toward one who harms us. Jesus means NOT to seek or desire to do the person evil. We don’t have to FEEL love; we are talking about deciding NOT to hate, not to return evil for evil. The feelings that come when someone hurts us are not the problem. The sin is when we hurt them back.
The Christian approach is to try to fix the problem, if possible. We can also try to do good to the other. At a bare minimum, we can pray for the other. We are acting as a Christian when we forgive, rather than taking vengeance.
This is not easy. For some it is more difficult than for others. But you can see in our world the results when people harbor hatred, anger, hurts, and want to get even. Things escalate, getting worse and worse. We will not be perfect in this, but we need to be growing.
An example I would use is Vladimir Putin. What is my attitude toward him, given all the evil he has perpetrated? Do I wish him ill? Do I want him dead? Or am I entrusting him to God’s love and praying that he may change his ways? Prayer DOES work. Remember Saul of Tarsus? I am sure the early Christians thought he was at least as bad as we regard Putin. I think God chose him and he was converted because of St. Stephen, the first martyr, who prayed for those who were stoning him, including Saul.
I invite us to reflect on how we are doing at “loving our enemies.” To work at growing in our ability to do this would be a good Lenten challenge.
We are not God. We are not perfect. We want others to love us, despite the things we do. We need to grow in our ability to do the same. God bless.
Church sign of the week: When the game is over, the king and the pawn go back in the same box.
In the first reading this weekend, we are told that choosing to follow the law is choosing LIFE, rather than death. In our Gospel, we continue our walk through the Sermon on the Mount, with Jesus
assuring his disciples (and us) that he has come to FULFIL the law, not abolish it. He gives three examples; I would like to comment on the first one in which Jesus says that the law “thou shalt not kill” is fulfilled by not being angry at another. This is so important to understand, because of all the anger, mean speech, and hatred that we find in the world around us.
Jesus is not saying that feeling anger is wrong. If someone hurts us, feelings of anger just come. We can’t stop them. They are not a sin. It is what we DO with them that is important. If I give in to the feelings, if I harbor them, if I hurt the other person, that is wrong. But if I do my best to deal with the feelings by working it out with the other, if possible, I am choosing life. If I can’t work out the differences, I can pray for the person and make sure I do nothing
negative against them. That also is choosing life. We are so much happier and the world around us is so much more at peace when we can deal with feelings of anger in a positive way.
Jesus emphasizes the importance of this by telling us to leave our gift at the altar and go and be reconciled. In other words, it is more important to be reconciled with another as best we can than to come and worship God. That is a strong statement.
Where are we in terms of this challenge? Are there people against whom I hold grudges, anger, or resentment? What can I do to be reconciled? If I can’t bring about reconciliation, can I pray for that
other person and not let the anger control me?
By ourselves, this is very, very difficult. With the grace of God, it is possible and everyone will be happier because we have chosen life! “Lord, help me to forgive as you forgave on the cross.”
Church sign of the week: At the heart of every sin is the letter “i.”
Our Gospel this weekend continues the Sermon on the Mount, with Jesus challenging us to be light for the world and salt for the earth. Our first reading from Isaiah gives us two clear ways to do it, two ways clearly supported by Gospel values.
The first is to take care of those in need: share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and homeless, clothe the naked, and don’t turn your back on your own. That we understand the importance of this is underscored by the honor we give to those who have done a good job of living it out, like Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day, and Oscar Romero.
The second is to remove from our midst oppression, false accusation, and malicious speech. It is refraining from harming others through speech or social media. It is making sure everything we say, be it verbal, in writing, or on social media, builds up others, rather than tearing them down.
It is obvious that our world needs our witness and action in both of these areas, as indicated by the prevalence of the following: poverty and hunger, refugees who are ignored, hatred and gun violence on our streets, government officials who speak badly of others instead of working together for the common good, etc.
We cannot change the whole world, but we can influence the world around us by being kind and generous to others, as well as by refraining from negative speech. When we can do these things, we are truly salt for the earth and light for the world. We are living as Jesus did and that is what it means to be His disciple. God bless.
Church sign of the week: Our family tree is rooted in love.