Catholic Financial Life Blog

Difficult Fact, Difficult Gift

Posted by Catholic Financial Life

Mar 29, 2017 12:00:00 AM

March 29: Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

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Sunday’s joy bubbles over again in today’s prophetic first reading, but Jesus’ enemies throw a heavy wet blanket over it.  They know the prophets.  They have seen Jesus comforting and showing mercy to the afflicted of all kinds.  They have heard him promise the dawning reign of God. And they are determined to kill him. 

Jesus has angered them by breaking the Sabbath and calling God his own Father, though he points out that all his works are God’s.  And he promises them, in the midst of life’s travails, that all stories will come to a happy ending when “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, / and those who hear will live.” We recall that when we pray “he descended into hell,” traditionally understood as the place where the dead awaited him.

To seize that good news, Jesus’ hearers—and we among them—have to cope with a difficult fact. What we see as reality is not all there is. Jesus constantly confronts us with the greater reality of God present and working in ways we cannot always see or understand.  No matter how carefully and thoroughly we think we have defined God, as Jesus’ opponents thought they had, God escapes and becomes once again the uncontrollable “more.” 

 So Jesus’ hearers, and we, are confronted with the difficult gift of faith, that relationship with God that opens the road down which Christ comes to save us. The gift comes without tangible guarantees.  Hope, yes.  Hints, yes.  Touches of grace, yes.  But no provable facts or definitions because “the more” transcends them.

Jesus’ opponents could not accept. They would walk to the edge of the religious facts they trusted, but they would walk no farther, even though Jesus was right there holding out a hand, with crowds of healed sufferers behind him.  The gift of faith was just too difficult for them and, in their world, too dangerous, as Jesus’ death would prove.

And for us?

Meditation:

How do Jesus’ promises challenge the way you see reality? How does he ask you to stretch?

Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, author of life, give us the gift of a faith willing to venture beyond the bounds of common logic and everyday experience into the “more” of God’s love.

 

From Not By Bread Alone 2017: Daily Reflections for Lent 2017, by Genevieve Glen (Liturgical Press). Visit www.litpress.org for more information.

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Topics: Faith - Lent

The Difficult Question

Posted by Catholic Financial Life

Mar 28, 2017 12:00:00 AM

March 28: Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

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Why would Jesus put this question to the sick man by the pool?  The poor fellow had lain there for thirty-eight years, trying in vain to beat others to the water when it was stirred up. The locals believed the first one there would be healed—but only the first one.  Odds were against this man because he was all alone, without family or friends to help him get there. 

Jesus’ question is real in any long-term illness.  The sufferer may gradually settle in and begin to call the sickbed home.  Hopes of recovery slowly become daydreams, happily entertained but not actually pursued.  Familiarity breeds resignation rather than hope.

The question becomes crucial during Lent.  Bible and church use images of sickness to describe the state of sinfulness because both distort the people God wants us to become.  Like the long-term patient, we can subtly settle into the assumption that we will never actually be free of those sins we confess again and again, so we give up trying.  But, unlike us, God never gives up the struggle to get us up out of that sickbed to live a spiritually healthy life in Christ.

So, in Lent, Jesus shows up again at the soul’s sickbed and asks, “Do you want to be well?”  If so, the Lenten readings prescribe the treatment: pray, fast, give alms, and treat other people as God’s beloved children.  Then, once your focus has become broader than yourself, do look at your problem behaviors and seek help in changing them—because, of course, like the sick man in today’s story, we cannot get there alone, without any help.  The helps are many: God’s grace poured out on us through prayer, the sacraments, spiritual reading, good counsel from spiritual directors or wise friends, unexpected inspirations from odd places, like someone’s casual remark.  But then we have to choose to act on the help given. As Jesus says to the sick man and to us, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk”!

Meditation:

Take a look at sins you customarily confess, or commit so regularly that you’re ashamed to confess them.  Ask for the grace to recognize the opportunities God is giving you this Lent to take the first steps away from them.  Oh, and do what God tells you!

Prayer:

Healing Lord, grant us the faith, hope, and love to accept responsibility for leaving habitual sins behind with the help of your grace.

 

From Not By Bread Alone 2017: Daily Reflections for Lent 2017, by Genevieve Glen (Liturgical Press). Visit www.litpress.org for more information.

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Topics: Faith - Lent

Words of Life

Posted by Catholic Financial Life

Mar 27, 2017 12:00:00 AM

March 27: Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent

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Last Friday’s and Saturday’s readings reminded us that we live immersed in words. The words that matter most are the words exchanged between God and human beings.  God always speaks the word of power in truth.  Today, then, we are invited to take seriously God’s words reported by the prophet Isaiah: “Lo, I am about to create new heavens / and a new earth . . . No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there, or the sound of crying.” Yesterday’s liturgy opened with the word “Rejoice.”  That joy has spilled over into Monday and all the days to follow.

On Saturday we celebrated the momentous exchange of words between the angel of God and the Virgin Mary, which began the story of the new heavens and the new earth. In today’s readings, the story continues to unfold, centuries after the prophet’s promise of joy, but only thirty odd years after the exchange in Nazareth.  The bystander-reader looking from one to the other can see the joy rolling out from past to present. A royal official’s son is on his deathbed.  The grieving father begs Jesus urgently to come and cure him.  Jesus doesn’t have to.  He says the words of promise —“your son will live”—and it happens.  The father’s weeping is stilled, his words of grief silenced, as the prophet had foretold.

We still live in the story’s unfolding.  The new heavens and the new earth, and the new humanity inhabiting them, are not yet completed.  Chapters of death and grief remain to be written.  But we will soon hear the story’s climax, when death and life meet in mortal combat on the cross, and Life wins.  All that comes after is merely the climax unfolding toward the last chapter of all, which we previewed in Isaiah and project into the book of Revelation.  So, in the very teeth of death and loss and weeping, we do indeed dare to rejoice.

Meditation:

How have you experienced loss and grief?  How have they challenged your trust in the gospel promise of life?  How have they strengthened your faith in the story’s true end?

Prayer:

Lord of life, let us know your strength in our losses and rejoice in your promise of life to come.

From Not By Bread Alone 2017: Daily Reflections for Lent 2017, by Genevieve Glen (Liturgical Press). Visit www.litpress.org for more information.

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Topics: Faith - Lent

Eyes of Wonder

Posted by Catholic Financial Life

Mar 26, 2017 12:00:00 AM

March 26: Fourth Sunday of Lent

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In the deepest sense, we are all born blind.  Within a few minutes of birth, our newly opened eyes see a kaleidoscope of surfaces, but we learn only slowly to see them as mother, lights, father, bed, kindly helper, doors, stranger.  Full sight, grasping surfaces and relationships and meanings, takes time.

Today’s gospel is a story of blindness before it is a story of sight.  Jesus’ ever-present antagonists are blind to all but surfaces: a Sabbath-breaker who makes outrageous claims, cleverly elusive parents, an argumentative man born blind.  They don’t like what they see. They will not see more because they refuse to open their eyes.  Are they so afraid?  Of what?  Of a world beyond their understanding, a world that escapes their control, a new world that invites them to abandon fear and learn wonder?  The man born without eyesight, on the other hand, sees beyond the surface.  Anointed with clay and washed in water, he sees Jesus’ face but at Jesus’ instruction, he also sees the Son of Man, a messianic title.  It must all overwhelm him but he plunges in because now he is unafraid of what he cannot understand or control.  We don’t know what happened to him after the story ends, but we can be sure he never closed the newly opened eyes of his heart to wonder unfolding around him.  He would understand Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement . . . get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. . . . To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

Baptism has been called “illumination” because it plunges us into Christ, the Light, through whom we see a world made new, and us with it.  With the Light of the World to lead us, we are never confined to a world of surfaces too small and tight and well-defined to allow us to be constantly amazed, taking nothing for granted, except the love God has for us.

Meditation:

Ask Christ to open your eyes to see beyond the surface of the world around you. Look at someone you love. Look at someone you dislike. Look at someone you mistrust. Look slowly and prayerfully. What do you see that you have never seen before?

Prayer:

Christ, Light of the World, open the eyes of our hearts to amazement, wonder, and faith-filled insight into the ordinary lit from within by your extraordinary light.

From Not By Bread Alone 2017: Daily Reflections for Lent 2017, by Genevieve Glen (Liturgical Press). Visit www.litpress.org for more information.

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Topics: Faith - Lent

A Meeting of Words

Posted by Catholic Financial Life

Mar 25, 2017 12:00:00 AM

March 25: The Annunciation of the Lord

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To this momentous meeting between the angel of God and the Virgin Mary, each comes bearing words.  The angel brings God’s life-changing words to Mary: “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, / and you shall name him Jesus” (Luke 1:31). No extraneous explanations here, no softening of the blow to her own life plans, no excuses.  Just the words. And, mysteriously, within them, behind them, through them, from them the Word to be spoken into flesh in her by the Spirit, the breath of God.  All words are, after all, breath-borne.

Mary brings a lifetime—the years that have gone before, the years to come—wrapped up in a single phrase: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. / May it be done to me according to your word.” She knows nothing less will do. 

Reminding us of the prophet Hosea’s message yesterday, the Letter to the Hebrews says, as if in her name and her Son’s, “Sacrifices and offerings, / holocausts and sin offerings, / you neither desired nor delighted in. . . . Behold, I come to do your will.”

It’s a brief exchange, this conversation between Mary and the angel.  The words are very few.  But in that meeting of words the entire story of the world is rewritten.  What was a chronicle of death has become a chronicle of life.  And nothing has been the same since. Or will be.

Meditation:

In the biblical world, words have power.  What is said, by God or by human beings, happens, as in the encounter between the angel and the Virgin. In our world, words have been emptied of power, often meaning nothing and changing nothing.  Think about words that have failed in your life: words of promise, words of commitment, words of conviction.  Think about words that have succeeded in their purpose.  What made the difference?

Prayer:

Word of God made flesh in Mary, teach us to sift our words and grant us the fidelity to make them true.

From Not By Bread Alone 2017: Daily Reflections for Lent 2017, by Genevieve Glen (Liturgical Press). Visit www.litpress.org for more information.

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Topics: Faith - Lent

Words

Posted by Catholic Financial Life

Mar 24, 2017 12:00:00 AM

March 24: Friday of the Third Week of Lent

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Words aren’t usually enough.  Jesus is hard on people who substitute cries of “Lord, Lord” for action (Matt 7:21).  Ah, but the right words: that’s different.

The prophet Hosea tells the faithless Israelites, “Take with you words, / and return to the Lord.”  What words?  He makes a list: a plea for forgiveness, prayer offering sacrifice, renunciation of past words addressed to false gods—but the key item is the last one. It’s a change of words signifying a change of heart.  “We shall say no more, ‘Our god,’ / to the work of our hands.” The surrounding pagan nations often honored as gods those handmade stone figures and bronze figurines that depicted power, ferocity, or fertility—none of which they possessed.  But of the God of Israel alone it can be said, “in you the orphan finds compassion.”  The title “God” shifts from meaning powers who vanquish all opponents to One who offers deep concern for the smallest and least.

Jesus proposes a similar language shift.  When asked to identify the first of all commandments, he says nothing about honoring God’s almighty power as the one true ruler over all.  Instead, he identifies as greatest the commandment to love God with all you’ve got in you and to love your neighbor as yourself (see Mark 12:29-31).  The God of power invites only fear.  The God of compassion invites love.

The scribe who asked about the greatest commandment understands.  Love is the greatest worship there is, better even than burnt offerings.  And Jesus compliments him: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

When you recognize that, like Israel of old, you have let a great gap open between yourself and God, don’t widen it out of fear of God’s power or God’s holiness, though God is both powerful and holy.  Instead, put words in the basket of offerings you carry in your arms and go right up to God.  The words?  Really, only a handful are necessary: “I’m sorry” and “I love you.”

Meditation:

When you think “God,” what are the first three words that come to your mind?  Is love one of them?  Is it at the top of the list?  If not, why not?

Prayer:

Word of God made flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, speak to us and in us and through us the words of your love.

From Not By Bread Alone 2017: Daily Reflections for Lent 2017, by Genevieve Glen (Liturgical Press). Visit www.litpress.org for more information.

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Topics: Faith - Lent

Confusing the Source

Posted by Catholic Financial Life

Mar 23, 2017 12:00:00 AM

March 23: Thursday of the Third Week of Lent

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God’s judgment sounds harsh on Jeremiah’s tongue, but Jesus’ opponents in the gospel bear witness to its truth.  They don’t listen to Jesus’ voice for very good reason: they have mistaken its source.  If you identify the speaker as evil’s representative, then you have excellent grounds for not listening to him.  Instead, you can stand up to him and dismiss him courageously and imagine yourself a very good, religious person indeed. 

By this time, Jesus has amassed an impressive track record of wresting people from suffering sickness and handicap, misunderstanding God’s law, doing harm to their neighbors, and otherwise living under the reign not of God but of evil. Yet his opponents dismiss it entirely by claiming that he gets all his power from a frightening taskmaster: Beelzebul, prince of demons.  Jesus points out the fallacy in their logic, but he knows very well it will do no good.  Determined deafness does not respond to logical argument. 

The scene makes me wonder, not about Jesus but about myself as a listener.  An honest listener is open to correction and change, but am I?   When I was the impassioned teenage advocate of all sorts of causes not well thought out, my father would counter with calm logic based on fact until I had no place to go except out of the room, usually in a cloud of righteous temper.  I have learned since that defensiveness is rarely the posture of a genuine listener, but I still sometimes summon up bad logic to defend poorly chosen ideas and actions.  I wonder whose voice I am shutting out then, and to whose voice I am listening. I would be afraid to ask the prophet Jeremiah, if he dropped by, because I’m afraid I know what his answer would be.

Meditation:

When have you found yourself most likely to shut out the voice of God with irrational—but loud—arguments?  What has provoked your defensiveness?

Prayer:

O God of mercy, heal us of the deafness we choose as the armor of wrongheaded self-defense and grant us the grace of hearts willing to hear the voice of your truth seeking to guide us to life.


From
Not By Bread Alone 2017: Daily Reflections for Lent 2017, by Genevieve Glen (Liturgical Press). Visit www.litpress.org for more information.

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Topics: Faith - Lent

More than Rules

Posted by Catholic Financial Life

Mar 22, 2017 12:00:00 AM

March 22: Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

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Rules can either chafe or reassure.  They chafe when we hanker after unrestricted freedom. They reassure when we want security in a world of growing chaos.  In either case, they are boxes. God’s commandments, on the other hand, are means.

God has never much liked being boxed. We sometimes picture the God of the Israelites’ desert housed in the special box we call “the ark of the covenant,” but it was the tablets of the law and other holy relics that rode in the box.  The Divine Presence hovered above it or moved on ahead. Even today, while we reverence the Real Presence of Christ in the eucharistic species housed in the tabernacle, we know perfectly well that Christ is not confined there.  He is everywhere and always with us, in the crowded subway, on the beach, in the quiet of our prayer corner. 

Why, then, would this unboxed God impose commandments on us to box us in?  God didn’t, and they don’t.  Jesus can say he came to fulfill the law for very good reason.  God’s law is an instruction book on how to become fully human, undistorted by sin. The book acquired several chapters over time: the Ten Commandments given on Sinai, the supplementary law expanded in the books of Exodus and Leviticus, and rabbinic glosses added to connect ancient law with contemporary experience in the time of Jesus and later.  Jesus denied none of the biblical law, but he boiled it down to the two essentials: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37-39).  Then you will be the images of the God of love you were meant to be.

And he lived what he taught. He is the law of God embodied in human flesh (cf. John 1:14) and untainted by any self-interest, so he is the true image of God (cf. Col 1:15; Heb 1:3) and our teacher.

The laws of God are no box, then.  They cramp and chafe our selfishness, but not our true humanity.  Rather they protect and guide us till we get there.

Meditation:

What do God’s commandments teach you about true human beings and communities? How do they describe you?

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, fulfillment of God’s law, make us the new humanity you model and achieve for us through your death and resurrection.


From
Not By Bread Alone 2017: Daily Reflections for Lent 2017, by Genevieve Glen (Liturgical Press). Visit www.litpress.org for more information.

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Topics: Faith - Lent

The Arithmetic of Mercy

Posted by Catholic Financial Life

Mar 21, 2017 12:00:00 AM

March 21: Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

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Peter learned his arithmetic from an outdated textbook.  Having heard “an eye for an eye,” he probably thought his proposal to forgive an offending brother seven times would earn him a gold star. But Jesus was writing a new textbook where the correct answer was “not seven times but seventy-seven times,” meaning “Don’t even count.”

Peter’s jaw must have dropped, so Jesus told a story about a king and a servant with a debt so huge no servant could pay it.  The king’s solution: recoup some of the loss by selling the servant, his family, and his property.  The servant pleads: given time, he will pay the whole debt. His is the wild arithmetic of desperation we still hear from modern debtors pleading for extensions on a loan, a mortgage, a car payment.  Of course their creditors know nothing of the arithmetic of mercy.  The king in the story, “moved with compassion,” does: he remits the debt entirely. 

Who is this king? Does Jesus really mean to paint a picture of God the Great Pushover, doling out forgiveness to anyone who begs hard enough, no matter what the sin?  And forgiveness with no strings attached at that: the slave goes away with his slate wiped clean.  That sounds like an invitation to happy profligacy: you can do whatever you want, as long as you go to confession and ask nicely for absolution.  Oh yeah, you do have to say you’re sorry, but that’s easy enough.

Jesus pours cold water on equating mercy with blind folly.  No, he says, there is a limit to God’s mercy, but only one.  The forgiven servant goes out and beats the stuffing out of a fellow servant who owes him a far tinier sum, even though he no longer needs the repayment to cover his own debt to the king.  The king sends the unforgiving servant to debtors’ prison.  Mercy received must equal mercy given, says Jesus.  When you experience the stupendous mercy of God, there is only one arithmetically correct answer: go and do likewise!

Meditation:

The first reading is a plea for God’s forgiveness but it comes at the price of forgiving others.  What do you want forgiven? What are you called to forgive?

Prayer:

O God of mercy, grant us the humility and love to forgive those who wrong us and to forgive ourselves when we wrong our own ideals and hopes.


From
Not By Bread Alone 2017: Daily Reflections for Lent 2017, by Genevieve Glen (Liturgical Press). Visit www.litpress.org for more information.

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Topics: Faith - Lent

Between One Day and the Next

Posted by Catholic Financial Life

Mar 20, 2017 12:00:00 AM

March 20: Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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Between one day and the next, Joseph’s world turns upside down. One day he is betrothed to a virgin in the town of Nazareth.  The next, he is betrothed to a woman found to be pregnant with a child not his.  The only explanation is infidelity. The news leaves a righteous man’s clearly regulated world standing on its head, and he with it.  All he can do is choose between disgracing Mary in public, possibly at the price of her death, and divorcing her privately, perhaps for exile with relatives far away. Neither choice offers anything but misery for Joseph, but he chooses the private divorce to protect her.

Then, between one day and the next, Joseph’s world turns upside down again.  One day, he is betrothed to a woman pregnant but with a child not his, faced with two painful ways to end their relationship.  The next, he is betrothed to a woman pregnant with a child conceived in her by the Holy Spirit.  The angel’s news leaves a righteous but compassionate man’s clearly regulated world standing on its head, and he with it.  Once again he has to choose: take Mary into his home as his fully accepted wife, as the angel commanded? Or dismiss the dream as wishful hallucination and divorce her anyway?  Neither choice offers him much comfort. He chooses the first because he believes God has asked it, although no one has explained it, or could.

Between one day and the next, Joseph has no time for prolonged reflection and no clear guidelines to aid discernment. It doesn’t matter. For Joseph there has always been one choice only.  In this, he and Mary are of one mind and heart: “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Here is the very essence of Lent in a single sentence.

Meditation:

When presented with a choice for which God provides no reasonable explanations, what have you done in the past?  What was the outcome?  What will you do next time?

Prayer:

St. Joseph, man of few words but God’s, teach us to listen deeply for God’s will and obey.

From Not By Bread Alone 2017: Daily Reflections for Lent 2017, by Genevieve Glen (Liturgical Press). Visit www.litpress.org for more information.

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Topics: Faith - Lent