On this second Sunday of Lent, the first reading and Gospel take us to the mountain top. We see two different atmospheres and experiences. In the first reading, God asked Abraham to take his beloved son Isaac to the mountain of Moriah and to sacrifice him. Genesis 17:5, “No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” Abraham means father of a multitude, but God asked him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. How could God’s promise be possible if Isaac were sacrificed? God tested Abraham’s faith. In response to Abraham’s obedient faith, God swears an oath to bless the entire world. Abraham was faithful to God and his readiness to sacrifice his son Isaac is a prototype of God the Father and the sacrifice of His Son Jesus. Isaac carried the wood for his sacrifice on the mountain Moriah and lay down on the wood to become the sacrifice. Jesus carried the cross to Calvary, wood for His sacrifice. If we are reading the Bible for the first time, at the beginning of the story we may think this does not make any sense. God promised Abraham numerous descendants but God asked to sacrifice Isaac, his only son. The Apostles might have felt the same way that Jesus’ crucifixion didn’t make any sense. Jesus came to liberate and restore but He was crucified.
In the Gospel Jesus, we read the transfiguration. Early Christianity and Tradition believed that the transfiguration took place on Mount Tabor. It is a message of hope and encouragement. Prior to Jesus transfigured, Jesus told his disciples that he must suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and rise after three days (Mark 8:31). How did they react? Peter rebuked Jesus for saying this and Jesus responded, “Get behind me, Satan.” The transfiguration balances out the shock of Jesus’ first passion prediction and strengthens the faith of the three apostles. What a grace for Peter and James and John to see Jesus transfigured. They got a preview of the glory of risen Jesus and his glory in heaven. Like Jesus’ baptism, this transfiguration reveals the Trinity: Son transfigured, the Father’s voice is heard, and the presence of the Spirit is in the cloud.
We can see a similar event in the Book of Exodus 24 the covenant of Mount Sinai. The exodus from Egypt and the covenant at Mount Sinai confirm that God’s covenant love towards the descendants of Abraham. As God directed, Moses took Aaron, Nadab, and Abiud and seventy of the elders of Israel and went up to Mount Sinai. We read in the Book Exodus 25:15-17 “Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered it six days, and on the seventh day, he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the sons of Israel.” The mountain was covered with cloud and God revealed his glory and heard God’s voice. New Moses, Jesus took Peter, James and John went up to the Mountain and revealed the glory. They heard God’s voice.
At the transfiguration, Elijah and Moses came as representatives of the prophets and the law of the Old Testament and testify that Jesus is the Messiah and mediator of the New Covenant. When Jesus foretold His death and Resurrection, Peter began to rebuke Jesus, but here Peter likes to prolong the heavenly experience. So he to Jesus said, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents.” Does this tell us something about ourselves? I think we all like mountain top experiences, and we want to stay there. Transfiguration was preparing the apostles for the entry to Jerusalem and witness Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. May our forty days of prayer, fasting, almsgiving prepare us to celebrate the Holy Week.
Congratulations! I would like to congratulate our sophomore Confirmation Candidates and First Communion children. First Communion children, they made their retreat and First Reconciliation last week. Sophomore students were introduced at last weekends Mass. Congratulations to them and their families. Please keep them in our prayers.
Pope Francis in his Lenten message invites us to “renew our faith, draw from the living waters of hope, and receive with open hearts the love of God.” He says, “Accepting and living the truth revealed in Christ means, first of all, opening our hearts to God’s word.” Through fasting, “experienced as a form of self-denial,” we will be able “to rediscover God’s gift and recognize that, created in His image and likeness, we find our fulfillment in Him.” Let us live the faith, hope, and love.
Do you think there is an evil spirit in the world? Yes, there is. This weekends reading invites us to reflect on our daily life and its challenges. Are we tempted to do…..or to say….or to see….or to listen to the devil? If so, each of us proved ourselves as a human being. But Lent invites us to overcome these temptations through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. During the lent, we reflect how Jesus defeated every circumstance that Adam and Eve; and the Israelites failed. Lent is a time to set aside our fear and focus on Jesus.
Every year on the first Sunday of Lent, we reflect on the temptation of Jesus. This year we have from the Gospel of Mark. In the Gospel of Mark, right after the Baptism of the Lord, the same Spirit who descended on Jesus in his baptism drives him into the desert for forty days. Jesus, the new Adam, was tempted by Satan among the wild beasts, as the first Adam was tempted amid the beasts in paradise.
In the new exodus, Jesus was being led by the Spirit into the wilderness and tested for forty days. In the old exodus, the Israelites spent forty years in the desert and tested. The presence of ministering angels to sustain Jesus in the new Exodus, recalls the angel who guided the Israelites in the desert in the first Exodus. We read in the book of Exodus 23:20, “See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared.”
The new Adam, Jesus, through His filial love for the Father brought forth the new Israel of God there where Adam and Israel’s rebellion had brought death and alienation. Jesus began the campaign against demons, death, and diseases in the desert, and continues through his proclamation of the Gospel. Jesus trained his disciples on how to overcome the devil.
I am sure everyone experiences every time we renew our Baptismal promise and try to live it, the tempter attacks more aggressively than before. Jesus assures us on this lent that the victory is ours through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We would increase your prayer to grow in the virtue of humility, intensify our giving of alms to detach from the possessions, fast to overcome attachments, and recognize our own poverty.
During this lent, I would like to invite everyone prays for one family. It could be your neighbor. Pray for them these forty days, and during the Holy week present a lit candle to them and let them know you were praying for them. It will brighten their life, our life and with this warmth and light, it will be beautiful to celebrate Easter.
A little boy had just returned home from an Ash Wednesday church service. The little girl from next door asked him what the smudge was on his forehead. He replied, "It's Ash Wednesday." "What's Ash Wednesday?" she asked. "Oh," he replied, "It's when Christians begin their diet."
Lent, our annual retreat is forty days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that begins on Ash Wednesday. It invites us to keep a diet for spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual health. Last year, our Lenten season and celebration of Holy week were in total isolation. As we begin our Lenten season still there are uncertainties and not fully out of the pandemic, but we have hope soon to be out of these hard times. Pope Francis in his 2020 Holy Week message said, “Let us try, if we can, to make the best use of this time: let us be generous. Let us help those in need in our neighborhood. Let us look out for the loneliest people, perhaps by telephone or social networks. Let us pray to the Lord for those who are in difficulty in Italy and in the world.”
Lent is a time to revisit our quality/ability to reach out in love. Reach out demands love which leads to sacrifice. God, himself, gave us a true model to reach out to. Because of love for humanity, God left His glory and became a vulnerable being like one of us. We see the culmination of His love in the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. This is the point of mediation for lent.
In the first reading on Ash Wednesday we read from the book of Joel, “Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning…” Lent asks us to come closer to God. The Gospel of Matthew tells us the means to reach the goal: Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Prayer: We devote ourselves to prayer: in personal prayer, participating in weekend Mass, and if our schedules allow, attend weekday Mass. If you are not able to in person, we do Livestream Mass and Rosary through Facebook and YouTube.
Fasting: Fast from anything that harms us and others. It could be food or other things, habits, or situations. When we fast from something, the outcome of the fasting is to use it to reach out to others. Suppose one is going to reduce the amount of time from watching TV, use that extra time to reach out to someone. There the fasting becomes healthy and meaningful.
Almsgiving: Freeing ourselves from greed and helping others. It can be through prayers, inviting others to pray at Mass, spending time with others, and/or giving financial help.
Lent, in a sense, is a time to die, so we can rise with Christ at Easter with a new spirit of life. Take inspiration for your Lenten journey from prayer and the reading of Scripture, to fasting and to giving alms. Fasting is prescribed to reinforce our penitential prayer during this season to die and rise with a healthy body, mind, and soul.
“O God, Creator of us all,
From whom we came, to whom we go,
You look with pity on our hearts,
The weakness of our wills you know.” (This is part of the evening prayer for Ash Wednesday)
World longs for healing, isn’t it?
Recently, I read a short story. One of my all-time favorite church magazine cartoons pictures a physician in his office, speaking with his bookkeeper. The subject of their conversation is a patient's bill, which apparently had been in the accounts receivable file for a long, long time. The bookkeeper says to the doctor, "He says that since you told him his recovery was a miracle, he sent his check to the church." Today’s gospel passage from Mark touches on the subject of miraculous healing.
In the Ordinary season, we listen to Jesus' public ministry. The healing ministry of Jesus is one of the ways of proclaiming the kingdom of God. Jesus did healing two different ways: by proclaiming the word, and by touching. Jesus is in Capernaum, in a way we can say Jesus’ second home. It is located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Today’s Gospel is from the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark where Jesus grasped Simon’s mother-in-law’s hand and helped her up. In the same chapter, we can see Jesus heals the leper. There he stretched out his hand and touched him. In the Gospel of Matthew (8:5-13) we read the healing of a centurion’s servant. Jesus was amazed in the faith of the Centurion and said “You may go; as you believed, let it be done for you.” The moment Jesus said these words, the Centurion's servant was healed at home.
Simon’s mother-in-law received healing and she got up and waited on them. And there is something more beautiful that happened there. The door of her house was open for others. People kept coming to receive healing. The Gospel says, “The whole town was gathered at the door.”
I recollect my pilgrimage to Lourdes in France. It was eighteen years ago. It is a place of healing. It is amazing to see the hundreds and hundreds of pilgrims come to Lourdes from all over the world. If I remember correctly, every day there is a Eucharistic procession, and reciting the Rosary during the procession. There will be people who are in a wheelchair, using crutches; children were carried and so on. Everybody was helping each other if they needed help and praying together in the Eucharistic procession.
When I read the Gospel passage, I was thinking the whole town came to the door of Simon’s mother-in-law. I was picturing in my mind if it was today, especially with this COVID-19, the whole world might have been gathered for healing. As we all know due to COVID, people suffer because they physically got COVID, family members suffer because they cannot visit their loved ones, some others suffer because of the stress of the new work situations, still, some others suffer because they lost their job. The list goes on and on.
In the first reading, we see Job is at an extremely low point in his life. He was lamenting. Like Job, we all experience the months of misery. Perhaps, we do not suffer to the extent that Job suffered, but life brings with it many challenges, including challenges to our faith that God will get us through the crisis.
God knows our difficulties and frailties. He came to heal us just like he healed in the Gospel and to give us hope. He waits for us in the Sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, to give us healing and give us nourishment. We meet him in our family members, neighbors, healthcare professionals, and so on. He is with us now and always.
Job opening: Joan Bruch, our secretary decided to take early retirement due to family reasons. Please join me to thank Joan for the service she provided for St. Anthony and our cluster. Her last day will be March 15. That said, we are looking for a secretary who is organized, has computer skills and a people person to fill the position. There will be an ad in the bulletin and newspaper in the coming weeks. Thank you!