LENT PROGAM 2018 HOLY WEEK

 

 

 

SUNDAY, MARCH 25, 2018

RDING: MARK 11:1-12

REFLECTION: A little boy was sick on Palm Sunday and stayed home from church with his mother. His father returned from church holding a palm branch. The little boy was curious and asked, "Why do you have that palm branch, dad?" "You see, when Jesus came into town, everyone waved Palm Branches to honor him, so we got Palm Branches today." The little boy replied, "Oh no! The one Sunday I miss is the Sunday that Jesus shows up!"

 

Today is Palm Sunday; today an entire city threw a parade for Jesus. As Jesus rode into the city, the people threw Palm branches in anticipation of his coming. Today is bittersweet for us because even as we read of the celebration we know that Friday is coming. The cross is coming. We know that many in this same crowd will within a few short days exchange words of praise to words of death. Shouting Hosanna, Hosanna and then later shouting Crucify Him, Crucify Him.

 

On Sunday Jesus rode into the city with the people shouting praises and praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen. On Friday they are shouting give us Barabbas, We want him, Crucify Jesus, Crucify Him. Why the change?

 

Well there are many possible reasons, but one simple reason is that their words did not match their heart. They possessed a casual not a committed faith. They had religion but they missed the person Jesus… So how can we have a committed faith… How can we be real and sincere? Consistent in all that we do?

 

The first Key is that a committed faith is not self-centered it is Christ-Centered. This sounds obvious, but we often miss it . We tend to say to God, “Hey God, here is my calendar, here is my agenda… Now I can squeeze you in here or here.” Pulling God out or turning to God only when it is convenient or useful.

 

In our passage, The people praised Jesus as He passed by, but many of them praised him for two reasons. First, because of his miracles. He had healed the sick, raised the dead…They praised Him because he was serving them. Second, because they saw in Jesus a way to be politically delivered from the Romans; to be set free from Rome as Israel was set free from Egypt. Their praise was tempered with the attitude of “Jesus, what can you do for me?”

 

A few days later at the trial they saw a beaten and disfigured Jesus; a man who no longer looked like a deliverer or a conqueror. And as words were said about him, they bought into all the lies and quickly changed their position. For them it was all about Me, Me, Me.

 

There is a legend about an ancient village in Spain. The villagers learned that the king would pay a visit! In a thousand years, a king had never come to that village. Excitement grew! "We must throw a big celebration," The villagers all agreed. But, it was a poor village, and there weren’t many resources. Someone came up with a classic idea. Since many of the villagers made their own wines, the idea was for everyone in the village bring a large cup of their choice wine to the town square, “We’ll pour it into a large vat and offer it to the king for his pleasure! When the king draws wine to drink, it will be the very best he’s ever tasted!”

 

The day before the king’s arrival, hundreds of people lined up to make their offering to the honored guest. They climbed a small stairway, and poured their gift through a small opening at the top. Finally, the vat was full! The King arrived, was escorted to the square, given a silver cup and was told to draw some wine, which represented the best the villagers had.

 

He placed the cup under the spigot, turned the handle, and then drank the wine, but it was nothing more than water. You see every villager reasoned, "I’ll withhold my best wine and substitute water, what with so many cups of wine in the vat, the king will never know the difference!" The problem was, everyone thought the same thing, and the king was greatly dishonored.

 

On this Palm Sunday, choose to honor our great King, Jesus Christ by giving him your very best. Withholding nothing… Giving him your all.

 

RESOLUTION:

·         Resolve to participate actively in the events of Holy Week

·         Turn every turmoil in your life to the Lord

 

PRAYER: Loving God, guide my mind with your truth. Strengthen my life by the example of Jesus. Help me to be with Jesus in this week as he demonstrates again his total love for me. He died so that I would no longer be separated from you. Help me to feel how close you are and to live in union with you.

 

MONDAY, MARCH 26, 2018

READING: MARK 11:1-12

REFLECTION: A second key is that a committed faith is relationship driven. Many of those who gathered to throw their coats and palm branches onto the street and who shouted praises on Palm Sunday did so because it was the popular thing to do at the time. At that one brief moment it became trendy. Perhaps some began doing it with sincere motives, but others soon did it because others were doing it. Later at the trial, shouting crucify Him was the thing to do… In fact for a brief moment it was the trendy thing to do to make a mass murderer and criminal their hero when they shouted we want Barabbas.

 

In our own lives a committed faith comes only through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. One where every day is fresh and new as he personally directs our steps. In order to have a committed faith we must develop and maintain a personal relationship with Jesus.

 

A third Key is that committed faith is not swayed or blocked by our personal trials and crises. At the parade it was trendy to offer praise… Everyone was doing it.. But At the trial to speak out for Jesus was risky…Possibly even life threatening. Many of us come to Jesus expecting everything to become good and easy… Maybe some slight bad but not too much of it… So when the bottom drops out for us… we often ask God Why? Thinking it is not supposed to happen this way.

If our faith is based on our situations or circumstances it will never be committed… It will always be casual. In my life I have gone to many big Christian events. Many packed large halls… Where the praise of God rocked the entire arena… Where everyone is praising… When returning home while everyone is still glowing from the worship, I say, guys it is easy to do that here, but tomorrow you face the hard task, can you do that in a world that is not all praising, in fact a world that is mocking, laughing at, and is often angry?

 

A committed faith takes the good with the bad. Knowing that all we are ever promised is that in the midst of both our good and bad; Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us. He will stand with us. A story is told of A little girl who while walking in a garden noticed a particularly beautiful flower. She admired its beauty and enjoyed its fragrance. “It’s so pretty!” she exclaimed. As she gazed on it, her eyes followed the stem down to the soil in which it grew. “This flower is too pretty to be planted in such dirt!” she cried. So she pulled it up by its roots and ran to the water faucet to wash away the soil. It wasn’t long until the flower wilted and died.

 

When the gardener saw what the little girl had done, he exclaimed, “You have destroyed my finest plant!”

 

“I’m sorry, but I didn’t like it in that dirt,” she said. The gardener replied, “I chose that spot and mixed the soil because I knew that only there could it grow to be a beautiful flower.”

 

God has placed us exactly where we are. We must trust him. When we do so, we eventually see that He is using our pressures, trials, and difficulties to bring us to a new degree of spiritual beauty. True Contentment comes when we accept what God is doing and thank Him for it.

 

Is your faith casual or committed? As we approach this week where our Jesus suffered incredibly for us; a week where our sins, past, present, and future were the nails that hung him on that cross doesn’t Jesus deserve a second look? Doesn’t he deserve total control of your life? Doesn’t he deserve a personal relationship with You? This week consider it all and choose to give it all to him.

 

RESOLUTION:

·         Make a mental note of the bad things you’ve suffered since the beginning of the year

·         Present these to God in prayer, thanking Him who works all things together for the good of those who love Him

 

PRAYER: Merciful God, free your Church from the sins of this world and protect us from evil we see and the evil we prefer to ignore. We need your guidance, Lord for we cannot do this alone. Only with your help can we be saved. Thank you for your desire to save us and love us.

 

TUESDAY, MARCH 27, 2018

READING: MARK 10:17-22

MEDITATION: Very often, holiness or sanctity is misunderstood. People think it is something for Christian "professionals" like priests and religious or really "special people". The other extreme is that some people think that going to Mass on Sunday or saying prayers during the day is what following Jesus is all about. However, Holiness means doing everything – from the simplest to the most complicated and important human tasks and experiences – in a close union with God. And everyday holiness means that our lives – our real lives – are the arena where holiness takes place. Holiness does not mean doing something sensational. It means doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way (even washing the dishes). How do we do things in an extraordinary way? We fill them with all the love of which we are capable.

The biggest obstacle for everyday sanctity today is the absence of God in just about every area of human life and development. God is absent in the public sphere, but for many people he is also absent from homes and personal lives. For some people, God plays no significant part in their lives. Their moral choices, their way of life, what motivates or inspires them has very often nothing to do with God. Faith and life are separate, no matter how religious people appear to be when the weekend come around.

Holiness is a harmony between the love of God, the love of neighbour, work and creation in every situation of our lives. Everyday holiness is not the holiness of Sundays or Weekends. It is the holiness of every single day in the week. Christianity is not a set of rituals; no, it involves following a Person, Jesus Christ. Since Christ is with us always, our relationship with him – although more intense at some times than others – needs to reflect that presence. Everything we do should therefore have the "stamp" of trying to striving for everyday sanctity. This includes:

1.      Doing ordinary things extraordinarily well through a deep love of God.

2.      Holiness is fulfilling our daily duties with the greatest amount of love of God and neighbour.

3.      Everyday sanctity is when every part of my life is directed by faith.

4.      Doing things to better my neighbour not for any selfish purpose but the glory of God.

5.      Everyday sanctity is a harmony between my love of God, neighbour, work and creation in every situation of my life.

6.      Everyday sanctity requires seeing and appreciating the image and likeness of God in every human being.

7.      Everyday sanctity requires a good balance between doing what we can do to the best of our ability and letting God do the rest.

Our world stand in need of the daily witness of convinced and convincing Christians. Christians who are disciples before they try to be apostles: who follow Jesus and then take on his mission. Everyday sanctity is the best way to resolve the crisis of faith in our times.

Is God fully present in every aspect of your daily life? Have you been doing ordinary things extraordinary well, for the sake of God's glory and not for the sake of propagating yourself? Are you fulfilling your daily duties with the greatest amount of love of God and service of neighbour?

RESOLUTIONS:

·         Prepare to take active part in the prayers and activities of the TRIDUUM. Make your schedule now to accommodate these. Don't wait until the last minute.

·         Make a decision on the service you will provide for the poor/needy this Easter season. You can embark on your project with your family, friends or colleagues.

·         Be sure you have been to the Sacrament of Reconciliation so as to be spiritually disciplined and prepared for the Triduum.

PRAYER: "We love you, O our God; and we desire to love you more and more. Grant to us that we may love you as much as we desire, and as much as we ought. O dearest friend, who has so loved and saved us, the thought of whom is so sweet and always growing sweeter, come with Christ and dwell in our hearts; that you keep a watch over our lips, our steps, our deeds, and we shall not need to be anxious either for our souls or our bodies. Give us love, sweetest of all gifts, which knows no enemy. Give us in our hearts pure love, born of your love to us, that we may love others as you love us. O most loving Father of Jesus Christ, from whom flows all love, let our hearts, frozen in sin, cold to you and cold to others, be warmed by this divine fire. So help and bless us in your Son." (Prayer of Anselm, 12th century)

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 28, 2018

READING: 1 JOHN 4:7-21

MEDITATION: Our bond of love with Christ shows itself in the life with the sacraments. Most of the sacraments have a direct connection with family life. In Baptism, our sins are washed away and we are made members of the Body of Christ, the Church. The other sacraments make this great gift even more perfect in different ways. At Confirmation, we receive the Holy Spirit in a new way, accepting the obligations of the Kingdom of God and become more prepared to make sacrifices. In the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) we strive for holiness and ask the Lord to forgive our faults and failings. The sacrament of Marriage is the mysterious image of the union between Christ and the Church, it makes every human family a domestic Church. The Eucharist is where we see the promise of Christ’s love. He always remains with us as victim, food and friend. Holy Mass is the climax of all Christian life in the Church.

Love means doing more than the expected. Love means going beyond the mediocre. Love means that we try to do more than the minimum – like keeping the commandments – but that we strive for a greater generosity because of love. Read the story of the rich young man who comes to Jesus again. He wants to follow Jesus, but he does not want to leave his comfort zone. The rich young man had a thirst. But something was missing.

Plants need light and air to live and grow; an eagle needs two wings to fly. Our love of God also needs light and air and wings. If it lacks these things it becomes weak and fades away. We all need the wings of prayer. We need the nourishment of prayer and the ability to renounce ourselves for a greater good.

Every act done in union with God could be called prayer. Usually, we call prayer the times when we lift up our hearts and minds to God. Prayer, however, is more of a dialogue of love with God. Prayer is when we try and enter into the world of values that God gives us. We do this when we can really pray the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer: "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven".

Lifting up the heart and mind to God means setting my soul free from purely worldly concerns, and renewing the personal bond of love with God. Prayer is necessary because it brings us grace. It brings us new life and it brings us the Holy Spirit. Jesus is our greatest inspiration in the life of prayer. Mary has always been regarded in the life of the Church as a woman of prayer.

The spirit of sacrifice means that we try and heal and diminish selfishness and egoism. Prayer and sacrifice should always be connected to the power of love. How did Christ save the world? Through sermons and meetings or through his passion and death. His sacrifice was the key to redemption. An authentic Christian life always includes both: prayer and sacrifice.

Are you living every day in the love of God and neighbour? Do you see and appreciate the image of God in every person you meet, no matter how poor, sick, infirm, aged, weak or dirty they look? Do you honour them as Christ-bearers?

RESOLUTIONS:

·         Finalize your plans to share God’s love with the less privileged this Easter

·         Be sure you have been to the Sacrament of Reconciliation so as to be spiritually disciplined and prepared for the Triduum.

PRAYER: Lord God, your love never fails and your mercy is unceasing. Give me the courage to surrender my stubborn pride, fear and doubts to your surpassing love, wisdom and knowledge. May I be strong in faith, unrelenting in prayer, persevering in hope, and constant in love.

 

HOLY THURSDAY, MARCH 29, 2018

READING: 1 CORINTHIANS 11:23-30

MEDITATION: Do you remember those small, cheap Kodak Instamatic cameras from years ago? You used those flash bulbs that looked like ice cubes…and got your pictures back from the store after you’ve had them developed. I’m sure you never really appreciated them until years later, when you’re going through stuff and you find all these pictures. Memories that have been carefully packed up and saved up. The memories they evoke.

Memories. Remembrance. These are at the very heart of what we celebrate today. But Jesus didn’t leave us photographs in a shoebox. He left us something better. He left us Himself.

Paul’s letter to the people of Corinth is the earliest account ever written of the Last Supper. It pre-dates, even, the gospels. It is so close to the original event, that its words are part of our Eucharistic prayer, spoken at every mass, at every altar, around the world. The words that created the Eucharist are the beating heart of our Catholic Christian belief. And through it all, one word leaps out at us. Remembrance. Do this in remembrance of me. Jesus is saying: This is how I want to be remembered.

We are people of remembrance. So were the Jews. It’s there in the institution of the Passover meal – the very meal that Christ was celebrating when He gave us the Eucharist. The Passover meal was an occasion for calling to mind all that God has done for his people. And He calls on them, in a very particular way: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Do not forget.

It is no secret that the older you get, the more you do forget. As you grow older, it is easier to forget than to remember. Which makes the celebration of the Lord’s Supper all the more remarkable. For four thousand years mankind has re-enacted somehow the great Passover feast of Jesus and all those who came before Him. The memorial feast has continued. For two thousand years we have gathered around this table and repeated Paul’s beautiful words – the words the Corinthians heard and took to heart.

For uncounted generations we have knelt and watched as the body and blood of Christ have been raised – and watched as we, too, have been raised with them, as offerings to God. And down through history, we have knelt and washed one another’s feet with a profound charity and sense of purpose that made Christian love the most powerful force on the planet. Even unbelievers were moved to say, “See how these Christians love one another.” See what we have done in remembrance of Him.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. All the pictures we took over the years tell a story, and come with emotions attached – happiness, nostalgia, some sadness. The next few days will be worth a thousand emotions. From wonder and gratitude, to the sorrow of Good Friday, and the loneliness of Saturday. But then there is resurrection Sunday.

Today, our journey toward Calvary begins in earnest. But so does our journey toward Easter. Holy Communion is often referred to as “viaticum,” or food for the journey. Let us prepare to receive that food, so we can begin that journey. A journey of struggle. And of faith. It is a journey that so many others around the world are also undertaking with us. We share it with them for one beautiful and hopeful reason: we do this in remembrance of Him.

Have you made plans to celebrate this Triduum actively? What are your memories of the Triduum over the years? How do you intend to receive the viaticum for this journey?

 

RESOLUTIONS:

·         Remember your early days as a believer and the reverence with which you approached the Sacraments

·         Remember your struggles with this season of the liturgical calendar over the past couple of years

·         Ask the Lord for grace to make this season truly memorable and fruitful

 

PRAYER: Dear Lord, I know you want to wash my feet. I know my fear, my resistance. I'm not clean. I'm embarrassed to admit to myself all the ways I am dishonest, self-indulgent, negligent, defensive, and failing in my relationship with you, with others - failing to love. Wash me. Let me accept, embrace, how your self-giving sets me free from my sin and offers to  heal me. By your being broken and given poured out and shared, make me whole. Let my heart be freed of its anxiety and fear, its anger and lust. Fill me with joy and peace, that I might give you praise. Send me to wash, to forgive, to free, to nourish, to embrace and give life. By your grace, may the poor know that your mandate has touched  my heart and the hearts of the community whose celebration of your love sustains me. Amen.

 

GOOD FRIDAY, MARCH 30, 2018

READING: MATTHEW 16:21-25

MEDITATION: Here are four points of reflection for Good Friday:

 

Ø  Friday is the road to Sunday. Good Friday is the day we remember the crucifixion of Jesus, but there’s more to it than remembering; as believers we need to come ourselves to the foot of the Cross. We want to embrace the resurrection, but Jesus calls us to the Cross, too. The famous sermon says, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!” More properly, the point of the story is that Friday is the road to Sunday. There’s no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. There is no resurrection without the Cross. There’s a Good Friday for all of us.

Ø  Everyone has a problem with the cross. The very idea of Good Friday causes us concern. The problem is that both his power and wisdom led him to the Cross, a brutal denial of everything he had done before. Those who had seen his power wondered why he seemed powerless at his greatest need. Those who saw his intelligence wondered how someone so smart could miscalculate so badly. Both sides missed what Jesus and his Father were saying: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone, but if it dies, it produces many” (John 12:24). Not just his words, his very life is a parable. It wasn’t just the people of Jesus’ day who had a problem with the Cross. The people of our time have a huge problem with the Cross. Religious-minded people want miracles and power. Intellectually minded people want wisdom and truth. What God offers us all is first the Cross. The earliest believers called the Cross “the wisdom of God and power of God” (I Corinthians 1:23-24). This is a stumbling block for us to consider today: that both his power and wisdom led him to the Cross. People prefer not to dwell on such things. After all, who respects suffering? When is the last time you spoke to yourself about suffering?

Ø  Friday means the beginning of change. Good Friday provides the opportunity to proclaim, “Once you’ve been to the Cross, everything changes.” Stumbling blocks and foolishness turn into power and wisdom. The Cross changes everything. If something’s pursuing you, then perhaps the event that will change everything for you is the Cross. If nothing is changing, maybe you haven’t been to the Cross. Easter is indeed about the empty tomb. But first, it’s about the Cross. Why are we in such a hurry to rush Jesus up to heaven? Is it because the Cross doesn’t fit into our picture of how things ought to be? It didn’t fit into anyone’s picture back then, either. Friday is the road to Sunday. It was the road for Jesus; it is the road for us.

Ø  Jesus demonstrated faith over circumstances. Can we be honest with ourselves? God promises never to forsake us, but it doesn’t always feel that way, right? Here are two of the phrases Jesus uttered on the Cross: “Why have you forsaken me?” and “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” How can those two go together? Even at his death, Jesus showed us how to trust the Father beyond the circumstances. Jesus predicted his death and resurrection. It’s one thing to predict the future. It’s quite another to go to the Cross willingly. At least three times, Jesus shared his destiny with the disciples. They didn’t understand. More challenging still is the fact that Jesus embraced this destiny by faith. He knew the Father’s promise of resurrection, but death still lay ahead of him. And death was still death, even for Jesus. It was his trust in the Father’s promise that caused him to wager everything he had, his very life. As a man, Jesus modeled how to trust the Father.

 

How do you relate to the cross of Jesus? Do you venerate the cross or has it become just another piece of antique or jewelry for you? Are you put off by preaching about the cross in preference for more therapeutic sermons? How does reflection on the cross affect your daily living? Are you carrying your cross every day and following the Lord?

RESOLUTION:

·         Create a special space for the cross in your home

·         Appreciate the cross of Jesus

·         Commit yourself to carrying your cross daily and following Jesus as his true disciple

PRAYER: "Lord Jesus Christ, by your death on the cross you have won pardon for us and freedom from the tyranny of sin and death. May I live in the joy and freedom of your victory over sin and death."

 

HOLY SATURDAY, MARCH 31, 2018

READ: LUKE 23:50-56

MEDITATION: Holy Saturday—the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday—is perhaps one of the most neglected days in the Christian calendar, which is strangely appropriate given what it represents—a gap or a void rather than anything positive. It is a troubling, confusing day, one which hardly seems part of the Christian experience at all and which therefore struggles to be represented in the church year. It is an unassuming day, not one celebrated with fanfares or flowers. It’s just another day for those trudging along the road to an Easter that sometimes feels like it will never come. Yet it is one I believe we need to rediscover and reinstate as part of the normal journey of faith.

Earlier in the gospel Jesus had instructed the disciples to "Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:41).  At the risk of sounding sexist, for whatever reason, women seem better able to fulfill this task than men.   Perhaps men feel the need to act, to perform, to do something.  Perhaps women know that sometime you simply wait, trusting in God, a kind of pregnant waiting, knowing that change is happening beneath the surface.  Holy Saturday is a day of pregnant waiting.  God is at work, beneath the surface, behind the tombstone.  Soon, very soon, everyone, male and female, will see the hand of God at work.

Holy Saturday is a day of remembrance, a day of watchful waiting. It is a day of disappointments, of deferred hopes, of dreams in ruins, of the aching void of grief. A day of darkness, doubt and disappointment, even of despair. It is the day for all those struggling with loss, bereavement, uncertainty, chronic depression or any of the other forms of inner darkness. It is a lightless day when the Sun refuses to rise—the Dark Night of the Soul; the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It is a day in which there seems to be no end in sight, no light at the end of the tunnel; a day when all the former certainties and supports on which life and faith were based have been suddenly snatched away. It is a day which for some can last for months, even years.

Holy Saturday is a day in which hope seems dead and God distant, absent, or worse still an enemy. The writer of Psalm 88:8-10, one the bleakest passages in Scripture, knew all too well this experience: "You plunge me into the bottom of the pit, into the darkness of the abyss. Your wrath lies heavy upon me; all your waves crash over me. Because of you my acquaintances shun me; you make me loathsome to them; caged in, I cannot escape; my eyes grow dim from trouble." Holy Saturday does not chime with our expectations of the victorious, joyous Christian life; of blessing and intimacy with our loving Father. Yet it is a valid—perhaps a vital—part of the Christian experience; one that most of us will face at some time and which will perhaps do more to shape us in Christ's likeness than any other. We need to stand with our brothers and sisters who are going through this Holy Saturday experience; for Christ's sake we dare not shun them, blame them, tell them to pull themselves together, or insist that they should just be happy in Jesus. Christ too has walked through the darkness and dread of Gethsemane and Good Friday; has waited in the tomb of Holy Saturday.

To those who have been in the dark for as long as they can remember, the hope of Easter may seem a distant, even a false and mocking one. Yet it is a certain, unshakeable truth that for all who cling to Jesus, the tomb of death will one day become the womb of new life; however long delayed, day will follow night. Then truly those who walk in darkness will see a great light; on those who live in the land of the shadow of death will the light shine. I pray that for all who today stumble in the dark of Holy Saturday, the light of Easter will soon rise.

Do you feel like you are still stumbling in darkness? Do you feel frustrated with your Lenten observance this year or are you totally satisfied, and even wanting more? Do you have a sense of Easter joy growing in your heart? Or do you still feel the cold hands of sin threatening to pull you under?

RESOLUTION:

·         Spend the rest of the day in prayer and meditation; wait on the Lord.

·         Sit in the dark for a moment with just a lighted candle in front of you and reflect on how the Lord as light melts away sin and fear.

·         Appreciate the flames and ask the Holy Spirit to inflame your heart with the same fire of God's love.

PRAYER: "Lord Jesus, you died that I might live forever in your kingdom of peace and righteousness. Strengthen my faith that I may I know the power of your resurrection and live in the hope of seeing you face to face forever."

EASTER SUNDAY, APRIL 1, 2018

READ: LUKE 24:1-12

MEDITATION: Easter is always a wonderful time all over the world, as people are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus as the Son of God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, alive forevermore!

Every Christmas we gather in amazement that Jesus would leave the splendor of heaven and come to our little planet, become human, and experience life on earth. A few months later, we gather on Good Friday in humble amazement that our Jesus would die on the cross for our sins; that He would take the punishment we deserve and die in our place. And then we come to Resurrection Sunday, to the climax, to the highest point, to the culmination of Jesus' ministry. And now we celebrate! Now we rejoice together! Not just that Jesus came to earth. Not merely that He died. BUT! That He rose from the dead!!!

You see if Jesus had only come to earth, He would merely have been a visitor God on a holiday. If He had only died, He would merely have been a religious teacher like another Buddha or Mohammed. But He didn't just come to earth, and He didn't just die on a cross. He rose from the dead! That is the excitement of Christianity; that is the uniqueness of our faith!

We've heard the story many times, and I hope we never tire of hearing the words "He Is Risen!" I hope we never cease to be amazed; to be awestruck at the incredible fact that death couldn't hold the Lord of Life. And, most of all, I hope we never miss this simple fact - Jesus is alive today.

When we say He is Risen, we don't mean just that at a moment in time Jesus came back to life, but really we mean He is Alive Today. Right now. At this very moment. And that changes everything. The Apostle Paul is incredibly blunt in 1 Cor. 15:14 when he writes, "if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." What does it mean for you and I that Jesus is Risen? Let me suggest four things that I see in the resurrection

1. THERE IS LOVE IN THE RESURRECTION: 1 John 4:9 says, "This how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through him." We see this love in a painful way on the cross. We see the extent of God's love for us as we reflect on Jesus' death. But it doesn't end there! The love of God did not only send Jesus to the cross, it also raised Him back to life! The love of God did not leave Jesus in the tomb, and us in despair, but it raised Jesus back to life so that, as John writes,  "we might live through him."¨ Love hates death. Love struggles against death and in favor of life. And in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, love overcomes death.

2. THERE IS LIFE IN THE RESURRECTION:  Romans 6:4-5 says, "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection." We will be united with Jesus in His resurrection life. And in fact that is exactly what happens at the moment we respond in faith to God. Jesus described it as a new birth. 2 Cor. 5:17 says that  "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, then new has come!" Do you know that resurrection life? Romans 8:11: "And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you." That is what God freely offers to us - new life. He offers the chance for us to participate with Jesus in the life that comes through resurrection. Jesus is alive today. He is here, right now, according to His promise. And He brings with Him the gift of life, His hand outstretched at this very moment offering it to you. He won't force it on you, stuff it down your throat, but He will freely offer it. Life eternal.

3. THERE IS HOPE IN RESURRECTION:  The fact that there is life in the resurrection is the source of the third thing: hope. I have hope because Jesus rose from the dead. One of the recent hymns of the faith says, Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. I can face uncertain days because He lives. The resurrection gives us hope for today, hope for tomorrow, and hope for eternity. Hope that things can change. Hope that even if they don't change, and the worst happens and death comes, that is not the end! There is more life after that, better life after that, life without sickness or pain or tears. Life without ever having to wonder, "Lord, where are you?" because we will see Him with our eyes, touch Him with our hands, and never worry or fret again.

I know that for many of us, one thing we fear is death. We are afraid to die. It seems so final, so horrible, so unavoidable. But in the resurrection of Jesus I find hope, hope for something greater, something better, something eternal. We know that because Jesus lives today, we too can live with Him. This hope effects how we live, and how we die. Jesus’ resurrection forever changed Christians’ view of death. Rodney Stark, sociologist at the University of Washington, points out that when a major plague hit the ancient Roman Empire, Christians had surprisingly high survival rates. Why? Most Roman citizens would banish any plague-stricken person from their household. But because Christians had no fear of death, they nursed their sick instead of throwing them out on the streets. Therefore, many Christians survived the plague.

4. THERE IS POWER IN THE RESURRECTION: 1 Cor. 6:14 tells us, "By his power, God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also." Jesus is Alive and with us through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. And because of that, His power is available to us. The same power that raised him from the dead. The same power we know will raise us also according to St. Paul. That power is here for our daily lives, and God desires us to experience it more deeply. It is there to enable us to have victory over sin, it is there to bring us hope and encouragement, it is there to shine through us to our world around us, it is there to enable us to worship and celebrate. Let me rephrase that in light of my main point that Jesus is alive: HE is here to enable us to have victory over sin, HE is here to bring us hope and encouragement, HE is here to shine through us to our world around us, HE is here to enable us to worship and celebrate.

This year 2014, it is my prayer that you would know the Risen Lord Jesus. That you would know the love, the life, the hope, and the power of the Resurrection. That is the simple message of our faith - Jesus is Alive! HAPPY AND BLESSED EASTER TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILY!

Do you celebrate the feast of Easter with joy and thanksgiving for the victory which Jesus has won for you over sin and death? Are you spreading the joy of Easter to those around you? They saw the ashes on your head at the beginning of Lent, do people who relate to you see the Easter joy in your life?

 

RESOLUTION:

·         Resolve to live everyday as a resurrected believer

·         Always be thankful for the power of the Cross and the saving grace of the resurrection

·         Be sure to share the Easter joy with your pastors and minsters, who teach you the gospel.

PRAYER: "Lord Jesus Christ, you have triumphed over the grave and you have won new life for us. Give me the eyes of faith to see you in your glory. Help me to draw near to you and to grow in the knowledge of your great love and power."

LENTEN PROGRAM 2016 WEEK TWO

 

SUNDAY, February 21, 2016

READING: Luke 4:1-13

MEDITATION: At the end of Jesus' forty days in the wilderness one visitor came out to tempt him - the devil (Luke 4:1), also called the father of lies (John 8:44), and the god of this world (John 12:31; 2 Cor. 4:4). He is the same deceiver who tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden (Gen. 3). Why did Satan tempt Jesus at the end of his fasting period? Satan knew that Jesus was embarking on an important spiritual mission for the kingdom of God. Perhaps Satan saw an opportunity to strike while Jesus appeared more vulnerable in his physically and emotionally weakened condition due to his prolonged fasting and inner struggle over his call and mission. Satan no doubt thought he could persuade Jesus to choose his own path rather than the path his Father had chosen - a path that required self-renunciation, humility, and obedience to his Father's will. Jesus had to struggle with the temptation to choose his own way rather than what his Father wanted him to go. This is the fundamental temptation which confronts each one of us as well. My way or God's way, my will or God's will.

Satan's first temptation appealed to Jesus' physical desires and hunger. Jesus was very hungry and physically weak after his fast. Satan tried to get Jesus to turn stones into bread, both to prove his supernatural power over nature and to satisfy his personal hunger. But Jesus had chosen to fast and to pray for a lengthy period in order to prepare himself for the mission his Father entrusted to him. He wanted to do his Father's will, even though it might cost him great sacrifice, suffering, and even death. Jesus chose to use his power and gifts to serve his Father rather than to serve himself. And he defeated Satan's snare with the words of Scripture in which Moses warned the people of Israel to never forget God nor his word: "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4).

Satan tempted Jesus a second time by presenting him with the best the world could offer - great riches, glory and fame, and the power to rule over all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus quickly saw through the trap of placing the world's glory, wealth, and power above the honor, glory, and service that is due to God alone. Jesus saw how easily one's heart can be swayed and even overpowered by what it most treasures. Allowing fame, glory, and wealth to master one's heart is a form of idolatry. Jesus chose to honor his Father and to serve his Father's kingdom above all else. He again defeated Satan with the words of Scripture: "It is written, `You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve'" (Deut. 6:13).

Satan's last temptation was to convince Jesus that he should position himself at the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, the holiest place on earth where God dwelt in a special way with his people, and there perform a spectacular sign that would prove that he was the Messiah. You know, the devil is a Bible expert! He accurately quotes from Psalm 91:11-12, a psalm connected with the temple which was regarded as a place of refuge and protection for those who put their trust in God. The devil wanted Jesus to perform a death-defying sign by throwing himself off the tallest point of the temple to prove that he was who he claimed to be. Jesus refused to perform any sign that might put God to the test. Jesus quoted once again from the words of Scripture: "It is said, `You shall not put the Lord your God to the test'" (Deut. 6:16).

When Jesus went out into the wilderness, he was led by the Holy Spirit. Jesus didn't rely on his own human strength and will-power to overcome temptations. He relied on the Holy Spirit to give him strength, wisdom, courage, and self-control. We need the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit to help us also. God gives us his Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness (Rom. 8:26) and to be our guide and strength in times of testing (1 Cor. 10:13). God is ever ready to pour out his Spirit upon us that we may have the courage we need to repent of our sins and to turn away from them, and to reject the lies and deceits of Satan. God wants us to "fight the good fight of the faith" (1 Tim. 6:12) with the strength and help which comes from the Holy Spirit.

What lesson can we learn from Jesus' temptation in the wilderness? How can we hope to fight temptation and overcome sin in our own personal lives? Are you ready to allow the Holy Spirit to lead you in the way God wants to strengthen you in following his will for your life? Do you seek God's wisdom and guidance for overcoming sin and avoiding the near occasions of sin?

 

RESOLUTION:

  • Identify the most frequent temptations that you're having to deal with
  • List practical ways you may be able to avoid such temptations
  • Ask the Holy Spirit for strength to deal with those temptations

 

PRAYER: Pray Psalm 63. "Lord Jesus, your word is life and joy for me. Fill me with your Holy Spirit that I may have the strength and courage to embrace your will in all things and to renounce whatever is contrary to it."

 

MONDAY, February 22, 2016

READING: Matthew 10:37-42

MEDITATION: Who are you in Christ Jesus? Where do you fit into God's plans? What can you do to be recognized by others as a true disciple of Jesus?

 

In Western society there is a strong value on personal identity. We learn that we are to be assertive and decide what we want and go after it. We are regarded as fools if we let family or religious commitments stand in the way of going anywhere and doing anything to advance our personal careers. Self-fulfillment has become a god, worshipped and sought after.

 

In most places and at most times in human society, this was not the case. Children took on the name – and the reputations – of their families, and identified with them. When Abraham’s servant wanted to know who Rebecca was, he did not ask her what her name was, he said, “Tell me whose daughter you are” (Gen. 24:23).  

 

In Scripture, the folks who set out to establish their own selves and their own identities were not highly regarded – for example, the people who settled on the plain in the land of Shinar decided to build a fabulous city and tower (Gen. 11). They said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves…” God was not pleased, and scattered them so that their Tower of Babel was never completed.

 

When we become God’s children, and members of his family, we take on his name and identity. Our concern needs to shift from our own reputation to his. The philosophies of the western world may find this difficult to embrace, as society does not value that kind of thinking.

 

An entire book of the Bible is devoted to Ruth, who’s only claim to fame was that she gave up her identify with her people, took on Naomi’s identity – “your people will be my people, your God, my God” – and worked hard. For this she ended up the great-grandmother of King David, and was awarded a place in the Messianic line.

 

How about Mary, the mother of Jesus? She was willing to totally lose her identity for the Lord: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.” She is someone who has totally lost her own identity, and because of it many think of her as  the most highly regarded human being of all time.

 

What had Tabitha done that was so great that the church in Joppa could not stand to lose her? Was she a gifted healer with a well-known ministry? Did she have a lot of money the church needed? Well, what she did was many “good works and acts of charity.” She made garments for the widows and the poor; in other words, she was a tremendous example of a servant of Christ (Acts 9:32-43).

 

Jesus tells us that it is by losing our life that we find it (Matthew 10:39). The Lord, of course, was the perfect example of this: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him…” (Philippians 2:5-9).

 

What about St. Paul, whose writings make up a large portion of the New Testament? What kind of name did he seek for himself? “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win the Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law …that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law ..To the weak I became weak …I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:20-22). He even goes so far as to say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

 

Having not yet attained the spiritual maturity of Ruth, Mary, Tabitha, or Paul, I sometimes find myself influenced by the call of the world to desire recognition and influence. This is especially true when day-to-day life seems too hard: when the needs of others demand that I make some personal sacrifice, when “my” time is being infringed upon, when I feel too tired to really follow the Lord. It is at times like these it is especially important for me to remember who I am. I am a servant of Jesus Christ, I have been bought with a price, I am a new creation, a child of the king of the universe, a member of the body of Christ, one for whom the Lord trampled down death!

 

We have all heard of and admire Blessed Mother Theresa; what about her thousands of fellow workers all over the world whose names we do not know and who receive no honor from other people for pouring their lives out for the poor? What if the Lord’s will for me is to serve in an “unrecognized” way for my whole life? What if I am called to “waste” my life for Jesus? Can you feel free to pour out  your life as a precious ointment for the Lord, and not worry that the world disapproves of you?

 

RESOLUTION:

  • Identify who you are in Christ Jesus
  • For the rest of the week, try to desire and appreciate anonymity
  • Ask the Lord to increase in you while you decrease

PRAYER: Thank You for calling me, for choosing me, and for loving me. Your love makes all the difference. Oh, Father, You held nothing back for me, not even Your Son, giving Him away as the  Redeemer through His own blood. Cleanse me of my selfishness, my focus on my own needs and desires. I surrender my life to You once again, wrapping myself in Your love, that I may have something beautiful and glorious to pour over others, to reflect Your giving and merciful heart in my own. Help me to be the caring person you want me to be. Especially, at times when I only seem to care about “me”. In Jesus name, Amen.

TUESDAY, February 23, 2016

READING: Mark 10:17-30

MEDITATION: A monk was lost in meditation at a river bank. A novice put before him two exquisite jewels as a sign of his devotion. The monk opened his eyes and picked up a jewel. It rolled out of his hand into the river. The novice jumped in immediately. But he could not find it. He asked the monk to point out the spot where it fell. The monk picked up the second jewel and tossed it into the river. He pointed and said, "Right there." The monk then added, "Do not allow yourself to be owned by objects. Only then will you be free."

Contrary to what many may think, Jesus invited but one person to give all his possessions away. That individual is the rich man of today's Gospel text. The delicious irony is that this solitary command was turned down flat by him.

Did Christ refrain from asking anyone again because He had become gun shy at this put-down? Or could it be that we do not understand His views on possessions and poverty? The latter I submit is the case.

The Teacher stayed often in the large comfortable home of Martha and Mary outside Jerusalem. He never asked them to sell the mansion and share the dollars with Jerusalem's poor. He never asked the apostles to sell their fishing boats. We know He sailed in them often for business and pleasure. The record shows He enjoyed parties, took delight in five star meals, and drank vintage wine. He obviously enjoyed the good life whenever it came His way.

Why then did Jesus make this extraordinary demand of the wealthy young man? How sad! The man had the wonders of the Lord right there in front of him. He could have become one of the Lord's closest disciples. Jesus heard him say that he had kept the commandments. Jesus knew that he was a good man. He loved him. But he also knew that something was holding the man back. His possessions were the reason for his life. All his life he had worked hard to have a lot, or, perhaps, he had been born into a wealthy family and had been falsely taught that the family’s wealth would guarantee his happiness. The man thought that he was on the top of society. Then he received a shock. True greatness was being offered to him. Was he willing to change the focus of his life? Was he willing to step away from his material possessions? Evidently not. He left the Lord saddened.

Many of us have been raised in a society that values wealth above all else. We know that is not true. We know that the love of God, our families, and our children are our real values, but we easily fall for the lie that happiness can be purchased. We easily confuse our wants with our needs. We want too much. We need very little. We want the big house, the expensive car, the expensive vacation, etc. But we don't need all of that.

 

Well, the fellow had told Him of the sins He did not commit - adultery, murder, etc. The Master then invites him to speak not of the evil he had avoided but of the good he had done. His problem was spiritual poverty. He suffered from "sleeping sickness of the soul." Christ's teaching is not a system whereby one avoids doing wrong. It is a way of life that impels us to do good and then, after a time, better. This was the difference between the rich young man and Martha and Mary. They were not merely avoiding sin. They were anxious to do good. They were giving away 10% of their wealth to the synagogue and charity. They were volunteering to help the poor. They held a welcoming hand to people on the run such as Jesus and His apostles. They were not owned by their possessions. They used them for others.

 

The reaction of Jesus to the rich man's departure was disappointment. He saw in him what He sees in all of us - the potential of leaving our old lives and becoming new people. Like the novice with the jewels, the wealthy gentleman had an inordinate love for his possessions. He was more fond of his own comforts than he was of others' needs. Christ is not condemning the comfortable and affluent but the way they use their resources. This piece by Author Unknown is what Jesus is condemning. "I was hungry and you formed a humanities club to discuss my hunger. I was imprisoned and you crept off to pray for my release. I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance. I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health. I was homeless and you preached to me of the love of God. I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me. You seem so holy, so close to God. But I am still very hungry and lonely and cold."

Run this test by yourself. When the collection comes around for the poor, do you give the same amount you gave three years ago? Do you give to support the poor and needy reluctantly? Do you think that while ten bucks is of no value in the supermarket, it is an extraordinary sum in church? If you say yes to any of these questions, this Gospel may have your name on it. Remember the aphorism. We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.

 

RESOLUTION:

  • Resolve to live a life of simplicity throughout this season
  • Maybe you can calculate the value of the newest clothing you just bought and give the equivalent to some particular poor person or Charity
  • What “material things” are controlling your life?  List them and ask the Holy Spirit to help you release control and let them go, so that God’s perfect will is done in your life

 

PRAYER: Father, it is Your will that we do not lay up material treasures on earth for ourselves, where moth and rust can destroy and where thieves can break in and steal; but lay up treasures in heaven for ourselves, where neither moth nor rust can destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal.  Your word states that our lives do not consist in the abundance of the things we possess: therefore, we will beware of covetousness.  The one who lays up treasure for himself is not rich towards You.  Where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.  Lord, I confess that life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.  Therefore, I declare that henceforth, I will seek first Your kingdom and Your righteousness above all else.  Lord, I confess that I will not trust in uncertain riches but I will trust in You, the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.  I confess that I will continue to do good works and will be ready to give and be willing to share. Amen.

WEDNESDAY, February 24, 2016

READING: Mark 10:35-45

MEDITATION: James and John had it all wrong. They wanted authority. They wanted to sit at the right hand and left hand of Jesus when the Kingdom of God was established on earth. They wanted to lord it over others. They wanted to be powerful and feared because of their power. They looked forward to being in authority. They had it all wrong. In the Kingdom of God, authority would come through service, not through power.

I once heard the story of a rice farmer who saved an entire village from destruction. From his hilltop farm he felt the earth quake and saw the distant ocean swiftly withdraw from the shore line. He knew that a tidal wave was coming.

In the valley below, he saw his neighbors working low fields that would soon be flooded. They must run quickly to his hilltop or they would all die. His rice barns were dry as tinder.  So with a torch he set fire to his barns and soon the fire gong started ringing. His neighbors saw the smoke and rushed to help him. Then from their safe perch they saw the tidal wave wash over the fields they had just left.

In a flash they knew not only who had saved them but what their salvation had cost their benefactor. They later erected a monument to his memory bearing the motto, “He gave us all he had, and gave gladly.” This poor farmer finished first in the eyes of his community, but it cost him everything he had.

There are not many people in our world like that farmer. He willingly sacrificed himself that others might succeed. Most people do everything they can to better themselves, and think nothing of the people they step on behind as they climb to the top of the heap. It is necessary to keep in mind that not everyone who finishes first is victorious. Sometimes those who take the last seat, those who willingly finish last, are the real winners in the game of life.

I think it is clear from reading the Gospels that our Lord’s disciples were anything but humble men. They were always in the business of trying to promote themselves. On several occasions, Jesus sought to combat that mentality, but they never seemed to get the message. In this passage, we see selfish ambition in all of its ugliness. Jesus uses this event to teach us all some valuable lessons about leadership, service to others and forgiveness. Being first can cost you all you have. I want you to see that being a servant to others is more of a blessing, in the end, than being served by others.

James and John were literally asking for three things. They wanted Preeminence. They wanted the glory and honor that came from being elevated to a throne. They wanted Proximity. They wanted to be close to Jesus in the Kingdom. They also wanted Power. These men wanted to have positions of great authority in the coming kingdom.

What bothers me about their request is the timing of it. Jesus had just finished telling these men that He is going to Jerusalem, to be betrayed, rejected and killed, v. 33-34. All these men can think about is climbing to the top of the pile. All they can see is their position on the roster. Jesus is about to die for sin and they are playing “who’s first?” It is a cold-hearted, self-centered, unsympathetic request! These men never did grasp the idea that their leader, the Lord Jesus Christ, was headed to a cross. All they could see was the crown. They wanted the crown without the cross. They wanted the glory without the pain. They wanted the reward without having to pay the price.

The problem with the disciples is the same problem people have today. Most people are not concerned with the glory of God. All they care about is finishing first. All they care about is their own power, position and prestige. The problem with the disciples, and the problem with many of us, is that we are filled with pride. Pride always leads to defeat, Pro. 16:18; 1 Cor. 10:12. The cost of service for Jesus was extremely high. It cost Him His very life. Jesus willingly went to His death to save those who cared nothing for Him. He suffered the shame, the pain, the humiliation, and the agony of the cross to serve lost sinners. He experienced the undiluted wrath of Almighty God to serve us. He took the place of a common criminal and was judged as rebel so that sinners could be saved. He willingly entered into death so that others might enter into life.

What if God gets more glory from my finishing last? A humble, submissive spirit will prevent many failures. Am I willing to sacrifice for others just as God did for us in Christ Jesus? How concerned are you about the glory of God as against your own glory? Will you gladly sacrifice your self-esteem for the glory of God and his kingdom? How much shame and disgrace are you willing to endure for the sake of God's kingdom?

RESOLUTION:

  • Identify the last time you endured shame for the sake of God's glory
  • Do something radically different for the kingdom of God this year

 

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you have proclaimed a radical gospel, a call to live my life in a different way from the rest of the world around me.  But I don’t want to be different, I want to be like everyone else.  I don’t like being different, I don’t like the demands your gospel makes on me.  Remind me today of what you have done for me.  Help me to understand the magnitude of your sacrifice and let that inspire me to make small sacrifices in my life, so that I may embody your radical gospel in my own life.  Amen.

 

THURSDAY, February 25, 2016

READING: John 6:41-51

 MEDITATION: In the New Testament we often see two contrasting attitudes among the people. On the one hand they are the grateful recipients of Christ's miracles and then on the other hand we find them grumbling and criticizing him. The people are very grateful for the miraculous distribution of the loaves and the fishes in what we call the Feeding of the Five Thousand. But then when Jesus tries to explain the significance of this great miracle they start grumbling and criticizing.

This is not so different from the People of Israel in Old Testament times. They were extremely grateful for the miraculous gift of manna which was found lying on the ground every morning and which they could bake into bread. But the appearance of this food which sustained them through their long journey in the desert did not stop them from grumbling against God and even rejecting him on occasion. We could probably say that these two attitudes are also alive and well in the world today. Yes, we are grateful for the works of God and the many gifts that he gives us but this does not stop us from frequently ignoring and even rejecting him.

The people had gratefully received the loaves and the fish but now they grumble and complain when Jesus describes himself as the bread come down from heaven. To them these words smack of terrible heresy. They know Jesus to be the son of Mary and Joseph and so they cannot comprehend how he can say that he has come down from heaven. Jesus simply tells them to stop complaining and continues his discourse; but this confuses them even more. What Jesus is trying to do is to get them to understand the theology of the Eucharist. He wants them to see how he is really present in the Eucharistic elements; but his words fall on deaf ears because what he is telling them is so different to their ordinary experience that they cannot comprehend it. Of course it is all the more confusing since we are still in the middle of the story. Christ has still a year to go before he makes his great sacrifice on the Hill of Calvary. They have no knowledge of the Last Supper or how the first Christians realized the significance of that solemn meal and made it the heart of their worship. So we can excuse their incredulity at the extraordinary words of Jesus.

We realize that these words are not so much addressed to them as addressed to us. It is we who need to understand precisely who Jesus is and what his relationship with the Eucharist is. It is we who need to grow in our appreciation of the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. So maybe what we should really be doing today is not so much to think about the people of the New Testament but to think about ourselves and our own understanding of the Eucharist.

 

We need to see if we have a good enough grasp of what the Church actually teaches in reference to the Eucharist. Superficially at a celebration of the Eucharist not a lot happens. Sure it is a solemn meal, the people are gathered, the scriptures are read and explained, ritualistic words are spoken by the priest, the bread and wine are shared and then with a blessing everyone goes home. This is what the outsider, the non-believer, observes. But we, the faithful, we know different. We know that in celebrating this wonderful sacrament we are invisibly connected to the Last Supper. It is as if time has collapsed at it is now us who are gathered together with the Apostles around the table of the Lord and that it is he who actually utters the words of consecration through his representative, the priest.

And it is from him that we receive the Bread of Life and the Blood of our Salvation. The elements we receive in the Eucharist are indeed real food and drink but because of their small quantity they are practically without any value as real food. But more importantly we understand that they are true spiritual food and through our reception of them we are drawn ever nearer to heaven. We believe the words of the Lord Jesus that he is the Bread of Life and know that by consuming the Eucharistic bread and wine we are receiving Jesus himself. By receiving Holy Communion at mass we are also drawn closer to one another; as a community we become more and more authentically the Body of Christ. We become the visible sign of the Kingdom of God present in our world. In this way we become an ever more effective witness to Christ for the people who live around us.

Do you consider gathering to celebrate the mass is one of the most important things we can do? Do you consider the simple act of coming to mass on a Sunday is in itself a real witness to the values of the Kingdom of God? Do you realize that the people living on your street are not unaware of where you or your family goes on a Sunday morning? They are there twitching their curtains and observing your family going for mass. They may say nothing but you are making them think. This might not seem like very much but as we know great works are often achieved by a series of very small acts.

 

RESOLUTION:

  • Resolve to make the Mass the center of your Christian worship and discipline
  • Determine to participate more actively and joyously in the Holy Eucharist
  • Do everything you can to receive Holy Communion more regularly

 

PRAYER: Let me be a holy sacrifice and unite with God in the sacrament of His greatest love. I want to be one in Him in this act of love, where He gives Himself to me and I give myself as a sacrifice to Him. Let me be a holy sacrifice as I become one with Him in this my act of greatest love to Him. Let me unite with Him more, that I may more deeply love Him. May I help make reparation to His adorable Heart and the heart of His Mother, Mary. With greatest love, I offer myself to You and pray that You will accept my sacrifice of greatest love. I give myself to You and unite in Your gift of Yourself to me. Come and possess my soul. Cleanse me, strengthen me, heal me. Dear Holy Spirit act in the heart of Mary to make me more and more like Jesus. Father, I offer this my sacrifice, myself united to Jesus in the Holy Spirit to You. Help me to love God more deeply in this act of my greatest love. Give me the grace to grow in my knowledge, love and service of You and for this to be my greatest participation in the Mass. Give me the greatest graces to love You so deeply in this Mass, You who are so worthy of my love. Amen. (Catholic Online)

 

FRIDAY, February 26, 2016

READING: John 2:1-11

MEDITATION: This scene pictures a Jesus who is concerned with, and gets involved in, the problems and situations of ordinary, everyday life. In this passage, we encounter a Christ who cares, who can and One who carry's through for His own! Today, let's drop in on this little scene in Cana of Galilee and witness John's Portrait of Jesus: The Son Of Man.

A wedding was always a huge social event those days. The celebration could last as long as a week. We are not told who is getting married, but it is probably some close family relative. It may be a nephew, niece, a cousin, etc. I say that because it seems to have been someone of close relation because Mary is involved in the festivities, verses 1, 3&5.

If this scene teaches us anything, it tells us that Jesus chose to participate in this common, routine, every day event. Jesus isn't just for Sunday! He desires, and deserves to be included in all of life! You see, He is either Lord of all, or He isn't Lord at all in your life - Acts 10:36.

Notice that Jesus is here by invitation! Someone possessed the forethought and thoughtfulness to call Jesus to this event. Never be guilty of attempting to exclude Jesus from any areas of your life. By virtue of His sacrifice for us at Calvary, He deserves inclusion in all we are and in all we do. 1 Cor. 6:19-20, "... For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body."  If we are truly His, then He has access rights to everything! many people need to open every area of their lives up to God. You need to stop holding back and give God access to everything. In too many lives, Jesus is left standing outside looking in - Rev. 3:20. There are times when Jesus stands ready with the solution to your problem, but instead of butting in, He waits patiently for your invitation. Why not make that happen today?

Sometime, during these festivities, they ran out of wine. This doesn't sound like much of a problem to us, but to the Jews, it could be ruinous. First, it was a matter of honor. The bridegroom was responsible for providing adequate supplies. If something ran out before the party was concluded, it simply meant that he hadn't planned well and hadn't provided for all of his guests. Secondly, to run out of wine would cause public embarrassment for the groom and his family. Thirdly, in some instances, the offending family could even be fined. Therefore, this was a problem of considerable size to these people.

Life doesn't always go as we had planned it. There are times when problems arise and troubles come our way. This is a common thing - Job 14:1; John 16:33; Eccl. 2:23, "Every day sorrow and grief are their occupation; even at night their hearts are not at rest. This also is vanity." It is good to know that when our problems do come that we can take them to Jesus. Those all around us may see them as nothing, but Jesus understands our pain and feels our need - Heb. 4:15.

As we know, it was Mary who informed her Son that the wine had run out. In this time of trouble, Mary shows us just what we need to do when troubles arise in our lives. She gives us 2 steps that we should always take in the troublesome times of life. 1) Flee To Jesus - When the problem arose, Mary took it to the Lord. This is exactly what we need to do - Phil. 4:6-7. 2) Follow His Commands - This is the only command ever issued by Mary in all the Bible. This is excellent advice! Just do as Jesus says. The lesson for us is clear! When problems arise, and troubles toss our lives, the best thing we can do is simply to do what Jesus says to do. Whatever is on display here, the fact remains that when confronted with a problem, Mary ran to Jesus. What a good example for us to follow.

 

What do you think Mary's action is telling us? Have you invited Mary to the banquet of your life or family? And will you and I take her advice? Why are Mary's prayers so effective with God? " The prayers of the saints are prayers of servants, whereas Mary's are a Mother's prayer, whence flows their efficacy and their authority; and since Jesus has immense love for his Mother, she cannot pray without being listened to...To understand Mary's great goodness, let us remember what the Gospel says...There was a shortage of wine, which naturally worried the married couple. No one asks the Blessed Virgin to intervene and request her Son to come to the rescue of the couple...; it stirs her to act as intercessor and ask her Son for the miracle, even though no one asks her to...If our Lady acted like this without being asked, what would she not have done if they actually asked her to intervene?" (St. Alphonsus Mary Liguori, Sunday Sermons, 48). By God's design Mary is uniquely a Mediatrix for us, our Mother in the order of grace (CCC 967-970) just as she was for the wedding guests at Cana.

 

RESOLUTION:

  • Examine critically your personal devotion to the Blessed Mother
  • Make a personal invitation to the Mother of God to be your guest

 

PRAYER: Pray the Rosary

 

SATURDAY, February 27, 2016

READING: 1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19

MEDITATION: The Bible Society has assumed the mission of placing the Bible in the hands of any who would read. Behind this impressive Bible distribution project is the belief that if people would read the Bible, they would hear the word of God as it applies to their lives. There is a case in one African city where people wanted copies of the New Testament not because they wanted to read them but because the Bible paper was great for wrapping and smoking tobacco and other stuff. When the missionaries discovered this they reached an agreement with the youths that they could continue to use the pages of the Bible for their smoking on the condition that they would read each page before they smoke it. Within a few weeks many of these youths were beginning to ask questions about the pages they had read. Some of them eventually turned to the Lord, got baptized and gave up smoking. God works in strange ways. Nevertheless, when we ask the question whether people, alone without any spiritual guidance, are generally able to recognize the word of God when they hear it, we find that the answer is no.

Samuel grew up literally in the presence of God. As soon as he was weaned his mother Hannah took him to Eli, priest of the sanctuary in Shiloh. There he was raised by the priest himself. He assisted daily at the altar, he was familiar with the sacred writings, and he got the best religious formation available. Yet when the word of God came to him personally he could not recognize it. Each time God called he thought that it was Eli. It was not until Eli directed him on what to do that he finally succeeded in establishing a connection with God who was trying to reach him. Why didn’t God just come to Samuel and say: “Samuel! Samuel! It is I the Lord, your God. Now listen up?” Why did God have to speak to Samuel in a voice that could be mistaken for Eli’s? God normally works through the ordinary channels that He has established. That is why we need the church and we need priests. These are the normal channels of God's word and God's grace in our lives (Hebrews 5:1). God can, of course, always go beyond these channels, but that is not for us to presume or take for granted.

Something similar also happens in John 1:35-42. Andrew and John's other disciple had followed John as a way of preparing for the One who is to come. For years they had prayed and fasted and waited for the joy of meeting the Messiah. Yet when they finally came face to face with the Messiah himself, they could not recognize him. It took the guidance of their spiritual master, John for them to recognize the Messiah. These disciples of John had a divine call to become disciples of Jesus. But they could not discover what divine Providence had in store for them until a spiritual director pointed it to them. There will always be the need for priests like Eli and prophets like John to point out Christ to us and to help us discern what God is saying to us in our lives as individuals and as a people.

In her book, A Man Called Peter, Catherine Marshall tells how her late preacher-husband felt a sense of destiny; a sense of call in his life.

One dark night, Peter, then a young man, decided to take a shortcut  across the Scottish moors. He knew there was a deep deserted limestone quarry in that area, but he was confident that he could avoid it. Suddenly, he heard someone call, "Peter."

There was great urgency in the voice. Peter stopped and responded "Yes who is it? What do you want?" There was no answer. He walked a few more steps and then heard the voice calling more urgently, "Peter!" He paused then he stumbled and fell on his knees. Putting out his hand to catch himself, he found nothing there. He was at the very edge of an abandoned stone quarry. Just one more step would have meant certain death.

The calling that night confirmed for Peter Marshall that he was clearly being called by God for ministry.

Beloved, I am convinced that each of us has been called by God to fulfill a purpose, to fulfill a spiritual calling in this life. We are called to become a part of the Masters plan. Samuel, John the Baptist, Andrew, Peter, were each called by God, and in turn they responded thus fulfilling God's plan for their lives. Repeatedly throughout the Bible God says “LISTEN TO ME!” Jesus declared in John 10:27: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me”

Don’t get distracted by anything in this world. Are you distracted by your job, your troubles, your goals, your agendas, even your family? Listen to God! Listen to Him FIRST. Are you listening to God? How do you know when you're listening to Him? Today, you need to ask yourself: What is God saying to you? Are you listening? Is God speaking you to you about your need to study more? To grow more? To serve more? Or is He talking to you about the most basic need in your life? Have you not come to the point of believing that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for your sins? Have you not come to the point where you’ve accepted the fact that you are a sinner who needs to be forgiven your sins? Have you not come to the point where you’re willing to turn your life over to Jesus and make Him Lord of your life? Or have you yet to be buried in the waters of Christian baptism and risen up from those waters a new creature in Christ?  Whatever God is saying to you, you need to make up your mind to say “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening!”

 

RESOLUTION:

  • Identify how God is calling you to fulfill a godly purpose in life
  • List practical ways of fulfilling your role in the Master's plan this Lent season

PRAYER: My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know if I do this, you will lead me through the right road though I may know nothing about it.  Therefore, I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face peril alone. (Thomas Merton)

LENTEN PROGRAM 2016 WEEK ONE

 

SUNDAY, February 14, 2016

READING: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

MEDITATION: Newspaper columnist and minister George Crane tells of a wife who came into his office full of hatred toward her husband. "I do not only want to get rid of him, I want to get even. Before I divorce him, I want to hurt him as much as he has me."

 

Dr. Crane suggested an ingenious plan "Go home and act as if you really love your husband. Tell him how much he means to you. Praise him for every decent trait. Go out of your way to be as kind, considerate, and generous as possible. Spare no efforts to please him, to enjoy him. Make him believe you love him. After you’ve convinced him of your undying love and that you cannot live without him, then drop the bomb. Tell him that you’re getting a divorce. That will really hurt him." With revenge in her eyes, she smiled and exclaimed, "Beautiful, beautiful. Will he ever be surprised!" And she did it with enthusiasm. Acting "AS IF." For two months she showed love, kindness, listening, giving, reinforcing, sharing. When she didn’t return, Crane called. "Are you ready now to go through with the divorce?"
"Divorce?" she exclaimed. "Never! I discovered I really do love him."

 

Her actions had changed her feelings. Motion resulted in emotion. The ability to love is established not so much by fervent promise as often repeated deeds. - J. Allan Petersen

 

There's hardly doubting the fact that, In today's world, loves seems to be so far: People are more lovers of selves; families are being torn apart by intolerance, unforgiveness and bitterness; even church congregations are not spared of this scourge, hence there's so much breaking away. The power of true love seems to be absent even in the people of God.

 

When Paul came to Corinth and preached, many were converted but still had the culture of their environment in their hearts. But because he loved them he diligently wrote 2 letters to them, giving them instructions as to how Christians ought to live and love in a secular world.

 

Remember, the Corinthians were Greeks, and they prided themselves on their great orators. Demosthenes, Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle were all Greeks. And Paul is saying though I had their tongues, though I had the power to sway vast crowds with my oratory, if I did not love, I am nothing.

 

Paul contends that, the greatest oratory in the world is nothing apart from love. And the reverse of that truth is that the humblest person whose words are backed with love is greater than those whose names are emblazoned in the headlines.

 

Love, says psychiatrist A.A. Brill, "is necessary to survival." "It is quite as essential for a person to have love," says a doctor, "as to have pure air and food to sustain him."

 

Real love knows nothing of selfishness. It constantly puts the welfare of another above the welfare of yourself. (Phil. 2:4) Love bears all things. However, no matter how necessary it is, love is not easy. Only God can really turn our "likes" to "loves" by the help of grace and faith.

In verse 8, Paul makes a rather categorical statement when he says, "Love never fails." Paul is saying that on the stage of life, love is bound to win. It is certain to succeed. And those who would practice it will never be defeated no matter how poorly they appear to be playing their part on the stage of life. There will come a day in your life when everything that you possess will fall away, but love will live on and on.

Someone once wrote, "Love is like a bridge that connects our hearts when we’re apart, The rainbow that colors our world when we’re together, And the bond that keeps us learning and growing together in the LORD!"

 

Should I really defend the premise that many today really don’t know what true love is? How do you recognize true love when you come in contact with it? Have you ever experienced the power of true love? More importantly, when people come in contact with you, do they experience true love?

 

RESOLUTIONS:

  • Be willing to acknowledge and accept God's love
  • Resolve to be an instrument of true love to those around you

 

PRAYER: God, my Father,
may I love You in all things and above all things.
May I reach the joy which You have prepared for me in Heaven.
Nothing is good that is against Your Will,
and all that is good comes from Your Hand.
Place in my heart a desire to please You
and fill my mind with thoughts of Your Love,
so that I may grow in Your wisdom and enjoy Your Peace.

Inspire me to love my neighbor as much

as you have loved me in Christ Jesus, my Lord. Amen.

 

MONDAY, February 15, 2016

READING: Luke 5:1-11

MEDITATION: God often chooses the most improbable people to move forward his purposes! A cowardly Jonah fled from God’s commission to preach to the Ninevites (Jonah 1:1-3). Israel’s great King David committed adultery (2 Samuel 11:2-5). Again and again God has manifested his power by transforming weakness into strength and sinners into saints. And so God chose a brash fisherman to become his instrument to “catch” men and women for his kingdom (Luke 5: 10). For Simon Peter, what began with the invitation to become “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19) would result in the spreading of Jesus’ message far beyond the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

 

Simon Peter was an experienced fisherman who knew his business well. He had worked unsuccessfully the whole night – the best time for net fishing – and didn’t think that he’d catch anything now. Nonetheless, he did as Jesus directed, saying, “At your word I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5).

 

Simon's obedience was remarkably rewarded as he took in a great shoal of fish. So huge was the catch that the nets were breaking, and he beckoned to his partners’ boat for help (Luke 5:6-7). Overwhelmed and astonished, Simon “fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (5:8). Peter and his colleagues knew the sea well enough to know that there was no natural explanation for their extraordinary catch. A devout Jew, Simon Peter realized that he was in the presence of a higher being and felt totally inadequate.

 

So Peter and the other fishermen were down on their luck; they were exhausted and somewhat exasperated when Jesus appeared on the scene. They already knew Jesus. Two paragraphs earlier Luke recounts how Jesus had visited Simon Peter's house and cured his mother-in-law. So Jesus was no stranger, they knew him and they had already listened to his teaching and experienced the results of his extraordinary healing powers. So Peter and his friends were already favorable to Jesus' message but they surely did not expect that he would choose them to be his closest disciples, they didn't expect to be asked to leave everything to follow Jesus.

 

That's a bit like us. We too are disciples of Jesus; over a period of many years we have gone to mass, listened to his teaching and from time to time have experienced his remarkable works. But we tend not to expect him to have any special task in store for us. We believe that we are very small cogs in God's great wheel.

 

Many of us certainly don't think that we are key players in the divine plan for the conversion of the world. We think that God chooses other people for big tasks. We tend to feel that we are unworthy and just like Peter we often say: "Leave me Lord for I am sinful." But God does not think like us and he doesn't leave us alone. As Cardinal Newman said, God chose us to do some definite service. God does have something in mind, for each one of us some definite task. We are a crucial part of his plan for the world. And at the appropriate time we will know when it is that he wants us to perform this task whatever it may be. He will give us a sign, just like he gave Peter and his friends a sign with that remarkable catch of fish. The day will come and on that day we will just know what it is he wants us to do, it will be made clear. It will be like the clue in a cryptic crossword. We look at the words for ages and it doesn't make any sense at all. Then suddenly out of the blue comes a moment of insight and the answer will be so obvious that we can't understand how we didn't see it all along! Peter instinctively knew that what Jesus wants in us is holiness. Yes, Jesus does want holiness but lack of it won't stop him from achieving what he wants. For by the very act of carrying out our mission we will inevitably acquire holiness.

We might feel that we are far from reaching that goal but it is something we need to aim at. If we want to live in heaven with God then we had better start acquiring holiness because that's what life is like in heaven. God is holy and if we are to become like him then we too will have to become holy. But actually Peter's words, "Leave me Lord, for I am a sinful man", shouldn't lead us to think that Peter wasn't already quite holy. Because, as the lives of the saints demonstrate, the holier you get the more conscious you are of sin; the less you think you are holy. Indeed it is when you think that you are without sin that you are in the most danger. Simon Peter was a weak man and in the Gospels he frequently acknowledges his own weakness.

At a crucial moment he denied Christ three times, a clear demonstration of his moral weakness. Yet this was the man chosen to be the cornerstone of the Church, to be the Prince of the Apostles, the representative of Christ on earth. It is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian Life that in our weakness is our strength.

 

Do you see yourself as a key player in God's scheme of work? What is God's specific call on your life? How do you fit into God's overall plan for the salvation of the world? Have you ever prayed and asked God to show you his plan for you? Did you get any insight from Him? Life would make more meaning if we identify our place in God's plans, and get on about fulfilling his call, don't you think?

 

RESOLUTIONS:

  • Identify ways in which God wants you to participate in the work of salvation
  • Resolve to ask God for his plans towards you
  • Be determined to be more proactive in matters of God's kingdom, church, and spirituality

 

PRAYER: Gracious God,
You have called me to life and gifted me in many ways.
Through Baptism You have sent me to continue the mission of Jesus
by sharing my love with others.
Strengthen me to respond to Your call each day.
Help me to become all You desire of me.
Inspire me to make a difference in others' lives.
Lead me to choose the way of life You have planned for me.
Open the hearts of all to listen to Your call.
Fill all with Your Holy Spirit that we may have listening hearts and
the courage to respond to You.
Enkindle in my heart and the hearts of others the desire
to make the world a better place by serving as
Lay Minister, Sister, Priest, Brother or Deacon.
Amen. (Courtesy USCCB)

 

TUESDAY, February 16, 2016

READING: Luke 5:1-11

MEDITATION: Take a moment and revisit Simon's reaction to the overwhelming miracle of the unbelievable haul of fish. He “fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (5:8).

Jesus calmed Peter's fears – “Do not be afraid” (5:10) – and seemed to simply ignore Peter's declaration that he was a sinful man. When Jesus called, Simon and his fishing partners left everything – the fresh catch of fish, their boats and nets, even their families. In following Jesus, they entered into a unique personal relationship with him as his disciples and began to participate in his mission.

The miraculous catch of fish was only one of the remarkable experiences that Simon Peter shared with his Lord. Peter, James, and John made up Jesus’ intimate circle of followers and were present at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8), the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:51-56), and Jesus' prayer at Gethsemane (Mark 14:33-42). Additional events in the gospels show Peter as a man of great love and loyalty, but also one with very human failings. He was the first to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, and Jesus entrusted to this “rock” the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:13-19). But that didn’t mean that Peter understood the Lord: Appalled at Jesus' prediction of his passion and death, Peter cried, “God forbid, Lord!” and Jesus sharply corrected him (16:21-23).

By nature Peter was bold and confident, proud and outspoken. He frequently acted impetuously, as when he exclaimed, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28). “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death,” he rashly boasted (Luke 22:33). Then he was quick to reverse his brash assertion under pressure, claiming, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 26:72). Indeed, a fearful Peter denied knowing Jesus not only once but three times. When the cock crowed and Jesus looked at him (Luke 22:60-61), Peter realized again – as he had earlier in Galilee – that he was a sinful man. But he also knew that Jesus loved him unconditionally, and his humility saved him from despairing of forgiveness.

We can learn from Peter to face our sins and failings humbly and cling to the Lord: “Peter shows us how to respond to our inevitable stumbles and falls along the way: by accepting the grace to pick ourselves up, stick close to Jesus, and exchange self-reliance for trust in God” (Louise Perrotta, “From Fisherman to Friend of God”), After the resurrection, Jesus encountered Peter again at the Sea of Galilee. There the risen Lord provided his fishermen – disciples with another wondrous haul of fish (John 21:l-14). There too he gently probed the heart of the man who had denied him, three times asking “you love me?” and calling from his humbled friend a new declaration of love. Accepting Peter's affirmations – “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” – Jesus entrusted to him the work of shepherding his flock: "Feed my lambs….Tend my sheep” (21:15-17).

Filled with the Spirit at Pentecost, Peter proclaimed the gospel far and wide and cared
for the fledging church. During the final years of his life, the chief apostle – “the rock” – headed the Christian community in Rome and, true to his master's call to the end, was martyred there during the reign of the emperor Nero. Even with his imperfections, Peter faithfully fulfilled the commission Jesus had given him. 

Becoming a follower of Jesus led Simon Peter on many journeys, but the most significant one was, as author Louise Perrotta noted, “his inner journey of transformation from. . .one who was convinced of his own strength to one who learned that he could only please the Lord as he learned to draw strength from Jesus, his beloved Master.” We are called to be disciples of the same master as Peter was –and we can do much for the Lord if we, like the fisherman-apostle, acknowledge that we are not perfect and rely on the Holy Spirit at work in us.

How are you responding to God's call of discipleship everyday in your life? Have you been transformed by God's grace? Do you desire to be transformed by the grace that was active in the life of Peter and the Apostles?

 

RESOLUTIONS:

  • Ask the Holy Spirit for life transforming grace
  • Resolve to be more responsive to God's call
  • Be determined to be a disciple and not a mere convert

PRAYER: Gracious God,
You have called me to life and gifted me in many ways.
Through Baptism You have sent me to continue the mission of Jesus
by sharing my love with others.
Strengthen me to respond to Your call each day.
Help me to become all You desire of me.
Inspire me to make a difference in others' lives.
Lead me to choose the way of life You have planned for me.
Open the hearts of all to listen to Your call.
Fill all with Your Holy Spirit that we may have listening hearts and
the courage to respond to You.
Enkindle in my heart and the hearts of others the desire
to make the world a better place by serving as
Lay Minister, Sister, Priest, Brother or Deacon.
Amen. (Courtesy USCCB)

 

WEDNESDAY, February 17, 2016

READING: Titus 2

MEDITATION: Have you ever wondered why it is not easy to be a Christian nowadays? Why is it that it is not easy to be holy? Why is it very hard to bring other people to God? Why is peer pressure so hard to resist?

One big reason is that we live in an unholy world. It is like playing in a football game and you are playing against an opponent who has extra men on the field; even worse, some of your players are injured and some are working for the other team (throwing the game away)! It is the same with the daily battle for holiness: it is extremely difficult for us to win the battle because the odds are stacked against us. It is an uphill battle. “Everyone else is doing it – why can’t I?” Not only is the enemy everywhere, they are also inside us – our unredeemed human nature, the flesh. "Because everything in the world, the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father but of the world" (1 John 2:16). 

What I read about the life of a salmon I found very interesting. From the fresh water rivers, they go through their normal life cycle as eggs and fingerlings and eventually live in the sea. But once they reach maturity, they have an absolute resolve to go back to their spawning grounds, hundreds or thousands of kilometers away. The trip back to their spawning grounds is a seemingly impossible task, full of dangers, traps, and obstacles, as they will be swimming against the overbearing current of the rivers. Many of the salmon die going back to their grounds – bears and birds of prey catch them and eat them. Some of them hit the rocks, logs, and other obstacles along the way and die. Sometimes they have to swim through shallow waters just to get through their journey. But they never stop or rest from swimming against the current – otherwise it would carry them away from their destination. The incredible things is, in order for them to reach their spawning grounds, they have to jump upstream, up a waterfall and sometimes more than once in their journey. Many of their jumps fail but they persist – until they get through the waterfall, or die trying. Against all odds, many of them eventually reach their spawning grounds and a new generation of salmon eggs are laid and later hatch to become fingerlings. You can probably count yourself lucky not to be a salmon!

But you are a Christian. And guess what? The odds are stacked heavily against you if you are resolved to follow God. And there is a very strong current that is sweeping across the face earth. A current of wickedness, immorality, blatant and not so blatant sin. Acceptance and practice of ungodly values and activities pervade the world we live in. 

I really don’t know who is in a better place – the salmon swimming upstream to their spawning grounds or us Christians trying to live holy lives in an unholy world. Yet, God desires us to pursue holiness at all costs, because without holiness we cannot see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). Make no mistake about it – the world that we live in is an unholy world. We need to actively pursue holiness if we desire to draw closer to God, because the world will not give us holiness on a platter of gold but will put all hindrances and obstacles in front of us. It is extremely difficult to win the battle, and we need to learn from the salmon: to have an absolute resolve, come what may, to reach our “spawning grounds” – heaven. 

The battle for holiness rages in various areas of our lives. Our hearts, our minds, our wills – these are the battle fronts, where most of the battles are lost and won. The battle for holiness takes place in our desires, our emotions, and attitudes, our judgment and reasoning, our relationships, our speech patterns, our past and its memories, and our use of media.

How does the parable of the salmon apply to you? What currents are you swimming against in the journey towards holiness? What battles are you fighting, especially on a daily basis? How are your desires, attitudes, emotions, etc., brought under the lordship of Jesus Christ? Are these desires, attitudes, and emotions working against you or for you?

RESOLUTIONS:

  • Resolve to never give up in the fight for holiness
  • Ask the Holy Spirit for daily strength because on your own you can do nothing
  • Desire to reach your final destination, not minding the obstacles you may encounter

PRAYER: Dear Heavenly Father,

 

I am grateful for all the ways that I have known you and experienced you at work in my life. Thank you for your goodness and your faithfulness in blessing me and always being there for me in bad times as well as good.

 

Dear Lord, I desire to know you better; to have a greater experience of your presence and your power working on my behalf. Out of this desire, I invite you into my being. I open myself to you and invite you to fill me with your Holy Spirit; with your love, mercy, and grace. I pray that these divine gifts from you would permeate my whole being. Please fill my heart, soul, mind, spirit, and body with your Holy Spirit; with your love mercy and grace. I ask you to make these divine gifts well up in me until they overflow and I am overwhelmed by you and your presence. I invite you in without any reservations or limitations so that I may be transformed from the person that I am now and become the person that you created me to be.

 

Father, I give you free reign to search me by your Holy Spirit and to make any changes in me that you deem necessary for my wellbeing. As you search me I pray that you will cast out anything in me that is evil, sinful, harmful, or destructive. I ask you to purge me of everything that is not pleasing to you; of anything that is not beneficial to me or those around me. I pray that your love, mercy, and grace would enable me to give those things up. I also ask you to replace those elements of my being with qualities that are pleasing to you and beneficial to me and those around me. Father, I desire to be everything that you created me to be and intend for me to be.

 

Lord, I believe that as you search my heart, soul, mind, spirit and body that you will also find things that are pleasing to you; good qualities that you put within me from the beginning of my life. I pray Lord that, as you find these things, you will strengthen them; that you will enhance them and bring them out in me. Please make me aware of the Godly qualities that you have put within me and bring them out so that others may perceive them as well.

 

Dear Lord, I also ask that if there are any obstacles or barriers that would prevent me from receiving these divine gifts, that you would break them down and overcome them. I don’t care what barriers or obstacles there are, whether internal or external, please break them down in order that I may know you more and more.

 

Finally, Lord, I pray that you will protect me from the evil one so that Satan has no power over me or influence upon my life. Lord, I depend upon you for your divine protection for me and my loved ones. Father, I  acknowledge my sinfulness and weaknesses, but I pray with all my heart, soul, mind, and spirit that you will hear and answer this prayer which I make in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

For this prayer to be effective, it must be prayed with diligence, with fervor, and with all perseverance. It is not a “once and done” prayer, but a repetitive prayer. It will be most effective for those who most diligently seek after God. Pray it every day!

 

THURSDAY, February 18, 2016

READING: Hebrews 12:1-15

MEDITATION: In order for us to win the battle of holiness in our lives, we need a good strategy. We need to have specific battle plans to succeed. Below are some specific action plans we can implement. 

 

  1. Yield to God’s power – Ask the Holy Spirit for power and strength. Therefore submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).
  2. Every day commit yourself to put the flesh to death.  Likewise count yourselves also to be truly dead to sin, but alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lust (Romans 6:11-12). 
  3. Decide to pursue holiness every day. Pray: “Today, I offer my day to you, Lord – I want to consecrate it to you, and I want to be holy, and I will be holy today. Today I will make a covenant with my own eyes before you Lord” (see Job 31:1).
  4. Guard your hearts always, be aware when temptations come, where your weak points are – and flee. "But you, O man of God, flee these things and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and meekness" (1 Timothy 6:11). If the salmon stops swimming, it will be carried back by the current – if you let your guard down, you will fall. 
  5. Be conscious of your thoughts: submit them to Christ. Do not sugar-coat or justify sin. Call sin a sin and do not make excuses for yourself. Count yourself dead to sin. Say to yourself: “I do not do those things anymore – I am dead to those things.” We take every thought captive so that it is obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
  6. Live a life with accountability now – live in the light! Make commitments and be accountable to one another for those commitments; we can help each other – not judge, but help. "You yourselves used to be in the darkness, but since you have become the Lord's people, you are in the light. So you must live like people who belong to the light..." (Ephesians 5:8-11). One day, everything that we do in darkness will be brought to light; God will expose all our hidden thoughts and actions. It is better to be accountable here now (where we can change) rather than when God judges us. There is nothing that can be hidden from God; everything in all creation is exposed and lies open before his eyes. And it is to him that we must all give an account of ourselves (Hebrews 4:13).
  7. Get rid of all our grudges, resentments and lack of forgiveness and live in freedom! All these are chains that bind us in prison and prevent us from growing in holiness. 
  8. Fill your mind with God’s word. As it says in Philippians 4:8: "Finally, my brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are right, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, and whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, think on these things."
    9. Guard your eyes always – especially with the media: "I have made an agreement with my eyes. Then how can I look with lust at a virgin?” (Job 31:1)
  9. Develop good holy habits – for new Christians, this will include habits of prayer, reading Scripture, and doing service. For older Christians, habits like simple living, generosity, dying to one’s self, simplicity, humility, and being Christ-like in all that you do are things for you to grow in.
  10. Review your day before you sleep (examination of conscience). How did the battle for holiness go today? Were there battles lost and is there anything you need to repent of? 
  11. Avoid situations and circumstances that are not healthy for purity. “Wax melts before fire.” One pitfall many Christians face daily is the area of media, especially use of the internet. While there are many good things the internet provides us, there are also many bad things available out there – where the flesh and the world can cause havoc in our lives. You need to live a life with accountability in the way you use the internet.
  12. Live in the present and not in the past – do not re-live the “sins of our youth.” Consider yourself dead to sin, including your past sins. "Avoid the passions of youth, and strive for righteousness, faith, love, and peace, together with those who with a pure heart call out to the Lord for help" (2 Timothy 2:22).
  13. Be patient – never give up; it is a battle for a lifetime. Like the salmon, keep pressing on.

Being actively involved in a Christian community is a great blessing to anyone who desires to follow God. The Christian community is an antidote, a counter-culture, the opposite of what the world offers us. If we compare ourselves to the salmon, it is a “counter-current” which makes our journey easier. Although church members are imperfect, the faith community largely gives us an alternative and a place where we can experience love, acceptance, care, and support as we strive for holiness. We are not alone – we are side by side with other brothers and sisters who dare to “swim against the current and swim side by side” with us. They are the people who can help us to live our lives with accountability, where we can receive guidance and practical help, not judgment or condemnation.

What are your strategies for attaining holiness? What have you done in the past six months to attain holiness? What's the level of your involvement in your faith community (church)? What place do you give to the Sacraments and the Word of God in your life? Do you frequently receive the Sacraments? If not, why not?

RESOLUTIONS:

  • Resolve to be more regular at the Sacraments, especially throughout the season of Lent
  • Draw up your strategy for attaining holiness
  • Become more involved in the life of your faith community

PRAYER: Use the prayer from Wednesday

 

FRIDAY, February 19, 2016

READING: 1 Peter 1:10-16

MEDITATION: An individual was counseling someone who had been battling with a particular area of sin. At one point in the conversation the person said, in some real anguish, “But surely God must know that I cannot change this!” In that brief sentence he revealed both the root of his problem and its ultimate solution. 

This man wanted God to be merciful to him, but it was clear that he thought God’s mercy would come in the form of an exception: "Yes, it is wrong to do this, but God will just have to excuse me for it, make an exception in my case, because I cannot change." 

Notably, he was not choosing the more radical solution which is all too popular today, that says: "No matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to conquer this area of sin. And a lot of other people are just like me. We are goodhearted, try to be decent, make efforts not to _____ (fill in the blank with your own favorite unconquerable sin), but cannot master this problem. Therefore, it must not really be wrong. Or at least, it isn’t wrong for me." 

While this man was not taking that fatal turn in the road, but he was, just the same, surrendering to sin. His surrender did not involve a complete redefinition of sin, but the surrender did give up a part of his life to the sin’s power. He realized that he did not have the strength to defeat this sin, so, in the place of obedience to God, he would offer his excuses (“I am too weak”). 

Haven’t we all found ourselves in this same position at least once in our life? Haven’t we all encountered the strength of sin in such a way that we finally cry out, “Surely God must know that I cannot change this?” Anyone who has sincerely decided to follow the Lord and live a life of righteousness has encountered the overpowering mastery of sin, and in that encounter discovered, as well, his or her own weakness. 

Well then, isn’t that a pretty good excuse? “The problem is not only with me, everyone else has failed, too. Let’s face it, even though we do our best, and on the whole live a pretty decent life, we are just going to have areas where we have to accept that we can’t avoid sin. In the place of complete obedience, God will have to accept some sin, for which we have a pretty good excuse.” 

While I was growing up, biographies of heroic and virtuous Christians were pretty popular, and I read my share. Those people were amazing. I admired them greatly, but the flickers of holy zeal to be just like them were quickly snuffed out by my almost daily failures. I admired those people, but I could not be like them because I thought I just wasn’t like them. Somehow, they managed to get born, or raised, or something, without the weakness I had. 

Whether because of the way they were written, or because of my own ignorance, I drew the wrong lesson from those books. I assumed these people were spiritually invincible, but I realized now that all of those people were just like me in their weakness. Some of them had perhaps greater weaknesses than I. But they understood an important principle - the principle of grace. 

Surely God does understand our weaknesses. But God gives grace to change what we cannot change – if we are willing to ask, if we are willing to maintain the ongoing battle against sin, despite all the humiliating defeats. Ten or fifteen or thirty years of continuous, unsuccessful struggle against sin may seem to us to be a record of failure – the complete opposite of a life of holiness. But if we persist in the struggle, if we refuse to make excuses for our sin and, instead, repent each time and ask God for grace, then God in his mercy will make us holy. 

The holiness we seek does not consist of human perfection or strength of will. It is a gift of God, a share of his own nature, a union with him that only he can produce. It is as far above and beyond our best efforts to obey and live righteously as the heavens are above the earth. Nothing that we can do and no effort that we can make is sufficient to produce true holiness. Only God can do that. 

 “Surely God must know that I cannot change this!” Yes, God knows it, and he knows that in this you are no different than every other person, yet he has called us nonetheless to holiness. We do not have to offer God excuses for not being holy. We need simply to continually turn to him in humble and trustful repentance, and let him, through his grace, clothe us in his own holiness. 

How are you doing, realistically, in the fight against sin? Are you genuinely striving for holiness or have you resorted to offering excuses for the inability to overcome sin? If holiness were a school, how would you grade yourself - what grade would you be in? When was the last time you prayed and asked God for the grace to be holy?

RESOLUTIONS:

  • Desire to be clothed in holiness because, that is our one true vocation
  • Begin today to pray for the grace to be holy as your heavenly father is holy

PRAYER: Use the prayer from Wednesday

 

SATURDAY, February 20, 2016

READING: 2 Peter 3:11-18

MEDITATION: The life of holiness is one of downward growth all the time. When Peter writes, "Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18), and when Paul speaks of growing into Christ (Ephesians 4:15) and rejoices that the Thessalonians' faith is growing (2 Thessalonians 1:3), what they have in view is a progress into personal smallness that allows the greatness of Christ's grace to appear. The sign of this sort of progress is that they increasingly feel and say that in themselves they are nothing and God in Christ has become everything for their ongoing life.

 

Christians are called to a life of habitual repentance, as a discipline integral to healthy holy living. Repentance is the drainage routine on the highway of holiness on which God calls us all to travel. It is the way we get beyond what has proved to be dirt, rubbish, and stagnant floodwater in our lives. This routine is a vital need, for where real repentance fails, real spiritual advance ceases, and real spiritual growth stops short. 

In speaking of habitual repentance, I do not mean to imply that repentance can ever become automatic and mechanical, as our table manners and our driving habits are. It cannot. Every act of repentance is a separate act and a distinct moral effort, perhaps a major and costly one. Repenting is never a pleasure. Always, in more senses than one, it is a pain, and will continue so as long as life lasts. Habitual repentance is the forming and retaining of a conscious habit of repenting as often as we need to–though that, of course, means every day of our lives. It is the wisdom of churches that use liturgies to provide prayers of penitence for use at all services. Such prayers are always words in season. In our private devotions, daily penitential prayer will always be needed too. 

Little is said these days about the discipline of regular repentance. Yet it is a basic lesson that has to be learned in Christ's school of holiness. The theme is a vital one for spiritual health.

What does it mean to repent? The term is a personal and relational one. It signifies going back on what one was doing before, and renouncing the misbehavior by which one's life or one's relationship was being harmed. In the Bible, repentance is a theological term, pointing to an abandonment of those courses of action in which one defied God by embracing what he dislikes and forbids. The Hebrew word for repenting signifies turning, or returning. The corresponding Greek word carries the sense of changing one's mind so that one changes one's ways too. Repentance means altering one's habits of thought, one's attitudes, outlook, policy, direction, and behavior, just as fully as is needed to get one's life out of the wrong shape and into the right one. Repentance is in truth a spiritual revolution.  

Are there areas of your life where you need to repent continually, maybe even daily? The Middle Ages drew a useful distinction between attrition and contrition (regret for sin prompted by fear for oneself and by love for God respectively; the latter leading to true repentance while the former fails to do so). What do you genuinely feel - just attrition, or true contrition? Do you accompany repentance with a sincere desire to avoid the near occasion of sin?

RESOLUTIONS:

  • Identify areas of repentance in your life that you need to work on during this season of Lent
  • Decide to ask God for forgiveness and power to change
  • Demonstrate, whether by testimony and confession or by changed behavior or by both together, that you've left that particular sin behind

PRAYER: Pray with Psalm 51 and the prayer from the previous day.

 

© November 2015 by The Sacred Heart Lancaster Roman Catholic Diocesan Trustees Registered No. 234331

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