Lent starts this Wednesday. And a popular question this time of year is, “What are you giving up for Lent? But a better question is, “What do you need to give up for Lent?” The best question is, “What do you need to give up for Lent to grow in holiness? Following the commandments of God is not a game to see how little we need to do. Rather, it is a path to God, so we know that we have been found.
Who do you say that I am? Jesus poses this question in today’s gospel. What answer do we give? And what are the implications for the answer we give? What is interesting to me is that while the question is posed in the gospel, it is answered in the first reading from James. It is important for us to believe that the presence of God resides in everyone, even those people we cast aside as not important. So, thinking of how it is that you treat people, what answer do you give to Jesus? What does believing in him, believing him to be the second person of the Blessed Trinity mean in terms of how you act?
We can find ourselves blaming God for many things. We can watch a loved one suffer with cancer, and despite our prayers, die. We can have a difficult situation, and despite our prayers have it not turn out so well. We can have a broken relationship, and despite our prayers, find it remains broken. Sometimes we blame God for these things, but in fact, God calls us to something better than we can see here. The gospel today challenges us to remember that God is the abundant giver of new life.
Delores Umbridge, the misguided rule maker in Harry Potter was quite the character. She embodied a person who lived for rules and believed the rules would be a guaranteed pathway to security. But ultimately, her inability to see the reason for the rules caused her to create so many they became so heavy they no…
Sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking there is something fundamentally different about those who become saints. While on some level there is, since they have fully accepted God’s grace, on another level saints are ordinary people who did extraordinary things. Today we celebrate Blessed James Miller, a Christian Brother whose decision to stay to serve the children in his care cost him his life. He simply was open to God’s grace. Can we be too?
There are two important traditions going on in today’s gospel. The first is the long standing tradition of the most important commandments: love God and love neighbor. But at the same time there are traditions that arose after the Torah. And Jesus is pointing out the primacy of the tradition he mentions: loving God and neighbor. No, it is not right to shield money for the Temple at the expense of caring for your parents. The law and faith in God is not firstly for external observance — it is for internal conversion.
I love french fries, especially when the come from a fast food restaurant. And despite the fact they are usually salted a lot, I put more salt on them. But I know others can not have a lot of salt, and salt can be harmful to the heart. So how can we make sense of Jesus’ use and encouragement that we are to be salt for the earth? Just what does he mean? And what are we supposed to do to be the salt of the earth?
Take nothing for the journey but a walking stick –no food, no sack, no money. This really scares me. I want to bring things. I do not want my complete trust to be in God, as much as I say I do. I want a Plan B. (and a Plan C, and maybe even a Plan D). But then I try to imagine what God, in his goodness and mercy, can do with me. God can do far more with me than I could ever do for myself. Summon the courage today to follow God, trusting only in him.
Imagine a shepherd becoming king. Or one who works in finances as a Spanish teacher. Or a high school student speaking about faith in front of the whole school. Or an extraordinary basketball player becoming a very faithful Catholic. Each one of us is loved by God beyond all imagining. Each one of us is called to do amazing and outstanding things. And each one of us is challenged to allow God to use us to reach out to others and tell them the good news.
There is an often quoted statement from Saint Thomas Aquinas, who we celebrate today. Aquinas is really the most gifted theologian in the history of the Church. But toward the end of his life, he was saying that all he had written was just so much straw. Some take this to mean he did not value or appreciate what he wrote. However, truth be told, he was comparing what he wrote with his mystical experience of God and compared to this mystical experience of God, what he had written, his attempts to clarify, seemed like so much straw. What we are reminded of today is what Aquinas knew so well; there is nothing better than our relationship with God.