Third Sunday of Lent (March 24, 2019)

Today’s parable of the barren fig tree can make us very uncomfortable.

What is Jesus telling us?

God expects something from you; so get busy doing it? God certainly desires that we bear fruit. But it’s important that we remember that fruit comes not so much from what we do but from what God does through us.

Jesus uses the fruit tree for a purpose. Think about how fruit comes about. The roots of the tree receive nutrients from the earth, and the leaves receive energy from the sun. The tree produces flowers that are pollinated by wind and insects -- all outside sources – and fruit is the result.

The main work the tree has to “do” is remain receptive to everything that God provides for it. In the same way, God makes us fruitful through his presence in us. God wants to fill our talents and abilities with his power

so that we can bear fruit for the kingdom.

In today’s first reading, Moses is attracted to the burning bush not because it’s on fire, but because the fire wasn’t destroying the bush. In the same way, as God dwells in us and shows his life through us, we will burn with the brightness of the Lord. Our natural personalities and gifts won’t be destroyed. They will have a new power to draw other people to the Lord who lives in us.

God’s great desire is to live in us so that we can be fruitful. God wants us to do the works of Jesus today so that God’s kingdom becomes more evident in today’s world. Lent is a time to let God nourish his fire within us through prayer, reading Scripture, and serving our brothers and sisters. When we allow Jesus to live in us more fully, our lives become more and more fruitful because Jesus is living and loving through us.

Let us continue to seek our Lenten nourishment from our God. Let us ask him to bear the fruit that he has destined for us.

Second Sunday of Lent (March 17, 2019)

As we continue our Lenten journey, we hear the encouraging words which Francis de Sales wrote to us at the beginning of the Directory, quoting St. Paul:

“My brothers (and sisters), whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord.”

Like Abraham before us, the Lord has made a covenant with us – a covenant sealed with the blood of his only begotten Son Jesus. Like Peter, James and John, we have heard the voice of the Father: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

Each day, we come here to Eucharist to listen as Jesus speaks to us in the Scriptures and feeds us with his body, given up for us, and his blood, poured out for us. And today, we have prayed that the Father of light will restore our sight

that we may look upon Jesus who calls us to repentance and a change of heart.

All of this is part of the “plentitude of our God” that we have been encouraged to reflect upon – and for good reason. When we allow ourselves to be immersed in God’s over-whelming love, we will understand more clearly our need for repentance and a change of heart.

As we are embraced by God’s love, the love of Jesus impels us to become more like him in everything we say and do. When we allow ourselves to dwell in the heart of Jesus more completely, we understand more clearly the importance of our responding to one another with greater patience and understanding, with greater gentleness and forgiveness. We are better able to look at others with the eyes of Jesus. We will appreciate more fully that Jesus sees our faults and failings as reason for his compassionate love. And that can help us change our hearts in responding to the faults and failings of our brothers and sisters.

As our Lenten journey continues, let us be encouraged by Francis and Paul. As we stand firm in the Lord, may the love of Jesus, the beloved Son, grace our efforts to change our hearts.

First Sunday of Lent (March 10, 2019)

Isn’t it good to be reminded again that Jesus was tempted by Satan?

The Scriptures tell us: Jesus is like us in all things, but sin. We can be tempted to say: “Of course, he didn’t sin; Jesus is God.” But that thinking denies the truth that the Scriptures take such care to present to us: Jesus is Son of Man, as well as Son of God. Jesus’ temptations remind us that Jesus is human like us. They also help us to understand how Jesus dealt with temptation. That gives us a model for our own experiences of Satan.

As we take time to reflect on today’s Gospel account, it becomes obvious that Jesus learned to keep his attention focused on his Father’s love for him. His great desire was to respond to that love by doing his Father’s will.

After his long fast in the desert, Jesus is hungry. Satan encourages him to use his power – change stones into bread. Jesus responds: “bread is temporarily filling, but there’s more to my life than eating.” Doesn’t Satan present us with the same temptation at times? Something we need would make us feel good right now. Jesus is reminding us to ask a question: is there more to my life than this need? Is this immediate desire calling me to be more dependent on God’s loving care for me?

Then Satan tempts Jesus with power and glory if he’s willing to compromise his Father as God. Jesus responds: “I have one desire in life -- to serve my Father’s love.” Often enough Satan presents us with opportunities for some kind of power and glory if we’re willing to compromise our values. Jesus reminds us to look into the eyes of God when we’re trying to make decisions in our daily living.

Finally, Satan tempts Jesus to test God’s care for him. And Jesus tells Satan: “My Father’s word is enough.” How easy it is for us to try and control God’s care for us: “If you’ll just give me this sign, I’ll know you’re looking out for me.” Jesus tells us: trust in God’s providence for you; God doesn’t lie.

As we continue our Lenten journey, preparing ourselves to celebrate the great events of our salvation, we could benefit greatly by some prayerful reflection on Jesus’ responses to Satan’s temptings.

Jesus shows us where we can find the source of strength we need when we are tempted: our God’s abiding presence and care for us.

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (March 3, 2019)

“From the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks…”

Today’s selections from the Book of Sirach and Luke’s Gospel suggest a powerful standard by which we can judge the heart and mind of another person: the subject and manner about which one speaks.

Pretty obvious, isn’t it? Negative people tend to speak negatively. Jealous people speak resentfully. Judgmental people speak suspiciously. Their conversations tend to weigh others down.

By contrast, positive people speak positively. Happy people speak graciously. Energized people speak enthusiastically. Their conversations tend to lift others up.

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, conversation seems to be expressions of the heart.

Francis de Sales writes in his Introduction to the Devout Life: “Just as physicians learn about a person’s health or sickness by looking at the tongue, so our words are a true indication of the state of our souls.” (Part III, Chapter 26) This diagnosis has several aspects.

First: how do we speak of God? “If you are truly in love with God you should often speak of God in familiar conversation with others…just as bees extract with their mouths nothing but honey, so your tongue should always be sweetened with its God…always with attention and reverence.” (Ibid)

Second: how do we speak of others? “Be careful never to let an indecent word leave your lips, for even if you do not speak with an evil intention those who hear it may take it a different way.” When one’s heart is filled with evil or rancor or intrigue, their tongues are no longer like the sweet ones of the bees but become “like a lot of wasps gathered together to feed on corruption.” (Part III, Chapter 27)

Third: how balanced is our conversation? “It seems to me that we should avoid two extremes,” observes Francis de Sales. “To be too reserved and to refuse to take part in conversation looks like lack of confidence in the others or some kind of disdain. On the other hand, to be always babbling or joking without giving others time or chance to speak when they wish is a mark of shallowness and levity.” (Part III, Chapter 30)

What do the content and tone of our words tell others about our hearts?