Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute, and when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed. Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.” Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven. But he knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons. If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people drive them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe. But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him, he takes away the armor on which he relied and distributes the spoils. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: The question this passage from the gospel poses to us is, how is the kingdom present? We are told in Ephesians that there is but one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. We are, through our baptisms, mystically united to one another and not just we the living: we also are connected to every other baptized person who has ever lived. The divisions that disunite the body of Christ are real, but they are a distraction and a plague, because at the root of it all, we are members of the mystical body of Christ. The kingdom of God is present in and through all of us as we are related to one another.
Saint of the day: St. Stephen of Mar Saba was born in about 725. At the age of 10, Stephen came to the Palestinian monastery of Saint Sabas (Mar Saba), where for the next 14 years he received his spiritual and intellectual formation from his uncle, the Church Father Saint John of Damascus. Stephen became a monk and was ordained to the priesthood. Once, while celebrating the eastern rite of the Eucharist, as Stephen elevated the Eucharist and recited the words, “Holy things to the holy,” the monastic cell in which he was celebrating the liturgy was filled with a brilliant light that emanated from the celebrant himself. From that occasion onward, he received the mystical favor that whatever intention he prayed for during the Eucharistic liturgy was granted. He obtained permission to live as a hermit, combining this vocation of solitude with an active apostolate of praying for the needs of others. He had a special love for animals, feeding out of his hand doves, starlings, and deer. His compassion for the lowly black worms that crawled through his hermitage prompted him to gather them into a spot where they would be safe from being trampled upon. Despite his calling to prayer and quiet, Stephen displayed uncanny skills with people and was a valued spiritual guide.
His biographer and disciple wrote about Stephen: “Whatever help, spiritual or material, he was asked to give, he gave. He received and honored all with the same kindness. He possessed nothing and lacked nothing. In total poverty he possessed all things.”
Stephen died in 794.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: The evangelist Matthew wrote his gospel for Jews who had come to believe that Jesus was the messiah. These Jewish believers were anxious that what they were doing was not a rejection of Judaism. This passage from the Sermon on the Mount seeks to reassure these early Jewish believers in Jesus that what they were doing was not a replacement but an upgrade of their earlier practice. In this passage, Jesus tells us that he came to reveal the deepest spirit of the law, and it is in obedience to the spirit of the law that we shall find our way into the presence of God. Its presence in our Lenten renewal is a reminder that our Christian life is ever to deepen into the bedrock of our existence as we recommit ourselves to our baptismal promises.
Saint of the day: Maria Restituta was born on May 1, 1894 in Husovice, Austria-Hungary (present-day Czech Republic). She grew up to become a nun and a nurse. Her birth name was Helen Kafka. She was a shoemaker’s daughter.
When she was two years old, she came with her family to Vienna, then the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s capital, and home to a Czech migrant community, among whom she grew up. She first worked as an assistant caregiver at the Lainz public hospital. At 19, she joined the “Hartmann Sisters.” It was at this time that she adopted the name Maria Restituta, naming herself after Restituta, a 4th-century Christian martyr. After the First World War, she began working as a nurse at the Mödling hospital, eventually becoming the leading surgical nurse.
Even the Mödling hospital was not spared the effects of Anschluss in 1938. Sister Restituta, however, insisted on refusing to take down crucifixes which she had hung up in a new wing that had been built onto the hospital. This little act of defiance along with two of her writings that were critical of the regime led to her doom. She was denounced by a doctor who fanatically supported the Nazis and was arrested on Ash Wednesday in 1942 by the Gestapo right after coming out of the operating theater. On October 29, 1942 she was sentenced to death by the guillotine by the Volksgerichtshof for “favoring the enemy and conspiracy to commit high treason.” She was beheaded on March 30, 1943 at 48-years-old.
Spiritual reading: Only in love can I find You, my God. In love the gates of my soul spring open, allowing me to breath a new air of freedom and forget my own petty self. In love my whole being streams forth out of the rigid confines of narrowness and anxious self-assertion, which make me a prisoner of my own poverty and emptiness. In love all the powers of my soul flow out toward You, wanting never more to return, but to lose themselves completely in You, since by Your love You are the inmost center of my heart, closer to me than I am to myself. (Encounters with Silence by Karl Rahner)
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: Jesus in today’s gospel calls on us to be limitless in our forgiveness, and he ties God’s forgiveness of us to our forgiveness of one another. We fail often and repeatedly in our lives, and over and over again, we turn to God begging God’s forgiveness. If we who are so dependent on God’s forgiveness can ask over and over again that God not heed our transgressions, can we do less for each other, no matter how hard it may be to bend our heart to each other in our injury and hurt? The gospel is not for the feint of heart. It tells us that though we sin big, we must love just as strongly. It is a continual cycle of renewal that moves between God, ourselves, and the people in our lives.
Saint of the day: Born in 1814 near Naples, Arcangelo Palmentieri was a cabinet-maker before entering the Friars Minor in 1832, taking the name Ludovico. After his ordination five years later, he taught chemistry, physics and mathematics to younger members of his province for several years.
In 1847 he had a mystical experience which he later described as a cleansing. After that he dedicated his life to the poor and the infirm, establishing a dispensary for the poor, two schools for African children, an institute for the children of nobility, as well as an institution for orphans, the deaf and the speechless, and other institutes for the blind, elderly and for travelers. In addition to an infirmary for friars of his province, he began charitable institutes in Naples, Florence and Assisi. He once said, “Christ’s love has wounded my heart.” This love prompted him to great acts of charity.
To help continue these works of mercy, in 1859 he established the Gray Brothers, a religious community composed of men who formerly belonged to the Secular Franciscan Order. Three years later he founded the Gray Sisters of St. Elizabeth for the same purpose. Toward the beginning of his final, nine-year illness, Ludovico wrote a spiritual testament which described faith as “light in the darkness, help in sickness, blessing in tribulations, paradise in the crucifixion and life amid death.” The local work for his beatification began within five months of Ludovico’s death in 1885. Ludovico of Casoria was beatified in 1993.
Spiritual reading: Under the cross I have understood the destiny of God’s people; I believe that those who understand that all this is the cross of Christ ought to take it up themselves in the name of all the others. (Edith Stein)
Jesus said to the people in the synagogue at Nazareth: “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.
Reflection on the gospel reading: Jesus’ life is a challenge. It confronts us in our own presuppositions about our existence. When we listen honestly to the gospel, it should make us uncomfortable, because Jesus is neither meek nor mild. The Lord is stiff in his opinions and inflammatory in his language. No one in the gospels accuses this man of being a bore. In fact, over and over again in the gospels, just as we see in today’s reading, the ones who hear the Lord’s message not just challenge what he says but actually rise up to do him injury. If when we listen to the gospels, we do not feel uneasy, it is quite possible we’re not paying attention.
Saint of the day: Tutilo was born in Ireland in about 850. A large, powerfully built man, he was educated at Saint Gall’s monastery in Switzerland where he stayed to become a Benedictine monk. A renaissance man before the term was coined, Tutilo was an excellent student who became a sought after teacher at the abbey school. A noted speaker, poet, and hymnist, nearly all of his work unfortunately has been lost. An architect, painter, sculptor, metal worker, and mechanic, some of his art continues to grace galleries and monasteries around Europe. A composer and musician, he played several instruments, including the harp. No matter his talents or works, he preferred the solitude and prayers of his beloved monastery. He died about 915 at Saint Gall’s monastery, Switzerland.
Spiritual reading: Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously. And assuredly, the angel who guards you will honor your patience. (St. John of the Ladder)
Gospel reading of the day:
Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” —For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.— Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her,
“I am he, the one speaking with you.”
At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?”
They went out of the town and came to him. Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.”
So the disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. The reaper is already receiving payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”
Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I have done.” When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: Today is the third Sunday in Lent, and because we’re in Year A of the three year cycle of Scripture readings for Sunday, we have the story of how Jesus met a Samaritan woman at the well. Samaritans were considered enemies by the Jewish people of Jesus’ time, women were considered wholly subordinate to men, and people who expressed their sexuality in diverse relationships were considered unfit for social company, so in the story, we see how Jesus understood that everyone is a chosen person of God. Everyone is created to see, love, and follow God: everyone is created with a deep spiritual hunger and thirst that only God can satisfy. Amazed that Jesus ignored the division between them but also being a feisty and independent woman she challenged him. Their conversation led him to make the only direct revelation he gives of himself in the gospels.
Consider the context of this revelation. At the root of Jesus’ disclosure that he is the messiah is the living water that Jesus promises the Samaritan woman: it is the Holy Spirit who fills us and makes us one with God. The request that Jesus makes of the Samaritan woman, “Give me a drink,” expresses the passion of God for every man and woman. God wishes to awaken in our hearts the desire for a spring of water within us that wells up to the wholeness of life. This is the gift of the Holy Spirit who transforms us into worshipers who are able to pray to the Father in spirit and truth. Only this water, the gift of the Spirit, can quench our thirst, not by removing our desire for God’s presence but by continually satisfying it.
Spiritual reading: The terrible thing about our time is precisely the ease with which theories can be put into practice. The more perfect, the more idealistic the theories, the more dreadful is their realization. We are at last beginning to rediscover what perhaps men knew better in very ancient times, in primitive times before utopias were thought of: that liberty is bound up with imperfection, and that limitations, imperfections, errors are not only unavoidable but also salutary. The best is not the ideal. Where what is theoretically best is imposed on everyone as the norm, then there is no longer any room even to be good. The best, imposed as a norm, becomes evil. (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton)
Gospel reading of the day:
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them Jesus addressed this parable. “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.'” So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.'”
Reflection on the gospel reading: The Parable of the Prodigal Son appears but once in the four gospels, here, in the Gospel of Luke, sometimes called by scripture scholars, the gospel of compassion. The parable is a clear reply to the criticism of the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus was mixing and eating with sinners. They simply did not understand the mind of God as revealed in Jesus’ behavior, but we can ask ourselves, “How well do we understand the mind of God revealed in Jesus’ behavior?” The two clear lessons from this gospel for today are these:
1. We can be absolutely certain of God’s mercy and forgiveness provided we turn back to God in true sorrow.
2. We need to have the same attitude of compassion with people who offend us. We must be ready to forgive and reconcile to those whom we have injured. We cannot refuse to love someone that God loves.
There are three people in this story, and we can identify with all of them:
1. The son who went far from his Father and followed his own way until it brought the son to complete ruin.
2. The son who thought he was good and faithful but, deep down, did not possess anything of his Father’s mind. He kept the commandments and all the rules, but he could not understand his brother’s weakness and felt no compassion for him.
3. The Father whose love never changes no matter what his children do and is ready to accept them back every time without exception.
Which of these three most represents me? Which one would I want to be like? Many say they identify most with the elder son, which, of course, is the point of the story. They are the real sinners, who shut their hearts against God’s compassionate love.
Saint of the day: Born in 1556 as Margaret Middleton at York, England, Margaret Clitherow was the daughter of Thomas and Jane Middleton, a candle maker and the Sheriff of York for two years. Raised Anglican, she married John Clitherow, a wealthy butcher and chamberlain of the city of York, in July 1571. She converted to Catholicism around 1574.
She was imprisoned several times for her conversion, sheltering priests (including her husband’s brother), and permitting the celebration of clandestine Masses on her property. During her trial in Tyburn in March 1586, she refused to answer any of the charges for fear of incriminating her servants and children; both her sons became priests, and her daughter became a nun. She was pressed to death on Good Friday, March 25, 1586 at York, England. She is one of the Forty English Martyrs.
Spiritural reading: I did not lead a life. I worked, wrote, taught, tried to do my duty and earn my living.
I tried in this ordinary way to serve God – that’s it. (Karl Rahner, S.J. on his life)
Gospel reading of the day:
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Reflection on the gospel reading: I often have reflected over the years that the Church might have done well to call this feast we celebrate today, “the Feast of the Incarnation,” and not that of the Annunciation. In a way, this feast is a greater occasion than Christmas and perhaps only second to the events of Holy Week and Easter. In fact, the feast we celebrate today makes Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter the mysteries that they are. The child would not have been born if he had not first been conceived. The infinite meaning of his suffering, death, and resurrection results from the fact that God threw God’s own life into God’s creation, that God, as the Greek in the Prologue of John so evocatively describes it, pitched his tent among us.
Faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation are two of the central tenants that define our Christian faith. It was at the Annunciation that the Incarnation began to become a reality. It was at this moment that “the Word was made flesh and lived among us.” Today should be a special day of praise and thanksgiving for all of us.
The Feast of the Annunciation: The annunciation to Mary by the angel Gabriel that she was to be the Mother of God (Luke, 1), the Word being made fiesh through the power of the Holy Spirit. The feast of the Annunciation, called also in old calendars the feast of the Incarnation, is celebrated 25 March. It probably originated about the time of the Council of Ephesus, c.431, and is first mentioned in the Sacramentary of Pope Gelasius (died 496). The Annunciation is represented in art by many masters, among them Fra Angelico, Hubert Van Eyck, Jan Van Eyck, Ghirlandajo, Holbein the Elder, Lippi, Pinturicchio, and Del Sarto.
Spiritual reading: The Word became flesh to communicate to us human beings caught in the mud, the pain, the fears and the brokenness of existence, the life, the joy, the communion, the ecstatic gift of love that is the source of all love and life and unity in our universe and that is the very life of God. (Jean Vanier)
Jesus said to the Pharisees: “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.
Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’ He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.'”
Reflection on the gospel: Jesus tells a parable about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. The rich man lives a life of comfort, and he ignores the sufferings of Lazarus. We know this because Jesus tells us that Lazarus would have eaten the scraps from the rich man’s table, a condition the passage makes clear was contrary to fact: Lazarus would have eaten the scraps, but he did not. When the poor man dies, he goes to Abraham’s bosom. But when the rich man dies, he goes to a place of suffering.
The rest of the passage is particularly telling about the attitudes that afflict the rich man. Even in death, even in a place of consequences for his lack of concern, the rich man treats Lazarus like he is servant. He cries out, “Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.” The rich man does not deign to speak to Lazarus but instead addresses his plea to Abraham, and even as he sees that Lazarus now enjoys the better part and the higher position, the rich man treats the poor one like he is a servant.
The gospel makes unambiguously clear that the poor have a privileged position in the eyes of God. We fail to show them mercy at our own peril. We treat them like our inferiors and show them no respect only with the most terrible consequences for ourselves. Our salvation, our claim to God’s mercy, directly ties to our concern for the poor. If I lack for compassion, I need to pray that God will give me a sense of compassion, for without it, I am lost.
Saint of the day: This day is the 31st anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.
The Eucharist commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus, the meal where Jesus instituted that breaking of the bread and that sharing of the cup that became the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox, the Communion of the Protestants, and the Mass of the Catholics. And it was at Mass, 30 years ago today on March 24, 1980, that an assassin murdered Oscar Romero at precisely that moment in the liturgy where the priest presented his gifts, the bread, the wine, and unexpectedly, himself, to God as he prepared to recite the Eucharistic Prayer.
An anxiety-ridden Oscar Romero grew from boyhood to be a man who served the Church as a quiet, studious, withdrawn, conservative priest. Of him his brother said, “My brother always turned inward, thought too much.” And one who observed the earlier period of his priesthood less charitably observed, “He was an insignificant being, a shadow that went by clinging to the walls.”
When the bishops of El Salvador recommended that this sober scholar, this apparent nebbish, this “pastor to his paperwork,” become a bishop, they had no expectation of the ferocious voice they would unleash against the crisis that engulfed El Salvador. Indeed, for years after that appointment, his fellow bishops heard nothing from their brother more threatening than the turning pages of his breviary.
In February 1977, Romero became the Archbishop of San Salvador. Shortly afterward, his friend, the first priest Romero had ordained, was murdered at the government’s hands, assassinated for his service of the poor. A crowd of 100,000 drew together in a square in shock and horror to mourn the death of Romero’s friend, the dead priest servant of the poor. To the crowd, Romero gave a vow.
Whoever touches one of my priests, is touching me. And they will have to deal with me!
A swelling wave of approval echoed in the applause that rolled through the crowd, and the magnitude of the injustice against his people fired Romero’s imagination. As one who was there observed, “Thousands of people were applauding him, and you could see him grow stronger. It was then that he crossed the threshold. He went through the door. Because, you know, there is baptism by water, and there is baptism by blood. But there is also baptism by the people.”
Oh! that lamb did start to roar.
This is the mission entrusted to the church, a hard mission: to uproot sins from history, to uproot sins from the political order, to uproot sins from the economy, to uproot sins wherever they are.
The shadow on the wall became Amos in the court of the king, a voice of radical unfettered self-forgetting concern for the lot of the least, the despised, the disdained, the rejected.
We must not seek the child Jesus in the pretty figures of our Christmas cribs. We must seek him among the undernourished children who have gone to bed at night with nothing to eat, among the poor newsboys who will sleep covered with newspapers in doorways.
That the government found his voice a taunt, a nuisance, and a scourge was not lost on Romero.
While it is clear that our Church has been the victim of persecution during the last three years, it is even more important to observe the reason for the persecution . . . The persecution comes about because of the Church’s defense of the poor, for assuming the destiny of the poor.
On March 23, 1980, Romero in a broadcast heard across the nation appealed to the men of El Salvador’s armed forces to mutiny:
Brothers, you came from our own people. You are killing your own brothers. Any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God, which says, “Thou shalt not kill.” No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you obeyed your consciences rather than sinful orders. The church cannot remain silent before such an abomination . . . . In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cry rises to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: stop the repression.
The next day, Oscar Romero was dead. A 1992 United Nations Commission that investigated his murder observed about that day 30 years ago today, “On Monday, 24 March 1980, the Archbishop of San Salvador, Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdamez, was celebrating mass in the Chapel of the Hospital de la Divina Providencia when he was killed by a professional assassin who fired a single .22 or .223 calibre bullet from a red, four door Volkswagen vehicle. The bullet hit its mark, causing the Archbishop’s death from severe bleeding.” Yet the bullet that killed Romero did not silence his voice.
I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.
His people to this day labor to recover from the horrors they endured. The sister of someone I know served recently as a Catholic lay worker in El Salvador. I spoke to this friend not long ago ago. She told me that her sister had observed Romero’s continuing presence among the people.
There is a certain mass grave the people were digging up to remove the massacred to proper places of burial. The horror in that mass grave unleashed an immense pathos; as an expression of their grief, the people painted a mural on a wall above the grave. At the center of that mural stands the image of Oscar Romero, his enormous arms reaching out, bending around, enfolding in an embrace the murdered of that grave, who lay these years anonymously in that place.
Spiritual reading: Only in heaven will we see how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them. (Mother Teresa)
Gospel reading of the day:
As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the Twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something. He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” They said to him, “We can.” He replied, “My chalice you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my left, this is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” When the ten heard this, they became indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus summoned them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches us that God values those who make themselves small in the eyes of the world. Our greatness doesn’t result from subjecting others but by raising them up. We are to keep in our eyes the example of he, who though greater than all of us, came not to be served by us but, instead, to serve us.
Saint of the day: Toribio Alfonso de Mogrovejo was bishop and defender of the rights of the native Indians in Peru, Born in Spain in 1538, he studied law and became a lawyer and then professor at Salamanca, receiving appointment-despite being a layman-as chief judge of the court of Inquisition at Granada under King Philip II of Spain. The king subsequently appointed him in 1580 to the post of archbishop of Lima, Peru. After receiving ordination and then consecration, he arrived in Peru in 1581 and soon demonstrated a deep zeal to reform the archdiocese and a determination to do all in his power to aid the poor and defend the rights of the Indians who were then suffering severely under Spanish occupation. He founded schools, churches, hospitals, and the first seminary in the New World. To assist his pastoral work among the Indians, he also mastered several Indian dialects. He died on May 23, 1606 at Santa, Peru of natural causes. He is the patron saint of native rights.
Spiritual reading: Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God whom we have to hear, and whom we have to trust and obey in life and in death. (Karl Barth)
Gospel reading of the day:
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: None among us is perfect, and all of us fail in some way or other. Jesus in today’s gospel reflects on some of the brokenness he observed in the human condition. For instance, there are among us people who are powerful and lay down rules that they enforce on people who are less powerful; even so, these same powerful people do not follow the rules they want others to follow: that is, they are hypocrites. There are people who make great shows about why they are special, but their outward signs of respectability do not match their interior realities: that is, they are inauthentic. There are people who want to occupy privileged places of honor and be held in special esteem: that is, they are haughty. Our Lord disliked all of it: phoniness, guile, conceit. Instead, he called us to humility: a willingness to be counted as of little consequence, a deep honesty about all that is good and bad about ourselves, and a sense of right proportion about our place among the hosts of people who surround us and of whom God is especially fond.
Saint of the day: Nicholas, familiarly known as “Little John,” was small in stature but big in the esteem of his fellow Jesuits.
Born at Oxford, this humble artisan saved the lives of many priests and laypersons in England during the penal times (1559-1829), when a series of statutes punished Catholics for the practice of their faith. Over a period of about 20 years he used his skills to build secret hiding places for priests throughout the country. His work, which he did completely by himself as both architect and builder, was so good that time and time again priests in hiding were undetected by raiding parties. He was a genius at finding, and creating, places of safety: subterranean passages, small spaces between walls, impenetrable recesses. At one point he was even able to mastermind the escape of two Jesuits from the Tower of London. Whenever Nicholas set out to design such hiding places, he began by receiving the Holy Eucharist, and he would turn to God in prayer throughout the long, dangerous construction process.
After many years at his unusual task, he entered the Society of Jesus and served as a lay brother, although—for very good reasons—his connection with the Jesuits was kept secret.
After a number of narrow escapes, he himself was finally caught in 1594. Despite protracted torture, he refused to disclose the names of other Catholics. After being released following the payment of a ransom, “Little John” went back to his work. He was arrested again in 1606. This time he was subjected to horrible tortures, suffering an agonizing death. The jailers tried suggesting that he had confessed and committed suicide, but his heroism and sufferings soon were widely known.
He was canonized in 1970 as one of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales.
Spiritual reading: Do not forget that the value and interest of life is not so much to do conspicuous things…as to do ordinary things with the perception of their enormous value. (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)