40 DAYS JOURNEY WITH JESUS

Reflections by Fr. Manoling Thomas, CSsR

Insights from the “Scripture In Church” periodicals, and Krempa’s Daily Homilies, vol. 3, are combined with the personal reflections of this writer

ASH  WEDNESDAY   2021   [Joel 2: 12-18 / 2 Cor. 5: 20-6: 2 / Mt. 6: 1-6, 16-18]

This day ushers in, the beginning of the Season of Lent in our Catholic Liturgical Calendar. “Lent” comes from an old English word for “spring” one of the four seasons in colder countries. For those of us living in the tropics, we may not appreciate much the noticeable change or transition from “winter to spring”. We can then focus on the practice in the early church before the “infant baptism”. Those preparing for baptism on the Easter vigil, begin their “instructions or catechesis on the faith” today. They were called the “catechumens”.

How about us, who are already adult, baptized Christian Catholics? How can we creatively envision the Season of Lent? We can liken it to Jesus inviting us to embark on a 40-day journey or pilgrimage with him! We will be with other disciples of Jesus, whom he has also invited! Our destination: Jerusalem. Expected day of arrival: on Palm Sunday, the start of the “holiest week of the year” [Holy Week].

What possible activities we can engage in during these “40 days”?

1)  With the help of the Holy Spirit, to discern what “repair work” has to be done in a specific area of our life. Will it entail a repair, or a remodeling, or a cleansing and healing? Discus this matter with Jesus! 

2)   Select a good book that is simple, readable, and will be helpful for the purpose of your journey with Jesus.

It will be helpful if during this journey, you will find a fellow Christian also in the journey, with whom you can prayerfully and freely share your realizations. Encourage and help each other as you journey with Jesus!

The Holy Spirit may suggest to you other nourishing and fruitful ways to do this 40 days journey! Be open to the Holy Sprit!

If you have decided to accept Jesus’ invitation, then step forward to receive the ashes. This will indicate your willingness to join the 40 days pilgrimage! Although you are doing this with other disciples of the Lord, this journey is “a walk on a very personal road” from where you are at present to where Jesus invites you to go!

If this invitation is late in reaching you, you can still catch up!

2nd Day   [Thursday after Ash Wednesday]   Dt. 30: 15-20

We are presented with a choice: life or death, God or idols. Who is God in your life based on your experience? What are the idols that dominate your life? The direction of your life at present indicates the choice you have made.

3rd Day   [Friday after Ash Wednesday]   Is. 58: 1-9

Isaiah describes a “fasting” that had gone wrong. Instead of deepening the life of the Spirit in us, it has choked it off. It is like putting together 200 smokers who have started to give up smoking for two weeks. Disaster is likely to happen!

Isaiah points out that the purpose of “fasting” is not only “self-control that liberates the spirit, but the deep awareness of the human need that surrounds us”! Let us make sure that the kind of Lenten practice we have chosen will help us learn more about ourselves, about others, and about God.

4th Day   [Saturday after Ash Wednesday]   Is. 58: 9-14

Isaiah reminds us that no spiritual or ritual exercise during Lent can really tie us closer to God, if we are “torn apart” from our fellow human beings! In the “repair work or healing” we want to focus in during this Lent, is there an area we find hard to work on? Why not bring this concern to Jesus, our Companion on this journey? After all, is he not the “son of the carpenter from Nazareth, and the divine Healer?  

5th Day   [1st Sunday of Lent B]

Please refer to the Sunday homily. (https://adoseofgodtoday.com/2021/02/19/the-desert-wild-beasts-angels/)

February 22  Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, the Apostle, the 6th Day[1 Pt. 5:1-4 / Mt. 16: 13-19] (https://adoseofgodtoday.com/2021/02/21/veneration-of-the-chair-of-peter/)

February 23  Tuesday of the 1st Week of Lent, the 7th Day  [Is. 55: 10-11]

The 1st Reading stresses God’s providential care. In the celebration of the Eucharist, we are nourished by the Word of God [Liturgy of the Word] and the Bread of the Eucharist [Liturgy of the Eucharist]. These serve as our nourishment on the road in our faith journey.

Just as the life-giving power of water enables every living creature to realize its potentials, so too does the word of God for those who openly listen and welcome it in their hearts! Their life becomes fruitful!

When we are receptive to God’s word, we are transformed. This word of God is able to produce the fruits it was sent for!

During our journey with Jesus, let us pray for the grace that we will give our full cooperation with God so that we will not only be fruitful but others too will be fruitful through us!  

February 24  Wednesday of the 1st Week of Lent, the 8th Day  [Jonah 3: 1-10]

When the inhabitants of the city [from the king to the lowest citizen of the land] repented of their ways, God “changed” his original plan! If you read on, in this chapter, Jonah complains about God’s change of plans! The point of the Book of Jonah is to contrast our human pettiness with God’s generousity, mercy, and forgiveness!

Change took place because the people’s “fasting” was a genuine expression of their repentance of their sins; and of their deep desire to restore their relationship with God! Let us pray for the grace that our “fasting” especially during this “40 days” will not be mere empty gestures but indeed a genuine and sincere expression of our repentance and desire to strengthen our relationship with God!

February 25 Thursday of the 1st Week of Lent, the 9th Day [Esther C{4} 12, 14-16, 23-25]

If you have a Bible, I recommend that during this “40 Days” you try to read the whole Book of Esther. It is found in the Old Testament, located usually next to the “Book of Judith”. This will help you understand and appreciate better the excerpt we have for our 1st Reading.

The Book of Esther is intended as “a consolation to Israel” It again reminds the reader that God is always watching over, God’s people!

Through prayer and action, Queen Esther averted the disaster intended by those who plotted the elimination of the Israelites. The heartfelt prayer of Queen Esther expresses what so many of us experience in times of great distress. We turn to God because we have no other helper!

Esther recalls the love of God revealed in the history of Israel, God’s people! During this 40 days journey with Jesus, let us ask for the grace that the Holy Spirit will help us recall, the concrete situations in the history of our nation; and in our own personal life wherein we see God at work! 

Recalling these concrete events can lead us to a deeper trust and greater confidence when we pray to God, especially on those difficult moments in life!

February 26  Friday of the 1st Week of Lent, the 10th Day – Ezekiel 18: 21-28

God has a soft spot for sinners who change their ways and return to God. In the 1st Reading, God appears to be less tolerant with those who know what is right but still freely decides to do what is wrong!

Ezekiel’s message reminds us of what we had on the 2nd Day of our journey. On that “2nd Day” from the Reading in Dt. 30: 15-20, Moses warns his listeners of the consequences of the choices they make!

Ezekiel intends his message to be that of hope! No one is beyond salvation, because no one is beyond the point of encountering and experiencing God’s loving mercy, and forgiveness! After all, with the Lord, there is forgiveness, and the fullness of redemption! God is giving all of us, all the chances “to turn around” our lives, so as to reflect the holiness desired by God for each one of us!

This “40 Days journey with Jesus” aims at leading us to a genuine inner conversion, which will lead us to the fullness of life [Jn. 10:10], through the fullness of forgiveness! Let us ask for this grace from Jesus, our Companion in this journey!

February 27  Saturday of the 1st Week of Lent, the 11th Day -Dt. 26: 16-19

The context of this reminder by Moses was the formal and sacred covenant [agreement] between God and Israel! In their history and experience, God’s fidelity is beyond question! But that was not the case with Israel! God was consistent but not Israel!

Fidelity is both a gift and a task! Our rising to this challenge is also a gift! During this journey with Jesus, let us ask him today for the grace to live as faithful daughters and sons of God, and disciples of Jesus, God’s Only Begotten Son!

From your experience, what is God’s track record in the area of fidelity to you? How about your track record in this same area?

February 28   2nd Sunday of Lent  B  [kindly refer to the Sunday homily]

13TH DAY, March 1  Monday in the 2nd Week of LentDaniel 9: 4-10

Daniel prayed on behalf of the exiled people. Because they were in a foreign land, the Temple was no longer accessible for them. For them the presence of the Temple was an assurance that God dwells with them. In his prayer, Daniel admits that their miserable situation is an outcome of their infidelity [disloyalty] to God, who remains faithful to their covenant! God is a God of integrity!

In varying degrees, we too do not consistently obey God’s word. Often we have departed from our baptismal promises! This reading invites us to look again critically within ourselves and our lives, rather than at the behavior of others.

14TH DAY, March 2  Tuesday in the 2nd Week of Lent -Isaiah  1: 10, 16-20

Many still equate prophets with “foreseer of doom, and a dark, gloomy future”. So they are called: “prophets of doom”, “doomsayers” and so on. Prophets are sometimes accused of being “suppliers” of the angry and threatening message from an angry, despotic and capricious God: “Do this or else…”! No doubt, God has laid down the law, but he is merciful and willing and open to talk things over with offenders.

In today’s 1st Reading, Isaiah invites rulers and people to listen to God’s word. He warns the Kingdom of Judah. Although its people were more conservative unlike the north, but their social fabric was tearing apart! The way of life according to the Covenant: fairness and justice in dealing with each other, and helping each other had disappeared as a national practice. Isaiah compares Judah to Sodom and Gomorrah where people lived in individualistic greed! Isaiah warns Judah that unless they redress these evils of injustice, and social inequalities, the nation would become “weak” and be easily a “victim” of a strong aggressor! Isaiah lamented that Judah had lost the “soul” of its religion. They now merely go through the motion of performing empty religious practices!

What are the challenges to one’s faith, for Christians living in materially rich and prosperous environment?

In our 40 days journey with Jesus, we are invited to reflect, refocus, and reset our “spiritual compass”[Mk. 1: 15]! Lent is not an endurance test but is growth experience in life and relationship: “learn to do good, search for justice”! Look around your surroundings. Who is oppressed or abandoned or alone? To who of them is the Lord sending you to reach out to?   

15TH DAY, March 3  Wednesday in the 2nd Week of Lent -Jeremiah 18: 18-20

Jeremiah, another southern prophet, spoke towards the end of the political life of Judah [that is before the Exile]. His message was almost synonymous with “doom and gloom”. He spoke against king, clergy, sexual abuses, and hypocritical Temple worship—thereby successfully alienating all major sectors of Judah’s establishment. He naturally experienced opposition!

In the 1st Reading, his enemies are plotting to eliminate him. The temple priests, the local wise men or commentators and paid prophets gather together. We have Jeremiah’s prayer in which he asks God whether it is just that a man who has only obeyed God’s command should be so treacherously repaid? The unwillingness of the people to listen and the hatred they displayed toward him were the suffering he bore. Legend has it that he was exiled to Egypt where he was put to death.

The early Church saw him as a model of Christ. Jesus was rejected and his enemies plotted his death! Jeremiah in his prayer pleaded with God for his adversaries. Jesus on the cross asked for forgiveness for those who do not know what they are doing. [Lk. 23: 34].

In this 40 Days Journey with Jesus, let us ask for the grace to see our own mixed attitudes. Remember that when God unveils the darkness in our lives, it is to lead us to reconciliation and healing in the light and power of Easter! Let us pray Ps. 30: 6: “Into your hands, I commend my spirit. It is you who will redeem me, Lord.”

16TH DAY, March 4  Thursday in the 2nd Week of Lent -Jeremiah. 17: 5-10

As we continue our journey with Jesus, he invites us to honestly ask ourselves: Where do I really place my trust? In today’s 1st Reading, Judah is already on the edge of a natural disaster. Jeremiah desperately reminds the king and his royal court not to place their basic trust in establishing alliances with other kingdoms. Neither should Judah rely on the word and promise of foreign officials. First and foremost Judah’s trust should be anchored on their covenant with the Lord! In Jeremiah’s time people were looking at every place, except at trying to model their lives on the precepts of the Covenant! They replaced their bonding with the Lord, with tricky and passing political alliances! Judah’s disregard for the Covenant was like now a spiritual leukemia eating away at the very life-blood of the nation!

Jeremiah highlights the choice put before each of us: to trust only in the goods of this created world; OR to hope in the Lord, Who is Creator and Provider of all good? Where do you turn for your inner security, peace, and forgiveness? Human heart can be devious. Despite our best intentions, self-interest would always immediately come first! Only God can give us a “new heart and new spirit”, cleanse our inner most intentions and being; changing our hardened and stony hearts with hearts of flesh. [Ez. 34:5]. Putting extra time to personally talk with Jesus regularly is one way we can put our hearts right! Remember what Ps. 39: 5 says: “Blessed are they who place their trust in the Lord!”

17TH DAY, March 5  Friday in the 2nd Week of Lent-Genesis 37: 3-4, 12-13, 17-28

Back in your grade school days, surely you must have read the story of Joseph, the Dreamer! I can understand and will not fully blame Joseph’s older brothers, if they developed anger and jealousy against him leading to their plan to murder him. We may feel that we do not have the same murderous intentions portrayed in the story. But there might have some elements of insecurity or jealousy in our relationship with God. Do I feel that God loves others more than me? If we ever entertain such a question sometimes, let us talk to Jesus about this and ask him to make us realize that God deeply and intensely loves each one of us, and is irrevocably and faithfully committed to that love! Only, that God loves each one of us differently, according to the kind and way of love that we really need!  

In the context of Lent however, the 1st Reading aims at presenting how the early church saw Joseph as a symbol of Christ! Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and sold as a slave. Jesus was betrayed by his own people, by his trusted disciple, and sold to the religious authorities! But the tragic fate of Joseph providentially saved the “12 tribes of Israel” from a possible extinction because of the famine that Palestine experienced. Jesus’ rejection, betrayal, and violent suffering and death led to the glorious Easter! Jesus’ resurrection brought about the defeat of sin, and evil. The risen Lord saved us from eternal death, and gifted us with everlasting life! What looked like defeat on Mount Calvary, turned out to be God’s victory of the 1st Easter morn!   

18TH DAY, March 6  Saturday in the 2nd Week of Lent -Micah 7: 14-15, 18-29

We are introduced to another prophet from the southern Kingdom of Judah. Micah gives us a “resume” [summary] of God’s track-record in the way God cared for the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. He recalls the deliverance of the Hebrews from the slavery in Egypt, and God’s endless willingness to forgive God’s chosen people, to wash them clean; and to give them a chance for a fresh and new start! All these concrete evidences of God’s love for us, we often accept only in theory! We have difficulty in recognizing them as facts! God forgives our sins forever! Unlike us humans, when God forgives, God carries no grudges, and does not bring our infidelities back to our face! Our scrupulosity and sense of guilt that linger on after we had been forgiven actually reflect our unwillingness to forgive ourselves and to accept God’s forgiveness! We prefer to portray God as vengeful and quick to exact a price for every sin we have committed!  But it is only a firm belief in God’s overflowing mercy to us that will free us from this trap and vicious circle!

In today’s Reading, we find a prayer that the God, who delights in showing us mercy, will shepherd and pasture us; and will drown all our sins. [Read also Ps. 102: 3-4].

19TH DAY, March 7  3RD SUNDAY OF LENT  B   *pls. refer to the Sunday Homilies

20TH DAY, March 8    Monday in the 3rd Week of Lent                             *[2 Kgs. 5:1-15]

Naaman was a powerful pagan commander of the Syrian army under the king of Aram. Through Naaman, the Lord brought victory to Aram. The king had a high regard and respect for Naaman. But in the midst of all these honors, Naaman had one problem: he was infected with leprosy! [understood in the biblical sense. For more information regarding this, please refer to my homily on the 6TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME B.]  Jews believed that leprosy was the physical manifestation of the “sins of the soul”. Lepers were considered to be cursed and punished by God.

A slave girl belonging to another race and religion was instrumental in leading Naaman to Elisha, the successor of Elijah. When finally the two met, the latter prescribed that Naaman bathe in the Jordan River! Naaman was angered, felt insulted and humiliated with this simple remedy. He considered that river, inferior by Syrian standards! With the pleading of his servants, he eventually gave in! Here behold: his leprous flesh was transformed into a clean flesh, like that of a little child! The story shows us the balancing of powers, the breaking of barriers between faiths, social status and races.

The early church in instructing candidates for baptism [catechumens] use this Reading to encourage the catechumens, to take the simple steps to follow Jesus closely!

Points of the story:

  • 1) God is discovered in unexpected places.
  • 2) It is the power of God that affected the cure. Obedience to the word of God caused the transformation.
  • 3) Through the Sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation [Confession], God brings about the cleansing and forgiveness of sins, transforming the person into a “new being”!

21ST DAY, March 9     Tuesday in the 3rd Week of Lent                 *[Daniel 3:25, 34-43]

This prayer of Azariah, one of the three young men, sentenced to be thrown into a fiery furnace [Dn. 3: 19-25, 91-97]. It is a powerful yet tender prayer coming from a “broken heart”; expressing the situation of the exiles. All the structures they relied on for support were gone. They had “no leader, priest, prince or prophet”. They were far now from the Temple, God’s dwelling place; symbol of “God-with-them” which was also desecrated! Initially, this prayer sounded like an expression of “being abandoned by God”. But as the prayer progresses, it leads to a sense of hope that in their “darkest hour”, God is still with them! At this point in their history, this is the only kind of prayer they could offer: that God will accept their repentance and sorrow. But it turned out to be the best prayer they could possibly offer to God! In your “darkest hour”, what is your prayer like?

22ND DAY, March 10   Wednesday in the 3rd Week of Lent                *[Deuteronomy. 4: 1, 5-9]

This Reading goes back to the time when in the early church, the “40 days of Lent” was used as the time to prepare the catechumens for their baptism during the Easter Vigil Celebration. This 3rd week was devoted to the instructions on the Commandments and the Law. The Torah Law was considered by the Jews as the most complete and precise expression of God’s will. They revered that Law and enshrined it in a special place of honor in their synagogue. A law, any law for that matter, puts the conscience and the aspirations of the people into words. The Torah Law puts into words, throughout Israel’s history, the vision God has, of what His people should be! Therefore the Law should never be trivialized nor easily discarded! How then are the people assured, that God is close to them? By their observance of the Torah! Therefore the Torah is not just a law to be followed, but a guide, to their way of life!

Moses encouraged them to share this insight to the next generation so that “the written wisdom of the past may light the pathway to a promised future.” How about us, the present generation of Christian-Catholics? How much do we share to the next generation our rich Christian-Catholic heritage? In what ways are we doing that?

The Book of Deuteronomy is divided into 5 Discourses of Moses before his death. Our Reading is from the end of the 1st Discourse, wherein Moses encourages the people to listen to his teaching and to put this into practice, because these are based on his understanding of what God, Who is so intimately close to them, has commanded! Moses tells them to recall all they had seen as God was taking them out of oppression in Egypt. Now God invites them “to walk in freedom” as they are about to enter the land of promise!

Reflection:

How do you regard the Law of God? What is it that God wishes you to do in your life so as to be able “to walk in freedom” befitting daughters and sons of God? In striving to follow and be guided by the Law of God, do you experience God’s nearness to you? In what ways?

23RD DAY, March 11   Thursday in the 3rd Week of Lent              *[Jeremiah 7: 23-28]

In yesterday’s Reading, we heard about the value of the Torah Law. Today’s Reading, through Jeremiah, God declares that His people never really listened to nor obey the Torah Law! They not only “turned away their faces” from it, but actually “turned their backs” against it! Again and again, in their journey with God, they often rebelled against God’s Law! They knew God’s will but chose not to follow it! Jeremiah draws our attention to the history of infidelity of Israel despite knowing that they were God’s chosen people; and were granted the privilege of a “covenanted relationship” with God. Jeremiah confronted them of this even though he knew that they would still refuse to listen!

To say that we humans are “rational animals” is not exactly accurate because experience tells and shows us that we do not always follow the dictates of our human reason. Studies tell us that smoking is harmful to human health, but people still smoke! We read signs like: Very busy road! Many have died crossing here! But people still take the risk and cross that section of the road just the same! You see people lining up to wait for their turn to be served, but how many try to “jump the line” just to get served ahead of the rest!

Lent is not just about acquiring more information regarding the Christian moral life! It is more about learning the art of self-control and disciplining our human desires! Let us ask Jesus, our Companion in this journey, for the grace to give God the freedom to transform us and to tame our inordinate desires!  

24TH DAY, March 12   Friday in the 3rd Week of Lent       *[Hosea 14: 2-10 ]

Hosea was a prophet of the northern kingdom, the people of which were more willing, compared to the people of Judah, to assimilate pagan practices! Because of their practice of syncretism [=the attempt to unify, combine, include different ideas or thoughts or beliefs with one’s own], they were easily taken over and exiled by the Assyrians ahead of the people of Judah who were later exiled to Babylon.

Our Reading is towards the end of the Book, wherein, Israel [northern kingdom] is portrayed as being invited to return to God! Words of repentance have been provided for Israel to lead them to reconciliation with God. This scene reminds us of the Parable of the Prodigal Son [Lk. 15: 11-32]. The son prepared what he was going to tell his father upon his return. But before he could finish his prepared speech, the father ordered the servants to prepare a grand celebration in honor of this son who had returned!

Looking ahead, past the Assyrian take over, Hosea looks forward to a time of healing wherein the people would return to God, with “renewed minds and hearts”! Hosea looks forward to this “renewed people”, worshipping “with their whole heart, soul and mind”. This was something that Israel had never did, and in fact powerless to do!

Hosea’s message reflected his own experience of a complicated marital relationship with his faithless [unfaithful] wife. He was a man intensely in love with her despite her infidelity! In his experience he saw a symbol of God’s passionate and compassionate love for Israel, despite the latter’s infidelity and widespread injustice. Despite all these, God still promises a heartfelt love and a renewal of fruitfulness. This attitude of God simply reveals a God of mercy and compassion! The “dew” [v. 5a] symbolizes the living strength of God, Who makes Israel flower and bloom! The “forests of Lebanon” [v.5b] represents the deep rootedness, vitality, and majesty that she will enjoy because of God!

Are there some similarities with your experience of how God loves you, despite your many infidelities?

25TH DAY, March 13   Saturday in the 3rd Week of Lent       *[Hosea 6: 1-6]  

A passing and temporary piety does not bring along an abiding spiritual fulfillment! This message of Hosea is both for the northern [Ephraim] and the southern [Judah] kingdoms! When the security structures we built collapse, the emptiness of the false joy of sin and false piety are exposed! These superficial, shallow, and shaky realities are easily “blown away” and quickly evaporate like the “morning dew” at the rising of the morning sun! [Take note of the difference in meaning, of the symbolism of the “dew” here; compared to meaning it had in yesterday’s Reading.] Here, the “dew” [v. 6] represents the superficiality of Israel’s piety which was revealed with the collapse of the structures they relied on! When everything we had anchored our hope and security in, are gone, are we prepared to humbly accept that ultimate security is really on the Lord alone?

After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up that we may live before him.” [6:2]. This is one of the prophetic statements fulfilled on that first Easter morning! Prior to the resurrection of Jesus, this text originally meant that within a short time, God would restore His people, on their return to God, as they search for healing! And God’s response would make them realize their past infidelity; and clarify to them that what really matters now, is the “faithful love” for each other, more than the “burnt offerings” that Israel brings! This is expressed in Psalm 51:1! God desires more their love, and knowledge of Him, more than their “burnt offerings”! In the Gospels, this would also be quoted! E.g. Mk. 12: 33.

Our recognition of our ultimate need for God is a prerequisite for the restoration of a lasting peace and true prayer! Hosea insists on the need for a steadfast love and commitment to God!

26TH DAY, March 14   4TH SUNDAY OF LENT  B         *pls. refer to the Sunday Homilies

27TH DAY,  March 15    Monday in the 4th Week of Lent      *[Isaiah 65: 17-21]    

The “Isaiah” referred to here is not the “original Isaiah”, who proclaimed the fall of Israel and of Judah as a punishment for the nation’s infidelity [Is. 6: 1-13]. The author of this section of Isaiah could have been one of his disciples. Let us call him Isaiah III, who was most likely with the exiles in Babylon. The exile period was coming to an end with the collapse of Babylon! Isaiah III is writing about the future. He talks about “the creation of new heavens and a new earth” referring to the future order of things after the exile! It is a sort of a “2nd Genesis” wherein the life span of infants will be longer and infant mortality will be reduced. The old people will be able to live the fullness of their allotted days!  [We must keep in mind that at this point in their history; “life after death” was not yet a common belief!]

Things would better than what they had experienced before the exile! While not forgetting what God had done in the past:  e.g. the call of Moses, who was to lead the Hebrew slaves in their Exodus; the golden age of David’s reign and other events; they must however focus now on the great future that awaits them! The Lord promises them “the total renewal of the earth and the re-creation of Jerusalem”. That will be the time of hope! We Christians believe that the coming of Jesus Christ inaugurated “a brand new way” to start a new creation. For us, what will be the “new creation” like, “post pandemic COVID 19”? Reflection: For those “exiled” from their spiritual home, God will create “a new heaven and a new earth”; and Jerusalem will become “a joy and the people’s gladness”. When we indeed return to the Lord, and open up ourselves to this renewal of our whole being, joy will also replace our sadness! In the context of our Lenten journey, we look forward for renewal in the Church, “the heavenly Jerusalem”; through the increasing numbers of converts getting ready for their baptism during the Easter Vigil Celebration! Lent therefore is not just about “turning back the clock to the good old days”! Lent is about paying a closer attention at how God is using our past to lead us to a deeper experience of God Himself! God’s great acts did not only happen in the past! God is actively involved with us, in our present life! What are the things that God is active in at present? Where are these actions of God leading us to? God continues to be with us in this pandemic time! How?   

28TH DAY,  March 16     Tuesday in the 4th Week of Lent     *[Ezekiel 47: 1=9, 12]  

This strange vision is found at the end of the Book of Ezekiel. The Reading  describes a stream of “water flowing out from beneath the threshold of the temple”. From just “a small trickle”, it became “a gigantic torrent” becoming a mighty river which restores nature, and waters the trees, enabling these to bear fruits for eating, and leaves for healing! Ezekiel initially was able to wade through its ankle deep level until waist-deep. But subsequently the river became too deep for a person to walk into. Ezekiel’s vision of the Temple serves to encourage the exiles in Babylon to a process of conversion. Have a change of heart so that you can return to Jerusalem and worship God there in a more fitting way! Reflection: As we prepare for the renewal of our Baptismal commitment, during the Easter Vigil Celebration, where do we locate yourself in the stream? Have you dipped only your toes in that life-giving water? Had your reached a point wherein you take your feet off the ground and allow yourself to be carried by God’s flow?  Read Psalm 45: 4. There is a river whose streams bring joy to God’s city; and sanctifies the dwelling of the Most High. This vision can also be applied to the following: 1) after the Exile, the restoration of the Temple would have a spiritual influence on the people; 2) the Church started small, and gradually it has grown into a great, international-cultural People of God. 3) It symbolizes the baptismal water which will be renewed during the Easter Vigil. The waters of Baptism give life to the Church and to its new members. 4) This small pouring of water becomes the source of the great company of saints throughout the world. 5) The image of the water flowing from the right side of the Temple recalls to us the water that flowed from the side of Christ [Jn. 19: 33-34]. 6) Our spiritual life started “in small things” that we do, like acts of charity. This can grow into heroic deeds for others!

29TH DAY,  March 17   Wednesday in the 4th Week of Lent     *[Isaiah 49: 8-15]    

This 1st Reading is from the “Isaiah III of Babylon in exile”. This Reading recalls the return of the Jews from exile. Even while still in exile, there were already “signs” of the coming end of the exile. The signals of the “chance to return home to Judah”, was already in the horizon! While in exile in Babylon, the people were asking: why this tragedy? When they looked back at the covenant forged between the Lord and David, it was suppose to be “an everlasting covenant” which they interpreted as “a political invincibility”! How come that God seemed to have abandoned them? It is against this background that Isaiah III offers a vision not “of old Davidic days” but of a “new future”! Isaiah looks forward to a spiritual and universal kingdom. Therefore the period of their exile was a time of transition! Isaiah tells them that God has not yet finished with Judah at the end of David’s reign! In fact, it was “just the start of the new things God is doing”. Their journey through the desert gave them a chance to experience God’s providential care. During the exile, many thought that God had abandoned them. Now, in this journey they realized that God never abandoned them nor even forgotten them! Reflection: How would you apply these insights to our present world-wide experience? Where is this COVID 19 pandemic leading us to? Are we getting God’s message and learning from this phenomenon? If we are, then we are offered by God, a brighter and more fruitful future!   

30TH DAY,  March 18   Thursday in the 4th Week of Lent        *[Exodus 32: 7-14]  

With the prolonged stay on Mt. Sinai, the people below must have grown tired [and even bored] waiting for Moses to come down! They needed someone or something they could tangibly communicate and relate with! This then could be one of the reasons for the “Golden Calf” incident! Before Moses went up the mountain, he entrusted them to his brother, Aaron! But the latter instead of preventing their “shocking evil deed”, was co-opted to tolerate and even support the making of the controversial “Golden Calf” idol! The Golden Calf incident was a critical moment in the Exodus Story. Idolatry is a rebellion against God! This story portrays God like that of “a rejected lover, who in anger was intent on retribution”! [This is usually how we imagine God, indeed a flawed image of God!]. They seemed to have a “short memory” forgetting altogether that it was the Lord who liberated them from slavery in Egypt! But take note also of the depth of relationship between God and Moses in their conversation! God told Moses of His plan to eliminate this people, and replace them instead with “a great nation”, that Moses can lead on to the Promised Land! But Moses pleaded with the Lord for Israel, pointing out to God what the Egyptians would say about “this God” who took them out of Egypt! God would look foolish in the eyes of the Egyptians and could even be ridiculed and laughed at, if God does not complete the grand liberation by bringing this stubborn people to the place God promised them! Moses was able to “calm God’s anger”! God changed his mind! Reflections: 1) Do you sometimes also have “a short memory” of God’s fidelity, mercy, goodness; and love for you? 2) How have our prayers for others, affected them? But remember that the people we pray for must also respond to the grace and help God will be giving them! They always remain free to accept or reject God’s help. Read prayerfully Psalm 106: 4-5.    

31ST DAY,  March 19  Solemnity of  St. Joseph, Spouse of the BVM        *[Mt. 1: 16, 18-21, 24 ]  

In the Catholic Liturgical Calendar, St. Joseph has two feast days: 1) March 19 as Spouse of the Virgin Mary, and Foster-father of Jesus; and 2) May 1st as the Worker. Joseph is considered the 2nd greatest saint, next to Mother Mary, because of his humility, and closeness to Jesus, for whom he stood as foster-father [Lk. 3:23]. Through marriage to Mary, Jesus can now trace his descent from the house of David [Mt. 1:1]. Through Joseph, Jesus became the fulfillment of the promises made by God to David and his descendants. Limiting ourselves to today’s Gospel, Joseph is described as a “righteous” person. The word “righteous” in the Bible is so rich in meaning. In today’s Gospel, Joseph’s “righteousness” can be seen in his traits. [I will limit the enumeration of these traits to what we read in today’s Gospel.] When Joseph found out that Mary, who was already betrothed to him, was pregnant, he did not simply close his eyes tolerating a “violation of the Law”! Joseph acknowledged that according to the Law, he had to divorce her! But Joseph planned to do it as quietly as possible. Joseph was truthful and authentic! He had the courage to face and accept the truth even though it must have been painful, embarrassing, and unpalatable! By trying to find a way “to do it quietly” he showed his being compassionate, not wanting to destroy another person even though she might have been guilty! And when he learned “in a dream” through an angel of God, that the child has no human father, he assumed the responsibility to take care of the child Jesus, and Mary; the Child’s mother, and his own wife! He did this so well that in their small town of Nazareth all thought of Jesus as “Joseph, the carpenter’s son”! If Mary expressed her “fiat” to the Lord through the Archangel Gabriel, Joseph too declared his “yes’ to God [no verbal words expressed in the gospels] after hearing from an angel of the Lord, the explanation regarding Mary’s pregnancy and the destiny of the child in her womb [Mt. 1: 18-25]. Joseph too believed God’s word and put it into practice, qualifying him as a real disciple of Jesus! [Bible Dairy 2018]. Is Joseph one of your heavenly heroes?

32ND DAY,  March 13   Saturday in the 4th Week of Lent       *[Jeremiah 11: 18-20]

Again we are witnessing the depth of the personal relationship between God, and Jeremiah! Jeremiah was faced with a plot by his enemies to get rid of him, because they did not like what he was saying and doing! Jeremiah expressed to God, his powerlessness to escape their mighty net and trap laid before him! Jeremiah prayed for divine intervention and vindication! Jeremiah put his trust in the Lord, like a sheep that is being led to be slaughtered! He trusts that the Lord will act justly and let him see God’s vengeance on the plotters. Ps. 7:1. Jeremiah’s way of praying for rescue is frequently found in the Old Testament! He prayed for a chance to witness God’s vengeance on the wicked plans of his enemies! Reflection: Jeremiah’s prayer of lamentation reflected his fear that his prophetic mission led his to this! Jesus too lamented for the City of Jerusalem in Mt. 23: 39, predicting the horrible destruction awaiting that city for their rejection of Jesus and his message! Have you witnessed “victims” of injustice and wickedness of the powerful? In their helplessness, have they in the end, been vindicated by God? Have you witnessed the courage, and firm determination to remain faithful to God and the mission given them despite of everything else? Have you had any experience similar to people like Jeremiah? Has God vindicated you? How?

33RD DAY,  March 21   5TH  SUNDAY OF LENT  B            *pls. refer to the Sunday Homilies

34TH DAY,  March 22    Monday in the 5th Week of Lent      *[Daniel 13: 1-9,15-17,19-30, 33-62]    

This story, which was written several generations before Christ, shows God’s justice at work. Susanna was falsely accused by the two deceitful judges, whose minds were not to render true judgment but to satisfy their own lustful desires! Daniel was instrumental in saving Susanna. It is a story of “good vs. evil” “justice vs. injustice”! The deeper message however of the story is that God’s justice and fair dealing among people does not simply happen! It is accomplished through people who work to bring about fairness, especially those, who for various reasons end up victims of injustice! Daniel used his God-given intelligence to intervene and to allow himself to be God’s instrument of God’s justice; just as the two judges allowed their wicked lust to make them instruments of injustice and falsehood! As disciples of Jesus, we are invited to work for God’s justice; and to become God’s instruments in rendering justice for all! God vindicates the righteous by granting a wise spirit even to young people who can see beneath the deceit of their elders!

The “trial scene” foretells Jesus’ trial, wherein Jesus, “the just one”, like the victimized woman is falsely accused! Why is injustice still prevalent in our own society and in the world today? Is it because, unlike young Daniel, many good people are hesitant or afraid to speak up and to allow themselves to be God’s instruments of justice? Let us continue to work for the reform of our justice system and to pray for those entrusted with the responsibility of rendering justice for everyone!

35TH DAY,  March 23     Tuesday in the 5th Week of Lent       *[Numbers 21: 4-9]  

The story of the Bronze Serpent is related to the Gospel today [Jn. 8: 21-30]. In the debate between Jesus and the Jewish leaders [interrupted by the account of the woman caught in adultery, Jn. 8: 1-11], the latter were unable to grasp the identity of Jesus. Jesus told them that only when they have “lifted the Son of Man”, that they will recognize him for who he is: “the agent of God’s salvation”! [The other texts on the “lifting up of the Son of Man” are Jn. 3:14 and 12: 34]. John, deliberately made “lift up” [verb] ambiguous. [For additional information regarding this topic, please refer to my 5th Sunday of Lent B homily.]

The bronze serpent incident in the Book of Numbers, tells us how the people were healed by looking toward the symbol of the poisonous serpents that infested them. It is God’s power, and not the simple looking, that really brought about healing! [The 1st part of my homily on the 4th Sunday of Lent B has more information regarding this incident.]

The “healing serpent” that God commanded Moses to fashion, recalls to us the serpent used in ancient Near Eastern rites, as symbolic protectors of the people!

Lifting up” in John’s Gospel is a symbolic reference to the “lifting up” of Jesus on the cross. It is John’s equivalent to the passion predictions in the Synoptic Gospels. The bronze serpent raised on a standard becomes a paradoxical figure of salvation, and healing. What are the instrumental objects that God is using to bring about God’s powerful healing and salvation in your life? 

36TH DAY,  March 24   Wednesday in the 5th Week of Lent            *[Daniel 3: 14-20, 91-92, 95]    

Our 1st Reading is the edited version of the longer story [Daniel 3:1-97] of these three young Jewish civil servants. [If you are interested to know how these three ended in the royal court, please read Daniel 1:1ff]. In Hebrew, their names are: Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael. Their Babylonian names are: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

King Nebuchadnezzar was a vicious conqueror! Before he blinded the Jewish King Hezekiah, he had his son killed before his eyes so that it would be the last thing that Hezekiah would ever see. Nebuchadnezzar built a 90 foot idol [Dn. 3:1ff] and expected everyone to worship it when the band played the proper song. When the tune was played out, everyone knelt down except those three Jewish young men. As a punishment, the King had these three thrown into a superheated furnace. Inside the furnace they were seen protected by “an angel of God”. This converted Nebuchadnezzar who issued a new order that those who would not worship the God of Judah will be “torn limb from limb” [Dn. 3: 96].  Indeed there are plenty of extraordinary stories of conversion. But conversion happens only gradually. Actually this story tells more about the later years of the Maccabean period rather than about the exile period. The universal point of the story is that God freed the three because of their fidelity to and faith in the Lord!   

37TH DAY,  March 25  [Thursday] The Annunciation of the Lord     *[Lk. 1: 26-38]  

There are two major cycles in our Catholic Liturgical Calendar: a) the Easter, which is the 1st and the oldest. This includes the Lenten Season and the weeks of the Easter Season; b) the Christmas, which includes the Advent Season and the weeks of the Christmas Season. The Easter cycle ends with Pentecost Sunday, while the Christmas cycle ends with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord!

Today’s feast of the “announcement of the Lord” begins the “conception of Jesus”, exactly nine months to Christmas Day! With this feast taking place within Lent, is an unusual intersection of the two major cycles. At Christmas we have the Bethlehem, the angels, the shepherds, the Magi, Simeon and Anna; all talking about the future and the great destiny of this baby! In Lent, the baby has now become a man! At the Annunciation, if Mary was 19, on Good Friday, she must have been past 50!

The celebration of Christmas only makes sense in the light of Easter! Today’s feast reminds us that the great events of the “Sacred Paschal Triduum” in Holy Week had its simple beginnings with the simple “Yes” to the Lord of a young girl! So too, do our great achievements in the spiritual life can be traced back to a moment of prayer, or a simple words of promise between two people at the altar. From these simple moments can come a life of total commitment to the Lord, or to a lifelong marriage, and a Christian family!

Books are written about heroic deeds and lives of saints. Their great achievements must have started with simple events of prayer, participation in the Eucharist, and a faithful doing of simple good works! Indeed our simple good deeds are full of God’s redeeming and saving power!

With the simple “Yes” of Mary to the angel sent by God, the long-awaited Messiah was able to come, and join us in our human history. By his life with us, Jesus was able to accomplish God’s work of redemption and renewal of creation!

God did not tell Mary about the sufferings and disappointments she would experience.  But in saying “Yes” to God, she put her total trust in God’s care! When you said “Yes” to God, were you made aware of what you’ll go through in your life? How deep is your trust in God’s care for you? Let continue to pray for the strength and perseverance in honoring our “Yes” to God as Mary did.  [sources: Krempa and J.J. Sabatowich]

38TH DAY,  March 26   Friday in the 5TH Week of Lent                   *[Jeremiah 20: 10-13]  

Jeremiah’s commentary on the political state of the nation made him highly unpopular and his prediction of the coming terror only earned him mockery! Even his former friends were waiting for his downfall. But as he laments his condition, he continued to entrust his life to the Lord. What started as a lamentation ended up as a song of praise! [Jer. 20: 14].

The 1st Reading and today’s Gospel [Jn. 10: 31-42] are 700 years apart, but they are very closely linked. Both Jeremiah and Jesus said and did things that “disturbed the status quo” as we have seen in last Saturday’s 1st Reading [4th Week of Lent]. Jeremiah did not only “disturb the status quo” but also said unpopular things that the powerful elite went after him, wanting to get rid of him! He “rocked the stable theological belief” regarding the popular Davidic dynasty! He challenged the people’s interpretation that God’s covenant with David was “an invisible protective shield.” How dare of Jeremiah to warn both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, of the impending disaster [referring to captivity and exile]? Jeremiah corrected their wrong understanding of the Covenant between God and David. “God would protect the people if they followed the rules of covenant living.” In the political chaos that Judah was immersed in, Jeremiah saw the judgment of God! God is involved not only in the spiritual but even in the secular or worldly affairs that we are experiencing! Our God is a God who has “entered” our human history and is very much involved with us! Jeremiah insisted that in our covenant with God, there should be a mutual responsibility. God is consistent in honoring God’s promise to us! But are we also consistent in honoring ours? What is the present worldwide pandemic saying to all of us?

39TH DAY,  March 27   Saturday in the 5th Week of Lent         *[Ezekiel 37: 21-28]

The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel may be divided into four sections. After the Introduction [chapters 1-3] where Ezekiel received his mission from God, he foretells Israel’s restoration to their own land, under the leadership of a new king! The old division between the kingdoms of Israel and Judah will be no more. A restored Davidic monarchy will “shepherd” [referring to a kingly rule] them! A restoration, a new temple, and a new covenant [“I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”] will be ratified!

The four sections are: 1)  Chapters 4-24. Ezekiel’s reproaches and threats to the Israelites before the siege of Jerusalem. 2)  Chapters 25-32. The proclamation against the nations, especially those nations which influenced the Israelites, and urged them on towards faithlessness [infidelity] to God! 3) Chapters 33-39. Offer of comfort for the Israelites during and after the siege of Jerusalem; with the promise of a brighter future. 4)  Chapters 40-48. About the provisions for the political and religious constitutions of the future community, once it is re-established in Palestine. [This is the return from the Exile and the re-building of Palestine.]

Our 1st Reading comes from the ending part of the 3rd section. It speaks of the coming restoration and the kingship of David. We Christians interpret this as “the reign of Christ”. But Ezekiel could only articulate his vision [prophetic insight] in the categories and language within the range of his experience. He speaks of a) David as the new, faithful and enduring Prince of the people. For us Christian, the “new King David” is Jesus Christ.  b) the great sanctuary, restored and rebuilt, which will last forever, does not refer to any building but to “the great Emmanuel”!  c) the covenant that will endure forever, for us Christians, is the risen humanity of Jesus, which has forever bonded humankind with God through the Holy Spirit. In our interpretation, Ezekiel [with the limitations of his experience, culture and time of the Old Testament] is really describing what happened on that Easter Sunday! How much do we appreciate the Easter event?

40TH DAY,  March 28    PALM  SUNDAY  B     *please refer to the Sunday Homilies

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