Friday after Ash Wednesday


A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn (Psalm 51).

Jesus was a disciple. As a boy, and later as a young man, he learned from Scripture and from the rabbis. When he got separated from his parents in Jerusalem, “they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening... asking them questions.” 1

How did his heart resonate to these words from Isaiah 58: 1-9?


This the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice...to let the oppressed go free.... to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house....


Was he thinking of this when he announced his mission to the people he grew up with in Nazareth:


The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.


Jesus came with good news. It was light and life.


Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly... the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am.”


Jesus came with good news. He knew it was good news: the Good News. And Lent is a time to hear it. What is it, essentially? In a nutshell?


In Matthew 9: 14-15 Jesus tells us it is relationship. The heart and soul of Christianity is relationship — first with Jesus himself, and through him with God as Father and with the Spirit as indwelling Advocate and Guide.


The Pharisees — and those who grew up under their influence — saw religion as doing. If you did the right things you were religious. If you didn’t, you weren’t. And the “right things” were spelled out in the Law. If we look, we may find the same attitude in ourselves.


The disciples of John the Baptizer reflected this assumption when they asked, “Why is it that while we and the Pharisees fast, your disciples do not?” It was taken for granted that if you were “holy,” fasting was what you did.


Jesus said no. Nothing makes us “holy” but relationship with God. And he made that the same as relationship with himself. Fasting, he taught, is not just something you do; fasting is to express something. What it expresses is the “mourning” of unsatisfied spiritual hunger, longing for himself: “How can the wedding guests go in mourning so long as the groom is with them?” But “When the day comes that the groom is taken away, then they will fast.”


Lent invites us to ask what all our actions express, beginning with our religious actions. Why do we go to Mass? To “be there” or to interact with God? (The reality of relationship is interaction). Interact how? In how many ways? How in the Introductory Rites? How during the Liturgy of the Word? To answer that is a good start on Lent.


Initiative: Be a thinker. Ask what you are expressing when you act.


1 Luke 2:46.

  • Father David M. Knight

Thursday after Ash Wednesday


Happy are they who hope in the Lord! (Psalm 1).

Deuteronomy 30: 15-20 sets before us the basic “either-or” choice of human existence: life and wellbeing or death and misery. God’s gift; our choice. “Life or death, the blessing or the curse.” All we have to do is accept it.

How do we know we have?. Three times the reading describes acceptance as listening. To choose life is to “obey” (from obaudire, to “listen to”). It is “heeding God’s voice.” Those who refuse “will not listen.” Obviously, to choose life means we choose to become disciples, “learners,” people who listen to God’s word in order to learn. This is the choice to keep learning from Jesus all our life; to keep reading and reflecting on his words and actions. Either we do or we don’t. Our choice.

In Acts, what those who accepted the Good News “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” That is discipleship.1

Learning is sometimes described as a “change of behavior.” That is only one aspect of it, of course, but it is true that any learning that does not affect the way we live or help us to live better — for example, by enhancing our appreciation of truth and beauty — is useless. In John’s Gospel Jesus is presented as “Light” and “Life” interchangeably.

In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” 2

Discipleship is learning for living. In the reading, we “listen” to “obey the commandments of the Lord.” “Heeding God’s voice” entails “holding fast to him.” Not to listen is to “turn away” our hearts and be “led astray.” Discipleship is like eating: intake gives energy for output. We feed our minds to assimilate and put into action.

That means we read and learn with expectations. But they are based, not on our abilities, but on God: Happy are they who hope in the Lord!

Luke 9:22-25 puts that hope to the test.

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.

What Jesus gives as the “entrance exam” to discipleship is humanly impossible to accept or do. Peter’s first act after receiving the “keys of the Kingdom” was to reject it. He gave the spontaneous reaction of us all. 3

But Jesus didn’t come to teach a human way of life. He calls us to live on the level of God and empowers us to do it. That is why, ultimately, his words and no others teach us to be Christian. We listen to the divine words of the divine Word made flesh in order to give flesh to his words in human actions that are divine. That is Christian discipleship.

Initiative: Make the choice. Commit during Lent to learning from Jesus.

View Today's Readings Here


1 Acts 2:42.

2 John 1:4, 8:12. See also Psalm 27:1, 36:9, 56:13; Proverbs 6:23.

3 Matthew 16:21-22.

#FatherDavidKnight #LentReflections

  • Father David M. Knight

ASH WEDNESDAY*

Lent is a time to change together

Inventory

Do you think things can be turned around in our society without a massive conversion? Do you believe it will really help the world situation significantly if you yourself begin living more authentically? Is this the point of Lent?

Input

The readings summon us as individuals to convert as a community.

Joel 2: 12-18 is addressed to the whole People of Israel as a community; not just to individuals who see themselves acting independently of others. No one corrupted our society independently of others. And no one will reform it independently of others. Lent is a time to hear the word of God together and respond to it as a community.

It is not true to say that if we don’t act together, we should not act at all. But when we act as individuals in the Church (or in the human race!) we should do it in a way that will draw others to act with us. In spite of the fiction, the Lone Ranger is not nearly as effective as a posse. The word “posse” (Latin) means “to be able.” Anything we accomplish “alone and unaided” we recognize as exceptional.

Lent, then, is a celebrated season that calls for a communal response.

When Joel said: “Proclaim a fast, call an assembly; gather the people, notify the congregation.” he was talking to the whole People of Israel. To whom should we address this call today? To individuals? Parishes? Dioceses? Just the Catholic Church? All Christians? The whole world?

Matthew 6: 1-18 sounds like a contradiction of what we have just said about communal response. Jesus is saying the first thing we have to convert from is religion, and the first thing we have to convert to is spirituality. “Religion” as used here corresponds to what people mean when they speak disparagingly of “organized religion.” It is not really organization they oppose (even the most private, individual life must be organized to be effective), but a system of organized external observances without interior ordination to God. Since what is interior is, by definition, individual, personal and private, Jesus seems to be summoning us to convert to acting as individuals rather than as a community. That is not what he means.

The watchword for Christian authenticity is “both-and” as opposed to “either-or.” There are some “either-or’s” — the fundamental choice of the “blessing” or the “curse”: life or death; to live or not live by the law of God; to remain in the darkness or be led into the light. But the big errors in living out the religion of “God-made-human” come when we think we have be either divine or human; either physical or spiritual; either obedient or free; either surrendered to faith or guided by reason; either reliant on God or responsible for taking initiatives — and, either a Catholic or a Baptist! (Or Presbyterian or Methodist, etc.) But is it possible to be both? The correct answer to all the choices proposed above is “both-and.”

The last example was included for shock value. But think about it. The Baptists say they don’t know who is a Baptist. They accept anyone who is “saved.” They might not have fellowship with someone they disagree with, but they claim no authority to declare anyone’s interpretation of Scripture wrong. So there is no contradiction in a Baptist who interprets Scripture the way the Catholics do and joins the Church as both a “Baptist Catholic” and a “Catholic Baptist,” living by the best in both traditions. (For example, participating in Mass on Sunday but singing the hymns and putting twice as much in the collection!)

Why shouldn’t Catholics as well claim “double citizenship” through fellowship with any church that does not ask them to deny anything they believe, affirm anything they don’t believe, or stop doing anything the Catholic Church requires? As long as fellowship is “both-and” it does not have to be “either-or.”

There is a new surge among Christians toward unity. Catholics and Protestants often find themselves participating in each other’s services. The question arises about Communion.

In practice we do what the bishop or pastor decides. But we need to ask what options there are in theory. Laws are always to be obeyed, but always according to the intention of the lawgiver. And we have to understand that intention in the light of our faith.

Catholics believe that “grace” is the favor of sharing in the divine life of God. The principal acts of grace — divine faith, hope and love — are in reality acts of sharing in God’s own activity. By faith, for example, we share in God’s own act of knowing.

Because we are both divine and human, our interior, divine act of sharing in God’s knowledge might “take flesh” in human concepts and words that do not perfectly agree with the truth we possess in faith. What we possess may differ from what we profess. Examples:

The Magi were “saved” by believing in whatever the star God sent was leading them to. “Where is he?” they said to Herod: “We have come,” not to “check him out,” but “to adore him.” They already adored Jesus Christ, and knew him as God, before they ever met him. This is classical “Baptism of desire.”

Scripture scholars tell us the disciples believed in Jesus long before, through the Resurrection and Pentecost, they were able to recognize him as God. But if they knew him by faith, then interiorly they already knew him as God, whether or not they could have said this in words.

Did Jesus know he was God? Of course he did. From his birth:

he has to be the Son of God and he has to know it.... But it is not necessary — and it is hardly probable — that this fundamental experience should from the beginning have taken the form of an intellectual certitude, of a clear concept.”

In other words, as divine made human he always knew he was God. But as a human who was divine he could not always have said that in human words.1

Do saved Baptists, who by grace share in God’s own knowing act through faith, but who stoutly assert that the bread and wine of Communion are nothing more than a symbol of fellowship, really know and believe, without being conscious of it, that they are in fact the Body and Blood of Christ? If we are consistent with our theology of grace, we have to say they do!

Also, by our theology of “Baptism of desire,” if they believe unconditionally in the Bible and everything God intends to reveal through it, then they believe what the Bible really says about Eucharist — whether or not their human understanding, distorted by the controversies of the Reformation, allows them to express it in the right words. For any good Baptist, the actual truth of the Bible takes priority over any intellectual formulation of that truth, including their own. Whatever God means to say in the Bible, they believe it.

So logically, we Catholics, who know the Bible means that the bread and wine become the real Body and Blood of Christ, have to accept that the Baptists believe this too — whether they know it or not!

The Baptists may be Catholic after all! Where does this lead us?

2 Corinthians 5:20 to 6:2: “We are ambassadors for Christ, God, as it were, appealing through us” — calling the whole world to turn around together. Is it time we broadened our ministry to address everyone who will listen? Time to open our doors to everyone we recognize as having “become Christ” through Baptism? Is it time Catholics and Protestants applied to themselves what Paul applied to Jews and Gentiles:

Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.... In his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, the hostility between us.

He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body.... for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God....

Perhaps we could make this our principle focus as we recite the Responsorial (Psalm 51): “Be merciful O Lord, for we have sinned.”

Insight

Is Lent a “Catholic” season, or one we share with everyone?

Initiative

Participate in both Catholic and Protestant Lenten observances — preferably with the same people.

View Today's Readings Here

1 Jacques Guillet, S.J., The Consciousness of Jesus, Newman, 1972, pp. 43-44.

*(Years A, B, C)

#FatherDavidKnight #LentReflections