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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Third Sunday in Lent

Third Sunday in Lent
March 3, 2013
Exodus 3:1-8; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12; Luke 13:1-9

Jesus addresses a major question about sin and suffering. In the Gospel, Romans killed Galileans and mixed their blood with the blood of their sacrifices. People asked, “Did they do something more sinful than other Galileans to deserve such a fate?” “By no means,” says Jesus. We make sense of suffering by looking for reasons and causes. In another case, eighteen people die in an accident when the tower at Siloam falls upon them. Did they somehow conceal guilt that only God knew about and finally received retribution? We search for meaning in suffering and there isn’t always an obvious answer.

            We make the same judgments today. When we hear that a smoker develops lung cancer we conclude it is because she smokes cigarettes. We reckon we don’t have to be as compassionate because the tragedy isn’t as great as when a non-smoker develops lung cancer. When we catch a cold, we go back a few days in our memory to find out who may have given it to us and we get annoyed with ourselves for not being more careful when shaking hands. When someone dies in a car crash, we wonder if he did something sinful, like drinking before driving, and therefore is partly responsible for his own death. Sometimes, accidents are just accidents. Sometimes, bad things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people, yet we want to measure someone’s level of goodness or badness when tragedy strikes.

            What does this tell us about God’s interaction in this world? Many people say, “God allows suffering.” I find this hard to take. What sort of uncaring God is this then? The most basic answer is that suffering exists and sometimes it is merely accidental. God does not will a toddler to develop leukemia just as God doesn’t permit someone to become an alcoholic. It frustrates us because many of us make the best choices we can and misfortune still befalls us. The world is imperfect, unpredictable, and we simply cannot control it. We also don’t want to accept that it is this way, but that is the beginning of wisdom.

            All of these questions about suffering and the indiscriminate nature of life put us face to face in front of God. Some gaze squarely forward and declare, “God does not exist,” but fortunately for many of us, we experience the nearness of the living God and are drawn into a closer relationship. We come to know a truth about God that can only be experienced.

            After Moses goes through life-unsettling events, he settles in Midian and leads his flock through the desert to Mount Horeb. A bush catches fire and Moses notices it is not consumed. As his intrigue carries him forward, God calls out to him to stay where he is and to remove his sandals. God tells Moses that He is alive and has a connection to the past. God also reveals great compassion when he speaks about the people’s suffering. It saddens God a great deal and wishes it to stop. God declares his dream for them – that they be rescued so they can occupy a spacious land that flows with milk and honey. God does not wish harm or injury to the Egyptians who oppress them although he does want the brutality to stop. God does intervene by speaking to Moses. However, we wonder why an all-powerful God doesn’t find a more active way to scold the wayward people and redeem those who are unfairly harmed. We jump to all sorts of conclusions about why God leaves this up to humans to figure out because we remain a people who want answers.

            Moses learns a lot from God just by being present. He is intrigued to go near to the mysterious bush where he can meditate on God’s abiding presence. God only projects goodness that cannot be contained. Every time we have an experience of God, we want to share the significant insights we gained. Our experience impels us to move outwardly. God reveals that he is alive, active, concerned, filled with many emotions, and that he is concerned about our suffering.

            Can we see suffering as a place of holy ground? Do we acknowledge that it leads us to God? It is good to take off our shoes when we contemplate the suffering of another. It becomes their burning bush experience in which they encounter the one God who is alive to them. As we all have and will suffer in our lives, God’s name will be remembered through all generations because we will find God alive to us and concerned about our suffering. God does not will misfortune and God does not want to see us in any pain, and God appears before us to let us know of his enduring presence during our worst times. Though the world is imperfect and unpredictable, God’s presence remains constant. This becomes enough for us.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: In Kings 2, Naaman the Syrian, King of Aram, contracts leprosy and petitions Elijah to be made clean. There are many people within Israel with leprosy, but only Naaman, a foreigner is made clean by washing seven times in the river Jordan. In Daniel, Azariah stands up in the fire and asks that God receive them with a contrite heart and humble spirit. In Deuteronomy, Moses speaks to the people and asks them to keep the commandments and their work will be complete. In Jeremiah, the prophet encounters a people who will not listen to the voice of God and he is filled with despair. In Hosea, the people return to their God and remember how God was faithful to them. They are stronger because they realize that God stands by them through all tribulations. God tells them that he does not want sacrifice. He wants their love and mercy.

Gospel: Like Elijah and Elisha, Jesus was sent not only to the Jews. Jesus found opposition in his hometown to his prophetic words, but they were heeded by those outside of Israel. When Jesus is asked about forgiveness, he stresses that we are to forgive seventy-seven times. Seven is a number of perfection to the Jews and this number represents ad infinitum.  While explaining fidelity to the law, Jesus declares that every jot and tittle of the law is to be upheld. The one who keeps and teaches the laws will be called great. Jesus was driving out a mute demon. The crowds react and wonder from where his power comes. Some wonder if it is from Beelzebul, but Satan cannot remain divided against himself. A scribe approaches Jesus and asks which is the first of all the commandments and Jesus replies, “The Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God.” Jesus told his disciples the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee at prayer. The publican went home justified because he realized his lowliness in the face of God, but the Pharisee, assured of his righteousness, went home empty.

Saints of the Week

March 7: Perpetua and Felicity (d. 203), were two catechumens arrest and killed during a persecution in North Africa. Perpetua was a young noblewoman who was killed alongside her husband, their young son, and their pregnant slave, Felicity. They were baptized while under arrest and would not renounce their faith. Felicity was excused from death because it was unlawful to kill a pregnant woman, but she gave birth prematurely three days before the planned execution. They were flogged, taunted by wild beasts, and then beheaded. They appear in the First Eucharistic Prayer.

March 8: John of God (1495-1550), was a Portuguese soldier of fortune who was brought to Spain as a child. He was a slave master, shepherd, crusader, bodyguard and peddler. As he realized that he frittered away his life, he sought counsel from John of Avila. He then dedicated his life to care for the sick and the poor. He formed the Order of Brothers Hospitallers and is the patron saint of hospitals and the sick.

March 9: Frances of Rome (1384-1440), was born into a wealthy Roman family and was married at age 13. She bore six children and when two died in infancy, she worked to bring the needs of the less fortunate to others. She took food to the poor, visited the sick, cared for the needy in their homes. When other women joined in her mission, they became Benedictine oblates. She founded a monastery for them after her husband's death.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Mar 3, 1595. Clement VIII raised Fr. Robert Bellarmine to the Cardinalate, saying that the Church had not his equal in learning.
·      Mar 4, 1873. At Rome, the government officials presented themselves at the Professed House of the Gesu for the purpose of appropriating the greater part of the building.
·      Mar 5, 1887. At Rome, the obsequies of Fr. Beckx who died on the previous day. He was 91 years of age and had governed the Society as General for 34 years. He is buried at San Lorenzo in Campo Verano.
·      Mar 6, 1643. Arnauld, the Jansenist, published his famous tract against Frequent Communion. Fifteen French bishops gave it their approval, whereas the Jesuit fathers at once exposed the dangers in it.
·      Mar 7, 1581. The Fifth General Congregation of the Society bound the professors of the Society to adhere to the doctrine of St Thomas Aquinas.
·      Mar 8, 1773. At Centi, in the diocese of Bologna, Cardinal Malvezzi paid a surprise visit to the Jesuit house, demanding to inspect their accounting books.
Mar 9, 1764. In France, all Jesuits who refused to abjure the Society were ordered by Parliament to leave the realm within a month. Out of 4,000 members only five priests, two scholastics, and eight brothers took the required oath; the others were driven into exile.


  1. John, as I walk with a friend who is not expected to live more than a few days, I take great consolation from your homily. God is with my friend and her family and I only pray that God will give them comfort and peace as they keep vigil with her.

    Thank you.

    1. I'm very glad you are there for your friend, Lynda. You are standing in God's place helping your friend see the face of God.