2.15.18 Thurs. after Ash Wed. – Lent
1st Reading: Deuteronomy 30: 15 – 20
Gospel of Luke 9: 22 – 25
†Jesus said to his disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”
Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily* and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself? The Gospel of the Lord
Homily: Fr. Mike Murphy Lenten Almsgiving
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself.” (Luke 9:22) These words of †Jesus seem to be a mantra for the Season of Lent; being called to embrace the ascetical life. Now asceticism consists of those things that I can do – to dispose myself to receive the graces of the Lord in my life; disposing myself to Him to lead me to a deeper intimate relationship with the Lord. And as Lent begins we are reminded, as we were yesterday that: “We are only dust and unto dust we shall return”. We wear ashes on our forehead to symbolize that everything will turn to ash, including our bodies. Will anything or any part of us survive? The good that we do – for God and for others – will lead us into eternal life.
We heard this proclaimed in our Responsorial Psalm, it is from the first Psalm in the Book of Psalms. “Blessed is the (one) who delights in the Law of the Lord”. (Ps. 1:1-2) The Law of the Lord is that: “We are to love God, with all our hearts, all our soul, all our strength, and all our mind and to love our neighbor as our self”. So the Psalmist says: “Blessed is the one who delights in the Law of the Lord”. Then the Psalmist describes what this person is like. “He is like a tree planted near running water, whose leaves never fade”. (Ps.1:3) The body and all the things that we create in this life, will turn to ashes; the good that we do – lives on into eternity, it never fades. How we show love for God and others, the way we deny our self in obedience to †Jesus – is essential for holiness.
Almsgiving, as we reflected yesterday, is one of the three pillars in the life of discipleship – prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Almsgiving is the way we deny our self through acts of charity. And the depth of our relationship with God depends not only on our prayer-life and our obedience to the Commandments (those are very important) but it also depends on how we stand with the poor.
†Jesus favored the poor. You may not be aware of this in the Scriptures, but – one out of every ten verses in the bible – deals directly with the poor and how to care for the poor. In the Gospel of Luke – that becomes one in every sixth verse. And in the Letter of James, it becomes one in every five verses that deals with the poor and how we are to minister to them. That’s how important the poor are to God. It is clear that when †Jesus calls us to almsgiving – He is not offering a suggestion – but rather He makes it a requirement of the Spiritual Life – a demand of discipleship that we care for the poor.
According to Fr. Ron Rolheiser – before the coming of †Jesus – the great Jewish Prophets had already coined the mantra: “The quality of your faith will be judged by the quality of justice in the land. And the quality of Justice in the land will be judged by how the weakest and most vulnerable groups in society (widows, orphans, strangers) faired while you were alive”. (Fr. Ron Rolheiser, Sacred Fire; Image Books, N.Y. 2014; p. 48) Justice is a Cardinal Virtue that means: “To give everyone their due”. The poor have a right not to live in the streets. The poor have a right to food; they have a right to medical care. What †Jesus is asking of us when He instructs us to give alms – is not only that we be generous of heart. But †Jesus is asking more of us besides giving money. “He asks us also to work at correcting the social, political and economic structures that disadvantage the poor and help to keep them poor”. (ibid. p.49) Charity, almsgiving, seeks to give to the poor; to help alleviate their poverty. Justice seeks to correct those structures that create the poverty. And if we want to grow in intimacy with the Lord, we cannot ignore the poor. God is present in the poor. How we treat the poor is how we treat God – with great goodness or with absolute indifference. How we treat the poor is how we treat God!
Recall in Matthew’s Gospel (chapter 25) †Jesus teaches about the Last Judgment: “Those who care for the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the infirm, the imprisoned; these will all be welcomed into the Kingdom – while those who do not – will be cast out.” So, †Jesus makes it very clear: “No one gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor”. No one gets to heaven without it.
This Lent, deny yourself what you do not absolutely need – that fancy night-out on the town, or that designer cup of coffee. Put the money that you would have spent for those things in a fund for the poor. This spring we will again have our food-packaging project where we will package 10,000 meals. We will be doing that later in the spring – so you might want to save that almsgiving money and donate it to this food-packaging project for the poor. Or give it to the St. Vincent de Paul Society to feed the poor; or Catholic Charities. Let it do some good for those who do not have enough. The poor are all around us, we will never want for opportunities to help the poor.
“Blessed is the One who delights in the Law of the Lord,
He is like a tree planted near running water
That yields its fruit in due season
And whose leaves never fade.” (Ps. 1:3)
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.