While the term social justice has received negative connotations in some circles in recent years due to certain media misrepresentations of the tradition, the vocation of all Christian women and men to work toward the common good, protect the dignity of all human life, strive toward ending violence in all forms, and providing for the welfare of all people remains integral to who we are as bearers of the name Christ. — from The Last Words of Jesus
Born in Rome, Gregory became involved in Church affairs from an early age. It was Pope St. Sergius I who noticed the fine qualities of the pious young man and ordained Gregory a subdeacon. He served under the next four popes as treasurer of the church, then librarian. He was assigned important missions and accompanied Pope Constantine to Constantinople for discussions with Emperor Justinian II. Upon the death of Constantine, Gregory was chosen pope and installed in 715.
Gregory served as pope for 15 years. During that time he held synods to correct abuses, stop heresy and promote discipline and morality. He rebuilt a great portion of the walls of Rome to protect the city against attacks by the Lombards. He restored many churches, and was especially solicitous of the sick and aged. The great monastery near the church of St. Paul was reestablished, as was the abbey of Monte Cassino which had been destroyed by the Lombards 150 years before. He consecrated St. Boniface and St. Corbinian as bishops to go as missionaries to the tribes in Germany. Under Gregory, pilgrims from England increased in numbers to such an extent that they required a church, a cemetery and a school of their own.
It was in his dealings with Emperor Leo III that Gregory's spirit of strength and patience was best shown. Leo demanded the destruction of all holy images and severely penalized those who did not follow his orders. When bishops failed to convince him of his error, they disobeyed and appealed to the pope. On the one hand, Gregory tried his best to change the thinking of the emperor. On the other, he counseled the people to maintain their allegiance to the prince, all the time encouraging the bishops to oppose the heresy.
Gregory II died in 731.
Gregory spent his entire career in the papal bureaucracy. He served the Church well, spreading Christianity to Germany and nurturing it in England. He never forgot the needs of the sick and suffering, did his best to ease tensions between Church and State and encouraged loyalty both to the emperor and to the Church's faith. Every pope has human limitations, but each, like Leo, also brings certain strengths to the office. Our prayer for our pope includes gratitude for his strengths.
Lord, God, my Creator, Be close to me now. My soul yearns for your presence.
Thank you for the gift of freedom, Lord. Grant that I may always choose to follow You. Keep me ever mindful of your ways. Of your love and concern for all people.
In the presence of my loving Creator, I look honestly at my feelings over the last day, the highs, the lows and the level ground. Can I see where the Lord has been present?
The Word of God
Thursday after Ash Wednesday
Reading 1 Dt 30:15-20
Moses said to the people: "Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom. If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy. If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen, but are led astray and adore and serve other gods, I tell you now that you will certainly perish; you will not have a long life on the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and occupy. I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land that the LORD swore he would give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."
Responsorial Psalm PS 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6
R. (40:5a) Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
Blessed the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked Nor walks in the way of sinners, nor sits in the company of the insolent, But delights in the law of the LORD and meditates on his law day and night.
R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
He is like a tree planted near running water, That yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaves never fade. Whatever he does, prospers.
R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
Not so the wicked, not so; they are like chaff which the wind drives away. For the LORD watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked vanishes.
R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
Verse Before the Gospel Mt 4:17
Repent, says the Lord; the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Gospel Lk 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?"
Some thoughts on today's scripture
▪ 'Deny yourself and take up your cross daily'. Lord, I used to think this meant looking for mortifications. You have taught me that my cross is myself, my ego, the pains in my body, my awkwardness, my mistakes. To follow you is to move beyond ego-trips. It means coping with the business of life without trampling on others or making them suffer. There is a world here to be explored this Lent.
▪ To deny myself – to reach a point where myself is no longer the most important thing in the world; to be able to take a back seat comfortably; to be happy to listen; to accept without resentment the diminishments that come to me through time or circumstances; to see your hand, Lord, in both the bright and dark places of my life.
Do I notice myself reacting as I pray with the Word of God? Do I feel challenged, comforted, angry? Imagining Jesus sitting or standing by me, I speak out my feelings, as one trusted friend to another.
I thank God for these few moments we have spent alone together and for any insights I may have been given concerning the text.
He is like a tree planted near running water, that yields its fruit in due season. (Psalm 1:3)
Like a tree. Believe it or not, this is a flattering image. In the ancient world, trees were images of power and vitality. To be like a tree would have meant you were established firmly and securely. When the psalmist speaks of yielding fruit, it reminds us of the fruit of the Spirit, the evidence that God is at work in our lives. It conjures up images of fruits like love, joy, and peace.
. . . planted . . . This tree has been put in place deliberately. This is not just a wild tree that is lucky enough to be growing next to a stream. Did you know that you, too, have been planted in a specific place, at a specific time, for a specific purpose? The One who planted you is God, who loves you and wants to see you flourish.
Now, to be "planted," a tree may first have to be uprooted. True, some seeds are sown close to a stream, but others are planted elsewhere and then dug up as saplings and transplanted. Have you ever noticed how a time of trial or difficulty can be followed by a season of refreshment and renewal? Maybe this Lent could be a time when God "uproots" you and plants you closer to the living water that flows from his heart. It might be a dramatic change in your situation or it might simply be your decision to spend time with him in prayer every day. Either way, the result is very promising!
. . . near running water. Running water stays fresh. It is not like a pond that could grow stagnant and jeopardize the plants growing on its banks. God has put you in a place where you can experience his grace flowing anew each day. He nourishes your deepest roots, those parts of you that are searching for love and life. You might experience this through the sacraments, through brothers and sisters in the faith, through feeling the closeness of the Lord in your prayer time, or through any number of other means. However it happens, know that almighty God is with you, making you strong and fruitful!
"Father, help me sink deep roots into your grace. Lord, I want to bear fruit for you!"
"I got onto a taxi and we almost hit someone that had suddenly pulled out in front of us from his parking space. The driver stopped just in time before hitting him. The other driver that almost caused the accident started yelling and insulting us. I was still recovering from the scare and what threw me out of whack was the attitude of my taxi driver who in an extremely formal and kind and courteous manner smiled and waved his hand to the other auto. I was furious and confused, but I had the urge and so I asked my taxi driver, why he was smiling and waving to that punk that almost caused an accident, ruining his taxi and possibly sending them to us to the hospital. Then, the taxi driver with a paused voice told me what I now consider as the "Law of the Trash Truck". He said "do you see that trash truck?" I said "Yes, what does that have to do with anything?" He says "Well, just like those trash trucks, there exists many people who go through life full of trash, frustrations, rage, and deception. As soon as they accumulate all that trash, they need to find a place to unload it, and if you let them, surely they will dump their trash, their frustrations, their rage, and their deceptions. That is why when someone wants to dump their trash on me, I do not take it personal; but instead, I smile, salute, desire them all the good in the world and go on my way." What would you choose today? "
Today's first Holy Scripture says Choose Life. On the back of my truck, I made a sticker that says today's Scripture and the reference to it "Choose Life" DT30:16. What does this mean, since Moses said it thousands of years ago? What does this mean? Because it was in the times of the great pyramids in Egypt, many of which the people of God had built, 3 major ones, unknowingly one for each in the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. What does Choose Life mean? It means more than the times I asked people at abortion clinics to choose life. It means more than not killing somebody. It means much more and our Lord Jesus takes us there, so let's proceed, let's go there. First, the Psalms, because Jesus lived the Psalms out in real life and so can we: "Blessed are they who hope in the Lord". I read this as an option for funerals, funeral vigils that is. It speaks to the Scriptures, that of Choosing Life. Either choose the way of wickedness that leads to death, or choose Life. Either choose the blessing or the curse, just as Moses prophesied.
In comes our Lord our Father, the Son , the Holy Spirit into our lives by means of the Holy Gospel "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." Lent is all about denying oneself, it is a sacrifice of love. Lent is all about taking up our cross, this life bound with our Father, binding ourselves up to Him instead of to slavery like the times of Egypt. How did the people wind up as slaves to build pyramids? They sold themselves to the easy life, and fell for it. No longer did they have to "suffer", they had it made, a job, a place to stay, food, and all they had to give up was their journey, their fight for Life, that what God was asking in His commands, His askings. At an ultreya (gathering of cursillistas), a couple weeks ago, I sat by a family, and I asked the mother, "when are you going to a cursillo?" She said, "I'm going to do this and that, start visiting the nursing homes and then do this other stuff and then I'll go, I want to go right, be prepared". I laughed. She looked at me funny. I swallowed my food realizing her look and then went on to explain "you can't tell God when you'll be ready, if He calls, you must be read to answer, just like you answered the call to be here today". It's like we try to tell the Lord what, when, where and how you will realize your relationship with Him. I know it was the case for me in my cursillo. I started getting invites, I brushed them off. Then a persistent old lady from out of town that I didn't know kept at it. In my mind I had already said Yes to the Lord, but with fine print "Yes...But when I'm older...like way, WAY older!" LOL, just like that old lady inviting, about her age (she was probably like 35 to 40 years older than me. I would wait a whole generation in my mind. But one day, she wrote me a letter, a hand written letter, delivered by my mom (another cursillista). Something happened that made me realize, perhaps I was missing out on something special, and indeed it was. It was everything I needed. After a life spent living retreats and even putting them together, this one made all the difference to give fruit for the more to come. You see, choosing life goes beyond our sights. Jesus says we must lose our life in order to save it. It means looking beyond our mortal lives, to see that He is talking about LIFE, LIFE. Not our physical lives. LIFE LIFE is Eternal Life, and this means a LIFE with Him. There is a special moment waiting for you with Him. This lent, I'm already learning. Temptations won't be about what you think they will be. They will be something else. You choose the blessing or the curse. You choose death or Life. You can choose, but remember what Life means. Either you are with Him or you are not.