Second Sunday of Lent
Romans 2 : 1-7
Matthew 6: 19 --
"You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments the whole law is based, and the prophets as well." Matthew 22:37-40
Everything in the Bible expands on this teaching in which Jesus combines the first two of the Ten Commandments. Right from the beginning, God taught mankind how he wanted to be worshipped and we must treat each other. In this quotation, the law Jesus refers to is the Torah, the first 5 books of Jewish Scripture which are the first five books of our Old Testament. They were the Books of the Law. 'The Prophets' refers to all the teachings God spoke to us through the prophets he sent to the Jewish people. He did this whenever he wanted to warn them that their lifestyle would result in catastrophe and remind them of the superabundance he wanted for them, if they would listen to him. These prophetic words of God are found in many books in our Old Testament
PRAISE OF THE ONE TRUE GOD
The psalmist is passionate in declaring that all creation must join in worshipping the One, True God. We need to tell everyone that there is only one God and that he is great and should be praised and feared above all gods. At that time, the people worshiped many gods. This is known as polytheism. For the Romans who were the rulers of the known world, this meant first worshipping the Emperor of Rome as a God as well as what other god or gods you were devoted to. The Egyptians who were another great power in the world also worshiped their Pharaoh as a God. He was one of many gods in their pantheon. Most of the gods of the ancient world were animals or trees or birds or other forms of created being; they could also be fantastic creations that were half man and half beast, representing human emotions or desires, In stating that there is only one God, this Psalm is indeed suggesting something new, something radical to the minds of the people living at the time the psalm was composed. It is definitely a "new song".
For us, it is a call to conversion of our hearts and minds to the One True God. Even when we believe in him and worship him, there are always areas of our lives that require conversion.
In conclusion the psalm tells us that God, who is all-powerful, comes to rule with justice and faithfulness. The other two readings for today elaborate on these themes.
GOD ALONE IS JUDGE
In the letter to the Romans, St. Paul meditates on the idea of justice. There are sins that carry the death sentence. Today, we would call them mortal sins and have the opportunity of going to confession where the priest representing Jesus and the Church is able to forgive us in God's Name. If we do not, then the sin will be judged by God when we die. In biblical times, most often, the sentence was carried out immediately by the populace who would stone the person to death. St. Stephen, the first martyr, was stoned to death because he was considered to be preaching blasphemy. John also describes, in his Gospel, how Jesus changed this automatic condemnation by saying "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." Not one of us is so free of sin that we can judge another person, even if it is obvious to the human mind that the person is transgressing the law set down by God. St. Paul, probably the most effective missionary and certainly the greatest theologian the Church has ever known, tells us that he will not even judge himself. We are reminded by the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews that St. Michael would not even condemn Satan but left his judgment to God.
God is the only one who is perfect. He, alone, is without sin and therefore eligible to judge us. Judgment is God's prerogative. Judgment is God's final decision about our lives and decides for us where eternity will be spent. When we judge, we are attempting to conclude what the eternal state of a person would be should they die. However, God alone knows the stirrings of man's heart and, as Creator, is the only one who can say whether his creation is good or bad. Fortunately for us, God is merciful.
St. Paul, however, is not telling us that we must not discern good from evil. On the contrary, we are not meant to be ninnies about the things people do and say. We are meant to 'test' everything and our yardstick is Jesus. Even then, we do not judge the person but make a value judgment as to whether we want to be involved with that person's activities or not. This is why the Church is careful not to condemn anyone who is propounding views diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus. We condemn the sin and not the person. We are also called on to pray for that person's conversion. This is one way we can show our love for them-the sort of love that we want to receive from others. In praying for another's complete conversion of heart and mind, we are fulfilling Jesus' command to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is his Great Commandment.
The Gospel reading is a very famous passage in Scripture. It deals with how we must live our daily lives. We cannot have a foot in both God's kingdom, and the kingdom of the Satan. Jesus warns us that the things which are so alluring in this life will not get us to Heaven. Rather we need to concentrate on the "Treasures from Heaven." He cautions us that the things we treasure in life indicate what and how we love. If we love computers, or fancy clothes, or cars and think constantly of them, making their acquisition the primary focus of our lives, then that thing becomes the god of our lives. Just about anything can become an idol.
To counteract the temptations of this life, we need to keep our eyes on Christ Crucified and concentrate on acquiring the virtues, the gifts and fruits of the Spirit that come from our relationship to God and our interaction with other people.
Jesus then uses a play on words to illustrate what he is meaning. He says the lamp of the body is the eye. He knew, and we know, that the eye does not illuminate the body but we do perceive light through the eye and know light in a way a blind person simply cannot. However, God is light and if the god we worship is an idol, then the 'light' that we worship is darkness. This means we will be in utter darkness.
Now, it is impossible to worship two gods. The One True God himself told us he is a jealous God. We have to make a choice. Throughout time, God has given mankind choices. Like the Israelites, we choose God, then, as we move away from the emotions of the moment in which we made that choice, we fall off His path and begin to follow an idol. At that point we need to pick ourselves up and go to Confession to be made new again, so we can sing that "New Song."
Jesus makes us look at God's creation with fresh eyes. We look at the little birds and we look at the grass and flowers all things that God created and which have short life spans without the promise of Eternal Life. If God makes them beautiful and furnishes them with all they need for life, will He not much more give us all that we need-particularly those who love Him and are His Children through baptism?
Jesus advice is to forget all the anxieties that come from our impatient greed to have what we need in overabundance ahead of time and to trust in God's providence. We need to concentrate on our relationship with Him, doing what He tells us: praying to Him as Jesus taught us with praise, humility, confidence, trust, and love, and then living as if we are truly His sons and daughters. The lives of the great saints are filled with examples of God's providence.
ST. FRUMENTIUS who brought Christianity to the Axumite Empire was shipwrecked. His uncle and all the sailors were murdered by the people who found them. Miraculously Frumentius and his brother escaped because they went to pray under the shade of a tree. Later, when they were found, they were taken to the Emperor who took them into his household. After that king died, he became the most powerful man in the Axum when he was appointed regent to the young King Ezana. Later he became the first bishop of Axum.
ST. YARED was considered a dunce and was continually beaten because he could not master Latin, Greek and Hebrew and could not learn Holy Scripture by heart very easily. When he turned to God through St. Mary of Zion and prayed each day before school, he suddenly became a great scholar and at the age of 14, tradition tells us, was made the chief professor after the death of the most learned man in Axum. He became the first person ever to come up with a musical notation system several centuries before European musicians figured out a way to write down music. The chants that we sing each Sunday go back to this musical genius who trusted God to keep him safe and help him.
If we look at the life of KATERI TEKAKWITHA, (1656-1680), a Mohawk Indian we see that the Lord provided for her marvelously. At one time she had to escape from her home near Syracuse, New York and get up to a Jesuit village in Canada because the Indians wanted to kill her because of her love for Jesus. She was just about blind yet she made the more than 200 mile journey by canoe, escaping roving bands of Indians who were looking for her.
ST. ELIZABETH ANN SETON, a New York Protestant and socialite in the late 1700's, illustrates God's providence at work. She was widowed on a visit to Italy. Her husband had lost everything and she was penniless. It was then that she met Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and realized that in Him she had everything. She decided to become a Roman Catholic. When she returned to New York, she was shunned by all her socialite friends because she was working among poor immigrants. She moved to Baltimore and then to Emmitsburg. She had no money, yet she established a religious Order and began a school, becoming the founder of the Catholic parochial school system in America.
Everything these people did and achieved was through the Providence of God. If we look at our own lives, we will see His hand in all that we achieve. God loves His people and wants His children to be contented in this life and be with him in Heaven for eternity. We achieve this contentment by serving Him and listening to Him and trusting Him. Each day brings problems and temptations that we need to overcome. Jesus tells us that "Sufficient for a day is its own evil." Yet each day is a new day. Each day is a new opportunity to dedicate oneself to God, the Creator of the Universe, and store up treasure in Heaven.