Mar 8, 2022: Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

1st Reading – Isaiah 55:10-11

Thus says the LORD:
Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
and do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
so shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
my word shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

Today’s first reading comes from a portion of the Book of Isaiah that is often called the Book of Consolation. In it, God expounds on the efficacy of his word.

Thus says the LORD: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats,

Through the prophet, God assures the people of the power of his word, using an analogy that would have been particularly meaningful to those who live in the arid countries of the East.

With this analogy, Isaiah provides a glimpse of what ecologists today call the hydrologic cycle: the continuous movement of water between the earth and the atmosphere. His knowledge of this cycle comes from observing nature itself, the primary source of wisdom. Rain and snow originate in the heavens; they water the earth, making it fertile and then they return to the heavens, having accomplished their purpose.

so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth;

The personified word of God (see Wisdom 8:4, 9:9-10, and 18:14-15) is a figure of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of the Father, who comes down to save mankind.

it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.

The ordered nature of God’s creation is reliable, an order we can trust. Contrary to our human arrogance, we are totally dependent on the fertility of the natural world and the laws that govern it.

Speaking through the prophet, God declares: So it is with my word! A cause-and-effect relationship exists between the word of God and the outcome it accomplishes; the word of God is consistent and reliable, and humans are totally dependent on it. We are assured that we can be as confident of this as we can be of the working of the natural world. Just as nature produces miracles upon which we can rely and because of which we can survive, so the word of God will effect miracles upon which we can rely and because of which we can live.

Psalm 34: 4-7, 16-19

R. From all their distress God rescues the just.

Our responsorial psalm is from Psalm 34, a thanksgiving in acrostic form, which means each line begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Although the content of this type of psalm may vary, the form (the entire alphabet) always signifies the same thing: completeness.

Glorify the LORD with me, let us together extol his name.

This particular psalm is less a prayer than an instruction. The psalmist invites others to join in rejoicing and in praising God’s name.

I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.

Normally in psalms of thanksgiving the reasons for gratitude are recited. Without going into detail, the psalmist confesses having been in distress, having turned to the LORD, and having been rescued. This is the reason for gratitude, and this is why the psalmist glorifies God and bids others to do the same.

Look to him that you may be radiant with joy, and your faces may not blush with shame. When the poor one called out, the LORD heard, and from all his distress he saved him.

After giving witness to others, the attitude of the psalmist develops into a pedagogical technique, teaching others to act in the same way by giving explicit instructions. The congregation is encouraged to look to the LORD so they too may rejoice in gratitude, their faces radiant and without shame. One’s face, we should remember, is the expression of one’s dignity, of one’s status in the community, and to lose face is to lose honor or be shamed.

The LORD has eyes for the just, and ears for their cry. The LORD confronts the evildoers, to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.

The contrast between the just and the wicked is clearly drawn. God looks favorably toward the righteous; their cries for help will be heard and God will provide them with what they need. The fortunes of the wicked will be the exact opposite: the face of the LORD will be set against them and they will experience God’s hostility in the worst possible way. Remembrance of them will be wiped out.

In a society that doesn’t have a clear teaching about any afterlife, such a fate means that no trace of the person will survive, and it will be as if that person had never even existed.

When the just cry out, the LORD hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them. He is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.

The psalmist is not naive about the challenges of life, even the life of the upright. In many instances, the theory of retribution is more a statement of faith in God’s justice than an accurate description of life’s circumstances.

Good people do indeed suffer, but they turn to God in their pain and misery. Whether they are rescued from their affliction or not, they stand under the promise of God’s loving presence. Because suffering is often seen as the result of alienation from God, assurance of God’s nearness can alleviate the distress that such a misperception might cause.

Gospel – Matthew 6:7-15

Jesus said to his disciples:
“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This is how you are to pray:

    Our Father who art in heaven,
        hallowed be thy name,
        thy Kingdom come,
    thy will be done,
        on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread;
    and forgive us our trespasses,
        as we forgive those who trespass against us;
    and lead us not into temptation,
        but deliver us from evil.

“If you forgive men their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus teaches his disciples how, and for what, to pray.

Jesus said to his disciples: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Jesus condemns the superstitious notion that long prayers are needed to attract God’s attention. True piety is not so much a matter of the number of words as of the frequency and the love with which the believer turns toward God in all the events, great or small, of their day.

Vocal prayer is good and necessary, but the words count only if they express our inner feelings.

“This is how you are to pray:

Jesus goes on to impart The Lord’s Prayer to his followers. This is, without doubt, the most commented-on passage in all of scripture. It is a prayer that fills us with hope and consolation.

The Lord’s Prayer is so important that it has been used, along with the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Sacraments as the basis of Christian catechesis since apostolic times.

Saint Augustine wrote that the Lord’s Prayer is so perfect that it sums up in a few words everything man needs to ask God for (see Augustine’s Sermons, 56).

Our Father who art in heaven,

It is a source of great consolation to be able to call God “our Father.” Jesus, the Son of God, teaches us to invoke him as Father because we are indeed his children and should feel towards him as such.

hallowed be thy name,

In the Bible a person’s name indicates the person themselves. As his creatures, we acknowledge and honor God’s holiness by praying that his name is hallowed, i.e. sanctified.

thy Kingdom come,

The coming of the Kingdom of God is the realization of God’s plan of salvation in the world.

thy will be done,

This petition expresses two desires: that we humbly and unconditionally identify with God’s will, and that the will of God be fulfilled.

Our effort to do God’s will is the proof of our sincerity. Jesus will later teach in Matthew 7:21, “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

on earth as it is in heaven.

Just as the angels and saints in heaven are fully at one with God’s will, so should we be here on earth.

Give us this day our daily bread;

A request to God’s providence for our basic needs, which we should accept gratefully as a gift from God. By doing so, the Christian avoids being worried about material needs.

The early Church Fathers interpreted the bread asked for here as not only material food but also as referring to the Eucharist, which sustains us spiritually.

According to the Saint Pius V Catechism (cf. 4, 13, 21), the Eucharist is called our daily bread because it is offered daily to God in the Mass and because we should worthily receive it, every day if possible.

and forgive us our trespasses,

An acknowledgment of our own shortcomings, which is the first step in every conversion to God. Awareness of our sinful nature makes us realize our religious need to have recourse to the only One who can cure it.

as we forgive those who trespass against us;

We cannot dare to ask God to forgive us if we are not ready to forgive others.

Christians must realize what this prayer implies: unwillingness to forgive others means that one is condemning oneself.

and lead us not into temptation,

In this petition, we recognize that our human efforts alone do not take us very far in trying to cope with temptation, and that we need to have humble recourse to God to receive the strength we need.

but deliver us from evil.

In a way, this final petition sums up the previous petitions. In it, we ask God to free us from everything our enemy does to bring us down. We cannot be free of him unless God himself frees us, in response to our prayers.

“If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

Here Saint Matthew provides a kind of commentary from Jesus on the petition in the Lord’s Prayer regarding forgiveness.

A God who forgives is a wonderful God. But if God, who is perfect and holy, has mercy on the sinner, how much more ought we to forgive others?

Just as God loves us despite our many defects, and forgives us, so should we love others, despite their defects, and forgive them. Forgiving those who have offended us, even if they have not mended their ways or apologized, makes us like our Father, God.

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