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Thursday, Second Week of Lent

February 21, 2008

Blessed St. Peter Damian’s Day! (Look for his story in the “Saints of Lent” category)

Readings:
Jeremiah 17:5-10 (trust in man brings a curse; trust in God brings blessing)
Psalm 1:1-6 “Blessed are they who hope in the Lord”
+Luke 16:19-31 (the story of Lazarus & the rich man)

Trust in God bears fruit.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord…
He is like a tree planted beside the waters…
In the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still bears fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7, 8)

Our Psalm repeats this theme, equating trust in the Lord with a delight in His law that meditates on it day and night in the battle against temptation. This man doesn’t give temptation a hearing (“follows not the counsel of the wicked” -Psalm 1:1), doesn’t give in to it (“nor walks in the way of sinners” – Psalm 1:1), doesn’t persist in sin when he falls (“nor sits in the company of the insolent” – Psalm 1:1).

This well-watered, fruit-bearing tree is a picture of generosity, of the overflow of goodness (symbolized by water) that comes from God to flow out through us (in the form of fruit) for the benefit of all.

This is precisely where the rich man in today’s Gospel went wrong. God’s goodness flowed to him in the form of material wealth–and got stuck there. He did not trust God. His delight was in worldly pleasures, not in the law of God which told him to mortify himself every year (see Leviticus 16:29), that he might feel the hunger of the poor as his own and thus be moved to compassion. He turned a deaf ear to God’s commandment love his neighbor as himself (see Leviticus 19:9, 18), to open his hand in generosity to Lazarus, the poor man, who lay at his gate (see Deuteronomy 15:4-11). He wouldn’t even share his garbage, never mind fruit! (“Lazarus longed to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table” -Luke 16:21).

And see what happened. The rich man, who had seemed so green and leafy during his lifetime, found all his outward show stripped away by death. He was revealed for what he was, a barren bush in the desert, standing in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth. He was revealed as one of the wicked, tortured in flames, as useless as chaff which the wind drives away.

And he had no one to blame but himself. As Abraham pointed out, he’d had Moses and the Prophets to warn him, to plead with him, to protect him from this fate, to teach him the way that leads to everlasting joy. Had he meditated on their words–God’s words–and put them into practise, he never would have persisted in his sin.

We have even less excuse than this rich man. Not only do we have Moses and the Prophets, we have God Himself, in the Person of Jesus, telling us how to fruitfully draw in the water of life. He gives us this Lenten period of prayer to delight in His Law, meditating on it day and night, that it might protect us from sin. He gives us this time of fasting to remind us of our dependence on Him, of the death that will one day overtake us, and of the suffering of the needy. He gives us these days of almsgiving that the blessings He pours into us may bear fruit in the lives of others.

“Nothing is more efficacious than the alms of a man, whose hands have not been defiled by injustice. It is a clear stream, refreshing in the heat of day, and imparting verdure to every plant that is near it. It is a fountain springing up to eternal life. It is a tree, whose branches reach even to Heaven, and which produces its eternal fruit in abundance, when death has removed from you all that is temporal. Waste not, then, your treasures in selfish gratifications, the fruit of which is sorrow; but feed the poor, and the hungry. Plant and sow in their hands, and your produce will be great; no soil is more fertile.” -St. Chrysostom

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