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Lent Retreat - Week 1, Thursday

Thursday, February 25, 2010
Readings: Esther 4:17; Psalm 137; Matthew 7:7-12

Bread and fish. These are the two things which Jesus singles out in his illustrations in today's Gospel, and it is not coincidental, for later on in St Matthew's Gospel, Jesus twice feeds the multitudes with bread and fish. These miracles are regarded as a sign of the Eucharist, in which Christ feeds the multitudes of every nation and time.

For in the Eucharist, we feed on Christ who is the bread of life, and the fish is also a sign of Christ. In the early Church, the Greek word for fish, ΙΧΘΥΣ, was used as an acrostic for the Greek phrase 'Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour'. The bread and fish, then, point to those Eucharistic gifts of bread and wine that Christ would take, bless and offer in the Last Supper. They call to mind the gifts of bread and wine that we present in the Eucharist, which is then offered by the Church and taken up by our Father in heaven to become the "good things" that He wants to give us, namely the gift of his beloved Son, Jesus Christ, who is present in the Holy Eucharist. Thus, Jesus says in today's Gospel: "if you, then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!"

Jesus also says: "the one who asks always receives ... finds ... will always have the door opened to him". In the Mass, it is the 'entire Christ' - He and us united as one Body in the Church - who asks, searches, and knocks. Hence the Mass is called the greatest prayer because it is ever fruitful, and it is efficacious precisely because it is not primarily our work but God's. For in the Liturgy, it is Jesus Christ who is at work so that if we are open to His action and receive Him into our hearts, then God comes and dwells in us, and He fills us with His Holy Spirit, who is the "giver of life", the giver of every good thing we need.

The Eucharist, then, is the Lord's answer to Queen Esther's prayer (today's first reading). For in the Mass, the Lord has indeed come to save us by His own hand. In the Eucharistic gifts of bread and wine, the Lord has indeed revealed Himself in the time of our distress. And through the gift of the Body and Blood of Christ, we indeed receive power and courage, i.e., the virtues we need to face the lion and conquer the enemy, i.e., the devil, who assails us even as he tempted Christ Himself. Christ conquered the wiles of the devil, and so will we if we remain close to Him, and draw strength from His grace which is given to us in the Eucharist, acknowledging (like Queen Esther) that God alone can help and save us.

The irony of Lent is that we often take on all manner of penitential exercises and sometimes begin to rely on our own will power and strength; they become a source of pride and self-achievement. But such independence from God causes even the good gifts we have to turn to stones and snakes ... Instead, Lent challenges us to rely on God alone, and on Christ's efforts, not ours. Let us offer Him what little we have - our sinful lives - and trust that He will take them and bless us with His grace, causing us to become 'good things', just as God our Father is good.

Lawrence Lew OP


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