Lenten Reflections 2020
Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020
JL 2:12-18; 51:3-4, 5-6AB, 12-13, 14 and 17; 2 COR 5:20-6:2; MT 6:1-6, 16-18
I have always enjoyed this quotation, often misattributed to Plato: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Dubious authorship aside, I believe this aphorism offers sincere insight into the human condition – we are all, to some extent, faking it.
This insight can lead us into despair and loneliness. This insight can also lead to hope and trust.
Today’s Gospel is oft-quoted and highly instructive for Christians entering Lent. For each of Christ’s directions – give alms, pray, and fast – he provides examples of people going about these actions in all the wrong ways. Yet for each scenario, he also gives instructions that reveal another truth of human existence – our love matters more than mighty deeds. Or, as the Little Prince might phrase it, “What is essential is invisible to the eyes.”
In today’s message, Jesus relieves us from the silly desperation of a “make-believe” faith. Instead, he invites us to a real and mutually giving relationship with a parent God who loves us totally.
Give in secret – your Father knows and sees you. Pray in secret – your Father knows and hears you. Fast in secret – your Father knows and loves you.
I love these directions and the quietness they invite us to. God’s invitation begins in the heart. This is the invisible essentiality of Lent. We are not commanded to go out and impress strangers – or to step in and heroically “solve” our neighbors’ hidden battles. Rather, we are asked to be quiet, meek, and humble – and vulnerable enough to allow God to help us win our own battles.
Only through vulnerability can we truly, genuinely, and effectively help others.
Thursday, February 27, 2020
DT 30:15-20; 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6; LK 9:22-25
Today is the day after we fast and abstain, the day after we mark ourselves publicly with a sign of our faith, the day after we commit to a change for at least the next 39 days, or so. However, our readings today remind me though that yesterday’s message remains a very real message today. The message that stands out to me clearly is that we get to choose our sacrifices, we get to choose our identity, we get to choose to have hope. These are all very difficult things to grapple with, but on this second day of Lent, I am reminded that I was given so many opportunities during my year as an Augustinian Volunteer to grapple with who I was and who I wanted to be, with what I was willing to give up for the betterment of my community life and to choose hope as often as possible. Though we may not think about these sorts of questions and affirmations on a daily basis today’s readings and today’s message serves as a reminder of our time spent living intentionally in community.
Friday, February 28, 2020
IS 58:1-9A; 51:3-4, 5-6AB, 18-19; MT 9:14-15
The Lord calls us to action in today’s passage from Isaiah: an action of looking beyond our selfish wants and instead being the hands and feet of Christ in the world. The people are too concerned about the Lord seeing and taking note of their fasting because of their self-centeredness. They assumed that they knew the type of fasting that the Lord was seeking because they were so wrapped up in the “act” of fasting. He responds to them with a clear indication of the fasting that He wishes: “releasing those bound unjustly… setting free the oppressed…sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.” We are called to be of service to our brothers and sisters while we are on Earth.
How are we to be the hands and feet of Christ to our brothers and sisters? Christ calls us to empty ourselves to allow room for Him to fill us with His grace and mercy so we can share Him with others. Only when we are filled with Christ can we truly share our best selves with others because we share His light and goodness with those we encounter.
What is at the root of your service to others? Are you allowing yourself to be used as an instrument of God?
Saturday, February 29, 2020
IS 58:9B-14; 86: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6; LK 5:27-32
Today the Psalmist cries out for God’s mercy which is very apposite as we embark on our Lenten journey: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for to you I call all the day. Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.” (Ps 86:3-4) Today is that day that comes our way every four years: The twenty-ninth of February. If today we can offer up our souls to the Lord and then offer back this gift of a day to the Lord, then I have no doubt at all that our souls will indeed be gladdened.
But what does this mean to make this offering to God? It means to raise our hands up as beggars and to truly be mendicants (Augustinians are traditionally mendicant friars). It is acknowledging the hard truth that we need God, because those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. Jesus did not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners (Luke 5:32). Then we can allow our hearts to sing as His sanctifying grace molds us and transforms us, and the extraordinarily beautiful words of the Prophet are made present in us and to a world in need of freedom from oppression, false accusation, malicious speech, hunger and affliction:
“Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday;
Then the LORD will guide you always
and give you plenty even on the parched land.
He will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails.” (Is 58:9-11)
First Sunday of Lent, March 1, 2020
GN 2: 7-9; 3:1-7; PS 51- 3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17; ROM 5:12-19; MT 4: 1-11
This week’s reading comes at a very appropriate time. As I am writing this, I have spent the past months trying a challenge called the Exodus 90. I learned it from my roommate in college, it is a 90-day challenge that involves several components meant to promote simplicity and reflection for those seeking a sort of reawakening to their spiritual life. The challenge includes no alcohol, no sweets, no snacking between meals, 1 hour of “God time” every day, as well as several other smaller pieces. One part I’ve added in personally is to run every morning, or at least exercise. This for me has been the hardest part of the challenge, and I am in fact writing this on a day I’ve decided to skip the run. I also ate a bunch of skittles at work to break the no sweets part. In each circumstance, there was no reward promised, but my actions breached a spiritual promise I made with myself and God. In a way, I see these moments as a lesson to me that I am just as tempted to bite the apple. No snake was around telling me to eat the skittles, nobody said I should stay in bed this morning, that was all internal. And while it’s hard to take on that responsibility, what that reminds me is that it is something I can learn to control. I just need to learn to stop biting into the apple.
Monday, March 2, 2020
LV 19: 1-2, 11-18; 19:8, 9, 10, 15; MT 25:31-46
The first reading gives a clear direction from God: Be holy. God doesn’t tell Moses to only tell some people to be holy, He tells Moses to tell “the whole assembly of the children of Israel.” This includes you and me. God wants us to be holy, to be in full communion with Him, to live a public life that speaks holiness with our words and actions. He goes on to list a set of commands; a list that should help us to attain greater holiness. I don’t know about you, but I am not tempted to steal or lie or curse the deaf; I don’t have day laborers to pay. But we all have temptations that we face on a day to day basis. What are the things in your life that are getting in the way of being holy: complaining, pessimism, impatience, self-pity, greed, materialism, jealousy, spiritual discouragement, laziness, binge watching, social media, struggling prayer life, ingratitude, pride? What temptations or habits do you need to weed out of your life to cleanse your mind, body, and soul? The end of this reading tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Do you love yourself? Do you take care of you by forming good habits? Do you have a daily prayer life? How can your community members help you and how can you help your community to replace temptations with practices that lead to holiness? Holiness is not just for canonized saints. It is for you.
Tuesday, March 3, 2020
IS 55: 10-11; 34: 4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19; MT 6:7-15
I’ve probably said the Our Father about 3,000 times. Ok, that’s a big guess, but 16 years of Catholic school and 34 years of Sunday masses will certainly get that number up there.
This is not a brag. In fact, quite the opposite. It has ebbed and flowed over the years, but in general, while the quantity of Our Fathers has climbed, the heart I put into it has been on a downslope.
The words are so familiar and routine to me that sometimes they barely register. When I do pray the Our Father with an intention in mind, I am constantly reminding myself to focus on the words. Embarrassingly, a part of me even feels that if I don’t mean every word I say, my prayer won’t be heard.
This Gospel comforts me and reminds me where the true value lies. “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” It is not the words themselves. It is the act of praying, the act of setting 30 seconds aside, the act of being present in Church with others. Of course, the words have meaning, but if God indeed knows what we need before we ask Him, there’s no pressure to pray perfectly.
In fact, I think Jesus gave us these words so that we wouldn’t have to think about our prayer. Prayer can be difficult. You don’t know what to say? He says: h(ere, just repeat this, keep your mind and breath occupied. The real speaking is happening in your heart. And I already know what you need.
Wednesday, March 4, 2020
JON 3: 1-10; PS 51: 3-4, 12-13, 18-19; LK 11: 29-32
Ashes! Did you get them placed on your forehead on Ash Wednesday? If so, what did it mean to you? In Philadelphia, lines of people stretched out of St. John the Evangelist’s up to Market Street to receive the sign of the cross in ashes on their foreheads. This marks the beginning of Lent, and it seems to be one ritual that many people still participate in. We want this sign on our bodies, and in public for all to see. Amazing in this so-called non-religious age we live in. And so, we see the people of Nineveh doing the same thousands of years ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. “Who knows,” they asked as they did so, “God may relent and forgive, and withhold his blazing wrath, so that we shall not perish.”
The ashes can represent the earth. The priest could say: “Remember, you are from the earth and you shall return to the earth.” This could be a somber warning about our mortality, but it could also be a call to reconcile with the earth which we are abusing so much. To recognize our linkage with others in our communities, and how we have often broken our solidarity with them, the animals, and the earth, and need to repent. We could even fast as we do so and offer the funds we have saved to the poor and homeless who are the sign of Jonah at our door.
Thursday, March 5, 2020
EST C:12, 14-16, 23-25; 138:1-2AB, 2CDE-3, 7C-8; MT 7: 7-12
“O God, please let me get this dream job after I finish my AV year…”
Today’s Gospel today tells us to “ask and it will be given to you.” So why is it that so often we don’t get what we ask for in prayer? The dream job goes to someone else; a loved one doesn’t get healed of their sickness; a natural disaster strikes.
Well, let’s be reasonable: God is not a genie. God does not appear at our whim and grant our wishes on command (even though we sometimes wished God worked that way). God is much bigger than that. God hears our prayers and responds to them. God labors in our life. But it’s not always in the way we ask or expect.
If you pray for patience, for example, God doesn’t just wave a wand, go “poof,” and suddenly you have patience. But God might give you more opportunities to grow in patience. And God will certainly accompany you through the times that are most trying on your patience. Gradually, through God’s grace, you might find yourself growing in patience. It’s not magical. It’s gradual.
In other instances, we have to be open to the ways that God might surprise us. While the Gospel reminds us that no one would hand their child a snake when he or she asked for fish, bad things do happen in our world. Jobs are lost; people get sick; disaster strikes. God doesn’t make those things happen to us. God accompanies us through them. And we might be surprised at the graces that we find, even in the midst of great trauma. We can, after all, find God in all things.
A job rejection might lead to a new opportunity; a loved one’s sickness might bring you closer together; a natural disaster might inspire international solidarity. We might not be asking for those things to happen, but if we look hard enough, we’ll see God working through them and in us.
What are you asking from God in prayer these days? How is God responding? How are you open to gradual growth? Or to God’s surprises?
Friday, March 6, 2020
EZ 18: 21-28; 130: 1-2, 3-4, 5-7A, 7BC-8; MT 5:20-26
Today’s reading for the first Friday of Lent discusses how the Lord rejoices when someone can “turn away from all the sins they committed,” and makeover their life to keep all his “statutes” and do “what is right and just.” This message is a very important one in the Augustinian tradition, as we know that Saint Augustine started his life anew when he had his own “life makeover” — living in community and serving the religious community after experiencing troubled teenage and young adult years.
It is a beautiful experience to live in an AV community and is something I frequently miss—the prayer nights, the emotional support when work was tough, etc. While it is beautiful to live in community, it is also challenging. I also found it challenging to re-enter non-AV life when my AV year was done. This reading reminds me that the important thing is not to never make mistakes, but to continuously strive to choose what is right and just. In those moments, God rejoices.
Saturday, March 7, 2020
DT 26:16-19; 119: 1-2, 4-5, 7-8; MT 5: 43-48
In reviewing today’s Old Testament and Gospel readings, which are well-known and beautiful in their own rights, I nearly passed over the New Testament verse before the Gospel. 2 Corinthians 6:2B reads:
Behold, now is the day of salvation.
This passage transitions us from the messages of the First Reading to, “observe them [the Lord’s statutes] with all your heart and with all your soul”, and those famously written in Matthew, “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” It also emphasizes one word that is repeated nowhere else in today’s meditation: now.
As we wait in joyful hope this Lenten season for the kingdom promised to each of us, where do you observe the kingdom occurring now? During my AV year in Philadelphia, one of my community members led us in a reflection by asking, “how have you brought about the kingdom of God this week?” In the years that have passed since then, I am reminded through this passage and through my community member’s insight that the time to act as witnesses of God’s love for the world is now.
Our calling is to be love in all things: at your service sites, while enjoying prayer and meals within your communities, and during each small moment in between. How can you not only wonder in awe over the small moments when the kingdom is revealed, but become instrumental towards this day of salvation?
Second Sunday of Lent, March 8, 2020
GN 12: 1-4A; PS 33: 4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; 2 TM 1:8-B-10; MT 17: 1-9
“It is good that we are here.”
It might be the case, as the volunteer year is approaching its end and the number of days until that end dwindles, that you too are tempted to linger in the moment of your service, to acknowledge the goodness of the experiences you’re having and the relationships you’ve formed and to want to prolong them.
If so, you’re in the same place Peter and James and John were on Mt. Tabor. As they attempt to appreciate the vision of the Transfigured Christ, the Apostles propose staying on the mountain, hoping to prolong the goodness of the moment and to linger in it for a while longer. This prolongation of the moment is not to last, however; the Apostles descend the mountain shortly afterward with the admonition not to share what they have seen until after the Resurrection of Jesus.
While the Transfiguration is being accomplished before their eyes, Peter is right: it is good that there are there. While your own transfiguration is ongoing during the volunteer year, it is good that you are where you are. But, just as the Apostles cannot linger on that mountaintop because there is a Gospel to proclaim to a world in desperate need of it, neither can you, once your term of service ends and you descend from its mountain height, linger in the high places because you must proclaim the Gospel to those in your job or school or neighborhood or wherever else you find yourself. This moment is good, but today Jesus calls you to allow this good moment to pass, and when it does, to bring the same transformation and grace to the next moment of your life.
Monday, March 9, 2020
DN 9: 4B-10; 79: 8, 9, 11, 13; LK 6: 36-38
I always enjoy the scripture readings when they touch on something I can visualize. As a person who enjoys cooking, the metaphor of measuring cups flowing over is very vivid especially when attempting to bake something. We are reminded that what we measure out is often measured back to us which is why Jesus is cautioning us not to judge or condemn or we might find ourselves at the other end of a messy situation.
Cooking is a creative process that allows one to add or subtract various ingredients according to taste. Baking on the other hand, is more scientific and exact. There is a certain amount of leeway but for the most part we must measure with accuracy. Our faith is far more fluid as it calls us to be accountable for our actions especially with one another. Lent is a great opportunity to take stock of how we treat others in terms of judgement and gossip. Two things that are worth giving up rather than candy or soda. Their removal from our daily diet is proof that we can change the self-recipe and adapt our behavior as one would a recipe that allows for creativity. Lent provides us the time to look over the list of ingredients that constitute who we are and how we treat others. What spills over in our measuring out kindness and compassion will create a better tasting result than the bitter taste of judgement and condemnation.
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
IS 1:10, 16-20; 50: 8-9, 16BC-17, 21, 23; MT 23: 1-12
All their works are performed to be seen.” (Matthew 23:1-12)
In the Gospel for today I find a wonderful challenge for this Lenten season. Recently in one of my theology courses we discussed what the purpose is of the burdens we choose to carry during Lent. Whether it be giving up sweets, refraining from meat, or attending mass every day what is our greater purpose? By giving things up, do we fall into the same failures of the scribes simply performing to be seen?
My professor posed us with this challenge, before we decide what our burden will be, we should discern what it is in our life that we need to say yes to. What is a life goal you have been holding onto? Who do you want to be two months from now and what steps need to be made to become that person? By focusing on what we need to say yes to, we can then start to say no to the things that are keeping us from that goal. So during this Lenten season do not focus on being seen, do not focus on making your life more difficult for difficulties sake, but decide who you want to be at the end of this season and give up what is keeping you from becoming a truer version of yourself.
Wednesday, March 11, 2020
JER 18: 18-20; 31: 5-6, 14, 15-16; MT 20: 17-28
In today’s Gospel and reading we focus on the message of service for one another without seeking recognition or recompence. In the first reading we look at the story of Jeremiah a prophet who spoke out against injustice, such as greed and corruption. Jeremiah persists in delivering the message God has given him even though the people were plotting and using his own words against him. In the Gospel Jesus is speaking with the mother of two men who are seeking to sit at the left and right of Jesus when he enters the kingdom of God. Jesus asks the two men if they are willing to drink from his chalice and follow his example. The two men oblige to his request and Jesus then clarifies that it is not up to him to decide who is sitting by his side. That we as people should be focused on serving and loving one another without seeking recognition or recompence.
This message is a powerful reminder of why we chose to do a year of service. This year allows us to humble ourselves to serve our community at large and the one in our home. We are granted the opportunity to pray, reflect and engage with our higher power and the people in our lives. We shouldn’t be focused on how society and the people in our lives perceive us through our accomplishments and accolades. Rather we should serve to continue to make the world a greater place.
Thursday, March 12, 2020
JER 17: 5-10; 1: 1-2, 3, 4, 6; LK 16: 19-31
Fernando was from the mountains and an orphan abandoned by his community. An accident had mangled his legs and deep sores had become infected, impeding his ability to walk. He spent most of his days dragging himself around, begging for food and money until he finally met Hermana Juana. When she looked at Fernando, she saw Lazarus, and she began to take care of him.
When a health clinic of American doctors came down to Chulucanas, Hermana Juana brought Fernando to see if they could in some way fix his legs. The AVs always interpret for these clinics, so we got to meet Fernando. I remember so distinctly that there was barely any life in his eyes, and (admittedly) I was a little afraid of him because his depression was obviously so intense. The doctors explained that because of the severity of the infection they would have to amputate his legs.
After the surgery, it was amazing to watch someone previously chained and defeated by his body suddenly find a will to live and excitement over his new circumstances. Fernando asked one of the nurses for a pair of crutches; years of dragging himself around by his arms meant that he had immense upper body strength, and within moments he was swinging across the courtyard on the crutches. Finally, free to move.
Jesus gives us this graphic imagery to articulate the intensity of what poverty can look like, and, for many of us, this imagery is far beyond anything that we could ourselves imagine or (hopefully) have ever experienced. However, those of us who have stepped into other communities, who have lived among those with different life experiences might not find Lazarus’s story so foreign. I was reminded of Fernando. While Jesus tells us this story to encourage us with the goal of a heavenly eternity, he also invites us to be co-creators of a kingdom of heaven on earth. Hermana Juana’s intense and selfless love of Fernando transformed his life and allowed him to be fully himself, to ignite the light in his eyes. Fernando’s joy and heightened spirit allowed us to experience the amazing gift of what we can create together: God’s Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.
Friday, March 13, 2020
GN 37: 3-4, 12-13A, 17B-28A; 105: 16-17, 18-19, 20-21; MT 21: 33-43,45-46
In today’s first reading from Genesis, what stuck out most to me was the intense jealousy of Joseph’s brothers. Joseph is his father’s favorite son, and his brothers hate him for it. The terrible things they do, attempting to kill their brother and eventually selling him into slavery, are fueled by their jealousy. They let themselves be overcome by it.
When I was a volunteer, I remember feeling a great deal of jealousy myself. I was jealous of my friends who had good-paying jobs and disposable incomes; I was jealous of my community member who seemed to have a more supportive and rewarding service site; I was jealous of other volunteer communities who appeared to have fewer problems and more fun.
Instead of letting this jealousy overwhelm me like Joseph’s brothers did, I chose to focus my energy on the good things going on in my life and community–whether big or small. A new successful recipe my community member and I cooked together. An insightful conversation we had following a community prayer. A sunny afternoon.
Beyond my volunteer year, I look to the good things in my life when I start feeling envious of those around me. “Remember the marvels the Lord has done,” reads today’s Responsorial Psalm. No matter how you’re feeling emotionally or spiritually, in your community or adult life, there’s always something–however small–to marvel at.
Saturday, March 14, 2020
MI 7: 14-15, 18-20; 103: 1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12; LK 15: 1-3, 11-32
In today’s readings, I am reminded of God’s unfailing mercy. In the First Reading and the Gospel, there are images of a Father who always welcomes a sinner home. In the Psalm, we proclaim, “The Lord is kind and merciful” and indeed He is, who is always ready to run toward us and welcome us home. Reading these passages, I was struck by the fact that the stories don’t end with the sin, but rather, they are moments of great rejoicing because the sinner has returned to the Father. Today, in the midst of this Lenten season, may we move past our sins and turn to the Father who is waiting with open arms to rejoice with us. Let us be the younger brother who “was dead and has come to life again; [who] was lost and has been found” and rejoice in the Father’s house.
Third Sunday of Lent, March 15, 2020
EX 17: 3-7; PS 95: 1-2, 6-7, 8-9; ROM 5: 1-2, 5-8; JN 4: 5-42
Fresh drinkable water is a necessity of life which most of us take for granted. Pope Francis has reminded us that access to clean drinking water is a basic human right and a key component in protecting human life. He has said that, “The right to water is essential for the survival of persons and decisive for the future of humanity.” Access to water is a basic and urgent matter he said. “Basic, because where there is water there is life, making it possible for societies to arise and advance. Urgent, because our common home needs to be protected.” The woman of Samaria comes to the village well today to replenish and satisfy her family’s needs for water. Today the Church puts before us the scriptural motif of water as Jesus looks deeply into the woman’s heart and recognizes her deeper thirst for understanding, compassion, and mercy. Long ago God sustained the people he called forth from slavery with the waters of salvation. He blessed them with freedom and gifted them with an abiding covenant. Water became a symbol of Gods’ constant care and presence to satisfy their every thirst. Washed in the waters of Baptism we are challenged to remain thirsty for the Living Water which only God can give. May we be mindful of this thirst when we reach for a water bottle today and seek ways to address the rights to water too often denied to our sisters and brothers around the world.
Monday, March 16, 2020
2 KGS 5:1-15 AB; 42: 2, 3; 43: 3-4; LK 4: 24-30
Like many other young adults, I’ve spent these handful of years after college trying to find the right path in my life. I have bounced from volunteer life, through different jobs, onto different cities, with different friends. Each time my life takes a turn I wonder if this is going to be the start of the “right” path that I’m meant to be on.
In today’s readings, we meet a man that appears to have a good life. He is well regarded by his king and married, but we discover he is burdened with leprosy. With unexpected direction from a little girl and the support of his king, he travels long and far in hope of a cure from the prophet. The cure ends up being 7 cleansings in the river, which he is angered by for its seemingly simplistic nature. He was expecting some glorious act of miracle work that he couldn’t find elsewhere. Nonetheless, the several cleansings in the river worked and he was miraculously cured.
Today, let us take time to reflect on all of the seemingly simple things that have happened in our lives to lead us to where we are and remember that no goal is achieved, or hardship resolved in one simple stroke of a miracle working hand. But that doesn’t mean it will never happen. Have faith, be gracious for the support and care from those around you, and patiently allow the miracles to happen in ways you least expect them.
Tuesday, March 17, 2020
DN 3: 25, 34-43; 25: 4-5AB, 6 and 7BC, 8-9; MT 18: 21-35
The message of today’s gospel is simple. Jesus is directing us to continuously and completely forgive. Because if we expect our sins to be forgiven by God, we must do the same for others.
The message is simple, but the act of forgiving is rarely simple. It is almost always easier to shut down a conversation, put up a wall, and let anger and resentment take over. We can tell ourselves that we have moved on from a relationship or experience, but this is truly not possible if we are harboring resentment toward another person. Forgiveness is difficult, but forgiveness is healing; for the forgiven and forgiver. In forgiving we carve out the resentment and create space in our hearts for mercy and love. That is how I choose to think of forgiving: as making room for love.
May we find inspiration to forgive- to make room for love- in this parable Jesus told, but also the acts of forgiveness we witness in others. One of the most powerful examples I saw recently was when Brandt Jean forgave the police officer who shot his brother, Botham. He used his victim-impact statement in court to forgive and even hug his brother’s killer. In this moment, the room goes silent except for the sound of sobbing and we witness the emotional healing process of love’s triumph over resentment. I do not know if I could have done the same. But today’s Gospel, and examples of forgiveness like Brandt’s, encourage us to try.
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
DT 4:1, 5-9; 147: 12-13, 15-16, 19-20; MT 5: 17-19
Today’s Gospel reading shows a side of Jesus that I feel is less common, as he assures His disciples that he has not come to Earth to abolish the law. Jesus is typically portrayed in the Gospel as a radical prophet who challenged many of the standing beliefs and teachings of the Jewish tradition. It struck me as odd to hear Him focus on following the letter of the law, but as the Gospel continues the emphasis is placed more on the “commandments.” Those that follow the commandments will enter into the Kingdom of heaven. However, following the commandments and discerning what Jesus would do, especially in the modern world, can be challenging. The path of righteousness seems to be painted grey rather than black or white. But whenever the influences of the world seem loud, I try to remember the simplest and most important commandments Jesus taught us. Love God and love one another.
AV service sites can expose us to complex injustices in our world and community life may force us to put the needs of the community above our own. These challenges can shake our spiritual foundation, but I always try to relate my concerns back to these basic tenants Jesus taught us. Service to others (in our personal or professional lives) is the most tangible way to put our faith into action and see the face of Christ in our world. As we prepare for His resurrection, let us try to obey these commandments by living them out in service to our neighbors. And the first reading from Deuteronomy highlights an obvious reality that we often forget. When living out these commandments becomes challenging, our Lord is never far away. Prayer fosters our relationship with God and allows us a place to express our difficulties and lean on God for strength and guidance.
Thursday, March 19, 2020
2 SM 7: 4-5A, 12-14A, 16; 89: 2-3, 4-5, 27 and 29; ROM 4: 13, 16-18, 22; MT 1:16, 18-21, 24A
In the first reading, we get a glimpse at a conversation between God and David where God is informing David that once his time on Earth is spent, his fame will live on through his legacy. David is promised that from his family tree a kingdom will be raised. It is the idea of “legacy” that I want to touch upon.
In my life, I have frequently thought about the impact I am leaving. In college at the end of each year, I found myself reflecting on the time I had spent. My first two years were consumed with branching out. I tried to make as many friends as I could. My branches spread wide, but my roots were shallow. Since then, I have been faced with the hard lesson that not every relationship is able to be fully nurtured and maintained. In an effort to allow me to grow, I focused on deepening my relationship with family and close friends.
But what is my legacy? Am I a hindrance or an asset in the lives of those around me? The legacy of David leads to Jesus and Jesus loved. He sought out those who were forgotten and rejected. This Lenten season I want to focus on my legacy. I don’t want to act to be remembered, but to live a life that uplifted the people I care for. My goal is to have a legacy of honesty, integrity, and above all else, love.
Friday, March 20, 2020
HOS 14: 2-10; 81: 6C-8A, 8BC-9, 10-11AB, 14 and 17; MK 12- 28-34
I’m certain we can picture a time when we were feeling sad, stressed, frustrated, or some combination of the three, and we all but collapsed into a loved one’s embrace. Hosea’s message today conjures up for me a similar image with Jesus opening His arms to me and gently repeating, “I’m here,” as I go to Him to unload a laundry list of stressors and frustrations plaguing me.
The challenges and preoccupations of life can weigh quite heavily on us, causing us to stumble, and sometimes even collapse, as we walk along the paths God has created for us. Particularly during this Lenten season, God reminds us of His eagerness to relieve us of these burdens and to rescue us from the distressed mindsets we so easily fall into. As we call to mind the burdens we bear right now, let us ask God for the grace to wholly entrust those burdens to Him and the guidance to rebalance accordingly.
As Hosea reminds us today, God offers us respite during life’s daily struggles and loves us unconditionally. Go to Him and ask Him for relief from whatever is troubling you, so that you might be able to more freely pursue God’s path with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.
Saturday, March 21, 2020
HOS 6: 1-6; 51: 3-4, 18-19, 20-21AB; LK 18- 9:14
Have you ever caught yourself thinking, “what was my intention behind that action?” or “I think I just did that kind deed so I can look better.” I know I certainly have. The more I read the parable in today’s Gospel, the more it felt as if Jesus was holding up a rough, jagged, imperfect mirror with my reflection staring back at me starkly.
I can easily recall times where I’ve acted similarly to the Pharisee. I’ve spent far too much time (more than I’d like to admit) in my life being grateful not for who I truly am, but for who I’m not (or more accurately put, who I thought I wasn’t). “O, God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity…”. Having the “mightier than thou” mentality is not a cute look, let me tell you. Which is why a moment like this fills me with a renewed spirit. An opportunity for self-reflection that results in a realization that even though we have thoughts similar to the Pharisee, there is hope for conversion. The somewhat tricky part is that the conversion can only be made fruitful if we are humble enough to recognize our own shortcomings. As the Psalm suggests, God favors when we’re able to show mercy to others, as well as ourselves.
In what ways have others shown you mercy recently? Where do you need to show yourself and those around you mercy? What is a concrete step you can take in the upcoming weeks to extend that mercy with the right intentions?
Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 22, 2020
1 SM 16: 1B, 6-7, 10-13A; PS 23: 1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6; EPH 5: 8-14; JN 9: 1-41
The readings today challenge the cultural metrics of merit. The Lord instructs Samuel to disregard the “appearance and lofty stature” of Eliab, because the “the Lord looks into the heart.” Just because a person fits the traditional mold of a leader doesn’t mean they’re chosen. (Granted, young David comes in, “handsome to behold and making a splendid appearance,” but we all know David was chosen for his heart, not his looks nor even his mind.) Paul’s letter to Ephesians illuminates our lives with the spotlight of Christ – there’s no point in trying to conceal “the things done…in secret” from God and hiding the fruitless works of darkness prevent the light from reaching them. Perhaps most frustratingly is the story of the blind man, cured by Jesus. The Pharisees and all the devout Jews assume blindness is a punishment. To us, that seems crazy. And yet how do we hold ourselves apart from those with different abilities, different origins, different advantages. Jesus faces recrimination for disregarding the rules of the church while performing the work of God. The Pharisees are all stirred up, creating drama, pointing fingers, too busy to rejoice that a miracle has happened in their midst.
But what strikes me most poignantly is that these readings are matched with a Psalm of promise and comfort. It’s a Psalm we’ll hear at almost every Catholic funeral we’ll ever attend. While we strive to see others by the light of Christ, we are promised that we will not be judged by the standards of man. If the Lord is your shepherd, there is nothing you’ll want.
Monday, March 23, 2020
IS 65: 17-21; 30:2 and 4, 5-6, 11-12A and 13B; JN 4: 43-54
The Prophet Isaiah offers a vision of a renewed and restored creation about to come about in which we will finally experience what has always been our Creator’s desire for us.
The man is a royal official whose son was near death. His faith in Jesus’ power and willingness to heal is son comes after Jesus chastising the crowd for wanting to see signs and wonders to “buy” their faith. But this man simply takes Jesus at his word and finds his son restored to health when he returns home.
What might we be invited to believe today?
Rather than think we are called to know and believe things that are true of God, perhaps we are instead invited to believe what God believes to be true of us whether we know it or not. At Merrimack College, we call these the We Believe In You statements. Perhaps today, you are being called to believe one or more of these statements that are true of you whether or not you see the signs and wonders that confirm it…
• You are God’s beloved child in whom God is well pleased and exquisitely delighted.
• You exist in love, through love, and for love.
• Your body is God’s dwelling place in you and among us.
• Your mind is designed to seek and discover truth.
• Your heart has been fashioned to break with compassion and love for others.
• You are uniquely gifted and uniquely called in ways that you cannot yet fathom or imagine.
• You are free to choose life, choose love, and choose goodness always and everywhere.
• You belong and you matter no matter what may be true of you.
• You are fragile and precious and meant to be handled with great care.
• Though you break easily and often, you can be healed by God’s gentle mercy.
• You are priceless, worth infinitely more that the marketplace will ever pay you.
• You are eternal and meant to live fully and forever in the loving company of your Creator.
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
EZ 47: 1-9, 12; 46: 2-3, 5-6, 8-9; JN 5:1-16
In a year of service program, it can be difficult sometimes to feel like your individual presence and actions are making a larger or lasting impact. Your time at your service site, with your community, integrating into your new city is finite. But what I think the First Reading remind us of is that the changes we make, however small, however fleeting, however finite are all actions toward a larger, loving goal – and therefore just as important. Ezekiel waded down what began as a trickle of water to what then gradually grew into a river; each drop of water adding to the ones before it and culminating with the ones that followed it, until Ezekiel had no choice but to swim to the bank, where he witnessed the growth of new life – life that would not have been possible without the water in the river and all the water that came before it.
The Gospel, I think, complements this First Reading well in that it teaches us that in recognizing our own limitations and finiteness (whether it be in our service site or our community), the call to take just and moral action is still just as strong, but also just as necessary if we are to not only support the community around us, but to do so according to the Word of God. What is compassionate and right might not always be easy or clear or seemingly significant, but often it’s not until much later that we realize just how important doing the right thing was.
Wednesday, March 25, 2020
IS 7: 10-14; 8-10; 40: 7-8A, 8B-9, 10, 11; HEB 10: 4-10; LK 1: 26-38
Today’s readings highlight a very important part of the idea of Faith. Faith does not mean fearlessness, nor does it mean perfect ease in fulfilling a calling from the Lord.
In the first reading the Lord speaks to Ahaz clearly saying, “Ask for a sign,” but Ahaz refuses. He is fearful, not that he lacks faith, but he fears God and fears, as he says, “tempting” the Lord. It is a misunderstanding which leads him to refute the calling of the Lord to ask for a sign. Isaiah tells him the sign, that a child shall be born of a virgin and called Emmanuel. Ahaz is failing, for a moment, to understand that faith is often difficult when much of the end result still remains a mystery. We grasp for a full understanding, but often we have to trust in the Lord that what he is telling us is the right path.
This is never truer than in the Gospel reading. When the angel Gabriel comes down from heaven to tell Mary she will conceive the Lord Jesus she is “greatly troubled”. This does not mean she lacks faith, the contrary, she continues to believe fully that what she is summoned to do is right. So many of us step back from moments of calling because of fear instead of embracing the fear faithfully and listening to the callings of the Lord with an open heart. If we can accept faith with fear, we may better serve God.
Thursday, March 26, 2020
EX 32: 7-14; PS 106: 19-23; JN 5:31-47
In the first reading today, we find the Israelites straying away from the path. They have already committed, accomplished, and served so much at the side of Moses during this journey out of Egypt. Now, after being both physically and emotionally taxed, their faith is being tested as they pull away from God.
I find it very fitting that this passage falls upon both the back half of Lent and the volunteer year. Are we keeping up with our Lenten commitment? Are we continuing to sacrifice and challenge ourselves as we grow closer to the death and resurrection of our Lord? During this time of the year, the continual commitment to community may feel both physically and emotionally taxing. For me, I know that it was during this time when thoughts of the end of the year and what comes next, began to flood my mind. Like the Israelites, we too may lose our focus. I believe that during this time where we feel we are straying from the path personally and as a community, it is beneficial to head what Moses teaches: “God has led you out of Egypt, he will not abandon his people to be exterminated in the mountains.” It is important for us to use this as a reminder to keep the faith that God has led us to this point, he will surely lead us to the end. Take this time to find strength in God, your community, and yourself.
Friday, March 27, 2020
WIS 2: 1-A, 12-22; 34: 17-18, 19-20, 21 and 23; JN 7: 1-2, 10, 25-30
I’ll be honest. Today’s Old Testament and Gospel readings don’t really move me. There’s a lot of talk about judgement and wickedness. Jesus’ condemnation and execution are right around the corner. I know that to get to the Resurrection, we must first labor in the wilderness, but today’s readings do little to ease the heaviness that I feel daily about what is happening in our country and world. More and more, things seem broken. Our planet is warming, there is a humanitarian crisis at the border, and our country feels more divided than ever. It’s hard not to see wickedness at the root of these issues; that greed and a hunger for power has gotten us to where we are.
It’s the Psalm, something I so often inadvertently pass by, that gives hope. It tells us, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.” It emphasizes that God is not with the powerful, but instead with those experiencing pain and suffering, particularly those on the margins of society. It reminds us that the way the world is not the way the world should be.
What it shouldn’t do is make us complacent. It’s not an excuse to ignore what’s going on around us. Even though we know the Resurrection is coming, we can’t discount that Jesus must first be sentenced to death. God may be with the brokenhearted, but that doesn’t release us from our responsibility to work toward the creation of a just and equitable world.
Saturday, March 28, 2020
JER 11: 18-20; 7: 2-3, 9BC-10, 11-12; JN 7: 40-53
In the first reading and response I imagined myself as the narrator, crying out these words to an all-powerful God. And in the Gospel, I imagined myself in the crowd of people wanting to arrest this man, Jesus, who had “spoken like no one before”. The readings start with being saved by the Almighty, rescued and soothed, to finally ending up doubting and unsure in the Gospel. As I contemplated myself within these readings, I realized these feelings of being saved and soothed contrast with the feeling of doubt. This contrast is often what I feel in relationship to the Father and the Son as part of the Trinity. For myself, it is easy when God is in Heaven. God is listening to my prayers; I send gratitude for my blessed life and God looks out for me and has a plan. Jesus is more difficult. Jesus meets me here on Earth, and that can get uncomfortable. I meet Jesus in my students and their families. I meet Jesus in the countless homeless people I see around the city. I meet Jesus as I listen to friends and family. I meet Jesus in myself when I am feeling anxious and full of self-doubt. The hardest thing about faith for me is opening up to it here, in the now, as Jesus is all around us. And that’s my practice for this Lent: meeting Jesus here in the human form, while trusting in God’s strength and mercy to guide me.
Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 29, 2020
EZ 37: 12-14; PS 130: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; ROM 8: 8-11; JN 11: 1-45
“I feel dead!” may be a colloquial term used after a particularly exhausting and tiring day. After being at one’ s service site, place of work, or school, coming home to co-exist or live in community with someone else is difficult. Community life, in particular, requires a sense of consciousness and intentionality that may seem particularly difficult after a “deadly” day.
However, today’s readings enlighten us as to why intentionality towards those with whom we live is most important on these trying days. Throughout today’s readings there is a sense of God’s grace lifting us from our slumber; eternal and temporary. Isaiah reminds us of the promise that God will bring us to eternal life. This promise is what we march towards during our Lenten journey. Importantly, though, the second reading emphasizes that the promise is granted to those who have Christ dwelling within. Simply put, eternal life comes to those who live in a Christ-filled way. What better way to invoke Christ than to be present for your community or the “other” in your life. It is these moments of shared conversation, acts of kindness, and, ultimately, displays of love that fill us with Christ; even on the days where we are “dead”.
Lazarus’s resurrection displays to us that miracles occur when faith, grace, and opportunity meet. By living intentionally, even on days when we may not want to, we allow ourselves the opportunity for everyday miracles as we fill our lives with moments of grace fueled by faith. As we approach Holy Week, let us use this time to continue on our journey of turning to God for the grace and opportunity to experience the promise of eternal life; even when it is trying for us to do so.
Monday, March 30, 2020
DN 13: 1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62; 23: 1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6; JN 8: 1-11
Today’s Old Testament reading brings light to the shifting paradigms related to women’s consent we see in the social world of 2020. In this first reading, Susanna, routinely preparing for a bath in the garden, finds herself trapped when two highly respected elders sneakily approach her from the bushes and pressure her to “give in to our desire and lie with us.” When Susanna refuses to consent, the elders publicly claim infidelity. Susanna is rendered voiceless and objectified simply because of her gender. To spare Susanna’s life, God sends a mighty spirit into Daniel, acting akin to a lawyer, who interrogates each elder to prove Susanna’s innocence. Susanna’s life was brought to the edge of death and then spared all through a man’s mouth.
This story speaks vibrantly to the “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” social movements – of acknowledging the scenarios when women are treated as powerless, small objects rather than as individuals worthy of voice. It is these stories of when women are not given space to acknowledge, contribute, or defend their motives that links this story so effortless with so many stories we hear and see in the news today.
When’s the last time you felt belittled, small, and struggled because of something not in your control? How did it make you feel? Pause today. Look around at who and how our neighbors came to be with us. Recognize the ways in which God asks us to use our voices when injustice strikes – may we light a candle to them today and every day.
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
NM 21: 4-9; 102: 2-3, 16-18, 19-21; JN 8: 21-30
“The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone…”
Lent can be a trying time for most. Entering into a season of penance is difficult, especially living in a culture that promotes overconsumption and having everything you want just because you can. We live in a time in which convenience is king. But we are challenged and called to grow in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We are challenged to mirror the selfless life of Christ and emulate Him more intentionally. And when we enter into this time, we are able to see what truly matters: that while we live on this side of heaven and we experience suffering we are never alone. Our suffering, when united with Christ’s, is glorified and is never in vain. In the Gospel quoted above, Jesus says that His Father is always with Him. Likewise, when we invite Christ into our penances and suffering, the Lord is present. He is carrying us in the palm of His hand.
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
DN 3: 14-20, 91-92, 95; Daniel 3: 52, 53, 54, 55, 56; JN 8: 31-42
At the end of today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says, “I did not come on my own, but he sent me.” Take a moment to reflect on what led you to commit to a year as an Augustinian Volunteer. How were you sent? What people, experiences, prayer, or discernment process led you to this decision? There are probably many ways that you can see God’s hand guiding you to this point. How do you feel God continuing to “send” you during your AV year? Jesus’ words also prompt me to think of the concept of community, so integral to the AV program and Augustinian spirituality. We are not meant to be on our own, but to live our calling with and for others. During this Lenten season, take a moment to be grateful for the hand of God which sent you and to reflect on where he might be sending you in the remainder of your AV year and beyond.
Thursday, April 2, 2020
GN 17: 3-9; 105: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; JN 8: 51-59
In the first reading, Abram’s name is changed to Abraham and he is given a gift from God. A new name can be interpreted as being given new life. We too are given new life in God. Literally the gifts to Abraham are land and descendants. More deeply, these gifts are Creation, and community. God tells Abraham our side of the deal: we must keep His commands.
In the Gospel, Jesus states that we will never see death if we keep His word. This is hard for us to believe just like it was hard for the disciples. We know death comes to everyone. Sometimes we harden our hearts like the disciples when we are confused by what Jesus has said. These readings also provide an answer to our confusion.
We should do our service in a way that glorifies God. In a way that leads others to God. This will keep our covenant. What has helped me, is trying to look at service as a gift. Changing my mindset to “I get to be in this classroom or on the field with these students” (Instead of “I have to…”) Then my thought process is “How can I take care of this gift?” God’s promise to us is this: when we do His work and follow His word, we will not see death; we will be with Him in heaven.
Friday, April 3, 2020
JER 20: 10-13; 18: 2-3A, 3BC, 5-6, 7; JN 10: 31-42
It’s a rough day for Jesus in our Gospel today. He finds Himself surrounded by a crowd who is about to stone Him because he claims to be the Son of God. It seems like all the works and miracles He performed to manifest the love of His Father have failed to move any hearts. However, in the face of this seeming failure, “He went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained.” And I think there is a very powerful lesson in Jesus’ choice here.
Recall that at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by John, God the Father says from heaven “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Instead of giving up on His mission when He faces a setback, Jesus simply returns to the place of His baptism and remains in His identity as a beloved Son. “And many there began to believe in Him.” Success.
When we fail to live in God’s love, when we sin, do we remain wallowing in our own guilt and self-pity? Or do we return to our baptismal identity as beloved children of God and remain there instead?
This Lent, especially on our roughest days, may we remain in the latter. May we allow ourselves to receive God’s mercy and grace through the sacraments and respond to His love through our good works.
Saturday, April 4, 2020
EZ 37: 21-28; JER 31:10, 11-12ABCD, 13; JN 11: 45-56
I’ve never taken part in a passion play, but I assume Judas is an unpopular part. None of us want to imagine ourselves as the “villains” of the Bible be they Judas, Pontius Pilate or the religious elite. Honestly, when I read scripture, it is hard for me to put myself in the position of the chief priests and Pharisees who are the central figures in today’s Gospel reading. Quite frankly, as a lay woman in the Catholic church in 2020, I am far from a religious elite. Theology aside, when I consider the story of the execution of Jesus from a historical perspective, I have always believed that Jesus was killed by those with power and authority in order to maintain their own status. I do not often think of myself as someone with a lot of power, a perspective that is as frustrating as it is convenient.
In the name of writing this reflection however, I tried to look at the Gospel with fresh eyes. To be truthful, I was surprised by how rational and relatable the chief priests and Pharisees began to seem, even while plotting Jesus’ death! They may have been protecting themselves, but in their own minds they were also protecting their community and their way of life during difficult social and political times. They were convinced that they knew how the world worked and their hubris prevented them from seeing the truth of who Jesus was or imagining a world that could be different. This causes me to wonder: what prevents me from seeing the truth of who Jesus is or imagining a world free from poverty or racism or sexism? What causes me to invest so fully in the lie not that I am powerful, but that I am powerless?
Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020
MT 21: 1-11; IS 50: 4-7; PS 22: 8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24; PHIL 2: 6-11; MT 26: 14-27:66
I love the image of the entire city of Jerusalem lying down palms on the path of this transient man who is entering the city on a lowly pack animal. And not only making a path for Him but singing and crying for joy that He has arrived. It is such a ridiculous image and I never seem to be able to enjoy it because the quickness of this holy week moves so fast. We all know that a week from now there is another triumphant event that is going to take place.
It is clear that by the end of the week everyone in Jerusalem must have been so emotionally exhausted and needed a reprieve from it all. I know that at this point in a long Lenten season I am ready to be done, rush to the finish line and enjoy the joy of Easter. But some of the best teachings and the most crucial parts of our faith occur this week and it is dangerous to rush past them and not recall their significance.
Christ spent these last few days with the community He had built and made sure that they were with Him as things were going on all around them. What does walking through this spiritually busy week with your community look like? How are you washing the feet of one another? Breaking bread? Cheering another as they enter your home? Mourning together when hope is lost? Try and do it all this week, walk with Christ in that journey.
Monday, April 6, 2020
IS 42: 1-7; 27: 1, 2, 3, 13-14; JN 12: 1-11
As we enter Holy Week, this passage from Isaiah has is a reflection on the meaning of justice, a subject close to my heart after a year of service:
“I, the Lord, have called you for justice…a light for the nations…to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness”
This passage is aptly part of the “servant of the Lord” poems. The beauty of this message is that it is not only describing the mission Jesus came to fulfill, but it is a calling for every individual to emulate Him through service. We might not be opening the eyes of the blind, but we are called to justice in our everyday lives—smiling at the stranger on the street, biting our tongue when we’re frustrated, or going the extra mile for a family/community member. Even those small acts of kindness towards others can be the light in the darkness.
Let us reflect on the ways we are each called to serve others this Holy Week and prepare for the Resurrection of our Lord.
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
IS 49: 1-6; 71: 1-2, 3-4A, 5AB-6AB, 15 and 17; JN 13: 21-33, 36-38
When reflecting on the readings I keep getting drawn to Peter. Peter is one of the most relatable disciples Jesus has, in good ways and ways which make us uneasy. He is quick to answer, with not always the right one, and a loyal follower. I cannot even imagine what is going through Peter’s head whenever Jesus tells him that Peter will deny Jesus three times that night. Here he is a strong follower and then told he will deny Jesus? How could that be possible? Not once or twice but three times?! How?!? And the uneasiness sets in. Throughout this time of Lent, we are asked to assess our lives, physical and spiritual, and see where we have been denying Jesus and God. Where in our lives have we, the staunch followers of Jesus, denied Jesus in our thoughts and actions in our lives? As we continue with Holy Week and into the Easter Season, where do we need to acknowledge the Jesus in our lives? Where do we stop denying and start welcoming into our daily life?
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
IS 50: 4-9A; 69: 8:-10, 21-22, 31, and 33-34; MT 26: 14-25
As Lent begins to come to an end, we reflect back on our Lenten season and our efforts to draw ourselves closer to God. Lent is a time spent humbly recognizing our human weaknesses and living a life of intention, making those choices, however difficult, that may place us in Jesus’ footsteps and lead us down a more faithful path; for as our readings today highlight, our choices illuminate our way to God.
Our Gospel reading for today is the story of Judas and his decision to betray the Son of God for thirty pieces of silver: a choice that led Judas on a path away from God and unto his own destruction. Alternately, the first reading and responsorial palm illustrate a path that reminds me of Jesus’ final days, and though this road was the most difficult to walk, it was His choice to forge ahead towards God that led to our salvation.
Following the path of righteousness is rarely the easy one, though when we seek God and trust that Jesus walks with us, we begin to follow a path that ultimately brings us the most peace, the most love and the most happiness. As you prepare to enter into Holy Week and reflect on the final days of our Lord and his decision to follow His Father, ask yourself: are the choices I am making leading me on a path which brings me closer to or father away from God?
Holy Thursday, April 9, 2020
EX 12: 1-8, 11-14; PS 116: 12-13, 15-16BC , 17-18; 1 COR 11: 23-26; JN 13: 1-15
Today’s readings contain a lot of reminders of the humble and human side of Jesus. We begin with Passover, continue to Paul’s reflection of the last supper and end with John’s telling of the washing of the feet.
I teach Freshmen religion and one of the things that we talk about it is Jesus as the Pascal Lamb. On Passover, the Israelites sacrificed a lamb and put its blood on their doorpost to avoid the final plague taking their first born. After this plague, Pharaoh finally let the Israelites go from Egypt and they began their journey to the Promised Land. The Gospel of John that we read today makes it clear that Jesus is crucified on the Feast of the Passover. This connects the Old and New Testament and reminds us that just as the lamb’s blood saved the Israelites from captivity, Jesus dying on the cross saved humanity.
In John’s Gospel, we also read about the washing of the feet. All three of these stories remind me that even though Jesus is divine and has powers beyond our comprehension, he always put others first. At the end of the reading from John, Jesus tells us “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (John 13:15). It is a good reminder that often in community, in friendships, in relationships, at work and in life in general we are often called to wash others feet or to be the pascal lamb and to sacrifice our needs to put the needs of others first. It is not an easy task and some days it is easier than others, so start small- wash those dishes for someone else, watch the movie that you have no interest in, or talk to someone who you pass by every day without a word.
Good Friday, April 10, 2020
IS 52: 13-53:12; PS 31: 2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25; HEB 4: 14-16; 5:7-9; JN 18: 1-19:42
The disarming question of a kindergarten student years ago has remained vivid to me for decades: “Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?” My answer given then is no longer quite so memorable. What seems important to me now is not trying to stir up within myself sympathy for Jesus in his suffering, so much as it is recognizing how much you and I are loved. That makes the focus of Good Friday not a day of tragedy, but a day of hope.
The French poet, Paul Claudel, said “Jesus Christ did not come to take away all suffering, and he did not come to explain away all suffering. He came to fill all suffering with his presence.”
Though we read the Gospels and witness many instances in which Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead, we know that all those people, healed or risen, eventually died. What Jesus wished to offer them then was temporary. Under ordinary circumstances, those temporary gifts are no longer accessible, but the presence of Jesus is. When we look upon these days of the Sacred Triduum not as a remembrance of historical events over and done, but rather as participation in the great mystery of God’s love that is never ending, still unfolding, then the dying and rising of Jesus, becomes energizing for us, a great source of hope, for the presence of Jesus always surrounds us in all of our many dyings, great and small.
Advent Reflections 2019
Advent Week 1
Happy New Year! Today is the official beginning of a brand new liturgical year and the kick-off of the Advent season.
Advent is meant to be a season of joyful anticipation and intentional preparation as we await the commemoration of Christ’s birth on December 25th. But it also serves as a reminder of the very real coming of Christ in our daily lives, in the Eucharist, and in His ultimate Second Coming.
As I was reflecting on this idea of preparation and anticipation I couldn’t help but see the similarities in the Liturgical season of Advent to decorating one’s home for Christmas. That is some joyful preparation if I have ever seen any! Day by day we add a little more to our living spaces, put up a big tree and lights, and add cozy furnishings around the house to make it a joyful place to welcome our loved ones and invoke feelings of peace and joy. Nonetheless, it is easy for Advent to get lost in the chaos of events between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas morning. Who really needs one more thing to think about this time of year? Yet, as holiday stress starts to get to me and I am overwhelmed by the commercialization of Christmas, Advent draws me back into my center.
So as you prepare your homes for Christmas this year take time with yourself and your loved ones to prepare your hearts for the Lord in the same way. After all, long after the Christmas Season ends and the lights come down, Christ will still be desiring to enter in your life. Continue to joyfully prepare your hearts and spirits always for “our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.” (Romans 13)
Questions for reflection
1. As you open up storage bins, take out the decorative Christmas plates, and prepare your homes for Christmas Day, how are you preparing your hearts to welcome the Lord this Advent season?
2. In your daily life, how do you see Christ entering into your life? How can you become more aware of His presence?
Advent Week 2
As we continue into the Advent season, it is a time of preparation. We are preparing our hearts and minds to receive Jesus Christ at Christmas but even more to prepare ourselves to be Christ-like in our own lives. Jesus came to us on this Earth in the most humble form of a child and it is through the example of humility that we can approach our current place in time with courage. When reflecting on the readings of today, I am reminded of our God’s perfection. In the first reading, Isaiah speaks of a king that will be righteous, wise, understanding, and strong, and he shall not judge by appearance but with equity and justice. I imagine walking with Jesus in His life and being in awe of the way He could connect with others and the wisdom with which He could handle difficult situations. The current state of our world is one wrought with challenges, struggles, and complicated social systems. As volunteers, better still, as followers of Christ, we are called to live in those spaces of discomfort. It is difficult to acknowledge the places where we have been complacent to injustice, to look critically at our country and name the ways we have contributed, but we look to Christ to help us. Jesus came to us on this Earth in the most humble form of a child. In all His power and perfection, a small, delicate, vulnerable child is way He chooses to come into our lives. There is significance there. How have you allowed yourself to be childlike? A child is authentically inquisitive, asking questions to hear the answer and not just respond. A child takes direction (sometimes!) and is taught by listening to others. A child acknowledges wrongdoing and gives forgiveness freely. A child expresses joy without reservation or fear. Jesus lived a human life so we could relate to Him and use Him as an example for our own. If we are to be followers of Christ and truly prepare ourselves to live like Him, we must embrace humility as a cornerstone of character. Humility allows us to enter into the messy and uncomfortable spaces of our world as brothers and sisters. It allows us to say I am not perfect but I am willing to learn. Humility allows us to say yes I will walk with you even if I do not know the way. Mary, who’s Immaculate Conception we celebrate tomorrow, also serves as an example of humility in the greatest form. Her humble yes showed a strength of character and trust in God that allowed all of us to have salvation. Jesus and Mary’s lives are filled with examples of humility that can help us carry out God’s work in the world. Let us prepare ourselves this Advent to ask questions, give forgiveness, spread joy, and walk humbly with our God!
Questions for reflection:
1. Name one childlike characteristic you wish you could more readily practice. What actions can you take this week to embody this quality?
2. What does pride look in your life? How can you be reminded more often of Jesus and Mary’s humility to better serve as an example for your own?
Advent Week 3
Every Advent, I’m reminded that I don’t wait well. At bus stops, in the grocery store checkout line, waiting for the green light on the 60th minute of my commute, I often find my heartbeat increasing and my mind thinking about what else I could be doing, if only Septa was on time, or more checkout lanes were open, or traffic was clear. For a long time, for me, Advent was simply about practicing patience, about slowing down, and trying to do only one thing at a time.
Today’s readings provide a different perspective. First, I was caught off guard by the imagery of the impending desert bloom in Isaiah. I pretty much only think of the desert as a Lenten setting, and this description seemed to starkly contrast the quiet, stillness, and darkness that I associate with Advent. Then I got to Matthew. In this reading, it was John the Baptist’s words, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” that struck me.
When we meet John the Baptist today, he is in prison for speaking out against Herod. He can’t witness firsthand Jesus’s ministry, and so he sends disciples out to confirm what is taking place. This sentence is often read as an example of John the Baptist’s doubt, an explanation that makes sense, but perhaps fails to encapsulate fully what he is expressing. John the Baptist’s ministry to prepare for Jesus’s coming has driven his entire life, from where he lived to what he wore. And now, Jesus is finally here. Perhaps then, he is expressing the trepidation that comes with being almost ready to exit the wilderness, and wrestling with having not only a deep longing but also fearing the unknown of what the end of the waiting might bring. I can only imagine what must be on his mind. Is Jesus’s ministry what John the Baptist expected and prepared for? What must it feel like for John the Baptist to know that his life’s work is ending? Does he feel like he’s been cast aside by God? After all, the desert is finally beginning to bloom, but John the Baptist is unable to witness it.
This has far reaching implications for our own lives. I’m sure that we can all identify a moment where we’ve felt like John the Baptist, hesitant and fearful to finally embrace what will end our longing. In 10 short days, Jesus arrives again to heal our broken world in the unlikely form of a child. May that allow us to find the surprising ways that Jesus is healing us when we feel alone and abandoned in these moments of transition.
Questions for reflection:
1. Take some time for reflection. In your life, what are you both longing for and fearing?
2. In the remaining days of Advent, how can you prepare yourself to fully exit the wilderness?
Advent Week 4
We’ve made it to the 4th Sunday of Advent, and we find ourselves in the midst of what the church, for centuries, has called the ‘O Antiphons.’ They are recited preceding Mary’s Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55) at Evening Prayer and cover the final seven evenings before Christmas Eve (17-23). Some examples are part of our Advent fabric: ‘O Emmanuel’ and ‘O Root of Jesse.’ We hear them all in the seven stanzas of ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.’
Why has this tradition lasted so long? These are the great, ancient titles of Christ that come to us from the prophet Isaiah. They, in a sense, stretch back to the promise fulfilled in the birth of Christ as well as open toward what will come. They prepare us to receive that future.
The one for today, the 22nd of December – ‘O King of the Nations’ – reminds us of the kingdom that Christ has brought and will one day bring in fullness, where nations will no longer raise weapons against another because people will finally have beaten their swords into plowshares. With this antiphon, we call out to Christ, the King of the Nations, to come and save humankind.
All the O Antiphons call out to Christ – to be our light, to be our judge, to be, ultimately, God with us – Emmanuel. By calling out we begin to sense this happening, even today, of Christ’s coming as the true light and king among and within us.
Benedictine monks in the first millennium arranged the seven antiphons such that the first letters of the Latin would read as an acrostic: ERO CRAS, meaning, ‘tomorrow, I will come.’
So with each antiphon that calls out to Christ to come, we hear the echo come back to us as the promise, ‘tomorrow, I will come,’ a promise that turns into, in the joyful conclusion at Christmas, the birth of ‘God with us.’
Questions for reflection:
1. How has Christ been ‘with you’ this year?
2. What do you need to call out to Christ for?