Thursday of the First Week of Lent
The prophet Isaiah claims that our light will break forth like the dawn when we perform the fasting God requires: “setting free the oppressed…sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked.” The dawn will break forth in new possibilities when the “just man justices” (Gerard Manley Hopkins). Lent may be a time to renew our involvement in issues of peace and justice. We need to “justice” our nation, our family, our workplaces. What we do will “peace” together any divisions our injustices have made.
Wednesday of the First Week of Lent
The Ninevites reformed surprisingly quickly at the preaching of Jonah. How quick are we to respond to the preaching of Jesus Christ? Are there any passages in the Bible we tend to overlook? Are there passages that set us out on an inward journey as Jonah set out of his journey? What is the Scripture passage that you like most, that acts as a catalyst for your spirituality? What is the Scripture passage that causes some hesitancy? What do these two passages say to you?
O Word of God, Son of the Father, help me to be open to every word you speak.
Tuesday of the First Week of Lent
A week ago, amid Mardi Gras you may have put the finishing touches on your Lenten plan. Were you looking at Lent as a time to forego sweets and lose weight, a time for spiritual and physical spring cleaning, a time to impress God with fasting and almsgiving? Such things are good and very human. And that’s what Lent is all about—our sarx, our humanness, our selves that Gerard Manley Hopkins calls “potsherd” and “immortal diamond.” Ash Wednesday leads to Holy Week when we consider the body of Jesus—the body that took on all our sarx to redeem it, the glorified body risen from the dead, the Body received in Holy Communion, the body that became cosmic and co-extensive with his church. Maybe you’ve been thinking of your body this past week—craving sweets or being reluctant to give up a free evening to attend a parish event. That’s OK. Just keep on trekking on your Lent journey. Use the cross as your compass.
Monday of the First week of Lent
Compassion is the fullness of divine and human perfection. Meister Eckhart says, “Whatever God does, the first outburst is always compassion. Compassion is the highest work that God works.” Compassion is more than a feeling. It’s literally “suffering with,” the deepest empathy. Compassion thrusts us into action. We work toward justice, we serve those in need, we love and care. Compassion is anything that “verbs” our spiritual life. The gospel today tells us to “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.” Julian of Norwich writes, “And then saw I that when compassion for his fellow Christians flows naturally from a man who is in charity, this is Christ in him.”
What verbs of compassion will you do today? Phone a lonely person? Extend sympathy? Help a child with homework? Whatever it is, let your compassion explode in an outburst.
First Sunday of Lent
The First Reading on the First Sunday of Lent this year relates God’s establishment of his covenant with Noah and with us. God assures us of his fidelity through the rainbow. The story of the flood and the covenant sets the tone of Lent as a baptismal season when we pray for those soon to be baptized. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy reminds us that “more use is to be made of the baptismal features which are part of the Lenten liturgy” (art. 109). The Second Reading reemphasizes this when Peter writes that the flood “prefigured baptism, which saves you now.” On the day of our baptism God made a covenant with us personally—that we would be his dear one and that God would be ever faithful, never being left to fend for ourselves in time of disaster.
Today’s gospel passage is the call of Matthew. Did you know tax collectors had to auction for the position? Chosen for the job by Roman authorities, Matthew may have been quite self-satisfied when landing the job. Then he heard a call to another career. Jesus wanted Matthew to be a disciple. What did Matthew think? “Is Jesus calling me because I can read and write and keep ledgers? Which job will be more satisfying: collecting taxes or following Jesus with my skills his band of followers will need?” The gospel says, “He got up and followed him.” That’s the same response we can make today.
Almsgiving is an integral part of Lenten practice, but what if we feel we have little to give? At such times we can recall the story of the widow’s mite (Luke 21:1-4). This widow had two “lepta,” equal to 1/20 of a penny. In the Court of the Women there were 13 collection boxes shaped like trumpets with the narrow part at the top. Each one had a different purpose. Would the money be used for incense, vessels, or something else? The widow didn’t have to reflect long on which box to choose. After all, her tiny bit wouldn’t make a dent. Maybe the onlookers wondered why she even bothered. Yet Jesus noticed that she gave “every penny she had to live on.”
Sometimes we hesitate to contribute our two cents worth. We think others have better ideas, more talents, more clout. Why should we bother to proffer our meager gifts? We might look silly. Or requests for money pile into our mailboxes. Will my five bucks make much difference? Ultimately, it’s not the amount of money or the genius of ideas. It’s the courage to share the little we have, even if it’s embarrassingly small. Jesus notices when we share our two cents worth.
Everyone who is still breathing is unfinished. That’s where Lent comes in. Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving form the tripod on which the season stands. They are the three tried and true ways to lose our lives for the sake of saving them. What finishing touches do I need? How shall I achieve becoming a more finished product of God’s creation?
Paul in his letter to the Ephesians gives four qualities to help us become instruments of peace: humility, gentleness, patience, and love. Each quality involves pushing ourselves away from the center of our world. Isn’t that what Lent is all about? Lent’s prayer and practices help us push ourselves aside to make Christ our center. The first quality, humility, comes from an awareness of our own unworthiness. It can be humiliating to face ourselves, so we might try comparing ourselves to others: “I’m not as bad as they are.” But comparing ourselves to Jesus Christ is not so much humiliating as humbling. The courage to compare ourselves with the standard of Jesus gives us hope, for we know He wants to transform us into His very Self. Transformation in Christ is Lent’s goal.
We will soon begin the season of Lent when God says, “Return to me with your whole heart” (Joel 2:11). Do we find ourselves trying to think of something different to do during Lent? More service? Fewer complaints? Stations of the Cross? Here is a thought: Seeing with God’s eyes. Seeing with God’s eyes means seeing reality with “the eyes of your heart” (Eph. 1:18). We become fully conscious that everything is surrounded by God’s love. We see all things in God and God in all things. Our physical eyes are open about 16 hours a day. It’s difficult to see God in all things even a few minutes. Perhaps even more difficult to make ourselves mindful to try. Over the next 40 days, upon waking pray, “God, help me to see with your eyes today.”