Tag Archives: Lent

Thursday, 2nd Week of Lent

Lent 1

The readings for the 2nd Week of Lent are mainly about the mercy of God. On Monday we were told in Luke’s Gospel: “Jesus said to his disciples: “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.” (Luke 6: 36)

The  man In Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, our reading today, is far from merciful, absorbed as he is in himself and his own good. He’s living in a bubble of luxury, a gated world where he sees nothing else, not the poor man at his door nor his own inevitable death. He sees nothing else but the “good life,”  wealth and pleasure.

Scriptures, like Psalm 49, often point out the dangers of riches. “In his riches, man lacks wisdom; he is like the beasts that are destroyed.” The parable is obviously an example for the rich, but it’s also a warning for others besides.

Our first reading from Jeremiah warns all of us about trusting in human success and achievements. Even a small store of talents and gifts can make us as shortsighted as a great store of riches. The parable’s warning goes beyond the obviously rich. Small things we treasure, little things we make everything, can make us blind to the poor at our gate.

We don’t have to be a super billionaire to lack wisdom. “All you peoples, give heed, all who dwell in the world, men both low and high, rich and poor alike.” (Psalm 49)

Jesus’ parable also points to the treasure we should keep in mind. In a turn of circumstances, the poor like Lazarus will be rewarded in the next life and the merciful who cared for them will be in their company. Jesus gives us a sign in his resurrection that those who have been rejected will find acceptance in the heavenly kingdom.

A life beyond this is our destiny and our treasure. What we do and how we live here counts there. May God give us grace to believe in it.

Lord, I see only so far, I live for the day

my vision is all on what’s before me,

Give me eyes to see Lazarus, wherever he may be,

to see your kingdom in those in need.

Wednesday, 1st Week of Lent: The Sign of Jonah

Jonah, Roman Catacombs


Luke 11:29-32

Jonah, starting out, doesn’t seem like much of a prophet, does he? He’s a frightened man fleeing the task God gives him–to preach repentance to the great city of Nineveh. He thinks it can’t be done. He couldn’t stop the sailors who thought he cursed their ship from throwing him overboard. He would have been finished if the whale that swallowed him didn’t vomit him onto the shore at Nineveh.

The people of Nineveh paid attention to someone arriving like that. Someone escaped death from the belly of a whale? They listened to Jonah and begged for God’s forgiveness.

In Jesus, a greater than Jonah is here. He announced his death and then rose from the belly of the earth. That’s his great word, his message of hope, a sign of God’s love for us. That message must be proclaimed to the whole world and the world must hear it.

Paintings and sculptures of the story of Jonah, like the above, often appear in the early Christian catacombs of Rome. There’s Jonah thrown to the whale. On the upper right panel, Moses strikes the rock and water flows, a sign of Baptism promising life. (Note the water flows over the whale) On the panel upper left, Jesus raises Lazarus from the grave.

The story of Jonah raises our hope and nourishes our prayers. God offers us a great mission and a great vision. As it was with Jonah, we may find it beyond our minds and understanding. We are called to believe. Like Nineveh, our world is called to believe.

Lord,
I believe in the sign
that lifted you up and blesses us,
the sign of your Cross.
You bring resurrection and life to the world,.
Help us believe in what is beyond anything we know..
Amen.

What am I going to do for Lent?

table

Lent begins  Ash Wednesday. What am I going to do for Lent? The supper table is a good place to ask that question, because Lent is about renewing ourselves as we are here and now. The supper table is a sign of life here and now.

Those closest to us there. Doing something for Lent must mean doing something for them, first of all, the people across the table–or maybe those who have left our table because we have driven them away. A scripture reading early on in Lent says: “Don’t turn your back on your own.”  Have we turned our backs on those closest to us because we know them too well or we have hurt them in any way?

Besides the supper table, I guess we should also ask that question “What am I going to do for Lent?” in the place where I work, or where I go to school. Don’t turn your back on them either.

Lent is for renewing ourselves as we are, in real life and real time. We don’t have to leave this world or go to Mars to do that

The Ash Wednesday scriptures say: pray, fast and give alms. What am I going to do for Lent? How about praying each day? How about fasting from my own hard opinions of others? How about looking after someone else instead of myself, someone in need?

How about keeping this terrible situation in the Ukraine in mind? Not just looking at TV Broadcasts or online reports. How about praying for peace there? Looks like  economic sanctions are doing some good. Prayer does more good, if we believe what Jesus says.

Let’s not forget something else, though.  “What’s God going to do for us during Lent?” That’s important. Lent is a time of God’s grace, which is more than we can hope for, beyond what we deserve. The great sign of God’s limitless love is the Passion of his Son, a wondrous love beyond all others.

Following Jesus Christ in Lent

Lent 1

Lent is coming. Let’s join those disciples in our picture above following Jesus. One way to follow him is by reflecting on the lenten scriptural readings recommended for the Sundays and weekdays till Easter. They’re the basic book for lenten reading.

On the 1st Sunday of Lent, this coming Sunday, Luke’s gospel takes us to the Jordan River where Jesus is led into a deserted place by the Spirit and tempted for 40 days after his baptism. Our journey  begins  in a desert. Readings from Luke’s Gospel lead us through the Sundays of Lent this year.

The weekday gospels for the first three weeks of lent are mostly from Matthew, the early church’s favorite gospel for catechesis during Lent. Matthew brings us to Galilee  where Jesus speaks “the words of eternal life” in his Sermon on the Mount.  (Matthew 5-7) Be faithful to prayer and you will grow in wisdom, Jesus says.  ( Tuesday and Thursday, 1st week of Lent)  Love your neighbor, even your enemies and “the least,” whom we easily overlook. ( Monday, Friday, Saturday, 1st week of Lent)

Peter’s confession at Caesaria Phillipi is the highpoint of the first part of Matthew’s gospel. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter says to Jesus. “You have the words of everlasting life.” Lent invites us to join him in that same confession.

Yet, can we possibly love and believe that way, so lofty and challenging? We’re rather weak disciples.  Jesus doesn’t call perfect disciples, the reading for Saturday after Ash Wednesday reminds us. He called  Matthew the tax collector and people like him–not very good keepers of the law. Outsiders and sinners like them tell us we belong in the lenten season. (Luke 5, 27-32)

Matthew’s gospel takes us up the Mount of the Beatitudes. Like most sacred writers, Matthew likes mountains; you see ahead  more clearly from them. On the 2nd Sunday of Lent, we go up to the Mount of the Transfiguration to glimpse the  glory found ahead.

By the 4th week of Lent,  we arrive  in the Holy City, Jerusalem, to the temple mount and  then the Mount of Calvary. Starting with the 4th week most of the weekday lenten gospels will be from the Gospel of John. I’ll say something about them before we get there.

You can follow the lenten readings online here.

I’ll mention some lenten devotions, like the Stations of the Cross, in the next few days.

The Prayer of Jesus in the Garden

Mount Olives 3


Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, the gospels say. He brought them up a mountain–a traditional place to draw close to God. There he taught them the prayer we call the “Our Father” or the “Lord’s Prayer”, a prayer deeply rooted in the Jewish prayer tradition. (Matthew 6, 9-13)

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray “in a certain place”, on the plain, in the course of his ministry. (Luke 11, 2-4) He prayed daily on the journey. The prayer he taught them is more basic than the prayer found in Matthew’s Gospel..

“When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” (Luke 11,2-4)

Mark, Matthew, Luke recall Jesus praying in the garden before his Passion and the lesson he taught there. His disciples do not join him, but fall asleep.  

They’re sleeping because the flesh is weak, Mark says.

They’re sleeping because they can’t keep their eyes open, Matthew says.

They’re sleeping because of grief, Luke says.

Stay awake and pray, Jesus tells them. Prayer brings you through times of testing and temptation.

Facing the weakness of the flesh, death by crucifixion, Jesus doesn’t wave it away in stoic resignation or look to his own power. “Not my will, but your will be done,” he says. Facing the consequences of his mission, the limits of human power, the “form of a slave,” he depends on his Father for the strength he needs.

In the garden Jesus teaches his disciples how to face trials that come. He kneels on the ground and humbly looks beyond himself to his Father, “Abba”, who hears him. He falls to the ground, trusting his Father’s strength and not his own. Troubled and distressed, for an hour’s time he pleads for help. . 

“He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” Luke says. Then, an angel comes to strengthen him. The cup of suffering isn’t taken away; he will drink from it, but it will not crush him. God will raise him up.

He teaches us pray as he did and promises to pray with us in our trials.

The Feast of Jesus Praying in the Garden is another feast St. Paul of the Cross recommended to begin the lenten season. We will know the mystery of his cross through carrying it ourselves and entering the garden to pray there with him.

On to Lent and Easter: Mark 9: 14-29

It takes time to believe. The disciples of Jesus needed time to believe in him and understand the meaning of his life, death and resurrection. So did the man in today’s gospel from Mark who asks help in his unbelief. So do we.

Where are we now?

Since the Christmas season we have been reading about Jesus’ ministry in Galilee from Mark’s Gospel, which ends with Chapter 9 next week at the beginning of Lent. Then, we will follow him, from Matthew’s Gospel mostly, on his journey to Jerusalem where he says he will die and rise again.  

What does Mark’s gospel tell us he has accomplished so far? His disciples still do not understand him, Peter certainly doesn’t. (Mark 8, 27-33) Despite miracles and his inspired teaching,  his own family and hometown turn away from him. (Mark 3,1-5;  6, 1-6) Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem come to Galilee to dismiss and condemn him.( Mark 7,1-15)

Yet, Jesus goes on to Jerusalem, with his disciples and with all of us. The lenten season’s readings and feasts will take us, like his disciples, from Galilee to Jerusalem. Lent will also call us, as Jesus does in today’s gospel, to prayer.

Will this lent and Easter turn more people to join him?  Maybe. The world we live in is a lot like Galilee and Jerusalem. Still, like the disciples who first followed him there, we’re going up to Jerusalem. There will always be transfigured moments to lead us on.

Tuesday, 3rd week of Lent

Peter’s question about forgiveness in today’s gospel ( “How many times must I forgive my brother?”) isn’t just his question. He’s asking the question for all of us.

Measure your forgiveness by God’s forgiveness, Jesus says to Peter. It’s beyond measure, and he gives Peter and all of us a story of two servants. Both are involved in a money operation gone wrong. As we know money brings out the worst in people.

There’s a big difference in the money owed. The first servant owes ten thousand talents, a huge sum, and in a unexpected display of mercy, his master forgives the entire debt.

After being forgiven so much, however, that servant sends off to debtors prison another servant who owes him a few denarii, a small sum. The ten thousand talents his master has forgiven him would be worth about 10 million denarii. Big difference!

The story isn’t our only teacher, however.  God’s unmeasurable forgiveness finds its greatest expression in the passion and death of Jesus: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” he cries out from the cross. He pleads, not for one, or a few, but for the whole world. Jesus reveals the mercy of God beyond measure.

We’re called to measure our forgiveness of others against his.

Lord, let me hear your call for forgiveness from the cross,

and let me make your call mine.

A Book for Lent

St. Paul Cross

Lent begins next Wednesday, February 14th. Some years ago a publisher asked me to write a book entitled A Lenten Journey with Jesus Christ and St. Paul of the Cross, to be part of a series of reflections on the daily lenten gospels that included thoughts of saints of different religious orders. The book has just been translated into Japanese.

I was initially skeptical about the project. From early on I’ve seen lent as a time to give up something and take up some devotional practice like the Stations of the Cross. Yes, Lent was a journey with Jesus, and I appreciate the daily scriptures that take us through the season with him, but where does a saint come in, even a saint important to me, like St. Paul of the Cross, the 18th century founder of my community the Passionists ?

Working on the book made me see lent differently. First, for St. Paul of the Cross lent was a time to leave the quiet mountain at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea where he lived and prayed and go to work in the Tuscan Maremma, then a swampy, malaria infested region of Italy, overrun with robbers and desperately poor. All through lent, carrying a cross and a bible Paul went from village to village preaching God’s love to people whose lives were often on edge with fear and lost hope.

Lent isn’t a time for turning inward, away from world you live in, Paul reminds me. Lent is a time to go out to the wounded world before you.

Secondly, Paul engaged his world, the world of the Tuscan Maremma, in the light of the gospel, especially the Passion of Jesus Christ. For him that mystery was not limited to a time long ago, when Jesus suffered on a Cross; it was there in the people before him. From village to village, he held up a Cross to anyone who would hear as a mirror of their reality and a pledge of the great mercy of God. Jesus died and rose again.

The Passionists celebrate two feasts immediately before Ash Wednesday to prepare for Lent. Last Friday we celebrated the Commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ. Tomorrow, Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, we celebrate the Prayer of Jesus in the Garden. Both feasts come from our missionary founder.

I can see him packing his bags for his lenten journey down the quiet mountain for the villages and towns of the Tuscan Maremma. He must remind himself what he will see. He must pray so he doesn’t forget.

“May the Passion of Jesus Christ be always in our hearts.”

Word by Word


As we walk along and lean more and more on God and less and less on human consolation we discover we are never alone.

When we truly give thanks to God for the human consolation that comes our way we discover just how many angels and saints God has placed along the path.

Everyone and everything is originally from God.

He is the only true creator, at the beginning, and at the end of the day.

If we love only Him we love everyone and everything.

Evil is the denial of such undeniable truth.

Evil is the denial of God’s supreme creativity.

Evil is the absence of good.

And shadows and darkness need spaces and voids in order to exist.

Jesus came to cast providential light.

For as the sun rises toward “straight above” the length of negativity surely disappears.

And at perfect high noon darkness does not stand a chance.

For Jesus was raised up upon the crisscrossed tree of life.

Good squelching evil for all the world to see.

———

The foot of that Cross still remains.

The closer we get the brighter the day.

Spaces and voids fill with pure light.

Absence disappears.

Evil is cast into hell.

For what God creates He intends for good.

———

Will we then live good lives?

Will we allow our absences to be filled with genuine goodness?

Will we speak life?

Will we help build the kingdom?

Let us do so.

One stone at a time.

One flickering light at a time.

One Eucharistic encounter at a time.

———

Let us live “on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

For when we do,

Stones become bread,

Water becomes wine,

And bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.

———

Lord Jesus, cover us with Your Blood.

Let us hug the foot of Your Cross.

Let us adore Your feet nailed to the trunk of the tree.

Let us get so close that not even a speck of darkness can get in between.

Let us truly ask this in Your Holy and Perfect Name.

Amen.


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—Howard Hain

http://www.HowardHain.com

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