How to Have the Greatest Lent of Your Life: Week 3
Thursday, March 16
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose hope is the LORD. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)
Intensive times of training like Lent are meant to boost our spiritual lives to greater heights in the good times and provide sustenance for the hard times. Our faith is supposed to nourish our lives just like the tree planted next to a stream. Jeremiah’s words tell us, too, the faith we develop is for when the heat and distress come. Not if, but when. We often have unrealistic expectations for our spiritual lives. If we put no effort into our spiritual life when times are easier, why do we expect that to carry us through a difficult time? It would be like trying to run a marathon without training.
Lent is the perfect opportunity cultivate roots like the tree planted next to the stream: dig deep into grace. Immerse yourself in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and confession. Make your prayers more frequent, and deepen them with fasting. Practice the works of mercy, carrying your sacramental life and prayer life into action. Those roots will help bear fruit when draughts come!
Friday, March 17
“When the LORD called down a famine on the land
and ruined the crop that sustained them,
He sent a man before them,
Joseph, sold as a slave.” (Psalm 105:16-17)
One of the questions that we struggle with is that of why bad things happen to good people. Or, even simpler, why bad things happen at all. The Patriarch Joseph may have been a good person, but he was sorely disliked by his brothers (see Genesis 37). Did he deserve to be sold into slavery, accused of adultery, and thrown in prison? Thinking on a purely human level, we’d say no, lament Joseph’s sufferings, and question why those things happened.
Yet God sees the intends some good by them. In the case of Joseph, God ended up saving Jacob’s family from starvation during a drought—because Joseph was well-placed in Egypt (see Genesis 45). When we experience a severe trial, it can feel like the cell Joseph was imprisoned in. It’s hard to look past those bars! The only satisfactory answer to suffering is that God intends some good to come out of it. Our job is a monumental one: having faith in God and His plan for our life. Just as God the Father cared for and sustained Jacob and his family, so too will He care for us.
Saturday, March 18
“While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)
The parable of the prodigal son is one of Jesus’ most well-known parables. The key that unlocks the entire story is the love that the father has for both of his sons. Regardless of the prodigal son’s awful life choices, and regardless of the older son’s disdain at his father’s affection—the father remained faithful to the love he bore toward them both. As evidence of that, the father went out to meet both brothers. The younger brother he met on the road, and the older brother outside of their house.
Both sons had an incomplete view of their father’s love. The younger son sought to repent but didn’t even entertain the thought of restoring his filial relationship with his father; he only hoped to return as an employee. The older son resented his brother and, in turn, resented the loving welcome of his brother. In their own way, both saw forgiveness of the prodigal son as impossible. Further, the older son saw the love toward his brother as proof that the father never loved him.
Without saying so directly, the father expressed to both sons, “Don’t tell me how to love my children. You have been and will always be my beloved son.” St. John Paul II reflected on this parable, and the love of our heavenly Father: “this love is able to reach down to every prodigal son, to every human misery, and above all to every form of moral misery, to sin. When this happens, the person who is the object of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather found again and ‘restored to value’” (John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia).
Sunday, March 19
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
The lectionary places Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:5-42) for our hearing during every Lent. The first reading also deals with God miraculously providing water, this time to the Israelites in the wilderness. The water given to the Israelites sustained them for a time in their journey. The living water given to the Samaritan woman, however, far surpasses what the Israelites received. Her focus on her physical thirst gradually shifts to her spiritual thirst, which is exactly where Jesus wants us this Lent. He wants us to recognize our need for Him in two ways.
First, we need Jesus for ultimate fulfillment. St. Augustine famously said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” The longing in our hearts can only find ultimate fulfillment in God. It doesn’t matter how many possessions we try to put toward that end; only our Creator fills that hole in us.
Second, Jesus has so much to give us! He knows we need Him, but He also desires that our lives be transformed by grace. The grace He gives us lifts up not just our own soul but those around us: our family, the Church, and the world. God seeks to bless the world through the grace He bestows on each person.
Monday, March 20
“I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.” (2 Sam 7:14)
In His infinite wisdom, God could have chosen any sort of relationship to characterize His bond with King David. He chose a father/son relationship. Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph (displaced one day by the third Sunday of Lent). God valued the role of a father so much that he chose St. Joseph to be the earthly father of Jesus. Jesus obeyed the limits of human nature, even though His divinity surpassed them. God the Father placed Jesus in a family! He was like us in all things but sin (Heb 4:15), down to the smallest detail: Jesus had a mother and father, and grew up in their home. Jesus’ public ministry likely would have been easier without parents; on a few occasions, the fact that He grew up in Nazareth impeded the locals from believing in Him (e.g. John 6:42, Matt 13:55).
The divine plan of the Incarnation bestowed incredible dignity on the family. Jesus submitted to their rule; He learned a trade from His father; He cherished His mother.
Tuesday, March 21
“At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.” (Matt 18:26-27)
Going to confession accomplishes the same thing as the servant in this parable. Our sins are forgiven, and we are set free from the constraints of sin. It’s one of the precepts of the Church that every Catholic should go to confession at a minimum of once a year; Lent is the perfect time to fulfill that obligation.
The beauty of confession is in the infinite depths of the Divine Mercy. An annual confession works for those that sin only once a year—for the rest of us, the sacrament is available as often as it’s needed. Any mortal sin should be confessed right away, so that our relationship with God might be restored. In addition, although venial sins do not carry the severity of a mortal sin, confession helps weed out sinful tendencies. Recall the words of Our Lord to St. Faustina: “I am love and mercy itself. ... Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. ... My mercy is greater than your sins, and those of the entire world” (Excerpts from the Diary of Saint Faustina, 1074, 699, 1485, 1578).
Go to confession and be healed!
Wednesday, March 22
“However, be on your guard and be very careful not to forget the things your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your heart as long as you live, but make them known to your children and to your children’s children.” (Deut 4:9)
The memories described in today’s reading from Deuteronomy were a characteristic of ancient Israel. Before history books, the story of the Chosen People was passed down orally for centuries. The survival of those stories depended upon the original witnesses recounting the stories, and bringing up their children solidly in the faith.
Although we live in an age of unparalleled literacy and access to books, our Catholic faith still needs to be communicated person to person. Our faith should be treasured, so much so that every believer would never let it slip from their heart. None of us today are witnesses of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, but we can still attest to the work of God done in our lives. From the most sublime theologian to the most unlettered Catholic, God has touched each of us in a special way. There is tremendous value in that, and those special experiences are part of that treasure that would never slip from our hearts.