How to Prepare for the Best Lent of your Life
Lent is a season for reflection. We have an opportunity to reflect on our lives--past and present. How have we lived? How do we live out each day? We have an opportunity to reflect on the attachments we have to worldly pleasures and comforts in this season of fasting. And we have an opportunity to reflect on the love that God has for us. The book of Tobit reminds us to "consider what [the Lord] has done for you." We want to give you the tools to prepare for the best Lent of your life. Here are some daily reflections to aide you in deepening your spiritual life and conversion this Lent.
February 10 - Ash Wednesday
“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart... for gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.” (Joel 2:12, 13)
St. John Paul II opened his pontificate proclaiming, “Be not afraid!” both to the crowd at St. Peter’s as well as to his native countrymen in Poland. Our spiritual lives falter at least in some sense because of fear. Maybe we are afraid of changing our lives; confronting a bad habit; even afraid of healing. Lent is the liturgical season ready made for addressing fear. How does that happen? The prophet Joel speaks very similar words that the Lord Jesus spoke to St. Faustina: return to the merciful God. Do not be afraid of what grace can do, or what God is asking you to do this Lent!
“‘That you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins’--He then said to the paralytic—‘Rise, take up your bed and go home.’ And he rose and went home.” (Matt 9:6-7)
Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes. Our Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette in the tiny town of Lourdes, France, in 1858. Thousands of healing miracles have occurred there over the past 150 years (including the healing of St. Bernadette herself). Miracles are important to our faith for a few reasons. First, like in the scripture quote above, it’s a reminder to us that God is more powerful than sickness and death in the physical world, and more powerful than sin in the spiritual world. Second, miracles were key features of Jesus’ resume. Not only did He preach the Word of God, His miracles bore witness that He indeed was the Divine Son of God. Third, we need to remember that miracles didn’t die with the apostles. The same Holy Spirit that filled them still fills the Church today! If Jesus had the authority to heal the sick, raise the dead, and forgive sins, why run to anyone else but Him for this Lenten season? Take a moment to stand in awe of Jesus and of His power to heal everything in you that needs healing.
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)
For those of us that don’t have a regular fasting habit, two days of fasting in a week is a bit of a shock to the system. Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and abstinence (see the regulations here), and today we abstain from meat. A shock is good! Fasting is not meant to be hunger for the sake of suffering. Making sacrifices naturally overflows into our spiritual lives; it softens our heart to better hear the voice of God. It’s similar to the stark words of Isaiah in today’s reading: the Jews at the time thought they were doing fine at obeying the prescriptions of the Law (see Is 58:1-6). Letting Lenten observances be merely external robs them of their transformative power. For charity to be truly life-giving, it must be lived and shared.
“Be gracious to me, Lord;
to you I call all the day.” (Psalm 86:3)
The response to today’s Psalm is, “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.” The way to God is a path of humility—without which a life of faith is impossible. At the end of that path lies our (hopeful) final end: heaven and union with the Holy Trinity. This is something we could never dream of achieving on our own! How inestimably gracious is God, giving us this eternal gift. Humbly remember why God is asking us to turn our hearts to Him during Lent: the Creator of the universe wants you to spend eternity with Him.
February 14 – 1st Sunday of Lent
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death He might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. Therefore He had to be made like His brethren in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because He Himself has suffered and been tempted, He is able to help those who are tempted.” (Heb 2:14-18)
This passage from the Letter to the Hebrews fits hand-in-hand with today’s gospel of the temptation in the desert. Jesus was like us in all things but sin. By becoming man, He rescued fallen humanity from the destruction of sin. He understands the temptations that we undergo on a daily basis and still loves us. When temptation strikes us, let us run to our great weapon: Jesus, Whom temptation never defeated.
“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matt 25:37-40)
This is from today’s gospel reading, and it calls to mind the passage from Isaiah 58 (see Feb. 12 above). Just in case it wasn’t clear already,
by placing this reading in the first week of Lent, the Church is trying to hammer home a point: authentic Christian charity needs to be lived.
"If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions." (Matt 6:14-15)
This recalls the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:22- 35). The teaching was prompted by St. Peter's question to Jesus: "if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (18:21) One thing that I often focus on is the number, and not Peter's underlying motivation for the question. Forgiveness is hard! When someone has hurt us, it's tempting to hold on to that pain--and we probably do it more often than we'd admit. It's a justification for hating that person, for every cold shoulder, and for holding a grudge. In the passage from today's gospel, Jesus is steering us away from that. He's trying to save us from ourselves! Forgiveness is the true path to life and healing; refusing to forgive can have consequences far beyond this world.
"The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 'Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and announce to it the message that I will tell you.' So Jonah set out for Nineveh, in accord with the word of the LORD." (Jonah 3:1-3)
In years past, I've gone through many perfunctory Lents. I've fasted only when I absolutely had to, and gave up something that didn't affect me very much. I trudged through Lent with a "is this over yet" attitude, eager for Easter and for an end to meatless Fridays. The prophet Jonah was just as enthusiastic about preaching in Nineveh as I was about entering into Lent, and agreed to go there only after a near-death experience (see ch. 1-2). Jonah's mission was to preach against the wickedness that was rife there (1:2). Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that we’re immune to wickedness, or that it’s enough to be a good person. God calls us to be saints! During Lent, God is calling you to go to the Ninevehs in your heart. Let the light of God shine in those dark places. Let His healing in and His grace work within you!
"I thank you, O LORD, with all my heart,
in the presence of the angels, to you I sing.
I bow low toward your holy temple;
I praise your name for your mercy and faithfulness." (Psalm 138:1-2)
During Lent we focus on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We undertake a struggle to improve our spiritual lives and become more Christ-like. In the midst of all the struggles, we can't forget to be grateful for God. It's all too easy to focus on the prayers He hasn't answered--or hasn't answered in the manner we wanted. One of the best penances I ever got after confession was to write down 50 things for which I was thankful. At first I thought that was too large of a number. Once I started, I ended up with even more than 50 items. Whatever your state in life, there is always a reason to be thankful. In the midst of the fasting and sacrificing of Lent, make sure to offer prayers of thanksgiving to God.
"I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:20)
Jesus said this during the Sermon on the Mount, and it must've caused quite a stir. The Pharisees were religious professionals of sorts. They were experts in the Law, and devoted their time to teaching and observing it. How could a regular joe, who had to work and support his family, surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees? Wouldn’t only a handful of people end up in the kingdom of heaven? The message Jesus preached two thousand years ago is no less valuable (or shocking) today: the way to heaven is perfection, and the way to perfection is Jesus. It’s not something our will can accomplish, nor is it something we do by ourselves. As high as Jesus sets the bar for us, He gives us every tool we need to get there.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt 5:43-48)
The love that Jesus is proposing here is a radical love. Loving those who hate and persecute us? By the world’s standards, that’s crazy. How are imperfect humans supposed to love others in a perfect way? First, we are a new creation in baptism and part of the Body of Christ. Next, being part of Christ’s Body, we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Every good thing we’re working with is a gift from God. It will never be easy, but God gave us the tools we need.
February 21 – 2nd Sunday of Lent
"[Jesus] took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. ...a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, 'This is my chosen Son; listen to him.'” (Luke 9:28-31, 34-35)
At the beginning of Lent, we talked about fear being a hindrance to our spiritual lives. Jesus' glory is revealed using a lot of Old Testament imagery. The two great prophets, notably Moses, who himself saw God face to face. The mountain was the place of encounter with God throughout the Old Testament, and the presence of God was signified by a cloud. With every element of this story, the Church tells us that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah and the Son of God. Have confidence in Him!
February 22 – Feast of the Chair of St. Peter
"He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt 16:15-19)
Building on yesterday... have confidence in Jesus and that He truly IS the Divine Son of God. Now take that trust to its next logical step: Jesus Himself put the care of the Church under Peter, giving him the power to bind and loose. And what is Peter able to bind/loose? Sin! Jesus gives the Church the authority to forgive sins, something that had previously been reserved only to God. The Church didn’t lose that authority when the apostles died. Take advantage of that special avenue to mercy! The sacrament of reconciliation is there waiting for us to be loosed of our sins.
“Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be red like crimson, they may become white as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)
God’s words to Isaiah contain a simple truth: we can never be right with God as long as we hold onto our sins. God is holy and perfect; He is the white to our scarlet. The way to get to Him is not to redefine God to fit our terms; God took care of this with the Incarnation. Instead of God becoming less perfect to meet with humanity, He gave us His very life and raised human destiny to His level. And He gave us His Son, grace, and the Church to accomplish that!
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:25-28)
Here again, we encounter the lesson of humility. The mother of James and John requested that her two sons sit at the right and left of Jesus—it was bold, and a source of irritation to the other disciples. What James, John, and their mother didn’t know was what it meant to share in the glory of the Lord. Rather than wealth, public esteem, or positions of power, Jesus’ glory was found in the cross.
“Blessed is the man who does not walk
in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the way of sinners,
nor sit in company with scoffers.
Rather, the law of the LORD is his joy;
and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2)
There is a constant internal battle against sin, and even the best of us fail every day. Many times, we don’t do ourselves any favors. A great weapon in battling sin is knowing what to avoid. Does the company of some friends or coworkers draw us into sin? What about TV shows or music that glorify sin and vice? Now that we’ve been in Lent for a couple weeks, examine your efforts—if you’re anything like me, look hard at your efforts and not the good intentions. Is practice of Lent being held back by things that can be avoided?
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to save us, and Jesus loved us so much that He willingly underwent a horrendous death to accomplish that salvation. It’s important to focus on penance and growing in holiness during Lent. However, we can’t forget that every drop of blood that He shed was for love. Jesus said that He loved us, but every thorn and every lash was Jesus showing His love for us. Why else would someone willingly undergo such torture? Only love makes sense.
“So he got up and went back to his father. 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. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.” (Luke 15:20-24)
The story of the prodigal son is one of Jesus’ most famous parables. As this is the season of returning to God with a repentant heart, let’s focus on the prodigal son. If ever you doubt that God will forgive you... if you are afraid to take a particular sin to confession for fear of what the priest might say... read the above passage again and again. Envision yourself as the prodigal. Picture our Heavenly Father running out to you and embracing you as you confess your sin. So lavish is His love, so unbounded is His forgiveness!
February 28 – 3rd Sunday of Lent
“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)
This gospel reading is from the RCIA track of readings, so it might not be heard at every parish. Life-giving water is previously found in Ezekiel’s mystical vision of the heavenly temple; the stream flows out of the temple and gives life to everything it touches (Eze 47:1-12). One of the neat details is the depth of the water that Ezekiel records. It went from ankle-deep to knee-deep, from waist-high to completely impassable. In other words, it’s a superabundance of water that flows form the heavenly temple. Jesus offers the woman at the well that very abundance of grace. Remind yourself of your Lenten practices and take solace—God’s grace flows out of heaven at a level unimaginable. The vitality of that grace can refresh even the most arid parts of our hearts, if we let it in.
“Elisha sent [Naaman] the message: ‘Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean.’ But Naaman went away angry, saying, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand there to call on the name of the LORD his God, and would move his hand over the place, and thus cure the leprous spot. Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?’ With this, he turned about in anger and left.” (2 Kings 5:1-12)
How often does God give us an unexpected gift, especially in the form of suffering! Through the eyes of heaven, suffering is a great blessing. If we enter into it for the sake of Jesus, He will draw us deeper into Himself. If we approach that gift of God like Naaman initially viewed Elisha’s instructions, the suffering will only cause us to push God away. I’m sure we all have examples of both in our lives. There were times of suffering that caused my faith to grow, as well as others that I avoided like the plague. No matter what kind of sufferings that this Lent brings, use them to unite yourself to Christ.
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church.” (Col 1:24)
I admit, I cringe when I read this. St. Therese of Lisieux, in her autobiography, often displays that perfect attitude in response to suffering. Usually my response varies, but rarely is it joy. It takes a selfless person to joyfully embrace suffering and to think only of the good of others. Rather than look at this as an unattainable goal, look at the one Who IS our goal. He offers us a special role in our trials: the things we endure alongside Him are fruitful to the larger Church!
“Now therefore, Israel, hear the statutes and ordinances I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.” (Deut 4:1)
God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, and the Law was subsequently revered by the Jews (e.g. Psalms 1, 19, 119). Yet for the Jews, revering the Law and following it were not the same thing. The story is no different today! The same tune plays out in the hearts of every man and woman. We would do well to remember that we were given the moral law—handed down to us faithfully by the Magisterium—mainly for one reason: that we may live. God gave us His laws so that we might work with Him and enter into communion with Him... not because He wanted to punish us. Is there a precept of Church teaching that you have difficulty with? Remember, it’s contrary to God’s nature to create a law that would purposefully drive us away from Him.
“He was driving out a demon [that was] mute, and when the demon had gone out, the mute person spoke and the crowds were amazed.” (Luke 11:14)
We’re halfway on our Lenten journey to Easter Sunday. Momentum can be difficult to maintain, so let’s revisit miracles (see 2/11). You may not be mute like the person in today’s gospel; you may not have a withered hand (Luke 6:6-11) or be blind (John 9). Thanks to original sin, we all carry with us some spiritual malady. We need spiritual healing from Jesus even more than the mute, withered, and blind of Jesus’ times needed physical healing. He has the power and authority to heal us. Why wait any longer to open our hearts?
“I will be like the dew for Israel: he will blossom like the lily; He will strike root like the Lebanon cedar, and his shoots will go forth. His splendor will be like the olive tree
and his fragrance like Lebanon cedar.” (Hosea 14:6-7)
When we approach the Lord for healing, He doesn’t heal just to cure. As the first reading from Hosea describes, God heals us so that we may flourish! The stream flowing out of the heavenly temple in Ezekiel’s vision transforms everything it touches (see 2/28 above). Today, when that hamburger has never looked so delicious, remember the miracle from the gospel yesterday. God seeks to do great things in your life!
“The tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, [he] went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:13-14)
The Chaplet of Divine Mercy was given to St. Faustina by Jesus Himself. It repeats the same prayer as the tax collector in Jesus’ story. In that plea for mercy, we don’t beat ourselves up or have to plunge ourselves into despair. Asking for mercy recognizes two things: first, that we are sinners in need of mercy. Again, that’s a simple fact. If you’re breathing, human, and neither the Second Person of the Trinity nor conceived immaculately, you’ve sinned before. Second, that God is more powerful than sin and can overcome it.
March 6 – 4th Sunday of Lent
“Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (John 9:35)
Today’s gospel for the RCIA track is the man born blind. The story is worth reading all the way through (it comprises all of ch. 9). It features a miracle and some sarcasm. There are two good lessons in this story for us as Lent continues. First, when conversion happens, attacks often come and support can be taken away. Look what happened to the formerly blind man: the Pharisees interrogated him and ridiculed him; his parents wouldn’t stand up for him at all. Second, Jesus allows a certain amount of testing. He doesn’t leave us hanging, however. At the end of the story, Jesus seeks out the man born blind and asks a brief question. Do you believe? As we get closer to the end of Lent, be on guard against attacks (see 1 Peter 5:8-9) and let his question propel you to deeper faith in Our Lord.
“The royal official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You may go; your son will live.’ The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.” (John 4:49-50)
This is a great lesson to us in obedience and faith. The royal official had confidence in Jesus and once Jesus instructed him, he immediately acted on that confidence. God can do amazing things with a trusting heart. All of our Lenten practices are supposed to lead us in that direction—the more prayer, the greater union and knowledge with Him. The more fasting, the less we focus on the things of this world. The more almsgiving, the better we see God in the world around us.
“After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him, ‘Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.’” (John 5:14)
Here is another miracle story where Jesus seeks out the subject of His miracle. Jesus could have made a big announcement, or proclaimed in the middle of the crowd that He was the Messiah. He chose the humble, personal route. Humility here again! A reminder in your Lenten observance: humility is the key to sanctity.
“Sing out, heavens, and rejoice, earth, break forth into song, you mountains,
For the LORD comforts his people and shows mercy to his afflicted.” (Isaiah 49:13)
Keeping the Passion and the Resurrection in balance is a tricky but necessary task. Without the Passion, the resurrection is robbed of its full meaning. Without the resurrection, the Passion is a terrible execution. So as we continue our Lenten penitential practices, the first reading slips in some joyful anticipation. All the effort in our spiritual life is worth it. God will come to our aid!
“You do not want to come to Me to have life.” (John 5:40)
We have coping mechanisms of all kinds and all degrees of healthiness. Regardless of what we profess about Jesus, our actions can betray us. He tells us, “come to Me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28) Yet we can seek solace in vices, movies, video games, or a range of other activities before Jesus even comes up in conversation. If your Lent is sputtering, renew your resolve and begin a new practice without delay. Go to Jesus, and receive life!
“For if the righteous one is the son of God, God will help him and deliver him from the hand of his foes. With violence and torture let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.” (Wisdom 2:18-20)
As we were reminded of the joy of the resurrection two days ago, on this day we recall the Passion. This passage from the first reading fits the Passion exactly. The Pharisees taunted Jesus at the foot of the cross with almost the same words. (Matt 27:43) Jesus displayed gentleness at His trial and died a shameful death. The cross is coming. We can’t skip over Good Friday—just like we can’t avoid suffering. It will only end in the next life.
“Some in the crowd who heard these words said, ‘This is truly the Prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Messiah.’ But others said, ‘The Messiah will not come from Galilee, will he? Does not scripture say that the Messiah will be of David’s family and come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?’ So a division occurred in the crowd because of him.” (John 7:40-43)
Different images and accounts of Jesus have existed as long as the Church has been around. To some, He’s a great prophet; to others, a nice man but one among many religious figures; still others, He’s the subject of a vast conspiracy on the part of Christians. The presentation has changed over the centuries, but the substance has not. This discussion from today’s gospel provides a case study on what happens when the true person of Jesus isn’t followed: division. Once humanity starts slipping in its ideas on what Jesus should be, they’re headed down a dangerous road. When a denomination doesn’t have the true picture of Jesus, trouble will ensue. Division began in Christianity in the 11th century, and has not stopped since then. If you have difficulties with Who Jesus is, hold fast to the Catholic faith.
March 13 – 5th Sunday of Lent
“When Jesus heard [that Lazarus was sick] he said, ‘This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was.” (John 11:4-6)
On the surface, Jesus’ pause in traveling to Bethany feels strange. Martha, the sister of Lazarus, says as much when she greets Jesus. Had He been there, she says, Lazarus surely would not have died. Read all of your unanswered prayers and sufferings through this story. When Jesus doesn’t step in and fix things right away, He’s telling us the same thing He told His disciples: “This ____ is not to end in death, but for the glory of God.” It may take until eternity to see the fruits of that suffering; there is much hidden from our gaze. Still, take heart in the end of the story: Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. When Jesus promises glory, you’re getting glory—in His time, not ours.
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
Light is a theme that runs throughout the readings of Lent. The gospels tell of people coming to the light—some having their physical sight given back to them, and others being blessed with spiritual sight. It doesn’t stop here, either. Light is a huge part of the Easter Vigil liturgy. No matter how deep the darkness, it can never envelop light. We may not be able to see very far in front of us when we follow Jesus; staying with Him gives us all the light we need.
“So [the Pharisees] said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “What I told you from the beginning. I have much to say about you in condemnation. But the One Who sent me is true, and what I heard from Him I tell the world.” (John 8:25-26)
The Pharisees’ first question is a very important one: who are you? Every Christian has to answer that question. It’s an insightful question, and it’s a switch from the reading two days ago (see 3/12). Jesus reminds the Pharisees of the source of His authority. It recalls a passage from St. Luke’s gospel: “Whoever hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects Him who sent me.” (10:16) Embrace the truth that Jesus brings!
“If you continue in My Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31)
Throughout Lent, from what have you been asking for freedom? A sin, bad habit, fear? As the daily Mass readings have repeated over and over: run to Jesus and His merciful heart! Approach Him in humility and allow yourself to be submersed in His Word. That will bring us to knowledge of the truth, and thus to freedom. The broader opinion in our secular culture is that Catholicism is legalistic, rigid, and restrictive. It certainly would be, if all the rules/etc. were made by man. By following the rules revealed by God, we attain greater freedom—especially freedom from sin.
“Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing; but it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ You do not know him, but I know him. And if I should say that I do not know him, I would be like you a liar. But I do know him and I keep his word. Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad. So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid and went out of the temple area.” (John 8:54-59)
At the Easter Vigil next weekend, there will be up to 9 readings (depending on your parish). The readings cover the whole of salvation history, from Adam and Eve all the way to the New Testament. The mention of Abraham in today’s gospel reading should serve as a good reminder. Salvation history is a single story. As Catholics we love and appreciate the Old Testament—Jesus doesn’t make much sense without the Old Testament as background. Sit today and contemplate the whole story, starting in the Garden of Eden. Just think, God has been gradually leading humanity back to Himself for millennia!
“The Jews again picked up rocks to stone Him. Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of these are you trying to stone me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy. You, a man, are making yourself God.’” (John 10:31-33)
We must give the Jews in this story credit, since they understood what Jesus was saying. To blaspheme against God was an offense punishable by death, and they had rocks at the ready. They couldn’t believe Him, however. Do we really believe Him? What He said about saving us from sin?
March 19 – Solemnity of St. Joseph
“When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” (Matt 1:24)
Today is the feast of St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church and head of the Holy Family. He’s a great example for us during Lent. He humbly obeyed the angel, when he discovered Mary’s pregnancy. Whenever God sent him a message, he acted. On this day, please pray for St. Joseph’s intercession upon all husbands and fathers.
March 20 – Palm Sunday
“He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:8-11)
The King enters into His city amid shouts of joy. Indeed, if the people hadn’t celebrated, the Spirit could not have been contained (Luke 19:40). At the beginning of Lent, I suggested an image of our hearts being the city of Nineveh. Using a new city, let’s picture our hearts as Jerusalem. Enthusiasm for a time, then the energy subsiding. Sin in our hearts puts Jesus on the cross. Let us open our hearts to receive Him! Let us enthrone Him as king over our entire selves.
“Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with Him. Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” (John 12:1-11)
Today’s gospel reading has a number of hidden elements. The anointing with oil calls to mind the sacrament of confirmation that will be celebrated on Saturday. Also, anointing with oil was an ancient practice that went back a thousand years to David and Saul. Could it fit any better? His own people didn’t believe He was the Messiah. The prophet Samuel anointed David as king. There’s no prophet to anoint Jesus, and the Pharisees weren’t exactly waiting in line to do it. Jesus’ anointing with oil came from a dear friend. She anointed His feet rather than His head, kissing them and drying them with her hair. Our Lenten observance is coming to an end—ask St. Mary of Bethany for her spirit of gratitude and thankfulness for all that the Lord has done in you this Lent.
“Before birth the LORD called me, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.” (Isaiah 49:1)
This did happen: the Archangel Gabriel made sure Jesus would have a specific name when he appeared to Joseph. (Matt 1:23) God has us in mind before we’re conceived; He loves us dearly from the moment of our conception. This week is Holy Week. If your Lenten observance has fallen off, pick it right back up immediately. Prepare, prepare for the great liturgical celebrations of the Triduum.
“The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue,
That I might know how to answer the weary a word that will waken them.
Morning after morning he wakens my ear to hear as disciples do;
The Lord GOD opened my ear; I did not refuse, did not turn away. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who tore out my beard;*
My face I did not hide from insults and spitting.” (Isaiah 50:4-6)
The Passion awaits Our Lord. For all of our sins, He suffered. And for all of His sufferings, heaven was opened to us! Let us not shrink away from the evil of our fallen nature. For all the times that we’ve failed Him, let us keep company with Him in the garden.
March 24 – Holy Thursday
“Your lamb must be a year-old male and without blemish. You may take it from either the sheep or the goats. You will keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, and then, with the whole community of Israel assembled, it will be slaughtered during the evening twilight. They will take some of its blood and apply it to the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They will consume its meat that same night, eating it roasted with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.” (Exodus 12:5-8)
Jesus is named as the Lamb of God both by John the Baptist (John 1:29) and in the Book of Revelation. The institution of the Holy Eucharist was a fulfillment of the original Passover feast. Rather than the blood of a lamb saving Israel, this time it is the blood of the Messiah. The Last Supper anticipates Calvary, and is contained in the same eternal moment. At every Mass we go to, we are drawn into that eternal moment. Just like the Jews had to eat the Passover lamb to participate in the sacrifice, so too do we eat of the Lamb of God. Praise the Lord for this incredible gift of His presence!
March 25 – Good Friday
“Behold, behold, the wood of the cross, on which is hung our salvation. Come, let us adore.” (Dan Schutte, “Behold the Wood”)
If you aren’t able to attend the Good Friday service, spend some time in prayer mediating on the Passion. Read through a guided Stations of the Cross mediation (see our set here: 1-4 and 5-8)Unite all your prayers, fasts, and almsgiving from Lent to Jesus, asking Him to use them for the sake of the Church. Be there at the foot of the cross with Mary, standing in the place of St. John—to you, Jesus says, “Behold your mother.” Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, thanking the Lord for His sacrifice.
March 26 – Holy Saturday
“Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4)
The Easter Vigil begins in a dark church—as if a tomb. Then the fire is started, and the Paschal candle is blessed and lit. Everyone with little candles throughout the church transforms the tomb from empty darkness to a burgeoning glow. It gets brighter as the church fills with more candles. And then at the Gloria, the lights and music signal to the congregation that death has been defeated! “Now have salvation and power come, the reign of our God and the authority of His Anointed One!” (Revelation 12:10)