Sister Rea McDonnell, SSND, offers daily reflections on the Liturgical Readings for each day. If you wish to share your own reflections or have comments or questions, please feel free to email Sister Rea. For information about Sister Rea's publications, visit our online gift shop.
What wonderful readings to prepare for Lent's beginning this Wednesday. Through Hosea, God assures us that no matter how we have strayed, as did Hosea's own wife, God will speak tenderly to us, bringing us back into relationship, or deepening our relationship during our Lenten journey. Psalm 103 hymns God's steadfast, consistent, abundant, extravagant and unconditional love and faithfulness. What return can we make for being so well loved? Our tradition tells us that our Lenten response is to be prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Paul reminds us that this is not Law; we are free from Law, and moving with the Spirit who gives life. Jesus speaks of fasting in the gospel and finding new wineskins for new wine. "As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast."
What will be new about your Lent in 2006? Who return will you make for God's abundant love and faithfulness? Do you experience that the bridegroom, that Jesus is with you, within you, among you as bond of all your relationships? If you do, no fasting needed. (Prayer and alms work well, however!). If you do not experience Jesus alive and active in your life, BEG for that grace this Lent. You might even fast from something, all for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus.
Life-giving Spirit, you are new wine day by day in our lives. Convince us ever more deeply of God's tender care, and Jesus' always being with us and within us. Prepare us for the transformation you will effect in us this Lent.
Peter's baptismal homily is worth quoting in part. Remember that Lent is a journey to baptism. Peter assures us: "Although you have not seen him [Jesus] you love him; and even if you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy." Why do we love him? Because as the gospel says, we have been keeping commandments from our youth, and now, encountering Jesus on this February 27, 2006, it is no rich man that Jesus is looking at. It is you. We will change a word or two and quote: "Jesus, looking at you tenderly, loved you and said...."
We love in response to really believing that he first loves us, looks tenderly on us and loves us, just as we are. Look at him looking at you. We believe in him, meaning we trust his love. BEG for the grace of trusting that Jesus loves you, because that is what biblical faith means.
Thank you for your indescribable love, Jesus, and for sharing your joy in our mutual relationship. Free us to love you whole-heartedly this Lent.
Peter continues his exhortation: "Prepare your minds for action. Discipline yourselves. Set all your hope on the grace of Jesus Christ..." Today's selection ends with God's invitation: "You shall be holy, for I am holy." The gospel goes on to promise all that we will receive when we have left all to be with Jesus, and Jesus reminds us: "Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."
Discipline means disciple-making activity. How will you prepare your mind to receive Christ's deepening desire for your discipleship? On what do you set all your hope? Ask the Spirit to show you, and don't try to look good. Maybe you do want to be number one, or believe that the USA is number one. Then who are the last in your life or around your neighborhood whom God will make first? Take a long, loving look at the "last" and the "least" in the eyes of the world.
A new heart create in us, O God. Free us from all hopes that are not centered in Christ. Re-order our desires, and make us holy as you are holy. Thank you.
What is your deepest desire for these 40 days with Jesus in the desert? What do you want from God? Take a moment, ask the Spirit to teach you, and listen.
We might focus on Jesus' prayer in the desert and join him in praying, surrendering his entire self to God. We might focus on his hunger and thirst in the desert, and ourselves ask for a deepening of our hunger and thirst for justice in our lives and in our world. We might focus on how he came out of the desert, dusty, dirty and ready for mission, and ourselves receive the ashes which mark us as dust and yet equipped for mission. Notice: we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.
Lent is a journey with Jesus, our pioneer from death to life, and to a deepening "plunge" into him as we renew our baptism on Easter. Baptizo in Greek means plunge, or immerse. We do not plunge those to be baptized only into water (an outward sign) but into the very living of Christ (grace) in our world today, Christ living in our sisters and brothers and in every part of creation.
And what of ourselves? When has baptism "happened," really taken hold in your life? When has the ritual, undergone perhaps as an infant, become a fountain of living water deep within you? When have you begun to know that "it is no longer you who live but Christ who lives within you." (Galatians 2:20)? If you are not sure, ask for that realization now, of all that God has done and is doing for you in Christ in baptism.
Now we begin the journey through Lent to Easter, to an ever deepening immersion in Christ, through prayer, through hungering and thirsting with him, through giving ourselves to those around us. Let us pray for one another, all who choose to join the School Sisters of Notre Dame in this web-prayer.
Just as Advent begins the church new year, so today begins another kind of new year: a turning with even more of our heart to Jesus who speaks to our hearts through prayer. We are older, wiser and more full of grace (not because we are "more good" but because we have more capacity) than we were last Ash Wednesday. "Now is the acceptable time," Paul proclaims, quoting scripture, "Now is the day of salvation!" Now we begin again. Dusty with ashes but equipped for mission, and that mission, Paul tells us in today's reading, is to be ambassadors of reconciliation. School Sisters of Notre Dame commit themselves to "that oneness for which Jesus Christ was sent." Yet baptism commissions all of us to be instruments of reconciliation, unity and peace.
Ask the Spirit to show you how you, very specifically, might be an ambassador of reconciliation. Prayer is not only "telling" God, but also listening to God. First, do you want to be an instrument of unity and peace? Tell God your desires and hesitations. Then, ask the Spirit to teach you how you can be that ambassador today. Listen. With whom do you need reconciliation? If that person has died, speak to him/her now. Then listen. Is that person open to discussion? If not, at least you can pray for the gift of someday being reconciled. And then there is the gaping wound of our world which needs so much reconciliation, unity and peace. Pray, both telling God of your concern, your hope, and listening to God's hope for our world.
Holy Spirit, deepen our desires to be one with Jesus this Lent, to accept our mission to be ambassadors of reconciliation. Make our world one, and let us be your instruments of unity.
Today's liturgy offers three invitations. The entrance song invites us to unload our burden on the Lord. Moses tells the people (and us): "I set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life." The communion antiphon could be a Lenten mantra: "Create a clean heart in me, O God; give me a new and steadfast spirit." Then we turn to the gospel to see how Jesus himself responded to these invitations. He is promising his disciples that he is on his way to suffering and death. Yet, in his prayer, surely he unloaded that burden, that fear of his onto God. In choosing to go forward to meet the "enemy" in Jerusalem, he is choosing to bless his enemies, and to choose life, paradoxically through his death. He must have prayed often for a steadfast spirit.
Let us join Jesus in responding to those invitations today. What burdens do you want to unload on God? Listen to your own heart. Then give God those burdens. "God bears our burdens day after day; our God is a God who saves!" (Psalm 68:19-20). How will you choose life --very specifically-- today? Ask the Spirit. Listen. Then pray the words of Psalm 51 above, "Create a clean heart..."
We do choose life, Jesus. We choose you. We worship you, sweaty stumbling man on the way to a shameful death. Help us want to be in solidarity with all who share your suffering and your shame.
"Loose the chains of injustice...let the oppressed go free, share your bread with the hungry, bring the homeless in, cover the naked and do not neglect your own family...Then your light shall break forth like the dawn and your healing shall spring up" (Isaiah 58). Many people see Lent as a time to give up ordinary pleasures. God however, speaking through the prophet, tells us what kind of "fast" God wants. God wants us to notice and to care for the little ones among us. God also wants our healing, and it surely will spring up and reach down deep as we attend to the people around us.
Ask God for the grace to see who needs you today at work, in your social circle, and in your own family. Then listen. How will you respond? Ask for the grace to respond in some small way. Then take a look around the world. How will you share God's care for all of them?
"My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit." We beg your forgiveness for all the ways we have neglected your little ones. Here is our contrite spirit. Open our eyes, change our hearts, we beg you.
Our Isaiah reading continues. God just can't make it clear enough the kind of fasting God wants: remove the pointing finger, stop speaking evil, offer food to the hungry, satisfy the needs of the afflicted, refrain from trampling the sabbath. God promises that then we shall be like watered gardens-- and more. Jesus puts flesh on this fast and promise of God. He stops the pointing finger when he invites a "sinner," Levi the tax collector, to join his inner circle. Levi responds by giving a great feast which irritates the Pharisees no end. Jesus responds with words we might memorize: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but the sick do. I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."
Ask the Spirit to uncover in you any hidden resentments against the "sinners" around you, any pointing finger, any judgment, and any righteousness. Ask to know your own sin. Don't scrape your conscience. Listen. Let the Spirit reveal sin to you, and you will be surprised. The revelation might not come today but later in Lent. Then remember how your physician wants you to be with him. How do you respond to Jesus, friend of sinners?
Jesus, our medicine, our healer, thank you for calling us close to you no matter what our sin, our weakness, our failures. Heal us especially of all judgment, of ourselves and of others and their motives.
School Sisters of Notre Dame, Baltimore Province
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