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.
Mark's description of the temptations of Jesus in the desert is so brief. What we do learn is that after John was arrested, "Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God." "The one who is closest to God's own heart, he has made God known," writes the evangelist of the Fourth Gospel. Jesus is the best witness to God's own heart. He must proclaim all that he finds deep within the core of God. It is good news!
Can you repent (change your mind and heart) and believe the good news? You are loved! Saddam Hussein is loved! George Bush is loved! Keep the list going with international figures. Then repeat the good news as each coworker and/or family member comes to mind. Ask Jesus for the grace to believe that no one is outside God's love. All are welcome.
Thank you, loving God, for your rainbow covenant with us. Your love and kindness are indeed from "of old," and also so wide, so encompassing. There is a wideness in your mercy, thanks be to you, God!
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory...all the nations will be gathered before him. He will say... I was hungry and you gave me food...a stranger and you welcomed me...in prison and you visited me..." (Matthew 25) In the only last judgment scene in the gospel, we will be judged as a nation as to how we treated the hungry, the immigrants, the prisoners among us. As individuals we may be caring for the needy in our midst, but here it is our nation that will be judged. To stand over against unjust policies which work their way into our national agenda and political consciousness is also a way to care for the poor. Working to change unjust structures which keep people poor is as important as direct service.
Ask the Spirit to open your eyes to ways that you can work for the hungry, helpless and hopeless in our society. Then ask for the grace to take one small step today to alleviate injustice, poverty or its causes. Pray for all those who work for justice in our country and around the world.
Forgive us our trespasses, and even more, our agressions, O God, against Iraq. Change the hearts of all in our country that we may be known for our compassion and care for the poor, at home and abroad.
Our first reading about the power and efficacy of God's word helps us to believe that God's word is a sacrament. God's word does what it symbolizes, does what it says. God's word "achieves the end for which I sent it." In the Gospel then, Jesus, also God's Word, so visible and tangible in the flesh, witnesses to the power of our word to God. He teaches us to pray. He is not teaching disciples some 2000 years ago. The Word does what it says, right now. So Jesus is, this very day, teaching us how to pray: "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy Kin-dom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven..." Every word we hear in scripture is God's word happening in our lives the moment we are hearing it.
"My word does not return to me empty," God says in the first reading. Pray the Lord's prayer very slowly, three or four times. Then choose one word or phrase and rest in it, for example, "Hallowed be thy name." See if it doesn't return to you during the day, not empty but like God's word, accomplishing its purpose.
Thank you, living God, our God, for the power of your word, and your Word made flesh. Keep our eyes fixed on Jesus this Lent, we beg you.
There is a Sister who is gradually losing her sight. Every day she memorizes a part of a psalm. Today's psalm is one of the most famous penitential psalms, 51, thought to be composed by King David himself in grief and repentance after his adultery with Bathsheba, and worse, his sending of her husband to the front to be killed so he could marry her. In our psalm David witnesses to all that he desires from God. The core stanza is worth our memorizing.
A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Do not cast me out from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.
Give me back the joy of your salvation.
Before you recite these words, ask the Holy Spirit to carve them deep in your heart. You might pray them once for yourself, once for our nation, once again on behalf of all the peoples of the world. Again, after you have prayed them enough that they are memorized ("by heart"), rest in one phrase, just being quiet with your desire and your God.
We give you all the desires of our hearts this Lent, that you may order them according to your deepest passion for our unity and peace. We want what you want, our God.
Our first reading is the opening of the story of Queen Esther, a Jewess, who must plead with the King, even though he is her husband, in order to save her people. She is terrified of him. Prostrate, she pours her heart out to God: "Now, come to help me, an orphan. Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion...save us...turn our mourning into gladness and our sorrows into wholeness." She is praying for God's will to be done, for the word "wholeness" in Hebrew is shalom, God's plan for us and for the world (Jer 29:11)
Pray for shalom today, for wholeness and peace, health and integrity of heart. Pray for your own inner shalom, for your family/community/church/nation/world, and for the shalom of specific persons within those groups. See the word shalom in large gold letters above the head of the person (or the situation) for whom you are praying, watch them melt and cover the person with peace.
Thank you that we can always pour out our hearts to you, no matter how we are feeling. We give you our fears, our angers, our loves, our sadness, our joy. You have given these to us, and to you we return them. Give us only your love, your grace, your peace.
Psalm 130 is another penitential the De Profundis, meaning: "Out of the depths." This season finds many of us in the depths: some in terror, some in rage, some in depression, some in grief. Some of us may feel more shallow, troubled with bits and pieces of anxiety, annoyance, or just the blues. Most of us, however, long to be in the depths of God's own heart. We wait for God's kindness and forgiveness, the psalmist cries from his own depths. Usually we link waiting for God with Advent, but in this season too, "More than sentinels wait for the dawn so we wait for the Lord, for with God is kindness and abundance of redemption."
Pray for all those who feel sunk in depths of fear and unhappiness. Who in your circle needs God's kindness and forgiveness? Who needs your kindness and forgiveness? Instead of just praying for them today, witness to them in some positive way today that they are loved.
Our weary world has so much need of your forgiveness, your peace, your kindness. Thank you for calling us to be your ambassadors of reconciliation, your instruments of peace and unity. Open our eyes that we may see where you want us to work today.
All today's readings are about Law, and Jesus takes the Law, according to Matthew's gospel, even further: "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." Thanks be to God that there are developmental stages in the spiritual life! To obey this invitation of Jesus takes a lot of spiritual maturity. But we are "on the way," never quite arriving. When Jesus says at the end of today's gospel, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect," Matthew is using the Greek word that means be pointed in that direction, have that as your goal. Luke just changes the saying outright: "Be you compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate" (Lk 6:36). Too many Catholics have tried to be perfect (whatever that means!). Jesus' compassion put flesh on God's own compassion. Our growing in compassion is a life-long process.
Today's opening prayer asks God to "turn our hearts to you. By seeking your kin-dom and loving one another, may we become a people who worship you in spirit and in truth." Ask for the gift of sharing God's own love, that your love may come from the Spirit, not the Law, that you may be authentic in your attempts to love well. Then, if you can, pray for the enemy (whoever that may be in your life).
Jesus, only your love working in us can lead us to pray for and love those who hurt us, who frighten us, who disgust us, and so we beg that your compassion may more and more take flesh in us.
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