3rd Week of Lent, Monday

Our Lord’s hostile reception in his home town today reminds us that, as Our Lord taught us, those who do the will of God are his family, not just those who’ve met him and lived with him. We often ask people to pray for intentions on our behalf, and that is good and noble, but we must also pray and have faith. The people of Nazareth wanted to be impressed, but Our Lord taught them that the real welcome he expected was a welcome of faith. They knew him, but they didn’t believe in him or who sent him.

It is ironic that in the end they treated him exactly like Israel had treated prophets in the past who told them something they didn’t want to accept. Perhaps it was a sign of presumed self-importance that they thought they could throw a prophet off a cliff, but Jesus’ mission was too important to be thwarted in a little town like Nazareth. In our family of faith, even today, there are cynics and skeptics regarding Our Lord, and challenging them provokes a similar reaction.

Lent is a time to truly welcome Jesus he is by striving to be as he wants us to be. Let’s examine ourselves and see what he wants us to change in our lives.

Readings: 2 Kings 5:1–15ab; Psalm 42:2–3, 43:3–4; Luke 4:24–30. See also 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B17th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, and 22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.

3rd Sunday of Lent, Cycle C

We have almost reached the half-way point to Calvary. The forty days of Lent remind us of the forty days in the desert, but we must also keep in view that Our Lord now has his sights set on Jerusalem. We’ve spent a few weeks in the desert, living our Lenten resolutions, and maybe our stomachs, or spirits, are starting to grumble for those things we’ve left behind for these forty days. How are our Lenten resolutions holding up? The Lenten resolutions are how we enter the desert. If you haven’t giving anything up for Lent yet, it’s not too late, but once in the desert, you have to stay the course if you want to reach the Promised Land.

As today’s First Reading reminds us, God is never indifferent to our struggles. When Moses asks God how he should identify him to the Israelites, suffering under bondage in Egypt, God tells them, “tell them I AM has sent you.” God is always there. He doesn’t just stop with that: he reminds them he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to remind them that he is always faithful to his promises. He promised Abraham land and countless descendants if he had faith. Isaac was the fulfillment of that promise, and then Jacob became the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. Despite this, when Pharaoh let Moses lead Israel out into the desert, they had forty years of wandering before they entered the Promised Land – and many never made it.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that all the Israelites in the Exodus received the same gifts from God, but many didn’t stay the course out of evil desires. Their forty years in the desert were due to a lack of trust in God. He’d taken them to the Promised Land, but they were too scared to enter. They put their trust in food and water (and God sent them dew and manna, and quail to eat), money, ceremonies (trying to set up worship apart from Moses), authority and rumor mongering (asking why Moses should be the only one to speak on their behalf) – and they perished.

Our Lord doesn’t mince words in today’s Gospel about how we can stay the course in the desert. We’re guilty many times of the same thing as the Israelites. We don’t understand what the desert is for: a place for God to purify the hearts of the ones he loves, away from distractions. There are far fewer distractions in the desert, but the rumbling of our stomachs is also louder, and we ask ourselves what we’re really hungering.

Today’s Gospel shows the Jews in a drought of hope. Pilate has slaughtered a group of Galileans as they were offering worship. The Jews ask Jesus why. Why would God allow such as thing? Jesus adds an accident to the list of doubts: eighteen dead in a tower collapse in Siloam. Our Lord’s words are far from comforting: they are in the same danger, just as we are. Staying the course doesn’t mean not taking risks or making sacrifices (that wouldn’t have saved the Galileans), nor does it mean getting lucky (that wouldn’t have saved the people crushed in Siloam); staying the course means putting your trust in God and showing it. We show it by bearing fruit.

Fruit? In a desert? We are in a desert, and God wants us to bear fruit. We bear fruit by trusting in God’s patience with us (in the parable he gives the fig tree four chances to get its act together), and, as Jesus tells us, by repentance. Lent is about repentance, not just for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world. And the Church teaches us three ways to prepare the soil: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Penance prepares the soil, but the sacraments are how we draw close to Christ and the Holy Spirit. Jesus waters the soil with his own blood so that we can bear fruit. The Eucharist gives us strength for the journey, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation puts us back on our feet and turns us back in the right direction. The fruits of the Spirit will come, as Scripture reminds us: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity. By repentance and the sacraments we gain the strength to bear these fruits. Otherwise, we’ll lose our bearings and never get out of the desert.

So as we continue our march through the desert of Lent, accompanying Our Lord to Jerusalem, let’s put our Lenten sacrifices on the paten with the host, so that God can transform them into fruits. Let’s ask forgiveness if we’ve fallen behind or gotten turned around in the journey. Let’s trust in God to keep strengthening us for the journey with his Body and Blood,and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Readings: Exodus 3:1–8a, 13–15; Psalm 103:1–4, 6–8, 11; 1 Corinthians 10:1–6, 10–12; Luke 13:1–9. See also 29th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.

2nd Week of Lent, Saturday

Today’s Gospel is one of the most poignant parables about not only God’s mercy, but the mercy we should show toward sinners as well. Our Lord’s listeners are those who want to condemn sinners, much like the Prodigal Son’s older brother in today’s parable. Our Lord invites them, and us, through the parable to really reflect on whether those things sinners do to us and God are enough to want them to be forever condemned. The short answer is that it is not about what they deserve, but the potentially dire consequences of their actions.

The prodigal son sins against his father; he wants his inheritance even before his father dies, and then shows right away that he wants nothing further to do with him. He tries to liquidate the relationship so that he can face life on his own and enjoy it as he wishes. That desire leads him far from his father not only physically, but spiritually as well. As far as he’s concerned his father is dead in his eyes, past history. Sinners walk the same path; they see the Father, who has lavished so many gifts on them, as cramping their lifestyle. They want the blessings, but they don’t want the obligations and they don’t want anything to do with the source of those blessings. We describe sinners as far from God, but this really means that they try to keep him at a distance, not that he doesn’t want to be close to them.

When things get tough for the prodigal son, and he sees what a cold an uncaring world it is without love, in his own limited way he realizes how stupid he has been. You can’t liquidate a relationship with someone who gave you life itself and a start in the world. He works out in his mind how he expects to be treated, and decides that even if his father treats him like an employee rather than a son he’d be better off. He knows deep down that he must acknowledge his sin to draw close to his father again. The sinner has to be sorry for what he’s done, and this sorrow has to go from just regretting what a mess he’s made of life to being sorry for how he has treated a Father who has loved him unconditionally ever since he dreamed of him in eternity, created him in history, and blessed him throughout his life.

The father keeps an eye on the horizon hoping his son will return. He leaps into action when he sees his son coming. Our Father does the same thing when we are sorry for our sins; he closes that gap we’ve introduced between us and him and is eager to embrace us again. How often we convince ourselves that he’ll treat us like the older brother, considering us brats and ungrateful selfish children who need to be taught a lesson for all we’ve has done? The father himself responds to that attitude when the older brother shows it: “everything I have is yours.” The older brother could have asked for whatever he wished, and the father would have granted it; instead he trapped himself in an outlook on the father that simply reflected his own: resentful, exacting, and merciless. The father tells us the true reason to rejoice when a sinner repents: someone we love returns from death to life.

Lent is a time to ponder the hardness in our hearts regarding those who have wronged us or wronged others and ask ourselves whether we want mercy for them or eternal condemnation. Our Lord teaches us today that mercy toward them is where our hearts should be. Whether they are sorry for their sins or not, we should want mercy for them and pray that they repent and seek it. If, instead of being the older brother, we’re the prodigal son it’s time to come home. The Father awaits us with open arms.

Readings: Micah 7:14–15, 18–20; Psalm 103:1–4, 9–12; Luke 15:1–3, 11–32. See also 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday.

2nd Week of Lent, Friday

All Lenten resolutions involve some form of healthy self-detachment: detachment from our preferences and “personal” time (prayer), detachment from the things that tickle our fancy and our appease our appetites (fasting), and detachment from our possessions and time for the sake of others (almsgiving). Today’s readings remind us what happens when we don’t: we forget that everything we have is a gift from a loving Father, we get caught up into a distorted sense of entitlement, and suddenly anyone who may make a move on what we consider “ours” is a threat to be eliminated. This is covetousness and envy: wanting something so much that you see another’s gain almost automatically as your loss, and would rather have it that nobody possesses that good if you can’t have it.

In today’s First Reading little Joseph received a love from his father that his brothers envy. When he falls into their hands the first thing they do is strip him of the very tunic his father bestowed on him as a sign of his affection. Even as they cast it aside and mistreat their brother they don’t think about the fact that the tunic, which represents that special relationship between Israel and his son Joseph, doesn’t “fit” them. They have also received so much from their father, but that doesn’t matter; they want what doesn’t belong to them, so they don’t want Joseph to have it either. This story is a pre-figuration of Christ’s reception when he is sent by the Father. The parable of the wicked tenants in today’s Gospel is a way of teaching the Pharisees that they had fallen into a warped sense of entitlement over something that didn’t belong to them: the People of God. So when the Son comes on behalf of the true “owner” of the People of God they’re going to reject him and kill him thinking that somehow everything will then return to normal. Our Lord today through the parable is prophesying the outcome of their covetousness and envy: everything they thought was theirs will be taken away and given to those who’ll be worthy stewards of God’s gifts.

As we make an extra effort at healthy self-detachment during Lent we feel more deeply the things to which we want to attach: people, pleasures, possessions, positions of power. Take stock of these attachments and ask Our Lord to help you see the blessings and gifts you have received in your life as exactly that, and not focus in an envious way on what he has bestowed on others.

Readings: Genesis 37:3–4, 12–13a, 17b–28a; Psalm 105:16–21; Matthew 21:33–43, 45–46. See also 9th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.

2nd Week of Lent, Thursday

As today’s First Reading reminds us, those who turn from God and put their trust in men and things of the flesh are spiritually like a scraggly bush in a dry and burning desert. The Rich Man in today’s Gospel doesn’t even have a name; after living the high life, maybe not at the expense of Lazarus, but certainly indifferent to him, he found himself a dry bush in the spiritual desert in which he’d planted himself, far from the fleeting comforts of his life that faded away. If our thirst for the things of this life at the expense of our concern for God and for others remains, we know that someday we’ll never be able to slake it again as a consequence of our actions: we’ll have planted ourselves in a desert and let our roots go deep.

Today’s First Reading also reminds us that those who trust and hope in the Lord have a source of life that will survive every adversity and continue to be full of life in eternity. Today’s Gospel describes Lazarus, infirm, poor, and so alone that he only had dogs for company. Yet he persevered in hope, simply by not lamenting his situation and also not deciding to take matters into his own hands by robbing, maybe even murdering, the unjust man on whose doorstep he was languishing. The moral of the story is to place your hope and trust in the things that really last. God lasts forever, and sooner or or later shows himself to be worthy of our trust, but only after it is tested. Health, riches, and power don’t last forever, so we shouldn’t act as if they will, or else we too will find ourselves in a desert thirsting for what was and lamenting what could have been.

Ask Our Lord to help you see where your trust is placed today, and to help you firmly root your life in him, the only lasting thing worthy of trust.

Readings: Jeremiah 17:5–10; Psalm 1:1–4, 6; Luke 16:19–31.