February 17, 2021 - Ash Wednesday
Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
Reflection: Father Dan Reim, S.J. Director of Mission
“Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.” And, “Remember man, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These are pretty harsh words. One or the other phrase is said when you come up to receive ashes. With these words and with the receiving of ashes, we profess something pretty dramatic. What we’re saying, publicly, is that we are sinners. And that we admit this, and we take responsibility for it. And we profess our desire, with God’s help, to do something about it.
This season of Lent is about conversion. It’s about re-ordering our lives according to the life of Christ who leads us to the fullest and truest life possible. Perhaps that’s the important question for Lent: “What leads me to the fullest life possible, the life that God hopes for me?” And the related question: “What’s holding me back; what’s getting in the way that I need to break away from, so that I can be truly free to live the most meaningful, worthwhile life possible?
Jesus says, “When you fast, don’t look gloomy like the hypocrites.” So whether we give something up for Lent or instead take something up, let’s pray we might celebrate an Easter resurrection like never before!
February 18, 2021 - Thursday after Ash Wednesday
Gospel: Luke 9:22-25
Jesus said to his disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”
Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?”
Reflection: Joan Carney, Assistant S.P.A. Director
I love Lent. For me, it is a time to appreciate God’s kindness and mercy. I look forward to Lent and all its special rituals. I look forward to feeling awakened and alert to, as well as grateful for, the reality of Jesus’ Passion and the hope and promise of the Resurrection. So on this second day of Lent I would like to say that I feel ready for this season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Until . . .
Today’s gospel confronts me with the challenging reality of discipleship: suffering, self-denial and a daily choice to take up one’s cross, whatever that might be, to follow Jesus. This choice is one of great importance – literally a matter of life and death. It is not a choice that we make only for the forty days of Lent, but a choice made daily, even momently throughout our entire lives. To be a Christian, Jesus tells us, is to hand ourselves over, in trust, to God’s providential loving care.
Each of us understands this challenge/call at an intellectual level. I’ve had that conversation with God, shyly asking “can’t that be enough?” But in my prayer, God reminds me that discipleship can only be a lived experience. I must embrace the real possibility of rejection, the trial of self-denial, the reality of losing my life in order to gain it. And in my prayer, I am also reminded of these words from the Gospel of Matthew: “Take my yoke upon you . . . and you will find rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (MT 11:29-30). I must trust that God companions and sustains me in my suffering. I will never be alone in it.
So on this second day of Lent, my prayer for you is that this may be a time of knowing the constant companionship of our loving God as you embrace Jesus’ call to discipleship.
February 19, 2021 - Friday After Ash Wednesday
Gospel: Matthew 9:14-15
The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
Reflection: Sandra Appeldorn, Director, Human Resources
Lent—another season to celebrate and remember. When my children were young, I set up a special prayer table where they each placed their own symbolic item, we baked Lenten prayer pretzels, we were marked with ashes, we fasted—all of it. As I read this passage for this first Friday in Lent, I of course first went to the question about fasting. That’s part of what Lent is about, right? Giving something up or doing something to be more mindful and grateful for the love and graces of the season. But as I prayed the passages over time, I was repeatedly drawn to “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them?”
How can I or would I mourn someone who is still with me? I haven’t done that and it’s hard to imagine why I would. So, what would I be doing? With a bridegroom, I would be celebrating—laughing, eating, dancing, singing, praying, crying, loving. My son was married last June and we surely celebrated that sacred event in all those ways. My daughter left the nest last week and we celebrated her last night at home and the next step of her journey. One of my best friends retired from Saint Ignatius very recently and we celebrated her long, successful career. When these people were with me, I was celebrating the love and the grace present in those moments.
And now that these special people have moved on, perhaps I am fasting but not in the traditional sense as I know it. “Then they will fast.” I am giving up some of the traditions, touches and routines we shared when they were a daily presence to me. And I am doing things that keep the love and the grace of those precious moments together close in my heart and mind. Mourning, maybe, remembering and celebrating how our lives are still intertwined in a different way.
So, on this first Friday of Lent, whether celebrating or fasting, my prayer is that you may find yourself present to the moment. I hope each day brings a greater awareness of the Spirit in yourself and the people of your daily life as well as the gifts of love and grace in each moment. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Ecc 3:1
February 20, 2021 - Saturday after Ash Wednesday
Gospel: Luke 5:27-32
Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him. Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were at table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”
Reflection: Charlie Conover, Saint Ignatius Parent
When I was asked to write a reflection on this passage, I admit that my head spun with the many reflections on this reading that have deepened my own spiritual life. Should I talk about the fact that Matthew was a tax collector, considered one of the most despised professions in Jesus’s time? Or maybe how the word for “got up” in verse 27 was the same word as “resurrection” in the original Greek? Or should I talk about Caravaggo’s painting “The Calling of St. Matthew” with Matthew’s “who, me?” look when the Lord calls?
But as usual, God had other plans…
In Fr. Kevin O’Brien’s book The Ignatian Adventure there is an exercise on the story of Adam and Eve and original sin and this paragraph caught my eye: “Rev. Michael Himes of Boston College has an interesting take on this age-old story. The first chapter of Genesis tells us that human beings were created in the image and likeness of God and that God called our creation very good. The temptation of Adam and Eve is to disbelieve that good news and refuse to accept our innate goodness and the goodness of others. Instead, they think that they must do something else to become like God or become valuable in God’s eyes.”
I’ve often wondered how Matthew could have suddenly gotten up in the middle of his duties, leaving everything in his life behind. I think that the answer is in this interpretation on original sin above. In this moment of Jesus’s calling, Matthew was able to see himself as God sees him. He was willing to accept his own goodness and the goodness of others around him. He realized that he didn’t have to do anything else to believe this good news. In that moment, he understood that he could leave his old life behind because it was no longer necessary. He only wanted to follow Jesus.
In Matthew’s joy in this revelation, he held a great banquet and invited all of his friends to share in this good news. Matthew was happy to bring them to Jesus because he could see their innate goodness and knew Jesus would too. But the Pharisees and the scribes, still stuck in their misconception that their value to God comes from what they do, only complain.
As we continue in our Lenten journey, how can you become more like Matthew, accepting your own goodness and the goodness of those around you? How can you continue following Jesus’ calling to leave your old life behind and rejoice in your new life with the Lord?
Where is the Sunday reflection, you ask? At your parish! The next set of reflections will be shared on Monday. A.M.D.G.