March 2, 2022 - 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.”
Gospel Reflection: Father Ray Guiao, S.J. '82, President
“Return to God with all your heart, the source of grace and mercy.
Come, seek the tender faithfulness of God.”
from Marty Haugen’s “Return to God” (GIA Publications, 1989)
A Return to God More Than a Return to Normalcy
After two long years of living through this pandemic, all any of us wants is a return to normalcy. So much has been upended, interrupted, cut short, or changed in our everyday lives. And now, for the first time in twenty-four long months, the number of cases is diminishing, and the worst threats of the virus seem to be abating. And a return to normalcy feels within reach.
The Season of Lent – this season of Lent in particular – is also a return. Not a return to normalcy, but a return to the very heart of God. Lent is that time of year when we listen for God’s call to return to Him, to the One who never stops calling out to us, even when we might turn a deaf ear and choose to stay away.
It shouldn’t be lost on us that the call to return to God this Lent coincides with society’s yearning to return to normalcy after so long a time away. How might God be calling you to return to some normalcy in your faith life? Maybe it’s a literal return to church, for confession or the Eucharist after months of only watching it on live stream. Maybe it’s a return to the habit of daily prayer, of carving out even ten to fifteen minutes each day to reflect on the past twenty-four hours and look for traces of God’s presence and action throughout our day. Maybe it’s a venture into service, making time to be present to someone in his or her need.
Whatever it may be, this Ash Wednesday, as we enter into the holy season of Lent, let us dare to return to not merely to normalcy, but to God. Let us return with all our hearts, to the source of grace and mercy. For if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve been away too long.
March 3, 2022 - 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?”
Gospel Reflection: James Luisi, Campus Minister
I have always had a strong desire to do the right thing. Not too long ago, I watched an old VHS tape home movie with my mom, my sister and my wife. In this short video, I’m beaming at the camera, picture book in hand, as my mother praises me for reading so well. My innocent and innate desire to “do the right thing” and please her has been fulfilled.
But then I see my 3 (or 4?) year-old sister enter the frame… and my 5-year-old self, thinking this moment on camera is all about him, pushes her out of the way. I probably thought I was justified in my actions. After all, I was making my mother happy, “doing the right thing” by reading so well!
As we watched this moment unfold on the TV, I could feel the eyes of both my sister and my wife turn to me with eyebrows raised and my cheeks redden.
I think we often think we’re doing the “right thing” because it feels right. We receive praise, our plan works out, or we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we fulfilled our obligation, religious or otherwise. In today’s Gospel, Christ reminds us of the reality of being a Christian – and it all too often involves a cross. A cross that, by definition, we really do not want.
When I sit down to talk with Jesus in prayer about my life, I’m usually reluctant to show him my crosses – the areas of my life where I’m tempted to jealousy, anger, indignation, laziness, and avoidance. If I spend enough time sitting with Jesus, he helps me get to what’s behind these emotions, and most of the time it is fear. A fear that I might somehow not get what I need, or what I think I deserve, or that I might miss out on realizing my full potential. A fear that I might need to let my idea of who I am “die.”
While I’m comforted (relieved, really) that Lent ends with the promises of Easter, I have to face the truth that there is no Resurrection without the cross. My prayer this Lent is that I and all who desire to follow Christ will journey beyond fear to embrace our crosses, knowing in hope that in doing so we are really “doing the right thing,” and on our way to the fullness of life that God has promised us.
March 4, 2022 - 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.”
Gospel Reflection: Kathryn Hallal, Science Faculty
In today’s Gospel, the disciples of John ask Jesus: Why don’t your followers have to sacrifice like I am? I understand the frustration expressed by John’s disciples– why don’t they have to do what I have to do? Lent brings these thoughts far too often: “we’re supposed to be fasting,” “a burger sounds delicious right now,” or “what do you mean you didn’t give anything up for Lent?”
When I catch myself going down this line of thinking, I find I can reel myself back in when I reword I have to do this to I choose to do this. I am grateful for the opportunity to make this choice. It is saying “yes” to making time for prayer and “no” to filling my commute with an endless queue of podcasts. Saying “yes” to being more thoughtful about the resources around me- to consider how, typically, I use them freely and without much care, and “no” to thoughtless consumption. Recognizing that fasting and prayer is my own choice makes me feel liberated, rather than denied.
When I intentionally create time and space for being with God, I can hear Him. I can better understand what kind of life he wants me to live, what I can be for others around me. It will take time. Like any learner, I’m sure I won’t get it all down the first time I hear it. I’ll need to make mistakes and course-correct to find the path. But choosing to fast, choosing to say “yes,” doesn’t mean I’m denying or punishing myself, instead I am making time and space for God’s presence in my life, to better understand what I can do for others.
March 5, 2022 - 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.”
Gospel Reflection: Robert Koonce '96, Alumnus
We all follow something. Sometimes we are explicitly conscious of it, sometimes not. Levi (Matthew) is presented with an invitation, which is really a stark choice. It is not, however, a choice between an independent life and a life bound by rules and masters. He already was living a life bound by cultural norms, wealth, and politics – themselves demanding masters. Jesus invites Levi to follow and submit his life to him, a hard road to be sure. Jesus is not holding a lottery ticket, after all, but a cross. For Levi, he is really offering clarity and truth, authentic freedom and profound love. He is offering silence in the midst of clanging noise. Levi responded immediately freeing himself from the awful noise clamoring for his heart and soul from the world around him.
Today that noise shouts from cultural commentators, political parties, and experts of all stripes who urge each of us to mold our lives to their standards and aspirations, lying to us by declaring that our careers, relationships, and even our own bodies are ours to do with as we please. They claim to be offering us freedom. No. They offer a master with a limited horizon, one that extends only as far as this life.
Interestingly, Levi did not find this submission to Jesus to be limiting or oppressing. Luke indicates that his first act as a new disciple was to throw a party and invite his friends to meet Jesus. Submitting to Jesus is an alignment of our lives, our hearts, and our minds to Truth and Love so profound and lasting that we can barely comprehend its breadth and depth.
For myself, this passage challenges me to be on alert. To whom am I aligned? Does the passing sugary sweetness of the world’s offerings guide my decisions and my horizon? Or am I aligned to the deepest truth, the person of Jesus who invites me to so much more? Lent is a chance to declutter my life and refocus my attention to the person of Jesus, to worship him in the Eucharist and to seek his mercy in Reconciliation. Jesus wants to be my master, not to control my life, but to liberate it for its true and divine purpose. All I have to do is say yes.
May your Lent continue to be a time of prayer, discernment, and closeness to Jesus.
Where is the Sunday reflection, you ask? At your parish! The next set of reflections will be shared on Monday. A.M.D.G.
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