Jesus said to his disciples: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you."
This Gospel passage would have driven me nuts in high school. I was a pretty typical student at Wildcat High: smart and somewhat athletic but not too smooth with the ladies. I was also busy, very busy. From varsity football and baseball to student council and Latin club, it was always go, go, go, go, GO. So Jesus’s exhortation to, “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned” would not have resonated with me. After all, my life was based on always doing something, rather than being passive or stopping. And judging is something that comes naturally to most teenagers.
Almost 20 years later, I remain busy and struggle at times to take my foot off the gas, professionally and in my family life. And judging is something that comes naturally to this 34-year-old optometrist. But as I recommit to this Gospel passage, something else jumps out at me. Notice the verbs Jesus uses, other than “stop”: give, forgive, and be merciful.
Clearly, it is not enough merely to stop judging. Instead, we must stop the bad behavior and replace it with behaviors that are rooted in charity and in justice. Inaction is not the opposite of bad action; good action is the opposite of bad action. This theme is often repeated in the Gospels – think of the story in Matthew of the servant who buried his one and only talent. He was punished for not using his gift for good, that is, for his inaction.
So how are we to put this Gospel into action this Lent? I propose that giving up something that we like is inadequate. Instead, consider giving up something that you like and replacing it with an active positive behavior. For example, kill the Oreos after dinner, and also dedicate yourself to praying the Rosary each night. Be countercultural by embracing “and.”
I won’t judge you for it.
Gospel: Matthew 23:1-12
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Reflection: Dennis Arko, English Faculty
As I place myself in front of Christ as he addresses me about my shepherds, my reaction gauge tilts to the uncomfortable zone. These lines from Mathew, do not bring me strength of faith. Instead, I wrestle with them. They force me to recall my personal failings and even guilt by association with the unsound culture of my youth that must have been guided by so many counterparts to the scribes and Pharisees that Christ warns against here in Matthew. I don’t want to be a creature of my culture ever again, and this is hard for me living in the midst of culture wars where, as Yeats wrote, “the worst are full of passionate intensity.” So, how can I find the place on the continuum that Christ wants of me? Who are my Shepherds?
Those scribes and Pharisees seem so human, and thus so familiar to me that I become defensive of them. Are they just the “realist” practitioners of the faith? Recalling an article by David Bentley Hart, the biblical scholar, doesn’t help. As he worked on his new translation of the New Testament, he felt sad and even shocked to learn how unpalatable the earliest Christians were for all their spiritual integrity. Since those early Christians, our spiritual shepherds have certainly softened the faith to render it less radical. But to what effect?
I realize that in my feelings of vulnerability and defensiveness that I need to ask for grace to forgive myself, my shepherds. I ask for grace to discern my faith more wisely. I ask for grace to trust community. In Matthew 23:1-12, Christ is giving me a responsibility to do so, and I do have faith at least that somewhere within the church is my salvation.
I move toward it with safe participation in faith community. With a “new” sense of marriage, especially since the kids are gone. My lector ministry helps, studying the word and delivering it so others may hear. The parish garden club is fun, being practical community. These keep me spiritually planted and connected and guided as much as any official spiritual fathers. I go further by accepting an opportunity from believers that I trust to reflect on scripture and then to share with a community. I’m learning community.
Most importantly, I have come to see my vulnerability as grace itself. Profound humility. The only logical way for me is to dig even deeper into my spiritual life by trusting Christ himself to speak more directly to me. But I need community also to guide me as Christ himself.
During this Lent, I pray that all of us can discover integrity in faith through our witness to each other.
March 16, 2022 - Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent
Gospel: Matthew 20:17-28
As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the Twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something. He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” They said to him, “We can.” He replied, “My chalice you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my left, this is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” When the ten heard this, they became indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus summoned them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Reflection: Paul Lederer ‘06, Saint Ignatius Alumnus
What you do matters.
As is common at the beginning of any new year, people plan and strategize for goals and resolutions in their personal, spiritual, and work lives. An overarching theme in my planning for this year has been to “Walk the Talk.” This theme is not a new concept; as my personal and work lives converged to fit this theme, my thoughts brought me right back to high school and, specifically, the Prayer for Generosity:
“Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve You as You deserve.
To give and not to count the cost.”
This reading from Matthew galvanizes the need for all of us to “Walk the Talk.” Salome, the mother of Apostles James and John, asks Jesus for the favor of her sons to sit beside Jesus in the Kingdom of Heaven. As Jesus reminds Salome, it’s not just enough to state intentions; that her sons will drink from the same cup that Jesus will drink from. Rather, the way we humbly serve God and others will provide us the opportunity for salvation with God in Heaven.
Often, my daily prayers to God seem to gravitate towards requests to questions or dilemmas that I am facing. Maybe prayer can be as simple as asking God this one question:
“God, what do you want from me today?”
Through our unwavering service to God every day, by our actions and responses to others, we can provide God the only thing he asks from us as Christians: fidelity.
During this Lenten Season, ask yourself these questions: What do you do for others that makes you feel worthwhile? What opportunities is God presenting to you every day to serve in His name? How will you Drink from His Cup?
March 17, 2022 - Thursday of the Second Week of Lent
Gospel: Luke 16:19-31
Jesus said to the Pharisees: “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’ He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”
Reflection: Pamela Downs, Welsh Academy Faculty
This Gospel reading depicts the life, death and afterlife of Lazarus and a rich man. Lent is a great time to reflect on whether we are living extravagantly, like the rich man, and ignoring those who need us, or are we living like the poor man, longing for the scraps from others? This story is difficult for many of us who live in sharp contrast to a majority of the people in the world, including our neighbors in Ohio City. First world countries put great confidence in financial security, which points out the drastic inequities between the rich and poor which we allow to perpetuate.
Lent is a good time to increase our service to others, especially those who are marginalized. During the times in my life when I had little financial means, doing acts of service not only helped me connect to someone else and bring them a bit of comfort, but it also helped lift my spirits and helped me see my worth; worth that was unconnected to wealth.
During this Lenten season, let us move forward with this in the forefront of our minds: “When you help someone, you also help yourself. Instead of worrying about how much you get in return, you are better off helping as many people as you can.”― Tapan Ghosh
Friday, March 18 - Friday of the Second Week of Lent
Gospel: Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “Hear another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey. When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.”
Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes? Therefore, I say to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was speaking about them. And although they were attempting to arrest him, they feared the crowds, for they regarded him as a prophet.
Reflection: Father Dan Reim, S.J., Campus Chaplain
Did you know that Steven Spielberg was rejected from the University of Southern California School of Theater, Film and Television three times? Couldn’t they recognize the genius in front of them? And, can you guess what group of musicians were told the following: "We don't like your sound, and guitar music is on the way out. You have no future in show business." That’s right, the Beatles!
Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard tenants to show how the gift of God’s creation and its responsibilities had been rejected. The chief priests and the elders were too locked into their worldview, one that was comfortable and self-serving. Despite amazing teachings and wonderful healings, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day couldn’t see the presence of God in Jesus. They just saw a threat.
The Season of Lent is a wonderful opportunity to do some serious soul-searching. In what ways have we become closed-minded? Politically, religiously and with our relationships. How might Jesus be offering us a new way of seeing one another or seeing more deeply the awesomeness of God’s creation? How “open to growth” are we really?
The Kingdom of God is offered to us. God’s immense love and life is offered to us. What’s holding us back from taking it all in?
Saturday, March 19 - Saturday of the Second Week of Lent
Gospel: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them he addressed this parable.
He said, “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”
Reflection: Chris Karroum ‘22, Student
I know that the parable of the Lost Son has been drilled into the mind of every Christian since the Gospels were written. By now it seems that we have heard every possible perspective of this story. “There is always more to see,” replies every single English teacher. However, this story may be the first story in history to be completely exhausted of new meaning.
So what? So what if we are constantly told “close your eyes and try to relate to a character in the story”? Isn’t much of the Catholic life about repetition? Every single Sunday we celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection. Every single Sunday priests around the world repeat the exact same words of Jesus, consecrating the host and the chalice into His body and blood. What if it isn’t repetition, but a constant reminder; a reminder of God’s embracing love. Just as your mother cannot remind you enough of her love every single time you leave the house, go to bed, or on the phone with her, God cannot find an excessive amount of opportunities to remind you that His love is even greater!
I think the most important part of this whole story is not that the son came back, or that the father glorified his return but this: “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.” During the years that the son was gone, the father never forgot about him. It is safe to say that every day the father would look out his window, hoping to see his son once more, and when this day finally came the father did not call to him or let him in, but he left his estate and ran to him. He remembered him.
Why do you think that many of our prayers ask God to remember us, or remember something? God knows all. He cannot forget. If He forgets something, it perishes out of the world. In asking God to remember, we beg Him to uphold, strengthen, and nurture it. Just as God never forgets us, I think it is also important that we constantly remind ourselves of Him.
Remember God. Remember His love. Especially in this time of lent, this is the least we can do to honor Him since He never forgot His people, but ran after us to embrace us through Christ.