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Ordinary Things, Sacred Meaning
How many Lents have you lived through? Each year we begin with the highest hopes—only to experience what may seem like dismal failure in a few days! The key to good Lenten practice might be right under our noses, in our homes and beyond.
The people in our everyday lives—family members, neighbors, co-workers and friends—can provide a graced “desert experience.” In that “desert” of Lent, that space outside of the ordinary where we examine things more closely, we can find the sacred in the ordinary things of life.
We can enrich our understanding of the ancient signs, symbols and rituals of the Lenten season. We can see our home or community as our holy place. This Lent, let us use the ordinary things of each day to help us rediscover our faith. This will offer some practical suggestions. Feel free to pick and choose, move them around or adapt them as you go! Also, the Scripture references are to the lectionary readings for that day—a key to making the connection between the activity and its Lenten theme.
Bowl of ashes
Jl 2:12-18; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18 “Remember you are dust,” the invocation goes. To keep our memory sharp, place a bowl of ashes or dirt on the family coffee or dining table. Throughout these 40 days, let us not hesitate to sift through the ashes as a gesture of remembering.
Dt 30:15-20; Lk 9:22-25 Choosing life takes an attitude adjustment in this culture of death. Find baby pictures of family members. Spend some time looking at the pictures and reflecting on each person’s potential, vision and dreams. Pray for each person.
The meat platter is missing
Is 58:1-9a; Mt 9:14-15 With the first Friday in Lent, abstinence from meat comes to the family table. Serving a meatless meal is meant to promote sacrifice. So, let’s not eat lobster this night! Create a simple menu which proclaims that we are curbing our appetites with a little self-denial.
An offering jar
Is 58:9b-14; Lk 5:27-32 Try to live this day focused on others by avoiding using “I” or “me.” When we catch ourselves or others using these pronouns, invite the self-centered soul to put a nickel, dime or even a quarter into a jar or bowl. Put the money in the Sunday offering basket at our parish.
First Sunday of Lent
A new coffee table book
Gn 9:8-15; Mk 1:12-15 We are invited to repent and believe the Good News. The Gospels proclaim the Good News that Jesus is our savior. Put your Bible—the family Bible if you have one—on the coffee table and spend some time reading Mark1:12-15. Leave the Bible on the table throughout Lent and keep reading.
Lv 19:1-2, 11-18; Mt 25:31-46 In the spirit of Matthew 25, give away or throw away three or more unneeded things each week for the rest of Lent. When Easter arrives our house will be cleaned out and only blessed sheep will abide within!
Is 55:10-11; Mt 6:7-15 Let us spend some time in silence today. During that time, or beyond, turn off the television, radio, computer and cell phone. Just being with God is good enough. No words are really necessary. After all, he knows what we need before we even ask.
Jon 3:1-10; Lk 11:29-32 Jonah’s story reminds us what’s coming. Look ahead to your calendar and reserve the Triduum dates—Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil—so that you will be available to watch and pray at your parish.
Est C:12, 14-16, 23-25; Mt 7:7-12 At the family meal serve some really good bread and talk about your heart’s desire. God is listening. God doesn’t want us to eat stone soup when bread gives life.
Ez 18:21-28; Mt 5:20-26 What can you or your family do to take the law “up a notch”? Jesus shows us to go beyond the minimum and do more than is required. Perhaps we
could add a day of abstinence, up our Sunday tithe, work in a soup kitchen?
An unwelcome guest
Dt 26:16-19; Mt 5:43-48 Who do you “love the least” right now? Let us spend this day praying for our least favorite person and the grace to love him or her.
Third Sunday of Lent
A dirty spot
Ex 20:1-17; Jn 2:13-25 Every house has a dirty spot (the attic, the basement, the garage). Visit that dirty spot in the house and pray about how Jesus would challenge us to clean up our lives.
2 Kgs 5:1-15b; Lk 4:24-30 Is your medicine chest full of over-the-counter pills that may not be cures? Take a moment to clean the shelves of outdated medicines and ask the Divine Healer to strengthen your faith.
Dn 3:25, 34-43; Mt 18:21-35 Make today a “no-credit, cash-only” day. Each time you use cash instead of credit, think about the servant in today’s Gospel. How much do we depend upon the Lord’s mercy?
Dt 4:1, 5-9; Mt 5:17-19 Look for burnt-out lightbulbs to replace today. As you replace them, think about how God’s law functions in our lives. Like a light, the laws guide us on the Way.
Solemnity of St. Joseph
2 Sm 7:4-5a, 12-14a; Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a St. Joseph had rock-solid faith. Carry a rock in your pocket today to honor Joseph. Pray for your own father today.
Hos 14:2-10; Mk 12:29-34 Loving your neighbors requires a choice to reach out to them with compassion. Take a moment today to do a kindness for a shut-in or lonely person in your neighborhood.
Hos 6:1-6; Lk 18:9-14 Find a comfortable chair in a quiet corner of your home and put some prayer things there: a rosary, prayer book, Bible, devotional reading. Make a date with God and go to the chair often.
Fourth Sunday of Lent
2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23; Jn 3:14-21 Write the words of John 3:16 on a card and mount it on the refrigerator. We all need a reminder of the Good News.
Is 65:17-21; Jn 4:43-54 It’s time for a little “new creation” in the backyard. Look for new plants or flowers to remind the house that God is always up to something new.
Ez 47:9, 12; Jn 5:1-16 Replace or revitalize your doormat and promise to walk into spiritual and physical health. Let us take some action—just like the handicapped man of Bethesda.
Planner and checkbook
Is 7:10-14, 8-10; Lk 1:26-38 Look at your planner and your checkbook. We are saying yes to whatever we spend our time or money on. Like Mary, say yes in some new way today to God’s will.
Act of Contrition
Ex 32:7-14; Jn 5:31-47 Say a heartfelt Act of Contrition today. Is money, food, sports, clothes—anything—getting in the way of our discipleship?
Wis 2:1a, 12-22; Jn 7:1-2, 10, 25-30 Jesus took a risk going to the Feast of Tabernacles. What is God daring you to do? Put your hand on the doorknob and walk out into a world that dares you to be Jesus’ disciple.
Jer 11:18-20; Jn 7:40-53 Get out the soup pot and make a batch of good soup. Let the aroma incense our domestic church, our homes. At supper, with soup and bread, talk about who Jesus is to you.
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Jer 31:31-34; Jn 12:20-33 “The hour has come....” In which areas of our lives are we in denial? The clock reminds us that we are living these hours of life not just for ourselves but also for Jesus Christ. He is drawing us to himself at this very hour.
Dn 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62; Jn 8:1-11 Susanna and the woman caught in adultery are featured in today’s reading. Both found themselves in a terrible pickle, and God rescued them. Think or write about the times in your life when God’s mercy saved you. Eat a pickle in celebration of God’s compassion.
Num 21:4-9; Jn 8:21-30 When we whine, the world looks dark. Put an imaginary piece of duct tape over your mouth and try not to complain today.
Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Jn 8:31-42 Who are those people who passed on the faith to you? Say a prayer for them today and thank them for their witness.
Gn 17:3-9; Jn 8:51-59 Everyone needs a place to be alone. A good, hot shower, or some other retreat, can do wonders for a troubled soul. Enjoy a visit to your hiding place and rest awhile.
Jer 20:10-13; Jn 10:31-42 Take in today’s news and listen to it with a critical mind. Who is performing good works in our world? Make a list of those “workers” and pray for them.
Ez 37:21-28; Jn 11:45-56 It is time to prepare for Holy Week. Make it a family affair to clean the house for Easter, as a holy sign that we are God’s people.
Is 50:4-7; Mk 14:1—15:47 Plan time for the coming week to pray, go to the parish rituals and spend family time. Also, empty your home of your religious art until Easter. Jesus leaves the ordinary for the extraordinary.
Is 42:1-7; Jn 12:1-11 Mary’s oil filled the house with fragrance. Bring some sweet smell into your house today and think of some way you can lavish your love on Jesus.
Is 49:1-6; Jn 13:21-33, 36-38 Judas kept the money bags and that seemed to get him in trouble. Consider your use of money today. Do you share with the poor? What would Jesus do?
Dining room table
Is 50:4-9a; Mt 26:14-25 Get your dining room table set for the meals of the next few days. Bring out the very best dishes because Jesus is your unseen guest.
Ex 12:1-8; Jn 13:1-15 Making bread with your family is a wonderful way to understand the Last Supper. If you’re not up to the task, you can buy a loaf of good unsliced bread, and break it together, with passionate faith.
Is 52:13—53:12; Jn 18:1—19:42 Fast and pray this Good Friday. During the hours of the crucifixion keep silence in the house and, if you can, refrain from drinking. Jesus said, “I thirst,” and he received nothing but hyssop. A fast from water can help us to appreciate receiving living water.
Ex 14:15—15:1; Mk 16:1-7 Attend the Easter Vigil with your entire household, if possible. If you have children too small to stay long, just watch the Easter fire. Then decorate an Easter candle at the center of your table. Pray the prayer of Christians everywhere: Alleluia! Jesus is risen!
Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Jn 20:1-9 Place a bowl of water on your table today, amidst all of the Easter eggs, flowers and trimmings. Bless the water, then bless yourself with the water as a reminder of the new life that your Baptism brings to you, every day and all day. Happy Easter!
NEXT: The Bible and Prayer: Themes from the Synod
(by Michael D. Guinan, O.F.M.)