Each issue carries an imprimatur from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Reprinting prohibited

A Prayer-a-Day
for Lent
With Daily Faith Heroes

by Alice Camille

Lent is time for a soul diet: cutting out the distractions that often fill our lives, turning down the volume so we can hear the silence where God speaks. It—s time, too, for moral exercise and discipline: prayer, fasting, good works, charitable giving. Yet change often takes root more readily if we have a friend to jog along with us on the road to self-improvement. Through the story of our Scriptures, we find role models and even heroes who walked this same road before us, marked by the sign of faith. Together, day by day, we move toward the new life of Easter.

Ash Wednesday: JOEL, PROPHET OF REPENTANCE
(Jl 2:12-18; 2 Cor 5:20—6:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18)

Turn and return! Joel urges us to turn away from a self-centered life, and return to the God who longs to bless us. Imagine yourself in the center of things, with all of your goals around you. Now imagine God at the center: What has to change? To begin, pray first for a change of heart.

Thursday: MOSES AND THE CHOICE FOR LIFE
(Dt 30:15-20; Lk 9:22-25)

Moses lays it on the line: This decision is a matter of life or death. We are invited to choose life, in its many forms: the vulnerable lives of the unborn, children, adolescents, the sick, the poor, the stranger, the one who is different, the elderly, the dying. Do we offer each of them a blessing or a curse?

Friday: THE WEDDING GUESTS
(Is 58:1-9a; Mt 9:14-15)

The disciples of John were offended by Jesus. His followers seemed too happy to be holy! We often mistake holiness as a grave or sad affair, but Jesus repeatedly reminds us to be people of celebration. The Church is a party, celebrating love and hope. Lent is no excuse for a long face.

Saturday: LEVI THE DESPISED
(Is 58:9b-14; Lk 5:27-32)

Tax collectors have never been popular. At the time of Jesus, they were considered downright traitors. But Jesus didn't stop at what a person did; rather, he saw what was in each heart. That gave Levi reason to rejoice. Do we give the despised a reason to join us in hope?

First Sunday of Lent: JESUS, STRONG AGAINST TEMPTATION
(Mt 4:1-11 [Cycle A]; Mk 1:12-15 [B, 2000]; Lk 4:1-13 [C])

Into every life, the devil comes. My devil may look different than yours, but it—s the Tempter all the same. Some of us are tempted to fear or insecurity. Others develop hard hearts or burn with greed. Call upon the Spirit to lead the way when the devil makes you an offer.

Monday: THE JUST AND HAPPY SHEEP
(Lv 19:1-2, 11-18; Mt 25:31-46)

The sheep and goats in the parable have one thing in common: Neither remembered seeing the Lord before Judgment Day. But the sheep responded to every human misery they had seen, and that was enough to earn them paradise. Where suffering is, Jesus is.

Tuesday: ISAIAH, BEARER OF GOD—S WORD
(Is 55:10-11; Mt 6:7-15)

The prophet brings God—s word like rain into our parched hearts. We receive this promise: God—s word is never barren. If we plant it in our hearts, it will come to harvest. Nothing else carries a guarantee like it! Spend five minutes every day with a verse of Scripture and see.

Wednesday: NINEVAH—S SMART FOLKS
(Jn 3:1-10; Lk 11:29-32)

Jonah was a prophet of doom, calling for God—s vengeance and not for mercy. Yet the folks of Ninevah took their chances and repented from their sin, down to the last cow and sheep in the kingdom. Smart nation! They were saved. It—s never too late to change.

Thursday: COURAGEOUS QUEEN ESTHER
(Est C:12, 14-16, 23-25; Mt 7:7-12)

"Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion," Esther prays. She is an unexpected heroine: so fearful of the king of Persia that she faints dead away before begging him to spare her people. But fear does not keep her from what is right. Perfect love casts out fear.

Friday: THE ONE WHO FORGIVES
(Ez 18:21-28; Mt 5:20-26)

Forgiveness is just about the hardest thing we do. We must be willing to let go of our very real hurt and let the other person off the hook. We want to make sure justice is done and wrongdoers are punished. But vengeance belongs to God. We must leave our gift at the altar, and go make peace.

Saturday: THE CHOSEN PEOPLE ISRAEL
(Dt 26:16-19; Mt 5:43-48)

Israel is chosen to be a people sacred to the Lord. By Baptism we, too, become a sacred people, consecrating our lives to God—s purposes. How do we live out that call to holiness? How do we show that we belong to God and not to another?

Second Sunday of Lent: JESUS, FULL OF LIGHT
(Mt 17:1-9; Mk 9:2-10; Lk 9:28-36)

The Transfiguration was a unique event in salvation history, but smaller transfigurations happen all the time. Did you ever see a disabled child liberated while at play? Did you ever see the Madonna in a pregnant teenager? Did you ever see joy on the faces of the dying? Look for the light. It—s under the surface of everything.

Monday: JOSEPH, HUSBAND OF MARY
(2 Sm 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16; Rom 4:13, 16-18, 22; Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a)

Joseph was a decent man. He didn—t know any more than we do about the wonders God is about to perform. But what distinguishes him is how he allows his plans to be turned upside down by the stirrings of God. He was on the lookout for God—s plan above all. Are we?

Tuesday: THE SMALL AND THE HUMBLE
(Is 1:10, 16-20; Mt 23:1-12)

Avoid titles, seats of honor, praise from our peers, the marks and badges of respect? Is Jesus serious? Some of us have worked our whole lives to get these things! But the only way to save your life is to lose it. And the only way to glory is to get humble.

Wednesday: JEREMIAH THE PERSECUTED
(Jer 18:18-20; Mt 20:17-28)

Nobody suffers quite like Jeremiah. He even raises it to an art form in the Book of Lamentations. He endured a lifetime of persecution because of his call. But Jeremiah never loses heart completely. In the darkest hours of despair, he is our model of steadfast faith.

Thursday: THE ONE WHO TRUSTS
(Jer 17:5-10; Lk 16:19-31)

Picture the tree planted by flowing waters. Serene in summer—s heat, it has an endless source of life at its roots. The one who trusts in God shares that same tranquillity. For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, we are the Lord—s. Evil cannot harm us, death has no sting. We are truly safe.

Friday: JOSEPH, MASTER DREAMER
(Gn 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28; Mt 21:33-43, 45-46)

Joseph, son of Jacob, dreamed great dreams, and lived to see them come true. He didn—t know the love and protection of his brothers, but God compensated him richly for what was lacking. Often we blame the smallness of our dreams on our upbringing. Pray to be liberated from the past, free for the future.

Saturday: MARY, BLESSED AND WILLING
(Is 7:10-14, 8:10; Heb 10:4-10; Lk 1:26-38)

Mary didn—t have a remarkable education, the wisdom of years or a wealthy family behind her. She had no advantages marking her for greatness. But when God announced the divine will to her, she embraced it wholeheartedly, body and soul, like no one before or since.

Third Sunday of Lent: JESUS, FRIEND OF OUTSIDERS
(Jn 4:4-52; Jn 2:13-25; Lk 13:1-9)

What do a Samaritan woman, a cleansed temple and a fig tree have in common? These three Gospel stories illustrate Jesus— commitment to the outcast over the insider. People were shocked that Jesus spoke with the woman at the well: a foreign female sinner! But Jesus always had more time for the outsider than those who were sure they didn—t need saving.

Monday: THE LITTLE SLAVE GIRL
(2 Kgs 5:1-15a; Lk 4:24-30)

Naaman the leper gets cured at the hands of the prophet Elisha. But he would not have been healed if not for an Israelite child he had captured in battle. The enslaved little girl takes pity on her master—s suffering. Boy, is that freedom, to be compassionate even in chains! Others can oppress our bodies, but not our hearts.

Tuesday: AZARIAH IN THE FIRE
(Dn 3:25, 34-43; Mt 18:21-35)

In the midst of the flames, our prayers develop a certain clarity. Our rote prayers are replaced by an urgency that comes from the strength of our suffering. We pray, "now, and at the hour of our death"—but the closer we are to that second hour, the better we pray.

Wednesday: FAITHFUL TEACHERS
(Dt 4:1, 5-9; Mt 5:17-19)

"Teach your children well." The 1970's folk song flips in the other direction too: "Teach your parents well." Moses and Jesus both admonish their followers to treasure their faith and pass it on to those whom they love. God bless our teachers!

Thursday: GOOD LISTENERS
(Jer 7:23-28; Lk 11:14-23)

If God spoke a word to you today, would you hear it? Would you not only hear, but listen? The word obey comes from the root word for "listening." To listen, then, means to act on what you hear. God—s word comes to us in every generation, but few hear, and fewer listen and act.

Friday: THE SCRIBE WHO GOT IT
(Hos 14:2-10; Mk 12:28b-34)

The scholars came to Jesus with questions, but only one really understood the wisdom of God he received in reply. Jesus told that scribe he was not far from the reign of God. When we accept the command to love, we are close to God—s reign, too.

Saturday: THE SINNER BEFORE GOD
(Hos 6:1-6; Lk 18:9-14)

There were two sinners before God that day: the Pharisee and the tax collector. But one knew who he was, and the other didn—t. The only way to come into the presence of the goodness of God is in full knowledge that we fall short of it. God—s mercy is our only hope, and our joy.

Fourth Sunday of Lent: JESUS, ONLY SON OF GOD
(Jn 9:1-41; Jn 3:14-21; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32)

God so loved the world, that Jesus pitched his tent in the midst of human misery. He made a home with the wretched and relieved their suffering. The blind received sight, sinners were forgiven and the poor heard good news at last. God—s work is still being done among us, for we still suffer blindness, sin and a want of good news.

Monday: THE PARENT OF A DYING CHILD
(Is 65:17-21; Jn 4:43-54)

Among the most desperate people on earth are the parents of dying children. It tempts us to doubt the goodness of God when the young die before the old. Yet the official comes to Jesus with hope despite his suffering. Could we imitate his faith, from such a place of anguish?

Tuesday: EZEKIEL, FRIEND OF ANGELS
(Ez 47:1-9, 12; Jn 5:1-16)

Ezekiel—s elaborate visions are the product of weeks of fasting and prayer. He sees angels as naturally as we see the material world around us. Chances are, we see angels too, but we don—t recognize them. Traffic between heaven and earth is heavier than we suspect.

Wednesday: MOTHER AND CHILD
(Is 49:8-15; Jn 5:17-30)

Can a mother forget her child? When we observe or experience maternal love, we know something of what God feels for us. Tender intimacy with the invisible God may seem foreign to us, but Isaiah assures us that a mother is more likely to forget her child than God is to abandon us.

Thursday: JOHN, THE LAMP AFLAME
(Ex 32:7-14; Jn 5:31-47)

Often we hide our light under a bushel. But John the Baptist was a burning witness for Jesus. What is the brightest testimony you offer: your love for the poor, fidelity to family, passion for justice, willingness to forgive? Take out your light and let it shine.

Friday: THE JUST ONE OF GOD
(Wis 2:1a, 12-22; Jn 7:1-2, 10, 25-30)

Scriptural tradition recounts the struggle between the wicked and the just. We tell most stories in the same way: It—s all about the good guys and the bad guys. In the movies, the good guys usually win. From the perspective of eternity, too, goodness ultimately has the victory.

Saturday: NICODEMUS, TRUTH SPEAKER
(Jer 11:18-20; Jn 7:40-53)

It took a lot for Nicodemus to speak in defense of an innocent man, especially one who was soon to hang on a cross. It ruined his career in the Sanhedrin, and endangered his life. But sometimes truth requires sacrifice; may we seek the grace to speak when it—s our turn.

Fifth Sunday of Lent: JESUS, LORD OF THE DEAD
AND THE LIVING

(Jn 11:1-45; 12:20-33; 8:1-11)

Jesus knew a grain of wheat must die in order to bear fruit. Bringing Lazarus back from the dead was not a rejection of the hour of death, but an affirmation of the life that awaits us. The wage of sin is death, but we have been bought back from death through the power of God—s love. Our loved ones who have died now celebrate that truth.

Monday: SHAMED WOMEN
(Dn 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62; Jn 8:1-11)

Susanna was accused of a sin she didn—t commit. The woman caught in adultery may well have been guilty, though the law condemned her and not her partner. In many cultures, women carry the shame of sex crimes alone. Jesus champions them and accuses their accusers.

Tuesday: THE BOLD EVANGELIST JOHN
(Nm 21:4-9; Jn 8:21-30)

"Who are you, then?" the crowds ask Jesus in disbelief. Jesus answers, "I AM," the name God spoke to Moses at Mt. Sinai. John—s Gospel claims this title for Jesus, leaving no room for Jesus to be merely our guru or guide. He is one with the One who sent him.

Wednesday: THREE FRIENDS
(Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Jn 8:31-42)

Three friends exiled in a foreign land serve their new king faithfully, but they will not worship his god. Perhaps alone they may have faltered, but together they withstand even the threat of death. Friends united on the way of holiness is what Church really means.

Thursday: ABRAHAM OF THE PROMISE
(Gn 17:3-9; Jn 8:51-59)

God promises Abraham the whole enchilada: land, descendants, blessings for ages to come. But like many who gain a big inheritance, Abraham—s children often took their birthright for granted. We inherit the kingdom in Jesus, but do we live gratefully for such a gift?

Friday: THOSE WHO BELIEVED
(Jer 20:10-13; Jn 10:31-42)

The Temple crowd is ready to stone Jesus for "making himself God." But on the other side of the Jordan, many come to believe that he is from God. Often holiness is recognized not by religious professionals, but by people on the wrong side of the tracks-- perhaps because they have less to lose.

Saturday: ONE NATION, UNDER GOD
(Ex 37:21-28; Jn 11:45-56)

Caiaphas worries that the fate of the nation hangs on the fate of one man. How right he is--and how terribly wrong. Earlier prophets spoke of God's plan for a strong nation undivided by strife. That "one nation, under God" is something we still yearn for, and the only way to enter it is through the kingdom.

Holy Week/Palm Sunday: KING OF THE JEWS
(Mt 26:14—27:66; Mk 14:1—15:47; Lk 22:14—23:56)

They couldn't kill him for blasphemy, a religious crime Rome didn't recognize. But they could put him to death for a political crime like treason. So Jesus died under the accusation, "King of the Jews." He had no throne, no army, no power to threaten governments. But he threatened a lot of people with the power to change hearts.

Monday: BRAVE MARY OF BETHANY
(Is 42:1-7; Jn 12:1-11)

Was Mary a prophet? She forecast Jesus' death by preparing him for burial. Was she a minister of sacrament, anointing his body with soothing oil? Was she a disciple, a friend, a woman in love? Unconcerned with others' judgments she did what her heart commanded.

Tuesday: PASSIONATE PETER
(Is 49:1-6; Jn :13:21-33, 36-38)

Peter, too, followed his heart. He spoke and acted impulsively, and often came to regret his behavior. He swears he will die for Jesus, and within hours he denies him. But in fact, Peter will die for Jesus one day. He, like us, just needs to get the bugs out of his witness.

Wednesday: GOD'S SUFFERING SERVANT
(Is 50:4-9a; Mt 26:14-25)

Isaiah wrote poems about the Lord's servant, who suffers innocently for justice. The Gospel writers recognized Jesus in those poems. Innocent suffering may repel us, but it also emboldens hearts. "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of thc Church." Such love finds its response in our courage.

Triduum

Holy Thursday: FOOT WASHERS
(Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15)

Mothers of small children, caregivers for the elderly, nurses in sickrooms, take heart: Washing the feet of those who need us is an activity particularly blessed by God. Humble acts of service give glory to the Lord who once washed feet to show us how far our love should go.

Good Friday: CARRYING THE CROSS
(Is 52:13—53:12; Heb 4:14-16, 5:7-9; Jn 18:1—19:42)

The cross is the symbol of human suffering and death. No one wants to carry the cross, but each of us will be forced underneath it someday, like Simon of Cyrene, when we least expect it. How we carry it will depend on how well we've understood the sign of the cross, every time we've used it in blessing.

Easter Vigil: STANDING AT THE TOMB
(Mt 28:1-10; Mk 16:1-7; Lk 24:1-12)

Many visit the tomb in the early hours of Easter. The holy women. Angels. The disciples. We come to the tomb as well, to stand and peer in to the very hollow where our faith lives. Is it empty? What do we see? Is he risen or is it a trick? If we say Alleluia, we accept the challenge to say it with our whole lives.

Alice Camille is a free-lance writer who lives in Berkeley, California, where she also teaches in pastoral settings. She holds an M.Div. from the Franciscan School of Theology and is author of God's Word Is Alive (Twenty-Third Publications) and Seven Last Words (ACTA).

Next: Faithful Citizenship (U.S. bishops)

 
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