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Lent Day By Day:
Doing What God Asks

by Karen Sue Smith

Lent is a time to recommit ourselves to God. We begin by taking an honest look at ourselves. Then we listen to Scripture and pray regularly in the hope of discovering more deeply who God is and what God requires of us. Finally, we commit ourselves anew to doing what God asks.

By the time the Triduum arrives, we will surely have a new appreciation for the mighty acts of God and the long-suffering, tender love revealed to us in Jesus.

Ash Wednesday REND YOUR HEART
Jl 2:12-18; 2 Cor 5:20—6:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

With one trumpet blast the people gather for the fast! Every year around the world, followers of Christ line up to receive ashes. It's time, we say, to admit our faults and throw ourselves on the Lord's mercy. For weeks we pray, give alms, encourage and lean on each other. We're all in this together.

Thursday TAKE UP YOUR CROSS
Dt 30:15-20; Lk 9:22-25

Most of the time we try to avoid suffering ourselves and work to lessen the suffering of others. But when life brings unavoidable suffering to us, we must accept it, learn from it and endure. Pray for the grace to take up your cross and to bear it as Jesus did, on behalf of others.

Friday BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF
Is 58:1-9a; Mt 9:14-15

It is easy to rationalize about our own complacency. We're not the worst of people, we tell ourselves, so we must be O.K. Truth is, there is always more we can do and be. Isaiah gives a whole list of what needs doing, from releasing the oppressed to sharing our bread, clothes and housing with the needy.

Saturday LEAN ON GOD
Is 58:9-14; Lk 5:27-32

Religious people, in Jesus' day and in ours, sometimes have great difficulty admitting their need for God. Piety can trip us up if we begin to depend on ourselves—our many prayers, our good works, our faithfulness rather than God's.

First Sunday of Lent
COMPARE ACTIONS WITH INTENTIONS
Mt 4:1-11 (A); Mk 1:12-15 (B); Lk 4:1-13 (C)

Temptations come our way so often that we may fail even to notice them. Few are clear-cut choices between good and evil. Most concern little things, daily decisions about time, energy, and money. We surprise ourselves when we don't have time or energy to help someone, to pray or to study a just.ice issue. Perhaps we have already given in to more tempting activities.

Monday PRACTICE THE WORKS OF MERCY
Lv 19:1-2, 11-18; Mt 25:31-46

God's judgment is simple and clear. The same standard applies to everyone. To find out how you measure up, ask: How well do I attend to my neighbors' physical, emotional and spiritual needs? Do I welcome the stranger, visit the sick and imprisoned? Do I reach out beyond my family and friends? Many such choices are actually spiritual judgment calls.

Tuesday LEARN TO PRAY
Is 55:10-11; Mt 6:7-15

Life isn't easy. For one thing, the daily struggle between good and evil is real. To help us cope, Jesus taught us a brief prayer. The Our Father assumes that temptation is part of life and that dependence on God is the remedy. We ask God to "forgive our trespasses," "lead us not into temptation" and "deliver us from evil." In struggling, we are never alone.

Wednesday TURN TO GOD
Jn 3:1-10; Lk 11:29-32

When Jonah preached, the people of the city of Nineveh repented. They turned to God with prayer and fasting. Jesus preached repentance, too, but not all of his hearers reformed their lives. Even today, the choice is ours. If we freely turn our lives toward God, God creates a new spirit within us.

Thursday TRUST GOD'S GENEROSITY
Est 12:14-16, 23-25; Mt 7:7-12

Queen Esther knew that the Lord alone could help her save her people. She prayed fervently first, then won over the king's heart. Jesus teaches that God, much more than any kindly king or loving parent, gives generously to all who ask. Jesus makes two points: first ask, then act. Trust God's generosity, then practice it.

Friday EXAMINE YOUR ACTIONS AND ATTITUDES
Ez 18:21-28; Mt 5:20-26

Holiness has to do with relationships. And good relationships require attentiveness and self-control. Jesus warns us against acts of anger and destructive attitudes, such as contempt. He urges us to forgive readily and to seek forgiveness for our faults. Does anyone hold anything against you? To grow in holiness, tend to that.

Saturday ASPIRE TO BE PERFECT
Dt 26:16-19; Mt 5:43-48

Jesus ups the ante. We must love not only our neighbor, but also our enemy! Such perfection may seem unattainable, but it is reached the same way as any lesser goal. Proceed one step at a time.

Second Sunday of Lent
REMEMBER PEAK MOMENTS
Mt 17:1-9; Mk 9:2-10; Lk 9:28-36

The Transfiguration was one of those mountaintop experiences the disciples would never forget. When Jesus appeared, speaking with Moses and Elijah, the disciples present got a glimpse of his stature. Jesus, they realized, ranked above the most honored leaders of Israel. Have you ever had an experience when God suddenly became clearer or closer to you?

Monday MIRROR GOD'S MERCY
Dn 9:4-10; Lk 6:36-38

What if God were to judge, forgive and love us exactly as we judge, forgive and love others (and not a bit more)? Surely, it would not be enough for us. Yet that troubling thought is what Jesus asks his disciples to ponder. Since it is God's enormous love we have received, it is God's love we are to reflect in our world.

Tuesday AIM TO PLEASE GOD ALONE
Is 1:10, 16-20; Mt 23:1-12

The respect of peers is a wonderful gift. Who wouldn't enjoy it? Jesus cautions us, however, not to let status become our goal. It's better to miss the awards banquet while helping others lift their loads, he suggests, than to be seen at the head table decked out in your finest.

Wednesday SERVE YOUR WAY TO GREATNESS
Jer 18:18-20; Mt 20:17-28

When the mother of James and John asks Jesus to give her sons seats of honor in the Kingdom, Jesus realizes that he has more teaching to do. The disciples still haven't understood what greatness really means. Do we understand that the only way to win first place in the Kingdom is by serving the needs of all?

Thursday KEEP YOUR EYES ON INJUSTICE
Jer 17:5-10; Lk 16:19-31

The rich man in Jesus' story had everything in life that is usually considered important. Yet he didn't understand one vital thing: his relation to the beggar at his gate. He and his family had never tried to right the wrongs at their front door: their abundance and Lazarus' need.

Friday REPAY EVIL WITH GOOD
Gn 37:3-4, 12-13, 17-28; Mt 21:33-43, 45-46

Joseph was Isaac's youngest and favorite son. For that, his jealous brothers first plotted to kill him, then sold him as a slave. Years later, when famine engulfed the land, Joseph had risen to a position of power. Filled with compassion, he not only forgave his brothers, but saved their lives.

Saturday RETURN TO THE LORD
Mi 7:14-15, 18-20; Lk 15:1-3,11-32

The story of the prodigal son gives us hope. Whatever we might have done, however long we might have been away, we too can "come to our senses" and return to the Lord. We too can trust that our Father will rush out to meet us.

Third Sunday of Lent
ASK FOR LIVING WATER
Jn 4:4-52; Jn 2:13-25; Lk 13:1-9

Thirst—it's a basic human need. We simply can't live without water. Yet our physical thirst is no more critical than our spiritual thirst. We just fail to realize it sometimes. That's why Jesus struck up the conversation with the Samaritan woman. He wants to slake our spiritual thirst, to give us living water.

Monday LOOK FOR SIGNS OF GOD AT WORK
2 Kgs 5:1-15a; Lk 4:24-30

It is striking that a little slave girl could see God at work in the prophet Elisha when a highly esteemed army commander, Naaman the leper, could not. It finally took a whole group of servants to convince Naaman that Elisha's God could cure him. Who helps us see God at work in our lives? How do we convince others of God's healing power?

Tuesday FORGIVE WITHOUT LIMIT
Dn 3:25, 34-43; Mt 18:21-35

We sometimes say "the sky's the limit" when we mean there is no limit at all. That expression might answer the question, How much do we owe to God? If we could begin to grasp the size of the personal debt we owe, we might be able to forgive others the little they owe us by comparison.

Wednesday OBEY GOD'S LAWS
Dt 4:1, 5-9; Mt 5:17-19

Few of us would try to defy the law of gravity by jumping off a tall building, because we understand the consequences. Following God's laws can be just as life-saving. Jesus, who observed and fulfilled the commandments, shows us how to do it. His life puts human flesh on God's law of love.

Thursday LISTEN TO THE LORD
Jer 7:23-28; Lk 11:14-23

Knowing whom it is that someone listens to tells you a lot about that person. We listen most to those we hold in highest regard. When someone accused Jesus of "listening to the devil" in order to cure a man who could not speak, he countered their reasoning. Rather, he said, it was the devil in that mute man who had deferred to him. Even evil listens to good.

Friday PRAY FOR THE HOLY SPIRIT'S HELP
Hos 14:2-10; Mk 12:28b-34

Despite the simplicity of the two greatest commandments, neither one is easy to carry out. We humans seem to be preoccupied with ourselves. We have to make a conscious effort to put others first, especially those not in our immediate family or circle of friends. Yet the Spirit who dwells within us helps us to exercise the divine, compassionate parts of our nature. We can become more like Christ.

Saturday LOVE THE LORD
Hos 6:1-6; Lk 18:9-14

Most parents would rather be loved by their children than feared by them. So it is with God. The point of spiritual exercises at Lent and at other times is not to offer sacrifice to a God we fear, but to grow closer to a God we love.

Fourth Sunday of Lent
CATCH JESUS' VISION
Jn 9:1-41; Jn 3:14-21; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

Vision isn't just physical sight. Vision sees beyond today, beyond appearances, beyond the obvious. It gives a sense of direction and compels us forward. Without vision, the people perish. Jesus cured the blind, but his real concern was to impart God's vision. Jesus presents a Kingdom where compassion, justice and mercy reign, where life, not death, gets the last word.

Monday DELIGHT IN DOING GOOD
Is 65:17-21; Jn 4:43-54

Few of us can cure a sick child as Jesus did, bringing joy and relief to his worried father with one deed. Yet we, too, experience joy whenever we manage to give others a gift they desperately need or desire. It is only right to be happy at another's joy. God, writes Isaiah, has created us "to be a delight."

Tuesday BRING OTHERS TO A PLACE OF HEALING
Ez 47:1-9, 12; Jn 5:1-3,5-16

Lots of people came to the healing pools of Bethesda, but the man to whom Jesus spoke had no one to help him enter the water. That kind of help is something most of us can do. When we work for social justice, give time, a listening ear, encouragement or prayers, we help to mend the world.

Wednesday WORK FOR A BETTER WORLD
Is 49:8-15; Jn 5:17-30

The God we worship is living and active, continuously working to bring about a new creation. Jesus spent his ministry picturing for us what God is like. Like Father, like Son. Jesus, we can see from Scripture, was also a tireless worker. How much energy do we expend comforting the miserable and lifting up the lowly?

Thursday STEP OUT IN FAITH
Ex 32:7-14; Jn 5:31-47

Faith and reason work together. Jesus told his hearers that they had many reasons to believe in him: the testimony of John the Baptizer, Scripture itself and the good works he performed in God's name. What convinces you to trust in God, to pray boldly, to take new directions in your life?

Friday PRAY FOR COURAGE
Wis 2:1, 12-22; Jn 7:1-2, 10, 25-30

It takes real courage to pursue a goal when others oppose or misunderstand us. imagine having the strength to take actions that would lead you to your death! That is, of course, what Jesus did, and many of the saints. Jesus continued to preach publicly, risking capture. He had the courage of his convictions.

Saturday LOOK EVERYWHERE FOR GOD'S PRESENCE
Jer 11:18-20; Jn 7:40-53

Have you ever been so sure of how something would be that you couldn't accept what it actually turned out to be? Expectations can blind us to reality. Some people's expectations of the Messiah kept them from recognizing Jesus as God's son. Our expectations about how God works, and in whom, can limit our ability to see God in all persons and events.

Fifth Sunday of Lent
COMFORT THE GRIEVING

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

Jesus' raising of Lazarus from the dead is, without doubt, the greatest display of his power over nature. Yet the scene also shows Jesus' humanity. For he loves these friends—Mary, Martha and Lazarus—and shares the sisters' grief.

Monday REFUSE TO CONDEMN OTHERS
Dn 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62; Jn 8:1-11

The men who brought to Jesus the woman caught in adultery had no regard for her. They were looking for a way to entrap him. Jesus, though, had compassion on the woman. He knew she was not the only sinner present. He asked her accusers to judge themselves.

Tuesday FOCUS ON JESUS
Nm 21:4-9; Jn 8:21-30

All the Jews of Jesus' day knew that Moses' staff had saved their ancestors' lives. Jesus uses this same symbol of salvation to explain himself. When we look upon him in faith, we receive life.

Wednesday PRAY FOR THE PERSECUTED
Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Jn 8:31-42

People are still martyred for their faith. In Daniel's story, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would rather die than serve an alien God. "A son of God" joined them in the fiery furnace. God never forsakes those who follow.

Thursday MAKE A COMMITMENT
Gn 17:3-9; Jn 8:51-59

Think of the best, most loving marriage you have ever known. Both partners keep a covenant, steeped in love, to live together all their lives. That's still, perhaps, the best way we have of understanding God's covenant.

Friday REFLECT GOD'S LOVE IN DEEDS
Jer 20:10-13; Jn 10:31-42

Jesus told those who tried to stone him that he was simply performing the works of his Father. As others look at us, what do our works tell them about the God we serve?

Saturday ADMIT YOUR SINS
Ex 37:21-28; Jn 11:45-57

Why is it that we sometimes prefer flattery, even self-deception, to the harsh light of truth? Aren't we made in God's image, imbued with God's Spirit and redeemed by God's beloved Son? Yes. Yet sinners we remain, dependent on God's amazing grace.

PASSION SUNDAY/HOLY WEEK
BELIEVE!

Mt 26:14—27:66; Mk 14:1—15:47; Lk 22:14—23:56

Jesus' passion is a story rich in emotion and drama. We stand witness while an innocent man—selfless, powerful and noble—is executed by a diverse group that looks much like ourselves. Do we, like the centurion, become convinced that Jesus is God's Son?

Monday STAY AWAKE
Is 42:1-7; Jn 12:1-11

Sometimes we just don't understand the significance of what is going on all around us. Events move too quickly to be sorted out or too slowly to be noticed. It was like that for the disciples too. Although Jesus had tried to prepare them for his crucifixion, they were stunned that Passover night when he was arrested. They ran like the wind.

Tuesday MARVEL AT REDEMPTION
Is 49:1-6; Jn 13:21-33, 36-38

In an ideal world, love, denial and betrayal wouldn't go together. But in the real world, they often do. The disciples no doubt loved Jesus, yet most were disloyal to him at the end. What a marvel that God loves us and sent his Son!

Wednesday PREPARE FOR VICTORY
Is 50:4-9; Mt 26:14-25

In literary tragedy, the hero or heroine is ultimately cut down and dies. The gospel, though, is different. The hero, Jesus, willingly walks the path that leads to death. But soon after, he is raised up, given a new, resurrected life by God. Jesus glorified becomes "the Christ." Our story is no tragedy. Good triumphs!

Holy Thursday BE OF SERVICE
Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15

Being a servant runs against the grain of most people. It's lowly and difficult. We prefer being served. Jesus' disciples still didn't understand that selfless service is God's way, the key to the Kingdom. So Jesus showed them what to do. He washed their feet.

Good Friday PUT YOURSELF IN GOD'S HANDS
Is 52:13—53:12; Heb 4:14-16, 5:7-9; Jn 18:1—19:42

Often, the only way out of an ordeal is to go straight through it. We have to accept and submit rather than fight. While on trial for his life, Jesus is asked repeatedly to do this or that to save himself. But he refuses. Jesus accepts his unjust conviction. Then he puts himself completely in God's hands.

Easter Vigil CELEBRATE GOD'S SURPRISE
Mt 28:1-10; Mk 16:1-7; Lk 24:1-12

When Mary peers into Jesus' tomb on Easter morning, she is stunned at the emptiness. So are Peter and John, who look for themselves, When Jesus, whom God raised to new life, appears to the disciples, his presence defies their understanding. Today, what does Easter mean to you? Do you believe that Christ's Spirit lives among us?

Karen Sue Smith is editor of CHURCH, a magazine for parish pastoral ministers, published by the National Pastoral Life Center in New York City.

Next: Sacraments of Initiation (by Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.)

 

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