Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Praying With Lenten Scripture
Only a little more than a month after we abandoned
our New Year's resolutions, the Church offers us a second chance
at renewal. As she does every year, the Church sets aside Lent as
a special period of prayer, penitence and preparation so we can
see where we stand with the Lordand with the Lord present
in those around us. Let this Lent be a time of self-reflection,
courage and resolve to get right with God.
But as you start this time around, pray
especially for the stamina, resolve and virtues needed to keep at
it. Don't let this Lent go the way of those New Year's resolutions.
The following reflections start from the daily Scripture readings
for Lenten liturgy. Use them alone or, better yet, read them with
the Scripture each day as your own starting point.
2:12-18; 2 Cor 5:206:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18
In today's readings, Joel and Paul each
tell us it's time to change. Right now, we have the chance to reform
our lives from the inside out. Matthew cautions us, however, that
our change must be heartfelt, not just a show so others can see
how holy we are. We've got to be real and honest with ourselves
30:15-20; Lk 9:22-25
Forget theories in textbooks and case
studies. This is it: Now is the moment to take a stand. Are we for
good or evil? Eternal life or earthly rewards? Our choice will not
be easy to keep, but that's what this Lent must be all about.
Is 58:1-9a; Mt 9:14-15
We usually think about fasting in terms
of what we don't do. But the Church challenges us today to do something:
to take action beyond ourselves, to help someone else, to listen
instead of talk, to give instead of take, to laugh instead of cry.
Is 58:9-14; Lk 5:27-32
After only three days, we have God's
promise of help to improve our attitude adjustment and our initial
Lenten choices and actions. In today's Gospel, the tax collector
Levi and his friends trusted that Jesus could help them change and
to act differently, despite their pasts. Allow God to help you get
First Sunday of Lent
Mt 4:1-11; Mk
1:12-15; Lk 4:1-13
Sometimes getting what we want puts us
into trouble. But no matter how badly we give in to bad choices
and separate ourselves from God, Jesus' choices bring us back. Jesus
knew that God will give us what we need. All we need to do is stop
looking elsewhere and trust in the Lord.
HOLYIT REALLY COUNTS
Lv 19:1-2, 11-18; Mt 25:31-46
God's challenge today is to let our actions
fit our words. His commands can be summed up this way: Be fair,
be good, be kind to those around you. When Jesus comes again, our
behavior with each other (and with God in every human being) will
be the standard by which we'll be measured.
55:10-11; Mt 6:7-15
How easy it is to skim over the Our Father
because we say and hear it so often. But put Jesus' words into the
context of Isaiah's and we understand what underlies both of today's
readings. God showers us with gifts so we can share them, use them
and move each other a few steps closer to the Kingdom.
ONCE MORE, TURN AWAY FROM SIN
Jon 3:1-10; Lk 11:29-32
Last week, we put on ashes and started
our Lenten path of repentance. Where have we come in the seven days
since then? If you have persisted, keep at it. But if your Lenten
resolve passed away when you washed your face, there is still time
to get back on track.
Est C:12, 14-16, 23-25; Mt 7:7-12
Esther and Jesus tell us to pray boldly
and directly to God. Our job is to follow their lead. Are there
things we're afraid even to bring before God? Are there emotions
and feelings we'd rather not revealthat we are mad at God
or disappointed with the way the world God created is working? We'll
find that God already knows what's in our hearts and that we'll
feel better for telling God exactly what we hope for.
Ez 18:21-28; Mt 5:20-26
Ezekiel and Jesus make it very clear
that we can choose good or evil. We have the freedom to build up
or to destroy. At the end of this week, think more than usual about
the choices we make and the consequences that follow.
Dt 26:16-19; Mt 5:43-48
Today's Gospel is one of those times
when we realize that it's tough to follow God and do good. Jesus
pulls us forward by asking us to do good to those who hate or harm
us. Consider how we can reach for this kind of heavenly perfection
with God's grace.
Second Sunday of Lent
OPEN YOURSELF TO TRANSFORMATION
Mt 17:1-9; Mk 9:2-10; Lk 9:28-36
In a flash, Jesus' friends see him as
he really is at the Transfiguration. They, too, were transformed
by this moment once they realized what an insight and gift they'd
received. This week, open yourself to see God, as God truly is,
in the goodness of people around you. Allow yourself to be transformed.
TAKE AN HONEST LOOK INSIDE
Dn 9:4-10; Lk 6:36-38
Daniel, surrounded by faithlessness,
knows where things stand with God. He is under no illusions about
human weakness. If we are honest with ourselves, we can realize
where we stand with God, too. Spend time today checking how your
Lent is proceeding, not in pointing out other people's faults. Only
with this attitude can we move ahead.
WALK THE TALK
Is 1:10, 16-20; Mt 23:1-12
Isaiah pushes us to get going with good
deeds, even if we are not doing well with our Ash Wednesday resolutions.
There is an urgency to his words in today's reading which should
give us a boost. Jesus tells us we must act and not just talk. Lent
must be about real actions, not empty words.
STAY THE COURSE
Jer 18:18-20; Mt 20:17-28
Jeremiah the prophet is targeted for
persecution precisely because he is following God's path for him.
His goodness is met with evil, but he forces himself to continue.
The apostles James and John want to follow Jesus, not realizing
how much it will cost. We know the road to Easter has to go through
Calvary. Can we keep going?
Jer 17:5-10; Lk 16:19-31
Heat and drought, hunger and poverty
are metaphors for hardship, but God's followers know the truth:
we must take the bad times with the good in order to reach heaven.
That's hard to remember in the middle of trouble, pain and sorrow,
but we must keep our eyes fixed on the final prize of heaven.
Gn 37:3-4, 12-13, 17-28; Mt 21:33-43, 45-46
Neither Joseph from Genesis nor the landowners
in Jesus' parable get what they deserve, which makes today's readings
confusing. What are we to learn from such stories? Maybe the task
is simply to keep the faith on days when bad things happen to us
that seem unprovoked, undeserved, and unfair.
ENJOY THE REWARDS OF FAITH
Mi 7:14-15, 18-20; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
After yesterday's uncertainty, today
we hear that we can enjoy the fruits of keeping the faith. No matter
how much we may go astray, stumble or fail, God is waiting to welcome
Third Sunday of Lent
Jn 4:4-52; Jn 2:13-25; Lk 13:1-9
It's easy to take both water and God
for granted. In many countries, we have only to reach out and turn
a knob for water that is fresh, clean and safe. But wherever we
are, God's living water is always available. Jesus offers us a type
of water that will go beyond this life, if only we realize it.
LISTEN FOR GOD'S PLAN
2 Kgs 5:1-15a; Lk 4:24-30
Naaman doubts Elisha can cure him because
the prophet does not tell him what he wants to hear. In Luke, the
crowd reject Jesus because they don't like the truth he preaches.
How often do our expectations get in the way of listening to God,
whose plans for us are greater than our own?
Dn 3:25, 34-43; Mt 18:21-35
Surrounded by danger and despair, God's
servants are not afraid to speak plainly to God. Remind God of the
promises and love and mercy you have felt in the past. Declare that
you need help again, now, during this Lent.
FOLLOW GOD'S PLAN
Dt 4:1, 5-9; Mt 5:17-19
We should obey God's laws. But instead
of thinking about this like a list of "do's" and "don'ts,"
consider them more as guides along God's path. Where, today, can
you see God pointing to the unique direction laid out for you?
TURN BACK TO GOD
Jer 7:23-28; Lk 11:14-23
Look at the path you've traveled in your
life in general, and during this Lent in particular. Where have
you turned away from God? What happened when you did? And what happened
when you decided to turn back to God?
RENEW YOUR COMMITMENT
Hos 14:2-10; Mk 12:28b-34
The ancient Israelites often turned their
backs on God and relied on themselves. Only when they failed did
they come back to God, who rewarded them according to their good
deeds and not their spiritual stumbling. Jesus tells us that what
it takes to come back to God is very simple: Love God and serve
Hos 6:1-6; Lk 18:9-14
We may have stepped back from our Lenten
promises to God and ourselves, but we can still start again. God
wants us to try, to keep at it, even if the "morning cloud" of our
commitment has passed away and we're still far from perfect.
Fourth Sunday of Lent
OPEN YOUR EYES
Jn 9:1-41; Jn 3:14-21; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
As we rush through the day "getting things
done," we are blind to the beauty around us: nature, children's
play, laughter. Jesus restores sight, light and life so we can see
with God's eyes, not our own, and know that we are loved despite
EMBRACE YOUR RENEWAL
Is 65:17-21; Jn 4:43-54
What a vision in Isaiah: a better world,
an eternity of joy, a life without sorrow and tears. It may seem
naïve to think such a world can exist, on earth or in heaven,
but how much more preposterous is the idea that Jesus can bring
the dead back to life? As we begin this fourth week of Lent, renew
your commitment to come back from spiritual death and move toward
a heavenly life on earth.
MOVE TOWARD LIFE
Ez 47:1-9, 12; Jn 5:1-3, 5-16
Ezekiel's story of a mighty river of
life points us toward health in body and spirit. In today's Gospel
Jesus gives that health in body and spirit to the man who had been
sick for nearly 40 years. Whatever lies in your past, bring it to
the Lord without fear, so that Jesus can bring you to the Easter
river of life.
KEEP THE FAITH
Is 49:8-15; Jn 5:17-30
Both readings today promise, with urgency
and excitement, that a reward is coming soon. God does not forget
us, so we must not forget the gift God gives us in Jesus: the gift
of Jesus' death and resurrection, which we will soon remember during
REMEMBER GOD'S PROMISES
Ex 32:7-14; Jn 5:31-47
God is more faithful to us than we are
to God. The Israelites quickly forgot that God brought them out
of Egypt and so they worshiped the golden calf. Some who heard Jesus
did not believe that he was the Messiah the Father promised to send.
Fight the temptation to have a short memory and to follow God only
when things are clear and going our way.
BELIEVE WHEN IT'S HARD TO
2:1, 12-22; Jn 7:1-2, 10, 25-30
It's easy to be angry at God, even to
attack Jesus and his teachings. The headlines speak of violence
and hatred, leaving us to wonder where God is or how true Jesus'
statements are. Today's test is to believe when it's easier to disbelieve
and to hold back criticism when all we want to do is cry out, "We
followed you and you failed us!"
ASK FOR GOD'S PROTECTION
Jer 11:18-20; Jn 7:40-53
Jeremiah and Jesus are unfairly accused.
They find themselves persecuted when they are innocent and, what
seems harder to take, when they are doing God's will. It's difficult
to persevere when all we receive is unfair treatment, especially
when we are following God's path. Asking God's help seems the only
way to keep going. After all, it is God's work we are trying to
Fifth Sunday of Lent
CHOOSE LIFE AND GOODNESS
11:1-45; 12:20-33; 8:1-11
God promises the ultimatelife after
deathand God delivers. But must we wait for death to have
life? If we embrace the gospel today, we can enjoy a measure of
heaven on earth.
13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62; Jn 8:1-11
Susanna is put in an impossible situation
and forced to make an unimaginable decisionadultery or deathyet
she brings honor to herself. How might we bring honor to ourselves
and to God today, especially when that just doesn't seem doable?
FOLLOW JESUS TO THE FATHER
Nm 21:4-9; Jn 8:21-30
Jesus sets our sights higher and further
than this world. As we come closer to Holy Week, are we ready to
follow Jesus' path of salvation all the way to the Father and the
BE FAITHFUL TO THE FATHER
Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Jn 8:31-42
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuse
to worship any god other than God, even when condemned to burn in
King Nebuchadnezzar's furnace. Jesus reminds his listeners that
they must also remain faithful to the Father. The reward for keeping
faith with the Father is eternal freedom, but we must keep believing
even when it doesn't seem to make sense.
KEEP YOUR PROMISES
Gn 17:3-9; Jn 8:51-59
God tells Abraham he must keep the divine
covenant. Jesus tells us that whoever keeps God's word will never
die. It's not too late to return to Ash Wednesday, to find the promise
we made to have a holy and active Lent, and to make good on our
Jer 20:10-13; Jn 10:31-42
In today's readings we find both Jeremiah
and Jesus surrounded and under assault. But they know that they
must remain on their missions because that is where God put them.
The good they do glorifies the Father who works through them. May
we be as open to God's will and work.
Ez 37:21-28; Jn 11:45-57
Ezekiel speaks God's promise of a holy,
united and peaceful society to come. But we also hear today, in
the Gospel, of the plot that will soon take Jesus' life. We have
to realize and accept a hard fact: Jesus must die in order for Ezekiel's
prophecy to be fulfilled.
AIM FOR EASTER
Mt 26:1427:66; Mk 14:115:47; Lk 22:1423:56
We hear the Passion story twice this
week, so we do not have to wait for Good Friday to think about the
cross. Now, with Lent concluding, there is still time to repent,
to recommit ourselves and to aim for Easter.
RESPOND TO GOD'S CALL
Is 42:1-7; Jn 12:1-11
God speaks of a servant who is just and
gentle. God calls this servant and says that now is the time for
his service. In the Gospel Mary anoints Jesus on the eve of his
entrance into Jerusalem. As this Holy Week begins, are we ready
to respond to God's call, to live up to our Baptism and Confirmation
and to do God's will?
STEP UP TO THE CHALLENGE
Is 49:1-6; Jn 13:21-33, 36-38
In today's first reading, Isaiah says
something that may hit home with us: He says he thought he had worked
in vain. Looking back over this Lent, can we see times where we
wanted to quit but didn'tor times when in fact we did give
up? At those moments, consider how God was at workand still
is right now, during the most demanding week of the Church's year.
OVER WITH JESUS
Is 50:4-9; Mt 26:14-25
Now is the time to enter into the events
of Jesus' passion for which we've prepared. We got ready, with God's
help, throughout Lent and God will not abandon us now. Are we prepared
to pass over with Jesus?
SERVE SOMEONE ELSE
Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15
Incredibly, despite our sinfulnes and
lack of faith and resolve, Jesus still acts as a slave for each
of us. He performs even the most menial task to show his love. Today,
turn to someone in your worlda family member, a friend (or
foe), a co-workerand perform a simple act of service to share
God's love for you.
52:1353:12; Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9; Jn 18:119:42
Today's events can easily confuse, even
anger us. Jesus did everything his Father asked of him, but he must
do more: He must die. We may not understand the world or God; we
may read the news headlines and be certain evil has won. It is precisely
at these times, when we understand the least, that it is hardest
to take the leap of faith and surrender to God's plan for each of
Mt 28:1-10; Mk 16:1-7;
We're asked today to believe the unimaginable:
Jesus died and is alive. But we don't have to understand how or
why. We need only to enjoy the life of renewal that God gives us
and to be amazed, yet again, how God continues to surprise us.
Christopher M. Bellitto, Ph.D., is
academic editor of Paulist Press. He is the author of Lost
and Found Catholics: Voices of Vatican II (St. Anthony Messenger
Press, 1999) and Renewing Christianity: A History of Church Reform
from Day One to Vatican II (Paulist Press, 2001).
Next: Customs of Lent (by Lawrence