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Praying With Lenten Scripture
Day by Day

by Christopher M. Bellitto

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 Lord—and 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.

Ash Wednesday:
ADJUST YOUR ATTITUDE
Jl 2:12-18; 2 Cor 5:20—6:2; 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 this Lent.

Thursday:
MAKE CHOICES
Dt 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.

Friday:
TAKE ACTION
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.

Saturday:
GET RESULTS
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 results, too.

 

First Sunday of Lent
FIGHT TEMPTATION
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.

Monday:
BE HOLY—IT 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.

Tuesday:
JOIN GOD'S PLAN
Is 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.

Wednesday:
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.

Thursday:
PRAY BOLDLY
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 reveal—that 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.

Friday:
CHOOSE WELL
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.

Saturday:
REACH OUT
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.

Monday:
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.

Tuesday:
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.

Wednesday:
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?

Thursday:
TRUST GOD
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.

Friday:
WORK THROUGH CONFUSION
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.

Saturday:
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 us home.

 

Third Sunday of Lent
DRINK LIVING WATER
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.

Monday:
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?

Tuesday:
SPEAK PLAINLY TO GOD
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.

Wednesday:
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?

Thursday:
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?

Friday:
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 each other.

Saturday:
PERSEVERE
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 our sins.

Monday:
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.

Tuesday:
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.

Wednesday:
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 Holy Week.

Thursday:
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.

Friday:
BELIEVE WHEN IT'S HARD TO
Wis 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!"

Saturday:
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 accomplish.

 

Fifth Sunday of Lent
CHOOSE LIFE AND GOODNESS

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

God promises the ultimate—life after death—and 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.

Monday:
RESIST SIN
Dn 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 decision—adultery or death—yet she brings honor to herself. How might we bring honor to ourselves and to God today, especially when that just doesn't seem doable?

Tuesday:
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 Holy Spirit?

Wednesday:
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.

Thursday:
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 word.

Friday:
STAY STRONG
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.

Saturday:
IMAGINE GLORY
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.

 

Palm Sunday
AIM FOR EASTER

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

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.

Monday:
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?

Tuesday:
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't—or times when in fact we did give up? At those moments, consider how God was at work—and still is right now, during the most demanding week of the Church's year.

Wednesday:
PASS 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?

Holy Thursday:
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 world—a family member, a friend (or foe), a co-worker—and perform a simple act of service to share God's love for you.

Good Friday:
SURRENDER
Is 52:13—53:12; Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9; Jn 18:1—19:42

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 us.

Easter Vigil:
REJOICE
Mt 28:1-10; Mk 16:1-7; Lk 24:1-12

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 E. Mick)

 

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