By: Alice Camille
How many times have you taken the Lenten journey to Easter? Those preparing to receive their first sacraments at the Easter Vigil may be setting foot on this desert road for the first time. Younger Catholics may still find Lent an invigorating challenge to prove they’re serious about what they believe. For many of us, this season has come and gone so many times, we may arrive at Ash Wednesday a bit ho-hum about it all. Yet some who walked this road with us last year never imagined they wouldn’t have the chance to do it again. If this were your last Lent, how would you make it your best? As we say from the start: “Remember you are dust.”
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Ash Wednesday: Pray, Fast, Share
Jl 2:12-18; 2 Cor 5:20—6:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18 The beauty of Church tradition is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each Lent. Select ways to participate from each of three ancient categories: prayer, fasting, almsgiving. Do this together—as a family, or with friends.
Dt 30:15-20; Lk 9:22-25 Lose your life to save it, Jesus says. Try “losing” yourself today: withhold judgment, listen while someone else talks, allow others ahead of you in line, don’t insist on getting your way.
Is 58:1-9a; Mt 9:14-15 Fasting is hard. When we refrain from food, hunger growls like a chained animal within us. Each time you hear that beast, pray for those who contain that beast every day because there is no food.
Is 58:9b-14; Lk 5:27-32 The invitation comes suddenly: “Follow me.” Some immediately fall in behind Jesus. These become apostles, saints and heroes in the Church. Others, we must imagine, ignore the summons or say, “Maybe later.” We don’t know what they become.
First Sunday of Lent
Face the Dark Side
Lk 4:1-13 (C, 2010) Good and evil struggle for supremacy in every human heart. Good people like to pretend they never have a conversation with the devil. But even Jesus did that. To beat temptation, we first have to admit that it exists.
1 Pt 5:1-4; Mt 16:13-19 Moral living is not rocket science. The works of mercy are easy enough for a child to understand. Ask a kid what to do when someone’s hurt, lonely, hungry or sick! Then respond to the world’s suffering with a child’s heart.
Is 55:10-11; Mt 6:7-15 Intercessory prayer is just a fancy name for asking. Sure, God knows what we need before we ask. But asking for what we need is an expression of our faith. Do you believe God can do all things?
Jon 3:1-10; Lk 11:29-32 People seek signs, Jesus says, to be sure God is paying attention to them. But how willing are these same folks to pay attention when God is talking? God asks us to turn around and seek the good.
Est C:12, 14-16, 23-25; Mt 7:7-12 Sometimes life seems effortless. At other times obstacles abound: illness, unemployment, misery. When the door to hope seems shut tight, knock. The best tool for knocking is to show to others the kindness you’d like to receive.
Ez 18:21-28; Mt 5:20-26 We all have reasons why our hearts are divided. Past injuries and present injustices make it hard to forgive or, perhaps, to seek forgiveness. But forgiveness is not just a suggestion. It’s the only way to real freedom.
Dt 26:16-19; Mt 5:43-48 If you took forgiveness seriously yesterday, then loving will be easy today. Otherwise, it’ll prove impossible, because Jesus doesn’t ask us to love our families and friends. He commands us to love our enemies! Start by praying for them daily.
Second Sunday of Lent
See More Clearly
Lk 9:28b-36 Everything’s brilliantly clear on the mountaintop: at the retreat center, during the parish mission or when hearing an excellent homily. Back at home, does Jesus shine as brightly? To be dazzled again, look in the faces of the least of our sisters and brothers.
Dn 9:4b-10; Lk 6:36-38 Jesus made the world’s suffering his own. We do the same by exercising compassion, a word meaning “to suffer with.” When we embrace the needy with our resources, patience or acceptance, a little suffering comes with the territory.
Is 1:10, 16-20; Mt 23:1-12 The Pharisees earn Jesus’ disapproval for not practicing what they preach. If we want a better evaluation, we must do as we say. Demonstrate your faith in acts of peace, justice, joy, gentleness, honesty, self-control.
Jer 18:18-20; Mt 20:17-28 When I had fevers as a child, Mom dropped everything to care for me. Household chores were forgotten; she waited on me around the clock. I felt cherished! When serving others, think of them as precious.
Jer 17:5-10; Lk 16:19-31 One thing’s clear: Nothing lasts forever. Even our bodies, however durable at the start, wear out over time. So let’s not delay the choice to do what’s right. Today we have the chance. Tomorrow may never come.
Gn 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a; Mt 21:33-43, 45-46 Singer Aretha Franklin knew how to spell it out: R-E-S-P-E-C-T. It’s the key to living in a marriage, family, community or among nations. Without respect, there can be no order, no cooperation, and no lasting peace.
Mi 7:14-15, 18-20; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32 It’s the middle of Lent. Do we dare throw a party? The father in the story does. His boy turns up broke and blubbering a well-rehearsed confession. The father’s too busy organizing the Welcome Home party to hear it.
Third Sunday of Lent
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A fig tree doesn’t live up to its name if it produces no figs. The gardener offers the tree one more year of ultra-special care to see if there’s any hope for fruit. Locate a fruitless corner of your life. Smother it with attention.
2 Kgs 5:1-15b; Lk 4:24-30 You don’t need a witness stand to testify. Nor does it take a pulpit or even a milk crate in the park. We testify to what we believe when we tell the truth—popular or not.
Dn 3:25, 34-43; Mt 18:21-35 Jesus asks us to repay God’s mercy by offering mercy to others. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” is the general idea. How could we dare to withhold our forgiveness, in the shadow of the cross?
Dt 4:1, 5-9; Mt 5:17-19 From the time we’re children, the command, “Obey” gets our dander up. Being ruled by someone else’s will just plain rankles. But the root word of obey means “to listen.” Give God’s will a fair hearing in five minutes of daily contemplation.
Jer 7:23-28; Lk 11:14-23 Making good decisions is tricky. You need the right information, smarts and sometimes guts. Discernment, however, requires one thing more: wisdom. Seek wisdom from every wise person. Read, ponder and pray for the Spirit’s guidance.
Hos 14:2-10; Mk 12:28-34 Praise God! I mean literally: Make praise a pillar of your life. Jesus named orienting our lives to God as the number one commandment. If God’s not at the center, what will keep heart, soul, mind and strength together?
Hos 6:1-6; Lk 18:9-14 Only the strong survive, we’re told. Stand up for yourself, be ambitious, even ruthless when the occasion demands. Jesus tells us we also have to kneel, bow our heads and admit our weakness. “Remember thou art dust.”
Fourth Sunday of Lent
Let Yourself Be Loved
Lk 15:1-3, 11-32 Why do we find it easier to care for others than to accept their concern for us? We fear the loss of control in being vulnerable. Yet we all need love, as today’s parable illustrates. The father does. So do his sons. Surrender to love!
Is 65:17-21; Jn 4:43-54 At a healing Mass, the preacher said, “Only those who want healing can receive it.” I wondered: Who could possibly not want healing? Then I remembered old wounds I keep alive by revisiting them. Was I ready to let them go?
Ez 47:1-9, 12; Jn 5:1-16 Exercise is a good thing. But it’s more “New Year’s resolution” than “Lenten discipline.” When Jesus says walk, he doesn’t mean go burn some calories. Jesus invites us to surrender what cripples us—fear, anger, regrets—and step into freedom.
Is 49:8-15; Jn 5:17-30 Jesus calls God his father. Easy for him to say, perhaps—but it also enraged a lot of folks. It seemed presumptuous to make such a claim. But it’s true. It’s also true for you and me. Dare to claim that you are God’s child!
Ex 32:7-14; Jn 5:31-47 John the Baptist was a burning lamp. He illuminated others by telling them God’s Kingdom was in motion. Want to shine like John? Keep God at the center, for when God’s will is done, Kingdom comes!
2 Sm 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16; Rm 4:13, 16-18, 22; Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a or Lk 2:41-51a We have cell phones, Twitter, Facebook. More ways to stay connected arrive each season. But the only way to connect to God is with a personal decision. Jesus knew he belonged to God and was returning to God. Do we?
Jer 11:18-20; Jn 7:40-53 Some called Jesus a prophet. Others called him the Christ. The guards thought he was different. To the authorities, he was dangerous. Nicodemus called him innocent until proven guilty. What will you call Jesus?
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Jn 8:1-11 Jesus refused to pass judgment on the woman presented as an adulteress, and on those gathered. He allowed each to judge himself or herself—which we all can do, quite effectively.
Dn 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62; Jn 8:12-20 Jesus’ “light of the world” claim is just too incredible for the pious ones. They want proof! What did it take—or will it take—for you to put your trust in Jesus?
Nm 21:4-9; Jn 8:21-30 Where do you live? If you’re really living for the world to come, why furnish this one so lavishly?
Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Jn 8:31-42 What if you had the power to save all who are oppressed and in captivity? Wouldn’t you do it? Now consider: Jesus says such power really is in your hands. The magic key is the truth.
Is 7:10-14; 8:10; Heb 10:4-10; Lk 1:26-38 Some things should be set free, like the truth. Others should be held onto for dear life, like faith. Jesus keeps his Father’s word. We have a similar slogan: Keep the faith.
Jer 20:10-13; Jn 10:31-42 Do we fight every battle in life? Yet, page through the Gospels to see how often Jesus chooses to escape from his enemies! To Jesus, timing is everything. When it’s the hour to remain, he does.
Ez 37:21-28; Jn 11:45-56 Caiaphas decrees it’s better for one man to die instead of everyone. How prophetically he speaks! What keeps Caiaphas from genuine prophecy is that he won’t lift his gaze from history to eternity. The higher we look, the better we see.
Palm Sunday: Be Generous
Lk 22:14—23:56 How have you spent these 40 days, especially in your practices of prayer, fasting and sharing? There’s still time to be generous with all three. Jesus shows exceptional generosity, even from the cross.
Is 42:1-7; Jn 12:1-11 A spiritual director once told me, “Waste more time with God.” In this green generation, waste sounds bad. What he meant was: Don’t expect obvious returns on each investment. Be like Mary, extravagant with what she had for love of Jesus.
Is 49:1-6; Jn 13:21-33, 36-38 No one likes to admit fault. Most of us will justify, rationalize and minimize our guilt even when we know we’re wrong. Let us learn a lesson from Peter’s promise, denial and repentance.
Is 50:4-9b; Mt 26:14-25 How can Jesus sit at table with his friends, knowing what he knows? Yet he does. And so do we rest, eat, gather with friends even—and especially—as things go very wrong. Our commitment to life demands we nurture ourselves.
Holy Thursday: Wash
Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15 The washing of the feet is among the most intimate rituals of our faith. We can imagine how the disciples felt, how their unworthiness plagued them: “Lord, please don’t do this!” Not only did Jesus do it, he invites us to serve others in the same way.
Good Friday: Thirst
Is 52:13—53:12; Heb 4:14-16—5:7-9; Jn 18:1—19:42 Forty days ago, we received an invitation to share the world’s hunger through fasting. Today we fast again. This time, we are reminded of the thirst for justice Jesus knew, as he uttered these words from the cross: “I thirst.”
Easter Vigil: Rejoice!
Lk 24:1-12 The tomb is empty. It’s up to us to be open to its meaning. Where is Jesus? What do you believe has happened here? Some experience terror at that open grave. Others are mystified. Many will shrug and go home. Those who prepared themselves to see clearly rejoice!
Alice Camille, M.Div., is a religious educator and retreat leader, as well as the author of Seven Last Words and co-author of The Forgiveness Book, available at www.alicecamille.com.
NEXT: Discernment (by Fr. Mark E. Thibodeaux, S.J.)