By: Richard Rohr, O.F.M.
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from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Reprinting prohibited
2 Cor 5:20—6:2
It seems that we need beginnings, or everything eventually devolves and declines into unnecessary and sad endings. You were made for so much more! So today you must pray for the desire to desire!
Dt 30:15-20; Lk 9:22-25
We must place our bet, set our trajectory, make a choice, surrender to the Great Love...just be ready for the trials and confusion into which this clear choice will lead you.
Is 58:1-9a; Mt 9:14-15
Isaiah makes a very upfront demand for social justice, non-aggression, taking our feet off the necks of the oppressed, sharing our bread with the hungry, clothing the naked, letting go of our sense of entitlement. How often we miss the point!
Is 58:9b-14; Lk 5:27-32
“God, where am I trapped and unable to see it?” That may be the best starter prayer for Lent.
First week of Lent
Mt 4:1-11; Mk 1:12-15; Lk 4:1-13
In all three years of the lectionary cycle, the Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent is devoted to the temptation of Jesus in the desert. Examining temptations is a good way to begin Lent. Most people’s daily ethical choices are not between total good and total evil, but between various shades of good, a partial good that is wrongly perceived as an absolute good (because of the self as the central reference point), or even evil that disguises itself as good. These are what get us into trouble.
Lv 19:1-2, 11-18; Mt 25:31-46
Jesus’ “commandments” go far beyond mere boundary-keeping. They actually move beyond all boundaries to take care of those who did not make it, do not fit in. These are the outsider, the criminal, the vulnerable and the weak. It is quite a leap.
Is 55:10-11; Mt 6:7-15
Forgiveness is not some churchy technique or formula. Forgiveness is constant from God’s side, which should become a calm, joyous certainty on our side.
Jon 3:1-10; Lk 11:29-32
Faith is the leap into the water, now with the lived experience that there is One who can and will catch you—and lead you where you need to go!
Est C 12, 14-16, 23-25; Mt 7:7-12
God seems to plant within us the desire to pray for what God already wants to give us. Even better, it’s what God has already begun to give to us!
Ez 18:21-28; Mt 5:20-26
Human consciousness is ready to be invited by Jesus beyond mere external observance of rights and wrongs, to inner attitudes, motivations, judgments and opinions.
Dt 26:16-19; Mt 5:43-48
You are to love with the same kind of love that God loves you, which is total unconditional love. This is the summit, the goal of all Jesus’ moral teaching.
Second week of Lent
Mt 17:1-9; Mk 9:2-10; Lk 9:28b-36
After this awesome and consoling epiphany, there is clear mention of “a cloud that overshadows” everything. We have what appears to be full light, yet there is still darkness. Knowing, yet not knowing. Getting it, and yet not getting it at all. Isn’t that the very character of all true Mystery and every in-depth encounter?
Dn 9:4b-10; Lk 6:36-38
It appears that humans can only know themselves through the gaze of others. We call it mirroring.
Good parents, like God, naturally bless the child through their receptive and affirming faces.
Is 1:10, 16-20; Mt 23:1-12
Nothing any of us could say today would match Jesus’ anger and judgment on hypocrisy in
spiritual leadership and self-serving religious authority.
Jer 18:18-20; Mt 20:17-28
Jesus, against all odds, expectations and human programming, insists that we make the preemptive and positive move into “drinking of the cup” ourselves instead of always asking others to drink it.
Jer 17:5-10; Lk 16:19-31
We will all receive exactly what our lives say we really want and desire: Love is always torment for the hateful. Final torment is impossible for the loving.
Gn 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a; Mt 21:33-43, 45-46
I know that any kind of defeat or humiliation is not the American way, but it is surely the biblical way. There the pattern is rather clear, and there is no going up until you go down.
Mi 7:14-15, 18-20; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
The story that is strangely called “The Prodigal Son” is much more about “The Prodigious Father” who seems to love to excess! All scholars seem to agree that this story most perfectly represents Jesus’ active and operative image of his personal experience of God.
Third week of Lent
Ex 17:3-7; Rom 5:1-2, 5-8; Jn 4:5-42
This long and truly mystical Gospel story of the Samaritan woman at the well was already used by the early Church in immediate preparation of the new candidates for Baptism on Holy Saturday. All the elements of invitation, disclosure, unfolding levels of meaning, intimacy, reciprocity and enlightenment are here for the taking. This multi-leveled story surely deserves our overall theme of a “wondrous loop” of giver, given and gift. The whole point of the story of the Woman at the Well is that unless you experience the Spirit, which Jesus says is “the water that I will give which will turn into a spring within you, welling up unto eternal life” (4:14), the whole thing falls apart.
2 Kgs 5:1-15b; Lk 4:24-30
The insider often misses the grace, while the outsider gets it.
Dn 3:25, 34-43; Mt 18:21-35
Jesus invites all of us in this rather easy-to-understand story into God’s nonsensical loving “from the heart.”
Dt 4:1, 5-9; Mt 5:17-19
Jesus knows that laws and dogmas are not goals or ends in themselves, and in that he disagrees with much immature religion, but they are a necessary beginning point.
Jer 7:23-28; Lk 11:14-23
When you try to fight evil, you are invariably accused of doing evil yourself. Isn’t that interesting and strange? Read history, and especially the lives of whistleblowers, justice seekers and peace workers.
Hos 14:2-10; Mk 12:28-34
Hosea’s wife became the image of the soul before God. Think about that awhile.
Hos 6:1-6; Lk 18:9-14
Jesus is never upset at sinners! He is only upset with people who do not think they are sinners.
Fourth week of Lent
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1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Eph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41
As Christianity’s High Holy Days draw near, this Sunday of the “Second Scrutiny” of the catechumens revolves entirely around the theme of light and seeing things truthfully. This problem is at the heart of what almost all ancients saw as the “tragic sense of life.” Our lack of self-knowledge and our lack of wisdom make humans do very stupid and self-destructive things. Because humans cannot see their own truth very well, they do not read reality very well either. We all have our tragic flaws and blind spots. Humans always need more “light” or enlightenment about themselves and about the endless mystery of God.
Is 65:17-21; Jn 4:43-54
The circle of the biblical revelation keeps widening to create that “new earth” of Isaiah. Christians, early on, call themselves catholic or universal. Here comes everybody!
Ez 47:1-9, 12; Jn 5:1-16
Jesus mirrors his best self for the paralytic man. He gives him back his own power.
Is 49:8-15; Jn 5:17-30
Each of us is our own truthful judge and our own best friend if we but look honestly into the perfect and compassionate Divine Mirror: Jesus, the Son.
Ex 32:7-14; Jn 5:31-47
Prayer, more than anything, seeks, creates and preserves relationship—which is always both giving and receiving.
Wis 2:1a, 12-22; Jn 7:1-2, 10, 25-30
Vengeance is often an open but denied secret when fear and gossip reign in a society.
Jer 11:18-20; Jn 7:40-53
As people become more afraid and insecure, they do not know how to access their own soul, move to prayer, or toward their better instincts.
Fifth week of Lent
Ez 37:12-14; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45
In a brilliant finale to the Lazarus story, Jesus invites the onlookers to join him in making resurrection happen: “Move the stone away!...Unbind him, and let him go free!” It seems that we have a part to play in creating a culture of life and resurrection. We must unbind one another from our fears and doubts about the last enemy, death. We must now “see that the world is bathed in light” and allow others to enjoy the same seeing—through our lived life. The stone to be moved is always our fear of death, the finality of death, any blindness that keeps us from seeing that death is merely a part of the Larger Mystery called Life. It does not have the final word.
Dn 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62; Jn 8:1-11
Jesus’ love is so gracious and universal that, looking down, he even wanted to save them from the condemnation of his eyes: “Neither do I condemn you,” he says to both the woman and the men.
Nm 21:4-9; Jn 8:21-30
We need to “lift up” and “gaze upon” the crucifix, the transformative image, just as Moses first did the serpent in the desert.
Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95;
Most Christians would probably be slow to admit that by these criteria almost all of us would have opposed Jesus: “This is not our tradition! He is not from our group! He has no credentials!”
Gn 17:3-9; Jn 8:51-59
Many never get beyond “religion as requirements.” What does your religion require of you?
Jer 20:10-13; Jn 10:31-42
They “try to arrest” Jesus, just as much of Christian history has arrested, feared and denied any message of actual union with God.
Ez 37:21-28; Jn 11:45-56
There are still two ways of gathering, the way of fear and hate and the way of love. But do not yourself be afraid, because Jesus is still “gathering.”
Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mt 26:14—27:66
Jesus is set as the human blueprint, the standard in the sky, the oh-so-hopeful pattern of divine transformation. Who would have presumed that the way up could be the way down? It is, as Paul says, “the secret mystery.” Trust the down, and God will take care of the up. This leaves humanity in solidarity with the life cycle, but also with one another, with no need to create success stories for itself, or to create failure stories for others. Humanity in Jesus is free to be human and soulful instead of any false climbing into “Spirit.” This was supposed to change everything, and it still will.
Is 42:1-7; Jn 12:1-11
“There will always be poor in the land. I command you therefore, always be open-handed with anyone in the country who is in need or is poor” (Dt 15:11). Unfortunately, only the first phrase is quoted in the Gospel text.
Is 49:1-6; Jn 13:21-33, 36-38
The more love and hope you have invested in another person, the deeper is the pain of betrayal.
Is 50:4-9a; Mt 26:14-25
Faithful Jesus, your faith was tried just like mine, but even more. Give me courage to do the same in the time of trial.
All pivots around the Triduum, and this necessary transformation of the soul. Yes, Jesus is the one who walks it consciously first, but it is so that we can trustfully follow.
Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest and founding director of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This Update is condensed from the book Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent, by Richard Rohr (St. Anthony Messenger Press).
NEXT: Changes in the Mass by Fr. Rick Hilgartner