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Lent, Day by Day

by Elizabeth Bookser Barkley

The Scriptures of Lent are a treasure for those preparing to join the Church, the catechumens. Lent for them is a time of discovery—about God, others, self. They are on a sacred journey toward initiation at the Easter Vigil. But we all know that Lent is not only for newcomers. Any of us can benefit by joining in spirit with these men and women who are listening to Baptism's call. By stepping out of the express lane of life—for even a few minutes a day—we can reconnect with the stories of Scripture that reconnect us with God.

Take time each day to read these brief meditations, alone or with others. If you really want to make the most of these 40 days, read the biblical passages cited before the meditations. On Easter morning, as you accompany the women to the empty tomb, you will not be disappointed. You may discover what Jesus has so often promised: Even though I may not be visible, I am with you forever.

Ash Wednesday
Renew from within.
     (Jl 2:12-18; 2 Cor 5:20—6:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18)

It's easy to focus on the externals of this day: the fasting, the meatless meals, the ashen cross on foreheads. But these symbols should urge us inward to search our hearts. Today is a good day to spend quiet time looking for ways Lent can transform our lives so we can witness to Jesus' life, even after the ashes fade.

Thursday: Unpack your excess baggage.
     (Dt 30:15-20; Lk 9:22-25)

Traveling though life, we get bogged down in inessentials, sometimes losing sight of core values. We need to pack lightly during these days of preparation for Christ's resurrection. The Lenten pilgrimage will be smoother if we take inventory of our baggage at the onset. Release a burden or a grief today, give up an idol that prevents you from choosing life.

Friday: Touch the lives of others.
     (Is 58:1-9; Mt 9:14-15)

Christ's challenge is to move beyond the pain of our personal Lenten struggles to soften the pain of others. Lenten practices are merely the warm-up for the real work of life—bringing justice and love to those most in need. Today share your light—even a glimmer—with someone whose life seems dark and hopeless.

Saturday: Take Christ at his word.
      (Is 58:9-14; Lk 5:27-32)

Lent can be a drab time, if we focus only on sacrifice and self-denial. The trick is to remember that Christ has promised to be with us, even in suffering and pain. If we follow him, he will be our noonday sun to light and lighten the gloom. Today, when sadness or discouragement begins edging into your life, remind yourself that Christ lives in your heart.

First Sunday of Lent
Be true to yourself.
      (Mt 4:1-11 [Cycle A, 1999]; Mk 1:12-15 [B]; Lk 4:1-13 [C])

A humbling thought: Christ too struggled with temptation. Because he became like us in all things, except sin, he helps us appreciate that there's no shame in being human. Pride, excessive self-sufficiency, worship of illusory pleasures of our culture—these are the temptations of today's desert. Renew your resolution to be whole and holy as you wrestle with the demons in your life.

Monday: Be blessed as you bless.
     (Lv 19:1-2, 11-18; Mt 25:31-46)

The Beatitudes call us to positive actions beyond the "thou shall nots" of the days before Christ came to show us the way. We need to take time to seek out strangers or friends who are hungry, poor, lonely or naked in our midst, and share our blessings with them.

Tuesday: Live the Lord's Prayer.
      (Is 55:10-11; Mt 6:7-15)

God's word should be life-giving, to us and others. In our actions today, the Word will accomplish its purpose if we praise God's name as we count our blessings—daily bread in all its manifestations—and forgive others as God forgives.

Wednesday: Be open to conversion.
     (Jon 3:1-10; Lk 11:29-32)

The people of Nineveh got a second chance, and so do we. We need to read the signs of Jonah and the new Jonah, Christ. In listening to Scripture, we can find room in our life for change and repentance.

Thursday: Keep knocking on God's door.
     (Est C, 12:14-16, 23-25; Mt 7:7-12)

Like a loving parent, God wants only the best for us. Our prayer should be confident, not timid, knowing that God will answer if we are persistent in our knocking. Let's do the same when others knock on our door looking for help.

Friday: Reconcile your differences.
     (Ez 18:21-28; Mt 5:20-26)

A self-righteous attitude interferes with prayer and conversion. As this first week of Lent nears the end, look for ways to make these 40 days more authentic. Leave your gifts at the altar and embrace those who have hurt you. Don't wait for them to take the first step.

Saturday: Walk in God's ways.
     (Dt 26:16-19; Mt 5:43-48)

No one ever said it would be easy. Say a prayer, take a deep breath and just do it: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. It may not make sense in the here and now, but it's a big step toward living a Godlike life.

Second Sunday of Lent
Be open to surprises.
     (Mt 17:1-9; Mk 9:2-10; Lk 9:28-36)

It began as just another day out for a walk to the mountain, but, in an instant, the disciples were flat on the ground trembling at the voice from the clouds. We rarely count among our experiences such dramatic epiphanies, but if we're open, we can discover moments in our lives that call us to transformation.

Monday: Swallow your pride.
     (Dn 9:4-10; Lk 6:36-38)

None of us are so blameless that we don't need forgiveness. But forgiving and being forgiven require more humility than we may think. Saying "I'm sorry" or "I was wrong" or "Let's start over" is the first step to healing divisions.

Tuesday: Take a back seat.
     (Is 1:10, 16-20; Mt 23:1-12)

There's a lot to be said for understated Christianity. Recapture the spirit of Ash Wednesday today, moving beyond externals into the humility of those who don't need the best seats at the banquet to prove their worth in the eyes of others.

Wednesday: Think service.
     (Jer 18:18-20; Mt 20:17-28)

The prophets and Jesus' disciples just didn't get it. What they were
challenged to do would not be easy. In his words and life, the Servant of the servants calls us to put our needs aside and to live for others.

Thursday: Stay rooted in Christ.
     (Jer 17:5-10; Lk 16:19-31)

It's hard to focus on what's essential when we're surrounded by messages that contradict our deepest convictions. Prayer and the company of value-rich friends can help us stay grounded.

Friday: "Hold fast to dreams."
     (Gn 37:3-4, 12-13, 17-28; Mt 21:33-43, 45-46)

Joseph, the dreamer, suffered at the hands of his brothers, who had a hard time with him as the favorite son. No matter how cynics and skeptics may view your vision of the Kingdom, hold onto it and work to make it real.

Saturday: Return to God, again.
     (Mi 7:14-15, 18-20; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32)

Too often we're like the jealous brother, pouting when someone gets a second chance. But all of us at some time need a fresh start. Believe God's promise: It's never too late to start over.

Third Sunday of Lent
Feed your inner spirit.
     (Jn 4:4-42; Jn 2:13-25; Lk 13:1-9)

A hearty meal can dull our human cravings, but without spiritual nourishment, we will never be fully satisfied. Give thanks to a good God (and a good cook) before a meal today, then add a prayer of thanks for the living waters and the Bread of Life.

Monday: Stand up for your convictions.
     (2 Kgs 5:1-15; Lk 4:24-30)

There's little profit in being a prophet, especially among those who think they know you. Jesus got driven out of town when he told the truth. Living out our beliefs may make us unpopular with friends and co-workers, but Christianty is more than a popularity contest.

Tuesday: Make forgiveness a habit.
     (Dn 3:25, 34-43; Mt 18:21-35)

"Is this guy for real?" Peter must have wondered when Jesus told him not to give up forgiving a fellow Christian, even after seven times. It may seem impossible to be as tolerant as Jesus demands, but don't we expect that same patience from a forgiving God?

Wednesday: Read the fine print.
     (Dt 4:1, 5-9; Mt 5:17-19)

The prominent issues of Christian life—love, forgiveness, justice—are easy enough to accept in principle. But living out the details of these themes, applying them "to the least of God's children" can be nettlesome. What are the sticking points of Christ's message in your life?

Thursday: Test the power of the pen.
     (Jer 7:23-28; Lk 11:14-23)

A nation lacking moral leadership will crumble like a house divided. Share your deepest convictions with those who can make a difference. Pick up a pen (or log into e-mail) and urge your elected officials to fashion public policy that reflects gospel values.

Friday: Do the love walk.
     (Hos 14:2-10; Mk 12:28-34)

The ways of the Lord are right, Hosea reminds us, but they're not always easy. Jesus reduced those ways to two: Love of God and love of neighbor. Easier said daily than done daily.

Saturday: Weed out pharisaism.
     (Hos 6:1-6; Lk 18:9-14)

Of course, we'd rather be the repentant sinner than the self-righteous pharisee, but a little bit of the pharisee lingers even among the humblest of Christians. Look for ways to fine-tune your Lenten practices today, focusing less on the burnt offerings and more on God's love and forgiveness.

Fourth Sunday of Lent
Take a wide-eyed look at the world.
     (Jn 9:1-41; Jn 3:14-21; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32)

Jesus came to help the blind see. In the ruts of daily living, we stumble around with closed eyes and stopped-up ears. Look and listen for the nuances of pain today in the actions and words of those you meet. Be the healing eyes and ears of the Lord for them.

Monday: Be a miracle worker.
     (Is 65:17-21; Jn 4:43-54)

Unlike Jesus, we can't bring a dead child back to life, but we can revive one dying a slow death from lack of love and self-esteem. Reach out today to youth by praising them for who they are or what they have achieved, no matter how insignificant these may appear.

Tuesday: Give an extra boost.
     (Ez 47:1-9,12; Jn 5:1-3, 5-16)

You can do it, Jesus tells the sick man. Just pick up your mat and head for the healing waters. We too can inspire others to tap their spiritual resources to change their lives. Help someone find that inner spring of life by your affirming words and prayers.

Wednesday: Embrace the millennium.
     (Is 49:8-15; Jn 5:17-30)

Doomsday forecasters point to war, disease and catastrophe as reasons to fear the end is near. Christians rejoice in Christ's coming, wherever or whenever that may be. Live your life today in harmony with the word of God, joyfully anticipating a closer union with God.

Thursday: Be a witness to God's word.
     (Ex 32:7-14; Jn 5:31-47)

John the Baptist foreshadowed Jesus as a powerful light preparing the world for the message he would bring. Two thousand years later, we lengthen that shadow, witnessing to Christ's link between God and humanity. We keep John's spark alive when our works match our words steeped in the eternal Word.

Friday: Find God in the ordinary.
     (Wis 2:1, 12-22; Jn 7:1-2, 10, 25-30)

Because Jesus' contemporaries knew him and his family, they could not accept him as the Messiah, the one who would reveal God to them. Perhaps it is in the ordinary actions and words of those we know best that we will be granted a glimpse of the divine.

Saturday: Stand strong in your beliefs.
     (Jer 11:18-20; Jn 7:40-53)

Had Jesus lived today, he would have confounded the poll-takers. Did he speak the truth? Was he a charlatan? Should they arrest him or follow him? We too get mixed reactions when we articulate our deepest beliefs, but need to stand firm, no matter how we are judged.

Fifth Sunday of Lent
Attend to the grieving.
     (Jn 11:1-45; 12:20-33; 8:1-11)

The pain of a loved one's death never really diminishes, though it may take a back seat to our daily struggles. Even though it's awkward to talk to someone who is grieving, our reaching out moves them toward healing. Help someone who is saddened by a death, recent or distant, by acknowledging their pain through your words or quiet presence.

Monday: Don't throw the first stone.
     (Dn 13:1-62; Jn 8:1-11)

Since our century lacks wise Daniels to see through false accusations against others, we have to rely on the greater wisdom of Christ's words when we encounter sin in others. Are we so blameless ourselves that we dare to hurl the first stone against the sinner? Christ, who was without sin, chose not to condemn. How can we?

Tuesday: Look to Jesus for new life.
     (Nm 21:4-9; Jn 8:21-30)

In Moses' time, God commanded the people to raise their eyes to a serpent on a rod so they might be saved from the venom of the serpents. We raise our eyes to a new symbol, Jesus, a sign of contradiction. In his death on the cross, we are assured of life and redemption.

Wednesday: Wear the cloak of truth.
     (Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Jn 8:31-42)

Nebuchadnezzar was astounded when the three holy men walked out of the fiery furnace unscathed. At times, we may take heat for our beliefs, but Jesus has promised that the truth will protect us and set us free.

Thursday: Believe and live.
     (Gn 17:3-9; Jn 8:51-59)

Those Jews who did not accept Jesus tried to stone him because they could not make sense of his words. Sometimes it's hard for us to believe them too—especially when he assures us that if we keep God's word we will never die. In the days before Good Friday, ponder this central message and ask for the grace to believe it.

Friday: Find support in others.
     (Jer 20:10-13; Jn 10:31-42)

Like the Old Testament prophets or like Jesus, we may feel threatened because of our beliefs. Try not to focus on those who reject God's word, but seek out the example of those whose lives demonstrate the works of God made visible in our world.

Saturday: Work for unity.
     (Ez 37:21-28; Jn 11:45-57)

Even before Jesus, dispersed believers longed to come together as one. It was the chief priest Caiaphas, a nonbeliever, who understood that the death of one man could bring people together. Again this Lent as we commemorate the death of Jesus, let us recommit ourselves to finding unity in our diversity.

Holy Week/Triduum

Palm Sunday: Don't grow weary.
     (Mt 26:14--27:66)

Few of us would identify with Judas the betrayer, Peter the denier or the bloodthirsty crowds calling for Jesus' crucifixion. But all of us, like the other disciples, have been overcome by drowsiness or lack of commitment, unable to muster up enough energy to watch with Jesus in the garden. During this holiest week of the year, stay vigilant, even though you may be tempted to give in to seasonal distractions.

Monday: Examine your motives.
     (Is 42:1-7; Jn 12:1-11)

Judas chastised Mary at Bethany when she anointed the feet of Jesus with costly oil instead of using the money for the poor. But he said this, the evangelist notes parenthetically, not because he cared for the poor but out of other motives. How often do we help the poor out of "political correctness" rather than dedication to gospel values?

Tuesday: Keep your aim straight.
     (Is 49:1-6; Jn 13:21-33, 36-38)

Like Isaiah, we have been called by God to be polished arrows in the service of the Lord. In these last few days of Lent, clarify your goals. What has thrown you off course? How can you readjust your sights so you hit the target you set 40 days ago?

Wednesday: Speak truth and kindness.
     (Is 50:4-9; Mt 26:14-25)

"Surely it's not I, Lord?" Judas asked in chorus with the other disciples. Jesus knew, Judas knew—even though the betrayer's words and attitude suggested otherwise. Choose as your model today not Judas but Isaiah, who realized how important it was to raise up the weary with true, faith-filled words.

Holy Thursday: Be humble.
     (Ex 12:7-8, 11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15)

Being on the receiving end of the Holy Thursday foot-washing ritual can be awkward, as priests, deacons and neighbors humble themselves to cleanse you during this untypical ceremony. Outside the liturgy it's no easier and just as embarrassing to be the one ministered to. Today, step out of the servant role briefly to let someone else experience the joy of serving you.

Good Friday: Understand your suffering.
     (Is 52:13—53:12; Heb 4:14-16, 5:7-9; Jn 18:1—19:42)

He knows our pain. Even in the garden, threatened by soldiers, Jesus thought of his followers as he embraced the suffering that lay before him. Aware that Jesus has been tested too, be bold enough to ask God for the grace to integrate your pain into the total fabric of your life.

Easter Vigil: Shake off the fear.
     (Mt 28:1-10; Mk 16:1-7; Lk 24:1-12)

The Resurrection is upon us—not only in the readings of the liturgy but also in our daily life. Too often we are grounded by the inertia of fear as we attempt to put into action the fruits of our Lenten sojourn. Believe in yourself, shed your fears and live as a redeemed child of the Resurrection.

Elizabeth Bookser Barkley, Ph.D., is associate professor of English at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is author of Loving the Everyday: Meditations for Moms and Woman to Woman: Seeing God in Everyday Life (both by St. Anthony Messenger Press). She and her husband, Scott, and their three daughters are members of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Cincinnati.

Next: An abbreviated version of Celebrating the Lord's Day
(by Pope John Paul II)


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