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First Sunday of Lent

February 18, 2024
Mk 1:12-15

What a way for Jesus to prep for his public ministry–40 days of temptation in the desert! Following his baptism, where the Spirit descended upon him like a dove, Jesus was immediately compelled by the Spirit to venture into the desert. Driven, which is a strong word. So, this was not going to be a leisurely journey but a crucial aspect of his mission.

What stands out to me is Christ’s unwavering determination. Confronted by Satan’s temptations, he emerged victorious. Amidst the presence of wild beasts, he persevered. Angels ministered to him, affirming his victory. This desert experience was not a mere excursion; it was a significant and triumphant undertaking for Jesus. 

Jesus’ public ministry was set to begin when John’s was complete. So it was time. I hear the same resoluteness in Jesus’ proclamation: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” We, like those who heard his proclamation, are called to respond.

Monday of the First Week of Lent

February 19, 2024
Mt 25:31-46

This, to me, is one of the scariest passages of Scripture in the New Testament. Final judgment. Sheep on the right–goats on the left. Come who are blessed by my father–depart from me you accursed. I know which side I want to be on, but how do I get there?

Notice that both the sheep and the goats ask essentially the same question: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?” 

And Jesus gives them both essentially the same answer: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did (or did not do) for one of these least brothers of mine, you did (or did not do) for me.”

The sheep were taking care of people without knowing it was Jesus they were tending to. The goats were not taking care of people (deliberately or unwillingly) without knowing it was Jesus they were neglecting. 

In the end, all the “holy stuff” we do will not weigh in the balance. It all comes down to how we respond to the needs of others, knowing it is Christ in them. A sobering thought in Lent, but one we can and should reflect on in prayer. How can we take steps to pour ourselves out for others so we are invited to “come?”

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

February 20, 2024
Mt 6:7-15

Sometimes, I catch myself “babbling” in prayer. I’m distracted, in a hurry, or just rushing through a familiar prayer to check the box. It’s the prayer equivalent of a “word salad,” there’s a lot there, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot. Maybe you can relate. 

So Jesus’ lesson in today’s Gospel is a nice refresher course. More words will not mean we are guaranteed to be heard. In fact, Jesus says that God already knows what we need, so there’s really no need for all that babble. 

What he gives us then is the prayer template of all templates, the Lord’s Prayer. Many books and articles have been written that dissect the prayer and unpack the meaning of every line, and you might find them helpful references in Lent (or any time). For today, I just suggest thinking of the simple richness of the prayer that encapsulates the essence of our relationship with God. It’s an acknowledgment of the Father’s holiness, an invitation to align our will with his, to seek his guidance in our daily lives, and to forgive as we, in our frailty, seek his pardon. 

This is the opposite of “babbling” it is a conversation with our Father who loves us.

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent

February 21, 2024
Lk 11:29-32

Poor Jonah. Talk about being the wrong guy for the job. He didn’t want to go to Ninevah; in fact, he ran the other way when God told him to go tell people in the city to repent or die. He was fine with them dying. That’s not a nice thing to say, but let’s face it: they were the despised ancient enemies of Israel. But Jonah found himself in Ninevah anyway with a job to do (God has a way of convincing prophets to do his will). I can just imagine him kicking the dirt and reluctantly announcing, quietly, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Then they, these Ninevites, actually listened, believed, repented, and were spared. There’s your sign.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is drawing a picture for his crowd of listeners. Nineveh was nobody’s favorite, but they repented in sackcloth and ashes. Israel is God’s chosen, but they’re asking for signs. Even when they see Jesus perform miracles, drive out demons, and heal people, they still want more “proof.”

In response to this reading, I think we can ask ourselves: am I seeking “I’ll know it when I see it” proof? How do I respond to the profound message of Christ in comparison to those who had less revelation but responded with greater repentance? This passage encourages a deeper, more authentic faith grounded in the foundational truths of Christ’s redemptive work.

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle

February 22, 2024
Mt 16:13-19

“But who do you say that I am?” 

In Bringing the Gospel of Matthew to Life, scripture scholar George Martin wrote, “In the Greek of Matthew’s gospel, you is emphatic and plural: Jesus asks his disciples, Who do you yourselves say that I am?” 

The disciples had heard people wondering about the true identity of Jesus, and there was a lot of speculation. John the Baptist was one guess, although this one is a bit confusing since he was alive when Jesus started his ministry. Elijah and Jeremiah “or one of the prophets” made a little more sense. After all, even Jesus called himself a prophet. None of these are negative; they’re just way off. 

So when he asked them who they believed him to be, Peter spoke right up and nailed it: Christ, Son of the living God. We might think that Peter figured this one out on his own based on Jesus preaching, teaching, and healing, but Jesus tells him that nobody on earth revealed it to him but that knowledge came directly from God. Then Jesus gives him a new name and a new status. And a promise: nothing will destroy the Church Jesus built.

Who do we believe that Jesus is? How do we come to our conclusion? And how can we claim the promise of a Church that will endure every storm–even when it seems to be sinking? There is a lot to ponder. 

Friday of the First Week of Lent

February 23, 2024
Mt 5:20-26

We’ve probably all suffered from a case of the “yeah, buts” at one time or another. We’ve been angry, “Yeah, but she deserved it.” We’ve called someone names, “Yeah, but he had it coming.” And we’ve perhaps known someone who had a grudge against us, “Yeah, but he started it.”

These all seem like pretty minor infractions, but at the outset of today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says that if we are not MORE righteous than the scribes and Pharisees (whose jobs were to interpret, teach, and enforce the Jewish laws), we “will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.” Say, what?

Anger, name-calling, and not reconciling with someone could keep us out of heaven? “You shall not kill” is a relatively easy command to obey, but “you shall not be angry?” Much more difficult. 

Fortunately, we have what we need to heed Jesus’ call for righteousness. Scripture, Church teachings, the sacraments (Reconciliation, anyone?), the lives of the saints, the Liturgy, the Eucharist–all help us keep on track or get back on track when we fail. 

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

February 24, 2024
Mt 5:43-48

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us the simple formula for being “children of your heavenly Father.”

The Father makes the sun rise on people who love him and those who don’t. The Father makes the rain fall on people who do his will and those who don’t care what God wants. It is not that the Father is dispassionate or distant. It is that he loves every single human being. And so he gives another day even to people who don’t love him. He makes the rain fall even for people who don’t think they need him at all. He gives us all a chance.

Jesus leads us to the natural conclusion. To be children of the Father, we can’t dole out our love only to those who love us. This is the path of perfection, and even when we don’t follow it perfectly, we can pray for the grace to keep trying. Maybe today, we can think of one person–it could be someone we dislike or who dislikes us, or just someone we find especially challenging to love–and say a short prayer for them. And then again tomorrow. And tomorrow.