Thursday of the Third Week of Lent
As a teacher there are certain lessons I loved to teach. With my podium on wheels, I loved to teach progressive tense verbs. I’d tell my students that I drive (present tense) a Ford. They didn’t seem impressed until I said, “I am driving (present progressive tense) my podium.” Then I’d push my podium through the aisles, driving it and bumping into desks, pretending to see a police car in my rearview mirror, and getting a ticket. Driving, bumping, seeing, getting—all verbs that are part of the process.
-ing verbs are extremely important to deepen our spiritual lives. We can’t just say “I pray” or “I help my neighbor.” What are you doing? How active are you in performing the works of mercy? How involved are you in your church or neighborhood? How much attention are you giving to prayer?
Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent
Athletes and coaches look hopefully for more opportunities to compete this season. No matter the size of the spectator crowd, they will be ready to play. Early in the season it’s important to remember success breeds success. Gallup research behind Strengthfinders has proven that best results stem from focusing on strengths. While Lent is a time to remove our weaknesses, it is also a time to capitalize on our strengths. Your strengths are given by God to make a positive impact on your areas of influence whether your influence is the person sitting next to you in the living room or populations thousands of miles away in corporate contacts and contracts. Take a moment to reflect on your God-given virtues and talents. You’ve used them for success. Spring in again with those virtues and talents and make Lent a winning season.
Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent
If we are privileged to have gainful employment, we are very blessed. (Did you thank God today as you left for work?) Creation was not finished billions of years ago; rather it’s still happening as Teilhard de Chardin writes: “We serve to complete it [creation], even by the humblest work of our hands.” Along with prayer and fasting, working to our best is another way to observe Lent. Work isn’t secular; it’s sacred. Work isn’t profane; it’s profound. Work doesn’t have to be a hardship; it can be holiness. Over one-third of our day is spent in work of some kind. Don’t miss the opportunities work provides to grow in holiness.
Monday of the Third Week of Lent
A basic law of the psychological and spiritual life is that energy follows attention. In today’s gospel passage the people in the synagogue paid close attention to Jesus’ words. Infuriated by his references, they put their energy into driving him out of town with the intent to destroy him, but “he passed through the midst of them and went away.” Today let’s focus our attention on our resilience. It’s been a year since the stay-at-home orders have been in place. Let’s restore our enthusiasm to do anything for God and neighbor. Chardin described how effective such attention can be when he wrote: “If you focus on giving and receiving love, your thinking will change for the better. If you focus on thinking good thoughts, your heart will grow more loving. The heart and mind are always interacting in concert.” Attend to giving and receiving love today. Check thoughts that are only coping; turn your thoughts to hoping.
Sunday of the Third Week of Lent
In today’s Gospel Jesus drives out the money changers. These were the people who considered Roman money “unclean” and changed it into Jewish currency often at 20 times the market rate. Jesus is angry at the injustice of vendors who cooperated with the temple inspectors in rejecting “imperfect” animals brought from outside the temple.
The temple is also metaphorically Jesus’ very self. In his flesh Jesus was God’s dwelling place. Just as Jesus made real in his flesh the presence of God, we make real in our own bodies the presence of God in our world today. As such we need to focus on the great commandments: love God and love neighbor. Is there anything I need to “drive out” to give better witness to God in my relationships and life circumstances?
What impresses me most in the Prodigal Son story is the waiting and waiting and waiting of the father. We may know persons who are waiting someone’s return—an estranged friend, a faithless spouse, an absent parent, a wayward child, a son on a tour of duty, a neighbor in the hospital. Like the prodigal father, we wait for their return. We place these persons in our heart. In some situations we might also offer an invitation—to a penance service, counseling session, retreat, a healing service, a night out, an inclusion in a group. And pray, “O God, I’ll keep fattening the calf if you keep looking out for the return.”
Today’s First Reading said Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons. The famous tunic led to jealous sibling rivalry. What we don’t know is what Israel gave to the other sons. Maybe he was treating each one as an individual. Maybe the tunic wasn’t special privilege. Maybe the father was loving each of the twelve sons in the way he needed to be loved. I can’t imagine having eleven big brothers made life easy for the baby of the family. A colorful tunic may have made up for a difficult life. But whatever is the real story behind the story, let’s reflect on God’s unique love for each one of us.
God loves us uniquely, giving us what we need. God treats us like a favorite, while all God’s other children are his favorites. God knows how we want and need to be loved. Could we put more effort into loving others as they need to be loved? Some people want a hug, others a word of affirmation, a congratulatory note, a listening ear, or some space. It takes effort to discern what each person needs and wants, but it’s certainly worth the effort.
Luke’s gospel is replete with meals. Even today’s parable is about food. The rich man ate sumptuously but never gave a crust of bread to the poor man outside his door, even though the beggar “longed to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” Whether the man died from his infirmities or starvation, we don’t know. But we do know “he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.” Not the rich man, though. He and his purple robes landed in a place of torment.
Throughout Luke’s Gospel Jesus provides the meal, talks about food, eats plucked grain on the sabbath, multiplies loaves and fish, stops at Martha and Mary’s house for hospitality, teaches us to pray for our daily bread, instructs the preparations for the Passover, and gives us the Eucharist. Bon appétit! Be open to all the ways we can “taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (Ps. 34:9).
Were the sons of Zebedee embarrassed when their mother asked Jesus to give these sons choice seats in the kingdom? Whether they were or not really does not matter, because Jesus changes the topic: “Can you drink of the cup that I am going to drink?” Well, of course, they can, they thought. What about us? We are offered many cups. The cup of suffering in the passion of Jesus and in our own physical and emotional sufferings. The chalice of the Eucharist. The cup of God’s overflowing goodness. The cup of our lives shaped and molded by the Divine Potter. From all these cups “you shall drink.”
We may have taken on some extra penances in Lent, and after two weeks these mortifications may seem rather burdensome. The anxiety-ridden pandemic is a year old, but this is not a first birthday to celebrate. And is there ever a day when there’s not at least one thing that we hate to do, but are obliged to do? With Jesus we say, “Take this cup away from me. But let it be as you would have it, not as I.”
In his proclamation titled Patris Corde Pope Francis wrote a document that gives spiritual strength during our pandemic. Early in the document the pope salutes “ordinary people, people often overlooked.” He then lists a dozen workers who “daily exercise patience and offer hope, taking care to spread not panic, but shared responsibility.” The document remembers all the parents, grandparents, and teachers who have shown children “in small everyday ways, how to accept and deal with a crisis by adjusting their routines, looking ahead and encouraging the practice of prayer.” The pope gives “a word of recognition and of gratitude…to them all.” If you have a chance today, pray for parents, grandparents, and teachers. Perhaps give them a tangible sign of your appreciation, too.
Saint Joseph, mirror of patience, pray for us.