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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Ash Wednesday

"Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God." Jl 2:12

External signs of penance are common in most cultures and religions. Kneeling on the steps of a church asking pardon of those entering was common. Dressing in sackcloth and ashes and abstaining from meat were other ways of asking pardon of God and the community for serious faults and sins. Each and all of these penances were encouraged by the church both to help the sinner repent and remind the church community to be transparent examples of Gospel living. The book of Joel, however, is careful to remind believers that the mere exercise of a public penance does not guarantee reconciliation with God and the community. While the external signs of sorrow might be in place, the need for penitent hearts is still necessary, and this is the work we all must do during Lent.

Sometimes it is best to keep things very simple during Lent. Think of a penance that, while stressful, helps you open your minds to new ideas and your spirit to real transformation. It might be as simple as sitting quietly for five minutes in the morning before you make coffee or plan your day. You don't have to do anything during this quiet time except make yourself available to God for God's work.

Today, don't just do something, sit there.

What have been your most memorable Lents?

Monday, February 24, 2020

Listening and Humility

“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” Mk 9:37

Knowing exactly what Jesus means by childlike is not easy. In the ancient world,  because children had little economic value until they could work, it was counter intuitive to imitate them. Nevertheless, Jesus holds them up for us as a model of faith life. Unless we are as vulnerable as children were in Jesus' day, we will think too highly of ourselves and the haughtiness that can accompany education, power and wealth get in the way of our witness to the Gospel.

Jesus does not want us to follow him for its social value. Otherwise, he would have told us to wear multiple tunics, carry money and wear fine sandals so that those who met us would be impressed with what following Jesus did for us. Rather, he tells us to take nothing for the journey so that all will see in us people whose only task is to announce the Good News. Like John the Baptist, we go before the Lord to prepare the way.

Today, listen to others like a child listening to a bedtime story.

Whose childlike faith helped shape yours?

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Knocking on God's Door

"Ask and it will be given to you." Mt 7:8

Most of us are too proud to ask others for help, except in the simplest matters. Determined to hold onto our independence for as long as possible, we miss some of the great delights of life. When we allow others to help us, everything changes. We realize that it is o.k. not to know certain things, not to be in charge, to be in charge.

More important, we often empower others when we ask for their insight or help. This is especially true with our children. I remember well when my parents asked me to help them with their finances. Although I had not had much experience in financial matters, there were plenty of friends who were more than capable, and they were only too happy to help me and my parents.

The Gospel today is reminding us to ask for help, to acknowledge our weakness and dependence, asserting all the while that God is waiting for our request and anxious to come to our aid, and while we might not always receive exactly what we think we need or want, the Lord will always be present to us as guide and companion. The 13th century Persian poet, Rumi, says it this way: "The door we are knocking on opens from the inside."

Today, knock of God's door just to tell him you are near.

What makes it difficult for you to ask for help?

Humility

"Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show his works by a good life in the humility that comes from wisdom." Jas 3:13

Most humble people have been humbled. Born into wealth or privilege, circumstances conspired against them and they lost everything. The proud complain or curse God; the humble realize that everything they had was a gift and not something they earned or deserved. The proud do almost anything to reclaim what they believe is theirs by divine right. The humble echo the Japanese proverb: When my house burned down, I could finally see the sunrise.

When Jesus "catches" his disciples arguing about who was the greatest among them, he cautions them to take the lowest place, to be servants of one another and never to forget the poor and the broken. Although his rebuke was not direct, we can be sure his disciples heard his challenge. Whenever we are overly concerned about our own voice or power, we forget our most important mission. Worrying more about others than whether we have been heard will keep us humble and lead people to Jesus.

Today, be grateful for all of life no matter how humbling.

What keeps you from humbly acknowledging your weaknesses?