Fourth Sunday of Lent

A CROSS THAT HEALS

by Lucinda M. Vardey

In Jesus’ time physical afflictions were interpreted to be a sign of sinfulness and children with disabilities were believed to be bodily bearing the wrongs of their parents.  Jesus’ ministry and crucifixion undid that presumption.

In our Christian understanding suffering is not a sign of sin but an opportunity within the challenges of life to share love.  Reviled on the cross Jesus taught that compassion and mercy may not be received but it could instead be extended even in the most dire of circumstances.

A modern-day example presents itself in the life of a young Italian woman called Benedetta Bianchi Porro.  During the l960s, she accepted Christ’s calling to take up the cross of her suffering with courage and a hope-filled heart.  Diagnosed with a rare nerve disease which paralyzed her entire body, causing her to live in the darkness and isolation of deafness and blindness, she extended the light of Jesus’ wisdom and gentleness to all who visited her.  As she came to recognize her advancing illness as a means of unity with the agony of Jesus, she offered her daily sufferings to alleviate the sufferings of others.   Through sign language with one hand, she consoled the despairing, comforted the confused and enlightened the faithless.   Now recognized as Venerable by the Church, Benedetta taught that God’s healing power comes in a number of guises testing our faith, transforming our souls, purifying our intentions and renewing our spirits in hope towards holiness.

As Psalm 23 states: “Even in the darkest valley I fear no evil, for you are with me.”

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Third Sunday of Lent

THE STRANGER’S VISIT

By:  John Dalla Costa

Not surprisingly for such an amazing story, theologians have rich and diverse interpretations of the woman whom Jesus meets at the well.

Some see her as a harbinger for the church. She was after all the first person in John’s gospel to proclaim Jesus as Messiah. And she pioneered evangelization, converting her whole Samaritan town into welcoming this thirsty Jewish Rabbi as Lord.

The Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar included this passage in his reflection on the nature of eternity. This woman, whose name we do not know, saw Jesus face-to-face, and was transformed by that gaze. She was the same person in the same life, facing the same struggles, toils and joy. But that ordinariness had been pierced and made holy by letting Jesus into her heart, including its darkest recesses. In that ecstatic liberation from despondency and sin, she experienced the deep communion that dissolved what separated Jew from Samaritan, male from female, loneliness from belonging, and the momentary from the eternal.

Pope John Paul II also referenced the Samaritan woman in his apostolic letter on the dignity and vocation of women. This woman had deep knowledge of religion, and incomparable courage in breaking taboos. Risking a remarkable conversation of equals with Jesus, she created a model for prayer: asking questions and seeking understanding; welcoming truth regardless of its discomforts; standing ground with dignity, and yet willingly and humbly confessing failures; petitioning for grace, and then taking personal initiative and responsibility for passing that gift unto others.

Jesus approached the woman as the thirsty one, but she is the one who leaves sated. Midway through our own Lenten journey, we might pray for the audacity to drink what the Lord offers with the relish and abandon of the remarkable woman at the well.

Second Sunday of Lent

LITTLE THINGS FOR LOVE’S SAKE

Here we are at the Second Sunday of Lent. Our cravings have increased for what we are fasting from, and our energy has decreased for the resolutions we are taking on. It can seem like a dismal time, especially with the winter weather still upon us.

But Lent is far more a season for joy than for grief. At the heart of things, Lent teaches us to love more deeply. And yet we cannot love without suffering, or at the very least, a bit of discomfort. It seems that love and suffering go hand-in-hand. Why is this so?

In these times of collective longing, learning, and even anguish, we are more prone to notice the details. After all, it’s in “the little things” that make good things better, and harder things more difficult.  I imagine that this is why some of the best artists are among the most tortured souls. They embrace suffering in a way that is profound and prolific.

The second reading from Timothy begins with, “Brothers and Sisters, join me in suffering for the Gospel.” An invitation: to suffer for the promise of Good News. A reason: to unite in something larger than ourselves.

While many of us are lingering on the fear of pain, Jesus seems to hear us and offer a resounding, “Get up and do not be afraid” in the Gospel. As if to remind us that we are not alone in our suffering, He offers the best example of love: the cross, and the promise of a resurrection. Jesus didn’t run from the cross, He embraced it. And with this action, made all things new.

There may be suffering for the sake of love, but there is no fear in love.  By choosing to deprive ourselves of little luxuries, and extending ourselves a little further with acts of service, we leave that little bit of space for Jesus to dwell. By the cross, He has chosen us. It is in each season of Lent, that we may choose Him.

The First Sunday of Lent

LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION

By Maria di Paolo

Lent is a time for prayer and reflection and the scriptures for Ash Wednesday and for today, the First Sunday of Lent, give us much to begin with.  On Ash Wednesday, we hear Jesus instructing the disciples in piety, telling them not to be hypocritical in prayer, fasting and almsgiving: these activities are to be done privately, without show and fanfare.  What is skipped over in the Lectionary reading is Jesus’ special instruction about how to pray the “Our Father.”  I decided to start my reflection with this thought because it occurred to me that it provides a link to the readings we hear this Sunday …

The Book of Genesis contains two creation stories that seem contradictory.   In the first one, God creates the world in six days, resting on the seventh.  He creates humankind in his own image and, when he finishes, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”  In the second story we encounter Adam and Eve and the serpent in the garden.  The serpent tempts Adam and Eve to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  They do and are expelled from paradise.   Two contradictory ideas: the perfection of being created in God’s image, and the imperfection of being human.  The story about Adam and Eve is about what we are as humans: we do have the ability to know right from wrong, good from evil.  We never had an option to say “No” to the serpent.

In today’s Gospel, we encounter Jesus in the desert being tempted by the devil.  If we forget Jesus’ humanity, we have an image of a superhuman divine being who sees off the devil relatively easily.  But these are temptations that we should all be able to relate to: satisfying our own physical needs and desires, satisfying our desire to control our own fate, and satisfying our desire to have power over others.

St. Paul provides a bridge between these two stories in his letter to the Romans.  While Adam and Eve represent our fallen nature as humans, easily lead into temptation, Jesus shows us the way to redemption and salvation.

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A LENTEN PSALMODY 

By Fr. Chris Valka, CSB

This Wednesday, we once again begin our sacred season of Lent.  As a parish, I am asking each of us to journey with the Psalms, for they voice our dialogue with God and speak of the intimacy between God’s creation and its Creator.

Over the last few months, we have begun to quietly reintroduce ourselves to the Liturgy of the Hours, which centers around the Psalms.  They are shouts of gladness, cries of lamentation, offerings of praise, prayers for our community, invitations to repentance and so much more.  The Psalms are unlike the rest of the Bible, for they do not advance the story of our salvation; rather they offer the people a chance to respond to all that God has done.  They give us permission to have a voice.

St. Basil writes, “A psalm implies serenity of soul; it is the author of peace, which calms bewildering and seething thoughts. For, it softens the wrath of the soul, and what is unbridled it chastens. A psalm forms friendships, unites those separated, conciliates those at enmity. Who, indeed, can still consider as an enemy him with whom he has uttered the same prayer to God?

So that psalmody, bringing about choral singing, a bond, as it were, toward unity, and joining the people into a harmonious union of one choir, produces also the greatest of blessings, charity. A psalm is a city of refuge from the demons, a means of inducing help from the angels, a weapon in fears by night, a rest from toils by day, a safeguard for infants, an adornment for those at the height of their vigor, a consolation for the elders, a most fitting ornament for women.

It peoples the solitudes; it rids the market place of excesses; it is the elementary exposition of beginners, the improvement of those advancing, the solid support of the perfect, the voice of the Church. It brightens the feast days; it creates a sorrow which is in accordance with God.

For, a psalm is the work of angels, a heavenly institution, the spiritual incense.”

So as we begin this Lenten season, let us begin by uniting our voice with the voices of others; let us begin with the Psalms.