Meditations from the Daily Readings for Lent 2020 For the full text of each day's readings, click HERE. (Scroll down for previous posts.)
April 4, 2020: Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Meditation:True Unity and False Unity
Our two readings today give us a chance to illustrate a rather important spiritual point: There is a good way to create unity and there is a bad way. In the First Reading from Ezekiel, Yahweh tells the prophet to perform a ritual that would mimic what God wants to do. Yahweh has just told Ezekiel to take two sticks, and write on each of them: on one stick, “Judah and those loyal to him,” and on the other, “Ephraim and those loyal to him” (37:16). These were, of course, the two kingdoms of Israel, and Yahweh tells him to “hold the two pieces of wood in your hand where you can see it” (37:20). Hold the two small loyalty systems into one larger unity as it were. Today we might call it “positive imaging!”
Our Lectionary text today begins at this point, and Yahweh promises to “gather” the two kingdoms into one, “rescue” them, “cleanse” them, and make with them “a covenant of peace.” “My dwelling shall be with them. I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (37:26–27). A magnificent passage portraying how God unites, by the positive energy of loving, “shepherding,” and revealing the Divine Presence in one’s midst and between them. This is the good way, God’s way to create unity.
Then in the Gospel, since we are about to enter Holy Week tomorrow, we are exposed to the much more common way that cultures try to create unity, what René Girard calls “the negative unanimity around one.” You can either rally around love to unite, or you can rally around fear, gossip, paranoia, and negativity, usually symbolized by one issue or person. I am afraid the second rallying point is the much more common. It is more efficient and gathers groups much more quickly and tightly than love does. I wish it were not true. In this case, the rallying cry is the killing of Jesus. He is the “one” around which they can become “one.” This is supported by the high priest, Caiaphas, in the name of what we would now call “the national security state” (see verses 48–50), and as always, it works. The drama is now set for Holy Week. The scapegoat to create unity has been chosen. Little do they know that another Deeper Unity will also be set into motion that continues to this day. There are still two ways of gathering, the way of fear and hate and the way of love. But do not yourself be afraid, because Jesus is still “gathering.” God’s continual job description, it seems, is mimed in the two bound sticks of Ezekiel. God is always and forever making one out of two.
Holy God, In the first days of creation, two became one to worship in the new light. Bearing the scars of Egypt, twelve tribes became one to worship in the land of promise. In the blessedness of Christ, all become one to worship in truth.
So take my heart, divided though it be, and heal it through your grace that I might worship you now. Amen —Anonymous
Pray for true unity as you listen to "Make Us One" sung by an American choir visiting Rome. Simple, beautiful: Click HERE.
April 3, 2020: Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Meditation:Present Tense, Present Hope
These meditations usually grow out of the first reading or the gospel for the given day. Today's springs from the psalm.
The Church gives a psalm response every day to draw the assembly's attention to the central theme of what is most often a passage from the Old Testament. Today, that passage is from Jeremiah. It it, the prophet is exulting from his confidence that God will save him from his persecutors. Jeremiah describes all of his struggles in the present tense. He details what those who hate him "are" doing. The only action that is referenced from the past is God's having "rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked" (Jeremiah 20:13). So, the praise Jeremiah offers and urges comes from nothing he's seeing around him, which is only trouble, but entirely from what God had done previously. Jeremiah is able to trust because, in a way, he has read God's résumé. He has reviewed God's past accomplishments, and this alone brings light into his darkness.
Knowing this, it is clear why the Church has us respond to hearing of Jeremiah's stress by looking back at what God did for another, for the psalmist, David. In the refrain we're given, we should think of the "I" as David, the "distress" as his. We should not yet substitute ourselves for him or our problems for his. We should consider fully what David endured* that we may, like Jeremiah, experience how the foundation of trust is laid by reflecting on how God has proven himself to be trustworthy over thousands of years:
Psalm 18 R. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice. I love you, O LORD, my strength, O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer. R. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice. My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold! Praised be the LORD, I exclaim, and I am safe from my enemies. R. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice. The breakers of death surged round about me, the destroying floods overwhelmed me; The cords of the netherworld enmeshed me, the snares of death overtook me. R. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice. In my distress I called upon the LORD and cried out to my God; From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. R. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
Poetic language like this and the ritual form itself can, for all their beauty, distance us from the harshness they present. We don't easily feel the visceral tear of what was actual in phrasing like "the cords of the netherworld enmeshed me." Yet David, like Jeremiah after him, was a human as we are. His ordeals provoked all of the raw emotion and desperation in him that ours do in us. Pain ravaged him, as it does us. His distress felt justlikeours and, fortunately, our voices are just as clear in God's ears as David's was. And, so, we hope.
*(1 Samuel 19 - 2 Samuel 1 detail David's troubles. Begin reading HERE.)
Prayer: From Jeremiah's Lamentation
"But this I will call to mind; therefore I will hope: The LORD’s acts of mercy are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent; They are renewed each morning-- great is your faithfulness! The LORD is my portion, I tell myself, therefore I will hope in him. The LORD is good to those who trust in him, to the one that seeks him; It is good to hope in silence for the LORD’s deliverance." Amen (Lamentations 3: 21-26)
Let hope stir in you as you listen to the a cappella group, Veritas, sing a contemporary arrangement of the hymn "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" in a vast, old Gothic church. (Click HERE.)
April 2, 2020: Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Meditation:All Glory Is Reflected Glory
Readings: Genesis 17:3-9; John 8:51-59
In the First Reading from Genesis, we have an encounter between Yahweh and Abraham, when he is ninety-nine years old. It is a third-time repeat of his first call, each time adding a few new elements to the meaning of their relationship or “covenant.” But one thing that does not change is that although the relationship is totally initiated and invited from God’s side, it is still a bilateral covenant. There is always a bit more of a requirement expected from Abraham each time: leaving his country and family (12:1–2), the sacrifice of animals (15:9–11), and here there will be required circumcision (17:9–14), and belief that he will have a son (17:16ff ). At which both he and his wife, Sarah, laugh!
The God-human relationship must start bilaterally. It is the only way to get us into the boxing ring. It is the only way to hold us still in one place long enough—so the beginnings of the give-and-take of relationship can happen. But it is not the final goal. Many, if not most, never get beyond “religion as requirements.” What does your religion require of you? Is that wrong in your denomination? It is the question of the rich young man, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Since all human relationships are bilateral (least of all, the parent-child), we tend to structure all of our experiences that way. In other words, we are almost totally unprepared for God! Unless we know how a perfect parent might love a child—unilaterally. Gradually, as the Hebrew people are continually unfaithful to the initial Abrahamic Covenant, we will see that it becomes more and more unilateral from Yahweh’s side. Really quite wonderful! God does it all, whether or not we cooperate at all. I would not believe it myself if I did not read the successive covenants with Noah, David, and, of course, what Jeremiah predicts, and we eventually call “the new covenant” with Jesus. Each succeeding time God, in effect, says “I might as well let you in on the big secret, I do it all anyway!” Jesus becomes the living icon of that new and everlasting covenant, where God does all the loving and we do all the receiving. It is symbolized every time we hand out the “cup of his blood” to you—and say “the new and everlasting covenant.”
This gives you a foundation and background with which to read the Gospel today. Jesus himself stands in right relationship with his Father and receives all his “glory” from him. It is a fully reflected glory and therefore unwavering, constant, infinite, and from one Source. This is exactly the “eternal life” that he speaks of here, and then even tells us we can have it too. So you see the sequencing: Jesus perfectly reflects God’s glory given from the Father, then we are invited to receive and reflect that same glory which is reflected from Jesus. It is all a reflection received, a glory given, inherent, and unilateral gift from God’s side. (Remember, we are not talking about psychological or moral worthiness here, we are talking about metaphysical identity, our True Self, which is our “birthright” from God.) We humans are always unwhole, but we still receive and can ever more perfectly reflect our divine identity in God. This is the great I AM, which Jesus claims at the very end of today’s Gospel (8:58), and yet because they refuse to see it in themselves or in him, they “throw rocks at him.” It is not just hating him but is an expression of their own self-hatred.
My Master, 'Neath the divine cloud, you shone with the brilliance of eternal light, a brightness that blinded Saul and then enlightened nations through him.
So may the eyes of my heart also be blinded to all but thy being and thy truth that I may be healed and bring others to know thy healing. Amen —Anonymous
You can hear Palistrina's meditative setting of the "Gloria" from his "Missa Papae Marcelli" by clicking HERE.
April 1, 2020: Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Meditation:A Prior State of Hostility Will Distort Everything
We have all experienced it. When someone wants to dislike us, no matter what we do, it will be interpreted in the worst possible fashion. As we often say, “You can’t win.” When someone’s heart is hardened already, you could be Jesus himself, and they will seriously see you as wrong, inferior, dangerous, and heretical—which is what is about to happen in Holy Week. At that point, no matter what evil a person decides to do to you, it will be deemed virtuous and praiseworthy by hardened or paranoid people in the hostile camp. “He is a terrorist!” they might say. Never having the humility or honesty to admit that to someone else, looking from a different perspective (which is deemed totally wrong), he probably looks like a sacrificial and dedicated freedom fighter. Well, this is exactly what is happening in both readings today.
In the book of Daniel, we have old king Nebuchadnezzar’s “face livid with utter rage” at three poor little Jewish boys with strange names— just because they will not “worship the golden statue that I set up.” Do you hear that? Who made it golden and who set it up? Could it be Nebuchadnezzar himself? What a perfect metaphor for total and absolute narcissism. Poor Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego are dealing with an already closed and self-enclosed system. Nothing can get in or out of this king’s heart or head. It is no surprise that he has to throw them into the white-hot furnace. There is no other way he can retain his “truth,” which, of course, is no truth at all.
Then we have a very complex Gospel text, which does not present “the Jews” in a very good light. John had to make a clear villain here for the sake of the debate, so he safely chose his own race and people. There are claims and counterclaims of truth, freedom, lineage, tradition, killing, and divine illegitimacy. Jesus fights back well, but he does not have a chance. Their hearts are already hardened in place, which in this archetypal story is really not a statement about Jews as much as it is about all of humanity. “I have my conclusions already, do not bother me with any new information that might make me change my judgment.”
Most Christians would probably be slow to admit that by these criteria almost all of us would have opposed Jesus. “This is not our tradition, he is not from our group, and he has no credentials!” —Richard Rohr
O most holy Heart of Jesus, fountain of every blessing, I adore you, I love you and will a lively sorrow for my sins. I offer you this poor heart of mine. Make me humble, patient, pure, and wholly obedient to your will. Grant, good Jesus, that I may live in you and for you. Protect me in the midst of danger; comfort me in my afflictions; give me health of body, assistance in my temporal needs, your blessings on all that I do, and the grace of a holy death. Within your heart I place my every care. In every need let me come to you with humble trust saying, Heart of Jesus, help me. Amen —Anonymous
Reflect on how our salvation depends on God alone as you listen to this choral setting of Psalm 69 (click HERE to play).
March 31, 2020: Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Meditation: Finding our Voice
"Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him." (John 8:30) _________ Give yourself to God.
This may not seem an obvious lesson from these words John wrote describing Jesus’ manner of speaking and its result, but this is what they teach. Jesus was able to speak effectively—he was able to convince—because he was wholly given to his purpose. He, as a man, was thoroughly sincere. He was, in a word, authentic. Speaking of Jesus, the Apostle Peter said that “he committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). Jesus never pretended. He didn't attempt to manipulate impressions. He spoke honestly about who he was and things he knew. This is why, when he finished the Sermon on the Mount, “the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29).
This is amazing. Masses of people regarded a poor zealot from Nazareth as having more power in what he said than the scholars and teachers of their day, than men who were deeply versed in the holy and ancient texts that Jesus was also explaining. This is no harsh critique of scholarship. The Apostle Paul would not have been the forceful teacher and apologist that he was for the Christian message had he not been as educated as he was. It is only to say that Paul’s positive force in advancing the gospel, as it was with Jesus at the beginning of the gospel, came from sincerity, from truthfulness. Neither used words that outlined one purpose while their hearts pursued another. So, the riches of what they knew flowed unhindered through the Spirit to create a palpable weight of conviction that persuaded those who heard them.
Too often during Lent we try to give the people we think God wants us to be back to him. Even in the confines of private prayer, we hesitate to be honest about our doubts. We sometimes confess things we understand the Church to regard as sin without fully, or even partly, regarding them that way ourselves. Reflection, study, and conversations with a priest or other spiritual counselor can help us fill in these spaces, but this can’t happen until we acknowledge them.
Lent is not a time merely to change costumes or simply to change the guard. This is a time to drop our guards and confront our very selves, the people we are behind the masks we wear or the walls we build. And it when we open our hearts so completely, when we hear our own voices speaking with such candor in prayer and in Confession, that we begin gaining a voice with those who may not yet believe that they can recognize as real and, because of that, persuasive. —Jeff Daignault
O God, my Father, I return to you like the Prodigal, broken, shamed, but hopeful, for I hide not how far I have strayed or the riches I have wasted. I admit my fault and bow before your love. Raise me from this low place and let me return to the feasting and joy that I can hear from within your house. Amen —Anonymous
Bring your soul to God in worship listening to Matt Redman sing "10,000 Reasons" by clicking HERE.
March 30, 2020: Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Meditation: Liberating Mercy
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” (John 8:11 [For the entire text of today’s gospel reading, click HERE]) _________ Within her culture, the unnamed woman who first heard these words had a practical reason not to sin after Jesus saved her: If she repeated her offense, she might have been caught and stoned instead of again being taken and exploited by people who were more interested in stopping Jesus than in stopping her. The Law that called for her death hadn’t been repealed. Understanding this, the long-endeared words above shrink in meaning to something like “Don’t risk it.” They do not remain the large, liberating statement of mercy and love that they have become over time in the minds of people who are free from the control of the Mosaic law.
Still, though we usually think of ourselves as such people, we should pause to ask which sense of these words, the small and intimidating or the large and liberating, motivates us toward what’s good after we receive mercy? Do we steer around repeating past mistakes only because we’re afraid of punishment? Do we resist temptation just because we feel the act isn’t worth the risk? Or does something more profound and constructive than fear strengthen our hearts to do what’s right? In other words, do we understand grace?
Jesus scandalized religious leaders in his day by his willingness to declaw the Law, to move mercy forward instead of the punishments the Law demanded. The earliest Christians also struggled with what it meant to have Love rather than Law as the basis of belief. And, if we are honest, we may admit that we still struggle with this concept today. It’s hard to let our hearts accept God’s grace—that Christ is present for us just as he was for that woman, his words and his body preventing the punishment the Law demands. Because we feel guilty, it is difficult to believe that we cannot be condemned because there is no condemnation left for sin. Yet this is our gospel, that punishment is not possible past the Cross since, nailed there, Jesus absorbed it all. “There is,” the Apostle Paul expressed to the Romans, "no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" because "the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed [us] from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).
It is this spirit of life that empowers us to avoid sin. The Holy Spirit writes God’s commandments into our very nature. We become people who don’t lie, steal, commit adultery, or break any other commandment, not because we fear a punishment, but because our hearts have been made good and we want to please God. God’s grace creates a Church filled with such people, people who do not feel pinched and discontent in faith, people who are not constrained by fear, but who instead deeply understand and joyously celebrate the warmhearted mercy that not only forgives us, but also empowers us to live as we should. —Jeff Daignault
Blessed Jesus, When taken by sin, when bearing the pain of the unrighteous, when worn by weight of consequence, thy love lifted and healed me. You kept me from disgrace.
Help me now, O Savior, to live in thy light, to disclose the joy of thy righteousness so my heart may remain in this peace from thy grace. Amen —Anonymous
Quietly celebrate the power of God's grace with a contemporary, reflective arrangement of a traditional hymn by clicking HERE.
March 29, 2020: Fifth Sunday of Lent
Meditation: What Is Life and What Is Death
He cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.” (John 11:43-44) _________ Humans are the only creatures who have knowledge of their own death. Its awareness creeps up on us as we get older. All other animals, plants, and the cycles of nature themselves seem to live out and surrender to the pattern of mortality. This places humans in a state of anxiety and insecurity from our early years. We know on some level that whatever this is that we are living will not last. This changes everything, probably more than we realize consciously. So our little bit of consciousness makes us choose to be unconscious. It hurts too much to think about it.
On this last Sunday before Palm Sunday, we dare to look at the “last enemy,” death. And the only way we can dare to part the curtain and view death is to be told about our resurrection from it! Yet, I assume we all know that Lazarus did eventually die. Maybe ten years later, maybe even twenty, but it did happen, we assume. What then is the point of this last dramatic “sign” before Jesus’ own journey toward death?
An important clue is given right before the action, when the disciples try to discourage Jesus from going back to Judea where he is in danger. Jesus says calmly, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? When a person can walk without stumbling? When he sees the world bathed in light.” Jesus refuses to fear darkness and death. Quickly he adds, “Our friend Lazarus is sleeping, I am going to wake him” (John 11:9–11).
Those who draw upon the twelve hours, who see the world bathed in light now, have begun to see the pattern. As is often the case with wise people, they let “nature nurture them.” Yes, the other hours of darkness will come, a metaphor for death, but now we know that it will not last. It is only a part, but not the whole of life—just as the day itself is twelve hours and night is the other twelve, two sides of the one mystery of Life. Jesus’ job is simply to “wake” us up to this, as he did Lazarus and the onlookers. Once you are awake to the universal truth, then physical death is no enemy to be feared. “Do you believe this?” he says (11:26).
And then in a final brilliant finale to the story, he invites the onlookers to join him in making resurrection happen: “Move the stone away!. . . Unbind him, and let him go free!” It seems that we have a part to play in creating a culture of life and resurrection. We must unbind one another from our fears and doubts about the last enemy, death. We must now “see that the world is bathed in light” and allow others to enjoy the same seeing—through our lived life. The stone to be moved is always our fear of death, the finality of death, any blindness that keeps us from seeing that death is merely a part of the Larger Mystery called Life. It does not have the final word.
Prayer: Make Me an Instrument (The Prayer of St. Francis)
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Listen to Chris Tomlin singing "I Will Rise" by clicking HERE.
March 28, 2020: Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Meditation: Seeing Jesus
Some in the crowd who heard these words of Jesus said, “This is truly the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” 1 But others said, “The Christ will not come from Galilee, will he? 2 Does not Scripture say that the Christ will be of David’s family and come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” So a division occurred in the crowd because of him. Some of them even wanted to arrest him, 3 but no one laid hands on him. 4 So the guards went to the chief priests and Pharisees, 5 who asked them, “Why did you not bring him?” The guards answered, “Never before has anyone spoken like this man.” 6 So the Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed.” Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them, 7 “Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?” They answered and said to him, “You are not from Galilee also, are you? Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.” Then each went to his own house. (John 7:40-53) _________ In the history of religion, nothing seems to multiply more than people’s capacity to divide themselves, an ability these fourteen verses from John vividly display: Here one crowd is cracked apart by different understandings, expectations, and presumptions regarding the coming of the Messiah. Both those open and those hostile to the notion that Jesus could be the one promised are immobilized by their conflicting views, and everyone ends up just going home with nothing settled or changed. This story repeats itself with varying characters and issues throughout the history of the Church and of Christianity in general, and this incessant pattern confirms the difficulty we humans have with separating ourselves from the ways we think things are or should be, particularly it seems where matters of faith are involved. That day in Galilee, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, stood unrecognized by people who had been sincerely looking for him for much of their lives.
It’s easy for us to pity the people in this crowd, to feel gratitude that we have recognized Christ and have not let any misunderstanding or presumption blind us to his presence. It’s much harder to use Lent to confront the possibility that we ourselves could be part of such a crowd, that there may be times when we are similarly unable to see the truth of God that is before us, times when we are not insightful in the practice of our faith and thus risk being as fractious and as inert as they were. Still, Lent compels us to do just this, to ask if we are ever unaware of Jesus before us, no matter how sincerely we may think we are seeking him.
The Apostle Paul's conversion is marked by the “scales” that fell from his eyes allowing him to see again (Acts 9:18). This can serve as an analogy of Christian life and growth after our Baptism: Our eyes open over time. Particularly during Lent, the Holy Spirit removes the things that blind us, allowing us to recognize Christ, the truth that frees us. The range and depth of our vision in Christ is continually expanded. Yet this requires humility and a willingness to examine ourselves honestly. This is more—this is something other—than a doubling-down or a doubling back to some time in our past or some place in another person's present that we presume defines goodness. This is our being brought into direct confrontation with the God of all. This is a whole-souled effort to see more of God so we may find the attributes of God's character more in our own. When we come to understand love and justice this way, we will live more loving and just lives. We will be changed.
Given our infinite God, this is a never-ending cycle, an ever-progressive transformation from "glory to glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18). It is the perpetual restructuring of self that defines repentance in the gospel. It’s how we become enabled over time to see Christ in the hungry, the thirsty, the prisoners, and the strangers in our world (Matthew 25:31-46). If we are not year by year being changed in these ways, if we instead repeatedly reduce Lent to being just a matter of weeks when we live without sugar or Facebook and step through 'all-the-usual' mindlessly, if also devoutly, then we must admit ourselves to be more like the people who stood about in Galilee that day, people lost in presumption and hardened in habit, than to being people who recognize and thus reflect the full light of Christ to our world.
Prayer: Psalm 139
LORD, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. You sift through my travels and my rest; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all. Behind and before you encircle me and rest your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, far too lofty for me to reach.
Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, there you are. If I take the wings of dawn and dwell beyond the sea, Even there your hand guides me, your right hand holds me fast.
If I say, “Surely darkness shall hide me and night shall be my light”-- Darkness is not dark for you, and night shines as the day. Darkness and light are but one.
You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know.
Probe me, God, know my heart;try me, know my thoughts. See if there is a wicked path in me; lead me in the way everlasting. Amen
Listen to a gentle, uplifting arrangement of "Be Thou My Vision" by clicking HERE.
March 27, 2020: Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Meditation: You Better Think
“The wicked said among themselves, thinking not aright . . .” (Wisdom 2:1)
“[A Psalm] Of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, who drove him out and he went away.” (Psalm 31:1)
“Jesus moved about within Galilee; He did not wish to travel in Judea, Because the Jews were trying to kill him. But the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near . . . But when his brothers had gone up to the feast, he himself also went up, not openly but as it were in secret.” (John 7:1-2, 10) _________ Among many more boldly stated ideas, a subtle theme runs through today’s readings: How we think, that we think, matters. The book of Proverbs is built around on the dual calls of wisdom and folly. Its chapters detail the fortunes, good and ill, that await those who answer one call instead of the other. Each proverb presents a dichotomy of choices and consequences to motivate each reader to think and choose well.
Today’s reading from Wisdom begins similarly by plainly saying that people stray morally at times because they are not thinking as they should. The first verse of today’s psalm does not initially seem to have anything to do with such considerations but, in referring to the time when David “feigned madness before Abimelech,” it also reflects the value of a quick mind and practical thought. At that time, David found his life threatened in the presence of a hostile king. To remove himself from danger, he prayed no elaborate prayer. The man who slew Goliath made no strong stand. Rather, he just began acting as if he were insane, pounding his head on a gate and drooling onto his beard (1 Samuel 21:13-16). Seeing this, the people who could have killed him only wanted to be rid of him, and he survived. In today’s gospel, Jesus also preserves his life when it’s threatened, not by calling on legions of angels or through enacting miraculous measures, but by merely adjusting his travel plans.
The indispensable lesson in these stories of deliverance and protection is not found in what happened, but in why things happened as they did. David was devoted to God from his youth (Psalm 71:9). He habitually considered the ways of God and pleaded for understanding. And Jesus devoted time from childhood on to the study of, and conversation about, the scriptures (Luke 2:41-52), and his was a life of deep prayer (Luke 6:12). Each of these men had so enlivened and enriched their minds that they were able to think quickly and clearly when it was required. Their lives were kept safe at crucial times because of how they had spent the years leading up to those moments.
Understanding all this casts fresh light on the disciplines we follow during Lent. We surrender comforts; we fast; we pray; we purify ourselves through examination and confession; and we do all of this not merely to comply, but that our minds may be more aware and engaged. These 40 days every year help us to be more mindful during the other 325. So, settle contentedly into the obligations of this season. Give your mind to deep contemplation of scripture. Think. Converse. Such habits can, quite literally, become for you rescue and salvation.
Prayer: Psalm 119: 33-37
LORD, teach me the way of your statutes; I shall keep them with care. Give me understanding to keep your law, to observe it with all my heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for that is my delight. Direct my heart toward your testimonies and away from gain. Avert my eyes from what is worthless; by your way give me life. Amen
Listen to John Rutter's "God Be in My Head" by clicking HERE.
TEXT God be in my head, and in my understanding; God be in mine eyes, and in my looking; God be in my mouth, and in my speaking; God be in my heart, and in my thinking; God be at mine end, and at my departing.
March 26, 2020: Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Meditation: Mysteries and Certainties
The LORD said to Moses, “I see how stiff-necked this people is. Let me alone, then, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them. Then I will make of you a great nation.”
But Moses implored the LORD, his God, saying, “Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with such great power and with so strong a hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent he brought them out, that he might kill them in the mountains and exterminate them from the face of the earth’? (Exodus 32:9-12) _________ Everything is backward here: God’s anger is brimming, and he appears to want to commit a rash act. Moses, the mortal in the story, urges mercy and compassion and, to avert tragedy, pleads with God to consider the possible consequences of his impulse. It’s perplexing: How can a mere man appear as having the more reasonable, tempered mind? Where in these verses is even a trace of the God who plans and acts from the long view, the One who "who chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world?” (Ephesians 1:4)? Where is the loving heart of the One who promised a Messiah centuries before the star shone over the manger? Today we meditate, not on any answer to these questions, but on the questions themselves. We open ourselves to these and other difficulties that scripture can stir up in our minds, and we do this because Lent requires us to pursue the mysteries of our faith and not just its certainties.
When we think of the biblical stories of Daniel, we usually imagine him praying steadfastly in the lions' den. We don’t often, if ever, think of him lying exhausted and sick for days, “desolate” and “without understanding” of the vision God had given him (Daniel 8:27). So we are unable to appreciate that it was only after he sought God earnestly with prayer and fasting, sackcloth and ashes, that the angel Gabriel came to him and said “Daniel, I have now come to give you understanding” (Daniel 9:1-22).
Through mystifying readings like the one above, Lent seeks to detach us from a mindless acceptance of the gospel and to draw us into the exhausting, but ultimately exhilarating discovery of what’s real. Our willingness to struggle with the warring notions of God as both hostile and gentle makes us mindful. It removes from us any unfounded certainty of what we think we know and, so, opens the way for us to become Christ’s true disciples.
Almighty God, Author of my life, Help me learn what you have written on my heart. Give me discerning eyes and an untiring spirit to look within so I may understand how to reach outside of myself and to know you. Give me generosity of heart to help others to know you, to discover the truth of your Word, and to hear the beautiful voice of wisdom. Amen --Author Unknown
Listen to Orlando di Lasso's setting of "Lucis Creator Optime" by clicking HERE.
TEXT LUCIS Creator optime lucem dierum proferens, primordiis lucis novae, mundi parans originem: O BLEST Creator of the light, Who mak'st the day with radiance bright, and o'er the forming world didst call the light from chaos first of all;
Qui mane iunctum vesperi diem vocari praecipis: tetrum chaos illabitur,1 audi preces cum fletibus. Whose wisdom joined in meet array the morn and eve, and named them Day: night comes with all its darkling fears; regard Thy people's prayers and tears.
Ne mens gravata crimine, vitae sit exsul munere, dum nil perenne cogitat, seseque culpis illigat. Lest, sunk in sin, and whelmed with strife, they lose the gift of endless life; while thinking but the thoughts of time, they weave new chains of woe and crime.
Caeleste pulset ostium:2 vitale tollat praemium: vitemus omne noxium: purgemus omne pessimum. But grant them grace that they may strain the heavenly gate and prize to gain: each harmful lure aside to cast, and purge away each error past.
Praesta, Pater piissime, Patrique compar Unice, cum Spiritu Paraclito regnans per omne saeculum. Amen. O Father, that we ask be done, through Jesus Christ, Thine only Son; Who, with the Holy Ghost and Thee, doth live and reign eternally. Amen.
March 25, 2020: Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
Meditation: Mary's Path to Peace
"She was greatly troubled at what was said.” (Luke 1:29 [To read the full text of the Annunciation, click HERE].) _________ “Greatly troubled” translates for us to “panicked.” Centuries of meditation on the Blessed Mother, billions of prayers offered, innumerable statues and altars have fixed in our minds an image of her as always peaceful and entirely in control. We regard her to be always concerned for us and ever-helpful, and these are not qualities we associate with people who are “greatly troubled.” And, of course, she isn’t now. Yet scripture says she was then, and meditating on this single moment in her life can help us through all the moments of distress that come to us.
It is worth noting here that it was God who upset Mary. Something favorable, something singularly good was beginning to happen to her, but in those first minutes she couldn’t comprehend everything she was hearing. If anything, scriptures suggest it took years for Mary to absorb the full significance of what the angel Gabriel told her that day. Following some later recognition or other indication of the divine uniqueness of her Son, Mary is said to have taken what happened or what was said into her heart where she continued reflecting on it (Luke 2:19, 51). This is the way of wisdom, and it was Mary’s path from startled to settled.
It can be ours also. Whether we are just a little concerned or entirely overwhelmed, no matter if the disturbance arises from good we can’t yet perceive or from bad that is all-too-clear, the message of God is still “Don’t be afraid.”; commit to following the light of his word; and reflect deeply on what happens around you as life moves forward. This is how we, like Mary, grow in clarity on what we believe to be our purpose in this world. —Jeff Daignault
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy, hear and answer me. Amen
Listen to Andrew Carter's lovely setting of Mary's Magnificat by clicking HERE.
March 24, 2020: Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Meditation: Psalm 46
Nothing can be added to the poetic comfort these words provide in these times: __________ For the leader. A Song of the Korahites. According to alamoth. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in distress. Thus we do not fear, though earth be shaken and mountains quake to the depths of the sea, though its waters rage and foam and mountains totter at its surging.
Selah (Pause and Reflect)
Streams of the river gladden the city of God, the holy dwelling of the Most High. God is in its midst; it shall not be shaken. God will help it at the break of day. Though nations rage and kingdoms totter, he utters his voice and the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
Selah Come and see the works of the Lord, who has done fearsome deeds on earth; who stops wars to the ends of the earth, breaks the bow, splinters the spear, and burns the shields with fire. "Be still and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth." The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
Dear God, Speak gently in my silence. When the loud outer noises of my surroundings, and the loud inner noises of my fears keep pulling me away from you, help me to trust that you are still there even when I am unable to hear you. "Come to me, all you who are overburdened, and I will give you rest... for I am gentle and humble of heart." Let that loving voice be my guide.
Amen. —Henri J.M. Nouwen
To listen to "Be Still My Soul" performed by Libera, click HERE.
March 23, 2020: Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Meditation: New in the Old
"Thus says the LORD: Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth." (Isaiah 65:17) __________ Nothing like what’s happening now has occurred in our lifetimes. Nevertheless, the global pandemic that is, gate by gate, chaining the world shut does not feel new, however novel the virus that is spreading. Instead, these unfamiliar scenes, choices, and headaches feel wearyingly old. It’s as if what’s being forced on us is just an acceleration, a confirmation of what we already felt about what happens on this earth. Conflicts in domestic and global politics, faults with leaders and institutions have only been intensified, magnified to resolutions we couldn’t have imagined a few brief weeks ago. We feel anger and anxiety as we scan empty grocery aisles “because people are so . . .” “Things wouldn’t have gotten this bad if . . .”
And we may be right in what we think—though realizing that as one person staring in the face of an international crisis can also be dispiriting. It can make one feel even more small and isolated.
This exhaustion of heart, the breaking point we fear or experience when we are being cumulatively stressed, is why verses like the one above from Isaiah breathe hope into us. The thought of Christ returning and setting all this right eases the mind.
But when will that happen?
And what about now?
The rest of the passage from Isaiah 65 that is today’s first reading describes the new earth that is coming. It will be a place of “rejoicing and happiness.” No infant will die there. All will enjoy long, contented lives. All will have pleasant shelter and enough food.
It is usually folly to try to interpret any ancient prophesy as being fulfilled in any current event, like a pandemic, and it is unhelpful to try to predict when any prophesied event will unfold. As we observe Lent, however, there is a way to avoid falling into either of these traps as we meditate on Isaiah’s words: We can simply allow ourselves to wonder what there is to do in the world we know that will make it more like the world we want, the one that is also in God’s dreams. What can we do to create happiness for others? More soberly, what needs to happen now to lessen infant mortality or to bring comfort to the aged? What can all of us do to make sure more of us have good housing and enough food every day? Our Church has many formal ministries operating around the world to accomplish such things. These efforts often seem distant to us, though. They are only names we see printed on envelopes or hear mentioned during announcements.
As we move toward Easter this year and as our hearts continue to hope for the permanence of eternal newness, let’s decide to close this gap where we can. Let’s spread joy. Let’s resolve to volunteer when we’re able and to provide other resources to bring new and better to the parts of the earth we occupy. Such deeds will lift our hearts as they also answer the prayer we so often pray since caring and giving in these ways surely is God’s will being “done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Grant us, Lord God, a vision of your world as your love would have it: a world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor; a world where the riches of creation are shared, and everyone can enjoy them; a world where different races and cultures live in harmony and mutual respect; a world where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love. Give us the inspiration and courage to build it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. --Author Unknown
Contemplate bringing newness to our world as you listen to Edgar Bainton's "And I Saw a New Heaven." Click HERE.
March 22, 2020: Fourth Sunday of Lent
Meditation: Honesty, Credibility, Visibility
“As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, 'Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.'" (John 9:1-3 [To read all of John 9, click HERE.]) __________ The account given in John 9 of Christ healing this blind man is one of the most elaborate descriptions of a miracle in the gospels. The act itself takes only 2 of the chapter’s 41 verses. The bulk is given to questions and conflicts that arise after the man can see, and this drama plays out among a fairly large cast: Jesus, his disciples, Pharisees, the man’s parents, his neighbors and, of course, the blind man himself. Yet if we ask, after reading everything, how this man’s life served to make God works more visible in the world, the obvious answer can still appear as the only answer:
He was blind, and Jesus made him see.
Yet if that is the whole answer, John could have been tidier in his storytelling since he covered that part in fewer than 10 verses. He wouldn’t have needed to take us through the alarm and angst the miracle provokes unless showing us how the no-longer blind man reacts amid those conflicts can open our eyes to the ways in which he gave dimension and substance to God’s active presence in his life. Perhaps what we can learn from his behavior as a healed man is what will enable us also to demarcate a living God to a lost world.
What astonishes immediately once this consideration begins is this man’s honesty. He speaks without pretense. He freely admits what he does not know while strongly holding to what he does know. He, a beggar with nothing, is more secure and at ease with himself than are the Pharisees, men of rank and esteem. This honesty and candor give his testimony to the Pharisees a maddening, irrefutable credibility. When they are unable to dismiss what he says, the Pharisees simply turn him out, attacking instead of answering just as all who are bereft of truth do when their emptiness is made plain. However, this dismissal, the fact that they had to remove him from their sight, only serves as convincing evidence that this man had become visible proof of God at work in Jesus Christ, even if the Pharisees’ tradition insisted that they deny this fact.
So, John’s long narrative that can seem like an addendum to the real story is what ultimately carries us to the real lesson: It was the character of this man—not simply his congenital blindness or the miracle that removed it—that enabled God to be seen in his life. Few, if any, of us will ever receive, or even witness, a physical miracle like this blind man received. Still, the graces of Lent can carry all of us toward becoming people of similar strength. Candid reflection and conversation, self-examination that refuses to shy away from the uncertainties and lingering questions that God seems happy to leave behind whenever he does anything for us—all of this leads us to expressions of faith that are fully human. We become believers with defined edges and textures that make our faith tangible, that make God visible. We become able to help others who are blind to see.
Lord Jesus, I turn to you as the source of all truth. Teach me your ways, and fill me with Your wisdom. Help me to understand life as you see it and, in that understanding, help me to embrace Your holy will. Jesus, I trust in You. Amen --Author Unknown
Renée Fleming singing "Amazing Grace" (with some extraordinary violin playing) can be heard by clicking HERE.
March 21, 2020: Saturday of the Third Week of Lent
Meditation: Pleasing God
“For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6) __________ We Catholics like rules. We like to be told how things should be done. There is comfort in conformity. Eventually, there is assurance: I’ve hit the ball. I’ve touched all the bases. I’ve added a run to the score that God is keeping. This is a common mindset among people who believe in God. It dominated Jewish culture during Jesus’ time on earth. Yet, because of it, Jesus often had to fill in the picture of God’s heart that all the lines of any ritual law can never fully draw.
Jesus shocked the Pharisees when he replied with the verse above from Hosea after the Pharisees criticized his disciples for doing what they regarded as unlawful on the Sabbath. The Pharisees understood pleasing God to be only a matter of following the Law. For centuries, Israel had obeyed finely-detailed instructions on how various offerings should be made. Then Jesus showed up and seemed to be saying that God was looking for something else the whole while. He insisted that pleasing God requires something deeper than superficial compliance with the rules.
That something is love, the shared and constant exchange of God’s for us and of ours for God. A filled-in checklist of our various obligations as Catholics is fine to have. It’s even good to have, but only if an inner stirring from the Holy Spirit prompts all that outer motion. When it does, we live free and unburdened by the necessary disciplines of our faith.
God, my Father, May I love you in all things and above all things. May I reach the joy which you have prepared for me in Heaven. Nothing is good that is against your will, and all that is good comes from your hand. Place in my heart a desire to please you, and fill my mind with thoughts of your love, so that I may grow in your wisdom and enjoy your peace. Amen --Author Unknown
Hear a medley of classic hymns about loving God by clicking HERE.
March 20, 2020: Friday of the Third Week of Lent
Meditation: A Time to Speak
"Take with you words . . ." (Hosea 14:2) __________ The text for the assembly in today’s psalm—"I am the Lord your God: hear my voice”—is all the more striking when we see that it is our response to Hosea 14 where Lord says he wants to hear our voices. As God calls Israel to return to him, he compels them to speak, to acknowledge their guilt, their mishappen lives and their misplaced trust, out loud. Today’s gospel from Mark 12 shows us that the foundational teaching of Jesus Christ regarding the greatest commandment (“to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength”) was prompted by a question, by words spoken to Jesus. We often focus on "doing" and on the relative worthlessness of “just words.” Yet “there is a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7), and Lent is such a time.
Considering how the world was made, can we truly be godly if we are afraid to speak into darkness? Will any of us be able to live as a new creation if we never call for light? The Church offers us Confession, not merely to process deliverance for us from misdeeds, but to provide structure for us to hear our voices acknowledging our failures. The words we bring to that moment express our responsibility for who we have been and open the way for us to be transformed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to suspend our times for Confession just as we have our Masses, but perhaps this year we can learn to see this time of necessary separation as our wilderness, as the place where we discover how we are weakened and where also we experience the love of God that leads us to restoration. This dry place gives us time to consider, as the prodigal son did on his way back to his father, what we will say when we reach the place where we can bow in penance. That young man said “I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you’” (Luke 15:18). We will find other words to admit our wandering, but they will just as surely lead us back home. —Jeff Daignault
“Let me love you, Lord, and give thanks to you and confess to your name, because you have forgiven my grave sins and wicked deeds.”
--Saint Augustine, Confessions
Music: Experience the transformative wonder of Gregorio Allegri's Miserere mei, Deus by clicking HERE.
March 19, 2020: Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Meditation: Jesus Is Missing
"Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, 'Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.'” (Luke 2:41-48) __________ Imagine not knowing for days where your child is and you will see that the “great anxiety” mentioned in this reading was not at all a quiet worry. It was desperation. It was panic. It was the scalding fear of permanent loss. Any loving parent would feel these things, and Mary and Joseph may have felt them even more intensely since they knew that the child they had lost track of was the Son of God. Angels had foretold and announced his birth. Heavenly visions had protected him from murderous King Herod. Magi had visited, and prophetic blessings had been given to him from his first days of life. Yet suddenly—on a family trip they took every year—no one knew where the boy was. Jesus was missing.
Here as everywhere, Saint Joseph says nothing. Only descriptions of his actions and his emotions define him: Faithful, devoted, searching, astonished, and, ultimately, relieved.
This year we observe the Solemnity of Saint Joseph as the world we knew just days ago is warped beyond recognition. Routines are broken. What was common is now extraordinary. Everywhere desperation and panic grow. We fear permanent loss. We are isolated. And, as we confront all this, the strength and consolation of our Eucharist is, for the moment, also gone. Jesus is missing.
The life of Saint Joseph teaches us how to live through these times. We learn from him that we can allow ourselves to be anxious if we also will keep searching. In his quiet example, we see that however long or sleepless these days may prove to be, we will find ourselves again at peace in the Lord’s presence if we will but follow the actions that our love for him urges within our hearts. —Jeff Daignault
Gracious Saint Joseph, Protect me, my family, and our parish family from all evil, as you did the Holy Family. Kindly keep us ever united in the love of Christ and ever devoted to our Blessed Mother, your sinless spouse. Amen --Author Unknown
To hear a beautiful performance of the Hymn to St. Joseph, click HERE.