Lenten Reflections 2021

Holy Saturday | April 3, 2021

Bookending this great Holy Saturday are two of the most beautiful texts we have in our expansive tradition. On Holy Saturday morning during the Office of Readings we read an ancient homily telling of the Lord’s descent into Hell. At the end of this day we hear the Exultet, the powerful Easter Proclamation sung each year at the Easter Vigil liturgy. Common to both prayers is the idea of Jesus Christ as the New Adam.

Many comparisons can be made between Adam and the New Adam, Jesus. Think for example how Adam sinned by eating the fruit of the tree and Jesus destroyed the power of sin by carrying another tree, the Cross, for our salvation. But I would like to point our attention to the fact that both figures made momentous decisions in a garden.
These garden scenes reveal something about true human freedom. In the Garden of Eden, Adam rebelled against God by breaking the primordial command to not eat the fruit of the tree. To some, this is the epitome of human freedom. This is freedom as license—the freedom to do whatever one wants.

And on the other hand, we have Jesus, the New Adam. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed to the Father, “Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will” (Mk 14:36). Jesus reveals that the epitome of human freedom is not in license or in asserting one’s own will, but in self-surrender.
Fundamentally this is the posture of freedom that anyone must have in discerning the will of God, whether one is discerning the priesthood, religious life, or marriage. And so, we pray on this Holy Saturday that the Lord would grant us his Spirit of freedom, that we, like Him, may surrender our lives to our Heavenly Father.

Deacon Noah Thelen
Diocese of Grand Rapids

Good Friday | April 2, 2021

There is an ancient custom that, after unveiling the crucifix and processing with it into the sanctuary, the celebrant and deacons take off their chasuble and dalmatics and remove their shoes before approaching the wood of the cross to venerate our crucified Lord.

Why would they do this? Because they “are standing on Holy Ground.”

Today, we all join together at the foot of calvary – mystically present on that rocky hillside. When Moses approached the burning bush on Mount Sinai the voice of God told him to remove his sandals because where he was standing was holy ground (Exodus 3:5). God demands total respect and desires for us to stop and stay a while. Removing shoes is an act of someone who is going to stay. They’re not traveling, not in a hurry, or just passing by. Instead, it’s a sign of intimate relation. Be at home, at rest, before the cross of Our Lord.

On that ground, that most sacred soil, the Blood of our Savior was shed; saturating the earth and redeeming us all from the stain of Adam. Christ’s mercy and love – overwhelming and awesome – are poured out for us this day from His most sacred side. The gates of Heaven torn open.

Where we stand now, before the crucifix in our church or the crucifix in our own homes, we are standing on Holy Ground.

My dear brothers and sisters, remove your shoes. Remove your shoes of stubbornness, lukewarmness, complacency, indifference, hatred, and fear. Courageously take off those shoes of sin and be ready to step onto that Holy Ground of Easter with sincerity of heart.

Deacon Nathan Ford
Canons Regular of St. John Cantius

Holy Thursday | April 1, 2021

Holy Thursday, the feast of the Lord’s supper, is one of the most symbolic and evocative celebrations on the calendar. The Last Supper is the place where we see most clearly Jesus the priest, for the Last Supper is the Institution of the Eucharist, which contains mysteriously within it, the death and resurrection of Jesus.

When I was a kid, I always enjoyed being at Mass. At the time of the elevation of the host over the chalice, that is, the “Behold the Lamb of God,” I always understood that the attention of all the people in the church was meant to be on the Host at that time. It is a small moment of adoration and prayer. However, at that moment, I always found myself focusing on the face of the priest. I didn’t reflect on the meaning of this at the time, but during my time in seminary, I have learned to pay attention to small, seemingly inconsequential happenings in my life because that is exactly the way that the Lord tries to speak to us.

The priest is ordained to be for his community persona Christi, the person of Christ. But Jesus Christ was truly God, and at the same time, he was truly human! He is God with a human face. At the Last Supper, the Lord showed the 12 Apostles how to be the presence of God on earth: they were to “do this in remembrance of me.” After the resurrection and ascension, Jesus as the presence of God continued on the faces of the very same apostles, and that same presence has been passed down throughout the years, from bishop to bishop and from bishop to priest, down to this very day.

No wonder I couldn’t take my eyes off the face of the priest during the consecration. At Mass on Holy Thursday, we’re not only at the Last Supper once again, but we are in the very presence of God.

Deacon Michael Kelly
Diocese of Yakima

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord | March 28, 2021

The Passion narrative, read every Palm Sunday and every Good Friday, is probably one of the most famous stories in the world. We risk missing out on a number of lessons from this narrative if we ignore the story. We hear Jesus cry out: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Have you ever felt abandoned by parents, siblings, friends, mentors and anyone you really trusted that could have helped you when you were in trouble? If your answer is yes, then look up to Jesus, the one who felt abandoned by His apostles, abandoned by those He ministered to and ultimately, abandoned by His own Father in the eyes of human beings. He teaches the world that humility and obedience are not weaknesses, contrary to what the world would want us to believe. These are beautiful virtues. In humility and obedience, God’s will becomes manifest in our lives. He speaks to us very loudly when we exhibit these virtues.

We are to bear in mind that since God does not make Jesus’ suffering disappear like magic, He will most likely not make our sufferings vanish, too. We have to go through suffering as a way of practically expressing our love for God and for our neighbors. The Triduum is important in everyone’s life. The greater the sacrifice we make for the sake of others, the greater the appreciation. This is why the Passion narrative is so famous. Jesus made the greatest sacrifice to demonstrate His love for us.

Our relationship with Jesus is supposed to get even more intimate during Holy Week. Let us open wide our hearts and allow him to love us and to influence us as we live through this most important week of our salvation that we may come out triumphant with the joys of Easter.

Deacon Tony Famave
Diocese of San Jose

Fifth Sunday of Lent | March 21, 2021

In today’s Gospel, Greek pilgrims come to Philip and Andrew and ask to see Jesus. In response to this, Jesus says “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” In this, Jesus shows us that death leads to life in abundance. Jesus is the grain of wheat that has died, and through His death, offers life to the whole world.

We learn through the Scriptures, through walking with Jesus in His ministry, that the way of Christian discipleship is not one of self-promotion. The way of Christian discipleship is rooted in the death to the self, which begins in the waters of Baptism. The season of Lent is a time for us, through our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, to recognize our sinfulness, but also to prepare for the renewal of our baptismal promises on Easter morning, in which we die with Christ, and bear fruit with Him and in Him.

In our baptism we become a new creation in Christ. In our baptism, we die with Christ and rise to glory with Christ. In our baptism, it is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me (cf. Gal 2:20). When someone in our lives say, “I want to see Jesus,” by our baptism we are empowered to be like Christ, who was totally obedient to the will of the Father, to the point of death on the cross to bring salvation to all people. May this Lenten season allow us to become more like Christ and prepare us to authentically renew our baptismal promises on Easter, so others will no longer ask “we would like to see Jesus”, because they see Jesus within us.

Deacon Andy Matijevic
Archdiocese of Chicago

Fourth Sunday of Lent | March 14, 2021

The number 40 holds a special place of fascination in our imaginations. Throughout human history, in many cultures and in many religions, the number 40 carries significant meaning. It is difficult to explain this universal fascination with the number 40.

Something about the number 40 seems to mark for us the time required for something significant to happen. God knows and understands our fascination with the number 40 well. The number 40 occurs frequently throughout the Bible. The Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the desert before they were able to enter the Promised Land. The great flood, during the time of Noah, lasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert. Our own 40 days long Lenten season follows directly from our Lord’s example.

Jesus’ time in the desert prepared him for his public ministry. His example of self-denial is a powerful example for us. We, like him, have been called by God to enter a desert of self-denial this Lenten season. During this time, we are called by God and his Church to do more than our normal amount of praying, fasting, and almsgiving to the poor. When we pray more, we grow closer to God. When we fast, we grow in our Christian discipleship which strengthens us for the difficulties in life. When we give more of ourselves and resources to the poor, we begin to shed our selfishness and pride which often keeps us from loving each other and being happy.

The good news of the Gospel today is that we do not have to continue these difficult days alone. Christ desires to journey with us. He will give us the graces we need to preserve. Easter is only a few weeks away. Let us finish our Lenten season well so that we can celebrate Easter well.

Deacon Michael Lingaur
Diocese of Gaylord

Third Sunday of Lent | March 7, 2021

St. Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians: “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

St. Paul is not taunting us with the bigness of God as if to say, “God’s dumbest moment is smarter than you and his littlest toe is more powerful than you could ever be… so worship him!” Instead, St. Paul’s assertion is that God actually became foolish and weak in his Son upon the Cross. During the Passion his rhetoric failed to prove his innocence before multiple courts and his popularity waned in the face of Roman and Jewish authority. Saul, as Paul was previously known before his conversion, knew that Christians were fools to worship such a God. Yet after Jesus revealed himself to Saul along the road to Damascus Paul understood that Jesus Christ had become weak and foolish out of love for Paul and the whole world.

During this season of lent we slowly make our way towards the celebration of the moment of God’s love on Good Friday, when, by worldly standards, he made himself foolish and weak. On that day we will venerate the Cross by bowing down before the instrument of God’s weakness and foolishness. The earliest Christians were mocked for their worship of Jesus Christ. In the middle of the 19th century archaeologists uncovered ancient graffiti which depicts a man worshipping a cross on which hangs an insulting image of Jesus Christ with the inscription “Alexamenos worships his God.” If we are not mocked for our worship of Christ, perhaps it is because we have not proclaimed the Cross of Christ loudly enough.

Let us place the Cross, the moment of God’s self-sacrificial love for us, at the center of our lives so that our Lenten practices deepen the virtue of love in our souls.

Deacon Jacob Dunne
Archdiocese of Dubuque

Second Sunday of Lent | February 28, 2021

The famous and unsettling narrative we read today is often titled the Binding of Isaac or the Testing of Abraham. Both these titles suggest an active Abraham and a passive Isaac. However, I do not think this is the case. There was no way a young man was overpowered by his father of over a hundred years of age! It seems to me that Isaac had allowed himself to be bound, and, in this strange act of surrender, allowed Abraham to be freed. We remember Abraham as a man blessed and favored by God. Nonetheless, Abraham was a man suffering from many bondages: bondages that his son, his only son, the one he loves, released him from. In this act, Abraham was freed from the undue pressure he put on his son, freed from his need to control the fate of his lineage, freed from his suspicion that God would not provide for him, freed from his desire to be his own god. Isaac’s humility was not a passive acceptance, but an active choice that changed everything… it allowed something transformative to be done to Abraham. In the Binding of Isaac, there is the unbinding of Abraham.

We will hear this famous and unsettling narrative again at the Easter Vigil. Until then, perhaps we can contemplate this profound image of humility, particularly imaged in God’s Beloved Son, His only Son, the one He loves, who, like Isaac, allowed Himself to be bound to allow something transformative to be done to us. This Lent, I hope we ascend not Mount Moriah nor Mount Tabor but the mountainous heights of our hearts and behold Him, the one who bound His glory in human estate to transfigure us. He will not stop until we are free.

Deacon Joby Joseph
St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago

First Sunday of Lent | February 21, 2021

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we began our Lenten journey last Wednesday by receiving a clear sign of our mortality and dependency on the Lord of Life, that is, ashes. Now, on this first Sunday of Lent, the same Eternal Lord allows us to peek into Jesus’ own Lent, namely his forty days in the desert. Christ’s journey through those forty days, however, was far from comfortable. Having assumed all the limitations of our humanity, except sin, he lived, prayed and meditated in that barren and isolated place. Connecting with and seeking His Father the same way any other devout person of his time would have done it, he completed his time in the desert with the resolve to begin his public life of ministry. Indeed, the Evangelist Mark recounts for us today how Christ, fresh out of that place, proclaimed the Good News of Salvation by emphasizing conversion and repentance of heart. Thus, Lent, these forty quite different days, contains a mysterious opportunity for inner transformation. That is, more than just imposing daunting penitential practices, this peculiar liturgical season in the life of the Church enables us to seek personal ways by which we can experience inner spiritual and communal transformation, always in full cooperation with God’s divine aid. Lent is, one may entertain, a unique opportunity to draw ourselves out of our daily life routine and come before the Father just as Christ did for forty days in the desert. It is a unique instance in which every element in the Church conducts us toward recollection.

What is more, the expectations are not the same for everyone. You go into your Lenten journey with your own resolve to renew your life of communion with God, and He will be there to listen to your open heart and thereby transform you. So, dear brethren, let us take advantage of this sacred time. Let us enter fully into this transformative opportunity and so receive renewed inner life from Him, who is the Lord of the Living.

Deacon Leonel Sepulveda
Archdiocese of Chicago

Ash Wednesday | February 17, 2021

“Remember, man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”

This is one of two options of the words that are spoken to us on Ash Wednesday as we come forward to receive our ashes. This short sentence serves to remind us of who we are. We are a part of mankind; we are each a unity of body and soul. “Then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). This body was made of dust, and it will return to dust. But that breath of life was breathed into our bodies; indeed, at the end of all things, that breath, our souls, will be reunited with our bodies, and we will enter either into eternal paradise or eternal torment. It is our choice. If we live this life now choosing Our Lord and His Holy Will, then those choices will ring into eternity. Likewise, if we choose the way of sin, the way of pride, greed, envy, lust, gluttony, wrath, and sloth, then we will continue to make those choices into eternity.

I know that, left to my own devices, I often choose the way of sin. But the grace of God does not leave us in that spot. He gives us His grace to bring us out of our attachment to ourselves; He sent His Son, Who established His Church through His Own Blood, and through this Church, we are able to be set free. The Church, in Her wisdom, gives us this time of Lent to reorient our lives, so that we are better able to follow the Gospel and prepare for our eternal destiny. Therefore, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

Deacon Will Stuever
Diocese of Wichita

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