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Weekly Lenten Reflections from our Seminarians

Journey through Lent with our seminarian community by receiving weekly Gospel reflections written by your future parish priests. Take a few moments each week to reflect on your personal journey of prayer, fasting and almsgiving in preparation for the joy of Easter Sunday.

REFLECTION FOR EASTER SUNDAY

Christ is Risen! After the holiest week of the year, we now celebrate with Christ, for indeed he has risen. In Holy week we were called to spiritually suffer, die and rise with Christ. Today we rise with Christ. During this Easter season we are invited to come out of the desert and enjoy living a grace-filled life. We will never be as happy as when we live our lives as the future saints God wants us to be. One of the best ways to show others what Christ means to us is to live out the joy of the Gospel.

While it is great to be living a new life of Christ. In order to truly rise, we have to have truly died to ourselves and our selfish desires. Whatever the Holy Spirit compelled you to remove from your heart during Lent, make sure that it does not come back to keep you down this Easter season. Don’t let yourself just slip back into your old ways of living before Lent. Leave behind any part of you that is keeping you from Christ.

Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the grace to hate the vice that he helped you remove from your heart during Lent. Ask him to allow you the grace to replace it with virtue that will help you live out the universal call to holiness. So enjoy this Easter season, and be a saint!

Deacon John Kladar
Archdiocese of Rockford

REFLECTION FOR HOLY SATURDAY

Holy Saturday does not have the astonishing drama of Good Friday or Easter Sunday.  It’s quiet.  Liturgy is kept to a minimum, for only the dying can receive Communion.  But today we do not just twiddle our thumbs or decorate the church for Easter in the brief window Holy Saturday gives us.  Instead, we rest with the disciples of the Lord and mourn his death.

Christ Jesus died on a Friday, making the next day the Sabbath, the day set aside for rest by the Law of Moses.  All Jesus’s friends and family were required to rest and return to the study of the Scripture.  They couldn’t even do holy things such as taking care of the body of their now-deceased rabbi, Jesus.

They prayed to the God who grieved for his people and never ceased to work mighty deeds on their behalf.  They could not stage a protest in front of Pontius Pilate’s palace to express their anger at that terrible execution.  All they could do was stay within their homes and towns and ponder their grief.

The very abstinence from labor signified the trust they had in their God, whose constant care they could never work to achieve.

What they did not know is that even in the quiet, God continued to affect the great work of salvation for which they longed, even as all their hopes for the Messiah were dashed to the ground by the Crucifixion.

How were they to guess that as they mourned, Jesus Christ entered Hades to free the souls of the just who waited the coming of the One who would liberate them?  How could his friends predict that Jesus would conquer sin and death that very night by his Resurrection?  They could only rest in the promises of their God, remembering his providential kindness to their ancestors.

Holy Saturday’s solitude only makes Easter Sunday that much more satisfying. We remember that even as we rest, God is working. We take today to ponder the quiet and mourning the death of Christ so that tomorrow we will have that much more joy at the Resurrection.

Deacon Andrew Ayers
Diocese of Grand Rapids, MI

REFLECTION FOR GOOD FRIDAY

“It is finished.”

With these final words before he breathed his last, Our Lord speaks of the depths of his love: “He loved them to the end.”

Of all the ways God could have expressed his love for us, he chose this way, manifesting a love that gives all, completely empty of any self-seeking. The nature of God’s love is revealed in the Crucifixion as the one who loves, even “to the end.”

Throughout his public ministry, people expected Jesus to exercise his power in magnificent ways, according to their limited idea of a royal figure.  At one point, the crowds tried to carry him off as a king after the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish.  Instead, Jesus went into hiding because he wanted them to learn that his kingship is inseparable from his throne, which is the Cross.

The title of king, which Jesus avoided before, is now displayed above his head, in a crown of thorns.  The true King sacrifices himself to save his people.  While the crowds would have settled for a king who could give them an endless supply of bread and fish, our true King hands his very body and blood over to us as our food.  The Eucharist, instituted during the Last Supper yesterday, is the greatest gift that our King could give – the gift of himself – and we see the true cost of his gift as he hangs on the cross. We behold the sacrifice he makes on our behalf.

“It is finished.”

Jesus loves us to the very end.  No greater expression of love is possible for him, who has given all.

Deacon Matthew Schuster
Archdiocese of Chicago (St. John Cantius)

REFLECTION FOR HOLY THURSDAY

Deacon Gerardo Olivera

Today we celebrate Holy Thursday, the beginning of the Holy Paschal Triduum. This Thursday “Shines more than the Sun” due to the institution of the Eucharist and thus the institution of the priesthood of the New Covenant.

Our Liturgy and readings for today are full of meaning and symbolism. Christ “loved them to the end.” This divine love drove Christ to find a way to remain with us, even as he ultimately left his earthly body. Jesus is eternally present within the bread and wine consecrated at Mass, and he remains there out of love for us.

At the same time our Lord instituted priesthood when he said, “Do this in memory of me.” The priesthood is foreshadowed in many ways by the actions of Our Lord during the Last Supper: “He rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.”  This act shows us how Jesus modeled an important aspect of priesthood: service.

The Lord himself gave us the example of the humble servant, and we, as future priests, are to serve our brothers and sisters with the same spirit of humility that is tied to priesthood and the Eucharist itself.

Our natural response to this love offered by the Lord is to love in return. This love materializes in both reverence, piety, and awe towards Jesus in the Eucharist — as well as respect, service, and fraternity towards our brothers and sisters.

When we feel weak, or unloving towards our brothers, or indifferent to Jesus in the Eucharist, let us pray together with St. Josemaría Escríva: “Lord, put in my heart the love with which you want me to love you.”

Deacon Gerardo Olivera
Archdiocese of San Juan, Puerto Rico

REFLECTION FOR THE SIXTH WEEK OF LENT (PALM SUNDAY)

I am in my 8th and final year of seminary, with only a couple of weeks before graduation, and I sometimes find it harder to pay attention during class and stay engaged in the community. We call this symptom “deaconitis,” a little tongue-in-cheek play on the more common ailment of “senioritis.” The desire to look ahead to priesthood and mentally check out of what I am still learning can be hard to resist so close to ordination.

We have probably all experienced this disengagement at one time or another, whether in school, at work, or with an anticipated move or change in life. We might be experiencing this right now with the anticipation of Easter. We have been going through this time of preparation for the last month and half: increasing and focusing our prayer, remembering to fast, and giving more of ourselves, our time, and our treasure. Now, with only one week left, we can be very tempted to jump ahead, to leave out the last couple of days of preparation and begin the celebration of Easter.

The Church wants us to stay focused, and helps us remain in the mindset of preparation. Our gospel for Palm Sunday is the entire passion of our Lord, putting us right next to Jesus as he suffers and dies for us. Taking the time to read and reflect on Jesus’ passion and death prepares us to enter into this final week before Easter. The Church does not jump ahead to the Resurrection, it does not gloss over this difficult, holy week. The Church invites us to enter into every step of the journey with her.

It can be difficult to not fall into the senioritis trap of mentally checking out during these final days of Lent. But for this final week, let us remember to stay in the present, walking with Christ along the road to the cross.

Deacon Declan McNicholas
Diocese of Gary, IN

REFLECTION FOR THE FIFTH WEEK OF LENT

The Apple That Fills the Room
What the young are not prepared for
is the apple that fills the room.
That is now how they proceed.
They are not aware that one will grow
and fill the rotten room.
Let it be a yellow
or a red Delicious or one
from another state. Let it be brown
to the core, with a sere leaf
on the stem. Whatever apple
has been brought in
is the apple that will fill the room.
They are hardly prepared to know.

This poem was introduced to me by a professor, who, after reading the poem, said, “Whatever you bring to the room will fill the room.” I’d like to apply that thought to today’s Gospel and examine the motivation each character brings to Jesus, and its result.

The scribes and the Pharisees come to Jesus with a sense of hatred; they feel resentful and jealous. They are like an apple with a little fungus, flyspeck, or sooty blotch. Their hateful feelings, like those black spots, might be ignored at first but rapidly grow and spread, rotting not only their spiritual life, but also contagiously filling the room and affecting the crowd in the area. Eventually, they grow completely rotten with their furious anger, and go home instead of being cured or transformed.

The woman in the gospel is brought to Jesus to be condemned. Despite the fact that the crowd obnoxiously sentenced her to death, she is quiet, accepting and maybe even agreeing with their hateful remarks. She longs to fix those black spots in her life, to clean out all that is rotting her core. She can’t recognize it at first, but silently and carefully, the master is at work, using spiritual fungicide to cleanse those undesired blemishes.

Jesus bursts forth with the good news for the woman caught in adultery, not that she escaped the condemnation of the crowd, but that her wounds have been healed with forgiveness, and she has been freed from the stains of sin. I bet she came home rejoicing that day, with a great sense of true happiness.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ: How are we filling our spiritual room during Lent? 

I hope and pray we are letting Christ’s light penetrate and cleanse everything in our physical, mental, and spiritual lives, that we aim our gaze on him alone, getting ready to raise up our minds and hearts to march with Jesus to Jerusalem.

JMJ (Together in prayer with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph),

Deacon Ton Nguyen
Archdiocese of Chicago

REFLECTION FOR THE FOURTH WEEK OF LENT

I always thought I was the prodigal son, the one who ran away from home and squandered all his money, only to realize that things were better back home with his father.  In a way I was like that too – away from the Church in college, spending my time and money on things that were not good for me. I realized things were better back “at home” in the Church when I experienced God’s love and mercy and found my vocational call to the priesthood.

As I studied in seminary, something happened that I didn’t anticipate and didn’t realize at first: I became like the second son. The one who never really left home. The one comfortable and complacent where he was. The one that didn’t use the gifts he received from his father. Worst of all, the one that refused to enter into his father’s house and was jealous of the welcome his prodigal brother received.

Regardless of the path they have chosen, both sons are called to receive the mercy and love of their father, and God our Father calls us in the same way. It doesn’t matter if we are like the prodigal son who runs away from home only to hit rock bottom, or like the second son, who doesn’t leave home, doesn’t share what he has, and doesn’t really enter into his father’s house.

God is calling all of us to simply enter into his joy, to let go of things that are harmful for us, and to let go of the past. If we don’t, we are, as Pope Benedict XVI said, being rebellious and childish. We are called to be in a mature relationship with God that’s based on gratitude and authentic love. Once we are ready to embrace our call to experience the joy of being in the house of God, we will find our Father not only waiting, but running to meet us along the way.

Deacon Victor Trinidad
Diocese of San Jose, CA

REFLECTION FOR THE THIRD WEEK OF LENT

Being an avid fly fisherman, I have spent countless days and nights in search of fish and solitude – from the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico to the wilderness of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. No matter how many times I walk into these quiet and desolate places, there is always a heightened sense of awareness that accompanies it. It is peaceful, yet you are aware of the dangers that exist out there. You become sensitive to your surroundings as you listen to the wind, the leaves, the river, the birds, the animals, the gravel beneath your feet, and most importantly, your thoughts.

There is a reason why Jesus leads us into the desert for Lent, and that is to strip away the distractions of our daily life. The desert solitude gives room for us to readjust our lives towards God’s will for us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.”

Our challenge is to make Lent less about sacrifice, and more about right ordering through our Lenten practices. Lent is a beautiful gift given to us by God through his Church. It is not about losing weight or curbing our vices – both of which are good and noble things – but it’s about reordering our lives toward God, and remembering that we are made for God. Our sacrifices and almsgiving are designed to increase our conversations with God, and to remind us that Jesus is in the desert preparing himself for the march towards Jerusalem.

In the desert of Lent we can cultivate the virtuous habit of caring for God’s people. Here, during Lent, we can refocus our relationship with Jesus through acts of justice in almsgiving to those who are not as fortunate as ourselves. Our Lenten sacrifice should be an agent of justice to both God and neighbor.

The most important event in the history of the world was the Resurrection of Christ. We must not waste this time of preparation on the foolishness of this world, but focus on preparing ourselves for heaven.

Jesus meets us every Sunday with hope, and with food for the journey out of the slavery of sin and selfishness. In reflecting on today’s beautiful parable of the fig tree from the gospel of St. Luke, we can come to understand that the Eucharist is a great fruit of Christ made available through his Church. Let us cultivate ourselves in our desert and prepare to meet him.

Deacon Mark McGeary
Diocese of Des Moines, IA

REFLECTION FOR THE SECOND WEEK OF LENT

At times, we can allow darkness to consume our lives: listening to and spreading the latest and juiciest gossip, turning our backs on the least among us who desperately need assistance, or allowing a sense of apathy to keep us from actively working to help build the kingdom of God here on earth. The movie Star Wars puts it very succinctly: do not underestimate the power of the dark side. Thankfully, we have assistance in turning away from this darkness, and that assistance comes from Jesus.

Our Responsorial Psalm this Sunday declares that “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” Jesus also provides us with a glimpse into his light and glory in today’s Gospel. “While he was praying, his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory…”

Being human and imperfect, we can sometimes find ourselves outside of Jesus’ light…walking in darkness, stumbling and colliding with the obstacles in that darkness. But we are not out of luck. We are not doomed to continue walking in darkness.

We are called to walk in the light of Jesus. We are also called to act in the light of Jesus, for in the light of Jesus we find goodness, righteousness and truth. This light that we walk in can be seen in the ways we behave and treat others. By walking and acting in the light of Jesus, we become beacons for others to join us in Jesus’ light. We help light the path for them to walk and live as children of light.

We turn to Jesus and his Church to help us find our way out of the darkness through our Lenten practices, including the sacrament of Reconciliation. These Lenten practices cleanse us and prepare us to encounter the light and glory of Jesus, just like what the disciples encountered on that mountain. In this Lenten season, let us work on rebuilding our relationship with Jesus so we may once again become children of light—walking and acting out of goodness, righteousness, and truth.

Deacon Jim Goerend
Archdiocese of Dubuque, IA

REFLECTION FOR THE FIRST WEEK OF LENT

Dear brothers and sisters, on this First Sunday of Lent, we are presented with the narrative of Jesus’s experience of temptation. If we read the preceding chapter to the Gospel today, we will notice that it wasn’t until after baptism at the Jordan river that our Lord was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted.

This is the same Lord who invites us at our baptism to come and share in His life. After our baptism, we are sent on mission by the Lord of all into the world. In the desert of this world, we encounter all kinds of experiences that draw our attention to the fact that we need help. Experiences that move our hearts toward the Lord who hears us whenever we cry out to Him for help.

Without the Lord, where else can our help come from? We are reminded again to hold onto our Lord, recognizing our dependence on His graces. Through the ministry of the New Family of God – the Community of Faith – we are nourished by God Himself. The sacraments we receive truly provide us the graces we need.

The Spirit of God is always at work in and through us, enabling us to make use of our gifts which bear lasting fruits. With these graces we proclaim our salvation as we open our hearts to the Lord and speak of His goodness.

May we continue to pray for one another in this wonderful season of spiritual renewal; that we may have the grace to grow in love as we spend ourselves for the sake of the Lord and share our gifts with others.

May God bless us with a Spirit-filled, holy, and fruitful Season of Lent. Amen.

Deacon Justin Agbir
Diocese of Tucson, AZ


REFLECTION FOR ASH WEDNESDAY

At one point in the Gospels, Jesus tells his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13), then he sends them out to season the world with their own lives. Today the priest reminds us that “You are dust,” then he sends us out with a very strange seasoning indeed: bearers of gray ash into a culture that is too often painted with a falsely-colored palette. Our own foreheads humble us as we pass through the streets, marked men and women, forcing others to reflect on their own fragility. They may initially stare with disdain, but a glimpse of the ashen cross is penetrating and will not soon be forgotten.

“But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?” (Matt 5:13) Tomorrow the ash will be worn away, but will the ash-bearers have lost the humility with which they were tasked to humble the world? The gray crosses are only symbols of the humility we bear: frustrated dreams, damaged marriages, chronic illnesses, unrecognized achievements, shame and guilt…. If we can resist the temptation to simply wipe away the humbling reality in our hearts like yesterday’s ashes, we open ourselves to a Lenten journey of discipleship in humility—openly bearing our recognized need for conversion into a world which fights to deny that such a need even exists, even while knowing deep down that something is terribly wrong.

So wear your ash: explicitly on this day and implicitly for the next 40. Be a catalyst for holiness by injecting your own humbling self-awareness into your relationships and encounters. Personal encounter will always be the most powerful route to Christ, whether you be the sojourner or the guide. And the more readily we bear our humility, the less likely we are to deny our need for it.

You are the ash of the earth. But if ash loses its grit, with what can it be humbled?

Father John Kartje
Rector of Mundelein Seminary