The Scripture readings from this reflection: Sirach 27: 4-7; Psalm 92: 2-3, 13-14, 15-16; 1 Corinthians 15:54-58; Luke 6:39-45
In our Gospel reading for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus is preaching to a large crowd who has come not only from across Judea, but from Gentile regions as well. His message to the people, and to us, is a familiar one: Do not be so quick to judge your brother for his faults, for the splinter in his eye, when you may have even greater faults, is a wooden beam in your own eye.
Jesus is not saying that we should never judge. We were given an intellect and reason so that we can make judgments. If we see a child running after a ball that is rolling toward the street, we must judge that as a dangerous situation. We cannot be indifferent about it. And, we must act quickly on that judgment to protect the child from being injured. However, we are not judging the child. We are judging the action of the child based on the harm that could result.
How can Catholics and Christians approach Lent this year in a fresh way? Two authors provided their insights on how to make Lent meaningful in 2022 —especially since this is the third Lent the Church will observe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Think of Lent as a season of rest, said Paul Jarzembowski, author of the 2022 book Hope from the Ashes: Insights and Resources for Welcoming Lenten Visitors. Many people come back and connect to the Church during Lent because “there’s something that’s weighing heavy on their hearts,” Jarzembowski said. “Lent is a time where the Church invites people to lay a lot of those issues at the feet of the Lord and to go through Lent alongside Jesus who is also, we see in Lent, is walking that journey too,” added Jarzembowski, associate director for the laity in the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the USCCB.
Tsh Oxenreider, writer, Podcaster, and author of the 2022 devotional Bitter & Sweet: A Journey Into Easter, said that this third Lent of the pandemic is unique in that many are saying they are ready to reembrace Lent again. “It was almost like the first Lent snuck up on us” at the beginning of the pandemic and “we were just in survival mode,” Oxenreider said. “Then the second Lent came around and it was like, what we just had Lent. We’ve been in Lent this whole time; it feels like it.” But now in 2022 many are realizing the value of the rhythms of the liturgical calendar and are acknowledging the good Lent provides in our lives, Oxenreider said.
One way to refresh your Lenten practice this year is to connect how you observe the three traditional pillars of Lent: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. “See if there are creative ways you can dovetail what you sense God calling you fast from with your prayer and your giving,” she said. Together with your fasting, “Is there some sort of giving you can do toward local food situations? … Focus some of your prayer on food insecurity around the world.” “Not only does that check those boxes with giving and prayer, but it actually provides more meaning to the fast,” Oxenreider said.
To approach Lent with a fresh perspective, try to find moments of silence, Jarzembowski suggested. “Lent affords us some time to really be quiet. If that’s quiet in one’s personal prayer space; if that’s quiet getting in the car and going over to a church or a sacred space; if that’s Online. Wherever someone can find that quiet and you know that you have the time to do,” he said. Jarzembowski compared Lent to baseball’s spring training in that both are practice seasons. “During spring training, you practice on the fundamentals. You try things out you’ve never tried before so that when it’s time for the regular season, what we would call after Easter, you’ve had this time to practice. During Lent, (practice) moments to just shut it down” to gift yourself with moments of silence, pause, and reflection, he added.
But while it’s important to find moments of quiet, it’s also important to connect with others. “Lent is often about that inner journey; it is often about our personal commitment but we sometimes go to too far in personal and privatize Lent,” Jarzembowski said. More people are observing Lent than we realize, he said. “Maybe someone you didn’t expect, maybe someone who doesn’t go to church often, who might be having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches alongside you. Maybe they’re giving up chocolate just like you.”
TOGETHER, WE ARE BODY OF CHRIST
This year, “ask the Lord for the gift of boldness to be a little more free to talk with our friends and our family with about what we’re doing and ask what they’re doing,” Jarzembowski said. “There’s something to be said about making it a season that helps us remember we’re a Church, we’re not just individual Christians and walking around earth and just coincidentally at the same time,” Oxenreider said. “We are a body, and this is something that we do together for whatever reason. God set us so that we needed each other and so it makes sense that we would need each other for Lent.” For Oxenreider, art and music are two avenues to fostering a shared Lenten experience.
In her book, Bitter & Sweet, Oxenreider includes titles of songs to listen to daily as well as pieces of art to contemplate weekly. Art and music “can be a source of talking among your family and your friends about your Lenten experience and it doesn’t all have to just stay in your head,” she said.
Parishes are key in creating community during Lent, and parishes should consider devoting careful attention to planning thoughtful Lenten programs. “Any Lenten program should have a first impression where someone should feel it’s accessible. For instance, a stress relief night could be something we could use,” Jarzembowski suggested. “It’s language that accessible. You can feature prayers, songs. There could be opportunities for devotions, for rosary,” he added. “Helping people understand that this is how we in our faith tradition relieve stress.”
The Scripture readings from this reflection: 1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor. How can you love your neighbor when most of the time you do not even know your neighbor?
In the Gospel today, Jesus goes even further and tells us to “Love your enemies.” Just how easy is it to love your enemies? It may be easy to say, “I love everyone, even my enemies.” But how hard is it to do it? When the paralytic was lowered through the roof in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus told him that his sins were forgiven. The scribes grumbled and said that only God can forgive sins. Jesus asks, is it easier to say your sins are forgiven, or to say take up your mat and walk? Of course, it is easier to say your sins are forgiven. We cannot see our sins being forgiven. But all of us can see the person get up and walk. Again, it is easier to say, I love myenemies than to actually love them.
From Jan. 4-11, 2022, the Bishops of Episcopal Region IX, that is the Bishops of Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri gathered at Prince of Peace Abbey, in California, for our annual retreat. Our retreat director was The Most Rev. Peter Sartain, Bishop Emeritus of Seattle.
It is always good to gather with brother bishops but the beautiful thing about this retreat is that for the most part, it is a silent retreat. Can you imagine a gathering of bishops with no talking? It is a dream come true! We take our meals in silence, avoid any public conversations and the only time set aside for conversation is half an hour before the evening meal when we have a drink of our favorite soda. We are free to pray with the monks if we wish or we can make our own schedule. The daily schedule includes two conferences and the celebration of Holy Mass with the monks and those who attend from the neighborhood.
Scripture readings for this reflection: Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 1:1-2, 3, 4, 6; 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20; Luke 6:17, 20-26
Roughly a year prior to my ordination as a Permanent Deacon in May 2018, one of our formation topics was on catechetics or, said another way, how to educate others in the faith. The instructor shared many documents written over the years on the necessity of teaching the faith and how to do it.
One of the methods that actually surprised me, yet interested me, was that of sharing our personal story on why I am a follower of Jesus Christ. To that end, the instructor had us write a two-minute testimony that each of us would share with the entire class. He stressed that a personal testimony or witness is often the most effective method of connecting with others. It comes from the heart and one’s personal experiences in which others can relate.