Lenten Reflections 2023 Week 1

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Week One

Sunday 26 February

Scripture: Matthew 4: 1-11

Reflection: 

Right from the start of our Lenten journey, temptation takes centre stage. We consider that the Holy Spirit actually led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil; the same devil who successfully tempted Adam and Eve, giving rise to  our capacity to sin, thus offending God and neighbour. Jesus confronts him.

Three years ago, Pope Francis authorised a change to the wording in the “Our Father,” “and lead us not into temptation” was replaced by “do not let us fall into temptation”.  God never  ever leads us into temptation.

Temptation is the most powerful of all manipulation and deceit, that our response to it, allows the  desires within us to cause us to separate ourselves from God, and creates a rift in our relationship with the person of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We are tempted and, weak in the flesh, we just seem to yield to it and seem almost powerless against it, and find ourselves in spiritual trouble.

This is precisely why the Saviour died for us. He is the unblemished “Lamb of God” whose obedience to the Father allowed us to be forgiven of our offences. None of us could have achieved this  on  our own, by our own energy and effort.

In this holy season we examine over and over again our spiritual Achilles heel and, through prayer, and bolstered by fasting, we implore God to let us perceive with clarity where we are upsetting Him. In addition, Lent gives us strength to change our attitudes and our hearts, and  to allow the Holy Spirit “to enlighten the eyes of our mind” to the darkness within us. Furthermore, Lent helps to generate within us a deep and genuine desire to ask for forgiveness and healing.

Practical Suggestion 

What can I do to avoid  being tempted in my ordinary everyday routine and activity, and how can I better organise and arrange these, with the help of God, to minimise what causes me to sin?

Prayer 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit I implore you O God to accompany me during Lent as I try to bring about change within me.  Amen.

Monday 27 February

Scripture: Matthew 25: 31 – 46 

Reflection

Today Jesus tells us in simple terms that we can be RESTORED to Holiness by loving our neighbour.  Pope St John Paul II reminded us that through our Baptism we are all called to Holiness.  Holiness, essentially, is dropping our ego and selfishness and seeking the good of others. Simply stated, but hard to do!

Today’s Gospel tells a story of the future:  The Final Judgement, where humankind will be separated into the sheep and the goats; the sheep being welcomed into eternal Life with God while the goats be damned to eternal fire.  Another view of this parable is that it is a dramatic effort to wake us up to the needs of others.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church  says “The message of the Last Judgment calls men to conversion while God is still giving them “the acceptable time, … the day of salvation.” It inspires a holy fear of God and commits them to the justice of the Kingdom of God.”  CCC1041

Jesus says “You did it to ME.” (Mt 25:40)  Jesus makes us keenly aware that He IS PRESENT in all those who are needy: refugees, homeless, poor, exploited children, unemployed workers, the depressed and sick whom no-one visits.  This passage from Scripture should prompt us to open our hearts now to our neighbours – to minister to the needy.  By doing so we will be restored to Holiness.  “Charity is the soul of the holiness to which all are called: it “governs, shapes, and perfects all the means of sanctification.”  If the Church was a body composed of different members, it couldn’t lack the noblest of all; it must have a Heart, and a Heart BURNING WITH LOVE.  If LOVE ceased to function, the Apostles would forget to preach the gospel, the Martyrs would refuse to shed their blood.  Love, in fact, is the vocation which includes all others; it’s a universe of its own, comprising all time and space – it is eternal”  CCC 826

Jesus is calling each of us to love our neighbours,  to minister to the needy around us, using the gifts that have been entrusted to us by the Holy Spirit

Practical Suggestion

REFLECT – What do you see when you encounter people in need?  Do you see the bad in them, do you see the cost to yourself in time, money and inconvenience, or do you reflect on the hidden glory of Jesus present in them?

DO – Start a new habit of being charitable to those in need.  Link it to your strengths.  E.g.  Are you compassionate and empathetic – visit the sick and lonely.  Are you a skilled craftsperson – use your skill to benefit someone in need.

Prayer

Lord God our Father, make my heart compassionate towards others.  Help me to rise to the challenge you set before me, that I may show sincere love for you through the love for my neighbour.  Help me to share the wondrous gifts you have granted to me with those who are in need.  Amen.

Tuesday 28 February

Scripture: Matthew 6: 7 – 15

Reflection

The season of Lent is a time of repentance and renewal.  On this the first Tuesday of Lent, the Gospel calls us to reflect on one of the three pillars of Lent: Prayer.  

As we prepare our hearts for conversion, prayer can lead us to a closer relationship with God. Through prayer we are able to immerse ourselves fully in the spirit of Lent. Pope Francis said, “Lent is a privileged time for prayer.”  When we dedicate time for prayer, we will find that prayer gives us the strength to fast, abstain and give alms.  Like Jesus in the desert, prayer helps us to face temptation and gives us strength to do the will of our heavenly Father. 

What does Jesus teach us about prayer in today’s Gospel?  He says, “In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do, for they think by using many words they will make themselves heard.” Jesus then goes on to give us the prayer we know as the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ – the perfect prayer.  We know that this prayer came directly from the mouth of Jesus.  In it we are made aware that prayer is not for God’s sake, but for our own.  We become aware of our dependance on God for all our needs.  It also gives us a list of things to pray for which includes forgiveness: “Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us.”  In other words when we pray to be forgiven by God, we must be ready to forgive those who have wronged us.  In the final part of today’s Gospel, Jesus assures us that if we forgive others their failings, our heavenly Father will forgive us our failings; but if we do not forgive others, our Father will not forgive our failings either. 

The message is simple yet demanding – forgive and be forgiven!  The Lenten season is not just about reconciliation with God but also reconciliation with our brothers and sisters.  We can use Lent as a time of prayer, asking God to soften our hearts so that we will be able to forgive those who have wronged us and to ask for forgiveness from those we have wronged.  Prayer can both humble us and soften our hearts as we prepare ourselves for reconciliation. 

Practical Suggestion

Most Christians learnt the Our Father or Lord’s Prayer by heart as a child.  Familiarity, as we know, makes us complacent.  We can recite this prayer without meaning or giving it any thought.  Pray the Lord’s Prayer slowly, deliberately, meaningfully, and intentionally. 

Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen. 

Wednesday 1 March 

Scripture: Jonah 3: 1 – 10.  Luke 11: 29 – 32. “let everyone renounce his evil behaviour and the wicked things he has done.”

Reflection:   

We are all dependent on ‘signs’ of one kind or another – whether it is the one that prevents us from doing something wrong while driving, or the physical signs that warn us of an impending cold or disease.  In life, when we are feeling overwhelmed or desperate, we pray, “Lord, give me a sign!’

Jonah was the ‘sign’ for the people of Nineveh.  Whatever it was that he said, he convinced the king of the need for ‘conversion’, which resulted in the whole nation ‘putting on sackcloth and ashes’ and repenting of their ‘evil ways’.  The result?  They were ‘redeemed’ and ‘forgiven’ by God.

Jesus called the people of His time to see the ‘sign’ that was right in front of them – Himself, to do as the people of Nineveh did, and to repent!

We too need to hear and heed that call – and to be assured that if we are truly penitent, Jesus stands ready to ‘wipe the slate clean’!

Practical Suggestion

Look back on your spiritual and your physical life.  Can you recognize the ‘signs’ that were there when God was leading you where you needed to go?  Did you always follow those signs?

Prayer

Father God, give me the grace to recognize the signs you place on my path; the courage to heed your directions even when it leads to a road ‘less travelled’.  Amen.

Thursday 2 March 

Scripture: Matthew 7: 7 – 12

Reflection

From the beginning of time, God’s desire was to create us with the intention of having a loving relationship with us.

When God became incarnate in the person of Jesus, He ransomed us from the penalty of eternal death. He offered us healing from the ravaging effects of evil. He has restored us as His own children through our Baptism, and He continues to forgive us for our sins and shortcomings. 

During Lent we are called to look inwards and, through prayer and fasting, to deepen our relationship with Jesus. It is a time for spiritual growth, and it gives us the opportunity for a greater focus on our faith.  It is also a time to look outwards and to “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12)

Toady Jesus gives us a glimpse of three ways we are able to deepen our relationship with Him when we pray.  Through our daily prayer we not only petition our Father for our daily needs, but we also ask Him to reveal His perfect plan for our lives. We seek His will and deepen our relationship with Jesus by reading and searching the Gospels for His truth. We knock and the Holy Spirit opens the door to knowledge, wisdom and understanding so that we can better appreciate the messages that God wants to convey to us.

When we pray, our focus should not be solely on the acquisition of material possessions (Matthew 6:32-33) but rather we should pray for the treasures which can be stored up in Heaven. (Matthew 6:20-21). Jesus gives us the assurance that our Father in heaven will most certainly give good things to those who ask Him. (Matthew 7:11). 

Practical Suggestion

God is constantly revealing Himself to us through His creation, through scripture, and through the people and experiences which He brings into our lives. Make time to be quiet and to listen.  Hear God speaking in the stillness of your heart. Use Lent to look and listen.

Prayer

Father, thank you for all the good things I have in my life. Thank you for revealing yourself to me through Your son Jesus. Help me to deepen my relationship with You by following the perfect example of Jesus and with the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Friday 3 March 

Scripture: Matthew 5: 20 – 26

Reflection

The scribes and Pharisees prided themselves on their strict observance of the Law, but for many it was an outward show, not an inner, heartfelt acceptance and obedience.

It is easy for us to fall into the same trap. We can very self-righteously proclaim that we have never broken the commandment ‘You must not kill.’  For Jesus, however, it goes much deeper than that!  Calling some “Fool” or “Renegade” and being angry with someone is breaking the commandment.  For example, many of us delight in gossip, without even knowing whether the stories we have heard about another are actually true, but we repeat them and know that others will do the same.  By doing this we kill the good name and reputation of another.  That’s what Jesus means when he quotes the commandment “You shall not kill.” 

The followers of Jesus are expected to be more thoughtful, charitable, considerate, and kind than those, like the scribes and Pharisees, who outwardly observed the commandments while in their hearts and minds they harboured negative attitudes thoughts about others.

Jesus takes his teaching much further. He says, “if you are bringing your offering to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering.”  WOW!  Where does this leave us?  At Mass we present ourselves as an offering to God at the Offertory, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  This is quite a challenge if we are to take Jesus at his word.

Now we understand why Mass begins with a Penitential Rite as we confess our sins to God and ask forgiveness; why the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) is so important to be reconciled with God and our brother.

Lent takes us on a journey deep into our hearts to change our attitude, behaviour, and lifestyle.  This is the metanoia of Lent by which we are Ransomed, Healed, Restored and Forgiven. 

Practical Suggestion

Go to confession tomorrow, at the beginning of Lent and again at the Penitential Service at the end of Lent.  This will help you to modify and change your attitude, behaviour, and lifestyle so that your virtue will go deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees.

Prayer

Change my heart O God so that I may follow Jesus with a lively faith and experience the renewal this holy season offers. Amen.

Saturday 4 March 

Scripture: Matthew 5: 43 – 48

Reflection

“You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Who among us can call ourselves ‘perfect’?  We are mindful of our many flaws, failings, and imperfections – although there are Catholics who must obviously believe they are perfect because they don’t believe in Confession or go to Confession.

Our whole life is a journey towards being as perfect as we can be.  We are constantly trying, succeeding sometimes, and failing at other times, but we never stop trying.  Instead of writing-off Jesus’ command to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us, we try even harder than before.  Our Lenten observances help us in the journey to perfection. We should be better people by the end of Lent if we take the teachings of Jesus to heart as we heard yesterday and again today.

It is not easy to love those who do not like us, and those who persecute us.  But when we embrace the beautiful attitudes of Jesus (Beatitudes) which is part of the Sermon on the Mount (yesterdays and today’s scripture), we begin to experience His transforming presence in our lives.

Jesus is aware that what he asks his followers to do is not easy, so he gives us all the strength, help, and guidance we need through the gift of himself in the Eucharist.  This personal encounter with him, offered to us daily, is the source of our effort to grow to perfection.  Lent is the perfect opportunity to do this.

Practical Suggestion

Prepare for Mass tomorrow, the Second Sunday of Lent.  The Gospel of the Transfiguration will reveal the Father’s divine plan for us, as he revealed it to Jesus on the mountain. Make a conscious preparation to unite yourself with Jesus at Mass and to welcome him in the Holy Eucharist.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, in calling us to be perfect as the Father is perfect, you give us an example by having come among us to share in our humanity.  Help me to resist the temptations and the ways of the world to focus rather on following you and imitating your obedience to the Father. Amen.

These Daily Reflections for Lent 2023 are written by George Cominos,  Mike Montocchio, Fr. Wandile Cagwe, Irene Helsdon, Veronica Donnelly and Fr. Desmond Nair.  Please acknowledge the authors when copying and distributing.  We wish you a fruitful and blessed Lenten Season that you may be Ransomed, Healed, Restored and Forgiven.

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