Preparing for Lent

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Journey to Jerusalem

Brief reflections on the week’s Scripture readings
Preparing for Lent,

Fasting is a hot topic in diet and health news these days… “intermittent” fasting, that is. It is touted as a way  to lose weight and be more healthy, which is great, but makes “fasting” into a self-serving practice.


I contrast this with a story my mom told me about a girl she knew when she was young

who gave up chocolate for Lent. This girl would buy a candy bar everyday and eat all of them on Sunday, which I guess used to be the day of the week you didn’t need to fast. I think that girl missed the point!


I wonder: do I miss the point too? Is any fasting I do over these forty days self-serving as well?

I tend to make my fasting about behavior rather than food or drink,  but I have to be careful it is not a pro forma, check-box activity just to fulfill an obligation.  This Lent, we will focus on the topic of fasting as the Spirit leads us. This week’s readings provide a good start.


Sunday, February 19: “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lv 19:1-2, 17-18) “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:38-48).

“Be perfect.” Yeesch! Like we need to hear that! Those of you who have accompanied me for a while know I always pause at this reading to explain the Greek word used here—“telios”—the meaning of which is more akin to maturity or wisdom or reaching perfection through ripening, as a fruit would. We might look at today’s readings and wonder what they have to do with fasting as a way to perfection. Look closely: the reading from Leviticus is about fasting from negativity and grudges. The second reading is about knowing ourselves as temples of the Holy Spirit and learning about God’s wisdom. And the gospel reading ties into that by instructing us to fast from “the wisdom of this world” that might lead us to “an eye for an eye” reaction. We try to fast from typical human reactive stances, which are often childish, and instead, respond to situations with God’s wisdom, maturity, and “perfection.”

Today’s Provision: “What would love have me do?” We considered this question last Sunday in talking about discernment, but it calls for continued prayer, especially in these times when we have grown even more impatient with life and each other. We witness childish and spiteful behavior even in the halls of government and from the pulpits of churches. Some seem to cherish the sweet taste of comeuppance and revenge, even though it sours quickly and does nothing more than fuel the fire. This Lenten season, see if you can commit to fasting from reacting, and instead try responding, if not with love, then with patience and tolerance.

Monday, February 20: “O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you.” …the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:14-29).

How about this for a set-up? We talk all about patience and here, Jesus lashes out in impatience! He’s human, you know, so take heart. He’s just descended from the mountain after the Transfiguration, and I dare say likely a bit dazed! Wouldn’t you be? The father is this story is impatient too. He believes, yet is worn down by seeing his son suffer and by trying so hard for so long to “fix” it for his son. Wouldn’t you be? A lesson from this passage: Jesus is desperate for his followers to understand what it takes to heal. It’s not about what we do. It is about calling upon the God within us.

Today’s Provision: Fast from “I can do this myself!” Parents are familiar with this phrase, and in the ministry of child-rearing, it’s an important sign kids are ready for some independence. If safety and prudence allow, let them do it themselves. Let them learn from failure and repeated effort. It is how they become resilient which is best learned when they are young—it’s not so far to fall. But we tend to do this throughout our lives even in situations where our best efforts will fall woefully short. Jesus tells us about the need for prayer when it comes to healing. What’s the malady you’ve been struggling for years to fix by yourself? If you’ve prayed about it, what has your prayer been? Has it been only for strength, or have you also prayed for God’s grace so you will let go of your expectations in favor of God’s will?

Tuesday, February 21: Incline your ear and receive the word of understanding, undisturbed in time of adversity. Wait on God, with patience” (Sir 2:1-11; found in the Apocrypha in Protestant bibles).

Another translation: “make not haste in times of trouble.” We talked last week about Ignatian discernment. One of the key tenets: don’t make decisions in times of desolation or adversity. Instead, turn to God. Wait on God.

Today’s Provision: Be in solidarity with those who suffer. We all face adversity; some, like the victims of the recent earthquake, extreme adversity and desperation. For those who survived, waiting on God in complete surrender is the only option. Think about them if you are struggling, trying to rush through whatever adversity you face. Offer that struggle up in solidarity with those who have no choice but to wait on God. In reality, that is all of us.

Wednesday, February 22: When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting”
(Mt 6:1-6, 16-18).

This year, the Spirit has led in a totally different direction with this gospel, so bear with me. Perhaps it’s because I’m hearing so much about the rise in suicides. Many people hide their suffering. Instead of the hypocrites—the “playactors” as described in the Greek—who show off their fast by being gloomy, those who really suffer often hide behind a mask of cheerfulness, the “oh, everything is just fine” face. They are “playactors” as well, but not hypocrites at all. Instead, like wounded animals, they hide, afraid in their vulnerability. Jesus invites all of us to come out of hiding, to show our true selves, so we can be healed.  

Today’s Provision: Pray for the grace of authenticity. I think I’ll be spending more time with this one. Those who are desperate don’t need to be told they are being inauthentic. That’s not what I am getting at. Jesus invites us to put aside playacting, to be our real selves. No, we don’t show off our piety like some badge of honor (which sometimes shows itself in judgment of others). Those of us gifted with knowing God’s mercy and compassion need to fast from self-centeredness, to be more aware of those who put on a good face while suffering in silence; to look into the eyes of those we encounter, to be a source of hope, and to invite their real selves to a place of comfort and healing.

Thursday, February 23: “He is like a tree planted near running water that yields its fruit in due season and whose leaves never fade” (Ps 1).

What kind of tree are you and where are you planted? I love natural images to describe our lives. I’m particularly struck by the image of running water. Ever-changing, bringing new nutrients and life from high atop the mountains. The tree, as a result, is ever-changing as well, nourished by the flowing water that makes all things new. I am afraid many of us are stuck near stagnant pools, running dry on nutrients that keep us from growing closer to our Creator.

Today’s Provision: Fast from stagnation. “Wait a minute: I’m planted already. Am I supposed to uproot and start over?” For some, this may be where God is calling, but it requires patient discernment and is not the only way to affect change. Questions for you: Are you bearing the good fruit of love and welcome and compassion? Is your faith still a vibrant source of hope that doesn’t fade? Then, I’d argue your pool is not stagnant, but that still water runs deep. What about inviting new sources of living water into your pool? Instead of the “same old, same old,” choose a modern translation of Scripture or read an author whose views on faith challenge you to open your mind and heart. Send your roots even deeper into the pool by reading the writings of the mystics to learn to become one yourself. “The Christian of the future will be a mystic, or they will not exist at all” (Karl Rahner, SJ). (Frankly, I think we are seeing this in real time. I’m not sure much of what is being portrayed as Christianity today has much to do with Christ.)

Friday, February 24:Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?”  (Is 58:1-9a).

OK, I can’t say our theme for Lent is fasting and ignore this line. What do you call a fast? The kind of fast that would make your voice heard on high? This reading from Isaiah is very clear and to the point, and is always used by our Jewish relatives in the Yom Kippur morning service as a reminder of what constitutes a sincere fast.  

Today’s Provision: Fast like you mean it. For many of us, at least in the West, a sincere fast may have something to do with our calendars. Look ahead over the next few weeks. We all have responsibilities and obligations, but I’m not talking about those.  Nor am I am talking about time allotted for true self-care: prayer, exercise, etc. (No, I don’t usually have that time allotted either!) Tomorrow, Isaiah talks about keeping the Sabbath—a day of rest—what a concept! What can you do—or not do—in a meaningful way so that you might fulfill the kind of fast God desires: freeing those oppressed, feeding the hungry and homeless, allowing God to be your “rear guard” as opposed to whatever it is now—money, “likes,” “stuff,” busyness. (I’ll leave you to contemplate what that means in your life!)

Saturday, February 25: "’Repairer of the breach,’ they shall call you, ‘Restorer of ruined homesteads’” (Is 58:9b-14).

This honorable title—Repairer of the Breach—is a powerful biblical image for me. I use it a lot in my own prayer. It is that much more striking in the face of the physical breach and the images of ruined homesteads in Turkey and Syria.  I struggle when disasters like this happen, feeling impotent to do much of anything, so I pray. Donations to reputable aid organizations are also essential right now, but what else can we do to alleviate suffering?

Today’s Provision: Fast from helplessness. I just did a quick internet search looking for Turkish and Syrian organizations in my community. Every metropolitan area has these organizations. Contact them to see if there are any practical things you can do. I read about local folks working with an international aid organization to pack medical and hygiene supplies for shipment. (I encourage you to make financial donations to well-known aid organizations:, Catholic Relief Services, Doctors Without Borders.) Maybe you have Turkish or Syrian neighbors. Reach out to them with compassion. Let them share their grief. And continue to pray, pray, pray for God’s mercy.

Living the Word …

*(Note: if you are interested in learning about the Spiritual Exercises and Ignatian Discernment, go to Also, the book written BY Ignatius about the Exercises is for a director, not an exercitant—you’ll find it very dry and confusing! It is best to do the Exercises with a trained guide, using a book written specifically for the one doing the exercises.)

How do you go about making decisions? As we grow in wisdom, we realize not everything is cut and dry. We can’t always rely on the words of the Law. Instead, we look to Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law. No, deciding which soup to buy at the grocery store doesn’t require discernment, but perhaps how much money you spend on things beyond what you need does. Here’s an easy question to ask when you are faced with a time for discernment: “What would love—God—have me do here?”

Mon, Feb 13: “If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master” (Gn 4:1-15, 25). Cain has a choice to make. God even warns him. I find it interesting God tells Cain that sin’s urge is toward him; it’s not the other way around. Reflection/Provision: Let’s think about this: some more wisdom from St. Ignatius’ exercises explains how the counter-spirit—the demon in this story—works to break us down. One way is hitting our weak spots. What is Cain’s weak spot? His ego, his pride, his wanting to be the best in God’s eyes? I wonder how he would feel if his gifts were accepted along with Abel’s. Would that have been enough for him? Pride is an issue for me, too. How about for you? I have to remind myself every so often to ask that question: “What would love have me do here?”

Tue, Feb 14: When the LORD saw how great was man's wickednessthe LORD said: "I will wipe out the men whom I created…” But Noah found favor with the LORD (Gn 6:5-8, 7:1-5, 10). Reflection/Provision: During my prayer time this morning, after having read the headlines, I journaled: “How are you doing these days, Lord? I know love never fails, but it must be discouraging to see how awful humanity can be—it’s a broken record—kind of like what you felt around the Great Flood: just wipe ‘em all out! I’d like to think I could be one you’d ask to build an ark, to keep things afloat. The ark, Noah—they are signs of hope. Let me be a sign of hope, even if it seems foolish in the eyes of the world.” On this Valentine’s Day, when we celebrate love with shiny red hearts and pictures of little cherubs with bows and arrows, let us turn our attention instead to the hard work of loving one another—even our enemies—during these dark times of war, famine, and violence. Let’s all strive to be an “ark,” a sign of hope. Amen.

Wed, Feb 15: Precious in the eyes of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones (Ps 116). Reflection/Provision: I finally decided to research what “precious” means in this psalm. It doesn’t mean God is happy that one of the faithful has died and is now with him. That’s a nice thought but not very comforting to those left behind. The Hebrew word does mean precious, but in the sense of costly or worthy. Scholars suggest this verse says God does not take the death of the faithful lightly. Take comfort that God values not the death but the lives of the faithful.

Thu, Feb 16: Peter said, “You are the Christ.” … He began to teach them the Son of Man must suffer greatly… Peter rebuked] him. He looked] at his disciples, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does” (Mk 8:27-33). Peter’s pronouncement is not happening in some rural area but in Caesarea Philippi with its temples dedicated to Roman deities. The contrast is purposeful. Peter’s view, as is the view of Jews at the time, is of a mighty conqueror to overthrow the infidels, not as Isaiah’s suffering servant. Reflection/Provision: I wonder if Jesus rebukes me: “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Is the story in Revelations just another human take on what we want a god to be, and not what God really is? Jesus told us clearly where we’d find him: in the hungry, the naked, the prisoner. Is the pride we spoke of Monday leading us astray? Pray about this.

Fri, Feb 17: “Come, let us build…a tower in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves” (Gn 11:1-9). Reflection/ Provision: In the documentary, The Letter, that I mentioned last week, Pope Francis uses the story of Babel, referring to it as “the tower of arrogance.” He expands the story to say the workers on the tower were expendable. If one fell, the powers that be would just replace them. He compared it to the powers that be today striving to make a name for themselves, who have no thought of the poor or the menial workers who labor: “If one falls, there are plenty more where they came from.” I reflect on the areas of my life that tacitly support those whose only goal is to make a name for themselves at the expense of the poor. Mind you, not all “big” business or government is bad. Do research and support ethical entities that strive to make life better for everyone.

Sat, Feb 18: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Suddenly, looking around, the disciples no longer saw anyone
but Jesus alone with them
(Mk 9:2-13). Reflection/Provision: I wonder if the story of the transfiguration is another attempt to get the disciples—at least these three—to understand the kind of Messiah Jesus is. Of course, Peter wants to do what he thinks humans are supposed to do in the presence of the Divine: build an altar, put up a tent, commemorate the event, rather than remembering what God said to David hundreds of years before: “I have been with you wherever you have gone.” They then see Jesus just as he is and descend the mountain, so Jesus can do what Jesus has been doing and continues to do today: being with us wherever we go. Let us give thanks and praise for this ever-present God. Let us listen to what he says to us today.

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