Friday, February 26, 2021

Lockdown and Gospel - Day 48, February 26 (Friday of the first week of Lent)

« You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times… But I say to you… » (Matthew 5:21a.22a)

 

In the Sermon on the Mount as retold by Matthew, Jesus emphasizes the contrast between the traditions received from the scribes and his own teaching. As we read this sermon, we could think that Jesus is simply inviting his listeners to aim higher, to practise their religion more fervently. However, we would be mistaken. Jesus invites us instead to reconsider our whole life in the light of the Father’s merciful love for his children. Jesus is not primarily concerned with the quality of our religious “practise,” but with the transformation of our hearts brought about by an experience of ongoing relationship with him.

I hear Catholic leaders express their fear that, because of this lockdown, people might get used to not practising their religion. They wonder if there will be fewer people at church once the pandemic is over. It’s possible. But is this the real question? For Jesus, religious practice is secondary in view of the relationship he calls me to live with him. From that relationship will flow a renewed and committed religious practice that can give meaning to my life.

Abba, Father, I have difficulty “practising” my religion during this confinement. But perhaps this is the opportunity to get to the heart of the question, to rediscover your Son Jesus living in me. Fill me with your Spirit so that I might respond whole-heartedly to his love, a love that changes everything.

Amen.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Lockdown and Gospel - Day 46, February 22 (Wednesday of the first week of Lent)

The queen of Sheba came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! (Luke 11:21)

 

Jesus expresses his frustration at the lack of reception his message receives from the religious leaders of Israel. He reminds them how a pagan woman like the Queen of Sheba travelled a long way to come and listen to King Solomon, renowned for his wisdom. Jesus is there, in the midst of his people; no one needs to travel a long way to come and hear him, the living wisdom of God. How sad that they do not take advantage of his nearness.

I notice around me good Catholics who are enthusiastic about people who claim to have the truth about COVID (which, according to them, is only a set-up), about vaccines (which they believe should not be taken), about government efforts (who they imagine want to violate our freedoms) and even about the Pope (whom they claim to be a fake). I wish they put as much energy into listening to the teaching of Jesus, handed on by the Church and lived out by the saints as they do on these conspiracy theorists.

Abba, Father, free me from my fears and anxieties. Help me to trust the men and women who have a responsibility to seek the common good during this pandemic. Change my heart so that, in all things, I seek first to deepen my relationship with your son, Jesus, the source of all true wisdom.

Amen.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Lockdown and Gospel - Day 42, February 20 (Saturday after Ash Wednesday)

Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him. (Luke 5 :27–28)

 

In calling Levi–also known as Matthew–Jesus invites a man of bad reputation to become his disciple. Indeed, publicans, who collected taxes for the Romans, were seen as traitors, men who got rich off the backs of the poor of Israel. This didn’t stop Jesus who only sees a human being in need of God’s love if he is to be transformed. From a static, rigid position, seated at his desk, Levi gets up and walks: he is resurrected to a new life.

Living Lent during this pandemic doesn’t seem easy to me. Isn’t this lockdown a kind of Lenten season that doesn’t seem to end? It’s true, if I equate Lent with “doing penance,” then Lent began long before Ash Wednesday this year. However, if I understand Lent as an opportunity to leave a static and rigid spiritual position to engage more deeply in following Jesus, these forty days could truly lead to a resurrection.

Abba, Father, as he heard the words of your son Jesus, Levi heard your call. He recognized in these words the possibility of a new beginning, of a dynamic life following Jesus. Grant me the generosity of heart to respond like him, whatever my past or my present may be. Help me turn to a future renewed by your presence and your love.

Amen.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Lockdown and Gospel - Day 40, February 18 (Thursday after Ash Wednesday)

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)


In popular parlance, "carrying one’s cross" means accepting to patiently endure a difficult ordeal over which one has no control. But in the mouth of Jesus, this expression says something else. For Jesus, the cross is not an ordeal to be endured, but the supreme witness of love which becomes a source of salvation for the world. He announces to his listeners that, if they want to be his disciples, they must do as he did: embark on a path of radical love that transforms every aspect of life.

In the popular conception, this pandemic is a "cross" that I must endure with patience. However, if I follow Jesus, I will seize this pandemic an opportunity to truly be his disciple. I will transform this ordeal with my words of love, by the concern I have for others, by my care for the good of all. In learning to overcome my frustrations to be more attentive to others, I transform this pandemic into a Christian "cross", a sign of love and a source of salvation for the world.

Abba, Father, from the height of the Cross, Jesus poured out your love on the world. Give me your Spirit so that I also turn all the events of my life into an occasion for love. Help me to die to my selfish moods and help others live abundantly.

Amen.


Monday, February 15, 2021

Day 37, February 15 (Monday of the sixth week of Ordinary time)

 (How does today’s Gospel speak to me during this lockdown? Allow me to share a humble reflection.)

 

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him.” (Mark 8:11)

Back in Jewish territory, Jesus is immediately assailed by the Pharisees. Despite all the signs he has given to date (exorcisms, healings and teachings), they demand an even greater sign, something spectacular. However, their mind is already closed; their request springs from mistrust, not from interest. Their understanding of God simply doesn’t align with that of Jesus. They are looking for a powerful, majestic, magician God; Jesus reveals a God of compassion and service who chooses to be close to the humble. The Pharisees and Jesus are not on the same page.

How wonderful it would be if God intervened with an extraordinary sign to end the pandemic. I would no longer have to endure confinement, masks and distancing, the sick would all be healed and humanity would believe in God! But the God of Jesus doesn’t correspond to my dreams. Rather, God is present in humble acts of service, in daily compassion, in gentle words and attentive patience.

Abba, Father, you revealed your glory and your majesty in the silence of Good Friday. You don’t dominate, you serve. You don’t impose yourself, you love. Free me from any false images I may have of you, so that I may discover you in the humble service of my brothers and sisters.

Amen.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Lockdown and Gospel - Day 33, February 13 (Saturday of the fifth week of Ordinary time)

(How does today’s Gospel speak to me during this lockdown? Allow me to share a humble reflection.)

 

His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” (Mark 8:4)

Jesus is in pagan territory, surrounded by a crowd that has been with him for three days. However, this place is deserted and Jesus worries that the people will not have the physical strength to return home. Taken with compassion, he expresses his concern to his disciples, who respond with the question quoted above. They see no way out of the problem Jesus has set before them. Then Jesus himself takes the situation in hand: he multiplies the little bread they have, and the crowd is fed.

I have the feeling of being on a rigorous fast since the beginning of this lockdown. I am not fasting from food – I have it in abundance – but from friendships, shared activities and family gatherings. The lockdown seems like a relational desert. I understand the apostles' frustration: where can I find something to satisfy my yearning in such a desert? TV shows, puzzles and solitary walks no longer suffice. However, Jesus can take what little I have - phone calls, text messages, little gifts exchanged by mail - and multiply their scope and impact in my life. My poverty can become wealth in his Spirit.

Abba, Father, this lockdown obliges me to endure a relational fast, even a spiritual one. Renew my trust in Jesus who, still today, can multiply the bread that is mine. May the brief and fleeting encounters that make up my life these days, however poor they may be, generate in me a deep richness which will satisfy my yearning. From the abundance that I will then discover in myself, I will be able to feed others.

Amen. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Lockdown and Gospel - Day 33, February 11 (Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes)

(How does today's gospel call me to live this lockdown? Allow me to share my humble reflection with you.)


On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ (John 2:1.3)

In the gospel of John, Jesus’s first miracle is not a healing, but a transformation of water into wine. Wine isn’t necessary for survival, but it represents all the "plus" in life that gives it taste, warmth and colour. Mary recognizes that it's not enough to survive, you have to live, too.

This lockdown forces me to put aside all the 'plus' of my life. Right now, I must simply focus on survival, and I find this painful. However, still today, Jesus can transform what appears to be plain water into a source of joy, vitality and dynamism. I must seek to live deeply the very simple things that are within my reach.

Abba, Father, I don't want to simply survive, I desire to live deeply. To Mary's concern corresponds the compassion of your Son who wants me to taste the rich wine of your life-giving Spirit. Open my heart so that I in turn can be a source of deep life for others.

Amen.