Lenten Reflection, February 23, 2024
Ms. Rosa Mazzeo, Theology Faculty
This morning while I was walking my dog, I realized that even a cold day in February, with no signs of spring in the air, can seem beautiful once the sun shines its light and warmth upon it. I actually stopped for ten minutes to take it all in. There’s a wooded area in my backyard where I often take Cooper when it’s too cold to go too far. Today I looked around at all the broken branches and dried out leaves from the trees and found a sense of peace. We both stood there appreciating its beauty in the stillness of the moment and the warmth of the sun. I have been there so many times and only noticed what it lacked, the sounds and sights of spring, but today I found refuge among the bare trees. Everything I needed was there on a cold February day. Why had I not seen it before? Was it because I was focused on what was lacking instead of what was there? This was my inspiration for today’s Lenten reflection.
The daily readings this week seemed to have one common theme: to love one another the way God loves us. I often imagine myself having a conversation with God where I ask God why there is so much suffering in the world. What’s the secret to a happy life, I ask, and God answers “it’s very simple, just love one another”. I often tell my students that God gives us everything we need here on earth. We just need to discover it. The answer can be right in front of us, but we don’t see it. Perhaps we get overwhelmed and think that life’s challenges are too hard to solve on our own, but are we really alone or is God leading the way for us? Isn’t God present in all of us, in God’s entire creation?
In Monday’s reading from the Old Testament, we are given laws about what we should not do to each other. In the Gospel from the Book of Matthew, Jesus tells his followers: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” and “what you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me.” Although most of us would say that we do not purposely hurt others, do we get so involved in our own daily lives that we miss the opportunities to help others when they need us? It is so easy to excuse our behavior or our lack of attention to those around us. Would we walk past Jesus if he needed our help?
In Friday’s reading the prophet Ezekiel tell us “…if he keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just, he shall surely live, he shall not die.” We are called not only to obey God’s laws but to do what is right and just. How we do this is answered by this week’s scripture readings. We are given the Corporal Works of Mercy which call us to take care of those who need our help, and we are reassured that we are not alone in our works in Psalm 23 which confirms, “The Lord is my Shepherd and there is nothing I shall want.” We are taught how to pray the Our Father in Tuesday’s Gospel which instructs us how to follow God, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Lastly, but certainly not least, God gave us our Church through the Apostle Peter. God knows that we need each other’s help to do what is right and just. God, indeed, gives us everything we need to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. We are called to be Church to each other. Let us all answer God’s call to love one another the way God loves us.
Reflection for the First Friday of Lent
by Mr. Chris Canniff, Principal
As Lent began this week, I spent some time reading the Book of Joel. It’s a short text of a minor prophet, often overlooked amidst the many more substantial works of the Old Testament. However, it has its moment to shine each year on Ash Wednesday when the first reading of the Mass includes Joel’s famous injunction to “rend your hearts, not your garments.” During the liturgy, our lectionary presents us with just seven verses from the second chapter; this particular pericope tells us of a remedy and healing but without first telling us of the malady and affliction. I decided I should pull out my bible to see what else Joel had said first.
The book opens with an announcement of disaster, which the prophet clearly sees as the judgment of God being brought down upon his people, though the prophet believes the people are blind to their part in this calamity. He shouts to rouse them to an awareness of their hand in it all. Rains never came in late autumn and winter. Locusts swarmed in the spring. The fields of Judah would yield no harvest. Figs and pomegranates, dates and apples—the imagery of fruits typically lush in the region contrasts with the drying and devouring forces of nature in Joel’s extended metaphor. He tells us that even “joy itself has dried up.”
What does it mean for joy to dry up? Well, C.S. Lewis often spoke of joy as desire or longing, rather than by the common conception of happiness or delight. In his most profound novel, Till We Have Faces, one character declares, “The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing—to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from…[to attain to] my country, the place where I ought to have been born.”
Is this the sort of joy that has dried up? Let’s look around our own modern spiritual landscape, different in so many ways from Joel’s ancient setting, yet strikingly similar too. A contentedness with the base ways of the world. A loss of desire for God. As in our time, so also in Joel’s. Our faith and joy, like that of the people in the prophet’s day, are withered, desiccated, and brittle. We live a self-imposed exile from the garden of God in the desert of this world.
It is indeed a convicting passage. The malady and affliction are damaging and ugly. But, we also know the remedy and healing can be practiced and gained. For as was said in the reading we heard from Joel at Mass, “Return to [the Lord] with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.”
This Lent we should seek each day to give God our whole heart. This is one reason why we fast: to see that our heart will find all it needs in him alone. Then all our longing will be for him, reaching out toward our true home. Our joy will be restored. When God looks upon the soul who longs for him in this way, these encouraging words from Joel ring true: “Then the Lord was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on his people.”