Sister Katherine Jean Cowan, OP shares Lenten reflections. From Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday, may we engage together in an enriching and fulfilling spiritual journey. In this Lenten season, you are welcome to join us for various events, retreats, and workshops. You can view our Events calendar here.
Lent is upon us once again!
The story is told of a sculptor chipping away at a block of marble to shape a rather magnificent lion. A small boy wandering by stopped in fascination. After some time he asked the sculptor, “How do you get the lion out of there?” The sculptor’s response was simple, “I chip away all that is not lion.”
Lent should involve us in a process that chips away at something that keeps us from being the person God intends us to be. Viewed this way, our Lenten practice will make us more genuine people by Easter. This may involve a relationship we need to work on, visiting a friend or relative we tend to ignore, spending more family time, taking a good look at our prayer life, taking better care of ourselves.
Whatever the practice we choose it should bring about a permanent change in us; it is not something we are to abandon as we sing the Easter alleluias. Next year we then move on to chip away at something else.
March 6, Ash Wednesday
The first reading of today’s Mass reminds us that our God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. A leading Old Testament scholar has said that this is the best definition of God we have. How might our Lent be different if this were the God we walked with through and beyond Lent?
March 10, First Sunday of Lent
In today’s Gospel Luke reminds us of the temptations to worldly things that surround us: comfort, power, wealth. With each temptation Jesus draws us back to our core: our God and Father. Lent is a time to deepen this relationship. Perhaps the single phrase, “My Lord and My God,” might carry us through the week.
March 17, Second Sunday of Lent
Peter shows himself in the multiple aspects of his personality in this Gospel account: fascinated by the dazzling garments, dosing off, confused, uttering he is not sure what. In the midst of this is the voice of the Father: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” What we must carry into our week are these words addressed yes to Jesus, but also to us. Peter and each of us are always the chosen ones of God. May we live out of this truth this week.
March 19: Feast of St. Joseph
For a man about whom we know so little, this silent figure of the Gospel has inspired deep devotion in the hearts of many. Joseph’s silence marks the attentive care he took of Mary and Jesus. His was the privilege of teaching Jesus his rich Jewish heritage and sharing with him his carpenter’s trade. Whom do we mentor?
March 24. Third Sunday of Lent
Depending on the Mass you attend this Sunday, we will hear one of two Gospels, often that of the Samaritan Woman because of the focus on those preparing for Baptism at Easter.
The Samaritan Woman
There is a fair amount of energy in this Gospel passage both in the dialogue between Jesus and the woman and the woman’s interactions with her community. At the conclusion of the passage, her community has come to believe not simply because of the witness of the woman but also because of their experience of Jesus. As we walk through our week, let us dialogue with Jesus about the difference he makes in our life.
March 25: Feast of the Annunciation
Starting with this scene between Mary and the Archangel Gabriel, Mary has become a model of our call to accept God’s action in our lives. But remember she did this very much aware of who she was: “How can this happen since I know not man?” She said “yes” while playing no games. This is our call, too—it is easier said than done.
The Parable of the Fig Tree
Here we are confronted with the frustration of the owner of the vineyard who no longer has patience that his trees that bear no fruit and the concern of the gardener who despite his three years of fruitless labor still wants to give the trees another chance. May the coming week gives us several chances to spend time with our gardener God who is boundlessly patient with us.
March 31: Fourth Sunday of Lent
As last week we may hear one of two gospels at our Sunday Eucharist.
The Man Born Blind
Early in this account before we are caught up in the several shifting scenes, Jesus absolves the man born blind from any guilt for his condition and identifies himself as the light of the world. The Jews of the time readily identified illness or weakness with an individual’s sinfulness. Today we are often trapped into a belief system that says perfection of the desired goal. Jesus then as now assures us that in our weakness we will truly find him. Let us as our week unfolds claim not only our weaknesses but also our God’s incredible love for us no-strings-attached.
Parable of the Prodigal Son
The parable is dominated by three figures: the father giving into the greed of his young son, yet welcoming him home; the younger son running off only to learn of his father’s gentle love; and the older son who does not understand the forgiveness or the open-heartedness of his father. The challenge of the week is to determine whom we walk with at this stage of our life: the son who wants it all, but has the good sense to return home; the father who embraces us at every step of our journey; the elder son who still does not understand the give-and-take of life.
Sunday, April 7
Parishes use one of these Gospel readings:
Raising of Lazarus
“Lazarus, come out!” This familiar passage often resonates as an account from the past, one that we ourselves will never experience. The reality is that our God invites us
often out of our weakness, our brokenness. Let us listen this week to God’s voice calling us from some specific weakness. May we “come out” as Lazarus did.
Woman Caught in Adultery
A woman caught in the very act of adultery is dragged before Jesus, hoping that he will mete out a strong punishment against her. His response, on the contrary, was simply to look at her, admonishing her to sin no more. Let us allow this same Jesus to look lovingly with forgiveness at us in the coming week.
Holy Week: A Time of Waiting
Between Palm Sunday and Holy Saturday, we are a people called to wait, to keep vigil, a stance most of us are not comfortable with. Our culture has made us people who crave instant gratification.
As we stand with palms on Palm Sunday, we need to see where we stand in the crowd that surrounds Jesus: Are we people of faith? Are we casual observers eager to return to our faster paced world? Are we skeptical of the whole thing? It is worth having a conversation with Jesus about our stance this Holy Week.
Let us make the most of these days: slowing down, asking ourselves what this last week in Jesus’ life must have been like for him and allowing ourselves to see the points of comparison with our own lives: disappointment, betrayal, finding comfort with friends (staying as he did Martha, Mary and Lazarus on his last nights), sensing the end of something important.
As we go through this Holy Thursday, let us try to do so, sensing what the time might have been like for Jesus. He apparently spent the day alone: where might he have gone, what thoughts might have filled his mind and heart? What might it have been like for him to enter the room where his apostles had gathered—knowing that this would be his last meal?
If you are privileged to attend Mass this evening, bring your thoughts of the day to the celebration, remembering that in many ways it is all about service. Jesus leaves us his body and blood, himself, in the Eucharist that like him we might wash the feet of one another, that like him we might bring healing and comfort, love and compassion to all whom we meet. If Jesus were to wash your feet this night, what might he say to you? (In my heart of hearts, I believe Jesus had something to say to each of apostles.)
The passion accounts are long; we cannot expect to hang onto every detail, but need rather to find points that resonate within us.
The passion account we hear each Good Friday is from the Gospel of John. Striking elements in this Gospel include Jesus’ being arrested because he chose to be; John is clear that Jesus did not have to be arrested. Jesus is also portrayed as a King: Pilate calls him that and has the inscription, stating this, nailed to the cross: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Only in John’s Gospel do we find Mary standing at the foot of his cross and hear Jesus commending John (and us) to her care. As Jesus dies, he surrenders his spirit to the Father (once again Jesus is in control of what happens to him).
Holy Saturday easily leaves us numb if we concentrate on the day itself. It was a day of great despair and loneliness for the apostles who were conscious only of Jesus’ death and the fact that they had done nothing to stop it. All of their dreams seemed shattered.
There may be pieces of this loneliness and lack of response to another with which we can identify. As Christians we have no Mass to attend until the evening vigil, leaving us asking what
do we do? How do we pray this day? The Easter Vigil itself is to filled with so many images that we can become lost in them.
Again, we need to find points of reference, images that resonate within—and they abound:
- The lighted candle, the light of Christ;
- The repeated phrase “this is the night” that in many ways sums up our salvation;
- The readings of creation, chariots, water, covenant—the list goes on;
- The alleluias that resound throughout the church;
- The empty tomb: he has been raised!
If we can capture two or three images for our own reflection, we are doing well.
The Church ushers in this day with trumpet blasts and exuberant alleluias! Jesus had promised to make all things new; it begins today! The tomb is empty. Christ appears in various and sundry places assuring his disciples that his resurrection has happened, and so will theirs, and so will ours!
Can we begin to live this rebirth for ourselves and others?