I must feel every moment of these last few days of Advent . The labour pains of giving birth to new life are intense and not a little anxious. However,...
SUNDAY 26 MARCH
Its worth reading the full text of today’s scripture even though you heard it at Mass.
Scripture: John 9: 1 – 41
How hard of heart would one have to be not to celebrate, rejoice and be glad to see a man who had been blind from birth have the gift of sight given to him! Yet their only concern was that Jesus had healed on the sabbath! In any case, what a wonderful day to experience the healing power of God!
Jesus always put people before the law. As with the Samaritan woman last Sunday, this man’s need was far greater than any law, rule, custom or tradition. The moment for healing was now. He turns the darkness of his life into light.
This is what Jesus came into the world to do “I must carry our the work of the one who sent me.” But the Pharisees are blind to the presence of God in the midst. Their obsession with laws, rules, customs and traditions had made them blind and hard of heart and had removed the light of God’s presence from their lives. It is easy for this to happen to religious people, and we see it all around us – even in our own church. People are rejected, judged and ostracised becaused of the circumstances of their lives and whatever it is they have done – or not done. Jesus came to open our eyes to the love, mercy and compassion of God, to change our hearts from stone to hearts for love alone. When this happens, when we are open to the conversion, change and transformation he brings, we begin to emerge from the darkness and begin to see with the light of faith.
Over time our eyes (and hearts) grow accustomed to the darkness and we accept it as our normal. The spirituality of Lent helps to remove the veils of darkness in which we have become enshrouded and as we journey in faith during this season we begin to see the joy, wonder and splendour of our faith – our life in Christ. And not only are we able to see for ourselves but we begin to see the wonderful ways in which God is working in the loves of others, enabling those who were once burdened by the darkness of past sins, faults and failings to be able to celebrate the liberation that comes with God’s healing and forgiving presence.
At our Baptism, our parents and godparents were presented with our Baptismal Candle lit from the Paschal (Easter) Candle with the words “Receive the Light of Christ.” This light of faith should be kept burning brightly in our lives and hearts. At Confirmation we held our Baptismal Candles in our hands (lit again from the Paschal Candle) and renewed our Baptismal Promises as we confirmed our faith. Today, as we begin this fourth week of Lent (this week of Joy), we could very well ask ourselves ‘how well does the light of faith burn in my life?’
At Easter, we are invited to light our Baptism Candles and to renew our Baptsm promises again. In this way we demonstrate our willingness to emerge from the darkness of sin, fault and failure to live in the Light of Faith. It’s the time for the renewal of our faith. Take full advantage of this opportunity. Allow Jesus to Change your Heart this Lenten Season so that you will be able to emerge into the light of Faith at Easter.
Time for a little introspection today. Its never easy! In what area(s) of your life have you become hard of heart, stubborn, unbending, lacking in compassion and mercy? What is the darkness in your life at the moment? Ask Jesus to soften your heart and to fill you with the light of his presence and his love.
Lord, let me see! Remove the blindness which prevents me from living a life of faith and living my life to the fullest. Change my Heart O God! Amen.
MONDAY 27 MARCH
Scripture: John 4: 43 – 54
They say that desperate times call for desperate measures. Perhaps this court official had gone to Jesus our of sheer desperation. You can sense it in his voice when he pleads with Jesus “Sir, come down before my child dies.” “Go home” Jesus answers “your son will live.” Now faith steps in, the man believed and started to make his way home. On hearing of his son’s healing, he and his household believed.
Faith, hope and trust. We say we believe but do we really? How often do we not make contingency plans in case God doesn’t deliver? Lent is the time for the renewal of our faith. It is a time for us to go back to basics and to ask again some fundamental questions starting with ‘am I a person of faith?’ We may go through all the religious rituals, ceremonies, follow the laws, keep the customs and traditions – and yet be without faith. This happens to so many of us over a period of time. We find ourselves going through the motions – even in our prayers.
Lent helps us to sharpen our focus, if not to re-focus. At Easter we renew our Baptism Promises and are asked ‘Do you believe in …?’ to which we respond ‘I do.’ But do we? Perhaps we need to ask ourselves again what exactly we do believe. Have we sunk into the regular routine of religious practises without allowing the essence of faith to impact our lives? Do we also just become people of faith when things get desperate in our lives?
Faith is a constant living reality which influences and colours our lives every day, in whatever circumstance and situation. We can allow our faith to filter into every fabric of our lives so that everything we do and say is influenced by our faith. At Baptism we were given this gift of faith. This is what makes Baptism a living reality in our lives – not just a past event when we had our photographs taken and received a certificate – and escaped limbo (whatever that may be!)
The Catechumens in our RCIA programme are preparing to receive this gift of faith at Easter. The Church invites us (the already Baptised) to join them during this their period of purification so that we may be purified and renewed in our faith as well, a faith which enables us, like the court official, to take the words and instructions to heart and to believe.
Read the Nicene Creed today and ask yourself as you process each article of faith, ‘Do I believe this?’
Strengthen my little faith O Lord so that I may be able to place my complete faith, hope and trust in you. Amen. Change my Heart O God!
TUESDAY 28 MARCH
Scripture Ezekiel 47: 1 – 9, 12 Matthew 18: 21- 35
Water, as we know, takes up most of the earth, and for good reason too! This treasure, which sustains all forms of life, is needed in abundance, just for us to get by for our daily needs!
We, South Africans, are being tested right now as our country still experiences severe drought; crops failing, animals dying and many hardships which are a challenge to cope with from lack of WATER!
Unfortunately, having water so easily accessible for so many of our needs, we often take this essential commodity for granted in our lives. Not realizing that; “It brings life to all wherever it flows.”
Water also symbolizes many things, especially our cleansing during Baptism. The symbolism of us being cleansed (freed) of our sins that will allow us to emerge from the darkness that invades us, to be prepared and worthy to go into the Light, the Light that Jesus brings us, in order that we may be children of light and children of God. Just as we take the availability of water for granted, we also take for granted our Baptism into the life of Christ. This is why during Lent we endeavour to rediscover the “Fruits” offered to us by our Baptism that will ensure our salvation, and that will allow us to leave the “Darkness” and enter the “Light” that Jesus welcomes us into!
Recreate your life with Christ by making small sustainable changes that you know or need to make. During this Lent, as you practice your fasting, think of the “things” that help you feel closer to Him and then ask Jesus in prayer …
Lord Jesus, as I continue to drink and to be nourished by the water from the stream of your Life so that I may be always strengthened by Your Love. Be with me in my times of darkness so that I might have your light in me. Amen. Change my Heart O God!
WEDNESDAY 29 MARCH
Scripture: Psalm 144: 14 and 18 (Psalm 145 in some Bibles)
“The Lord supports all who fall and raises all who are bowed down. He is close to all who call Him, who call on Him from their hearts.”
As I reflect on these words, I cannot help but think of the Passion of Jesus which is drawing closer and closer as we journey through Lent. I imagine that He would have taken much comfort from these words as He struggled under the weight of the cross on His way to Calvary. As the rough wood of the cross cut into His already torn flesh, Jesus must have clung to the promises that God had made to His people. Even when he fell under its tremendous weight, He would have been unrelenting in His trust that God the Father would strengthen Him to rise up and continue the agonising journey to Calvary.
It is difficult to imagine that anyone should have to endure such suffering, yet as we page through the newspaper or surf through the news channels, we are bombarded by horrific images of people suffering as a result of war, disease and famine. All too often we find ourselves asking the question “Where is God when there is so much suffering?” and we find the answer in today’s Psalm. God is in the midst of the suffering, just as He was with Jesus on that dreadful day.
God’s plan for humanity was never to make anyone suffer. Jesus came to bring healing of mind, body and spirit and to relieve suffering wherever He went. The gospel of John (3:19) reminds us, “The Light came into the world but people preferred the darkness.” It is these dark acts of man that causes to most of the suffering in the world. The events of Good Friday are testimony to this fact.
Jesus, in agony on the cross, cried out to the Father, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” At one time or another we have all felt God-forsaken, but the truth is, God never forsakes us and neither had the Father forsaken His Son. He was there with Him as He endured the pain and humiliation on the cross.
Take heart, that no matter how difficult you have found our journey thus far. You can be certain that if you ask for help, God will always be close at hand to give you the support you need to rise up and continue on your way towards the joy of Easter.
Make a special effort to attend Stations of the Cross on Friday evening and walk alongside Mary as she closely follows her Son on His way to Calvary.
Father, you have promised that you will always be there to help me when I falter and fall. There are times when my resolve is so weak and I fail to do the things that please you. Help me to walk closely with You during these remaining weeks of Lent. Amen. Change my Heart O God!
THURSDAY 30 MARCH
Scripture: John 5: 1- 47.
If you refuse to believe what my Father wrote, how can you believe Me?
Jesus has just finished curing a man of his illness on the Sabbath and (once again) the Jews did not appreciate this and began to persecute Him. He is accused of blasphemy in that He spoke of God as His own Father and thus made Himself God’s equal.
In His reply, Our Lord goes ‘hammer and tongs’ and points out a number of witnesses to substantiate His claim of being the Chosen One sent by God as the Messiah. He points to John the Baptist (the greatest of all men ever to live) as a shining light (in the darkness) who personally testified that God had indeed sent him to prepare the way for the Saviour and that John had personally pointed out Jesus as The Lamb Of God.
More compelling to the witness of John are the works He has been given to do by the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is, of course, referring to His miracles.
Finally, God the Father testifies to Jesus as the One through Scripture. Through the Word, the Father reveals His Son to the world and since all Scripture is guided by the hand of God, it is to this aspect that the reflection continues.
Jesus accuses the Jews of treating the Word as ink on paper. The Word of the Lord was certainlt not an active and living force in their lives. It was sterile. Otherwise they would have recognised Jesus as the Word made flesh (refer to the Angelus). They would have realised that He is the living person to whom all Scripture bears testimony.
Their life and religion was not motivated by the sacred love of God as Jesus says “You have no love of God WITHIN you.” Why? It is because it is impossible for a person preoccupied with the praises of men and women, a person not concerned with receiving praise from God, to commit his or her life to Christ.
Harsh words from the One who came to allow the light to enter the darkness. The light of the living God within each of us as opposed to the darkness of the living God outside us.
Make yourself part of the audience at the receiving end of this spiritual lecture by reading the whole passage slowly. Does it apply to you in any way?
Dear Lord, you spoke these harsh words to try and shatter hardened hearts so that Your light could enter the darkness previously housed therein. Change my Heart O God! Amen.
FRIDAY 31 MARCH
Scipture: John 7: 1 – 2; 10, 25-30
“Before us he stands, a reproof to our way of thinking” Wisdom 2: 14
The gospel today begins with the statement that “Jesus could not stay in Judea because the Jews were out to kill him”.
Why is it, that throughout history good people, especially those in positions of leadership, have become targets for assassination? One would think that we would want people of virtue and integrity to be around, especially since such people are usually caring, considerate, compassionate individuals. But somehow, they seem to become an “irritation”, perhaps because their very virtue shows up our lack of it?
Evil abhors goodness; darkness hates the light; and a good person, simply by being there is, very often, as the Book of Wisdom says, “a reproof to our way of thinking”.
John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod because he was outspoken about the illegal marriage of Herod and his wife, Herodias. Jesus irritated the authorities in Jerusalem to such an extent that they plotted to kill him.
Abraham Lincoln was detested by those who favoured slavery, and subsequently assassinated. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated as he worked tirelessly to free India from colonial oppression.
When Pope John Paul II visited Austria in 1988, it was discovered that there was a plot to assassinate him! The list goes on and on.
People who are upright and moral, find opposition wherever they are – just because they are different from the dominant behaviour of the culture they are a part of. The prophets, messengers of God, were treated abominably because they stood for morality, justice and the truth.
Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, suffered the very same treatment at the hands of the people He came to redeem. The Pharisees were determined to get rid of Him, because He did not hesitate to challenge their lack of concern and care for the people they were supposed to serve. Furthermore His actions changed the lives of people in so many ways, and made the love of God a reality, and they could not stand that. So they determined to kill Him.
Reflect on what wickedness and evil do to our minds and hearts? How do you feel in the presence of a truly good person? Do any negative emotions arise?
Evaluate your own record in standing for truth and justice. Would others describe you as an upright, good and moral person?
O God of justice and love, instill in me the courage I need to live a truly moral and spiritual life. Help me, by the guidance of Your Holy Spirit, to combat evil wherever I find it, and to rejoice in goodness. Amen. Change my Heart O God!
SATURDAY 1 APRIL
Scripture: John 7: 40 – 52
I often wonder on which side of the fence I would have stood if I had lived during the time of Jesus. My heart says with Jesus (of course!) but if I had thought with the mind of the chief priests and Pharisees it might have been different (much to my horror). They were so caught up in legalism. Unlike the crowds (‘rabble’ they called them) and the police, they failed to stop and LISTEN to Jesus. If only they had listened, his preaching and teaching would have touched their hearts – as Nicodemus had experiences. It was their hardness of heart which prevented them from recognising the presence of God in the midst.
The same happens to us. We fail to see the presence and work of God among us and around us because our hearts have grown hard. This hardness of heart prevents us from seeing and experiencing goodness and love when it manifests itself before us. In our own time there are those who express such hatred towards someone like Pope Francis – and us Catholics as well! Its hard to believe and to comprehend (just look through YouTube). Some don’t even believe that we are Christians. Jesus knows all about such rejection. He didn’t fit into their little box. Even the plea of Nicodemus to give Jesus a hearing fell on deaf ears, so hard were their hearts.
When our hearts are connected with the heart of God (through personal prayer, Scripture and the Eucharist), we are able to recognise the presence of God among us and the work of God in those around us.
Lent is our opportunity to reconnect with the heart of God or to renew our connection with him. This is why we go beyond fasting into an experience of genuine spiritual renewal. It is possible to religiously give up all sorts of things during Lent but have not experiences anything spiritual. Our acts of self-sacrifice (however noble) much be matched with a genuine effort at prayerfulness and spiritual renewal as well as acts of charity whci come from this spiritual renewal.
We can learn from the mistakes of the religious leaders of Jesus’ time and not fall into the same trap they did. This is my we ask God to change our hearts during this Lenten Season. This has been the call since Ash Wednesday “Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn.” (Joel 2)
As Lent intensifies and Holy Week approaches we need to renew our efforts and avoid slackening off. The chief priests and Pharisees missed the opportunity to recognise the presence of God. Don’t let the same happen to you!
Look ahead an plan your Holy Week so that it will be a special time in your spiritual life. For non-believers the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday) is a holiday. For us believers it is a sacred time. The hymn proclaims ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ Where will you be?
Father, help me to be faithful and true. Strengthen me so that I may not waver from my Lenten commitments and that I may increase in Faith. Amen. Change my Heart O God!
These Daily Reflections for Lent 2017 are written by Fr. Desmond Nair, Lawrence Surgeson, Deacon Mark Wardell, Veronica Donnelly, George Cominos and Irene Helsdon. Please acknowledge the authors when copying and distributing. We wish you a fruitful and blessed Lenten Journey.