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God of promise and power,
thank you for sending Jesus into the world
to die for me and for all
and for inviting me to be part
of the community of disciples.
I pray in gratitude
for sharing the gift of Jesus’ life,
the gift that leads to eternal life.
Give me the grace of letting go
of possessions, preoccupations, conveniences,
and security—all so that others might live more fully.
Help me to live well and more fully
by giving myself more completely to you.
Amen.
 
Adapted from RENEW International’s LIVE LENT! Year B, available in our online bookstore.

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I recently spoke on a Friday night at a parish Stations of the Cross. The title of the Lenten series is “The Way Walkers.” I love the image of being a “way walker”—one who walks in the Way of Jesus.
 
St. Paul, before his conversion, took prisoners who “belonged to the Way” (Acts 9:2; 22:4). During Paul’s trial before Felix, a Roman procurator, Paul said, “I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect” (Acts 24:14). Early Christianity was not a new religion but a movement within Judaism—a movement that embraced Jesus as the Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).
 
Wherever the early missionaries traveled, they formed small communities of believers in the Way. It was a movement that emphasized Jesus’ call to unconditional love and forgiveness and his suffering, death, and resurrection as the path to transformation. Jesus is the Son of God, but he is also “the Way”—the way of the cross which not only led Jesus from suffering and death to new life but also leads each one of us who have said yes to the Way.
 
Pope Francis, in one of his reflections on Lent, says, “Lent is a time when Christians are asked to return to God with all their hearts, to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord.” A way walker is on the path to deeper friendship with the Lord. So, if you are not growing in friendship with the Lord this Lent and have wavered from your Lenten plan, it is time to get back on the Way.
 
I offer you three ways to get back on the Way:
 

  1. Take time for self-reflection— I have learned that to be a holy person you must practice self-reflection that leads to self-awareness. The most important way to becoming self-aware is to regularly take a long honest look at ourselves—always in light of God’s unconditional love. In our noisy and fast-paced society, we need to set aside times of quiet and allow God to enlighten and transform our hearts and minds. Literally, to take time for deep breaths—breathing in God’s love and breathing out all that keeps us from being loving and authentic persons.
  2.  

  3. Keep getting back up—Jesus fell three times on the Way of the Cross. Two things strike me about his stumbling and falling—Jesus let another person help him up, and when Jesus got on his feet, he continued on the Way. Sometimes what knocks us down comes from outside of ourselves, and other times it comes from within. No matter how far along we are on the spiritual journey or how deep our friendship with God may be, we take missteps. We find ourselves stumbling and falling. The most important part of our life journey with God is to get back up. Perhaps walking humbly with God means not that we plan on falling, but that we not be surprised when we do fall.
  4.  

  5. Enter fully into the suffering of life and love—If we run from pain it comes back to bite us. Even worse, it can harden our hearts and isolate us from others. One of the enlightened themes that develops in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, and particularly those from the prophecy of Isaiah that we read during Lent, is the transformative significance of human pain and suffering. Jesus, the suffering servant, teaches us how to hold, make use of, and transform our suffering into a new kind of life instead of an old kind of death. Pain teaches a most counterintuitive thing: we must go down before we even know what up is.

 
We are in mid-Lent, and it is a good time to take some quiet time to talk with God about how you are doing with your Lenten promises and if and how they are helping you grow in friendship with the Lord. If you have failed in your Lenten plan, ask God for the grace to get back on the Way—for it is the only path to truth and life.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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“Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me’” (John 12:23-26).

What does it mean to lose one’s life in order to gain it?

Throughout life, we come across people who live fearlessly because they are inspired by the conviction that they have been called to do what they do. Perhaps it is a colleague who is energized by her work. Maybe it’s a friend whose indignation at an obvious injustice has inspired him to dedicate his time to changing things. Or it is a priest or sister whose devotion to ministry comes from a deep desire to serve.

In this Gospel passage, Jesus is speaking of how we act in this world. Sometimes, we may stand out of the mainstream and seem dead. Other times, we may appear alive but are actually ignoring our core potential. Jesus is saying that we should lose the life the world wants us to have and save the life within that is given to us by God.

Think of the politician who entered public life wishing to serve, but is now afraid to answer a question honestly for fear of alienating voters. Think of the salesperson who pushes a product she knows is inferior just because it means a better commission.

What about you? Maybe you began your career with zeal and now are just concerned about accruing vacation days. Or maybe you have struggled with the pressure of choosing a vocation that will help you make a good living over the call to do something more spiritually gratifying.

When have you needed to lose something in your life in order to save the person God calls you to be?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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Loving God,
we thank you for giving Jesus in love to all people.
Your great love, that knows no bounds,
gives life to faith.
Give us the grace to accept
the gift of Jesus into our hearts
so we may be born anew.
Thank you for the gift of eternal life
that begins now as we say yes
to walking with Christ each day
and living in the unending presence of God.
Amen.
 
Adapted from RENEW International’s LIVE LENT! Year B, available in our online bookstore.

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“And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen and done in God” (John 3:19-21).

In Jesus’ time, light was a valued and scarce resource. Oil for lamps was expensive and carefully rationed. Moving away from the light of a village campfire was risking danger. Traveling in the darkness of night meant exposing oneself to wild animals or criminals.

For Christians around 100 AD, the metaphor of Christ as the light would have particular resonance. They frequently lived in dark times of persecution, and to attest to believing in Jesus was dangerous. They looked forward to a time when their belief in Jesus could be safely expressed in the full light of day.

Today, for those of us fortunate to live in a country where religious freedom is protected, the “darkness” we encounter manifests itself in things like greed, exploitation, violence, racism, and sexism. These aspects of life can cloud our vision and lead us to choose evil over good. Jesus lights the path for us to pierce the darkness and come into the light of goodness, truth, and faith.

Think of a dark time in your life. Who or what did you reach out to?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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Gracious God,
thank you for the gift of life
and for always giving me another chance
to be forgiven and renewed in faith.
Help me to clean my own house this Lent
and set my priorities according to your will.
Renew the Church,
focus us beyond ourselves,
and help us become more powerful witnesses
of peace, justice and authenticity.
Amen.
 
Adapted from RENEW International’s LIVE LENT! Year B, available in our online bookstore.

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“Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, ‘Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace’” (John 2:13-16).

This Sunday’s reading invites us to examine the underlying tension that runs through all of the Gospels. Jesus’ mission brought him into conflict with the powerful institutions of religion and state. This tension ultimately led to Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution.

For pious Jews in Jesus’ day, and for Jesus himself, the Temple in Jerusalem was a sacred place. It was a center of pilgrimage for Jews from all over the world, a place where ritual sacrifices and prayers were offered. The presence of money changers and merchants was common in the outer courtyard of the Temple. Pilgrims who traveled a long distance to make a ritual sacrifice would find it easier to buy an animal on the spot than to bring one from home. In order to make this purchase, they would need to change their foreign currency for the only coins accepted in the Temple.

Faith is not a matter of convenience. When religion exists solely to keep the wheels of commerce rolling or exploits the poor, it is fraudulent and disgraceful. Jesus was not an avoid-conflict-at-any-cost kind of character. He made a whip and chased the moneychangers out of the Temple.

Jesus’ actions are a reminder that Christians can, and at times should, resort to the kind of righteous anger that cries out against hypocrisy and against the exploitation of the most vulnerable.

In Jesus, Christians have a model of someone who had the courage to challenge and question. Those who claim to follow Jesus can do no less.

About what in your life have you felt justifiably angered? What action did you take?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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Lord God,
you entered human history
in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Through Jesus, you invited us
to an intimate friendship with you.
We thank you for that gift
and pray that the divine life
that is revealed to us in him
will inspire us and support us
as we carry out your will each day.
Help us to reflect your love to others
by being kinder and more affirming
to those we interact with each day.
Amen.
 
Adapted from RENEW International’s LIVE LENT! Year B, available in our online bookstore.

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“Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.’ Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them. As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant”
(Mark 9:7-10).

This week’s Gospel reading offers us a brief look at God’s glory at a moment when Jesus was speaking of his coming passion, which was the focus of conversation immediately before and after the event described in this passage. Jesus had brought to this mountaintop several of the disciples, who had just learned that he would suffer, die, and, three days later, rise from the dead.. Jesus was transfigured before their eyes, and they were left awestruck. The voice of God proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him” (Mark 9:7).

The disciples were given a glimpse of the glory of God, and then were charged with the task of listening to Jesus. They listened even as he was rejected, as he suffered, and as he was put to death. They listened to Jesus and knew that even death would not defeat him, for he would be raised from the dead. The disciples continued to listen to the risen Christ until the day they too would share fully in his glory.

Just as the disciples were charged with the task of listening to Christ, we are also invited to listen. Through the events of our lives, however ordinary or extraordinary they may be, Christ is present and calling out to us. Christ is in our walking and talking, in our daily encounters, and in our travels.

Christ is present, but are we listening?

Christ often speaks to us through those who have no voice in our world. He speaks through the poor, the elderly, the prisoner, and the immigrant. We may listen to Christ speaking through our friends and family, but do we listen to Christ in the rejected, the lonely, and the outcast?

Where or how is Christ speaking to you at this point in your life? Are you listening?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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Gracious God,
accompany me as I navigate the conflicts
and struggles in my life.
Help me to trust in your covenant love
and your desire to lift me up
when I stumble in the face of temptation.
Thank you for your faithful love
and for never giving up on me.
Guide me through this Lenten season
to a renewed and deeper relationship with you.
Amen.
 
Adapted from RENEW International’s LIVE LENT! Year B, available in our online bookstore.

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Generous God,
we thank you for all that you have given us.
May the fast and prayer of this holy season
help us value your gifts —
not only as blessings in our own lives
but as resources that we can
share with those who are in need
who are our sisters and brothers.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Amen.
 
Adapted from RENEW International’s LIVE LENT! Year B, available in our online bookstore.

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“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:12-15).

As Lent begins, the Church enters a period of spiritual renewal leading to Easter. Lent is a time of retreat. We journey inward to places of solitude and silence to rediscover God’s love for us.

In the passage prior to this Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent, Mark writes that Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan and heard the voice confirming that his future mission was blessed by his heavenly Father.

In this passage, we read that Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to prepare for his public mission. He lived among wild beasts, and he was tempted by Satan, but angels of hope and trust ministered to him as he fasted and prayed during those forty days.

For us, there is no physical desert. Our deserts are metaphorical. They are moments of dryness in our lives that come from tensions in family life, arguments with significant others, anxiety about economic distress, war, and many other sources.

This Gospel passage invites us to recognize those times when we experience our own demons of despair, desolation, and fear as times that reveal the face of God to us in an intimate way. These are the times in which we discover our reliance on God, and that leads us to new and greater life.

What have been “desert” moments in your life that have caused you tension, stress, or despair? How has God been a part of these moments?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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Jesus Healing a Leper (Rembrandt)

“A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.’ The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. He said to him, ‘See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them’ (Mark 1:40-44).”

This Sunday’s Gospel of Jesus healing a leper is one of the most popular stories of Jesus’ compassion. It is also a call to Jesus’ followers to use their compassion to identify with the marginalized of society and be willing to associate with the “unclean.”

Leprosy is a chronic illness caused by bacteria in the bloodstream that leads to skin lesions. In first century Jewish culture, ritual impurity was passed on when a sick person touched a healthy person. The healthy person then became “unclean” and had to undergo ritual cleansing before being re-admitted to the temple. Jesus’ decision to touch this man had both medical and social consequences.

Jesus’ miracle is a great reversal: Jesus does not become unclean or ill, but the leper is made clean. Jesus does not respect the social barrier between himself and the leper. Instead, he destroys it with a touch and restores wholeness to the man.

The kingdom of Heaven, the image of society where each person is welcomed and respected, is a central theme in all of Jesus’ preaching. To follow his example and build this kingdom on earth, we must be willing to “touch” all people, literally and emotionally, because this is what builds true community.

Has someone on the margins of society ever asked you for help? How have you reacted?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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“When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak, because they knew him. Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ He told them, ‘Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose I have come.’ So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee” (Mark 1:32-39).

In the incidents described in this coming Sunday’s reading, Jesus performed two important types of healing miracles. Not only did he cure “many who were sick with various diseases,” including Simon Peter’s mother-in-law but he also “drove out many demons” (Mark 1:34). In Jesus’ time, mental illness was attributed to demonic possession. All illness was believed to be a punishment from God for sin. Those with any illness were dismissed from the community and sent to live outside of the town on the margins of society.

As a rabbi, Jesus was expected to maintain those boundaries and not approach those who were ill for fear of making himself ritually unclean. Despite this, Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. She immediately got up and served him. Jesus had restored not only her health but her place in her family. When Jesus heals someone’s bodily ills, he also restores that person’s overall position in society.

The next day, Jesus told his disciples that he wanted to visit neighboring towns because, “For this purpose have I come (Mark 1:38).” Jesus’ miracles were not separate from his preaching; they were two expressions of the same message of a loving God that Jesus was sent to reveal. Jesus’ teachings on love are affirmed by his healings when he restores peoples’ wholeness.

Our invitation this week to is to be open to where we need healing and to where we need to emulate Jesus the healer. What aspects of your life need healing? How can you make amends with someone whom you have ostracized?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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“The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!’ Jesus rebuked him and said, ‘Quiet! Come out of him!’ The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.’ His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee” (Mark 1:22-28).

The beginning of any story sets the stage. This reading is in the beginning of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus has just called his disciples and they have abandoned their lives and families to follow him. Jesus is so compelling that he prompted these drastic changes in the lives of his followers.

While Jesus is teaching in the synagogue, an unclean spirit recognizes him and says “I know who you are- the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24) Jesus responds by expelling the demon from this man. Jesus is a teacher who is not powerful enough only to call people away from their occupations and families but also powerful enough to quell demonic powers.

In this first public act of Jesus’ ministry, the stage for this Gospel is set. Mark presents Jesus as a powerful teacher, one whose witness inspires life changes, one who defeats demons, and one who teaches through his words and his actions.

Words and actions combine to make a powerful statement. Jesus is giving us an example and a challenge. We, too, must try to match our lives (our actions) with what we say we believe.

How do you show that you believe the words you profess? When do your actions not match your beliefs?

Adapted from, Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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