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crossThe beginning of Lent is the time when we focus on taking up our daily cross in imitation of Christ. The cross we bear is about more than suffering a serious disease or the death of a loved one or living without enough income to cover expenses. It means sacrificing our own will to that of the Father’s—doing what he wants, not what we want.
 
It’s a paradox, though, that in sacrificing our own will, we find true freedom. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “My yoke is easy, my burden light.” It was yet another manifestation of his divine mercy.
 
If life’s purpose lies in getting what we want, as our culture insists, then freedom becomes a very big deal. Freedom, we think, is what allows us to exercise our “unalienable right” to the pursuit of happiness. With this view of freedom, it’s easy to feel threatened by constraint of any kind. Our instinct is to resist it with all our might, for it impedes our ability to live the lives we think we want.
 
For the more we rely on others or others rely on us, the less free we are to go wherever we wish to go, pursue whatever we wish to pursue, and do whatever we wish to do. Love constrains us. And in a society devoted to personal self-fulfillment, the cost of love often seems too high.
 
For followers of Jesus, the “free” person is the one no longer plagued by the burdensome quest for money, pleasure, possessions, social status, or political power—the very things that our culture says will satisfy our deepest wants and make us happy.
 
Our prayer today:
 

We thank you today, Lord,
that in your merciful cross
we find true freedom.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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“Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ But he did not know what he was saying” (Luke 9:28B-33).
 
There are times in our lives when an experience is so wonderful that we want to stay in it forever. Such times are moments of grace. They are times when we feel especially close to God because of the depth of the joy or love we feel. This was what Peter, John, and James felt on the mountain with Jesus.
 
Peter offered to pitch three tents so they could stay and relish the experience. Peter was looking at things from the wrong perspective. This event was about what was to come. It was not the end. It was not the glory but the promise. This vision was God’s way of giving Peter, John, and James a glimpse at the resurrection.
 
Life required Jesus and the disciples to go back down the mountain and continue the difficult work of spreading Jesus’ message. They couldn’t stay in that amazing vision forever.
 
Neither can we stay on the mountaintops of our lives. We have to leave them. But we go forward enriched and strengthened by these moments.
 
Our mountaintop experiences make us who were are. What we need to do is bring the memory of the mountaintops down with us into everyday life, knowing that they sustain us and offer us a glimpse into the ultimate mountaintop experience – living in the reign of the kingdom of God.
 
What episodes in your life do you consider mountaintop experiences? How did they change you?

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

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agapeToday we are asked to take notice of two events that seem contradictory—the beginning of the penitential period of Lent, and St. Valentine’s Day, the festive celebration of romantic love usually marked by flowers, chocolates, and dinner at expensive restaurants.
 
But are they contradictions or simply different manifestations of love?
 
The ancient Greeks had four words for love: storge, the affection we have for family members; philia, the bond between friends; eros, the desire for physical union; and agape, our unselfish willingness to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of another.
 
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said that all these aspects of love come down to this: love is one thing, with the different meanings coming to the fore at different times.
 
But, he added, agape is the one we should be most mindful of as we enter Lent. It’s a time when we demonstrate our unselfish willingness to sacrifice ourselves—in this case for the sake of God.
 
So whichever manifestation of love we celebrate today, be assured that each can be sacred if our acts of love acknowledge, celebrate, and reflect God’s mercy.
 
Our prayer today:
 

Heavenly Father,
help me remember that my Lenten sacrifices
are rooted in my love for you.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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“The devil said to him, ‘I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.’ Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’ When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time” (Luke 4:6-13).
 
This is the first week of the Lenten season, so it’s no surprise that our reading describes the aftermath of a fast. Jesus fasted and wandered the wilderness for 40 days. After this ordeal, the devil tried to tempt him, and Jesus resisted.
 
If we treat Lent as a season of deprivation, we miss the point. Jesus’ responses to the devil’s temptations can teach us something about our own Lenten preparations.
 
The temptations in this reading are the same distractions that threaten to keep us from our mission. The temptation to turn stone into bread is the temptation to set aside our relationship with God for the sake of quick and easy fulfillment of desire. The desire for glory and authority over nations is the same as our own desire for domination in interpersonal, business, or political spheres. And the temptation to put God to the test is the same as refusing to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions.
 
Jesus resisted attachment to pleasure and power and skirting of accountability. These same temptations threaten our own relationships with ourselves, with others, and with God. By rejecting them, Jesus says “Yes” to contentment, unity, and responsibility.
 
Jesus drew his strength from the 40 days of being “full of” and “led by” the Holy Spirit. Forty days from now, we will be ready to more fully experience Easter joy, to celebrate the great Easter liturgies, and, in word and action, to spread the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and forgiveness of sins.
 
How have your desires for pleasure, power, or unaccountability interfered with your relationship to yourself, to others, or to God? In what way have you overcome these temptations?

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

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The_Way_of_the_CrossAs we enter the holy season of Lent the Church calls us to prepare our hearts for the celebration of our redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We come together as Church in special ways as a reminder that this is a time set apart.
 
Lent presents wonderful opportunities to deepen the bonds among the members of our small groups. If your church regularly gathers for Stations of the Cross, participating as a group can be a deeply moving experience as you share Christ’s journey to Calvary. You might participate in a parish-wide reconciliation service or come together as a group before or after receiving the sacrament of reconciliation.
 
Rice Bowl is a program sponsored by Catholic Relief Services for Lent. It combines prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, three things we are called to do during this season. You can participate in Rice Bowl as a group. There are daily prayers and recipes for meatless meals you can prepare together and share. There is even an app to make it easier to participate. You can then make a group donation to support the work of CRS.
 
If your parish does not already have any of these services, your group could help organize them, sharing your own spiritual renewal with your fellow parishioners. Whatever you do, do it together, and allow this sharing to bring you closer to each other as a spiritual community.

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