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Merciful and Waiting Father,
we thank you for your extravagant and reckless love for us.
You are patient with our wanderings,
understanding of our lapses of fidelity,
and desirous of our return.
Give us the graces we need
to reach out to those who are alienated
from our families, our church and from you.
Teach us to be as welcoming and accepting of others
as we are always welcomed by you.
We pray this trusting in your love for us,
in the name of Jesus, the compassion of God
and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

 
Adapted from RENEW International’s LIVE LENT! Year C by Sr. Terry Rickard, OP and Deacon Charles Paolino.

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The Pennsylvania grand-jury report in the summer of 2018 and the allegations against former Cardinal McCarrick reopened the wounds of the clergy sexual-abuse crisis and coverup. As I read the detail of the crimes committed against the most vulnerable, I experienced anger, disillusionment, and shame. I wanted to distance myself from it all.
 
As I began to listen to the anger and pain of everyday Catholics while facilitating parish listening sessions, buying groceries in the neighborhood, and attending family gatherings, I knew I had to do something. As I worked through my anger, the Holy Spirit slowly brought me to the truth that I needed to be part of reforming and rebuilding the Church—this Church that I love and that formed me in my faith. I needed to act for the sake of the majority of the faithful lay women and men, clergy, and religious who follow the way of Jesus—these faith-filled Catholics who celebrate the sacraments, pray daily, and are committed to charitable works and just acts. My co-workers at RENEW felt the same way. We needed to do our part to heal our Church.
 
I am inspired by a statement by theologian Karl Rahner: “I acknowledge that the Church has caused me much grief, but it is a heaviness I am not willing to put down. I will carry it until it is transformed into life, and the burden becomes light.”
 
We at RENEW recommit ourselves “to carry the Church until it is transformed into life.” With this in our hearts and minds, we developed Healing Our Church and its Spanish counterpart, Sanando Nuestra Iglesia, primarily for “people in the pews”—to face the truth, rebuild the Church, and find a way forward together as a family of faith.
 
Healing Our Church and Sanando Nuestra Iglesia are small-group processes that include prayer, stories of victim-survivors, reflections on Scripture and the sexual-abuse crisis, and faith sharing—all leading to action. The suggested action steps are small and doable and are directed mostly at the local level where effective global action often begins.
 
Developing these small-group resources has been a work of love and a myriad of people— RENEW staff members and advisors—worked unceasingly over the several months to get them ready for Lent 2019. I am grateful to all of them.
 
I am especially grateful to Bishop Alfred Schlert of the Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, for pushing us to get this done because he felt strongly, “My people need healing now.”
 
I am convinced the treatment needed to heal our wounded Church is truth, compassion, transparency, accountability, and prayer. And it will take all of us—empowered lay women and men, priests, deacons, religious, and bishops, working together—to heal and transform our Church.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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A reading from the Book of Joshua
(Chapter 5:9a, 10-12)
 
Up until this point in the story of the Israelites’ journey to freedom from Egypt, they have been fed with manna, the mysterious substance God provided in the desert. Now, everything has changed. “On the day after the Passover, they ate the produce of the land. On that same day after the Passover, on which they ate the produce of the land, the manna ceased. No longer was there manna for the Israelites, who that year ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.”
 
This whole story of the Passover from Egypt, the wandering for so long in the desert, all of this is a gift from God. But now, the people have a new gift that challenges them to become active participants. Now, they are out of the desert and in a land that they can farm to grow their own food. The gift is still there but in a different form. It is time for them to grow into a people by doing their part to become self-reliant.
 
You and I have been given great gifts, starting with the gift of life itself and continuing throughout our lives. We too must be active participants, doing our part to become self-reliant. Just as the Israelites were gifted by God throughout their existence and needed to actively accept and embrace their gifts, so too must we be active recipients, accepting the continuous gifts that God showers upon us.
 
Do you give thanks for all the gifts that God gives to you, or do you focus on the negative, all the things you do not have, all the challenges that you face every day? Just as Israel had a partnership with God and had an active role in using their gifts, so too must we be thankful for our gifts and fulfill our role in partnership with God to become fully ourselves.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7)
 
“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” Do you ever spend time savoring all the goodness of the Lord, or do you all too often taste the bitterness of what you do not have and the sorrows you face?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians
(Chapter 5:1-2, 5-8)
“Brothers and sisters: whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away, behold, new things have come. And all this is from God.” Wow! You and I are a “new creation,” and every day “new things have come.”
 
Do you experience your life in this dynamic way or is it the “same old, same old” or worse, a series of traps or boxes that keep you from being who you really are? If instead you try to see the opportunities for “new creation” appearing in your life, your life can change. The “old things” that Paul talks about which may drag you down can be transformed by the new life that is being offered to you now, if only you can accept the gifts being offered.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 15:1-3, 11-32)
 
This is one of the most powerful and hopeful of all the parables of Jesus. It is commonly called the story of the “prodigal son,” but it is more appropriately called the “parable of the father’s love.” You and I have heard the story dozens of times but try to hear it from the perspective of the father.
 
“A man had two sons, and the younger said to his father, Father give me the share of my estate that should come to me. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off for a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.” The son spends everything, and not wisely, and the country he has traveled to falls into a severe famine. He is starving and hires himself out to take care of pigs, the worst kind of job for a Jewish person.
 
“Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s workers have more than enough food to eat, but here I am dying of hunger? I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers. . . .” While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. . . . (and) ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattest calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and has come to life again, he was lost and has been found.’”
 
Remember that Jesus is telling his audience a story that creates an image of God that may not be familiar to them. On one level, this is a story of the younger son’s repentance, but on a deeper level it is a story about who an all-forgiving, all-loving God—represented by the father. Jesus wants to reorient his audience, whose idea of God has been focused on divine punishment. With this story, Jesus tells his audience that the love of God is indeed a “crazy love” beyond their imaginings. Everything else is secondary, including the sins of the younger son and the anger of his brother. Jesus wants people to broaden and deepen their understanding of who their God really is.
 
And for us today, can we see the all-powerful “crazy love” of God? Or do we judge God’s love and forgiveness according to our own limited human standards. Do you believe that God will forgive you anything if you truly repent? That is the God of Jesus, the God who is our Father.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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A reading from the Book of Exodus
(Chapter 3:1-8a, 13-15)
 
This is the famous story of God speaking to Moses from a burning bush. God says to Moses, “‘Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. But the Lord said, ‘I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.’”
 
Moses does not know what to make of this and especially he does not know who is this God, so he asks what he should say if the people ask who this God is. God’s answer is both enigmatic and revealing. “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM WHO AM. This is my name forever.”
 
Over the centuries people have speculated about what this means. Is God saying that he is all that is or all the people can know? In any case, the God who called himself I AM was powerful enough to lead the people out of slavery into freedom.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 11)
 
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Have you ever hardened your heart toward anyone or anything? It could be an understandable reaction to an injustice or hurt you have received, but if it remains it could do you and perhaps others harm. That is the time to “hear his voice,” a voice of forgiveness, mercy, and a new understanding. It is a very different voice than the one you might have in you that has not done you any good. It is time to listen to this voice, his voice.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 5:1-2, 5-8)
“Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
 
That’s right, even though many Christians do not realize it, the Holy Spirit lives within each one of us and fills us with grace, the very life of God. Imagine that! No matter how bad or disappointed we may feel with our lives, if we look more deeply we will find the presence of God. It may reveal itself in prayer but also from another person or in the deepest moments of our hopelessness and pain.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 4:5-42)
 
This is one of the most powerful and unexpected stories in the gospels. “A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ The Samaritan woman said to him ‘How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?’ Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you give me a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’ Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’”
 
There are several things that we need to know in order to understand this text. Jews considered Samaritans to be heretics. A good Jewish man would never have talked to any Samaritan, much less a woman. And this is taking place at a well which was a familiar place to meet prostitutes, and this woman has a checkered past. Jesus is risking scandal speaking to a woman, who is a heretic, at a place of sin. But he is talking about something so important that he takes the risk and talks about truly living water, the water of eternal life.
 
You and I were given that living water when we were baptized, and the very Spirit of God lives in us. God is present in us always even if we do not think of it often. We all know that water is essential for life, and this living water is essential for eternal life that has already begun in each of us. Let us rejoice in the Spirit who has given us this eternal life.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Lord, thank you for your great mercy
and the urgency of your call to live as your disciple.
Thank you because, even when I mess up,
you give me another chance.
Help me to bring the good news of your love to others
so that they, too, may turn back to your love.
Give me the courage to shake off my complacency
and choose this Lent to live more fully in your love and grace.
I pray this knowing that you desire the fullness of life for all.
Amen.

 
Adapted from RENEW International’s LIVE LENT! Year C by Sr. Terry Rickard, OP and Deacon Charles Paolino.

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