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A reading from the Book of Genesis
(Chapter 2:7-9, 3:1-7)
 
No one knows exactly when the Book of Genesis was written, but biblical scholars calculate that it was sometime after the Jewish people came back from the Babylonian Exile in the sixth century B.C. and people questioned why they were away so long and why God had allowed them to experience such misery.
 
This story of Adam and Eve is obviously an allegory, but it provides answers to two of life’s most important questions. Why are we not immortal; why do we all have to die? And, is there not some super wisdom that can protect us from making wrong decisions that might lead to death or ruin?
 
The authors answer these questions by telling a two-part story. First, “The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” The authors wanted their listeners or readers to know that God is the creator of all that exists, and that everything God has created is good. It was important to begin the story in a positive vein for a people who had just been through the hell of the Babylonian Exile and for people to follow who might experience similar horrors.
 
The story then switches to the woman, and it turns dark. “The serpent asked the woman, ‘Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?’” The woman answers, “It is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat or even touch it, lest you die’ …. But the serpent said to the woman: ‘You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.” Of course, we know that the woman gives in to the serpent, eats some fruit, and then gives some to the man, Adam.
 
The authors answer both those seminal questions. We do not have immortality, because the woman and man disobeyed God, and there is no super wisdom to prevent us from wrong decisions and sin. It is gone because of the bad decision made by the first human beings.
 
Because of the way this story is constructed, it has been interpreted to mean that woman is to blame for evil in the world. Nonsense! The message of this creation story is not that women are weaker or less capable than men. Perhaps we’re still learning that, step by painful step.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17)
 
“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.” Let us ask for God’s forgiveness for any time we may have discriminated against another person, at any time, for any reason.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 5:12-19)
 
Here, Paul traces the root of sin to Adam and forgiveness of sin to Jesus Christ. “But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam…. But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one, the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” Notice the word “gift.” It is one of the most important words in our faith. Our life itself is a gift. Our faith is a gift. God’s unconditional love is a gift. We did not earn any of it.
 
For centuries, people have asked the question, “How can I get to heaven?” The answer is that we can’t do it ourselves. We need to accept the gift of life, of God’s unconditional love, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, our life partner, within our souls. It is all gift from our merciful Father who never stops loving us. Please share the gift with those you love and especially those you may find hard to love.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 4:1-11)
 
This is an amazing story of one man’s battle with evil temptations. Notice who leads him and stays with him throughout. “At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” Jesus fasts forty days and forty nights, and he is hungry and vulnerable. “The tempter approached and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” That was the first temptation, physical hunger. Most of us have not experienced that kind of extreme hunger but think of the millions of our brothers and sisters all over the world who live with hunger every day. Jesus responds, “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Then the devil ups the ante to life itself and tells Jesus that he should throw himself down from the parapet of the temple. Then, finally, he shows Jesus “All the kingdoms of this world in their magnificence, and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you.’ … Jesus said to him, ‘Go away Satan.’”
 
That covers all the temptations that you and I might experience—all sorts of hungers, lack of trust in God, and desire for power. Jesus faced them all, and he is with us in all of our temptations. We live in the mystery of God’s mercy and our life partner, the Holy Spirit, lives within us.
 
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.
 
Image courtesy of freebibleimages.org.
 
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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As we begin this important journey of faith, Lord
we pray for your presence and wisdom.
Help us to recognize that you are the Lord of our life and destiny.
Inspire us to make life-giving choices
and avoid voices contrary to your message.
Give us the wisdom to discern the truth
in the midst of temptations,
and the strength to act on this truth.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The Word on Campus © RENEW International.

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On each Monday in February, we will share some thoughts from Sr. Terry
about preparing for and really experiencing Lent,
which begins with Ash Wednesday on February 26.

 
Last week, we reviewed things to do—positive actions to take to make the most of your Lenten journey. And now, things not to do:
 
Don’t give up. Instead of giving up something for Lent, try doing something that will bring you closer to God. Perhaps attend Mass during the week, spend time reflecting on the daily or Sunday readings by yourself and with others by using this book, experience the beauty of God’s creation by taking walks, make donations to your favorite charities, volunteer at the local food bank, light candles and say prayers for the people you know who are struggling. If you still decide to give something up, do it for someone else. For example, if you give up wine for Lent, each time you decline to take wine, pray for someone who struggles with an addiction to alcohol.
 
Don’t sweat it. Whatever it is you commit to do this Lent, the point isn’t to do it perfectly. Give it your best, but if you slip up, accept that as a reminder that you are not perfect. Only God is perfect. Say a prayer, and start again.
 
Don’t starve yourself. Lent isn’t about going on a diet or losing weight—it’s about the conversion of hearts. Eat healthy, get some exercise, but don’t succumb to our culture’s obsession with physical appearances. Again, if you want to give up sweets, do it while praying for someone who is seriously overweight.
 
Don’t make it more difficult than it is. The three pillars of Lent are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Find simple ways to pray, fast, and give to those who live in poverty.
 
Don’t hold back. Lent will present you with many opportunities to convert your heart and your life, to heal broken relationships, and to grow closer to God. When you find yourself presented with such an opportunity, embrace it.
 
So this Lent don’t give up, don’t sweat it, don’t starve yourself, don’t make it more difficult than it is, and, most especially, don’t hold back! Live Lent! so you can live a more authentic faith long after these 40 days have passed.
 

Excerpt from the Introduction to Live Lent! Year A
by Sr. Theresa Rickard, OP, President of RENEW International,
© 2019 RENEW International
.

 
Live Lent! contains daily meditations and weekly small-group faith-sharing sessions beginning on Ash Wednesday. It includes prayers, reflections on Old and New Testament readings, questions with journaling space, and action prompts to help us Live Lent! in our daily lives. Learn more and order Live Lent! at www.renewintl.org/livelent. Use Promo Code TRLENT20 to save 25% on your order of Live Lent! or any of RENEW’s Lenten resources.
 
Please share this with anyone who might be interested in making the most of this season of preparation, renewal, and transformation. Don’t just observe Lent—live it!
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is a Dominican Sister of Blauvelt, NY and President of RENEW International.

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Dear God,
I give you thanks
that I am made in your image and likeness.
Help me to be aware of your presence
in all your people.
Give me the courage to treat all
as I would treat Jesus.
I ask that your Holy Spirit open my heart
and teach me about your love
and my need to love others.
I truly desire to live Jesus’ commands,
but am painfully aware that I cannot do it
without the help of your Spirit.
I ask this through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The People’s Prayer Book, © RENEW International.

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“Little lazies” is what I call them. You know them: those small chores or actions you don’t do, because you don’t deem them urgent or important; or, better still, you think someone else will do them. Remember that saltshaker you did not refill, or that paper-towel dispenser that was on its last towel? I think we all give in to them at times. “Little lazies” are just slight lapses in self-discipline that eventually catch up with us, either because necessity forces us to carry out these tasks or because we are confronted by someone else who did.

 

I see someone in a store, and I think to myself how sad that person looks. Even if I don’t know him or her, would it hurt me to smile and just say, “Good morning?” A passerby has a pouting little child in her shopping cart. Would I take a few seconds to compliment the mother and say a few kind words to the child instead of just going about my errands? Openness is a way of overcoming the “little lazies” insofar as we don’t withdraw from our surroundings and selfishly turn inward. Small acts of kindness are little disciplines we can either ignore or lovingly carry out. We don’t have big demands made on us in these simple situations, but we can start somewhere, and practice can help prepare us for the bigger discipline demands.

 

Today the Church observes an optional memorial for St. Peter Damian, who was a bishop in the 11th century and has been named a Doctor of the Church. St. Peter Damian was definitely familiar with discipline. I would guess that he did not give in to those “little lazies” and certainly not big ones! His Wikipedia biography entry tells of his extreme self-mortification all the while being a forceful reformer, a writer, a leader, a cardinal, and a legate for the pope. The readings for his memorial Mass call us to be active, persistent, and fruitful (2 Timothy 4:1-5, John 15:1-8). We cannot be lazy, because, as the Responsorial Psalm proclaims, “You are my inheritance, O Lord” (Psalm 16:5a). We have good reason and motivation to be energized! See what is waiting for us!

 

In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus invites us to be his disciples. Did you ever notice that “disciple” and “discipline” have the same first seven letters? Disciples have to be disciplined, and we can be, because we are the branches abiding on the nourishing vine that is Jesus. If we start to get a little lazy or a little weak, we can confidently pray to our personal Source for strength and perseverance. This is good news that can bolster us again and again!

 

We are close to the end of the week, and sometimes by then we are running out of steam. In my prayer time today, I might ask for a little boost of self-discipline so that I can try to glorify the Father by bearing fruit for his kingdom—even some small fruit!

 

We all might consider making a loving phone call, sharing a comforting Gospel story, spreading an uplifting attitude, praying for a soldier who is deployed, or good-naturedly completing someone else’s “little lazy” chore. We have a strong example of a disciplined person in St. Peter Damian. Best of all, we have the loving example of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Holiness, here we come!

 

Think about it:

  1. What are some of your “little lazies?”
  2. In what small way can you add to your response to the call to be a disciple of Jesus?

 
Sharon Krause is a RENEW volunteer whose writing has appeared in several resources for small-group faith sharing. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother residing in Manchester, CT. Over the years, she has served in many parish ministries.

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