Your Father who sees . . .(Matthew 6:4)
Welcome to another season of Lent! Beginning today, we will be encouraged to take up the traditional practices of fasting, praying, and giving alms. Today, in fact, is set aside as a special day of fasting, along with a Mass where we will be marked with ashes and reminded that we are dust. We’ll wonder what we should “give up” for Lent, and we’ll hear readings at Mass calling us to repent and follow Jesus more closely. In other words, this can be an intense season as we prepare for Easter.
But there’s another side to Lent. It’s almost hidden in plain sight, tucked away three times in today’s Gospel reading: “Your Father who sees” (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18). It tells us that God is always looking on us in love, so we don’t have to work hard to get his attention. If anything, our Lenten observances are there to help us begin looking at him.
Open to the first page of Genesis, and you’ll find similar words. God saw his creation and announced it to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31). He was pleased, especially when he looked upon men and women—the crown of his creation.
Even when sin darkened his masterpiece, God never stopped seeing us with his eyes of love. In fact, he intensified his gaze, giving us the Law, the prophets, and, ultimately, Jesus himself. Even on the cross, Jesus was seeing us, looking on us with mercy and forgiveness.
This is the good news of Lent: God sees you. He knows you. He is committed to you. He loves you. No amount of work on your part can increase his love for you. It’s already complete, perfect.
By all means, do fast and pray and give alms! Just remember that these practices aren’t meant to grab hold of God’s attention. They’re meant to help you fix your eyes on your Father, who sees. And your Father, who sees, promises to reward you.
“Thank you, Father, that you see me with love. Help me gaze at you this Lent.”
Psalm 51:3-6, 12-14, 17
2 Corinthians 5:20–6:2
Each person is tempted when lured and enticed by his desire.
What a perfect day to hear these words from St. James! Why today? Because it’s Mardi Gras. All over the world, revelers will recall that this is their last chance to eat, drink, and be merry before Lent begins. It’s the last day for a bit of self-indulgence before a season of self-denial. And so it’s good to hear James warn us not to let our desires get out of hand—any day of the year. It’s good to be reminded that temptation comes when the wrong kinds of desire are stirred up and fed. These desires can lead us to sin, and if we remain in sin, it can lead to death (James 1:15).
This sounds awfully grim, doesn’t it? Of course there’s nothing wrong with a little extra fun on Mardi Gras—especially if we stay within the bounds of moderation. But as we head into Lent, it’s good to be reminded how tricky and how deceitful our desires can be. We can want something so badly that we go to dangerous lengths to get it. Isn’t this what happened with King David and Bathsheba? He wanted her so much that he ended up committing adultery, deception, and murder just to get his way (2 Samuel 11).
Now, we know that not all of our desires are sinful. In fact, our deepest, most powerful desires are also our purest desires. We all long for the love, mercy, and joy that come from the Lord. We all yearn to taste his holiness, his purity, and his wisdom. We long for the day when all of our desires are purified so that we can receive “every perfect gift” that God has for us (James 1:17). And that’s exactly what Lent is all about.
Some people see Lent as a time of gloom and doom. They look on Ash Wednesday with a sense of dread. But that’s not how God sees Lent. He sees it as a season of grace and gift giving. He sees it as a time when our fallen desires can be healed and restored. He is a good and gracious Father, and he wants nothing more than to give us the best, the brightest, and the most satisfying gifts we can imagine.
“Jesus, you are my heart’s true desire!”
Psalm 94:12-15, 18-19
God who gives to all generously . . . (James 1:5)
James’ letter can read like a long list of advice, kind of like a supersized to-do list: be joyful when you suffer. Persevere perfectly. Ask in faith. Recognize you will fade like a flower. But James doesn’t give us a bunch of “shoulds” and then leave us to work away at it. He reminds us of something very important: God is generous and ungrudging with his grace.
God is not a stingy accountant looking for our shortcomings, and we are not slaves to a list of rules, left to sweat away on our own strength. God has given us his grace, and he delights in giving us even more of it. There’s no reason to doubt that.
As an exhortation on ethical conduct, the Letter of James has much in common with the Wisdom books of the Old Testament. James describes what the “just man” looks like, not simply by virtue of obeying the Law, but by virtue of the grace he receives in Christ. That’s the lens through which James speaks to us. And that’s why he is quick to remind us how much Jesus loves to give us good gifts.
You have received this grace James talks about. How can you tell? As you continue to grow in prayer, you might find yourself becoming more willing to forgive a coworker or friend. You might find yourself just a bit more patient with your children than you were last year. You might be more likely to pray for someone in need rather than shrug your shoulders or feel powerless. These are all signs that God is continuing to pour grace upon grace into your heart.
A to-do list might leave you feeling discouraged, especially when you struggle to accomplish everything on it. But listen to James: God never tires of giving us his gifts. You can ask him for the wisdom you need. You can ask him for help when you find yourself lacking. So go ahead and try to follow James’ advice, but be sure to seek out the grace and help you need. You don’t have to do it on your own!
“Father, I trust your generosity. I believe that you have poured grace into my life and that you have even more grace waiting for me!”
Psalm 119:67-68, 71-72, 75-76
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Brothers and sisters, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Ash Wednesday is this week. While some of us are keen to begin Lent, some may feel disheartened at the prospect of keeping their Lenten resolutions. If this is you, don’t worry. Paul’s words have come at just the right time. Not only is this verse encouraging, but it’s a fitting theme for Lent—something you can return to again and again for inspiration and direction.
Brothers and sisters. First, remember that you won’t be embarking on this journey alone. You are swept up into a vast family called the Church. This multitude will be walking arm in arm with you as you follow Jesus on his road to the cross. You can always call on these traveling companions for encouragement and support in prayer. What’s more, you can always ask your Father to send down reinforcements of grace if the going gets tough!
Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do. Remember, the kingdom of God isn’t a matter of eating and drinking (Romans 14:17). Neither is it a matter of not eating and drinking. So don’t get hung up on the details of your resolution. And don’t worry if you slip up every now and then. Instead, keep your focus on your love for Jesus. Running errands. Doing laundry. Caring for a spouse. Even fasting. These can all become opportunities to let your love for God work itself outward into every nook and cranny of your life.
Do everything for the glory of God. If you’re still feeling unsure about Lent, cling to the motto of St. Ignatius of Loyola: “For the greater glory of God.” God is shown to be glorious when his children offer their daily tasks to him and find happiness in glorifying him. This is the heart of Lent: putting aside temporary pleasures in order to become satisfied in God.
“Lord, here’s all my life—for your glory.”
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11
5th Week in Ordinary Time
He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue. (Mark 7:33)
Life has become much more automated recently, hasn’t it? Driverless cars are on the horizon. Cell phones can now be unlocked through facial recognition software. If you go to the grocery store or the public library, you’ll find people flocking to the self-checkout stand. Certainly these innovations have made life more convenient. But there’s still something to be said for the old-fashioned kind of customer service, in which a cashier hands you your money, and you sometimes end up chatting about the weather, sports, or a recent family outing. It’s what we sometimes call the “human touch.”
Human contact is not only important to us, but it’s important to God as well. That’s why Jesus held children in his lap, and it’s why he had no hesitation touching lepers. It’s also why, in today’s reading, he didn’t just pray words of healing. He made it a point to touch the deaf and mute man.
Jesus may no longer be present on earth physically, but he still wants to touch people. He wants to do it through us. This is especially important in our time, as we live in a world where human interaction seems to be decreasing every day.
Something that seems as insignificant as a warm handshake or a pat on the shoulder can be a huge comfort at times. A warm embrace can bring healing to a close friend who is struggling. Even a simple “hello” coupled with a smile can lift someone’s spirits. And if you have the opportunity to pray with someone, you might ask if it’s okay to hold their hand or place your hand on their shoulder while you pray.
God has given all of us a healthy desire to give and receive love. When that desire is bottled up, we suffer, and the people we have an opportunity to help suffer as well.
So let’s make it a point to go out of our way to touch people with a smile and a warm gesture of affection today. In our homes, let’s make it a point to offer displays of affection to our spouse and children. After all, Jesus did tell us to love one another as he loves us—and he loves to touch us!
“Lord, help me to be more kind and loving to everyone I meet."
1 Kings 11:29-32; 12:19
Saint Jerome Emiliani (Optional Memorial)
She begged him. (Mark 7:26)
Some of the most emotionally powerful stories in the New Testament feature a parent begging Jesus to touch their child. From the little girl who was raised from the dead to the epileptic boy, these miracles all took place because parents pushed through the crowd on their child’s behalf.
The Syrophoenician woman in today’s Gospel reading is another example of a persistent parent who sought out Jesus, even when he seemed to want to be left alone. She pressed Jesus to heal her daughter. Even when he initially refused her request, she didn’t give up. She asked again, until Jesus relented and restored the girl.
Since New Testament times, parental guidance and prayers have made all the difference in the lives of countless saints. St. Monica spent years praying for her wayward son, Augustine, before she finally saw her prayers answered in his conversion. He went on to become one of the great early church fathers. More recently, Louis and Zelie Martin prayed constantly that all of their children would become saints. Several of their children joined religious life, and their youngest is one of our most beloved saints: Thérèse of Lisieux.
Many of us have been influenced by the prayers of our parents. And even if you never knew your parents or if your relationship is not what it could be, you can be sure that you have spiritual parents and brothers and sisters praying for you along the way. Not only do you have your guardian angel, but you also have saints who can relate to your challenges and who are praying for you. Like the Syrophoenician woman, they are wonderfully persistent in their intercession. It’s almost as if they won’t take no for an answer, even if the answer came in an unexpected way
Let’s thank the Lord for our biological and spiritual family members who have prayed for us and mentored us over the years. You may not know everything about them, and you may not even know who they are, but they have made a difference in your life. Thank the Lord for these prayer warriors. Their persistent prayers have made you the person you are today.
“Lord, thank you for giving us people who persistently pray for us.”
1 Kings 11:4-13
Psalm 106:3-4, 35-37, 40
Saint Jerome Emiliani’s Story
A careless and irreligious soldier for the city-state of Venice, Jerome was captured in a skirmish at an outpost town and chained in a dungeon. In prison Jerome had a lot of time to think, and he gradually learned how to pray. When he escaped, he returned to Venice where he took charge of the education of his nephews—and began his own studies for the priesthood.
In the years after his ordination, events again called Jerome to a decision and a new lifestyle. Plague and famine swept northern Italy. Jerome began caring for the sick and feeding the hungry at his own expense. While serving the sick and the poor, he soon resolved to devote himself and his property solely to others, particularly to abandoned children. He founded three orphanages, a shelter for penitent prostitutes and a hospital.
Around 1532, Jerome and two other priests established a congregation, the Clerks Regular of Somasca, dedicated to the care of orphans and the education of youth. Jerome died in 1537 from a disease he caught while tending the sick. He was canonized in 1767. In 1928, Pius Xl named him the patron of orphans and abandoned children.
Very often in our lives it seems to take some kind of “imprisonment” to free us from the shackles of our self-centeredness. When we’re “caught” in some situation we don’t want to be in, we finally come to know the liberating power of Another. Only then can we become another for “the imprisoned” and “the orphaned” all around us.
The Liturgical Feast of Saint Jerome Emiliani is February 8.
Saint Jerome Emiliani is the Patron Saint of:Orphans
5th Week in Ordinary Time
She was breathless. (1 Kings 10:5)
The splendor and depth of God’s wisdom can be a powerful witness indeed! The Queen of Sheba was so taken by Solomon’s insight and wisdom—not just by the grandeur of his palace and Temple—that she couldn’t help but respond. Scripture tells us that it actually took her breath away. God had blessed Solomon so richly that the queen ended up glorifying God.
It may be hard to believe, but using our gifts of insight and wisdom can also be a powerful witness to those around us. You probably don’t live in a palace or don’t have massive landholdings. But God has blessed you with his indwelling Spirit. And that sets you apart. You stand out! The way you live and the priorities you have can point onlookers to heaven. Your words and responses can demonstrate God’s wisdom and gentleness in a critical or selfish setting.
As you grow closer to the Lord and give more of your life to him, you become more open to his goodness and wisdom—and that becomes more evident to the people around you. It is this “evidence” that can lead onlookers to come seek out the Lord for themselves and, eventually, to glorify him. Put simply, they will want what you have: peace, confidence, assurance, and firmness of purpose.
Jesus wants your light to shine out to other people (Matthew 5:16). This light shouldn’t be restricted to the way you pray or to your ability to quote Scripture from memory. If it really is God’s light, then it will naturally include his goodness shining through the most everyday aspects of your life. The more your heart is dedicated to God, the easier it is for people to see the Lord and his gifts in you.
Think about the gifts that God has given to you. How is his goodness being displayed in your life? How has it increased over the past few years? As you identify these blessings, give thanks and praise to the Lord and dedicate yourself to him even more. Then watch what God does in you and through you.
“Holy Spirit, open my eyes and the eyes of those around me to the wonder and majesty of your presence. May we all glorify you for your unbounded generosity.”
Psalm 37:5-6, 30-31, 39-40
Saint Colette’s Story
Colette did not seek the limelight, but in doing God’s will she certainly attracted a lot of attention. Colette was born in Corbie, France. At 21, she began to follow the Third Order Rule and became an anchoress, a woman walled into a room whose only opening was a window into a church.
After four years of prayer and penance in this cell, she left it. With the approval and encouragement of the pope, she joined the Poor Clares and reintroduced the primitive Rule of St. Clare in the 17 monasteries she established. Her sisters were known for their poverty—they rejected any fixed income—and for their perpetual fast. Colette’s reform movement spread to other countries and is still thriving today. Colette was canonized in 1807.
Colette began her reform during the time of the Great Western Schism (1378-1417) when three men claimed to be pope and thus divided Western Christianity. The 15th century in general was a very difficult one for the Western Church. Abuses long neglected cost the Church dearly in the following century. Colette’s reform indicated the entire Church’s need to follow Christ more closely.
Saint Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs (Memorial)
You have set aside the commandment of God. (Mark 7:9)
It was an easy trap to fall into. In their zeal for the faith, many of the scribes and Pharisees created layers and layers of traditions and practices that would set them apart from “the world.” Over time, these layers began to complicate and eclipse the true nature of the Law of Moses—to the point that some people were able to turn the Law on its head.
In contrast to the complexities these scribes and Pharisees introduced, Jesus focused on two simple, fundamental commandments: love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. Every law and commandment of the Lord can be summed up by these two verses from the Torah.
But no matter how simple these commands are, they certainly aren’t easy. How can we love everyone all the time? There are times when we can barely tolerate members of our family, let alone the stranger next door or the co-worker who gets on our nerves. How can we avoid the temptation to introduce complexities and excuses so that we can free ourselves from the command to love?
By letting God’s own love teach us how to love.
It may not be easy, but it is simple. Jesus loves you. Not because you do the right things. (No one is perfect.) Not because you embrace every one of his teachings. (Everyone struggles with at least one commandment.) And not because you have shown yourself to be better than other people. (God’s rain falls on the just and unjust alike.) No, Jesus loves you because he looks into your heart and sees how “very good” it is (Genesis 1:31). He looks past the hurts, the resentments, and the unconfessed sin, and peers right into the center of who you are.
It’s right there, in the center, that Jesus sees the love he has placed in you. He sees your desire to please the Lord. He sees the goodness and purity that God created you with. And what he sees pierces his heart with love. With joy. With compassion. It’s this gaze that can melt our hearts and teach us to love as he does—simply, mercifully, and equally.
“‘My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God’ (Psalm 84:3). Jesus, teach me to love.”
1 Kings 8:22-23, 27-30
Psalm 84:3-5, 10-11
Saint Agatha’s Story
Patron Saint of
Diseases of the Breast
As in the case of Agnes, another virgin-martyr of the early Church, almost nothing is historically certain about this saint except that she was martyred in Sicily during the persecution of Emperor Decius in 251.
Legend has it that Agatha, like Agnes, was arrested as a Christian, tortured, and sent to a house of prostitution to be mistreated. She was preserved from being violated, and was later put to death.
She is claimed as the patroness of both Palermo and Catania. The year after her death, the stilling of an eruption of Mt. Etna was attributed to her intercession. As a result, apparently, people continued to ask her prayers for protection against fire.
The scientific modern mind winces at the thought of a volcano’s might being contained by God because of the prayers of a Sicilian girl. Still less welcome, probably, is the notion of that saint being the patroness of such varied professions as those of foundry workers, nurses, miners and Alpine guides. Yet, in our historical precision, have we lost an essential human quality of wonder and poetry, and even our belief that we come to God by helping each other, both in action and prayer?
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I have become all things to all.
(1 Corinthians 9:22)
Jesus once told his disciples that the road to heaven is narrow and sparsely populated (Matthew 7:14). But he also said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). This sounds a bit confusing, doesn’t it? The truth is, no one really knows the answer to the question of how many—or how few—will be saved.
This is probably one reason why Paul was so dedicated to his work as an apostle. He knew the joy of heaven, and he didn’t want anyone to miss out on it. And so he made it his life’s mission to become “all things to all” so that he could “save at least some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). You can sense Paul’s determination from the fact that he used the word “win” four times in just three verses (9:20-22). “Winning” for him meant bringing people to the Lord. It meant doing anything he could so that people could come to know Jesus’ salvation.
So how can we win people to Jesus? How can we become all things to all? Paul would tell us to learn how to talk about sports so that we can meet sports fans on their level. He would tell us to learn how to talk about current events with an accent on God’s plan. He would tell us to learn what it means to have nothing so that we can relate to the poor or what the main concerns of young people are so that we can put ourselves in their shoes and win them.
Paul adapted his teaching to the culture of each city he visited so that he could reach the people there in words and images they would understand. That’s a great example for us. Paul’s example urges us not to be a stumbling block to other people because we don’t understand their culture or their interests. So let’s all imitate Paul and become as flexible and adaptable as possible so that we can help as many people as possible come closer to Jesus.
“Lord, teach me how to share your good news.”
Job 7:1-4, 6-7
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