Eighth Week of Ordinary Time and the First Four Days of Lent: Feb. 26 - Mar. 4, 2017

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Alexander, Andy, S.J.
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Hear the prayer of your servants, for you are ever gracious to your people; and lead us in the way of justice. -Sirach 36
Eighth Week of Ordinary Time/|The First Four Days of Lent|In the Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Jesus gives us timeless and loving advice. Don't worry, don't fret. Our cares distract us from God unless we can place our worries directly in God's hands. "Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself."|The first readings this week are from Sirach, with their beautiful seeking of Wisdom.|During the week, Mark's Gospel offers us stories about sacrificing part of ourselves. We hear of the Rich Young Man: "Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." At that statement, his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Peter tells Jesus, "We have given up everything and followed you." Jesus responds, "there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more." When the disciples squabble over who will sit in glory with Jesus, he tells them, "the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."|The Beginning of Lent|The Season of Lent begins with four days that serve as an introduction to the four Lenten practices of Prayer, Fasting, Repentance and Almsgiving.|Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and abstinence. We wear ashes on our foreheads to remember who we are and express our desire to turn away from sin and to believe the Good News. The Prophet Joel helps us begin our journey: "return to me with your whole heart." "Rend your hearts, not your garments," reminds us that this is an interior journey. The Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 51, has the antiphon: "Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned." Paul, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians says, "be reconciled to God ... we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain ... Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." In Matthew's Gospel Jesus gives us a guide for our Lenten practices, "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them."|Thursday: From Deuteronomy, we are shown our options: "Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him." In Luke's Gospel, Jesus tells us to take up our cross daily. If we decline to be his disciples out of self-protection, we will actually lose ourselves. Really saving our lives is to lose ourselves for his sake.|Friday and Saturday: It is the long tradition of Lent to prepare us for our journey by having us ponder Isaiah, Chapter 58, as we begin. "This is the fasting that I wish" gives us the true picture of fasting: letting God's Spirit transform us. It is a call to conversion. Jesus confirms his desire to help us, "I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners."|On the First Sunday of Lent, we begin our Lenten journey, remembering how God re-established the covenant, after the flood, and we reflect on how Jesus began his public ministry with a retreat of forty days - led to the desert by the Spirit.
Daily Prayer This Week|This brief half week before Lent begins can be a great time for us to reflect upon the journey that each of us is on. We are on the road with Jesus and we sometimes seem to be partially blind. We hear him describe for us how much he wants us to be intimately involved in his self-giving love for others, yet our everyday concerns are too often self-absorbed. And, for the big decisions and small choices we continually face, we seek wisdom, clarity, the path that is just, honorable, even heroic. The readings for this week really can help us shape the desires we talk with our Lord about in the background of our daily journey each day.|We can start by asking for the grace not to be possessed by our possessions. A simple look around will help us get in touch with how attached we are to things that limit our availability to more completely follow Jesus. Even when we know how rewarding it is to follow our Lord, we are tempted to turn it into a temptation. Who doesn't ask, "Who is the greatest?" We need grace this week to be renewed in our conviction that our mission is as servants, placing ourselves at the needs of others before our own. It is difficult to know what we are unable to see. We can ask Jesus to heal our blindness and to allow us to follow him on the road, especially when it leads us to Jerusalem - taking up our crosses, out of grateful love.|Sometimes, the most ordinary of weeks can carry the deepest graces. The "work" we do to "place ourselves" in grace-filled situations is all about focus. It starts in the morning, in getting ourselves to a place in which we can name a need, a desire, which might not be very obvious, even though it is sitting in the center of our hearts. It takes a little practice to get good at this self-examination and humble openness to grace. After a while, it is so fulfilling, because it is so real.|One part of the joy of this journey is coming to realize, to experience personally, that the God I deeply desire to find, wants infinitely more to be in a loving relationship with me. In every Ordinary Time life, there are "good days" and "bad days," but in this type of daily prayer, none of our days are ever alone.|Then, Lent begins.|For these first four days it will be a great help to set aside some time, even if it means getting up a half an hour earlier each morning, to read about what Lent can mean and to let that soak into our hearts. The key is not to be somber or severe in any way, but to know that this is a time of great grace so that we can be attentive to it. The first thing to remember is that these 40 days are a gift to us. We are not trying to save ourselves by our Lenten practices. God has already saved us. We are only trying to let God get our attention and to give grace a chance to work in us.|These days are critically important for choosing to establish some Lenten patterns. Depending upon our age or health, we will want to do some fasting and abstinence, in regard to food. But, each of us can choose what else we can fast and abstain from during Lent.|What practices of mine get in the way of my being open to hearing God's Word and responding freely? That's what needs transforming. Giving up needing to be right, fasting from my impatience, totally abstaining from escapist fantasies will open our hearts to God's grace. None of that takes extra time. It just takes desire. Adding new acts of kindness, gratitude and love each day for family and friends will open our hearts to the greater acts of charity and generosity for the poor.|Finally, Lent is the perfect time to choose to grow in gratitude. Every night, before going to bed, let us be faithful to giving thanks to the Lord who has given us so many blessings and offers us new graces each and every day.|There are many resources at Praying Lent.
University Ministry, Creighton University.
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