Sixth Week of Ordinary Time and First Four Days of Lent: Feb. 14-20, 2021

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Alexander, Andy, S.J.
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This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed... Isaiah 58
Sixth Week of Ordinary Time and First Four Days of Lent|We have only three days of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time. Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent.|The first few days of this week are the last of the Ordinary Time readings until the day after Pentecost Sunday, which will end the Easter Season. The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time offers a dramatic look at leprosy. The first reading from Leviticus has clear instructions: A leper has to live away from the community, cover his head and call out, "Unclean, unclean!" as people go near him. It emphasizes even more what it means that Jesus speaks with and touches someone who was such a pariah as he heals the leper in Mark's Gospel.|On Monday and Tuesday in Mark's Gospel, we witness Jesus' discouragement as he again encounters the challenges of the religious leaders: "he sighed from the depth of his spirit." As they retreat to the other side of the lake, Jesus warns his disciples against the rebellious "leaven" of the Pharisees and reminds them of the meaning of the miracle of the loaves - he is like God, come to feed them in whatever desert journey they encounter.|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 First 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."|On Thursday we read in Deuteronomy how Moses urges his people to turn away from sin. "Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him."|Friday and Saturday: It is the long tradition of Lent to prepare us for our journey by having us reflect on 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, as 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 - driven to the desert by the Spirit.
Daily Prayer This Week|This is a great week to pray for simplicity, and all the graces that flow from this gift. Simplicity doesn't mean being simple minded or naive. It means being like the little children Jesus called us to imitate and the little children he embraced.|It is easy to take few moments each morning this week to ask for the graces that we need to look into our busy calendars, and into our very full hearts, and find the areas that need greater simplicity. Of course, part of that prayer comes out of a desire to be less complicated, to be less stressed by conflict and to not be pulled in too many directions.|Another level of that prayer is that we might be more trusting, more vulnerable and more dependent upon God. This is to ask for that great grace of living a life that comes together - with the various parts in harmony with each other, i.e., the me that goes to church on Sunday is the same me that interacts with my family and the me that goes to work each day.|A key focus, as we begin Lent is to remember that this is a season, not so much about what acts we will do for God, but how we can be open to what God wants to give us. If we make sacrifices, it will be in service of getting rid of what gets in the way of our openness and trust in God, and adding what can help me hear and receive what is being offered me.|Each of us will find ways to ask for these graces according to our own circumstances. Some of us may be able to set time aside every day to pray. But, even those of us who can't seem to find that time can choose to focus our consciousness enough to gather our interior movements together in ongoing brief, but very meaningful, conversations with our Lord. If our days can begin with naming the desire that will give shape to our thoughts and desires throughout the day, then that discipline will pay off richly in our ability to re-connect to that desire when we are in the midst of doing almost anything. It starts to become easy to recall what we asked the Lord for in just 30 or 40 seconds in the morning. While walking somewhere or while doing almost anything else that used to just be filled with worry or anxiety or "day dreaming," we can now talk with our Lord about this event or that conflict, this person or that habit of mine. Each brief, "background" encounter with our Lord will help us repeat our desire to be made more simple. "Whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it."|Isaiah 58 - from Friday and Saturday - offers a rich reflection on the kind of fasting our Lord desires of us.|One resource that can be helpful is Creighton's Praying Lent pages which offer daily prayers during Lent, reflections on preparing for Lent, entering into it at a deeper level in our busy lives, looking at marriage during Lent, helping our children with this season and even ideas about "Cooking Lent." Praying Lent is a part of Creighton's Online Ministries.
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