Reflection for Saturday, February 20, 2021: Saturday after Ash Wednesday.

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Alexander, Andy, S.J.
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|The first four days of Lent offer an introduction to our Lenten journey. The readings for the first part of Lent have been arranged as a mini catechism for those journeying to Baptism and communion in the Church.|Today we have the second half of Chapter 58 of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. The first part was yesterday. Through the prophet, God dislikes the type of fasting the people were doing. It was empty and without devotion and without charity and justice. Today's reading offers us the rest of the"This is the type of fasting I desire" message from yesterday.|If you remove from your midst oppression,|false accusation and malicious speech;|If you bestow your bread on the hungry|and satisfy the afflicted;|Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,|and the gloom shall become for you like midday;|It is a pretty powerful message to receive each year on this first Friday and Saturday in Lent. Each of us can translate that into what it means for us. It is clearly quite far beyond giving up this or that during Lent. It is even beyond an extra time of prayer each day. Those things can help us become freer and hear God's word more clearly. It is clear that the fasting that God desires is that we give up our self-centered pursuits and turn our hearts toward others. It isn't easy to turn that desire by God for us into a Lenten practice, without some careful reflection. We aren't accustomed to reflect upon acting justly as part of our Lenten journey. It isn't often part of our practice to do an examination of the systemic patterns of injustice of which I am a part. And, though it is all over the gospels in the weeks ahead, it isn't always a part of our Lenten reflection to beg that our hearts might become more like the compassionate and merciful heart of Jesus. Usually those efforts at greater freedom, greater balance, and greater self-sacrificing love start closest to home - with those nearest to me. Imagine if every family were to agree that this Lent we will begin by being kind to each other, in ways beyond our normal patterns. Imagine if we got together and talked about how we would intentionally try to listen to each other more, respond to each other with compassion and affirmation, and look for ways to surrender "my way" to make life easier for someone in my family. And imagine - I know I'm sounding crazy now - that we might agree to spend some time each week in a conversation about ways we recognize and feel sadness about the injustices around us and share our feelings of compassion and reinforce them in each other.|I know that some of our families or friend grouping are experiencing so much pain or division that these ideas are not helpful. Prayer may reveal other ways we can let compassion and charity into our hearts this Lent.|These are very little steps. They won't change the world dramatically. But, they might result in a most blessed Lenten journey for us. When we get to the later parts of Lent and we are reflecting on the saving death and resurrection of Jesus - and how we celebrate his being broken and poured out for us in our celebration of the Eucharist, then our practice of Lent feels not only freeing and renewed, but it will feel in communion with the mystery we celebrate as we prepare for Easter.|In the midst of conflict and division, The Second Eucharistic Prayer always prays, near the end:|Humbly we pray that, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.|And then, we pray:|Remember, Lord, your Church, spread throughout the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity, ...|Those prayers might grow in us during Lent.|Today's gospel is the call of Levi [Matthew?] in Luke. It's powerful to see how quickly Levi responds. He doesn't "calculate" whether the call of Jesus is a "good deal" or "suits him" in this way or that. He leaves everything behind and follows Jesus, and throws a banquet to celebrate. The joy for us is to see Jesus there at that banquet with "sinners." The religious leaders sadly don't like Jesus being so comfortable with sinners, but we can delight in this story revealing to us how Jesus regards us. We're not too messy for him to enjoy being with us and celebrating God's merciful love for us. Each of us. All of us.|Letting go of finger pointing at other sinners is a good early Lenten grace to ask for as well. It makes it so much easier for us to have a great time at the sinners' banquet he offers us.|Lord of Love, thank you for giving us this season to grow in a deeper sense of your love for us and to grow in the freedom to love like you love us. May our Lenten days help us turn our eyes to you and your healing invitation to leave what we need to leave behind in order to follow you, placing our lives in your hands. And, may our little acts of freedom help us build bridges and foster unity and charity and justice, in broader and expanding circles. May your mercy fill our Lent with joy and lead us to Holy Week, renewed for loving.
University Ministry, Creighton University.
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