March 20, 2022: Third Sunday of Lent
Dear Followers of Jesus,
Luke 13:1-9 invites us to examine how God is changing our lives and giving us another chance. The tree in this gospel offers us an image of hope for our own lives as well as the Church.
In this Lenten season, I am so aware that I need another opportunity to grow deeper into the mystery of Jesus’ dying and rising in me. I need to be pruned. I need God to dig up the soil around my heart and offer me another opportunity to grow from his love, in his love and because of his love.
I am sure we all need this awareness as well. I believe with my entire heart that each of us needs another chance to find God’s love, the source and soil on which our lives grow and change in the world. Even when we resist life and hold grudges and remain active in our addictions and live behind our rough exteriors to protect ourselves from the world, I am confident that not many of us feel really good about our real selves. Sometimes, we just do not know how to access God, how to live differently in Him or even how to seek him in prayer.
Sometimes we live self-protective lives. We hide our secrets. We cannot admit our wrongs. We do not say that we need God because we do not want to look weak. We hide our tears and our emotions because the world will think less of us. We do not crack open our hearts lest others think we are not in complete control of our lives. We hide behind anger, fear and loneliness. We create a shell that will not be cracked by any thing or any one.
This is the image of the tree that has withered. It needs a second chance or maybe a third or fourth chance. It needs help to bloom, to give life and to recognize its place in the world. We are no different. We need to cultivate within our own lives a new desire for the Paschal Mystery, that is Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. In this Lent, we sit with all the ways in which our lives have withered. We examine our need for mercy and forgiveness. We reflect on our relationships and the ways in which we have pushed people away. We examine how we need God to support our lives in the Church and how the Church needs another chance to find its way into the Light.
Life sometimes does not bear the fruit we think it should. So often we grow angry and resentful about how life really is and that we did not get our way. Lent is also an opportunity for us to find the truth of who we are in God. We grow more beautifully, more faithfully, more lovingly, when we finally rest our hearts in the soil of God’s forgiveness and mercy. Then we shall grow with hope, bloom with justice and become a tree that reaches toward heavenly light.
Fr. Ronald Patrick Raab, C.S.C., ministers among the vulnerable and marginalized of society and the Church. From his experiences in living the Gospel among the poor, he speaks and writes about prayer and service and knowing the love of God through our common poverty. He is active as a retreat director, blogger, award-winning author, and visual artist. Fr. Ron serves as pastor of Sacred Heart Church Parish, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Fr. Ron has graciously given us permission not only to use the reflections he posts on his website, ronaldraab.com, but also to freely use the art he creates for each reflection.
March 4, 2022: First Sunday of Lent
“Jesus was tempted in the desert for forty days. Our society has been tempted in our rough, dry days of pandemic as well. We have faced job loss, racial divides and outrage, loss of careers, and faced obstacles to educate and raise our children. The wild beasts seem to have gotten the best of us this year. These past two Lenten seasons are unlike any Lent in a century.
However, we are still on the journey toward redemption and new life. We are called once again to repent of the weight that has accumulated upon our shoulders, that has wedged us into despair and hopelessness. Easter will bring rejoicing when we capture a glimpse of new life glowing from our family dinner tables, within school assemblies or at our local hospitals and nursing homes. Life still has meaning, we are still filled with hope, even when we are challenged to let go of our control and find God in every aspect of humanity.
We still have work to do in this Lenten season. After all, the real purpose of Lent is to draw closer to Jesus Christ. There is still mercy, forgiveness and hope at the bottom of the well of our renewal of baptism. God is still inviting us to go deeper into our Christian commitments. God is still tugging on our sleeves to get our attention and to show us that he is the only one who can heal us. ...We are still called to seek the unbelievable passion of Jesus Christ who calls our names and invites us to follow him to his cross, to his empty tomb.
Christ Jesus desires to be at the center of our lives. This is the purpose of Lent. We fast in order to be hungry for God. We pray, to draw closer to the love God has for us. We give alms because we know that being pro-life means we help to lift up all aspects of human suffering. The desert of Lent is really an invitation to clear away the chaos, the emotional debris, the junk we cling to in life, in order to discover that our lives are being drawn ever so deeper into the mystery of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Christ Jesus desires to heal our past. As we seek the Kingdom of God, we are drawn into the mercy of Christ Jesus. We do not earn such a gift. Many people stumble thinking that they need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to look good in the eyes of God.... We don’t save ourselves. Only God’s eternal love and mercy invites us closer to Him. This is the function of Lent when we can take our liturgy seriously in our lives.
Christ Jesus opens our path through tough times. The Lenten season opens with Jesus being tested by evil in the desert for forty days. This is not just about the past, but Jesus is healing and redeeming all evil in the world and offering us the ability to journey with him. Jesus heals our rough relationships, sorts our anger and reveals to us that darkness does not win, no matter the issues that get us down. Lent explores the reality that Jesus is walking with us in the ruts of the desert we have created in our own lives. Jesus is our only hope.
Christ Jesus unites us in our common baptism. The Lenten season came to be in the Church as adults were waiting to be baptized at Easter. Then, it became a time for all Christians to renew their commitment in Christ’s death and resurrection. Most Christians forget that what we have in common is baptism. This is our place of belonging in the church. This is the foundation of why we learn to reach out to those in need. Our ministry flows from the waters of new life, leading us on the same path of salvation. Renew your life in baptism, in His love for all people during this Lenten season. Make sure the story of your baptism is told and why you want to live as a Christian in the first place.
Christ Jesus offers us justice and new life. The path to Easter is essentially a path to human justice and love. New life is meant for all humanity. Christ speaks to us through our sorrows and into our redeemed and loving hearts. Life can change. Jesus heals our hurts and our grief. Jesus changes hearts. Paths open up for us as believers. We really can learn to become more kind, gentler with our neighbor. We can live not from our ego accomplishments, but the internal longing to listen to the voice of Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit leads us if we can simply entrust our stubbornness to God. All things matter in Jesus Christ.
God give you peace, Fr. Ron”
Ronald Patrick Raab, C.S.C., ministers among the vulnerable and marginalized of society and the Church. From his experiences in living the Gospel among the poor, he speaks and writes about prayer and service and knowing the love of God through our common poverty. He is active as a retreat director, blogger, award-winning author, and visual artist. Fr. Ron serves as pastor of Sacred Heart Church Parish, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Fr. Ron has given his permission to use any and all of his art (this week’s cover image) and reflections.
Fr. Marc A. Vicari,
February 27, 2022: Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lent begins this week. Yes, Wednesday, March 2nd is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the 40 days of Lent. By, the way, don’t forget to come to one of the four opportunities we have for you to receive ashes - Mass at 8;15AM and 7:30PM and a service, no mass, at 12:00PM and 4:00PM. Speaking of ashes, why do we get ashes?
Your first thought might be that ashes are a reminder that some day we are going to die. Our bodies will eventually turn to ashes—’ashes to ashes, dust to dust,’ until we are raised up on the final day. Ashes are a sign that we are willing to ‘die’ to this world and live the way Jesus taught. Or some of you might remember that ashes are used as a sign of repentance, mourning and grief. In Old Testament times people used ashes as a sign of repentance.
Whatever the wearing of ashes conjures up in your mind, we all know that Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, a particular time in the liturgical year when we are called to take time to assess how we’re doing in our walk with God. If we ‘do it right,’ Lent helps us identify ways we can grow spiritually as well as parts of our lives that we need to avoid. When we receive ashes, we are either reminded that “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return” or to “Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel.” During Lent we try to turn away from those things that cause us to sin and turn toward God. We use ashes as an outward expression of our need to begin again.
We’ve received our ashes, what then? Usually we go back to our seat or perhaps leave church totally depending on whether we’ve gone to mass or a simple service. Whichever is the case this year, before we move on with our day, let’s take a few moments to consider what those ashes mean and prayer this prayer:
“Heavenly Father, during this time of reflection I remember how you lived the life I ought to have live. You showed us how to resist temptation during your time in the desert, and through the life you led here on earth. As this Lent season begins, remind me that I am but dust. I can do nothing without you. Help me to see the world through the eyes of those in the first Lent season, who awaited a Savior and awaited new life through you. Thank you for your sacrifice on the cross. Amen.” 1
There’s usually another thing that comes to mind when we think of Ash Wednesday - what will I give up for Lent? In recent times, we have learned that it’s not just the giving up part that makes Lent fruitful for us spiritually, but the positive side of ‘what will I do for Lent to become a better follower of Christ? It’s gotten pretty easy for most of us to give up the familiar ‘vices’ which usually fall into the food and drink category. Maybe we’re really brave and decide that one day a week we’re going to give up social media, TV, or surfing the web. How realistic is that? And, if we do manage to get through one day of whatever we decide to ’give up,’ do we go back at it with a vengeance the next day to make up for lost time?
Perhaps this year, we can skip the ‘giving up’ and instead ‘give in.’ When we think of giving in, we think of surrendering to someone else’s will - what they want us to do, where they want us to go, who they want us to be. In terms of living in the world, our worst nightmare is to be the person and have the same life as someone else. We work to proclaim our individuality by the clothes we wear, things we like, schools we attend, jobs we choose and so on. Somewhere deep inside we know that while God made each of us one of a kind, we were all created for the same overarching particular purpose in life - to grow to know him and love him more with each moment.
Perhaps this lent instead of coming up with a quick ‘giving up’ item, let’s make a commitment to give in to the three ‘pillars’ of Lent:
Prayer - Perhaps even investigate different kinds of prayer like Centering Prayer, Taizé prayer, Lectio Divina, etc. Fasting - We’re willing to fast to lose weight, why are we not willing to fast to increase our awareness of the place food and drink has in our lives?
Almsgiving - Regardless of our status in life, there is always someone in need. Traditionally, almsgiving is associated with providing the necessities of life to individuals in need and organizations who help them, but many people are in great need of spiritual help.
Or perhaps the fullest experience of Lent can be found in merging the giving up and giving in approach. We might ‘give up’ sleeping in on Sunday morning and come to mass in order to ‘give in’ to the only thing that truly matters in life—our relationship to God.
Fr. Marc A. Vicari,
1. Bollinger, H. An Ash Wednesday Prayer for Remembrance and Reflection in 2022. https://www.christianity.com/wiki/holidays/an-ash-wednesday-prayer-to-
February 20, 2022: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
I came across this article not so long ago and wasn’t sure if I’d ever get a chance to share it. So, now’s my chance. I hope you find it as inspiring as I did.
“I might have a full floweret of broccoli in my teeth, but all I can see is the tiny sesame seed in yours. Jesus taught self-awareness, so why are so many of us believers more aware of others than we are of ourselves when it comes to weaknesses and flaws?
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is another way of saying, “Be the kind of person you wish others were to you.”
Want a spouse that is compassionate, attentive, forgiving, joyful, and faithful? Be that.
Want a reliable, friend who is tuned-in? Be one.
Want co-workers that are responsible, truthful, kind, and considerate of you? Be that.
Want a parent that listens with empathy? Be one.
We need to stop noticing everyone else’s imperfections and start seeing our own. The only way to this level of self-reflection and awareness is through the transforming power of Jesus. It’s just too easy to be critical of others and too hard to be hard on ourselves!
The pathway to change is through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. How does that happen? By establishing Jesus as the leader of our lives day by day. First, we need to know we are loved and that our sins are not just forgiven, they are gone! That gives us something to be happy about! The Gospel is truly Good News! Armed with this Good News, we can speak the Good News to others, and tell them that there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus. We can let the Word of God do it’s work in the lives of our loved ones, and we can take our critical thoughts and ideas, and get out of the way.
Sick of being a critical person, unhappy about the performance of everyone around you? Be the change you seek in others. Set your gaze above, and pray this plain and simple prayer.”
If you are even the slightest bit as critical of me as I am of others, I am toast. But You are not! I made up my mind that I was going to be like You, but I haven’t followed through with that vow very well. Perfect, though you are, Jesus, you said that you didn’t come to condemn the world. So why should I, as imperfect as I am? Why should I notice other people’s mistakes and inadequacies when I’m loaded with them?
Would you please forgive my arrogance?
Would you please make me new? Like You?
I receive Your forgiveness as well as Your cleansing power to transform me from a foe to a follower, from puffed-up to loved-up. From self-important to other-centric. From vain to insanely kind. From a grumbler to one who is humbler. From uppity to one who is abundantly caring. From toxic to philanthropic!
Herringshaw, N. and J. Praying the Golden Rule. https://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/prayerplainandsimple/2017/05/praying-golden-rule.html
Fr. Marc A. Vicari,
February 13, 2022: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
In today’s Gospel, we read Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, one that names less groups of people who are blessed and totally unlike Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes, calls out those who should be worried because they are not going to experience God’s blessings. It’s easy to hear these words and immediately think that Jesus is condemning the things of the world. I recently read an article that discusses in plain language what the “woes” of Luke’s Gospel mean and thought I would share it with you.
“But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation.
No, if you are rich in wealth, this is not talking about you. The woes address the blessings. In Matthew 5:3, Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’ Meaning those who recognize how unworthy they are to come before God. They realize how much they need Him and go to Him in repentance. But the ‘rich,’ those who believe they are ‘good enough,’ have received their consolation. Jesus would have been referring to the Temple priests and teachers of the day. Those who were corrupt on the inside but acted righteously on the outside. They believed (as many do today) that their good deeds would make them right with God. Their self-righteousness excluded their need for repentance. So their ‘consolation’ (their comfort) was found in the eyes of others who looked up to them.
Woe to you who are full, For you shall hunger.
The poor in spirit mourn their sinful state and hunger for a closer relationship with God. The rich in spirit are already satisfied with their lot in life. They do not hunger for a more intimate relationship with God, nor do they seek to know Him through His Holy Word. They are satisfied with their lives and with the praise of others. They are content to rest in the fact that they will make it to heaven on their good deeds alone. Yet, they will be hungry for more. They will always be searching for something else to fill that void. But they will never be completely satisfied until they come to the Lord on their knees with a repentant heart.
Woe to you who laugh now, For you shall mourn and weep.
No, he is not pronouncing judgement on happy people! That would be absurd. But, just as the blessings build on one another, so do the woes. If you are satisfied with your life, you will never seek to know the Creator of the Universe. You will trust in your own moral code or your good deeds to get into heaven. While the Pharisees and scribes appeared to honour God in public, Jesus said they were like whitewashed tombs. Full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:27-28)! Applying these verses to people today, it is easy to see what happens. If you are content to live a life without God you convince yourself there is no God and so you have no worries about an afterlife. There is nothing wrong with enjoying life unless you leave God out of it.
Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did their fathers to the false prophets.
It is obvious who Jesus was talking about in His Sermon on the Mount. Every one of these woes were directed at the Temple priests and scribes who loved the adoration of the people, the money they made from them and the power they wielded as priests, over them. They loved parading around in their distinctive robes, indicating who they were. They were so self-important they cared more about the applause and adoration of the common man than the God they were supposed to be serving. But these examples can also be applied to many people today.
In the end, the four woes Jesus pronounced after he spoke of the eight blessings, are meant to be a warning to those who ‘speak their own truth.’ It is for those who have become so full of themselves they have no need of God. It is for anyone who believes that being good enough is enough.
Woe to you if you think it is.”1
In the end, we should still be comforted in the knowledge that we will be blessed as Jesus described during the Sermon on Mount and throughout his time here on earth should we choose to live as he taught. Howevers Mess Luke’s ‘woes’ are a good reminder that if we choose to life a live that puts ourselves and our worldly pleasures before serving God, we may not experience eternal happiness.
Fr. Marc A. Vicari,
1. Davis, Laura J. 2019. Why the Four Woes of Jesus Matter. https://www.laurajdavis.com/biblestudies/why-the-four-woes-of-jesus-matter