February 28: Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Hendrick ter Brugghen: The Calling of St. Matthew
Centraal Museum, Utrecht, The Netherlands, 1621

Gospel: Lk 5:27-32

After this Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me
(NRSV, Lk 5:27).”

Let us pray.

Father, Jesus chose his close disciples, each during a passing encounter. I used to wonder what would have happened to them if they had hesitated or even said “No;” if Peter and Andrew and James and John had not dropped their fishing nets and left their boats to run after him; or if Levi, whom we also know as Matthew, had not gotten up from his counting table to abandon his profession of tax collector. There is also the case of the would-be disciple who wanted first to bury his dead father. Is it possible that he did actually abandon his deceased father to follow Jesus then and there? Or is there another, somewhat cryptic message for him, and us, hidden in Jesus’ challenge? We know, from the story, that the rich young man did walk away from Jesus saddened because of his attachment to his wealth. Was there a second chance for him? Many argue, Father, that you have a particular life’s work laid out for each of us? One can wonder what might be our fate if that opportunity is deliberately missed.

Father, what I have learned about you and my relationship with you has come to me in flashes of insight received now and then over the course of a lifetime. With each of these advances, I have acknowledged that it was always something that I knew all along but just did not seem capable earlier of putting into words. My conclusion, Lord, is that your Word to me has been spoken all along, the same one Word, everything that I have to know about you and everything else, spoken there within me waiting to be understood.

In fact the Word spoken, I now realize, is the Word speaking. Your Word, your Son, made flesh in our Lord Jesus, is always present to me. He not only reveals you to me in one spoken Word; that revelation also offers me your life. Even when I sin or resist his offer, your Word always remains present to me, calling me to conversion, offering me your forgiveness and new life. All of this is essential to my being a human being.

And that, Lord, gives me the answer to what I have so long wondered: every moment, not just one particular moment, is the saving moment. Every moment, every occasion is privileged. Regardless of what I have done in the past, of how many possibilities missed, each moment brings the opportunity of a new beginning.

Father, I am listening. Through your Word, ever present to me at the depth of my being, regardless of how I have responded up until this moment, you are calling me right now to die to myself and my past and to be reborn in you. Help me to accept and to say “Yes” now, and in every moment to come.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

February 27: Friday after Ash Wednesday

Anonymous German Master: St. Elizabeth Clothes the Poor
and Tends the Sick (edited)
Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, 1390s

Reading I: Is 58:1-9a

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin (NRSV, Is 58:6-7)?

Let us pray.

Father, it seems possible that we can believe that you exist and know certain truths about you without it transforming our lives, but when we say “yes” to the challenge of your Word always present to us and accept his offer of a share in your divine life, or, even more, growth in that life, then something inevitably happens to the way we live. As you, Father, go out of yourself in begetting the Word, and both you and the Word go out of yourselves in the procession of the Holy Spirit, so, when we accept that life which you, who are three in one, share each with the other; when we get caught up in the one true sacrifice of divine giving, receiving and sharing; our lives are inevitably changed by your grace and the decision that we have made.

As you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit share life and love among yourselves and with us, so also will we share life and love in return, through the Son, with you and, among created beings, with one another.

The life and the love that you share with us, Father, will inevitably and without fail, as long as we remain faithful to the gift, transform our lives. We shall freely ex-ist, go out of ourselves, especially to all of our sisters and brothers in need. We shall feed those who are hungry and tend to the needs of the poor. We shall console and comfort those who are sorrowing. We shall care for the sick.

In ages gone by, it was individual acts of mercy that consumed us who would live out your life shared with us. Today, we realize more and more that changing the very structures of our society can do much better. Society can be reorganized so that many of the pains and difficulties that oppress us can be more effectively alleviated than by disparate individual acts. A structural reorganization of society, built upon individual conversion, is the most effective way towards greater justice and peace throughout the world.

Father, we are ever grateful for the gift of your life in the Holy Spirit that we receive through your Son, the Word. May we live out that life effectively through loving and serving our neighbors, especially those most in need, and by working to change society so that justice and peace may prosper.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen

February 26: Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Gustav Klimt, Life and Death, Collection of Frau Marietta Preleuthner, Vienna, Revised 1915

Readings for Mass
First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 1:1-2, 3, 4, 6
Gospel: Luke 9:22-25

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses (NRSV, Dt 30:19a).

Let us pray.

Father, in the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses says that he set before the people two choices, life and death, and challenged them to choose life. As your people emerged from slavery in Egypt into freedom in the desert, they understood, as best they could, that you were leading them into the land that was to be theirs. When they and Moses thought of “life,” what they projected was ongoing life, not for the individual, but for the people in the land. “Death” meant death in the desert, the promise lost. Moses challenged them to choose life!

In the resurrection of your Son Jesus, we have learned, Lord, that from the very beginning you have not only offered us life that is more than just physical life here on earth, even life as a people in the land, you have offered us a share in your own divine life. That offer has been made to every human being in his mother’s womb. The acceptance of that offer, saying “yes,” to you, Father, offering us your Spirit through the Word, is what makes us to be human beings. To be human is already to be on the journey to everlasting life shared with you in the world to come, a gift that begins with the very first “yes” in the womb and continues to grow forever with each additional “yes” made in each moment.

Choosing death, Father, is far more than denying ourselves the possibility of a future as a people in the land. Choosing death, turning away from you, Lord, and succumbing to the web of evil that surrounds and ensnares us all, and to our own self-gratification, is to deny our very nature. It is to deny who we are and who we are called to be.

Father, how grateful we are for the gift of divine life that you share with us. May we be responsive in every moment to your Word, ever present to us, who invites us to grow in your gift, and if we have turned away, implores us to repent and to say “yes” to forgiveness and new life.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

February 25: Ash Wednesday

Anonymous Russian Master: The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Spencer Collection, New York Public Library, New York, 16th century

Ash Wednesday

Reading II: 2 Cor 5:20–6:2

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation (NRSV, 2 Cor 6:2b)!

Let us pray.

The story of creation and the story of the beginning of the individual human being, Father, is your Word calling all that is finite out of nothingness to being. We, who are your children, your Word calls to share in your very life: not only to participate in your being but to ex-ist, to go out of ourselves in your Holy Spirit and to grow constantly in your divine life. Your Word challenges us at every moment to move higher along the ladder of divine ascent.

Father, as we ascend towards you, it is important for us to understand more fully what we are called to be and how we are to live. We reflect on this, hopefully, a number of times a day. We pause on our journey to find ourselves and you in prayer as we move forward and upward.

In the assemby of the Church we gather, some of us more frequently, but, as a community, once a week, on the day set aside for you, Lord. If possible we meet during this sacred time in a sacred place so as not to be distracted by the always pressing concerns of the workaday world. There we pause to celebrate the Eucharist, to remember who we are and the destiny to which you call us. We listen to the sacred Scriptures, your Word written down for us, and we break Bread together celebrating the sharing of your life with us in the Body and Blood of your only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray to you, Lord, during this sacred time in this sacred space, but both are really set aside for us that we may be refreshed on our journey in the Spirit forward and upper to you.

If once a week we observe the Lord’s Day as sacred, every year, before the annual celebration of the mystery of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection, we set aside forty days to pause significantly on our pilgrimage for a fuller assessment of our life and the direction it is taking. During these forty days of Lent we go out into the desert to fast and to pray with Jesus that our mission may become manifest to us as it was to him.

We fast and do penance, we read and devote more time to prayer, not so much too subjugate a rebellious body, as to renew our focus on our final destiny and to order our entire life in conformity with that goal.

Father, may this Lent be for us truly a sacred season, a holy time of growth in understanding and direction, of further growth in your divine life.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.