What profit is there for one to gain the whole world
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Sixth Week of OT and First Four Days of Lent
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.
The first reading for the next two weeks is from James. It begins with instruction for living our lives in Christ. “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?”
In Mark's Gospel the Pharisees are asking for a sign of Jesus' authenticity. Jesus warns his disciples not to be as unbelieving as the Pharisees in the face of the signs he has given them.
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 wonderful week to ask the question: “Who do We may feel like we never have enough; enough money, time, love, status or anything else that seems be the focus of our lives. We live lives that are packed with activities, meetings and obligations - keeping our hearts distracted away from our relationship with God, from our families and from others in our lives who need our love.
In these few days before Lent begins, we can begin to prepare our hearts by asking ourselves how we want Lent to be different this year. What do we want to ask the Lord to give us - and more importantly, we can ask what the Lord wants for us this Lent. What gift of generosity, love or attention can we share with others in the weeks ahead? How can we focus on the Lenten season and ask that our hearts be opened to what is real - not to the externals which distract us so much? How will I be with my family and friends this Lent? What will I do that sets this season apart from my normal routines? How can I name, anticipate and feel the gifts the Lord showers on me with such love in the weeks ahead? And every morning, we can begin by sitting at the side of our beds with our hands open on our laps, asking God to help us receive these gifts with open hearts. We can carry that focus with us throughout the day, remembering in the quiet moments what we are asking for. Always, we end our day simply thanking God for the love and gifts of the day.
For these first four days of Lent, it will be a great help to set aside some time, even if it means getting up 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.
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