February 25, 2021
by Eileen Burke-Sullivan
Creighton University's Division of Mission and Ministry
click here for photo and information about the writer

Thursday of the First Week of Lent
Lectionary: 227

Esther C:12, 14-16, 23-25
Psalm 138:1-2ab, 2cde-3, 7c-8
Matthew 7:7-12

Praying Lent

Cooking Lent
Recipes for Ash Wednesday,
all the Fridays of Lent and for Good Friday

In the Church’s tradition the time of Lent is a time to focus on our Baptismal Promises and to prepare to renew them at Easter.  Three tools have historically been employed to open our hearts to our Baptismal promises.  These tools enable us to live commitment to promises to participate in Christ’s life and make decisions in the manner of Jesus.  These tools are the three great loves:

  • of God – enriched and made clear in prayer;
  • love of our neighbors, witnessed by service to, and sharing goods with, our neighbors;
  • and penance, which serves to challenge us to more careful use the goods of Creation.

This first week of Lent invites us to pay attention to our relationship with God since that is the foundation of the others.  The Gospel today challenges us to see prayer as relationship – not saying formula prayers even though these provide a good preparation for real prayer, just as learning to speak in sentences helps us live a deeper relationship with our family.  Prayer is more about the intimate sharing of my thoughts, feelings, needs, hope, and anguish with God who attends carefully and responds with graces most needed and effective for our lives.

God’s Mercy, in hearing and responding to us, is often completely beyond our imagination.  We don’t understand the Divine response, but we count on the fact that it will be the best thing for us, and that God’s loving kindness will be present to us if we pay attention.

My prayer is about more than just me and my needs, however.  God’s response accounts for the needs of all persons and is utterly merciful.  This truth can confuse us, to say the least.  Some years ago, a dear older friend had a son who was dying of alcoholism.  He had a family whose life was up-ended by his illness, and his wife, for the sake of the children and the family’s economic safety, decided to divorce him.  This was heart-breaking for my friend who dearly loved his son and his wife.

On Easter Sunday, a visiting priest to her parish preached about sin and the consequence of hell.  He included, as examples, drinking excessively, and all divorce, as great evils.  In the sermon he asserted clearly that persons who did such things always end up in hell.

Several days later I visited my friend and found her in terrible confusion and sorrow.  Upon asking what was distressing her, she poured out the story of his son and his family, and what the priest had preached. That morning the words of today’s Gospel filled my heart and I asked her if God were to give her the power to plan her son’s eternal life would she send him to hell.  “Oh no, she proclaimed, he has tried so hard in so many ways to do the right thing.  He recommended that his wife file the divorce so that they could secure the children’s future.”  She went on to tell me about her son’s efforts to great treatment and to fight his illness, he went to Mass regularly and talked to a priest about loving God and God loving him.  She ended by saying “He may have done less that perfect things, but he has tried so hard to be a good son, a good father and a good husband.  I would never condemn him in any way.”

I reminded her that Jesus himself told us that, if we, who are imperfect, would not condemn someone, how much greater must the Divine Mercy be?  If God desires our friendship would he drive us away?  God calls us to prayer, lures us to prayer and opens our hearts to need prayer.  God longs for this relationship with each one of us.

Prayer leads us to compassion and hope.  It fills us with courage when we are terrified, it opens us to gratitude and peace.   Prayer leads us to care for our neighbor and to care for a planet and the need for poverty of spirit.  This Lent, if we seriously engage prayer, meeting the mercy of God by encountering him face to face, our baptismal promises will be fulfilled. 

“When I called you answered me; you built up strength within me. 
Your kindness O Lord endures forever; forsake not the work of your hands.”  (Psalm 138 – today’s responsorial)

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