Ash Wednesday, February 14
MT 6:1-6, 16-18
Jesus said to his disciples: "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your alms-giving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
"When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
"When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you."
Reflection by Keith Maddox, faculty
"Have the Best Lent Ever!"
Are you as thrilled as I am that Lent is here? Do you plan to read two Gospels, three prayer devotionals, and give up a meal and a half, twice a day? Or maybe you are the sort that is considering giving up the blue M&Ms, and calling it a day? What do you think Jesus would want?
Before you answer, consider today's reading from Matthew 6, wherein Jesus calls a lot of people hypocrites. A hypocrite, by the way, is someone who promises one thing, but then does not do it when he or she has the opportunity. For example, doctors promise to heal people, and politicians promise to help people, even if it is unpopular. Listening to the news, I can give awful examples of hypocrisy here. But Jesus is not talking about them. The big hypocrites are... people who pray a lot?
Jesus reminds us that our prayers and good works are for God, and not for our neighbors. Put another way, we should help a helpless, hopeless person because what we do to the least among us, we do to Jesus. We do not help the hopeless because other people will say, "Wow, you are so great."
So I do not want to rain on your Lent parade, but please consider this. Pick a different Lenten sacrifice, and don't tell a single person what your plan is. For example, imagine you will rub peanut butter in your hair every day of Lent. Forty days of embarrassment, awkward silence and stares... But hey – it is nothing compared to what Jesus did for us right? Remember that no one will ever know why you have peanut butter rubbed in your hair for a month. No big Easter reveal either! Because if even your one very best friend knew why you did it, then you are a hypocrite. So may I ask: is it a worthwhile sacrifice? Does it bring you closer to God? Would you even be able to do it every day, if no one ever knew you were doing it?
I don't think the moral is that no one should ever know our works and our prayers. If you told people your great plans already, you can still do them (or not, and when people ask, tell them to read Matthew 6). Honestly, sometimes we need encouragement from each other, and sometimes we need to prove to ourselves we can make sacrifices. But before you spend the time and effort, remember that our Lenten journey is to bring us closer to God. If our motivation is anything else, perhaps we should find a different way to improve ourselves before Him. Perhaps resolving to get to a food bank once, or to say "thank you" every day, may be better than giving up all of the M&Ms in the world. Or not – that's between you and God...
Thursday, February 15
Jesus said to his disciples:
"The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected
by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised."
Then he said to all,
"If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?"
Reflection by Gilly Jaunet, faculty
This statement from Christ must have been mind-blowing to the apostles. They've become accustomed to their Teacher using parables and metaphors and stories, but this time Jesus says it straight out: He's going to suffer. He's going to be rejected. He's going to be killed. And then he will be raised. I picture them scratching their heads, looking for the punchline, the twist. But there is none. And then he follows up with the uncomfortable announcement that anyone who wishes to follow him has to join in the suffering.
And while it's possible to read this statement as a metaphor, if we stop thinking of ourselves first -- die to ourselves, we can truly live the lives we were intended to live. Is that a metaphor? Or is it truth?
This is the perfect reading to begin Lent. How can we lose our self-focus during these 40 days? When I was a child, I was encouraged to give up something. It never really made an impression on me, and I never really saw the point. After I had children, we tried to do more meaningful sacrifices, like going without television or screen time. And those sacrifices, while still of the "giving up" variety, brought us closer as a family during that time. But lately I've focused more on adding rather than giving up, and I've discovered a sense of peace during Lent that I never knew. I've added a time of prayer and meditation before it's time to get busy in the morning, or maybe I'll spend some time in the chapel. But the point is that I'm not taking away something -- I'm giving something back. Because I don't want to find at the end of Lent that I've lost myself.
Friday, February 16
The disciples of John approached Jesus and said,
"Why do we and the Pharisees fast much,
but your disciples do not fast?"
Jesus answered them, "Can the wedding guests mourn
as long as the bridegroom is with them?
The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
and then they will fast."
Reflection by Jen Richard, faculty
"I Can't Pedal Yet"
One of the most exciting days of my childhood was when my father took the training wheels off my bike. "I'll run alongside you at first, but when you're ready, I'll let go," he promised.
"Okay, time to start pedalling," he said. "Any time. Whenever you're ready."
"I can't pedal yet," I told him. "First I have to learn to hold myself up."
He patiently explained the physics of bike riding to me: that my motion would allow me to stay upright and maintain my balance, that bicycles were not like horses: I couldn't just sit on an unmoving bike and expect to stay up. I had to put my feet on the pedals and trust that he would help me.
"Nope," I said. I knew in my heart that the first step was definitely learning to just sit on the bike and balance. Surely I had to know how to do that before I could start pedaling. I couldn't believe my father, in whose wisdom I had absolute trust, was trying to tell me differently.
Bless that man. He sat on the curb for what seemed like hours. He went inside and fixed a cup of coffee and came back out. He watched me fall over again and again and again, and he never lost his patience. Each time, he would just gently say, "Are you ready to try it my way?" My frustration grew; this bike riding business didn't seem like much fun.
In today's Gospel, Christ's authority is being tested again: why don't your disciples fast? How can they rejoice when tradition calls for the opposite? What authority does Christ have to tell them to do otherwise? When I read this Gospel, I want to be a disciple, but I imagine myself as a Pharisee . . . perfectly balanced on a bicycle, but not going anywhere.
The Pharisees thought there was one way to be holy. I was convinced that there was only one right way to ride a bike, and I fell down a lot before I could listen to what my dad was trying to tell me. How many times do we have the exact same attitude about prayer? That there's one way to do it, and if God reveals a different way, we just insist on doing it our own way--even if it leads us to frustration (and maybe some spiritual skinned knees)?
I can balance perfectly upright on my two wheels, but I'm not going anywhere--and one stiff breeze is going to knock me over. I can go to church all I want, but I only please God when I am the church in my everyday prayers and actions. That means I have to pedal the bike and trust that He won't let me fall over.
Lent is a time of fasting and penance, but it's also a time for us to reflect. Does the way I treat others reflect the joy I take in my personal relationship with Christ? When I leave church on Easter Sunday, will people meet the resurrected Christ in my heart? Or do I just slip right back into my old ways? What can I do differently?
Am I ready to try pedaling my bike even if it feels scary? Even if I think I might fall? Whose strong hand is on my handlebars, keeping me steady? And finally: am I riding in such a way that people see how joyful it is to just go headfirst into the wind, trusting that my Father is beside me?
Saturday, February 17
Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, "Follow me."
And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.
Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house,
and a large crowd of tax collectors
and others were at table with them.
The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying,
"Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?"
Jesus said to them in reply,
"Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners."
Reflection by Luke Robicheaux, faculty
"Follow Who? Where?"
Jesus approaches Levi and says, "Follow me." This is Levi's response:
"And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him. Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were at table with him."
Levi leaves everything behind to follow Jesus. We've heard this message before: we are all called to leave "sin" behind to follow Christ. In other words, we are called to leave behind all that holds us back from true life in Christ, a life of full human flourishing, a life of giving ourselves radically and selflessly in love for others. But notice that Levi does not actually go anywhere. After he leaves everything behind, he is still in his house! Levi leaves everything behind that is holding him back from the full life of love the Christ is calling him to, but he doesn't have to go anywhere to find it. Rather, after he begins to follow Christ, his house is transformed. His ordinary house becomes a banquet where Christ makes himself at home and where the outcasts come to experience the love of God. This is our call, too. We are called to leave behind those things in our lives that are holding us back from the deep, selfless love that Christ calls us to, and we are called to do it right here where we are. We don't have to go anywhere. If we allow ourselves to embrace this life of love, this life in Christ, then we will find that our ordinary homes will be transformed into joyful banquets where the love of Christ shines into the world. This Lent, let's strive together to accept Christ's challenge to love, that we might allow that love to transform our home - Mount Carmel Academy.