Lenten Reflection Series: How Jesus Responds to Criticism

Today’s gospel tells us about Jesus and his response to those who are picking up rocks to stone him.  How must it have felt to be Jesus?  He was constantly criticized throughout his ministry.  The rallying calls against Him reached such a fever pitch that He was crucified.

And yet, we see Him – in today’s gospel, and again in the Garden of Gethsemane – remain calm and keep teaching the disciples.

Is this how we react to criticism in our own lives?

For me, the answer is usually “no.”  Sometimes, I will become defensive, refusing to acknowledge criticism.  Other times, as a form of self-protection, I’ll lash out at the critic. The majority of the time, I avoid disapproval by staying silent.  This is not the way of Jesus.

God became human to experience what we experience – Jesus powerfully understands the vulnerability of being criticized.   Rather than choosing silence or becoming defensive, Jesus shows us the better way in today’s gospel.

What do you need to find the courage to speak today?  Where is God calling you to release your fear of being criticized?  How would making yourself more vulnerable make you a more faithful disciple?

Jenny Heipp is a PhD candidate in anthropology at Washington University in Saint Louis.

Lenten Reflection Series: Jesus Is Close To Us As We Fight Injustice

Jesus knew His purpose in life would require intense suffering and the ultimate sacrifice – death on the Cross. Despite this, Jesus is steadfast in His teaching of the Gospel and love for His people. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is fearless in stating that He knows God because He is “from God,” and was sent for a purpose.

Am I brave enough to stand up for my beliefs, no matter the cost? Am I courageous enough to be light and love, even in the midst of oppression and hatred?

Sophie Scholl and other members of The White Rose stood against Adolf Hitler during the Second World War, knowing death was imminent. She said, “The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes.”

I am reminded today that sometimes our faith calls us to be radical, to make waves in the presence of injustice.

Today’s readings show me that I am not alone in the quest for bravery and justice, because Jesus is “close to the brokenhearted.” He is close to me, He is close to you.

Lindsey Frechou is a Jesuit Volunteer serving in Washington DC. She graduated from Springhill College with a degree in journalism and English literature. 

Lenten Reflection Series: Welcoming Christ into the World with Our Actions

Actions speak louder than words, they say. But aren’t some words helpful?

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph and are given two options for the gospel reading. Even with two readings about Joseph, however, we don’t get a single word out of him. In fact, not a word of his is mentioned in the entire Bible.

What are we to make of this? Surely, he spoke. He must have talked with Mary about the dream he received. He must have asked others if they had seen Jesus after they had lost him in Jerusalem. But he gave no record of this. We have only his actions.

Perhaps, however, this silent, act-centered response is exactly what we need more of today.

Talk is cheap. Ranting on the blogosphere is abundant. Saying someone is my “friend” has lost much of its meaning when I have thousands of them on Facebook.

The world today isn’t in need of many words. Just like it was 2,000 years ago, though, the world needs humble servants who through their actions welcome Christ into the world.

Michael Rossmann is a Jesuit studying theology at Boston College and the Editor in Chief of The Jesuit Post.

Lenten Reflection Series: Inspired by Sister Valdair

I’m writing this on a Sunday, and as I lay resting after guiding a mission group through their spring break, I am awakened by an elderly man yelling out for Sister Valdair. Not only is it a Sunday, but also her only day off from tending for mission groups and running the pharmacy during the week.

The man’s wife was ill and needed a medication. He didn’t have any money to get it at the nearest pharmacy. As I heard Sister Valdair walk through the house to the pharmacy, I was reminded that when caring for the sick and elderly, there isn’t a day off. This gospel reminds me of the realities of life, especially in third world countries where clinics and money are scarce.

Just like Jesus, Sister Valdair has no limitations on when to treat or tend to those that need help. Entering into her sixteenth year at the mission, Sister Valdair, a Bernardine Franciscan nun, strives everyday to heed God’s calling in those she serves in the Tres Brazos community in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. This is a driving inspiration for me and many volunteers that serve at the mission for the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters as we leave our homes to follow our missionary hearts.

Yesica Villalobos is program director for the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters, Volunteers in Mission program in Reading, PA.  

Lenten Reflection Series: Preparing for the Eternal Spring

This time of year, it’s easy to get caught in the late-winter doldrums. The snow and slush have hung around just long enough so that we begin to doubt that spring really is just around the corner. And the Lenten season can drag as well. It seems like it’s been ages since we gathered together for Ash Wednesday but Easter is just far enough away (a whole flip of the calendar page!) that it feels like it may never come.

Today’s readings are a great antidote to that “endless blah” feeling. They remind that, though Lent is a serious time, it is also a time for joy because we are preparing for the resurrection of Christ. It can be easy to get caught up in the somber and penitential spirit of the season and forget to look ahead and remember the celebration that we’re preparing for. Today Isaiah reminds us of God’s promise to build us a heaven and earth of constant rejoicing, with no place for weeping or sorrow. And it’s the resurrection of Christ, which we celebrate at Easter and which was foreshadowed in today’s Gospel reading, that fulfills this promise. So let’s remember that Lent is not an endless winter but a preparation for the eternal spring that we hope awaits us.

Kaitlin Sullivan is an associate manager of product policy at Facebook, where she focuses on issues of safety and freedom of expression. She is a former Jesuit Volunteer and graduate of the University of Notre Dame and George Washington University.

Lenten Reflection Series: Understanding Grace

Throughout the season of Lent, we’re featuring the Millennial Lenten Reflection Series, co-sponsored by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Franciscan Mission Service. Each small reflection will be written by a young person, focusing on that day’s Mass reading. You can sign up for the series here.

The second reading from St. Paul to the Ephesians doesn’t always strike me as “Lent-like.”   St. Paul writes about mercy, compassion, and God’s grace.  Not very penitential, right?

But, on a second and third reading, the connection seems to be a bit clearer.  Lent is a dying to self.  Lent is a walk in a dry desert that calls for a soul to be nourished by the healing, life-giving salve found in our sacramental life. Lent is also about understanding grace as free gift, not a reward.

My godson and his big brothers live in Minnesota.  Like many parishes, the one they attend has donuts after mass most Sundays. When the boys ask for donuts, their dad, not one to let a joke or theological moment pass, generally responds with, “Boys, do we believe in unmerited grace?”

Do we believe in unmerited grace?  Do our actions save us?

No, our actions don’t save us.  Jesus Christ saved us.  His ultimate action is what brings us to salvation’s door and through the grace of God we are called to participate and do good deeds in our world.

How are you participating this Lent?  What actions are you engaging in that call forth your return to Christ?

Genevieve Mougey, M.Div., is manager for poverty education & outreach at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development. Please join them in this time of reflection and prayer by using The Scriptural Way of the Cross.

Lenten Reflection Series: Giving Up Control and Being Open to God’s Mercy

Throughout the season of Lent, we’re featuring the Millennial Lenten Reflection Series, co-sponsored by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Franciscan Mission Service. Each small reflection will be written by a young person, focusing on that day’s Mass reading. You can sign up for the series here.

It is tempting to measure the health of our faith—and that of others—by what is visible. Ruled by our to-do lists, we want to check something off the list and know that we are in good standing with God. This approach is clear-cut, under our control, and fits within a busy schedule.

Jesus and the prophet Hosea have a different message to share with us: God does not want formulaic action, but instead a relationship with us. This won’t fit neatly into a time slot on the calendar, but will pervade our entire life. We are invited to turn towards God, to conversion, to the cultivation of a disposition of a heart.

The Pharisee in today’s Gospel is focused on listing for God all the good deeds he’s done, perhaps seeking affirmation. In contrast, the tax collector beseeches God for mercy and invites God’s response, opening the door to a relationship. That day, the Pharisee likely went home more confident than the tax collector, but Jesus makes clear who did the will of God.

This Lent, are we willing to set aside our desire for certainty and control, take a risk, and cultivate hearts open to deeper relationship with God?

Lara Ericson is a Master of Divinity student at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. She is a graduate of Georgetown University, where she subsequently worked for three years in the Office of Campus Ministry.