Lenten Reflection Series: Choosing Mercy Where We Can

The anointing of Jesus at the house of Simon the Leper causes quite the stir in today’s Gospel. Scandalized by the cost of the oil used, onlookers ask why the money was not given to the poor. But Jesus responds, “She has done a good thing for me.”

How often am I like those “indignant” observers, quick to judge others’ actions, rather than see the good in them? How much easier it is to analyze what others have done than it is to look closely at our own actions. But Jesus sees the value in the woman’s choice and recognizes her act, done in anticipation of his death, as a work of Mercy. He proclaims it good.

Jesus’ words remind us that Mercy is not something that should be meted out in a purely logical manner. We must give mercy freely and live it deeply, however imperfectly.

There will always be more that we can do to grow closer to God. But the way to do that is not to try to criticize how others’ actions measure up, but to ask ourselves: How can we best serve God right now, where we are, as we are? “She has done what she could,” Jesus says of the woman. Let us all do all that we can.

Kerry Weber is the managing editor of America and the author of Mercy in the City: How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisoned, and Keep your Day Job.

Lenten Reflection Series: He is My God, and I am His Daughter

In today’s Gospel we hear Caiaphas explain to the Pharisees why he wants Jesus to be killed : “…It is better for you that one man should die instead of the people so that the whole nation may not perish.”

To Caiaphas it seemed that killing one man was justified because the rest would be saved and unified. How often have I used similar logic to justify my own actions?

I’m just going to do it, even though I probably shouldn’t, because then I’ll be happy, and doesn’t God want me to be happy?

Ultimately, my logic proves wrong. As the first reading reminds us, God simply wants to be with us. God asks us to follow his “statutes and decrees” to cleanse us, to shower his blessings upon us.

And who am I kidding—every time I start a sentence with “I want to, but probably shouldn’t,” it usually leads to regret, not happiness.

As we approach Holy Week, I think of all the ways I have tried to justify my wrong actions and how Christ has taken these wrongdoings and debts I have accrued and paid the price, because he is my God, and I am his daughter.

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: Making the Journey

We’re well into Lent. Perhaps what we gave up has slipped (or we have come up short in those areas where we promised to do a little bit better). Maybe we’ve started eating chocolate again, or jumped back on Facebook, or were cruel to others. Easter still seems a long way off, and perhaps we have started to doubt that we’ll ever make it through Lent. But in today’s Gospel we find hope.

Jesus asserts his divinity and makes it clear that it was God the Father who sent Him to save the world. This was an important message to the Pharisees then, but it’s also important us. It’s a reminder that Jesus is God and that we have the Easter promise to look forward to. It’s a long road during Lent, but we’ll make it. That long road is never clearer than in the first reading, when Moses is leading the Israelites out of Egypt. The Israelites are tired and hungry; perhaps they think they’ll never reach the end of their journey, as we often feel during Lent. But as Jesus reminds us in the Gospel, we can‘t lose hope, and we must trust in God.

With some patience and faith, we will make it to the end of our spiritual journey.

Jason Miller (@419in703) is Director of Campaigns and Development at the Franciscan Action Network.

Lenten Reflection Series: Compassion Over Condemnation

Today in the Gospel, the scribes and Pharisees present Jesus with an adulterous woman, publicly shaming her and putting her sins on display. It would have been easy for Jesus to denounce the woman’s actions and make a statement about virtuous behavior.

Instead, he “bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.” I like to think that Jesus took a minute to pray before reacting to the situation. Rather than lashing out at the Pharisees with a jab about hypocrisy or denouncing the woman for her sins, Jesus reflected on God never tiring of forgiving us.

Jesus is against adultery as much as the next person, but he chose mercy over making a statement. He chose compassion over condemnation. Rather than winning the argument, he won a soul.

Jesus calls us to examine our own consciences. He puts us face-to-face with ourselves, challenging us to go and become people who are “without sin.” Knowing our own faults, we might ask ourselves, just as Pope Francis did, “Who am I to judge?”

We don’t change hearts through being right, making a point, or even by winning the argument. Hearts are changed through encountering a person first, not their inadequacies.

Allison Walter is the Policy Education Associate with NETWORK, a national catholic social justice lobby in Washington, DC. She graduated from Saint Louis University in 2014.  

Lenten Reflection Series: Go!

“Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” What a powerful way to end Mass.

Sometimes a priest might choose, “Go forth glorifying God with your lives,” or “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord,” but the underlying theme is the same: Go.

It’s a commissioning, a reminder of our baptismal call to mission.  Some of us are called to go to the far corners of the world while others are called to serve just down the street.

When we “go” – especially when we’re on mission or volunteering – we might mistakenly think we are bringing God to others. But when we go out to the margins of society and the world, we follow God. We are not saviors, but servants. We cannot bring God to a place where he already exists.

In the Gospel we hear, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there my servant be.” (John 12:26)

We follow him to the homeless shelter, to the prison, to the developing country, to encounter him where he always is: in the humanity of every single one of our brothers and sisters. That is why we are there: to share in God’s love.

This Lent, I wonder, “Where does my master want me to follow him? Where can I go love and serve the Lord?”

Bridget Higginbotham is the communications manager and former Nonprofit Servant Leadership associate at Franciscan Mission Service

Lenten Reflection Series: Refusing to Judge the ‘Other’

In today’s gospel, Nicodemus questions the Pharisees by asking, “Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?” The Pharisees are quick to judge and dismiss Jesus and his teachings simply because he is from Galilee.

For St. Louis natives, we have a strong tendency to ask others where they went to high school. This question can let a person know almost immediately the other person’s background and socioeconomic status, along with generating other often ill-conceived notions about that person.  It can seem like human nature to jump to these conclusions.

In the past, I always thought this was a harmless question. But in reality it only perpetuates the ‘us vs. them’ mindset that was also present in Jesus’ time. If we continue this mindset and if we let judgments of others based on their background or where they come from cloud our decisions, then our world will only continue to be plagued by conflict, violence, and war.

Conflict, whether it is with a friend, family member, rival school, or even a bordering nation, can only end if we are willing to set aside our preconceptions and fears and instead listen to other people and embrace the culture of encounter.

Jes Stevens is a Loretto Volunteer working for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good in Washington D.C.