Lent With The Saints

SAINTS: Teresa Of Calcutta — Longing For God With Our Whole Being, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Hosea 14:2-10; Psalm 8:6c-11ab, 14, 17; Romans 5:12-19; Mark 12:28b-34 No list of Lenten saints would be complete without Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  I was fortunate enough to see her in person in June 1981.  I didn’t get to meet her personally but felt blessed just to be in her presence. Little did we know that this saintly woman had, for many years, walked a path of inner darkness.  Several years ago, Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, promoting her cause for sainthood, edited a book called Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light.  He recalled the years she endured dark nights of the soul, despite her great love for God and certainty that God had called her to special work with the poor. Father Kolodiejchuk says that, [...]

SAINTS: Patrick — The Struggle Against Evil, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Jeremiah 7:23-28; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9; Luke 11:14-23 The popular book, The Rite, which was later made into a movie, tells the story of a young priest who learns how to fight against the very real manifestation of the devil’s power.  Through prayer and the power of God mediated through the church’s ritual of exorcism, people throughout the centuries have been delivered from the grip of evil. Today’s Gospel, from Luke, gives one of many episodes in the story of Jesus where he drives out a devil and brings relief to a person who has been possessed.  In the process, Jesus describes the intensity of the struggle against evil.  It was a struggle Saint Patrick knew well.  As the “apostle to [...]

SAINTS: Francis de Sales — From Lawyer To Spiritual Guide, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9; Psalm 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20; Matthew 5:17-19 When we think of Moses, we often think of the Ten Commandments, the laws that God gave to Israel.  Today’s First Reading offers an address by Moses to the people, in which he encourages them to observe the Law and thus witness to the nations of the greatness of their God. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is portrayed as the “new Moses,” as he teaches the Torah, the Law of Moses, in the Sermon on the Mount but expands it in light of the kingdom.  Jesus offers ways in which the Law is to be enfleshed in love and mercy, even beyond what Moses taught. Saint Francis de Sales was marked by his family for a legal career, following [...]

SAINTS: Alphonsus Liguori — Gentle Moral Teacher, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Daniel 3:25, 34-43; Psalm 25:4bc-5ab, 6, 7bc, 8-9; Matthew 18:21-35 In today’s gospel, Peter asks Jesus a question: How often should we forgive a brother who offends us?  Peter suggests that perhaps seven times would be a generous offer.  Scripture scholar Father Raymond Brown notes that, at this point, we who know Jesus’s answer are inclined to criticize Peter.  How stingy!  We know Jesus is going to respond with a whopping seventy-seven times, suggesting forgiveness without limit. But, Brown comments, who among us, realistically, might squeeze out a second, or, just maybe, a third act of forgiveness?  After that, wouldn’t we say, Enough!?  At that point, Brown says, Peter is looking [...]

SAINTS: Damien Joseph de Veuster of Molokai — A Mission Among The Lepers, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints 2 Kings 5:1-15a; Psalm 42:2-3, 43:3-4; Luke 4:24-30 Leprosy is a disease that gets a lot of attention in the Bible.  Jesus, who himself healed lepers, cites the story of the cure of the Syrian leper, Naaman, in today’s gospel, as he challenges his hometown audience with the rejection of prophets in their native place, while foreigners like Naaman receive God’s favor. In modern times leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, is treatable, but at the time of Saint Damien of Molokai it was still feared.  Those suffering from the disease were kept as far as possible from others, as on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, on a remote, inaccessible peninsula.  It was there that the Belgian missionary Damien came, [...]

SAINTS: Moses — Knowing We Are God’s People, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Exodus 17:3-7; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42 The character of Moses is forever burned into the consciousness of a generation of moviegoers by Charlton Heston’s portrayal of him in The Ten Commandments.  Moses strides through the film, leading his people out of Egypt, stretching his staff over a divided Red Sea, and bringing the tablets of the Law down from his encounter with God on the mountain. We hear about many different dimensions of Moses in Lenten readings drawn from the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy.  In describing the ritual for offering first fruits from the harvest of the Promised Land, Moses says that the people must describe themselves thusly: A wandering Aramean was my [...]

SAINTS: Augustine — The Grace Of Conversion, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Micah 7:14-15; Psalm 103:1-4, 9-12; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 The story of the Prodigal Son in Luke’s gospel personifies the mercy of God.  Many commentators and homilists suggest the story is mistitled and think it should be called, The Father Who Couldn’t Forget.  The father, who is spurned by a selfish, insensitive son who squanders his share of the family fortune, suffers not only personal shame but public embarrassment as his close-knit community watches him wait daily for his son’s return. The story of Saint Augustine is, in part, the story of a mother who couldn’t forget. A talented and scholarly young man, Augustine immersed himself in all the shallow pursuits of his pagan society.  [...]

SAINTS: The Patriarch Joseph — A Story Of A Dreamer, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a; ; Psalm 105:16-21; Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46 Two Biblical characters are the subject of Broadway musicals by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, and both are featured in today’s readings.  They are Joseph, the son of Israel (Jacob) in Genesis, and Jesus, the “superstar” of Matthew’s gospel!  Webber seized on the detail of Joseph’s coat (here simply a “long tunic”) as the launch point for one musical.  But there’s much in the Joseph story to entertain. Joseph the dreamer is the victim of violence at the hands of his jealous brothers.  He goes on to have interesting adventures in Egypt and rises to become Pharaoh’s adviser in a time [...]

SAINTS: André Bessette — The Doorkeeper Saint, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Jeremiah 17:5-10; Psalm 1:1-4, 6; Luke: 16:19-31 Jesus tells the parable of a rich man who lived in luxury, failing to notice the beggar named Lazarus at his front door.  Only too late – after death – does the rich man take notice of the poor man who had daily suffered on his doorstep. The French Canadian saint André Bessette would not have been blind to a beggar on his doorstep.  After twenty-five years of struggle with sickness and poverty, and having tried various trades, including working in a New England factory during the Civil War, he joined the Congregation of Holy Cross in Montreal in 1872.  Weak health had delayed his profession, and he was assigned the job of doorkeeper.  He joked much later [...]

SAINTS: James And John — From Arrogance To Witness, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Jeremiah 18:18-20; Psalm 31:5-6; Matthew 20:17-28 To read today’s gospel, one would think that Jesus’s apostles could have really used a public-relations advisor!  The story of the mother of James and John, requesting places for her sons at Jesus’s right and left hands in his kingdom, does not reflect well on these followers of the Lord.  What makes it worse, Jesus has just predicted his passion and death.  Were they even listening? At least, the arrogant request gives Jesus the opportunity to challenge James and John to share in his sufferings.  He goes on to urge his followers not to imitate the gentile rulers and their hangers-on.  Instead, they are to seek to serve if they want to rank [...]

SAINTS: Thérèse Of The Child Jesus — Service In Humility, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Isaiah 1:10, 16-20;  Psalm 50:8-9, 16bc-17, 21, 23; Matthew 23:1-12 Priests get asked occasionally – usually by folks of a fundamentalist Christian bent – about today’s gospel text, in which Jesus tells us we should not use the title father for anyone on Earth – only for our Father in Heaven.  Leaving aside the question of what they might call their own dads, they are missing the point of Jesus’s words, which come at the end of the passage: The greatest among you must be your servant.  All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. We are not to use titles but rather serve in humility.  A saint who embodied that ideal bore the religious name [...]

SAINTS: John Vianney — Ministering God’s Forgiveness, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Daniel 9:4b-10; Psalm 79:8-9, 11, 13; Luke 6:36-38 Confession of sin is the theme of our First Reading today, as the people of God confess their disobedience to the Lord and seek God’s forgiveness.  Conversion and confession remain a powerful Lenten theme.  Parishes celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation in communal liturgies during this season, and our Lenten practices are meant to inspire us in our ongoing conversion. The saint best known for his ministry in the sacrament of reconciliation is John Vianney, who was ordained in 1815 in France, after years of study that were interrupted by seminary officials who thought him inadequate for the priesthood as well as by political upheaval.  The French [...]

SAINTS: Abraham — A Legacy Of Faith, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 33:4-5, 18-20, 22; 2 Timothy 1:8-10; Matthew 17:1-9 In Lent we read stories about Abraham – the description of God’s covenant with him and the story of his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, for example.  These stories have undergone a long process of telling and retelling.  Many hands have worked over these stories, for theological purposes. Nevertheless, the stories communicate the common understanding we share about Abraham; that is, his strong faith in God.  We marvel at this man’s willingness to trust in God so much that he would undertake a long, difficult journey to seek a land and a heritage promised by God.  Though separated by millennia and by different [...]

SAINTS: Pio Of Pietrelcina (Padres Pio) — Signed With Christ’s Love, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Deuteronomy 26:16-19; Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 7-8; Matthew 5:43-48 Padre Pio was spiritual inspiration for the older Italian members of my family.  He was for that generation what Mother Teresa is to mine.  I recall reading stories and seeing photos of Padre Pio in the Italian religious magazines my Nonna received, and hearing from my cousin in Italy of a visit to the saint’s shrine after his canonization. Francesco Forgione entered the Capuchin Franciscans as a teenager.  He received the name Pio and was ordained in 1910.  In 1918, praying after Mass, Father Pio saw Jesus in a vision and afterward saw that he had received the wounds of Christ – the stigmata – in his hands, feet, and side. His [...]

SAINTS: Cornelius And Cyprian — Reconcilers In The Ancient Church, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Ezekiel 18:21-28; Psalm 130:1-8; Matthew 5:20-26 The church has always been in need of reconciliation.  Our human nature means that there will always be a need to forgive each other.  Today’s Gospel offers us Jesus’s guidelines for forgiveness in the community.  Matthew’s “parish,” the communities for whom he wrote, must have needed those guidelines – no surprise there.  We’re fortunate to have Jesus’s instructions on how to be a reconciling community. Saints Cornelius and Cyprian faced one of the early church’s thorniest problems.  In the third century they wrestled with the problem of how to deal with Christians who had renounced their faith and sacrificed [...]

SAINTS: Queen Esther — A Royal Request, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Esther C:12, 14-16, 23-25; Psalm 138:1-3, 7c-8; Matthew 7:7-12 The tale of Queen Esther has all the elements of a great story.  We can imagine her, the beautiful bride of a pagan king, ruler of Persia, reigning in a lavish Middle Eastern court.  Into this scene of elegance and splendor comes a threat of Esther’s kin – the Jewish people who are exiled in her land. The drama, essential to any good story, develops as the king’s advisor, Haman, is angered by the refusal of Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, to bow down to Haman in the court.  In revenge, Haman plots to destroy all the Jews in the land. When Esther learns of the plot, she risks her life to go to the king, her husband, and plead on behalf [...]

SAINTS: Jonah — The Sign Of God’s Mercy, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Jonah 3:1-10; Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19; Luke 11:29-32 Most of us know the story of Jonah and the whale.  But today’s readings give us the rest of the story. Jonah’s mission as a prophet was to deliver a warning from God to the pagan city of Nineveh; his watery adventure was part of his wish to escape that mission.  God ensures that Jonah does deliver the message, and when he does the results are overwhelmingly positive.  Sadly, Jonah cannot accept the mercy God shows in the face of the surprising repentance of a whole city – including the livestock.  (Jonah’s disappointment is related in another part of the Biblical book not given in today’s selection.) The point of this delightful [...]

SAINTS: Isidore The Farmer — Prayer In The Midst Of Our Labors, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 34:4-7, 16-19; Matthew 6:7-15 An old joke defines a farmer as someone “outstanding in his field.”  Saint Isidore the Farmer not only stood out for his work in tilling the soil but was also a deeply prayerful man. Today’s First Reading uses images familiar to farmers.  Isaiah describes the fertility of the word of God, comparing its power to that of the rain and snow in watering the Earth, allowing it to bear fruit, producing seed for the sower and bread for the hungry. Isidore lived from 1070 to 1130 in the vicinity of Madrid, Spain, where he worked on the estate of a wealthy landowner.  He was generous to the poor, helping to feed them, and sensitive to the care of [...]

SAINTS: Frances of Rome — When You Did For The Least Ones, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18; Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 15; Matthew 25:31-46 The first days of Lent feature scriptural selections that emphasize the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  Today Moses articulates the love of neighbor as part of God’s law.  The people’s conduct is motivated by the holiness of the God they worship.  Jesus makes that motivation even more personal, in the famous Matthew 25 passage, in which he identifies himself with the poor and needy to whom we should minister in the world. Frances of Rome, in the fourteenth century, can easily be patron of our Lenten almsgiving, as we seek the face of Jesus in hungry, naked, homeless, ill, or imprisoned people.  Married to a [...]

SAINTS: Noah — A Creation Covenant, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Psalm 51:3-6, 12-23, 17; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11 Author’s Note: The Old Testament readings for the Lenten Sundays present the history of salvation, one of the teaching themes of Lent.  I’ve chosen a figure from the Old Testament for several of these Sundays to assist you in your Lenten prayer. We can’t help but look at Noah through the lens of our modern sense of what’s acceptable behavior.  Building an ark in your neighborhood is probably not calculated to win the approval of your neighbors.  Comedian Bill Cosby, as well as the film, Evan Almighty, saw the potential for humor in the story of Noah. In reality, though, Noah’s response to God’s [...]

SAINTS: Levi (Matthew) The Tax Collector — Sinners Are Welcome, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Isaiah 58:9b-14; Psalm 86:1-2, 3-4, 5-6; Luke 5:27-32 Luke – and Mark – tell us the story of Levi, a tax collector whom Jesus calls as a follower in today’s Gospel passage.  Levi promptly throws a party for Jesus.  More tax collectors and others show up as well, prompting criticism from the Pharisees and scribes.  Their disapproval draws one of Jesus’s most important responses: Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance. Why did Levi not get numbered among the disciples of Jesus whose stories are told in the Gospel, such as Peter, Andrew, James, and John?  We don’t know.  In Matthew’s [...]

SAINTS: Sharbel Makhluf — Fasting With A Purpose, by Greg Friedman

From Lent With The Saints Isaiah 58:1-9a; Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 18-19; Matthew 9:14-15 Fasting is one of the three traditional ways to observe Lent (prayer and almsgiving are the other two), based on Jesus’s description of them in our Ash Wednesday Gospel. Today the scripture readings focus on fasting.  The prophet Isaiah chides the people for their behavior on fast days, pursuing evil and not God’s ways.  The Lord wants works of justice and compassion connected with fast days.  In the Gospel, Jesus explains to the followers of John the Baptist that while he (Jesus) is with his disciples, they will not fast; only after he has left them will they fast. Sharbel Makhluf was known for both his fasting and his care for those who [...]

SAINTS: Thomas More — What Does It Profit Us?, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1:1-2, 3-4, 6; Luke 9:22-25 In the movie (based on the play by Robert Bolt), A Man For All Seasons, Sir Thomas More is on trial on trumped-up charges, having angered King Henry VIII, who had set himself up in place of the pope as head of the Church of England. A young protégé of More, Richard Rich, supports the king and commits perjury to give evidence that condemns More to death.   Rich’s reward for his treachery is appointment as attorney general for Wales.  More looks at Rich and asks, Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world.  But for Wales?  In today’s Gospel, Luke gives the source of the line More is quoting, as Jesus [...]

SAINTS: Do You Want To Be A Saint?, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 In The Seven Storey Mountain, the Trappist monk and spiritual writer Thomas Merton explains how, when asked by his friend, Robert Lax, what he, Merton, wanted to be, he replied that he wanted to be a good Roman Catholic.  Lax, a poet and mystic, told him, What you should say is that you want to be a saint.  Merton deferred, conscious of his own failings and inadequacies.  But Lax persisted: All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one.  By desiring sainthood, Lax said, we consent to become what God has created us to be.  God, in turn, will make us saints. As we begin these Lenten meditations with the saints, [...]