SAINTS: Gianna Beretta Molla — A Mother’s Total Offering, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Isaiah 49:8-15; Psalm 145:8-9, 13cd-14, 17-18; John 5:17-30 One of the most affectionate lines in all of scripture occurs in our First Reading today: Can a mother forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?  Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. The beautiful comparison of God’s love to that of a mother for her child is captured in the life of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla.  Born in northern Italy in 1925, she pursued a career in medicine and became a physician and surgeon. Gianna and her husband Peter had three children.  While pregnant with her fourth child, Gianna was told she had a uterine tumor.  Among the options offered by her doctors was a complete [...]

SAINTS: Ezekiel — Prophet Of Liturgy And Rebirth, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12; Psalm 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9; John 5:1-3a, 5-16 When there are people to be baptized in my parish during Lent, the whole season takes on a different character.  Everything leads to the waters of the font. The conclusion of the catechumens’ journey through the Lenten season focuses their final preparation for the Easter sacraments.  We hear the scriptures at Mass through the filter of those entering the church.  We celebrate rituals – large and small – with the Sunday community and in the circle of candidates and sponsors. But in the end, we come to the waters of the font.  To help us in “sighting” our destination, today’s liturgy offers us a beautiful reading from the [...]

POETRY: Evening Prayer, by Scott Cairns

And what would you pray in the troubled midst of this our circular confusion save that the cup be taken away? That the chill and welling of the blood might suffer by His hushed mercy to abate, to calm the legion dumb anxieties as each now clamors to be known and named? The road has taken on, of late, the mute appearance of a grief whose leaden gravity both insists on speed and slows the pilgrim’s progress to a crawl. At least he’s found his knees. I bear a dim suspicion that this circumstance will hold unyielding hegemony until the day. What would you pray at the approach of this late evening? What ask? And of [...]

SAINTS: John The Evangelist — Jesus’s Identity And Mission, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Isaiah 65:17-21; Psalm 30:2, 4-6, 11-12a, 13b; John 4:43-54 Today begins a semi-continuous reading of the Gospel of John.  The organizers of the Roman Catholic Lectionary for Mass wanted to present a healthy portion of the fourth Gospel, to help us appreciate its richness.  The sequence of texts also helps us focus on the person of Jesus and his mission. John’s Gospel is at once profound and elegantly simple.  From its opening words announcing the Word Made Flesh, to the accounts of the signs of Jesus (such as today’s cure of a royal official’s son), to the three great scrutiny gospels used in the rite of adult initiation, to the majestic Passion narrative, the fourth Gospel offers us a [...]

ART: Window Six — Fourth Sunday In Lent, by Michael Sullivan

From: Windows Into the Light Gracious Father, whose blessed Son, Jesus Christ, came down from Heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer) You are always welcoming me back to the feast, God, no matter how far I stray, no matter what I do, or what I say.  Let me see that you have always loved me and that you are always welcoming me home with a feast of new life. Amen. John 6:4-15 (The feeding of the five thousand) Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.  When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, [...]

SAINTS: Paul — Helping To Shape Our Christian Identity, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13; Psalm 23:1-6; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41 Old Testament readings take priority in Lent.  Most of the First Readings on weekdays are from the Hebrew scriptures; the First Reading each Sunday is chosen to recall the story of salvation.  The writings of Saint Paul, however, also appear on the Sundays of Lent.  As I was trying to find a place in this book for the Apostle to the Gentiles, a friend reminded me of how Paul bridges the Old and New Testaments.  His theology helps to shape much of our Christian identity. Paul bookends Lent with his themes.  On Ash Wednesday, we read Paul quoting Isaiah, At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped [...]

JESUS: To Pray In Christ, by Hubert van Zeller

When the church concludes its official prayers with the words, Through Christ our Lord, it is not just repeating a formula or letting the faithful know that the prayer has come to an end.  The church means it – theologically.  Whether we state it explicitly or not, all our prayers are made through Christ and in him and with him.  If they are not, they are abstract prayers, and not Christian prayers at all.  Christian prayer assumes the communication between the Son and the Father, and, implicitly, at least, moves into the relationship.  Christian prayer does not tie itself down to the consideration of episodes in our Lord’s life and to the mysteries of the gospel.  Christian prayer may even, in the act of contemplation for [...]

SAINTS: Martin de Porres — The Humble Exalted, by Greg Friedman

From: Lent With The Saints Hosea 6:1-6; Psalm 51:3-4, 18-19, 20-21ab; Luke 18:9-14 Picture the simple Dominican brother Martin de Porres moving humbly among the sick and poor of Lima, Peru, in the seventeenth century.  His work was long and arduous as he cared for orphans, slaves, and poor children.  His hours of prayer and penance strengthened this ministry.  At first only a lay helper in this community, thinking himself unworthy to be a vowed religious, Martin was eventually invited into full membership.  His life of prayer and witness moved the Dominican community to receive him as a lay brother. Like the tax collector in today’s Gospel, Martin himself was someone whom society rejected.  As the illegitimate son of a Spanish [...]

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, [...]

ART: Window Five — Third Sunday In Lent, by Michael Sullivan

From: Windows Into the Light Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer) God, my soul both awaits and celebrates your presence.  At times I drive you away, replacing your love for me with objects of my own desire.  On other days, I welcome you  with wild abandon, preparing a feast for all to enjoy.  Help me to find the places between, the places where I can be [...]

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 [...]

POETRY: My Prayers Must Meet A Brazen Heaven, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

My prayers must meet a brazen heaven And fail and scatter all away. Unclean and seeming unforgiven My prayers I scarcely call to pray. I cannot buoy my heart above; Above I cannot entrance win. I reckon precedents of love, But feel the long success of sin. My heaven is brass and iron my earth: Yea, iron is mingled with my clay, So harden’d is it in this dearth Which praying fails to do away. Nor tears, nor tears this clay uncouth Could mould, if any tears there were. A warfare of my lips in truth, Battling with God, is now my [...]

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 [...]

POETRY: The Road To Damascus: 6, by Tania Runyan

I have sinned, I said. I want eternal life, I said. That was the moment. I wanted nothing but God. I wanted a cheeseburger. I wanted nothing at all. Finally, I wanted it all settled. I folded by hands and spoke To the carpet. I folded my hands and spoke to the Lord. I woke up and felt no different. I woke up and my life came to an [...]

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 [...]