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Pope Francis’s Thoughts on Lent

Pope Francis

Each year, the Holy Father publishes his thoughts and reflections on the upcoming Lenten season.  This year is no different and the theme comes from Matthew 24:12: “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold.” Below is an overview of his message and at the end we’ve got a link to his message so you can read for yourself.

False Prophets & Cold Hearts

The Holy Father begins by reflecting on two problem areas in our world today.  He first reflects on “false prophets” and, second, on hearts that have grown cold.

False Prophets

He characterizes false prophets as “snake charmers” and “charlatans.”  Snake charmers, “who manipulate human emotions in order to enslave others and lead them where they would have them go.”  The charlatans “offer easy and immediate solutions to suffering that soon prove utterly useless.”  In the end, it is “the devil, who is ‘a liar and the father of lies’ (Jn 8:44), has always presented evil as good, falsehood as truth.”

Cold Hearts

The Holy Father then turns to reflect on Dante’s depiction of Satan in the Inferno: the devil is “…seated on a throne of ice, in frozen and loveless isolation.”  Pope Francis goes on to conclude:

Love can also grow cold in our own communities. In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I sought to describe the most evident signs of this lack of love: selfishness and spiritual sloth, sterile pessimism, the temptation to self-absorption, constant warring among ourselves, and the worldly mentality that makes us concerned only for appearances, and thus lessens our missionary zeal.

Prayer, Fasting & Almsgiving

The Holy Father paints a rather daunting picture of the false prophets and the “the cooling of charity” that he sees everywhere in our world.  But what are we to do?  Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the antidote to these worldly ailments.

“By devoting more time to prayer,” the Holy Father says, “we enable our hearts to root out our secret lies and forms of self-deception, and then to find the consolation God offers. He is our Father and he wants us to live life well.”

“Almsgiving sets us free from greed,” Pope Francis continues, “and helps us to regard our neighbour as a brother or sister. What I possess is never mine alone. How I would like almsgiving to become a genuine style of life for each of us! How I would like us, as Christians, to follow the example of the Apostles and see in the sharing of our possessions a tangible witness of the communion that is ours in the Church!”

Finally, the Holy Father concludes by reflecting on fasting:

Fasting weakens our tendency to violence; it disarms us and becomes an important opportunity for growth. On the one hand, it allows us to experience what the destitute and the starving have to endure. On the other hand, it expresses our own spiritual hunger and thirst for life in God. Fasting wakes us up. It makes us more attentive to God and our neighbour. It revives our desire to obey God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.

You can read Pope Francis’s reflection here in full.

You can also read his homily for Ash Wednesday, preached in the Basilica of Santa Sabina (Founded by St. Dominic) here.

May you all have a blessed and fruitful Lent!

Your Father who sees in secret will repay you

Ash Wednesday

Throughout Lent, we’re sharing excerpts from Lenten Grace, an inspiring journey through the season’s Gospel readings. Check back every Sunday through Easter for a new reading. Best of all, you can get this collection of daily Gospel reflections free. Get it now.

Already own Lenten Grace? Open today’s reading in Verbum.

Lectio

Matthew 6:1–6, 16–18

Meditatio

“… [Do not] perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them
… your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

“What are you going to do for Lent?” As children each year we had to answer this question. We gave up cookies, candy, TV, video games …; the list was made up of our most precious pleasures. We struggled through the forty days of Lent, flexing our spiritual muscles as we raced toward the Easter Day finish line. As adults we’ve settled into a more sophisticated Lenten spirituality, but often we end up giving up the same things we did as kids, perhaps hoping to lose a little weight or gain a little time.

Today’s Gospel reading prods us to go deeper. It centers around theatrics. We all are mini-celebrities of our own lives, imagining a trail of adoring fans following us. We can even make Lent into a minor Hollywood production. We conceive the idea for our Lenten penance. We write the script. We are producer, director, actor, and audience all wrapped in one. And we end up at the Easter Day finish line as self-absorbed as we were on Ash Wednesday.

Perhaps these words of Jesus spoken to us today are asking us to go backstage, take the last seat, sit down, and wait for God to reveal to us the script he has written for us this Lent. Perhaps as adults we should be asking at the beginning of Lent: What is God going to do for me in these next forty days? What is it that I desire God to do for me in this long Lenten retreat?

Instead of theatrics, Jesus is inviting us to simple honesty. To smallness. To just being there and sensing his grace, quiet enough, still enough to feel the gentle tugs of the Spirit to newness, to giving up obstacles to the growth of a treasured relationship, to finding a few moments daily to read the Word of God, to surrender fear.… What God is going to do in your life will surprise you. Expect it.

Oratio

Jesus, I am not accustomed to telling you to do whatever you want in my life. In fact, it’s kind of scary to see what you would do if I let you write my life’s script. I think I am doing a pretty good job at my life on my own. But it seems you want something more of me now. Instead of Lent being my focus, you are placing me front and center in your focus. I am expecting you to show me what you want to give me at this stage of my life. I trust you.

Contemplatio

I expect you, God, to do something with me this Lent.

***

Download Lenten Grace: Daily Gospel Reflections to guide you throughout this lenten season. You can get it free through February! Get it now

Holy Saturday

This guest post was written by Brody Stewart, Verbum Marketing and Promotions and Coordinator.

There’s nothing to do on Holy Saturday.

For most of the liturgical year, there’s always something to do at church. Whether it’s daily Mass, stations of the cross, praying the rosary, or some other popular devotion, there is no shortage of holy activities to occupy our time. The schedule is so predictable that most of us have developed routines. If you’re like me, you’re used to attending daily Mass every Saturday morning.

Except today, that is.

On Holy Saturday, things are different. Mass isn’t celebrated. The tabernacle is empty. The mood is somber, subdued, and sorrowful. Everything is as it should be. This sudden shock in our schedules connects us, in a small way, to Christ’s closest friends—the Apostles. Having spent three years living with Jesus, they would have grown accustomed to the rhythms of his life. Being devout Jews, they would have celebrated Jewish feasts and festivals with Jesus. They would travel with him, teach with him, and train others in his ways. They were there when he performed his first miracle. They were there when he wept at the death of Lazarus. They were there when he ate the Passover meal.

And then he was gone.

On the day of Christ’s crucifixion, the Apostles were stricken by terror and grief. Everything happened so quickly; their emotions were fresh. But the next morning, things were different. Jesus was no longer with them. Their teacher and friend was dead. On that first Holy Saturday, the Apostles sat in quiet, inconsolable mourning. Today, things are no different. Our day-to-day lives are put on pause to grieve for our crucified king. Though this day isn’t filled with church events, it should still be sacred. In our own small ways, we ought to reflect on the weight of Christ’s sacrifice and its significance in our lives. We ought to grieve for our sins. We ought to empathize with those who suffer and mourn.

In doing all this, Holy Saturday becomes more than just an empty day on our calendars. Instead, it frees us from the busyness of life and readies us for resurrection with Christ. It cultivates hope. We can’t let it pass unheeded.

So, what are you doing on Holy Saturday?

The Seven Last Words of Jesus

In honor of Good Friday, Verbum would like to invite you to a deeper meditation on Christ’s crucifixion. Fr. Devin Roza, LC, a student of Sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, shows us how to find the seven last words of Jesus, and gives us some food for thought that we can carry with us throughout the day — and throughout the Triduum.

 

Wednesday of Holy Week: Gospel and Reflection

Today’s Gospel reading from Matthew is one many of us have heard before. The story of Judas handing over Jesus to the authorities for thrity pieces of silver is a familiar one, and yet there are always different aspects that can strike us as we read it, details that lead us to reflect in new ways:

Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain one, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at your house with my disciples.’” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the passover.

When it was evening, he sat at table with the twelve disciples; and as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful, and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me, will betray me. The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Is it I, Master?” He said to him, “You have said so.” (Mt 26:14-25)

Verbum can deepen your spiritual experience with resources aimed at explaining the readings and applying them to your daily life. Here, for example, is the reading for Wednesday of Holy Week from Lenten Grace: Daily Gospel Reflections by the Sisters of St. Paul:

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus shows us that fidelity to one’s vocation is lived one minute at a time. Jesus’ fidelity is a lived out in a continuous stream of ‘now’ moments: announcing the Kingdom of God, healing the sick, forgiving the sinful, all leading up to the appointed hour.

The Passover is beginning. Pilgrims are streaming into Jerusalem, including Jesus and his closest disciples. Jesus knows what is coming. ‘My appointed time draws near.’ Already in chapter 26 of Matthew he has foretold his crucifixion during the Passover (v. 2). He has declared the anointing at Bethany a preparation for his burial (v. 12). He knows, too, that one of his own disciples will betray him—an inside job.

In the face of betrayal, torture, and death, what does Jesus do? He goes on with his vocation of revealing the faithful love of God for his people. At this precise moment it means preparing and celebrating the Passover meal.
Betrayal is devastating. It is hard to say what is worse, to be caught off guard or to see it coming. Either way the sin of betrayal kicks us in the gut when we experience it. The example of Jesus is all the more astounding because, while he acknowledges Judas’ betrayal as it is happening, he does not change his plans to avoid the situation. Neither does he lash out at Judas or retaliate in any way. Jesus, the absolute expression of God’s love, is not sidetracked. Instead, he continues to freely give of himself.

Today we stand on the brink of the Sacred Triduum, and the Church gives us the calm deliberate choices of Jesus to continue his mission. He knows this will lead to Calvary. We also ponder the calculated moves of Judas, which will lead to his duplicitous kiss.

Fidelity (or its opposite) is lived out moment by moment, choice by choice. What is God calling me to in this ‘hour’ of my salvation?

Oratio

My God, I want to be with you completely in these days when we remember your passion and death. When I think of your fidelity to your vocation, your total self-giving in the face of the betrayal and the cowardice of your disciples, I am overwhelmed. Time is a precious gift; help me to spend it wisely as you did in your public ministry. Strengthen me so that in my moments of crisis I may choose faithful love no matter the cost.
Contemplatio

Faithful love is lived out moment by moment.

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Betrayal of Judas by Duccio, 1308-11

 

 

 

Deacon Kevin’s Reflections for Palm Sunday

This guest post was written by Deacon Kevin Bagley, DMin, Director of Verbum.

This weekend we experience Christ’s entry in Jerusalem. The many who had heard Him speak, witnessed a miracle, or had their lives touched by His message greeted Jesus as a celebrity and gave him a hero’s welcome into the city. The palm branches they cut down were placed on the ground as an ancient form of “rolling out the red carpet.”

In the Old Testament reading from Isaiah, we hear the tale of the suffering servant who came to preach the good news, but was rejected by those who refused to accept the message.

Saint Paul’s account is theologically rich and beautiful explaining the relationship between Christ and God the Father. You might want to re-read this passage as we encounter Christ during Holy Week.

We experience Mark’s Gospel of the Passion of our Lord. Marks’ narrative is so vivid that we can see, hear, taste, and feel as we imagine what happened during Christ’s last hours.

I encourage you to participate in as many of our liturgies as you can this week living and experiencing this most holy of weeks in our church year.  In just a few days, we see the rise of a “celebrity,” His fall, passion, and death. How much of our own life mirrors that of Holy Week?  Our successes, failures, our weakness…must be joined with the suffering of Christ for us to be fully redeemed.

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The Entry into Jerusalem by Giotto, 1305

Feast of the Annunciation

Deepen your understanding of the Scriptures with Come and See: Catholic Bible Study Collection!

Let’s take an excerpt today’s Gospel reading for the Feast of the Annunciation:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!”

But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her,

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Lk 1:26–33).

Come and See: Catholic Bible Study Collection enriches your spiritual experience in multiple ways, with in-depth reflection on Scripture, including commentary on verses and translations of different Bibles, and quotes from papal writings and the saints. All of these resources are brought together and presented in an easily-accessible format. Here’s the commentary for the reading above:

Although Gabriel is God’s servant first, He is also Mary’s servant. He addresses Mary with the unique description kecharitomene, “a “woman perfected in grace.” No one else in all the pages of Scripture receives this kind of a greeting! Saint Jerome translated this as “gratia plena,” and the best English translation is the traditional “full of grace” (Douay-Rheims and RSCVE). Such renditions as “so highly favored” (Jerusalem Bible) or “highly favored daughter” (New American Bible) fail to convey the full depth of meaning.

Nowhere else in the pages of Scripture does an angel (who always speaks infallibly for God) address a human being this way. Angels themselves are full of grace, and Gabriel speaks to Mary as to one like himself. Now, before Christ’s death on the cross there was no way for a human to become emptied of sin. Therefore, the only way Mary could be full of grace is if, like the angel, she always had been. Gabriel reveals that the Virgin Mary was free from sin and full of grace…

Gabriel’s demeanor and the tenor of his words defer to Mary not as someone beneath him, as in the meeting with Zachariah, or even on the same level. He appears before his own queen, the future Queen of Heaven who will reign forever as Queen of the angels and saints…

The new era of salvation begins with the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary. Saint Bede compares the first mother of mankind, Eve, with the new mother, Mary. Where Eve once contained in her womb all humanity, which was doomed to sin, now Mary contains in her womb the new Adam, Jesus Christ, who will father a new humanity by his grace (The Synoptics 11,12).

Enjoy special savings on Come and See: Catholic Bible Study Collection through the end of the month.

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The Annunciation by Hendrick Terbrugghen, 1624

 

Deacon Kevin’s Reflections on the Feast Day of St. Joseph

This guest post is by Verbum Director Kevin Bagley, D Min.

Be sure to see our Verbum Monthly Sale for special savings on resources about St. Joseph!

Of the members of the Holy Family, we know the least about Joseph. His appearance in Scripture is brief, and not a single word in Scripture is attributed to him. He appears in three of the Gospels, and what little else we know has been handed down through tradition and the few writings about him from the early writings of the Church, including The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, The Gospel of James, The Gospel of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, and The Ante-Nicean Fathers.

One tradition holds that Joseph lived to be 111 years of age. As a younger man, he had served as a priest in the temple. When we meet Joseph in scripture, he is a tekton (Mt. 13:55; Mk 6:3), translated as mechanic; more specifically, a carpenter. Wood might not have been his only medium, as stone is also prevalent in the area. His wife preceded him in death and together they had six children (Judas, Justus, James, Simon, Assia and Lydia). Joseph took Mary into his home and cared for her and the child Jesus after being selected as her husband.

Mary was the daughter of the aged Joachim and Anna. When Mary was three years old, Joachim and Anna brought her from their home in Bethlehem to the temple in Jerusalem to consecrate and devote her to the service of the Lord. Early church tradition holds that Mary made a vow of virginity.

According to the prophecy of Isaiah (Is. 11:1-2), a man should be sought to whom the virgin should be entrusted and espoused. Staffs were to be collected from each of the unmarried men of the house and family of David and kept overnight in the holy of holies of God’s temple. It was believed that the man’s staff, from which a dove appeared, would be the man to care for Mary. The following morning, all the staffs except Joseph’s were brought out of the temple. When no dove appeared from any of the staffs, another attempt was made. The second attempt at finding a spouse for Mary ended as the first. The high priest realized that Joseph’s staff had not been brought forth with the others. Joseph’s staff was retrieved and handed to him. Upon receiving the staff, a dove appeared from the staff and flew toward Heaven. God’s will was clear: Mary would be entrusted and espoused to Joseph. One tradition describes Joseph asking why he was being asked to take Mary into his home, as she was younger than some of his grandsons. But wishing to do the work of the Lord, Joseph received Mary into his care.

Joseph returned to Nazareth to make things ready for his spouse. He then returned to his trade, one that took him away from home for an extended time. He may have been building homes by the shore, or perhaps he was at work on the temple. When Joseph returned home, after several months away, he found that Mary was pregnant. Joseph, deeply troubled by this information, considered sending her away secretly. As he pondered what action to take, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, informing him that it was an act of the Holy Spirit that Mary had conceived. The angel further instructed Joseph to name the child Jesus, because he would save the people from their sins (Mt. 1:18-22).

At that time, Caesar Augustus decreed that a census be taken of the entire world. This meant that Joseph and pregnant Mary had to travel to Bethlehem, his ancestral home (Lk. 2:1-5). As many people had descended upon Bethlehem for the census, there were no suitable accommodations. Joseph, doing the best he could, found a warm stable where Mary could give birth (Lk. 2:7). Just days after the birth, the family was greeted by local shepherds who came to visit the Messiah (Lk. 2:16).

According to Jewish law, Joseph and Mary took Jesus up to the temple in Jerusalem to present Jesus to the Lord (Lk. 2:22), where they were greeted by Simeon, who had been waiting all his life to see the Messiah.

Joseph had settled the family in a house in Bethlehem when the Magi came to visit (Mt 2:11). After the Magi departed, Joseph was warned in a dream that they must flee to Egypt, as King Herod intended to destroy the child (Mt. 2:13). Joseph did as he was told, remaining in Egypt until the death of King Herod (Mt. 2:14-15). An angel once again spoke to Joseph in a dream, telling him it was safe to return home. Fearing the wrath of Herod’s son Archelaus, Joseph did not return to Bethlehem but rather chose to settle the family in Nazareth (Mt. 3:19-23).

The last image we have of Joseph in scripture is when the family traveled to Jerusalem for Passover. Journeying in caravans, the men walked in one group and the women and children walked in another. At the age of twelve, Jesus was old enough to travel with the men, and yet still young enough to be with the children. Both parents thought Jesus was with the other, until they met in the evening for rest—to find Jesus missing. Frantic with anxiety, they quickly returned to Jerusalem and spent three days searching for their son. They found him on the third day, sitting in the midst of the teachers in the temple. They returned home to Nazareth to raise their son (Lk. 41-52).

As a young boy, the only human father Jesus knew was Joseph. Joseph was father, provider, teacher, mentor, and role model for his son. Pressed into service as an old man, Joseph cared for his wife and son, endured the hardship of fleeing persecution from the government with his infant child, provided a home for his family, and taught his son a noble trade.

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Deacon Kevin’s Reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Lent

After years of ignoring the commandments, Israel is invaded and conquered.  Her people are taken as slaves and foreigners inhabit her land. God had sent prophets to remind them of their covenant with God…but the people had ignored the prophets. They preferred their own will to the will of God and tried to be their own masters. Then, the Babylonians invaded, and sacked and looted the city. Only after several decades—indeed, generations—of captivity in a foreign land, were the people allowed to return to their land.

Paul’s letter reminds us that God saved us even when we were sinners. Everything done by the Creator is wonderful and awesome, including each one of us! We are created by God and He loves us like no one else can. No matter what we have done wrong, or what we didn’t do that we should have, God loves us. He fills us with grace and blessings; but is this gift from God ignored, left unopened? Do we, like the Israelites in the first reading, pretend to know better and believe we are in control of our fate?

This Lent, let God’s grace work in you. Let it be the gift you need to reconcile with another, help a friend in need, grow in knowledge of God’s love for you. Then you can live and act as His representative, demonstrating that you are willing to share the gift of grace you have received.

Jesus came to save sinners and show them the way to the Father. He came to let us know it was okay to be human, to make mistakes, to mess up. If we have faith in God, then we shall inherit the Kingdom. Good works done without faith are just good works. When we understand that the good we do for each other, our church, and our world is done out of gratitude for the love we have experienced, then we show that we are true disciples. Living in and through the grace of God is our baptismal calling.

Doing is only part of the answer. Believing and participating in God’s work is where we find our salvation.

The Importance of Forgiveness

To help us reflect on the theme of forgiveness from this week’s Mass readings, we feature Tuesday’s Gospel reading from Matthew followed by a short meditation.

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Mt 18:21-35).

Here is a reading about forgiveness from  Minute Meditations for Lent, by Sr. Kathryn Hermes, FSP:

minute-meditations-for-lentForgiving another person means that we ourselves must be ready to change. The words may be easy to say: “I forgive you.”

The phrase seems to be an almost condescending wave of a magic wand…bestowing a fairy-godmother state of bliss on a relationship. But people can’t relate to fairy godmothers.

They can relate to struggling people like themselves. Being ready to forgive, therefore, means realizing that behind the other person’s offensive or socially problematic behavior is a cry asking to be   heard, a pain from the past not dealt with, or a statement about the present not articulated. Forgiveness means I need to hear what is not being said, opening myself up to that truth. I need to allow the other person into my heart. It means acknowledging my own selfishness, anger, bitterness, negative attitudes and ways of thinking, and turning to Jesus to ask forgiveness.

Prayer: Lord, help me to forgive wholeheartedly.

 

 

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