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Each week of Lent, we will post a brief meditation written by Catholic Young Adult Leaders from the mission dioceses we support through your generosity.

Easter Sunday 

Reflection from John Hopke, Diocese of Richmond

The disciples were afraid.

For three incredible years they had been following this Jesus, and had seen some amazing things. They witnessed sight restored to blindness. They watched cripples rise and walk. They had fed five thousand people with just a few loaves and fishes. And in a climactic moment, Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem to a hero’s welcome.

“Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David!” the people had all shouted. The disciples’ hearts must have welled up in that moment.

“We have found our Savior!” they must have said among themselves. But their elation would be short-lived.

Though the crowds had hailed Jesus as the Messiah, they would quickly turn on him. And on that Good Friday afternoon, it seemed that darkness had prevailed. The disciples witnessed their Messiah nailed to a tree, and with him, their hope.

“Perhaps he was not who he said he was,” they must have thought, “a miracle worker and a great teacher, to be sure, but certainly not the Messiah. Messiahs don’t get crucified.”

They had left everything to follow this Jesus, mortgaged their livelihoods and their futures to stake everything on this man - this man who they had just seen executed like a common criminal. And so they were afraid.

And yet, that was not the end of the story.

As the startling news of an empty tomb began to spread among the people, that light of hope which had grown so dim, began to flicker again. Death was not the final word! He kept his promise! The Messiah lives!

And as the days passed and Jesus appeared to his followers, their joy and their hope were indeed restored. Yet, something was beginning to become very clear to them: it wasn’t “just like old times.” Jesus had returned, but not to simply pick up where he had left off. Things had changed. In encountering this risen Christ, they had been changed.

Indeed, an encounter with the risen Christ changes everything.

An encounter with the risen Christ transformed Peter, a fisherman with questionable judgment and prone to bursts of anger, a man who denied Jesus when it mattered most, into the keeper of the keys - the first Pope.

An encounter with the risen Christ transformed Paul, a murderer and persecutor of Christians, into the greatest preacher and teacher the Church has ever known.

An encounter with the risen Christ transformed a rag-tag band of tradesmen into the evangelists who would take the Gospel of Jesus to the nations, transforming Christianity from a relatively obscure regional movement to the world's largest religion, each gladly accepting a martyr’s death to bear witness to this risen Christ.

And an encounter with the risen Christ can transform each of us as well. It can change our doubts into faith. It can change our fears about our lives into confidence in God. It can change our weaknesses and failings into the very tools He will use to spread His good News.

Let us encounter the risen Christ in a new way this Easter, and by His grace, let us be changed.

Holy Saturday 

Reflection from Jessy Bennett, Diocese of Owensboro

Jessy BennettI don’t like to travel, especially when it comes to long trips. I’m easily bored and grow tired from all the standing and waiting. Or from the many miles of driving and needing to constantly concentrate on what’s coming next. It’s easy to wish the journey away. It’s easy to watch a movie on my computer, get out my smart phone or turn on the radio. I distract myself. I find ways to make the journey less painful and I wish at every moment that the journey would be over.

I fall into this same rut with Lent at times. The journey of Lent seems long, and the joyful destination of Easter seems so far away. So I distract myself with anything I can think of. I want to hurry and reach the destination. Holy Thursday comes around and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I stop to reflect on the meaning of service in my life as I wash the feet of others. Soon enough, Good Friday is here and I fast, pray and reflect on the meaning of true love. I die to myself and unite my suffering to the cross of Christ. Then Easter comes and I can rejoice again! I like that part, it’s easy to rejoice and be thankful. But wait…I forgot about Holy Saturday. The last little bit of the journey. As Christians we view Holy Saturday as a mere placeholder. It is the day between movements. We love the sorrow and solemnness of Holy Week and the rejoicing and happiness of Easter. They are easy to celebrate because there is something we can do. But what do we do on Holy Saturday? Nothing. And that’s exactly what you should be doing, but intentionally.

Imagine what the Apostles must have felt on that first Saturday. They lost their friend, their leader, their teacher—their God. They thought he was going to free them, to fight for them. Can you imagine the shock, the fear, the disappointment, the doubt they felt when he died? Maybe they remembered all the times he hinted at this happening. Maybe they even remembered that he said he would rise from the dead. How easy it is for us to believe that now; but can you imagine how it must have sounded to them? And so they waited, with hopeful anticipation, with fearful doubt. They were uncertain what the future held.  

When Jesus was praying in the Garden he told the Apostles to keep watch, do not fall asleep.  He was trying to prepare them for the uncertainty of this moment, when he wasn’t there to guide them. Be mindful. Keep watch. I am going away now, but I will be back. I imagine him saying the same things to me. Be mindful. Keep watch. Do not get distracted by this world, but focus on my kingdom. I am not here now, but I will come back. Don’t fall asleep, don’t just pass the time—be intentional.

So what will you do this Holy Saturday? Are there things in your life you are uncertain or fearful about? Or are you waiting in anticipation and hope for the future? Don’t let Holy Saturday be a placeholder in your week. Allow yourself to experience the journey and wait with intentionality, all the way to the end. There is beauty in the journey, no matter how long it may be. Don’t try to wish it away or distract yourself just to make it through. But rather be mindful and keep watch—Jesus is gone for now, but he will come back.

Good Friday 

Reflection from Rebecca Garza, Diocese of Yakima

“Crucify him, crucify him!” These are the haunting words the crowd shouted in the Passion narrative of John’s Gospel. The account of Christ’s Passion that we hear every Good Friday is filled with heart wrenching moments and memorable characters; however, what struck me the most during this particular Lenten season were the bystanders, the crowd.

Perhaps it is the highly charged political climate we find ourselves in during this year’s presidential election, the strong opinions that saturate our social media feeds, or maybe it’s simply the intense basketball season my youngest son just came off of (he’s 6 by the way) that made me focus in on the crowd and their demand for blood. These being the same people that just this past Sunday “spread their cloaks on the road” as Jesus rode past while proclaiming “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 19:36, 38).

In an incredibly short amount of time, these people, who once welcomed Jesus with palms in the city of Jerusalem-- turned on Jesus. As the drama unfolds, you can imagine the anger and hatred that must have been so evident on their faces as the tension escalated, and in just moments, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, lost the popular vote.

You can’t turn on the news without viewing this same expression of support. Does that same anger on the faces of individuals supporting their team, cause, or politician seem familiar? How many hate and ignorant filled words, how much division, confusion, and even violence have we tolerated-- even excused in the name of supporting something we deem right or just.

Today seems like the perfect time to consider what we have attached ourselves to. Who or what exactly are we following, and where are we being led? Does it compromise who we are or who Christ calls us to be? I have the honor and privilege of working with some of the most incredible people, one of whom is our Bishop, Most Rev. Joseph Tyson, who poses the question, “is our faith shaping our politics or is our politics shaping our faith?”

As we wait with expectancy for the Resurrection of Jesus, who restores all hope, let us be a converted crowd. Let us not get hijacked by word play, emotional manipulation, and irrational fear. Instead, let us use our converted hearts to promote truth in a way that is charitable and appealing to those seeking truth.  Let us also look to Christ’s example of courage during His passion, faith in God’s Will, and love for all as a model for enduring our seasons of challenge and dispute.

Peace be with you. God bless you and your families today and always.

Holy Thursday 

Reflection from Stephanie Rambaran, Diocese of Tucson

Today we are invited to transition from the liturgical season of Lent and into the three days of the Holy Triduum. We move from solemn fasting and sacrifice toward the hopeful anticipation of the coming of Christ in His Resurrection.

The first reading foreshadows for us the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb and connects in a real way the Old Testament and the tradition of Passover to the New Testament and the Holy Eucharist.

The second reading recounts the Last Supper, where Jesus institutes for us the "Source and Summit" of our foundation, the Eucharist.

In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus gives his Apostles an invitation. He invites them to have their feet washed by him, which was a task that even the lowliest slave would not have been asked to perform. This washing is significant as it shows the connection between Jesus and his Apostles. Through the washing of their feet, he is claiming them as his own, and is sending them out to continue his ministry through service to others.

We receive the same invitation from Jesus and we have been claimed in the same way through our baptism. The Triduum begins the heart of the story of how our redemption was accomplished through Christ’s salvific actions. We too, find our own inheritance in him. As his people, we are called to serve and share our gifts in service to God and others the way the Apostles did. Today I invite you to reflect on God's personal call to you to be his disciple, which occurred when you were claimed for Christ at your baptism. May you respond to God's call with a resounding "Yes, Lord. Here I am, send me."

 

Palm Sunday 

Reflection from Ashley Arthur, Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee

As Christ rode into Bethany towards the Mount of Olives, he was greeted by a crowd of people who were full of joy and praised his name, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” This same crowd who called him blessed would later turn on him and ask for him to be crucified. How often have I praised the Lord’s name one day and then turned my back on him the next? What was Christ feeling looking into this crowd, knowing full well that they too would soon turn on him? How heartbreaking that must have been. How sobering for the Lord to see his fate, freely giving himself over to them, riding towards his death.

The Church has offered us this season of Lent to prepare ourselves for Christ himself. Now, in the final days leading up to his crucifixion, let us take time to prepare the way for the Lord. Let us open our hearts to what he has planned for us. Meditating on the crucifixion, making time for confession and penance, participating in Holy Week events such as Holy Thursday and Good Friday services. These are all opportunities for us to make a final dying of ourselves as Christ makes his final death on the cross.

Let us not be afraid to suffer and enter into the sorrow of this life. This is a time where we can be in solidarity with Christ, crying out to God during those times when we struggled and felt alone saying, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” May we be reminded that our suffering is not in vain. That suffering is not the end. That death is not the end. Let us have confidence in what comes after the suffering. Let us have confidence in the Lord saying, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” with the full hope and joy of Easter. Prepare the way of the Lord. Prepare our hearts for his coming.  

Fifth Week of Lent

Reflection from Jessica de la Torre, Diocese of Bernardino 

During this time of Lent we seek to strengthen our relationship with God through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. But what does almsgiving really ask of us? Perhaps it is to go beyond lending a hand to a friend or giving a couple of coins to the homeless. Though these are good and necessary acts of kindness, the almsgiving to which I refer is the total giving of our selves. It is the almsgiving of our desires­, our will, and our life for the sake of others. This is a challenge, but one we are asked to take.

A few weeks ago during a homily, the pastor gave a beautiful definition of love as total almsgiving.  In simple terms, he explained the Greek word for ultimate sacrificial love is ‘agápe.’ He said, “Love is thinking, willing, and doing the good of the beloved, no matter what it costs me.” This is the kind of love Jesus has when he died on the cross for our salvation; this is the almsgiving of his total self.

What would change in our relationship with others if we did an almsgiving of our total selves? What would happen to our relationship with God? As Christians we cannot be afraid to lose our desires or our will for the love of God, because God who is good knows our hearts and deepest desires. He loves us with agápe love.

Let us take to heart what we will read this weekend in the letter of Paul to the Philippians: "Brothers and sisters: I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” 

Fourth Week of Lent

Reflection from Alma Benitez, Diocese of Yakima

We are now half way through Lent. What have you done during the past weeks? Have you begun to taste and see the goodness of the Lord? The Lenten season is one of repentance and gladness. Our Lenten efforts are not supposed to be 40 days of gloominess and darkness. Repentance illuminates our true senses and opens our eyes.

In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke, the main theme is reconciliation.

The son comes to his senses and repents:

“How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”

The father does not treat him like one of his hired workers. On the contrary, the father orders his hired workers to “quickly bring the finest robe…put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet” recognizing him as his son. The father was longing for his son to return home. Upon his arrival the father welcomes his son with open arms and celebrates his coming back with a feast. The father rejoices and celebrates that his son who was lost has been found.

In the sacrament of reconciliation God also rejoices and celebrates because we too have returned home to the Father. We too have been found. If a man in his human nature can forgive and embrace his son after having despised and offended him, how much more our heavenly Father will rejoice and celebrate when we return home!

During Lent we are called to turn back to God and grow in communion with Christ. We are called to be ambassadors for Christ! We are called to be ambassadors who allow others to taste and see the goodness of the Lord through our own relationship with Christ.

God loves and forgives us always. All we need is to truly believe in him, to have authentic faith in his mercy and ask him for his forgiveness. Just like the father of the prodigal son, he longs for us to come home; he longs to share his love and mercy with us. As he is merciful to us, let us be ambassadors of his love and mercy to others.

Third Week of Lent

Reflection from Alex Navas, Diocese of Tucson

In this third week of Lent, I find myself reflecting on how my Lenten practice is going so far. Is it helping me to bear fruit in my life or am I more like the fig tree in the gospel this week? Recently, a priest here in Tucson mentioned, “A good way to measure your Lenten practice is by how often you are tempted to break it.” I don’t think I ever realized how true this was until I started choosing things that were more pivotal to my daily life. As children, we often try to pick things based on difficulty, such as, “I’m not going to argue with my parents,” or “I’m going to give up chocolate.”  Although these things seemed like the end of the world at the time, upon reflection they were reasonably simple.

With each year, I have tried to think about what fruits these Lenten practices are bearing in my life. Am I doing something that will create a temporary adjustment or am I setting myself up for the kind of permanent growth that the Gardener will be proud of? During my college years, I realized that I was still giving up those things that were temporary. “Exercising every day” or “drinking soda” were still on the list. Then a phase of deeds came and I decided to “be nicer to people in retail” or “help a stranger every day.” I remember vividly one year when I decided on a Lenten practice like this and was very pleased with myself until hearing the readings at Ash Wednesday Mass. The words of Matthew 6 really struck me. “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them.”

Was I choosing these things for others or for myself?

Later in Matthew 6 we hear:

“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that others may see them. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” (Mt 6:5)

Time with God was what I was missing each Lent. On top of giving up a food or adding a practice, I needed to set aside time to be with my Father in silence. Maybe this third week of Lent, think about adding prayer time to your other Lenten practice. Take some time to talk to God about where you are in your journey. Ask God to cultivate the ground around you and fertilize it so that you may continue to bear fruit in the future. I pray that you find the silent space in your heart where Jesus waits for you.

Second Week of Lent

Reflection from Kelly Ruby, Diocese of Helena

Lent is a journey.

It is a time to walk with Christ to the cross and (hopefully) come out the other side more aware of our relationship with Him. We’ve all heard of Lent being described as a desert, but I offer you another description: to see Lent as the ups and downs of hiking from one peak to another. For me Lent is the continuous navigation of peaks and valleys, the highs and lows of spirituality, perhaps made more noticeable by the fasting and awareness of the liturgical season.  

In the Gospel this week we hear about the Transfiguration on the mountain. Peter, James, and John experience Christ in a way that no one else in the world has, and out of sheer awe and excitement Peter offers to build tents so as to stay in the moment—to draw it out, to make it last. We are all like Peter; we try to make things last, to recreate experiences and emotions, usually to no avail. The goal when journeying up the mountain is not to recreate a previous experience, but to connect with God.

They went up the mountain to pray. This Lent we travel the mountain to seek Christ and to pray, to be changed as Christ was changed, and for others around us to see the change take place the way Peter, James and John did in Christ. Yet we do not stay there; we are called to come down the mountain to do the work that Christ has set out for us.

In youth ministry we use the term “mountain top experience,” usually to describe a youth event where young people come alive with the love of Christ. These are awesome experiences, and I still have them as an adult. The problem is that we’re sometimes scared of what happens afterward: that the come down we can have may not be easy, that we might lose our faith when it gets too hard when we seek to replicate the experience and can’t. Coming down the mountain is where Christ really gets to work on our hearts, where we really get to lean into Him for help—where we have to ask for a hand in navigating the rocky crags on a downhill slope. The Gospel tells us that “they fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.” The key to this is, “at that time,” we do not want to be silent when spreading the joy and good news of Christ, but we’re asked to take the time to reflect on our experiences, to pray about them, and then offer our stories as a way of bringing Christ to others.  Walk don’t run; it’s a journey, not a race.

Growing up in the Rocky Mountains, this is a very visual idea for me. If you’ve ever tried to run down the side of a mountain, you’ll find yourself losing control very quickly (trust me I know). This is why we take our time, so as to reflect on where we have been and to look forward to where we’re going. So climb your mountains to pray and be changed, but remember to take the time to reflect on them and do not be afraid of the journey down.

Lord, help me to become fully awake in your glory this Lent, to change my heart, to enliven my spirit, and to ask for help as I walk down the mountain. 

First Week of Lent

Reflection from Nathan Stell, Diocese of El Paso

How often do we forget the obvious; those things that, after they’re remembered, we wonder how they could have ever left our sight to begin with?

And yet, we are a people in need of reminders.  Our lives largely revolve around a series of reminders that continually bring back into our awareness things like feeding the dog, brushing our teeth, important meetings throughout the week, and birthday or anniversary celebrations.

In reflecting on our faith life, the repeated sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation serve as reminders of the need to re-turn to God.  The Bible itself could be seen as a series of reminders of who we are, who God is, and what God has done for us.

This idea of being reminded of foundational truths is a central theme on this first week of Lent. In each reading we see people who need to be reminded of what God has done, and of the relationship that exists between God and His people.

In the first reading, Moses is preparing the people to cross the river Jordan and into the promised land.  He will not be completing the journey with them so he’s summing up their time together and imparting his last bits of knowledge.  Indeed the whole book of Deuteronomy is basically Moses saying goodbye to his people before they go.  One of the main things Moses wants to remind them of is the tremendous love that God has for them.  God has transformed the very nature of their lives: from that of slavery, to being free persons in a bountiful land. Moses knows that as they continue, just as they’ve faced trials in the past, the road ahead will provide new ones, and he wants the reminder of God’s love to be a source of strength for them in times ahead.  We too are pilgrims on a journey.  And as we begin this new journey of Lent, let us too reflect on God’s love for us, and the way that he’s been there in our times of need.

In the second reading, it is the Christians in Rome who need to be reminded of their relationship with Christ.  Paul tells them “the word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” and “no one who believes in him will be put to shame.”  He is recalling their relationship with Christ.  It is not a long distance relationship where communication is difficult to come by, instead, Christ is within them and as close as they are to themselves.  Do we have this same relationship with Christ today?  What things have we put in between Jesus and ourselves?  What obstacles within us can be removed so that we can enjoy the intimate relationship that God wants to have with us?

As we begin this Lenten journey, so too is Jesus embarking on his desert experience in the Gospel reading this week.  It can be tempting to imagine Jesus passing his time in the desert in peace and serenity as the Son of God.  But remember that he, like us, would have been scared, and physically fragile without plentiful food and drink.  He chose to go into the desert before his ministry began.  He knew that once he began to preach, his life would change, and he would need all the strength of the Father.  He went into the desert to solidify his own relationship with the Father and strengthen his resolve for the uncertain road ahead.  With the three temptations, it is Jesus who reminds himself, through the Scriptures, of God’s tremendous care for him, and that no power exists that can come between the Father and His Son.  As we read this Gospel reading, it too is easy to imagine Satan as an outside force tempting Jesus.  But the real temptations in times of struggle are the voices that come from within.  Imagine Jesus himself, knowing that he does not need to be suffering this, that he could turn stones into bread or call down angels to assist him, but deciding that he must endure this hardship and know beyond any doubt, who he is, and that God is his Father.

This then, can become our journey as well.  God is inviting us this Lent, to remember that He is Our Almighty and Loving Father, and that we are his children whom He loves with an immensity that breaks down all barriers. Our God was with His people in the desert with Moses, He was with Jesus in his desert for 40 days, and He is with us as we begin our time of Lent.  Let us carry these reminders on our Lenten journey.

Ash Wednesday

Reflection from Casey Bustamante, Archdiocese for the Military Services 

Today begins the Lenten season. Perhaps you already have ashes on your forehead or you will later today. Yet, the warning we heed from today’s gospel reading is to “beware of practicing your piety before others…” (Mt. 6:1). So why are ashes a part of our Christian tradition? The ashes symbolize mourning, mortality and penance. In the current secular age, this is a great teaching moment and a simple reminder to others we will see at work, at school and in our communities. There is also a lot of great conversation on social media about what people are planning on doing during Lent to grow in their spiritual lives. These are both edifying to the Lord!
 
The ashes hold great importance to our Christian tradition, with its origin in the Old Testament, but Jesus still calls us to pray, fast and give alms discretely. The gospel reading is juxtaposed to the first reading which calls the Israelites to “return [to the Lord] with all [their] heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning” (Jl 2:12). They are called as a community; Joel gives the instructions from the Lord for the Israelites to perform the ritual sacrifice. The difference between the two types of fasting and prayer seem to be the end to which they are directed. Jesus is pointing out to his audience the improper order of their fasts and prayer to be so that others might see and praise them rather than giving honor to the Lord. So how can we be fervent in prayer, preparing for the road ahead to Calvary and still “put oil on [our] head and wash [our] face, so that [our] fasting may be seen not by others but by [our] Father in secret?” (Mt. 6: 6:17) 
 
I think the answer lies in the fine balance of our discreteness and calling others to also do penance for the Lord. The followers of Jesus in the Gospel are anticipating the historical events of the Paschal Mystery, where as we are a post-Easter people, a Christian community resulting from these events. The apostles were handed the role and responsibility to baptize all nations by the power of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Lent is a time for us to renew this gift and answer the call to discipleship, inviting others to be reconciled to God.
 
On this Ash Wednesday let us be reminded of the call to prayer, fast and giving alms to the Father and also take the responsibility of being ambassadors for Christ so that we may all celebrate in God’s defeat over sin and death into eternal life.

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