40 DAYS JOURNEY WITH JESUS

Reflections by Fr. Manoling Thomas, CSsR

The sources are from Scripture In Church and Krempa’s Daily Homilies, vol. 3, edited by this writer.

ASH  WEDNESDAY   2021   [Joel 2: 12-18 / 2 Cor. 5: 20-6: 2 / Mt. 6: 1-6, 16-18]

This day ushers in, the beginning of the Season of Lent in our Catholic Liturgical Calendar. “Lent” comes from an old English word for “spring” one of the four seasons in colder countries. For those of us living in the tropics, we may not appreciate much the noticeable change or transition from “winter to spring”. We can then focus on the practice in the early church before the “infant baptism”. Those preparing for baptism on the Easter vigil, begin their “instructions or catechesis on the faith” today. They were called the “catechumens”.

How about us, who are already adult, baptized Christian Catholics? How can we creatively envision the Season of Lent? We can liken it to Jesus inviting us to embark on a 40-day journey or pilgrimage with him! We will be with other disciples of Jesus, whom he has also invited! Our destination: Jerusalem. Expected day of arrival: on Palm Sunday, the start of the “holiest week of the year” [Holy Week].

What possible activities we can engage in during these “40 days”?

1)  With the help of the Holy Spirit, to discern what “repair work” has to be done in a specific area of our life. Will it entail a repair, or a remodeling, or a cleansing and healing? Discus this matter with Jesus! 

2)   Select a good book that is simple, readable, and will be helpful for the purpose of your journey with Jesus.

It will be helpful if during this journey, you will find a fellow Christian also in the journey, with whom you can prayerfully and freely share your realizations. Encourage and help each other as you journey with Jesus!

The Holy Spirit may suggest to you other nourishing and fruitful ways to do this 40 days journey! Be open to the Holy Sprit!

If you have decided to accept Jesus’ invitation, then step forward to receive the ashes. This will indicate your willingness to join the 40 days pilgrimage! Although you are doing this with other disciples of the Lord, this journey is “a walk on a very personal road” from where you are at present to where Jesus invites you to go!

If this invitation is late in reaching you, you can still catch up!

2nd Day   [Thursday after Ash Wednesday]   Dt. 30: 15-20

We are presented with a choice: life or death, God or idols. Who is God in your life based on your experience? What are the idols that dominate your life? The direction of your life at present indicates the choice you have made.

3rd Day   [Friday after Ash Wednesday]   Is. 58: 1-9

Isaiah describes a “fasting” that had gone wrong. Instead of deepening the life of the Spirit in us, it has choked it off. It is like putting together 200 smokers who have started to give up smoking for two weeks. Disaster is likely to happen!

Isaiah points out that the purpose of “fasting” is not only “self-control that liberates the spirit, but the deep awareness of the human need that surrounds us”! Let us make sure that the kind of Lenten practice we have chosen will help us learn more about ourselves, about others, and about God.

4th Day   [Saturday after Ash Wednesday]   Is. 58: 9-14

Isaiah reminds us that no spiritual or ritual exercise during Lent can really tie us closer to God, if we are “torn apart” from our fellow human beings! In the “repair work or healing” we want to focus in during this Lent, is there an area we find hard to work on? Why not bring this concern to Jesus, our Companion on this journey? After all, is he not the “son of the carpenter from Nazareth, and the divine Healer?  

5th Day   [1st Sunday of Lent B]

Please refer to the Sunday homily. (https://adoseofgodtoday.com/2021/02/19/the-desert-wild-beasts-angels/)

February 22  Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, the Apostle, the 6th Day[1 Pt. 5:1-4 / Mt. 16: 13-19] (https://adoseofgodtoday.com/2021/02/21/veneration-of-the-chair-of-peter/)

February 23  Tuesday of the 1st Week of Lent, the 7th Day  [Is. 55: 10-11]

The 1st Reading stresses God’s providential care. In the celebration of the Eucharist, we are nourished by the Word of God [Liturgy of the Word] and the Bread of the Eucharist [Liturgy of the Eucharist]. These serve as our nourishment on the road in our faith journey.

Just as the life-giving power of water enables every living creature to realize its potentials, so too does the word of God for those who openly listen and welcome it in their hearts! Their life becomes fruitful!

When we are receptive to God’s word, we are transformed. This word of God is able to produce the fruits it was sent for!

During our journey with Jesus, let us pray for the grace that we will give our full cooperation with God so that we will not only be fruitful but others too will be fruitful through us!  

February 24  Wednesday of the 1st Week of Lent, the 8th Day  [Jonah 3: 1-10]

When the inhabitants of the city [from the king to the lowest citizen of the land] repented of their ways, God “changed” his original plan! If you read on, in this chapter, Jonah complains about God’s change of plans! The point of the Book of Jonah is to contrast our human pettiness with God’s generousity, mercy, and forgiveness!

Change took place because the people’s “fasting” was a genuine expression of their repentance of their sins; and of their deep desire to restore their relationship with God! Let us pray for the grace that our “fasting” especially during this “40 days” will not be mere empty gestures but indeed a genuine and sincere expression of our repentance and desire to strengthen our relationship with God!

February 25 Thursday of the 1st Week of Lent, the 9th Day [Esther C{4} 12, 14-16, 23-25]

If you have a Bible, I recommend that during this “40 Days” you try to read the whole Book of Esther. It is found in the Old Testament, located usually next to the “Book of Judith”. This will help you understand and appreciate better the excerpt we have for our 1st Reading.

The Book of Esther is intended as “a consolation to Israel” It again reminds the reader that God is always watching over, God’s people!

Through prayer and action, Queen Esther averted the disaster intended by those who plotted the elimination of the Israelites. The heartfelt prayer of Queen Esther expresses what so many of us experience in times of great distress. We turn to God because we have no other helper!

Esther recalls the love of God revealed in the history of Israel, God’s people! During this 40 days journey with Jesus, let us ask for the grace that the Holy Spirit will help us recall, the concrete situations in the history of our nation; and in our own personal life wherein we see God at work! 

Recalling these concrete events can lead us to a deeper trust and greater confidence when we pray to God, especially on those difficult moments in life!

February 26  Friday of the 1st Week of Lent, the 10th Day – Ezekiel 18: 21-28

God has a soft spot for sinners who change their ways and return to God. In the 1st Reading, God appears to be less tolerant with those who know what is right but still freely decides to do what is wrong!

Ezekiel’s message reminds us of what we had on the 2nd Day of our journey. On that “2nd Day” from the Reading in Dt. 30: 15-20, Moses warns his listeners of the consequences of the choices they make!

Ezekiel intends his message to be that of hope! No one is beyond salvation, because no one is beyond the point of encountering and experiencing God’s loving mercy, and forgiveness! After all, with the Lord, there is forgiveness, and the fullness of redemption! God is giving all of us, all the chances “to turn around” our lives, so as to reflect the holiness desired by God for each one of us!

This “40 Days journey with Jesus” aims at leading us to a genuine inner conversion, which will lead us to the fullness of life [Jn. 10:10], through the fullness of forgiveness! Let us ask for this grace from Jesus, our Companion in this journey!

February 27  Saturday of the 1st Week of Lent, the 11th Day -Dt. 26: 16-19

The context of this reminder by Moses was the formal and sacred covenant [agreement] between God and Israel! In their history and experience, God’s fidelity is beyond question! But that was not the case with Israel! God was consistent but not Israel!

Fidelity is both a gift and a task! Our rising to this challenge is also a gift! During this journey with Jesus, let us ask him today for the grace to live as faithful daughters and sons of God, and disciples of Jesus, God’s Only Begotten Son!

From your experience, what is God’s track record in the area of fidelity to you? How about your track record in this same area?

February 28   2nd Sunday of Lent  B  [kindly refer to the Sunday homily]

13TH DAY, March 1  Monday in the 2nd Week of LentDaniel 9: 4-10

Daniel prayed on behalf of the exiled people. Because they were in a foreign land, the Temple was no longer accessible for them. For them the presence of the Temple was an assurance that God dwells with them. In his prayer, Daniel admits that their miserable situation is an outcome of their infidelity [disloyalty] to God, who remains faithful to their covenant! God is a God of integrity!

In varying degrees, we too do not consistently obey God’s word. Often we have departed from our baptismal promises! This reading invites us to look again critically within ourselves and our lives, rather than at the behavior of others.

14TH DAY, March 2  Tuesday in the 2nd Week of Lent -Isaiah  1: 10, 16-20

Many still equate prophets with “foreseer of doom, and a dark, gloomy future”. So they are called: “prophets of doom”, “doomsayers” and so on. Prophets are sometimes accused of being “suppliers” of the angry and threatening message from an angry, despotic and capricious God: “Do this or else…”! No doubt, God has laid down the law, but he is merciful and willing and open to talk things over with offenders.

In today’s 1st Reading, Isaiah invites rulers and people to listen to God’s word. He warns the Kingdom of Judah. Although its people were more conservative unlike the north, but their social fabric was tearing apart! The way of life according to the Covenant: fairness and justice in dealing with each other, and helping each other had disappeared as a national practice. Isaiah compares Judah to Sodom and Gomorrah where people lived in individualistic greed! Isaiah warns Judah that unless they redress these evils of injustice, and social inequalities, the nation would become “weak” and be easily a “victim” of a strong aggressor! Isaiah lamented that Judah had lost the “soul” of its religion. They now merely go through the motion of performing empty religious practices!

What are the challenges to one’s faith, for Christians living in materially rich and prosperous environment?

In our 40 days journey with Jesus, we are invited to reflect, refocus, and reset our “spiritual compass”[Mk. 1: 15]! Lent is not an endurance test but is growth experience in life and relationship: “learn to do good, search for justice”! Look around your surroundings. Who is oppressed or abandoned or alone? To who of them is the Lord sending you to reach out to?   

15TH DAY, March 3  Wednesday in the 2nd Week of Lent -Jeremiah 18: 18-20

Jeremiah, another southern prophet, spoke towards the end of the political life of Judah [that is before the Exile]. His message was almost synonymous with “doom and gloom”. He spoke against king, clergy, sexual abuses, and hypocritical Temple worship—thereby successfully alienating all major sectors of Judah’s establishment. He naturally experienced opposition!

In the 1st Reading, his enemies are plotting to eliminate him. The temple priests, the local wise men or commentators and paid prophets gather together. We have Jeremiah’s prayer in which he asks God whether it is just that a man who has only obeyed God’s command should be so treacherously repaid? The unwillingness of the people to listen and the hatred they displayed toward him were the suffering he bore. Legend has it that he was exiled to Egypt where he was put to death.

The early Church saw him as a model of Christ. Jesus was rejected and his enemies plotted his death! Jeremiah in his prayer pleaded with God for his adversaries. Jesus on the cross asked for forgiveness for those who do not know what they are doing. [Lk. 23: 34].

In this 40 Days Journey with Jesus, let us ask for the grace to see our own mixed attitudes. Remember that when God unveils the darkness in our lives, it is to lead us to reconciliation and healing in the light and power of Easter! Let us pray Ps. 30: 6: “Into your hands, I commend my spirit. It is you who will redeem me, Lord.”

16TH DAY, March 4  Thursday in the 2nd Week of Lent -Jeremiah. 17: 5-10

As we continue our journey with Jesus, he invites us to honestly ask ourselves: Where do I really place my trust? In today’s 1st Reading, Judah is already on the edge of a natural disaster. Jeremiah desperately reminds the king and his royal court not to place their basic trust in establishing alliances with other kingdoms. Neither should Judah rely on the word and promise of foreign officials. First and foremost Judah’s trust should be anchored on their covenant with the Lord! In Jeremiah’s time people were looking at every place, except at trying to model their lives on the precepts of the Covenant! They replaced their bonding with the Lord, with tricky and passing political alliances! Judah’s disregard for the Covenant was like now a spiritual leukemia eating away at the very life-blood of the nation!

Jeremiah highlights the choice put before each of us: to trust only in the goods of this created world; OR to hope in the Lord, Who is Creator and Provider of all good? Where do you turn for your inner security, peace, and forgiveness? Human heart can be devious. Despite our best intentions, self-interest would always immediately come first! Only God can give us a “new heart and new spirit”, cleanse our inner most intentions and being; changing our hardened and stony hearts with hearts of flesh. [Ez. 34:5]. Putting extra time to personally talk with Jesus regularly is one way we can put our hearts right! Remember what Ps. 39: 5 says: “Blessed are they who place their trust in the Lord!”

17TH DAY, March 5  Friday in the 2nd Week of Lent-Genesis 37: 3-4, 12-13, 17-28

Back in your grade school days, surely you must have read the story of Joseph, the Dreamer! I can understand and will not fully blame Joseph’s older brothers, if they developed anger and jealousy against him leading to their plan to murder him. We may feel that we do not have the same murderous intentions portrayed in the story. But there might have some elements of insecurity or jealousy in our relationship with God. Do I feel that God loves others more than me? If we ever entertain such a question sometimes, let us talk to Jesus about this and ask him to make us realize that God deeply and intensely loves each one of us, and is irrevocably and faithfully committed to that love! Only, that God loves each one of us differently, according to the kind and way of love that we really need!  

In the context of Lent however, the 1st Reading aims at presenting how the early church saw Joseph as a symbol of Christ! Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and sold as a slave. Jesus was betrayed by his own people, by his trusted disciple, and sold to the religious authorities! But the tragic fate of Joseph providentially saved the “12 tribes of Israel” from a possible extinction because of the famine that Palestine experienced. Jesus’ rejection, betrayal, and violent suffering and death led to the glorious Easter! Jesus’ resurrection brought about the defeat of sin, and evil. The risen Lord saved us from eternal death, and gifted us with everlasting life! What looked like defeat on Mount Calvary, turned out to be God’s victory of the 1st Easter morn!   

18TH DAY, March 6  Saturday in the 2nd Week of Lent -Micah 7: 14-15, 18-29

We are introduced to another prophet from the southern Kingdom of Judah. Micah gives us a “resume” [summary] of God’s track-record in the way God cared for the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. He recalls the deliverance of the Hebrews from the slavery in Egypt, and God’s endless willingness to forgive God’s chosen people, to wash them clean; and to give them a chance for a fresh and new start! All these concrete evidences of God’s love for us, we often accept only in theory! We have difficulty in recognizing them as facts! God forgives our sins forever! Unlike us humans, when God forgives, God carries no grudges, and does not bring our infidelities back to our face! Our scrupulosity and sense of guilt that linger on after we had been forgiven actually reflect our unwillingness to forgive ourselves and to accept God’s forgiveness! We prefer to portray God as vengeful and quick to exact a price for every sin we have committed!  But it is only a firm belief in God’s overflowing mercy to us that will free us from this trap and vicious circle!

In today’s Reading, we find a prayer that the God, who delights in showing us mercy, will shepherd and pasture us; and will drown all our sins. [Read also Ps. 102: 3-4].

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