Lenten Reflections Archive
In Lent, we undertake practices such as fasting, almsgiving, and increased prayer. Ash Wednesday, however, is not primarily about sin. It’s not primarily about our shortcomings or our failings. Ash Wednesday is primarily about God’s love and looking at our own responsiveness to that love. Lent is a season of preparation for Easter and the celebration of the Resurrection. At Easter, we will celebrate God’s gracious saving power, by which love overcomes hate and division, mercy overcomes sin, and life wins out over death. Lent is a season for growing in our readiness to receive and to share God’s love. The Church gives us the gift of time to get ready. » Read more
To make sure that our reflection this Lenten season is fruitful and truly inspiring, it is imperative that, as Christians, we ponder about the final judgement in close dialogue with the Scriptures, rather than with the scripts and images that prevail in popular culture. » Read more
Since my Irish childhood, Easter always brings to mind W. B. Yeats’ powerful poem “Easter 1916.” He wrote it in honor of the “Irish Rising” against British rule that began on Easter Monday 1916, the name and date deliberately chosen to echo the rising of Jesus. Yeats’ refrain throughout the poem is “All changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born.” It captured well the rebirth of the Irish nation through that Easter Rising – one hundred years ago this year. It also names the import of Easter for all who believe that “Christ is risen.” If we really believe it! » Read more
Christian faith is riddled with paradoxes; yes, self-contradictory truth claims that are literally “contrary to reason” (para - doxa). For starters, we can recognize at least three in this Palm Sunday readings. The first is of Christ the King of the world riding into the eternal city of Jerusalem on an ass (Matthew’s word, not mine!). The second is well captured in Paul’s description of Jesus’ self-emptying: “though he was in the form of God” yet “he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness.” So, in Jesus, God was among us as one of ourselves. What a paradox! Then, the third and ultimate paradox is today’s passion story of a Crucified God. Indeed, faith in such paradoxes (we might soften to “mysteries”) requires big leaps! » Read more
In an amazing book entitled The Sunflower, Simon Wiesenthal, the renowned Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter, poses one of life’s ultimate questions – to forgive wrongs or not. He tells a true story of when he was a prisoner in a concentration camp and being requested by a young dying Nazi soldier for “a Jew’s forgiveness” for a terrible crime he had committed. Though Wiesenthal walked away without responding, he poses the question to all of us “what would you have done?” » Read more
As a committed Catholic Christian, I find the Pew reports on religion in America alarming - and discouraging. The latest study (May 2015) indicates that almost 13% of Americans now identify themselves as “former Catholics”; this would represent some 40 million people – in the US alone. I wonder what my Church is doing that is so effective in driving people away – and how can we stop doing it? » Read more
Atheists and theists each take a gamble, and we both have our moments of doubt. For theists the great stumbling block, of course, is all the suffering in the world; for atheists it is all the goodness in the world. (I have an atheist friend who recently fell madly in love with a wonderful woman who, likewise, loves him deeply; it has really shaken his unbelief). The agnostic, then, decides not to decide, preferring to err on the side of caution – which can’t be much fun at all! » Read more
If you play association-of-ideas around Christian denominations you will likely find that people’s first thought about Baptists is Bible, about Evangelicals is Jesus, and for Catholics it is Church. At least so says a friend of mine who likes to play such games at family gatherings - and I believe him. » Read more
"Men and women for others." At virtually every Jesuit educational institution today, you’ll find this statement issued as the formational goal for students. Certainly our hope for students at Boston College is no different; even a cursory search through the BC website will turn the phrase up in dozens of places, across several offices and departments on campus. » Read more
Today's Gospel for the fifth Sunday of Lent contains arguably the crux of the Christian story: death leads to life. Our Gospels seem to contain a lot of these paradoxical truths; how strength is found through making oneself weak, "to find myself I must lose myself", "it is in giving away that I receive", and in this case, "that through death we experience life". Taken at a glance these are absurd statements, and it amazes me to consistently encounter the truth of them in my life. » Read more
It was our third day at Taizé, and my tongue had finally loosened enough to handle the nimble linguistic turns between songs in French, German, Spanish, Ukranian, Dutch, Tagalog, and more. At Taizé, every voice (or heart, at least) sings. » Read more
I feel at home on the highway. This thought struck me as I was riding in the backseat of a van crammed with BC faculty, staff, and students on our way from Paris to Taize, the location of an ecumenical monastic community and our spring break destination. » Read more
Natasha Lopez, '15, used this piece by Fr. Breault, S.J. on a retreat recently to start her talk entitled “How to Decide How to Love.” She went on to say that her knowing how to love others starts with knowing that she is loved – something we sometimes forget in the day-to-day of busy work, deadlines, and performance reviews (or in other words for students: grades). Before she can allow love and acceptance of herself to take root through all the muck, she has to do some hollowing out. I don't think she's the only one. » Read more
Mark’s Gospel this week speaks to something quite dear to me: the notion of Kairos. Kairos is a Greek word meaning time and is used in the Gospels to signify the moments when God breaks into our lives. Kairos is the right time for God’s action, the opportune moment of invitation. Kairos is when eternity steps into time. » Read more
Today is Ash Wednesday, and all over the world we celebrate today by staining our foreheads with ashes. It’s a simple sign of our place in the order of things, but I’ve found myself thinking a lot about it over the past few years: what it means to me, why we do it, and how it serves to mark the beginning of our Lenten journey to Easter. » Read more
The rich Lenten journey has led us to the glorious feast of Easter celebrated the world over as bells sound and songs ring out and families and friends rejoice together. And yet, we cannot forget the multitudes of people and places in our world where such joy eludes them. How do we reconcile life unfolded in such stark contrast? I experienced a wonderful image several years ago that I believe offers some wisdom and hope in the face of this question. » Read more
Today, we stand on the threshold of the holiest week of the liturgical year, a week that unfolds the stories of profound darkness and death and the promise of light and life unimagined! Immediately, we feel psychological and spiritual whiplash as Jesus makes a royal entrance into Jerusalem to a chorus of “hosannas” only to be reduced to ultimate shame in the following days. And so we begin our journey with him. » Read more
Jesus does it again, this master storyteller. He teases our sure sighted perspective on life with a riddle as he weaves the story of the man born blind: “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” What is Jesus thinking of in these two scenarios that seem light years apart? It sounds like a certain kind of seeing is bad and that a certain kind of blindness is good! Where do we begin? » Read more
Scripture scholar Sandra Schneider, IHM, takes a closer and more discerning look at the episode of the Samaritan woman using current exegetical tools, an exercise that yields deeper and broader layers of the story (The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Scripture, 1999).
As Timothy writes in today’s second reading, we must be ready to “bear [our] share of hardship for the gospels” but not without God’s help and the grace of transfiguring experiences that shore us up with clear-sightedness and resolve, with insight, courage and fortitude. For ours is a God who “has saved us and called us to a holy life, not because of any merit of ours, but according to God’s own design – the grace held out to us in Christ Jesus.” God does not ask us to partner with Jesus in his mission without giving us what we need. But God does ask us to partner with Jesus because our teeming cities and towns and villages are filled with people’s cries of fear and hope, and joy and pain. » Read more
Today, in the Eucharistic liturgy of the first Sunday of Lent, we have two Scripture stories that are all too familiar to us. First, the book of Genesis offers us the classic story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden where they become aware of the fruit bearing tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Second, we have the epic drama of Jesus’ temptations in the Gospel of Matthew. But I suggest it is the middle reading, perhaps the less poetic reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, that provides the clue, the fulcrum, the glue that holds the other two together. » Read more
The Church invites us to renew our friendship with the Triune God, the Holy Community of Persons whose best name is Love. As Pope Francis notes in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium: “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.” » Read more
Reflections by Jane E. Regan, PhD
This year’s Lenten Reflections were authored by Jane Regan, PhD, Associate Professor at the School of Theology and Ministry.
Reflect on some of the practices that shaped Lent in the past for you. Perhaps it was giving up something you enjoyed or taking on some spiritual practice for the duration of Lent. In what ways were these important to you? How did they help you enter into Lent? » Click here to read more
Are you a trusting person? Do you trust that people will do what they say? That things will work out in the end? How about trusting God? Reflect on an experience in which you were aware of trusting in God's presence and goodness. Think about a time in which it was difficult to trust in God. How were these experiences different? Trusting in God is at the heart of the Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent. » Click here to read more
“Listen to this!” we say to our friends as we tell them the latest news; “Listen to me.” we say to our children to get their attention. Listening, really listening is an essential part of human communications. Think about a time when you really listened with care to what someone was saying to you. What made it possible for you to listen with care to the other person? What was going on around you and within you while you were really listening. » Click here to read more
These Lenten reflections invite us to enter into the Gospel readings for Ash Wednesday and the Sundays of Lent. Reflecting on the Gospel readings opens us up to the themes of Lent and their meaning in our lives. At the heart of Lent is a call to conversion, an element present throughout the Gospels. » Click here to read more
Reflections by Fr. Jack Butler
This year’s Lenten Reflections were authored by Jack Butler, S.J., vice president for Boston College's Division of University Mission and Ministry.
A MESSAGE FROM FR. JACK BUTLER:
We are BC, and as BC, we claim our Christian, Jesuit Catholic heritage. So like years of old when you attended the Heights, let's prepare for Easter together as a community, the BC community past and present.
As we begin Lent let us make a deal to accompany each other into the heart of God's love for us. God is love and is about love. God's love is always a gift and loving forgiveness is a sure sign of the presence of God. God always forgives us, but knowingly or unknowingly uses us to express that forgiveness to one another, and in so doing we appropriate forgiveness for ourselves.
Throughout Lent you are invited to listen to the hearts of others as they make God's love real for us through the telling of their own personal stories. The stories aren’t long – about two minutes each – but they are gifts to us to help us in our prayer and maybe in our action. Each clip will have a scripture passage and a question for personal reflection. Treat yourself each week to a new gift of forgiveness and love as shared by our friends through these short videos. Ponder where you are in need of God's love, or where God's love is calling you.
Lent is a time of renewal. Lent is a time of love. There is no need for self-hatred, in fact that in itself would be against God's love. There is no need for fear. God's love is free and God's love is grace itself. During this Lent, be open to God's love and forgiveness, and just maybe be inspired to be a sacrament of that love for another. Be assured that the sign of forgiving love is freedom. During this season, enjoy a deeper understanding that in fact you are the apple of God's eye. Forgiving love is not magic, nor does it erase memories. Iin fact, it might not even change the concrete reality, but what it does is transform within and allows the true meaning of Easter, the resurrection, to begin in us all.
~ Fr. Jack Butler
Vice President, Mission and Ministry
"Leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, come and offer your gift." (Mt. 5:24)
It is good to have others remind us that we need to seek forgiveness and maybe even enable forgiveness. Is there anyone you could help in this way? Or do you need to ask somebody to forgive and be reconciled? » Click here to read more
The parable of the forgiving father or prodigal son. (Luke 15:11-32)
The parable is the dynamic of unconditional love and forgiveness which leads to joy. Have you been the recipient of such a forgiving love? Could you extend this kind of forgiving love to another? » Click here to read more
“Which is easier to say… your sins are forgiven.” (The healing of the paralytic. Mark 2:9)
Sometimes when we forgive we achieve freedom and get on with our own lives enabling us to better be loved and to love. Where are you in need of freedom? Does your freedom involve forgiveness? » Click here to read more
“Do you hear what these children are saying?” “Out of the mouths of babes.” (Mt. 21:16)
Sometimes the simplest ways of understanding forgiveness are the most profound. Can these children inspire thoughts of forgiveness and healing even when it’s not polished for you? » Click here to read more
Reflections by Fr. Michael Himes
This year’s Lenten Reflections were authored by Fr. Michael Himes, professor of theology at Boston College.
I suspect...that most Catholics today, were they asked what Lent is, would reply that it is a season of penance. To be sure, repentance is an important theme of the Lenten season in that our commitment to life of Christ in communion with the people of God always entails rejecting sin and doing penance for it. But that is not the central focus of Lent. It is not primarily about penance; it is about Baptism. For those of us who were baptized long ago, and especially for those who (like me) were baptized as infants and have no memory of what is or should be the most important sacramental moment of our lives, Lent is a forty-day communal retreat in preparation for renewing our baptismal promises once again this year. » Click here to read more
In reflecting on Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, I suggested that Lent is a forty-day communal retreat for all the members of the church to consider the baptismal promises in preparation for renewing our Baptism at the vigil on Holy Saturday night and all the Masses on Easter Sunday. It may seem odd then that the gospel passage read at Mass on the first Sunday of Lent is an account of Jesus’ temptation by the devil at the conclusion of a forty-day fast in the desert. That might seem to have very little to do with Baptism. Indeed, it might appear that the primary reason that the church invites us to consider the story of the tempting of Jesus on the first Sunday of Lent is to encourage us at the start of our forty-day period of prayer and fasting by reminding us that Jesus began his mission by a similar retreat. But while I am grateful for any and all encouragement as I begin Lent, I think that there is a very important reason why we are faced with this gospel story at the start of our preparation for renewing our Baptism. Before we affirm our commitment in the three baptismal promises at Easter, we will be asked three times to reject the power, the allure, and the falsity of evil represented by the devil. And so at the start of Lent we are invited to reflect on a story in which Jesus three times refuses the devil’s temptation. » Click here to read more
It is centuries-old tradition that on the first Sunday of Lent, our forty-day communal retreat to prepare ourselves to renew our baptismal vows, we hear the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert and that on the second Sunday we listen to the account of his transfiguration before several of his disciples. I suggested last week that, as the baptismal vows are prefaced by a threefold rejection of sin and evil, our preparation for those vows begins by considering Jesus’ threefold rejection of the core temptation: the denial of the intrinsic goodness of being a creature. Why, then, are we presented with the transfiguration story as the next step toward re-affirming our baptismal commitment at Easter? » Click here to read more
Last Sunday the story of Jesus’ transfiguration before three of his disciples brought us to consider the need to see sacramentally. Recommitting ourselves to our baptismal vows requires that we grow as sacramental beholders in the sense expressed by Hopkins’s beautiful line, “These things, these things were here and but the beholder/ Wanting.” This is not an invitation to see things through pleasantly tinted religious lenses so that the day-to-day world appears “charged with the grandeur of God” (Hopkins again). Quite the contrary. The reason that sacramental vision is so central to the Catholic tradition is that it sees things as they really are—grounded in grace, held in being by the self-giving of God, endlessly loved into existence. On the third Sunday of Lent, our communal retreat to prepare to renew our baptismal promises focuses sacramental vision on the first of three themes central to Baptism. The other two will take center-stage in the following weeks. This Sunday invites us to consider water. » Click here to read more
Sometimes one sacramental image catches the imagination, and at other times another. In the early centuries of the church’s life, some Christians, especially in the western part of the Mediterranean world, called the initiation celebration which introduced them into the church “baptism,” from a Greek root that originally meant “to wash something clean by plunging it into water.” Water, with its rich biblical background as both life-giving and death-dealing, caught their imagination. They experienced their entry into communal life with the risen Lord and with one another as being washed clean. Other Christians at the eastern end of the Mediterranean were struck by a different but complementary image in the celebration and so called the initiation ceremony by another name: “phōtismos,” “enlightenment.” » Click here to read more
As the season of Lent moves to its climax, the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus in the midst of which all the members of the church are invited to renew their baptismal vows, the reading from John’s Gospel for this last Sunday before Holy Week begins is the story of the raising of Lazarus. This may seem a clear reference to the celebration of the resurrection two weeks from now on Easter. I suggest, however, that we may better understand this story as a preparation for the account of Jesus’ passion and death which we will hear next week. » Click here to read more
Lent, the church’s communal retreat in preparation for renewing our baptismal vows, comes to its climax with Holy Week. In order to enter into this commemoration and celebration of the Lord’s passing over from life to death to deathless life, a Passover which we share with him in baptism and eucharist, there is a question which needs to be asked: why do baptismal vows require renewal? Isn’t baptism a once-and-for-all event? Why must we renew it year after year? I suggest two points to consider. » Click here to read more
We have had forty days to prepare for this: either on Holy Saturday evening at the vigil or at Mass on Easter morning we will be asked to make our baptismal vows once again. At the beginning of our communal retreat, on Ash Wednesday, I suggested the challenge and importance of the questions that we are asked today. Now at the conclusion of Lent I think we should look at the answers we give. Or, rather, the answer, since all the answers are the same: “I do.” » Click here to read more