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After a tumultuous year, these words will help your parishioners reflect on where they have come and where they are headed this Lenten season. Ann Naffziger draws from her experience as a mother, wife, and spiritual director in these honest reflections on a year of pandemic challenges and how they can guide us in our discipleship journey. She guides us in embracing the difficulties, frustrations, and sorrows of this time, but also the graces that continue to break through.
MARCH 12 - FRIDAY, THIRD WEEK OF LENT
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. —Mark 12:31
This past year, the Advent calendar our family used suggested, “Make a blanket fort today. Invite in an imaginary enemy. Circle each other... and then offer them snacks.” My daughters LOVED that idea. Upon first reading, the younger one was quiet for a moment, then laughed out loud. “I just imagined (the presidential candidate we didn’t vote for) in my blanket fort, and I asked if he wanted to share my Doritos.” That, my friends, is how a child teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
It’s easier to think of some people as my neighbors than others. I wouldn’t have put that candidate in the “enemy” category, but he certainly doesn’t come to mind as my neighbor either. When a man asked Jesus to define who is included under the heading of “neighbor,” Jesus answered with the story of the Good Samaritan. That answer widened the definition far beyond someone who lives by me, or thinks as I do, or even someone whom I know personally. That means that besides my daughter sharing Doritos with that particular candidate, Jesus asks me to extend the same goodwill to him.
FOR REFLECTION: Which “neighbors” (those whom you have met and those you may never meet) are easier for you to love and to extend good- will toward, and which are harder to love? How might you metaphorically offer to share Doritos with someone in the latter category?
MARCH 23 - TUESDAY, FIFTH WEEK OF LENT
Worn Out by the Journey
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but with their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” —Numbers 21:4-5
In this passage, the Israelites had escaped slavery in Egypt and thought they were headed quickly for the Promised Land where they would settle in peace with plenty to eat. Little did they know that escaping from slavery wouldn’t make their lives smooth and easy instantaneously (as African Americans in the United States know so well). The Israelites had a much longer road in front of them than they imagined. They had 40 years in the wilderness before they reached the Promised Land, and for much of that time, food and water were scarce. Some of them never made it to their new land. Is it surprising then that they had periods of impatience and complaining against God and their leader, Moses?
So if you are worn out now, impatient with government (or church) leaders, and you find yourself complaining to God about this wilderness time, you are not alone. You are in good company because millions of our ances- tors in faith have had their patience worn thin during challenging times. Like them, may we come to recognize that all of our normal, human emotions are permissible before God and that God will not abandon us, even if we complain about the food God provides.
FOR PRAYER: Turning to God as if to a friend, be as open and honest as possible about what you are feeling and thinking now. Then allow some quiet to see how God wants to respond.
MARCH 26 - FRIDAY, FIFTH WEEK OF LENT
Listen to Someone Else
For I hear many whispering: ‘Terror is all around!’ ... But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior. —Jeremiah 20:10-11
Forget about whispering; we hear much of the media and plenty of individual cynics shouting, “terror is all around!” Between the terror of the COVID-19 pandemic, the violence and injustice perpetrated against black and brown people in this country, and extreme weather events, reading the news can be very terrifying these days. Jeremiah had reason to be afraid when he heard the whisperings of his powerful enemies. He also discovered that the best way he could continue doing the work God wanted him to do was to remember God’s presence with him as a “dread warrior.”
As Christians, we are not meant to bury our heads in the sand when things get frightening around us. On the other hand, when the news is partic- ularly scary and anxiety-provoking, God just might be calling us to quit exposing ourselves to the whispers and shouts of terror. We may need to stop reading the newspaper for awhile, stop checking social media, and stop refreshing the news website, so that we can listen to Someone Else who will speak words of hope, comfort, and assurance.
FOR ACTION: What and who are the sources of your worries, anxieties, and fears these days? Decide how you can turn them off or at least turn them down some today.
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The Pastoral Center
Ann Naffziger has her MDiv from the Jesuit School of Theology and MA in Biblical Languages from the Graduate Theological Union, both in Berkeley. Ann has worked in a variety of parish roles, as well as serving as a hospital chaplain, spiritual director, scripture instructor, and lecturer at the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University. She has written articles in the field of spirituality and scripture for America, BustedHalo.com, Commonweal, The National Catholic Reporter, Spiritual Life: A Journal of Contemplative Spirituality, and other publications. She is also a Master Gardener and girls' softball coach.
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The daily reflections provided in this Lenten resource are exceptionally timely. We purchased a license for our parish and, as the license allows, we provide access to the reflections on our parish website. Many parishioners have commented how much they appreciate them as part of their daily prayer this Lent.