Observe Lent with
Catholic Charities and join the
Be a Simon Society:
• Pray the Psalms with us each week
• Remember our at-risk neighbors in your daily prayers
• Embrace the mission of CCKCSJ: To Serve and To Lift
• Consider becoming a monthly giver to help others carry their daily crosses
Each week during the season of Lent, Catholic Charities will share a reflection on the Psalm that will be read or sung during Sunday Liturgy. Each Psalm highlights a short phrase that is foundational to our prayer – a call to God for help, a word of thanksgiving, an acknowledgement of God’s goodness.
Ash Wednesday, March 2
Be merciful, O Lord
A clean heart, create for me, O God
– and a willing spirit sustain in me.
This week's reflection
The season of Lent begins with a reality check: the first reading pulls us up short. If we had any delusions about our human nature, Ash Wednesday dispels that notion with a clarion call to take a good hard look at our behaviors, patterns and habits – and bluntly address the ones that need work. Then we “own” our need for change in the Responsorial Psalm refrain: Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
It’s humbling to admit we are wrong – or have bad habits – or have behaved in a less than gracious manner. Wading into our faults and failings together is one of the beauty of being part of a community. We don’t do this alone. The beauty of being a community of faith is that we rely on mercy to bring us back to the ways we know we should act.
So many of the psalms cry out for God’s mercy. This one is the most direct. If we understand that mercy is compassion offered to someone whom it is within one’s power to punish, this psalm refrain really cuts to the chase. “Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned” places our confidence in God’s desire to see us become the people we were created to be. Loving. Compassionate. Reasonable. Gracious to one another.
The last stanzas of the psalm make specific requests for a clean heart, a willing spirit, the joy of God’s salvation, which are all critical responses to mercy. We receive compassion from God: we extend that compassion to our colleagues. We have the lightness of a clean heart: we try to lift the darkness of our neighbor. We live with a willing spirit: we share hope with our friends and family.
At this writing, our world is once again experiencing war and all the turmoil and uncertainty that goes along with war. Pope Francis has requested a day of prayer and fasting today, and there is no more appropriate common refrain for us to pray together than “Be merciful, O Lord.”
The love of God, the example of Christ, and the nudging of the Holy Spirit will guide us through our season of prayer. Mercy is the gift: our becoming better versions of ourselves and by extension, a better community of believers, is the result.
First Sunday of Lent, March 6
Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble
Say to the Lord, My God in whom I trust.
This week's reflection
It takes all kinds of forms. We can be troubled – worried, anxious, upset, any word that describes the opposite of calm. We can be in trouble: over our head in a project that we are at a loss to finish, called into accountability for a mistake we made, at odds with someone we love because of an argument or behavior. Or we can be in life threatening trouble – in a serious health struggle, in a precarious situation where a fall will cause physical harm, in a dangerous neighborhood where violence is common, or like our brothers and sisters in the Ukraine for the past several days, in the midst of war.
Pope Francis has called war “a failure of politics and of humanity, a shameful capitulation, a stinging defeat before the forces of evil” that leaves the world worse than it was before. Some of us have experienced the horrors of war – in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq. Some of us have only seen its ravages on TV or internet news reports, or replicated in motion pictures. However we have intersected with the idea of war, we shudder at the devastation and loss of life. And we tremble at the life threatening trouble that upends entire countries.
Trouble is NOT where we want to be. Most assuredly, we do not want to face trouble of any level alone.
This psalm seeks to give us that assurance. “No evil will befall you”, it says. It states that angels have a command to stay with us, lest trouble overtake us and cause us harm. We are clearly reminded that we do not face trouble alone. “He will call on me and I will deliver him, I will be with him in his distress” is the promise of God through the verses of this psalm.
It’s a powerful promise. When we pray this psalm with our parish families this week, may we feel the calming assurance of God’s presence, even in the midst of the worry and sorrow of our troubled world. May we hold those in life threatening trouble in our hearts as we call out to our God to protect them.
Second Sunday of Lent, March 13
The Lord is my light and my salvation
I believe I shall see the goodness of the
Lord in the land of the living.
This week's reflection
When in difficulty, it’s a quick journey for our thoughts to go to the worst case scenario. The car breaks down, we can’t get to work, our employer is angry, we lose the job. We have a serious argument with a spouse, the lines of communication break down, the relationship is damaged, we separate and wind up alone.
It’s been said that when we face a challenge, we can have fear, or we can have faith. Actually, we can have both. Fear drives our thoughts to the worst possible thing that can happen. It’s very real – people lose jobs, families, security, health every day. We have every right to be afraid of those outcomes. Faith allows us to stop the racing thoughts, however, and shine light on our problems, and change the course of events before they become catastrophic.
When we search for something we need, the first thing we do is shine light in the area. We can’t see in the dark. We don’t know what we can’t see, and we certainly can’t address what is hidden in darkness. So we instinctively reach for the flashlight.
The psalmist invokes God: “you are my light, my salvation, my refuge, my helper”. This is how he stops his own racing thoughts, and instead faces his situation with faith. The most compelling verse is the last one: “I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Challenges don’t have to reach a catastrophic end: the shield of God’s love and the guidance of God’s wisdom are powerful elements that walk us through the difficult times.
Our lives aren’t perfect. We face difficult times and serious challenges, and in the best of situations, we our character grows and matures. But it’s not an easy process, and we don’t do it alone.
Like the psalmist, let’s cling to the knowledge that God is with us, our light and our salvation.
Third Sunday of Lent, March 20
The Lord is kind and merciful
The Lord secures justice and the rights of all the oppressed.
This week's reflection
“Love you!” we say as we part ways with a spouse, significant other, child, grandchild, friend. “Love you, too!” they respond. This isn’t “new” news – and could have gone without saying. But it feels good to express our feelings aloud and hear the reciprocal response.
Sometimes we just need a reminder. This psalm does exactly that. We remind ourselves that our God is indeed kind and always merciful – in our joys and in our sorrows, God never changes and never leaves our side. When facing dark times – ills, destruction, oppression, injustice – God heals, redeems, secures. In times of joy, God crowns our lives and abounds in kindness. There is also a reminder that there is no expiration date or limit on God’s kindness – the psalmist literally says that the sky is the limit (for as far as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is his kindness….)
The gift inherent in Psalm 103 is hope. It’s a critical piece for all of us, but especially for the families who come to Catholic Charities. When times are desperate, there’s no money to pay bills or food for dinner, it’s hard to believe in kindness and mercy. The hard realities of life still occupy every waking moment. When they meet with a Catholic Charities staff and find help in bearing those burdens and meeting those obligations, hope can be rekindled. It’s equal in importance to the physical or financial assistance: a glimmer of hope allows families to breathe, and plan, and believe the future can be better.
It’s good to whisper to ourselves that God is always a source of mercy and graciousness. It’s critical to remind those in need that God’s kindness extends to all, and knows no limits.
Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 27
Taste and see the goodness of the Lord
When the poor one called out, the Lord heard, and from all his distress he saved him.
This week's reflection
Food means a lot to us. We carefully prepare it, we share it joyfully with friends and family, we make special treats to give as gifts to friends to show our affection. It holds a special, elevated place in our lives, because it is such an essential element of life. If we have the right food, in the right quantity, we are healthy and full of life. Not enough food, and our physical condition starts to slip. Our bodies weaken, our minds are not as sharp. When food is scarce, life itself is threatened as we cannot survive long without nourishment.
Beyond sustenance for life, however, food ties into our emotions. It provides comfort (think hot stews or soups on bitter cold days) or creates joy when we bite into a rich, delicious dessert. The way food tastes creates an additional level: we ties taste and emotion together.
The psalmist is tapping into that emotional tie with the references to “tasting the goodness of the Lord.” He’s saying that God’s presence is so visceral for us, every part of our being reacts and interacts with the Lord. The relief, the comfort, the abject joy of God’s working in our lives has a physical component to it – akin to the sweetness of honey or the satisfaction of delicious food.
The psalm also tells us there is more: “Look to Him that you might be radiant with joy…..” implying that clinging to God has a physical effect.
The message here is that God cannot be contained or experienced or understood through any one avenue alone. We feel, hear, see, and taste the goodness that comes from God. However we experience God in the moment, the results are the same: deliverance from fear, rescue from shame, saving from distress, surrounded by joy.
Fifth Sunday of Lent, April 3
The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy
When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like people who were dreaming.
This week's reflection
On this last numbered Sunday of Lent, our psalm is one of confident hope in the midst of troubles. We confidently proclaim that times of trouble do not last – because God is at our side to show us a path back to joy.
The bold refrain we share – the Lord has done great things for us! – is both a recounting of history and a promise of the future. Trouble has beset the Israelite community – anything from dealing with climate issues leading to famine, all the way to being taken captive and exiled to Babylon. Other psalms have cried out to God as these tribulations were unfolding, so this one just contains a reminder.
Like the Israelites, we’ve encountered rough patches – of varying degrees. If we look back at them, and how we navigated through, we may well be able to identify the hand of God guiding us. The psalmist points out that we might be going through hard times – “weeping, carrying the seed to be sown” but that God’s guidance and love for us means we will get through it – “they shall come back rejoicing”. Not only that, but the image of the hard labor of planting seeds is juxtaposed against the fulfillment of a fruitful harvest – “sheaves” of goodness that represents the positive ways we have changed during a time of trial.
Joy that floods in and fills our lives is the ultimate payoff, the psalmist points out. The word rejoicing is used three times in this passage. It’s a promise that the future can and will be better for us, and God’s presence is always at our side to assure that promise is fulfilled.
Join the Be A Simon Society by pledging a recurring, monthly donation to Catholic Charities.
Your generosity helps vulnerable families overcome the daily crosses that poverty places on them – whenever they come to us. Just like Simon, perhaps the most important thing we can do is to carry someone’s cross, just for a while, until they can pick it up and resume their journey.
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