Lenten Reflection

For your Lenten reflection, we offer you this piece composed by Maryknoll Affiliate Jean Easterly, which she shared with the Maryknoll Affiliates at the meeting last night. Thanks Jean!


Jesus went up the mountain, sat down, and began to teach. Today we, his disciples, have traveled to the same mountain to listen to the words of Jesus. At the time of Jesus, people of faith saw certain situations as proof of God’s blessings: material wealth and worldly success, for example. The Beatitudes shatter those misconceptions by calling those people blessed whom the world regards as pitiful. (Maryknoll World Productions Study Guide – the Beatitudes, p. 1)

We hear Jesus say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.” What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Does it mean that we must give away all of our earthly possessions and be in a continual state of dependency on God? Is Jesus asking us all to be like St. Francis of Assisi? What is God calling each of us to do? Is it enough that we acknowledge our dependence on God? What happens when my possessions blind me to my dependence on God? Can a rich person be poor in spirit?

When Mother Teresa wanted to start a mission in New York City, people were amazed. Her words shocked them even more. ‘The poor in the United States are worse off than the poor in Calcutta.’ She went on to speak of a ‘poverty of spirit’ she sees among the poor in this country, a despair at being poor in the wealthiest nation on earth. (Maryknoll, p. 2)

A second definition pops out of Mother Teresa’s words. Rather than defining poor in spirit as acknowledging our dependence on God, Mother Teresa’s definition speaks of people who have given up hope. We think of a homeless person sitting by the side of a building staring out into space.

“Blessed are they who mourn for they will be comforted.” When we are in need of comforting, will someone always be there to comfort us? What happens when we are alone and in need? Who will comfort us then?

A couple of years ago I brought my husband into the Emergency Room at St. Rose Hospital in Hayward, California. He had been experiencing stroke-like symptoms and we were both extremely worried. From 10:40 p.m. to 3:40 a.m. we waited as they ran tests. As we waited, I felt panic coming up from my stomach into my chest and into my throat. I was beyond mourning. Our lives were out of control. I told the Lord, “I can’t handle this.” I felt like I was coming apart.

And then, I listened in the depth of my soul and Jesus said, “Put your hand in mine and we’ll walk together.” And peace came spilling over me as I sat in the chair next to the gurney where my husband lay sleeping. And I was comforted.

We remember that Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus. In the Old Testament Jacob mourned when he thought that his son, Joseph, was dead (Genesis 37: 34-35).

Jesus tells us that we are called to be meek. He tells us that we are called to have the humility to acknowledge our own weaknesses and needs. We are called to have the kind of humility that banishes all pride. We remember that Jesus washed his disciple’s feet. This was the work of a servant, yet Jesus was teaching his disciples what their future work would be.

A second definition of “meek” are those who have been deprived of their share of the earth’s resources. We think of children living in homeless shelters. We think of malnourished and starving people around the world

Jesus tells us about those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and we think of the migrant farm workers who yearn for a fair wage or teachers who have to use a lot of their own money to buy supplies for their students who do not have what they need to learn.

How many of us here have been called to be merciful when it was hard to do so? How many of us have found it difficult to be sympathetic and compassionate at times? Has it ever been hard to imagine walking in another’s shoes and understanding another person’s plight from their perspective? We remember the time when David showed mercy to King Saul (1 Samuel 26:8-12).

A few months ago, as I was walking into McDonalds in Hayward, a short, tiny, elderly Asian woman dressed in shorts and a halter top walked in right ahead of me. The afternoon was cool, and I was wearing a jacket. The woman carried an empty paper cup. As my husband and I went to order soft ice cream cones, I watched her out of the corner of my eye as she helped herself to one of the soda machines and then went outside to sit at a table. The thought went through my mind to report her to the person taking our order. After we got our ice cream cones and sat down to enjoy them, I watched the woman drinking her soda outside, along with a large order of fries. I watched as she had to dig down to get the fries and figured that she had pulled them out of the garbage. I said to my husband, “Let’s get her a hamburger.” After we were finished with our ice cream, we went outside, and I paused to speak to the woman. I greeted her and asked if she would like a hamburger. “No,” she replied, “I would like a dessert – an ice cream cone.” I went in and bought a soft ice cream cone and brought it out to her. She said, “Thank you. I love you.”

Where do you and I meet Christ? Sometimes in the most unlikely of places.

Jesus tells us that we are called to be clean and pure of heart. We are called to make an unreserved commitment to the will of God. We are called to be motivated by the common good, not by our own.

To keep our hearts pure means to make sure nothing enters there to turn us away from God. What are some of the temptations we face that make it difficult for us to follow Jesus? Each day the secular pulls of the world present themselves to us. Many of them appear to be innocent. We say, “Oh, I’m going to look at my horoscope today or I’m going to watch my soap opera today.” What seemingly innocent temptation calls you away from God?

How many of us here have been called to be peacemakers in the midst of a family “situation?” Peacemakers take great risks to make the world a better place. Mahatma Gandhi paid for his peacemaking with his life. So did Jesus. (Maryknoll, p. 14)

We remember that Abraham was a peacemaker when there was not enough land for his nephew, Lot, and himself (Genesis 13:2-11). We think of those who work diligently for peace and harmony in their immediate lives and in the world. At the root of the issue is justice, for peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice. (Maryknoll, p. 15)

When we hear Jesus’ words about those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, we think of Martin Luther King, Susan B. Anthony, Dorothy Day, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, and Cesar Chavez. These very special people were willing to stand up for what they believed and to suffer for their beliefs. Have you ever had to suffer for the sake of justice or have you ducked issues and chosen the easier path of silence?

We, each of us here today, are called to respond to the words of wisdom that Jesus shared on this hillside, as the people sat and listened. Jesus was teaching his disciples how to live then, and he is still teaching us how to live now. These words of Jesus are even more important today in the midst of our troubled world. We are called to listen, to reflect, and then to do.