Winter’s white wrapped New England in a sparkling mantle through February. Glittering under street lights and lingering on rooftops, snow has given way now to a taste of Spring. Newsfeeds are still devoured by bitter politicking, violence and disorder. Vaccines have been rolled out, and a nation has been energized by the idea that, once again, human innovation, competition and courage have combined to overcome what once appered to be an insurmountable crisis. Ironically, this success does not rest in the hands of leaders or politicians or even the scientists. Each of those definitely has a part, a role, a place; success belongs to the individuals who have mobilized to make it work. At a local pharmacy, a tired and incredibly competent team was vaccinating 50 people an hour. There was patience with questions and quirks, and care in explanations and recommendations. If this was a war, that staff was the foot soldiers. Suddenly, the Congressional bickering and high profile bitterness was silenced by individuals making it happen. One nurse commented that giving the vaccines was the privilege of his career; another said how happy he was to help. This is who we are and what we are about and it all links to Lent.

On this Second Sunday of Lent, that ability to be present, to choose to listen and make a difference is woven through the readings. We are seeing it happen all around us now, and we can hear in stories thousands of years old that this is part of what it means to be human. Each of the readings touch on a different dimension of that reality. Abraham’s voice in the Old Testament reading is rich: “Here I am, Lord!” That moment, that response is ours to share. The passage highlights a test of fidelity, asking an impossible offering: Abraham is to slay his son Isaac at God’s request. God rescinds the request, and a lamb is offered. Its graphic nature has been intensely analyzed, dissected, and interpreted. But the essence of it comes down to Abraham’s singular response, “Here I am…” Today, so many medical professionals and volunteers are willing to say, “Here I am..” and begin to turn back the tidal wave of COVID.

The Responsorial Psalm captures relationship as well: “I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living.” To respond to god, to meet the demand, is to walk hand in hand with God, to celebrate life and those first signs of spring as well as the winter’s wonders. Being human is about being in relationships with purpose and conviction, with kindness and caring. Faith and freedom can be found in the sense that God really IS in relationship with humanity. The Second Reading from the Letters of Paul presents a powerful phrase. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” In the arena of scholarship, this has known many interpretations. Maybe the key thing for 2021 is to consider it most simply: God is present. We can respond, “Here I am…”, and we can believe that God practices the most tender presence. That bond is built to enable us to move forward, to continue to grow. All of that is epitomized in the Gospel of Mark story. Jesus in transfigured into that sparkling white figure, joined by Moses and Elijah. The disciples wish to preserve the moment and advocate the building of tents, establishing homes. Then the words come, “This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him.” And everything comes back to the vitality of the exchange, the meaning of the relationship, the speaking and listening and living. Nothing happens without that.

Mindful of who we are and where we are in this world in this second week of Lent, we can form and nurture and refine the ability to listen, really listen, and to speak, really speak, so that we can act freely and justly. To do so is to make the world a better place than it was before. Like the nurses administering vaccines, this is the real privilege of our lives.

Lent and Listen

Storms swept across the United States this week with destructuve wrath. The metaphorical storm that rages found itself realized in the physical losses and catastrophic destruction. Hopes for a sense of unity have not yet found hearts open and willing; even in the midst of great wanting, the political bickering and social divergences have reigned. And yet, the first Sunday of Lent has found us as we labor with our own angry frustrations, the pandemic and vaccinations, uncertainities and fears. It is time to lay down the armor of anger, the distractions of social media, the attitudes of condescension and self-righteous certainty. It is time to listen.

Sheer delight resides in the idea that civilization can somehow be saved by the whimsical construction of an ark. Animals in magical pairs preserve the living environment, and somehow a mere mortal, Noah, makes it all happen. The first reading is from Genesis, and it is a profound reminder of the risks and joys of being human. The essence of the story is not the construction of the ark itself or even the machinations that Noah went through. If you really listen, you can hear that it is really all about God, the aftermath of the flood, and the promise of a covenant. Instead, it is a covenant offered by God with a sign, the rainbow, of that undying commitment to what has been created. Somehow, the storms subside, and the fidelity of sunrise remains.

There are echoes of that in the second reading from 1 Peter. The flood is interpreted as prefiguring Baptism. But here again, listening opens new doors. Baptism is redefined; it is not about washed clean. Instead, it is about asking God for a clear conscience. Conscience is the gift, the opportunity, to wrestle with the challenges every human being faces every day. It is what enables us to balance the idea of individual identity and the realities of collective identity. It is the place where goodness is empowered and selfishness is recognized and named. Conscience is what enables us to challenge narcissim and fully engage in something greater than self. it is there if we choose to use it, develop it, and share it.

Finally, there is the Gospel of this first Sunday of Lent 2021. There is Jesus, in the midst of the desert, tempted by Satan, fully and gloriously human. But listening to it again tells so much. Jesus survived that hazardous time, the trial and the tribulation. He was cared for by the angels and when he returns, he proclaims that the Kingdom is at hand. Believe in the Gospel! Believe in the Good News.

Listening goes far beyond the hearing of words. Listening allows for the possiblity of learning, of changing, of becoming more than what we are now. But in a world filled with sounds of all sorts, daring to really listen requires more than swiping to a site. It is about allowing the words to find a home within, a cadence that can cultivate conscience and a truth that transcends the terrain of tumult. Lent itself is an invitation to that. There are thousands of reasons to turn away, to stop listening and even hearing, to deny and to denigrate. But even those choices will not compromise the covenant of Noah, permute the promise of Peter or silence the reality of the Spirit.

Lent is the season where it all rests in our hands, our hearts….if only we listen.


Lent begins this week: Shrove Tuesday and then Ash Wednesday followed by the laborious weeks of Lenten Sundays. But the week itself begins with the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, and the readings point to the essentials of faith and choices. There is the stirring Gospel account of Jesus healing a leper who is asked to tell no one, but who simply cannot contain the joy of the change. There is Paul’s urging to do everything for the glory of God in the second reading from 1 Corinthians. And there is the rebuke of the lepers in the Old testament reading: their task would be to stay away from others for the good of all. So what is it all saying?

Our lives are not lived in isolation: as human beings, we belong to and with one another. We share strengths and flaws, illness and disease, hopes and fears. We act each day, making choices that impact others with or without that recognition or acknowledgement. And what we do, how we do it, matters. Putting others before self is a tall order, yet there is virtue, even nobility, in it. The lepers of the past made that sacrifice in the face of inevitable progressive decline and terrible cost. Consider this, though: who is making that sacrifice today? Who has the courage to deny self in the name of helping and healing others?

Look carefully: they are everywhere. The young mother carrying her child into a clinic. An elderly grandfather shoveling the driveway for his neighbor. The firefighter scooping up a pet. The nurse organizing a family visit. The bride and groom standing outside the nursing home window. The parent driving a clunker so a son has college tuition. The cop who spends free time at a youth center and the teacher who visits students at home. Putting others before self happens every day, and it often goes without credit or accolades. That’s where Paul comes in with a reminder about motivation.

Why we do things matters. 1 Corinthians suggests putting aside personal gain. Do it for the glory of God. Go beyond just doing it. Do it without the expectation of reward, payback or even recognition. Do it because it is the right ting to do, the good thing to do. It is not all about opportunity cost or hidden benefits. It is about making a difference with trust and confidence that you are living as part of soething greater than yourself!


New England is riding rough and tumble into Super Bowl celebrations. Rounding out the refreshments and planning for the game are preoccupying householders everywhere. Threats of another storm, COVID vaccine distribution and the arrival of tax season are not derailing the pride and the purpose of Tom Brady’s tenth Super Bowl performance. The pursuit of the exceptional and the promise of excellence are propelling past the mundane realities of February’s fury. Still, eyes and hearts are clinging to comfort in the familiar ritual of football’s Super Bowl. The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time charges us with the same tasks with clarity and direction.

The sorrow of Job’s story seeps from every line in the first reading. He laments the brevity of life, the quickness of loss and the expiration date of happiness. But there is a counterpoint to the anxiety and the depression in the Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 147.

He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.
He tells the number of the stars;
    he calls each by name.

Deftly juxtaposed with Job’s sorrow is the promise of a gentle, loving God who embraces that broken heart and spirit. This is a God who does not wave a magic wand, but a God who tenderly gathers the bruised and the broken and binds wounds just as surely as hearts. This is a God who relates, who touches, who claims, who heals. This is the God who embraces the forlorn Job and makes a difference: a God who actually serves, who meets the needs of the very human persons who are before him.

That image explodes with significance: these are not human beings begging subservience to a higher power, playing with superstitious offerings or searching for symbolic shields. Instead, this is about the reality of relationship between the Creator and the Created. It is born of love, of compassion, and reveals the wholesome nature of the most ordinary of beings. We are each Job; we are each broken and emptied, sorrowful and lost at different times. We are also incredibly loved and cared for by a God of dynamic and imaginative energy who cradles our sorrows and companions us through the storms of our not-quite-as-mundane-as-we-thought-lives.

God as companion is both an enticing and elusive concept. But then there is the Gospel, and clarity arrives:

Rising very early before dawn, he left 
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come

Relationship with God, with that “something greater than self”, is discovered, maintained and nurtured in prayer, in the mystery of Quiet whenever that arrives or is discovered or is chosen. Jesus opens the door to understanding with humble simplicity: his actions model his priorities and then fuel his purpose. Purpose. In this, too, Jesus models a unique and enviable self-awareness. But it is also an invitation to find that same anchor in human life, to discover our personal and unique purpose, to live it to the full.

The Super Bowl is only a sideshow that offers entertainment, connects with pride and shows some living out a sense of purpose. The Gospel invites each person to find the space and the place where living out true purpose is really possible every day of the year.