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Lenten Reflections 2020

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This year The Catholic Telegraph has reached out to those that work with Youth and Young Adult Ministries, as well as Young Adults throughout the Archdiocese for our 2020 Lenten Reflections.

Thank you for reading The Catholic Telegraph’s Lenten Reflections. This same team are providing Easter Reflections, which can be found by clicking here

February 26: Ash Wednesday
Readings: JL 2:12-18;  PS 51:3-4, 5-6AB, 12-13, 14 AND 17;  2 COR 5:20—6:2;  MT 6:1-6, 16-18

Invitation to Prayer: Come Holy Spirit and help me to trust in the love and mercy of God.

Reflection: Ash Wednesday is the day where we acknowledge ourselves as sinners and desire God’s mercy as the Body of Christ. Ashes are placed on our foreheads while we hear the words “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Jesus also tells us in our Gospel today, when we pray to “go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” With ashes on our foreheads we acknowledge our sinfulness and pray for God’s mercy, yet Jesus reminds us that our hearts need to change. We are still following his command because we don’t tell others our sins or faults (that is for the Sacrament of Confession). We acknowledge the need of God’s mercy as well as prayers from our brothers and sisters in Christ to change. I know it is hard, and we don’t want to acknowledge that publicly, yet the Prophet Joel reminds us God is “slow to anger, rich in kindness.” God wants us to always turn to Him in our need, because He loves us and gives us the grace to leave our sins and rest in Him. Let us pray for each other in our Lenten journey growing in love and trust and faith in God.

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, you show us the way to freedom from sin by your cross and resurrection. Help us to trust in you.

Closing: Pray for your family members today and thank God for his love and mercy in your life.

Father Brian Phelps was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2014. He is currently pastor at St. Francis of Assisi in Centerville

February 27, Thursday after Ash Wednesday
Readings: DT 30:15-20; PS 1:1-2, 3, 4 AND 6LK 9:22-25

Invitation to Prayer: Lord Jesus, give me the strength to follow where You lead.

Reflection: “Life and prosperity, death and doom” – with these words, Moses presents a choice to the people of God. Oddly enough, when their forebears had chosen death by disregarding the commandments of God, they thought they were acting in their best interests. They were making life more palatable, comfortable, or easier.

Following Jesus means self-denial and carrying our personal crosses, as we see in the life of Christ and today’s Gospel. Oftentimes, the decision to be led by His Footsteps leads us to uncomfortable places. However, perseverance in carrying our Cross, especially during this season of Lent, leads us to the joy of the Resurrection. Life, not death; Prosperity, not doom.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for the cross you have asked me to take up. Grant me the grace to carry it through this day, and for the perseverance to bear it as long as You ask.

Closing: Think upon the struggles and crosses of those that you have known in your life, and consider how their example can encourage you throughout your day.

Bradley Barnes has served as the Coordinator of Youth Ministry at Guardian Angels Parish since 2014.

February 28: Friday After Ash Wednesday
Readings: IS 58:1-9APS 51:3-4, 5-6AB, 18-19; MT 9:14-15

Invitation to Prayer: What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?

Reflection: The first time I heard that scripture it was in a Christian song, and it made sense… it convicted me. “Yes! Nothing else matters!” But it’s been an ongoing process to root-out the things in my life that seem to take up room but not add any life… especially when the “non-negotiables” like daily prayer, weekly Sacraments and family can’t seem to take priority and often get pushed aside. What do my actions say is most important to me?

We find ourselves again at the beginning of a season of fasting; the Church and it’s people expect that of us. But beyond expectation, it’s important we know WHY we fast. Because God can only fill that which is empty. We give up “the whole world” or pieces of it, so as to not (willingly, or unintentionally) forfeit our soul. Today’s first reading God tells us, “the fast that I choose” is for you to do good … for others! So to profit my soul I take my focus off of myself and seek the good of the other, for the sake of the other!

Prayer: Jesus how are you calling me to fast? How are you drawing me in to your journey to the cross by fasting from only seeing my own needs, and caring more for others?

Closing: God, do I see and recognize the needs of others in my path? Do I care for their good as much as you do? Help me fast from self-consumption, act in their favor, and trust you will take care of my needs while I take care of theirs. Jesus, I trust in you.

Abbie Kohler is a native of Minnesota who moved to Cincinnati in 2017 to work for NET ministries Eastern Region Office. Abbie has over 12 years of youth ministry experience & Currently volunteers on the core team for St. Gertrudes High School Ministry in Madeira. I like skyline and graeters… But I still have a soft spot for a tater tot hot dish!

February 29: Saturday after Ash Wednesday
Readings: IS 58:9B-14; PS 86:1-2, 3-4, 5-6; LK 5:27-32

Invitation to prayer: Holy Spirit, come into this place. Breathe life into our bones as we listen to your words through the prophet Isaiah.

Reflection: Do we really believe in these words of the Lord, spoken through Isaiah? Do we dare ask God to fulfill this prophecy within our own lives? Or does it seem too lofty; too unattainable for our lowly, downtrodden, concupiscent souls?

Brothers and sisters, that prophecy is for us. It is written to us and for us, just as it was for the saints who went before us and all of those who will come after. If we believe that He is who He says He is – that He is our Messiah, our Savior, our Resurrector, our Father – then we have to believe His words are life, spoken to restore us. We have to hear and BELIEVE that the Lord will give us plenty, even on the parched land of our dehydrated hearts. The Lord WILL renew our strength, rebuild the ancient ruins of our souls, fill in the cracks of our mosaic hearts, and make us to ride on the heights of the earth. Once we truly accept and live in that revelation, we are able to speak that truth to others through our words and actions. We have the freedom to cast aside our burdensome yokes and allow our light to shine in the darkness.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, restore our broken hearts and nourish our souls as we lean in to Your promptings in our lives. We dare to believe and HOPE in Your abundant grace that You will lead us to a high place where we can one day fully know and love you as You are. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Closing: Today, make it a point to speak life to others, whether through a kind gesture, a compliment, paying it forward, or a prayer offered for another.

Sarah Rose is the Coordinator of Young Adult Ministry at St. Cecilia Church in Oakley. She graduated from Franciscan University is 2016 with a Bachelors in Theology & Catechetics, and is happily married to her college sweetheart John Paul. They welcomed their first child, Judah Zion, in 2019. She loves fictional novels, the saints (especially Blessed Chiara Luce Badano), & sharing conversation over a good cup of coffee.

March 1: First Sunday of Lent
Readings: GN 2:7-9; 3:1-7;  PS 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17; ROM 5:12-19 OR 5:12, 17-19; MT 4:1-11

Invitation to Prayer: Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Reflection: In today’s readings we hear about temptation, hunger, and righteousness. There is some comfort in knowing that Jesus also faced both temptation and hunger as we do. His struggle with the devil in today’s Gospel gives us context for our opening line from the Lord’s prayer: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Though we pray to be protected from temptation, what we really seek is to be delivered from all evil. Or we could say instead, “lead us into righteousness and holiness.” This righteousness is not of our own making, but the fruit of cooperation with God’s grace. And how do we cooperate? The theme of hunger actually gives us insight into this.

What do we really hunger for? Sure, we may, like Jesus, experience physical hunger from time to time including as we fast in this season of Lent. But what do we hope this season of prayer and fasting stirs up in us if not a hunger for righteousness and a focus on Jesus who made a life of holiness possible?

“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” – Mt. 4:4

“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” – Mt. 5:6

Prayer: Lord, we pray that you will stir up in us a hunger to follow you and to live on your every word. May we recognize in you the sure path to avoid the pitfalls of temptation and sin and so gain everlasting glory with you. We ask this through the power of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of our Blessed Mother, Mary. Amen.

Closing: Consider today how you might hunger for greater holiness this Lent. What is the greatest temptations you face? How might you start anew? Make a plan to go to Confession sometime this Lent if you haven’t already.

Matt Reinkemeyer is the Director of Development Operations for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Stewardship Office. His passion is for sharing vision and mission rooted in the Gospel with others and inviting them to be a part of it.

March 2: Monday of the First Week of Lent
Readings: LV 19:1-2, 11-18PS 19:8, 9, 10, 15; MT 25:31-46

Invitation to Prayer: Jesus, my Lord, lead me to action so as to glorify You.

Reflection: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.”

It is so often that I think of how much of a struggle it is to be holy. It seems so unattainable. Christ calls us to follow after him but how can we know what that means? What stands out to me in the readings today is the difference in action within the readings. In Leviticus the Lord gives a list to Moses of things we shall not do. There are so many “do nots” but I was able to go through the list and say to myself “check, check, check, I think I got this covered for the most part.” But by contrast in the Gospel we are insead given a list of action items which I tend to find more challenging in general, but especially the size of this list gave me a bit of anxiety. It’s so easy to fall into despair and think “well I can’t possibly do all of those things… so I might as well do nothing.”

This is such a challenging place to be. How can we discern the actions that God wills for us? How do we know what first step to take? I have found so much comfort in knowing that there is no wrong ‘first step’ towards serving God and His plan for me. Actions we take in His name for the sake of His glory will be pleasing to Him. I find myself waiting for the opportune moment or waiting for a sign. What God desires from us is action in His name! He desires us to reach out to him, call out to Him, chase after Him. These are not possible unless we take the step ourselves.

Yes, He is here with us always to guide, but we cannot sit idly by waiting for a prompting to react to. He leads by example and calls us to follow Him not by following in the shadow of His footsteps, but by following in action as he cared for those around Him. He calls us to be holy, as He is holy.

Prayer: Lord, God of love, bind my heart to yours. Help me to follow in your example of action especially in regards to giving to those around me.

Closing: I challenge you to lead a Lent full of action. Are there people in your life that you can reach out to? Can you initiate a service day at a pregnancy center or food pantry? How about taking the time to go to God in adoration to seek Him out without waiting for the prompting to do so?

Audrey Meriwether is a young wife and mother who is a parishioner at Old St Mary’s in OTR. She and her husband are musicians who are often involved with various archdiocesan events such as the Candlelight Mass and Behold. Audrey is a seamstress, a lover of dancing and cooking, and an avid seeker of Christ through community.

March 3: Tuesday of the First Week of Lent
Readings: IS 55:10-1; PS 34:4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19; MT 6:7-15

Invitation to Prayer: Lord, let my will be Your will.

Reflection: How often have you and I thought, “If I just date this person, I’ll be fulfilled,” or “If I just get that promotion, life will be better,” or “If I can just move to this new city, I’ll find purpose.” And then these things happen, and we still have an ache for more. The reality is, we often have this idea in our heads of what we need to be happy, but we fail to ask, “Is this Your plan, Jesus?”

As today’s gospel states, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

We know in our heads that the God of the universe is truly concerned with our well-being, but do we believe it in our hearts? Are we willing to trust Him, and say, “Your will be done”?
This Lenten season affords us many opportunities to come to know Our Lord in a deeper way, but it starts with honesty, approaching Him without holding anything back. His Merciful Heart not only wants it but is “gushing forth as a fount of mercy for us.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I ask that you help me to trust You blindly, conforming my will to Yours, and wrapping me in your Blessed Mother’s protection and love. Let me seek You in all things and hold back nothing.

Jesus, I trust in You.

Closing: I invite you today to sit with Our Lord and give Him permission to speak truth in your life.

Brendan Gotta is the Stewardship Director for Sudan Relief Fund. Before that, he spent three years as the Director of Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Arlington (VA). When he is not working, you can find him taking photos of local churches for his @ChurchesandSteeples Instragram account, working on his @GottaBeSaints Podcast and frequenting local Taco Tuesday’s.

March 4: Wednesday of the First week of Lent
Readings: JON 3:1-10; PS 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19; LK 11:29-32

Invitation to prayer: A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.

Reflection: If you’re anything like me, fasting feels more like a chore than an act of spiritual renewal. In fact, I approach Ash Wednesday and Good Friday with dread. Fasting is difficult; it’s supposed to be difficult (but not for difficulty’s sake). Fasting is the Church’s invitation to remember and proclaim “by [our] actions” our need for God and His mercy. The struggle makes me painfully aware of my human weakness.

The verse before today’s Gospel perfectly summarizes the meaning of Lent: “Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, for I am gracious and merciful.” Through the scriptures, God invites me today me to turn my heart back to Him. He reassures me I can return to Him even now: weak, sinful, aching for the joy of salvation.

I need Lent. I need to be emptied out to remember how God is supposed to fill me. I need to hear that I am dust, and to dust I will return; that this dust can be made new, starting today.

Prayer: Father, reveal where I need Your mercy. Rather than be surprised by my weakness, grant me the grace to confidently abandon myself to Your saving help.

Closing: Check in with Jesus on your fast. How’s it going? Is it pointing you towards renewal? Ask Him to open your heart to the specific ways He wants to renew you this season.

Emily Conklin is a digital content strategist by day and young adult ministry leader by evenings and weekends. She enjoys sharing the true and good news of God’s love through beautiful marketing and media.

March 5: Thursday of the First Week of Lent
Readings: EST C:12, 14-16, 23-25; PS 138:1-2AB, 2CDE-3, 7C-8; MT 7:7-12

Invitation to Prayer: “For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” Matthew 7:8

Reflection: “He who seeks finds”. As we begin our journey into Lent, I’m reminded of old memories of Easters past. A tradition that started in my family was one of the Easter Bunny leaving poems with hints to where our presents were hidden throughout our house. While they wouldn’t tell us exactly where our future treasures were and the direct route to reach them, my three other siblings and I would work together to figure out the hints to go down the right path and seek our ultimate goal.

Isn’t that true for life too? As we make our way through our days, we use the hints Jesus gives us to seek a path towards Him. We also rely on others to help decipher those hints when we are unsure. “Seek, and you will find”. Great treasures await to be found when you pursue God.

Prayer: Lord, give me wisdom to ascertain the hints you give me as I seek a life with you

Closing: Reflect on what hints God gives you as you seek Him. Also think of someone you can ask for help to decipher them if you get stumped.

John Kollar is a native of Northern Virginia who moved to Cincinnati in 2015. He works as an engineering project manager at GE and is a parishioner at St. Francis Xavier where he is a CCD Teacher and young adult group event leader. He also volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House and the Little Sisters of the Poor.

March 6: Friday of the First week of Lent
Readings: EZ 18:21-28; PS :130:1-2, 3-4, 5-7A, 7BC-8; MT 5:20-26

Invitation to Prayer: Jesus, help me to forgive others as you have forgiven me.

Reflection: The Lord’s Prayer is one of the first prayers we ever learn. We hear it at every mass and in devotions, such as the rosary. As with most repetitious things it is easy to take a prayer like this for granted, to say the words almost without any thought or deep consideration. It can be easy to forget that when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray this was the prayer he gave them.

The readings today call to mind one of the most difficult lines of this prayer, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. We are asking the Lord, whether we realize it or not, only to forgive us as much as we forgive others. That can be a scary thought… “Jesus, I only want you to forgive me as much as I am willing to forgive others. Only allow me to receive your mercy as much as I am willing to show others mercy. Judge me for my sins only as much as I judge others for their sins”. How often do we notice the speck in our brother’s eye? How often do we hold others to their debts they owe us, without considering the far greater debt that Jesus has forgiven us of?

Lent is a time of mercy and forgiveness, a time where our churches hold more reconciliation services and we hear readings focused on God’s mercy and admonishment of sin. Who in your life is God calling you to reconcile with? Who in your life have you been holding a grudge against, or find it difficult to forgive? Ask God to give you the grace and courage to forgive those people as He has forgiven you. It may be that this forgiveness is only in your heart at this point and you still have hurt and pain to work through. We are promised that if we strive to forgive those people in our lives, “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7).

Prayer: Lord, help me to remember that you desire mercy, not sacrifice.

Closing: Who is God calling you to forgive in your life? Take some time today to reflect on how you can begin to reach out to that person and reconcile your relationship with them.

Matthew Cantrell is the Eastern Regional Engagement Officer of NET Ministries. NET Ministries challenges young Catholics to love Christ and embrace the life of the Church. Every August, 175 young Catholics aged 18-28 leave behind their jobs, school, family, and friends to devote nine months to serving with the National Evangelization Teams (NET).

March 7: Saturday of the First Week of Lent
Readings: DT 26:16-19; PS: 119:1-2, 4-5, 7-8; MT 5:43-48

Invitation to Prayer: But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

Reflection: What is the most difficult teaching of our Faith to to follow or ascribe to? Most of the time when we are asked this, the answers seem to look very similar. Most will say things like the Trinity, God’s omniscience and omnipotence, Petrine primacy, etc. In more recent years you probably would hear about the Church’s unwillingness to ignore the sinfulness of contraception, abortion, and same sex marriage.

However, I would argue that these aren’t the most difficult teachings to be faithful to, but that the Lord’s command to love our enemies in today’s reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew is the most difficult. When the Lord was telling His disciples this, His omnipotence allowed Him to know that His mission was to die on the cross so that we may have eternal life with Him. During His Passion, He was scourged, humiliated, crucified, and suffered the pain of all man’s sins. Despite this, He asked His Father to forgive those who had done these horrible things to Him. This is the ultimate example of loving your enemies, and it has inspired many throughout the 2000 year history of the Church.

St. Stephen in 34 AD was captured, accosted, and martyred by Jewish leaders for his Christian Faith. During his stoning in Acts 6, his dying words were a prayer asking the Lord to forgive those who were martyring him. Saul, who later became St. Paul after his own conversion, was present at the stoning, and St. Augustine later argued that St. Stephen’s prayer planted the seed for Saul’s conversion. A simple love for one’s enemy gave the Church one of Her greatest and most important saints.

In 1981, Turkish terrorist Mehmet Ali shot Pope Saint John Paul II, almost killing him. John Paulforgave Ali and asked the Catholic faithful to pray for him. The Pope visited him in jail, they
became friends, and John Paul asked the Italian authorities for his pardon. Ali converted to Catholicism in 2007.

Prayer: Lord, let me open my mind to loving my enemies, to pray for those who persecute me, and to let your gift of Love reign in my life in everything I do.

Closing: God’s mercy and His love are the most beautiful things in the universe, and when we imitate Him by loving our enemies as He loved His own, it changes hearts. Whether it be the annoying guy at work who steals your food from the fridge, the cousin who gets on your nerves at family gatherings, an ex who wronged you, or someone even worse, we must follow the Lord and His holy saints’ example.

Josh Vogt is a nursing student and a parishioner at St Ann’s in Hamilton.

March 8: Second Sunday of Lent
Readings: GN 12:1-4A; PS 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; 2 TM 1:8B-10; MT 17:1-9

Invitation to Prayer: Lord Jesus, you call me out of where I am into where you want me to be. Give me the faith to trust in you and to trust that where you’re leading me is better than anything I could ever imagine.

Reflection: Abram is presented with a choice. He can remain where he is, surrounded by what he knows, or he can trust in God. Timothy too has a choice. Paul exhorts him to bear his share of hardships for the gospel, or he can give in. God promises Abram a great nation which will bless the whole earth. Timothy has the testimony of Paul who speaks of Christ’s destroying death and offering eternal life. Yet, how is Abram to know God will make a great nation for him? How is Timothy sure that the strength of God will come and that perseverance is worth it?

The gospel passage today, the story of the Transfiguration, is a story of God’s faithfulness to his people. Peter, James, and John have the unique grace to see Jesus as he truly is, to see the glory of God made manifest before their eyes. Yet this could not have happened unless they followed Jesus from where they were to where he was leading them. And when they see Jesus transfigured, he’s so radiant with splendor that they want to pitch a tent and remain there!

The truth of the matter is this: God has a plan for your life, and it’s something better than anything you could dream in your best dreams. Yet, his plan also comes with an exodus, a departing, a leaving where you are to get to where God is calling you. This lent you have a choice. Jesus is calling to you, leading you somewhere deeper, somewhere better. Will you heed the call of lent? Will you allow the Holy Spirit to drive you into the desert, trusting that God wants something so much better for you than you can even imagine?

Prayer: Come Holy Spirit into my heart. Speak to me of the plan you have for my life, and deepen my trust in your promises and faithfulness.

Closing: Where have you felt or noticed the Lord calling you somewhere better this lent? Consider taking a moment right now or perhaps even after each meal you eat this week to ask the questions, “Lord, where have I sensed your presence today? Jesus, where are you leading me next?”

Benjamin Klare is the Associate Director in the Office for Marriage & Family Life at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. His primary responsibility is coordinating the Archdiocesan Anti-Pornography Initiative.

March 9: Monday of the Second Week of Lent
Readings: DN 9:4B-10; PS 79:8, 9, 11 AND 13; LK 6:36-38

Invitation to Prayer: Father, open my heart and mind to the presence of your mercy.

Reflection: Before Lent, I was reflecting with a consecrated woman on how to grow in a particular virtue. In my own grasping at that virtue, she guided me to the truth that it was only in recognizing more fully God’s movement and deep love for me before focusing on what I could “do” that I could work on that virtue well. I needed to turn my heart and mind towards God and see the truth of who I am and His love for each of us. This truth applies well to the command by Christ in today’s Gospel to not judge, not condemn, forgive others, and give.

God does not judge or condemn us. He invites us to straighten our paths out of love for us. It is about the heart of my intentions. As I prayed with this passage, I felt like God was saying “Stop judging yourself, as I do not judge you” and so on. This is not to mean brushing away sins or opportunities to grow, but to recognize that God sees me as wholly good, created in His image and likeness. How is God calling you to not judge or condemn yourself? How is He inviting you to see the goodness in you, created in His image and likeness?

Prayer: Father, allow me to draw deeper into who I am and who You’ve created me to be. May through recognizing those truths, I be merciful in my life like You. You invite me to embrace Your mercy.

Closing: It is often easy to focus on the “doing” and not on the interior of our hearts and minds. Lent is a beautiful time to ask God how He desires for you to draw inward into a deeper knowledge of Him in your life. In turn, this deepening of relationship with God allows us to be merciful towards ourselves and others.

Michelle Ragusa returned to Cincinnati in 2018. She is a Registered Nurse at Cincinnati Children’s doing medical consultations for child abuse and nelgect cases.

March 10: Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent
Readings: IS 1:10, 16-20; PS 50:8-9, 16BC-17, 21 AND 23; MT 23:1-12

Invitation to Prayer: Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.

Reflection: What headspace do you find yourself in concerning confession? Maybe the idea is anxiety-inducing or you figure it isn’t necessary. Maybe you go as little as required by the Church (two times a year), or only go reluctantly when someone guilts you into it. Perhaps it has just become a habit in which the joy has left. I’ve been there too. To this day I will sometimes put off confession for weeks, with the same excuses and some whole new ones. What I did wasn’t that bad, it’s too inconvenient, I don’t really feel sorry, etc. But after reading and reflecting on today’s scripture passages, something immediately stands out to me more than anything else: God deeply desires to grant us mercy, mercy without conditions and without limit.

“Come now,” He says, “let us set things right.” Speaking to a people He knows can be stubborn, sinful, and full of pride, He begs us to return to Him for our own good so that we might be washed clean. Our Lord is nothing like the scribes and the Pharisees, who “tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but will not lift a finger to move them.” Instead, He died for our sins and then offers forgiveness no matter the transgression, from the smallest of mistakes to the evillest act. God knows that our humanity is burdensome, but gives us the opportunity to lift that burden every day with His help. Confession does take faith, courage, and humility, but what gifts offered in return! As it says in the verse before the gospel, “Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me let go of my pride when it takes me away from being a true disciple of yours. Help me trust in the Holy Spirit to lift my burden.

Closing: Going to confession can be embarrassing. Pope Francis said: “There are people who are afraid to go to confession, forgetting that they will not encounter a severe judge there, but the immensely merciful Father.”

Melissa Velez is from Southern California, born and raised, and a current Cincinnati, Ohio transplant. A teacher by education, she now works in social services as a client advocate at St. Vincent de Paul. She is a lover of all things beautiful and educational, most especially poetry, the performing arts, and accomplishing her goal of visiting all 50 states (30 more to go!)

March 11: Wednesday,of the Second Week of Lent
Readings: JER 18:18-2; PS: 31:5-6, 14, 15-16; MT 20:17-28

Invitation to prayer: Save me, O Lord, in Your kindness.

Reflection: There’s a lot going on in today’s gospel. Jesus announcing the Passion for the third time, the mother of James and John asking Jesus to put her sons at His left and right hand, and Jesus’ stern reply to her, and all of the apostles. Jesus asks if they are capable of drinking of the chalice of which He will drink. They readily answer, “yes!!”

As I too, answer “yes!!” with such enthusiasm, ready to take on anything for my Lord, but a piece of my heart always wants a little something out of it for myself. I seem to forget that the chalice that our Lord drank from was the chalice of suffering, the chalice of rejection.

This Lent, instead of pushing myself to the limit and making big promises to the Lord to prove my love and worthiness to be by His side, I am simply entering the desert and asking, “what do You desire?” Because I’ve come to realize He often just desires simple things from me, and while I am trying to make big grand gestures, can I even complete this simple things? I don’t think Lent is meant to fill us, it is meant to empty us, so we can later be filled by the joy of Easter!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me enter into the desert so I can leave being emptied of myself, and full of the goodness You have planned for my life. Amen.

Closing: What are my desires and do I need to change those earthly desires and be a disciple of Christ? Is my “yes” to satisfy me or to truly be a conversion to the Lord?

Sarah Rogers: works in the Young Adult and Campus Ministry in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. She is a Cincy native, loves spending my time downtown, either in a historic church or historic building-turned coffee shop.

March 12: Thursday of the Second Week of Lent
Readings: JER 17:5-10; PS1:1-2, 3, 4 AND 6; LK 16:19-31

Invitation to Prayer: Most merciful and affectionate Father, grant, through the crucifixion of Your Son, Jesus, that I may have the grace to love you with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and my neighbor as myself for Your sake.

Reflection: What will catch your attention? Billions of dollars are spent every year to figure out just that. It has created the sea of advertisements we swim in on a daily basis. Some are completely taken in by every ad they see and just have to have that thing. Others have become numb to it all and can ignore them, and everything, pretty well.

The rich man in today’s Gospel, tradition calls him Dives (Dee-vehs), which is Latin for rich, represents these two types of people. On the one hand, he fills his life up with all the best things. He goes for everything that is advertised as the answer for each passing desire. On the other hand, he’s numb to the poor man begging at his door. He’s seen him so many times, what else is new? And now he realizes both the emptiness of the good things of life and the gravity of his sin of omission, not doing for Lazarus even one small good. He might have been a “nice” or even “generally good” person. Jesus doesn’t say he was mean to Lazarus, yet in the end he ends up (presumably) in Hell. This parable is the wake-up call to anyone who thinks that Jesus came so that we might be nice people. Repeatedly he speaks of being and becoming perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect; that is, perfect in charity. We are made for nothing less.

Jesus puts on the lips of Abraham that not even a person coming back from the dead will capture the attention of someone whose sense of the spiritual has grown dim and dull by attachment to the world. That is why the Church undertakes the bodily mortifications of Lent, so that each one of us might detach ourselves from the world and become pure in our hearts to receive the grace of God and His inspiration to fulfill His will. A crowded heart has no room for the grace of God.

If you have ears to hear, you’ll notice that towards the end of the Gospel it points us back to the first reading and psalm. We have Moses and the prophets to listen to. Read through those readings. Conducting the prison ministry, I see many men and women who are a barren bush in a salt and empty waste, relying on the strength of men and flesh. Daily they tear each other down. Because they do not have God and His love, they do not have love for each other. Conversely, many of the men and women who start coming to Catholic programs and discover the Lord become like the tree planted near flowing waters. They come to life even though where they live is like a desert. And I see firsthand every day in the inmates, in the staff, and in my own self, how tortuous the human heart is.

We spend so much energy going after things that are empty and die and cause us to die. We spend so little energy on the things of God and on showing mercy to each other. Don’t worry yourself thinking that you are going to Hell because you haven’t done every single good work there is to be done. Neither should you feel overwhelmed at the amount of work that it takes to live a life tending toward perfection. Rather look to the Lord Jesus on His cross. He is the image of the perfection of love for God and love for neighbor, which is the law of God. As you detach from love of things in this world, spend time giving your heart to love of Him, and let his Spirit strengthen you and inspire you to the good works He is calling you to do in His Name.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, let me stand here at the foot of Your Cross with Mary and receive your love and mercy, so that I might be able to reach out in mercy to my neighbor and to the poor.
Action: Ask the Lord to show you which of the works of mercy He is calling you to perform for someone and then do it.

Corporal works of Mercy: 1. Feed the hungry; 2. Give drink to the thirsty; 3. Clothe the naked; 4. Shelter the homeless; 5. Visit the imprisoned; 6. Visit the sick; 7. Bury the dead

Spiritual Works of Mercy: 1. Instruct the ignorant; 2. Counsel the doubtful; 3. Admonish the sinner; 4. Bear wrongs patiently; 5. Forgive offenses willingly; 6. Comfort the afflicted; 7. Pray for the dead

Marty Arlinghaus is the director of Prison Ministry for the Archdiocese, serving five institutions across the Archdiocese by conducting Catholic programming, leading the Archdiocese Prison Ministry volunteer team, and bringing the sacraments of the Church to the incarcerated.

 

March 13, Friday of the Second Week of Lent
Readings: GN 37:3-4, 12-13A, 17B-28A, PS 105:16-17, 18-19, 20-21; MT 21:33-43, 45-46

Invitation to Prayer: Creator God, Lord of hopes and dreams, enlighten my heart and mind to hear your voice speaking.

Reflection: Certainly, the story of Joseph is well known to us; perhaps, like me, your mind generated the images from the film or play “Joseph and the Technicolor Coat.” I want to draw your attention to the words, I was most struck by: “Here comes the master dream! …let us kill him … we shall then see what comes of his dreams.”

One of the most beautiful child-like attributes is the gift for children to dream. The possibilities are endless, their imaginations powerful. Something happens as we get older, perhaps the burdens and anxieties of the world, and they choke the dreams we once held.

In his speech to the youth of Harlem, Pope Francis said, “It is beautiful to have dreams and to be able to fight for them. Today we want to keep dreaming.” The Lord wants us to be dreamers. He dreams big for us; has grand plans for us, bigger than we could ask or imagine.

Prayer: Lord, pour out your Holy Spirit upon us. A spirit of new life, of creativity, of dreams!

Closing: What dreams have you let die that the Lord wants to bring back to life? What new dreams has the Lord placed on your heart? In what ways can you bring those to fruition? What dreams has the Lord fulfilled? Give thanks for those today!

Christen Aquino is the Managing Director of VIA (Youth Evangelization & Discipleship). She has served as a youth minister for over ten years in both Georgia and Ohio.

March 14, Saturday of the Second week of Lent
Readings: Mi 7:14-15, 18-20, 103: PS1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12, Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

Invitation to Prayer: Father, I do not know how to pray, please teach me to pray as I ought.”

Reflection: I was recently asked, “What themes or scenes make you most emotional when watching a movie?” I immediately thought to myself anything that demonstrates a strong bond or relationship between a father and son; for example, “Pursuit of Happiness”, “Life is Beautiful”, “Hoosiers”, etc.

What is it that raises emotions to rise to the surface, makes the heart move with a sense of conversion. I think Jesus gets to the heart of it in today’s Gospel. Let’s not look past a story we are probably quite familiar with, the infamous prodigal. To insert oneself as one son or the other is not enough, though it is a good place to start. But the last verse today ends with the point.
“But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”

Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, we are still in Lent, so we are not entering into celebration of Easter, but we are reminded all throughout Lent, our celebration lies in that we are sons and daughters made for heaven. While there are areas in our life that we are indeed lost (knots), and need founding (untying), Lent helps us to untie these knots to allow ourselves to be found. In other words, let’s stop hiding and protecting those areas of our life that our Father most desires to heal and free.

Prayer: Abba, thank you for hearing the cry of my heart even before I ask. And yet I ask, please give me courage to look at the areas of my life that need untying so I can be free as you made me. I give these knots to you. Please untie them.

Closing: What are those knots in our heart, or areas of sin we dare not look at alone? Invite Jesus with you to visit those wounds, causes of heartache and shame, and have Jesus usher you to give these knots to the Father. I would propose this is a gift from you to the Father that He could not deny, but would receive with overwhelming enthusiasm. You are dead and have come back to life, you were lost and have been found.

Mark Hollcraft serves as Eastern Regional Director for NET Ministries. He has been involved in Youth Ministry in a variety of ways for 24 years. Being married to Meredith Hollcraft with 6 children has been his greatest adventure… so far.

March 15, Third Sunday of Lent
Readings: EX 17:3-7, PS 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9., ROM 5:1-2, 5-8, JN 4:5-42

Invitation to Prayer: Lord Jesus, draw close. I have come in search of a drink. Please, meet me here.

Reflection: Trivia question: how many husbands did the woman at the well have? This is simple. There were the five prior husbands plus, as Jesus points out to her, “the one you have now.” So she had six. Right? Close. The Church Fathers would tend to think otherwise.

St. Augustine explains, on behalf of the Fathers, that when Jesus tells the woman, “the one you have now is not your husband,” it can be understood that He is speaking of Himself. He is the one who she has, with her in that very moment, who is not—yet—her husband. There were five before Him. He wills to now be the one and only beloved of her soul.

In this delicate exchange, Jesus is doing something wondrous for the woman. He is revealing to her her brokenness, wrought by the pain of past fleeting relationships. But Jesus never reveals brokenness without simultaneously revealing a means to healing; and the means is always simple: to welcome Him as the beloved of your soul.

Jesus knows our depths better than we know them ourselves, for He dwells within them. In His perfect providence and timing, He brings forth these hidden things from within us. When He does, and when they come with a weight and an ache, we can be assured that He is bringing them to the light because His healing has already begun. Where you feel broken, that is where Jesus is healing. Trust Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my heart is wounded. It is wounded in ways that I do not yet know. Come Lord Jesus, heal me. Show me my sins, my scars, my hurts, and grant me the grace to welcome your healing touch.

Closing: Healing can be difficult. A mending wound may at times still sting. Jesus never causes pain, but He allows it when He knows that by it He can bring about even greater healing and strength. My challenge to you

Jeff Stephens is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  He is currently in his fourth year of formation at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary.

Monday, March 16-Monday of the Third Week of Lent
Readings: 2 KGS 5:1-15AB; PS 42:2, 3; 43:3, 4; LK 4:24-30

Invitation to prayer: Lord Jesus, give me the strength to follow where You lead.

Reflection: It is now, more than any time in recent memory, appropriate to remember that Our Lord Jesus is the Divine Physician. He is able to cure any malady, both spiritual and physical. In the first reading from today’s Mass, we see a successful and respected man afflicted with the scourge of leprosy. From the beginning of this story, Naaman is presented as someone who doesn’t see in too much of a hurry to get this issue resolved. It takes an Israelite slave girl to tell his wife to convince him that the prophet in Israel will accomplish the healing that is needed.

What happens when he finally gets to the prophet Elisha, preceded by an official introduction through the king of Israel? He doubts. This doubt is born from a lack of the extraordinary – surely if there was healing to be had, it would be through some incredible and miraculous means. Instead, Elisha prescribes a washing in the Jordan for his cleansing. For Naaman, this man and his solution are too simple, too commonplace. When he gives over to this suggestion, however, his flesh once again became “like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”

Maybe God has asked you to do something very small this Lenten season. Perhaps you’re giving up just one creature comfort, or adding in one extra discipline. You might be tempted to look at this as some sort of banal habit that you do every Lent. However, the Lord desires you to become perfect as He is perfect, and it can be through these small observances – done with the correct mindset – that he can renew you and make you clean. Let us attempt, as we continue this journey, to not disregard what might seem familiar or commonplace. To not listen and respond would be to take on the same tragic attitude the people in Nazareth had who rejected Jesus in our Gospel reading.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to see clearly the things that you are asking me to be faithful in, and to give me the strength to carry out the simple disciplines of being Your disciple.

Closing: Evaluate your Lenten journey: are you faithfully accomplishing what has been asked of you in the extraordinary and ordinary? Resolve to adopt anew those things that will renew and refresh you, and ultimately draw you closer to Our Lord.

Bradley Barnes has served as the Coordinator of Youth Ministry at Guardian Angels Parish since 2014.

March 17: Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent
Readings: DN 3:25, 34-43; PS 25:4-5AB, 6 AND 7BC, 8-9; MT 18:21-35

Invitation to Prayer: “The promises of the LORD I will sing forever; through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness.” – Psalm 89: 2-3

Reflection: Remember … and Act.

One particularly uneventful St. Patrick’s day, I was surprised by my Dad on my lunch break. He had driven 70 miles from his home to my office to deliver a grocery bag… of bakery buns and corned beef lunch meat. “I know this day is special to you, and I wanted you to have some way to celebrate. I thought you could share it with your roommates.” Simple and intensely thoughtful. That is my father’s way.

He remembered … and acted. And I felt so loved that day!

The scriptures and psalms where we remind God the Father of his promises always made me feel awkward; Why do we remind Him? Isn’t that rude of us? He obviously remembers.

Even in reciting the Memorare, “Remember, oh most Gracious virgin Mary, never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession was left unaided…”. I felt like I was black-mailing Mother Mary. ‘You’ve never failed us before, don’t let this be the first time’!

Until one day I sang a song I’ve known for years, “Remember Your people, Remember Your children, Remember Your promise, O God”, and in the speaking of the words, I realized – it’s to remind ME! Do I remember that God has made promises to us, His people?! Do I remember that we are His children?? In speaking truth, I was reminded … and was moved to greater faith. I remember God made me promises, and He has a long history of keeping them! I can trust He won’t forget! And I speak these words not because He might forget, but so I don’t! Every time I hear those psalms now I think, “This is for me! Remember, Abbie, how faithful God is and act like you remember!”

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your patience in our forgetfulness, and thank you for your mercy in our remembering. Draw us out of doubt to act in faith, and please inspire in us holy memories that can be a solace for us in the desert of Lent! Remember your people, Oh, God!

Closing: Spend some time in prayer (maybe start with Psalm 77: 10-12) and journal, or have holy conversation with a friend or two – Ask the Lord, ‘what memories do you want me to remember? Why these, Lord? Why now, Lord?’ And share the joy, lessons and hope that come from these sweet holy memories.

Further thoughts for prayer & reflection: What helps us remember both the mercies of God and the joyful ways he has delighted us? What impedes our remembering of God’s mercy?

Abbie Kohler is a native of Minnesota who moved to Cincinnati in 2017 to work for NET ministries Eastern Region Office. Abbie has over 12 years of youth ministry experience & Currently volunteers on the core team for St. Gertrudes High School Ministry in Madeira. I like skyline and graeters… But I still have a soft spot for a tater tot hot dish!

March 18: Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent
Readings: DT 4:1, 5-9; PS 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20; MT 5:17-19

Invitation to Prayer: Lord Jesus, I know that you desire to refine my heart and my life. Help me to surrender as you chisel away my Impurities and make me new.

Reflection: “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?”

These words of our first reading today give us a new lens with which to read the Gospel. In no other religion is it even DARED to call God “Father.” He is different from all other gods because He desires to draw close to us, so close that He even took on our broken nature.

Jesus affirms in the Gospel that he did not come to “abolish” the Mosaic Law but rather to fulfill it. That’s what Jesus does: He makes all things new (Rev. 21:5). If He can so perfectly perfect and transform the Old Covenant, how much more so can he perfect and transform our hearts, if only we surrender to Him.

Prayer: Father, we thank You for deeming us worthy to call you “Abba.” Help me to thoroughly examine my life and and remove that which is keeping me from following your law. I lay down my old life, my wills, my desires for the new fulfillment that only You can give.

Closing: Listen to “New Wine” by Hillsong Worship. Invite the Lord to reveal to you the parts of you that He is pressing & refining to make new.

Sarah Rose is the Coordinator of Young Adult Ministry at St. Cecilia Church in Oakley. She graduated from Franciscan University is 2016 with a Bachelors in Theology & Catechetics, and is happily married to her college sweetheart John Paul. They welcomed their first child, Judah Zion, in 2019. She loves fictional novels, the saints (especially Blessed Chiara Luce Badano), & sharing conversation over a good cup of coffee.

March 19: Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Readings: 2 SM 7:4-5A, 12-14A, 16; PS 89:2-3, 4-5, 27 AND 29; ROM 4:13, 16-18, 22 ; MT 1:16, 18-21, 24A

Invitation to Prayer: Lord, give us the faith of St. Joseph.

Reflection: Today we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. As a father of three young children with a fourth on the way, I am all too familiar with how intimidating fatherhood can be. Yet, I can’t imagine the trepidation or confusion St. Joseph may have felt at being asked to care for Jesus.

Yet, St. Joseph’s response is one that I think each of us can emulate as we face our own moments of uncertainty:

“He did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him.”

While we may not have an angel come speak to us in a dream, we do have recourse to learning the will of the Lord in our life and acting upon it. Whether through prayer, the teaching of the Church, or the wisdom of our fellow Christians helping to guide us, we often have a good idea of what the Lord is asking us to do. However, it can be a greater struggle to follow through on those promptings.

My fear, selfishness, worry, and a host of other reasons often stand between me and the next right choice. Yet, St. Joseph shows us how to make that next choice. He shows us how to let go and trust in the Lord. St. Joseph doesn’t sugarcoat it for us either though. Taking Mary, pregnant, into his home came with its own social hardships. Travelling to Egypt to escape Herod was not exactly a family vacation. But, with each trial St. Joseph is there to show us how to calmly, faithfully follow the Lord.

Prayer: Lord, we pray that you would stir up in us a deep faith and trust in your plan for our lives. Make us responsive to your promptings, understanding of your wisdom, and attentive to the signs you place around us. May we like St. Joseph accompany and be accompanied by Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary into eternal glory. Amen.

Closing: Consider today where you struggle to trust the Lord? What area of your life is marked by worry, fear, or confusion that could be illuminated by God’s grace? Make a plan to offer that area of your life up to God in prayer this week.

Matt Reinkemeyer is the Director of Development Operations for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Stewardship Office. His passion is for sharing vision and mission rooted in the Gospel with others and inviting them to be a part of it.

March 20: Friday of the Third Week of Lent
Readings: HOS 14:2-10; PS 81:6C-8A, 8BC-9, 10-11AB, 14 AND 17; MK 12:28-34

Invitation to Prayer: Brothers and sisters, let’s pray together that we can turn our hearts, minds, and souls towards Christ.

Reflection: “Return, O Israel, to the Lord, your God”

In times of stress and anxiety is it hard to remember how close the Lord is to us. He calls to us and beckons us to return to Him. The word ‘return’ can make it feel like the destination is so far away. But because the Lord surrounds us, he is already near and there is never far we have to go to find Him. Perhaps it is just our attention that needs to return to Him. Perhaps all we need to do is look up or turn around. I get so distracted and bogged down by my worry that to come out of that place feels impossible. But the moment I call the Lord to mind I know He is here with me. It is a daily conversion we must undergo – choosing God. And in times of uncertainty it makes it hard to possess the faith and hope the Lord desires from us. In this passage from Hosea, the prophet urges the Israelites to return to the Lord for He will be like dew: refreshing and bringing of new life.
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We find ourselves now in the desert of Lent, and it is now, in this particular Lent that the whole world is experiencing, that we need to rely on the life-giving water of Christ. He will bring new life, He will quench our thirst, He will guide our feet, and He will make straight the path. In the Gospel for today, Jesus tells us that the greatest of the commandments is to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. With our whole beings, and with every moment of our day, let us turn to God and live through Him and for Him.

Prayer: Oh Lord, in this season of Lent, help us to turn our minds, souls, and hearts to you.

Closing: Brothers and sisters, let us pray for one another.

Audrey Meriwether is a young wife and mother who is a parishioner at Old St Mary’s in OTR. She and her husband are musicians who are often involved with various archdiocesan events such as the Candlelight Mass and Behold. Audrey is a seamstress, a lover of dancing and cooking, and an avid seeker of Christ through community.

March 21-Saturday of the Third Week of Lent
Readings: HOS 6:1-6; PS 51:3-4, 18-19, 20-21AB; LK 18:9-14

Invitation to Prayer: Come, let us return to the Lord.

Reflection: A few years back there was a television show called, “The Moment of Truth.” Each contestant was asked personal questions about their lives, and for every truthful answer, they earned a certain amount of money. No question was off limits.

On one occasion they had a woman who was asked two questions about her marriage that would likely cause great division with her spouse; she seemingly did not care. She answered both honestly, deciding that the prize was worth it.

Then she was asked something simple yet profound:

“Are you a good person?”
She paused. How was she to answer?
She said, “Yes, I think I’m a good person.”
The lie detector had caught her.

In today’s first reading, the first line says, “Come, let us return to Lord.”

How often would you and I be able to answer that question honestly, and say, “Yes Lord, I’m a good person”? Fortunately, the Lord knows of our brokenness, and invites us into His merciful love. He knows our past but wants us to be wiped clean!

Prayer: Lord, my brokenness is real, but so is Your mercy. Forgive me for the ways I have sinned against you and give me the graces to persevere! Mary, wrap me in your mantle of protection and love.

Closing: Find a time to go to confession over these next few weeks. Return to the Lord!

Brendan Gotta is the Stewardship Director for Sudan Relief Fund. Before that, he spent three years as the Director of Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Arlington (VA). When he is not working, you can find him taking photos of local churches for his @ChurchesandSteeples Instragram account, working on his @GottaBeSaints Podcast and frequenting local Taco Tuesday’s.

March 22 -Laetare Sunday The Fourth Sunday of Lent
Readings: 1 SM 16:1B, 6-7, 10-13A; PS 23: 1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6.; EPH 5:8-14; JN 9:1-41

Invitation to Prayer: Lord, Let your Light Shine in our Hearts this day.

Reflection: Light is one of the most beautiful images we have in our faith. At the Easter Vigil the Paschal Candle will be carried into a dark church. Then all of our candles will be lit from the Easter Candle. Seeing everyone’s candle lit in the darkness shows who we really are. We are lights of Christ for the world. Today St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians reminds us that we are children of light and to live in the light. He quotes what may be an early Christian hymn on Baptism:

“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”

This Lent, let us arise in faith and shine the light of Christ for all to see. This is done in many ways, through our prayer, tending to the sick and poor around us, going the extra mile for someone, leaving a meal quietly on somebody’s doorstep. All of these flow from us because of our love of Christ and the reception of the Eucharist. The Eucharist fuels the fire of our faith and keeps that light burning brightly. The Sacrament of Confession uncovers the light when we allow darkness to cover it over. Let us today live as children of Light for a world that has a lot of darkness.

Prayer: Jesus please help us to see the light you have given us in baptism, so that we may let it shine it for all to see.

Closing: Spend some time today praying for how you can be a light to those around you.

Father Brian Phelps was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2014. He is currently pastor at St. Francis of Assisi in Centerville

March 23-Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Readings: IS 65:17-21; PS 30:2 AND 4, 5-6, 11-12A AND 13B; JN 4:43-54

Invitation to Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit. Make everything new.

Reflection: We’re in the thick of Lent––and man, does it feel like it. You might be working from home for the foreseeable future, homeschooling your kids, fighting cabin fever, or all of the above. Sundays seem empty without the mass. This Lent has us in a strange desert, and the joy of Easter feels so far away.

Today’s readings give us a glimpse of the final resurrection––the day we’re united with God for eternity, body and soul––and the joy of the resurrection we celebrate at Easter. The first reading paints a radiant picture of the joy we will experience in heaven. It’s a stark contrast to the wasteland that is the midpoint of Lent (especially during a global pandemic).

In uncertain times like these, I can’t help but feel a little cynical. It’s harder to visualize the joy of Easter. That’s why today’s gospel is so powerful. It’s the story of the royal official who asks Jesus to heal his son who is near death. Can you imagine the desperation and agony of this man, this father? He travels a day’s journey or more to try to save his son. How much more must our God thirst for our healing, our love?

Our rescue is coming. Jesus is coming for us, and He won’t stop until we’re united with Him forever.

Prayer: Jesus, help me to see this desert as a gift. Draw me close to You and renew my heart. Increase my desire to love and seek You all the days of my life.

Closing: Tell Jesus how you’re really feeling about Lent this year. Ask Him to reveal how He wants to rescue you this season.

Emily Conklin is a digital content strategist by day and young adult ministry leader by evenings and weekends. She enjoys sharing the true and good news of God’s love through beautiful marketing and media.

March 24- Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Readings: EZ 47:1-9, 12; PS 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9; JN 5:1-16

Invitation to Prayer: “Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse should befall you.’” -John 5:14

Reflection: “Do you want to be healed?” I’m a CCD teacher, and for the past three years have prepared about a half-dozen children every year for their first reconciliations. One theme that I hear when readying them for this sacrament is that they’re scared and nervous. Aren’t we all, no matter how often we go? I started going more frequently when I began teaching, as was recommended by the Archdiocesan training, but remember not really wanting to go at first. But by calling me to be a good teacher to his flock, Jesus asked me if I wanted to be healed, and, like the paralytic man, I accepted, rose, and walked to the confessional. Just as He uses the power of God to heal the man, Jesus uses the same power to heal us of our sins. And what a beautiful, constant invitation it is.

Prayer: Lord, give me strength to rise, take up my mat, and “walk” to confession so I can greet you in your temple and you can tell me “See, you are well!”

Closing: Perform an examination of conscience in preparation for going to confession the next time you can. In addition to what you could improve upon, think of what good you do in your life.

John Kollar is a native of Northern Virginia who moved to Cincinnati in 2015. He works as an engineering project manager at GE and is a parishioner at St. Francis Xavier where he is a CCD Teacher and young adult group event leader. He also volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House and the Little Sisters of the Poor.

March 25: Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
Readings: IS 7:10-14; 8:10; PS 40:7-8A, 8B-9, 10, 11; HEB 10:4-10; LK 1:26-38

Invitation to Prayer: “Hail full of grace! The Lord is With you!” Luke 1: 28

Reflection: To say that Mary holds a special place in the heart of God and the Church would be an understatement. She is given the title Mother of God and Mother of the Church. There are over 400+ Marian Feast Days celebrated in different regions all over the world, with 18 celebrated on the Universal Calendar. The Church has taught since its foundation that Marian devotion is essential to the Catholic Faith.

What is it that makes Mary so essential? In the Gospel of Luke 11:27-28 a woman from the crowd of followers shouts out, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” There can be no question of whom the woman in the crowd is referring to, the mother of Jesus himself. At first glance Jesus’ response can seem counter intuitive to Marian devotion, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and Keep it!”, but if we take into consideration what He is really saying we find that it not only affirms Marian devotion, but raises it even higher. Jesus points out that the ones who hear the word of God and do it are the ones who are truly blessed, when the angel Gabriel appears to Mary, he presents her with a proposal from God: “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.” Mary had the option then and there on how to respond, she was free to choose to say “Yes” to God’s will, reversing Eve’s “No”. Mary said in reply, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.

May it be done to me according to your word.” We see in this Gospel passage the fulfillment of Jesus’ words; for while she is indeed blessed for bearing God within her womb and nursing him, she is even more blessed for her “Yes” to God’s will that brought Jesus to us in the first place.

Jesus’ words were not only in context to Mary, however. Each of us is called to model ourselves after Mary’s “Yes” to God’s will. Let us all look to the example of our Blessed Mother on this special feast of the Annunciation, that we may say “Yes” to God as she did, for only then will we be truly blessed.

Prayer: Lord, help us to say yes to your will for us with our entire lives, just as your Blessed Mother did.

Closing: In what ways can you better surrender your life to God’s plan, as Mary did, especially in our current circumstances?

Matthew Cantrell is the Eastern Regional Engagement Officer of NET Ministries. NET Ministries challenges young Catholics to love Christ and embrace the life of the Church. Every August, 175 young Catholics aged 18-28 leave behind their jobs, school, family, and friends to devote nine months to serving with the National Evangelization Teams (NET).

March 26- Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Readings; EX 32:7-14; PS 106:19-20, 21-22, 23; JN 5:31-47

Invitation to Prayer: God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.
Reflection: Often times, we can lose sight of the important things in our Faith because of our own pride and emotions. This is exactly what happened in today’s reading from the Gospel of St John, and the Lord reprimanded his persecutors for it. In the verses previous to the where the lectionary picks up, the Lord heals a handicapped man who was unable to lift himself into the healing pools at Bethesda and is accused of breaking the sabbath for performing that miracle.

The Lord in His infinite wisdom beautifully reveals the Trinity to them by hinting that the Father works by healing people in the pool on the sabbath, so He the Son did nothing wrong by helping the man on the sabbath as well. He reminds them that the Scripture they claim to follow and hold dear talk about His coming, and John the Baptist whose word they supposedly trusted at one point says He is the Messiah, but they won’t listen to Christ the Lord Himself proclaim that Truth. The Truth is right in front of their noses and they are too proud to see it. They didn’t listen to the Lord when they probably knew in their hearts that He was right.

In a way, all Christians do this, because we indeed are all sinners. We know God is the source of everything good and of all happiness, but we think we know better at times and say no to Him. We know He’s all we need, but we seek other things because we think we know better. Jesus Christ died on the cross for us to purchase us a chance to join Him in Paradise for all eternity. He wants you join Him with a burning passion that is unfathomable to our finite human minds. St. Therese of Lisieux said “Holiness consists simply in doing God’s will and being just what God wants us to be.” We must listen to the Lord like Therese and not be like the Pharisee’s in the temple who think they knew better than God.

Prayer: Lord, guide me to your ways by choosing your will.

Closing: What are the obstacles in my life that keep me from God’s will and what can I begin doing today to get rid of them.

Josh Vogt is a nursing student and a parishioner at St Ann’s in Hamilton.

March 27-Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Readings: WIS 2:1A, 12-22; PS 34:17-18, 19-20, 21 AND 23; JN 7:1-2, 10, 25-30

Invitation to Prayer: The Lord is close to the brokenhearted..

Reflection: After reading today’s responsorial psalm I am reminded of all the reasons I have prayed with this verse in the past: breakups, illness, job loss, betrayal, unexpected disappointment, times of crises, the list goes on. It has always been helpful to me because, unlike more positive verses, it doesn’t try to explain my hurt away or convince me to feel otherwise. This psalm acknowledges that sadness and despair are valid feelings that need to be, well, felt. What is comforting, however, is the knowledge that God does not shy away from our sadness, and neither does He condemn us for it. Instead, He draws near. Very, very near. So near that one can imagine Him with us in whatever position our pain takes, comforting us in whatever way will bring us the most peace. A hug, a hand on our shoulder, stroking our head, or just sitting or standing next to us, a presence loving and strong.

These days, broken hearts seem to be more likely than not. With so many people dying, ill, afraid and anxious, our lives seem scary and unpredictable. For many of us younger people, this is our first real brush with the sobering reality of serious disease, economic instability, and international crisis. For others it may seem all too familiar, a reminder of something that should have stayed in the past. This will also be the second Sunday of the month during which no public Mass is offered, and that alone has resulted in many broken hearts and despair among the faithful.

How fitting, however, that this psalm is followed immediately by the verse, “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” We as a society have grown accustomed to attending mass every week. We take that simple act for granted, forgetting that for thousands of people in the world (and throughout history) it has never been that easy. Jesus is the Bread of Life, but for persons living in remote areas, where priests are scarce, where Christianity is a punishable offense or where masses are forbidden, the Bread of Life is not so readily available. What is available though, ever-present, comforting and true is the word of God. It is living, and when read with intention the Holy Spirit is present, and it can be just as life-giving as the Eucharist if we let it. Reflecting on that truth this week brought me some peace, and I will continue to spend time thinking about how the word of God in the scriptures can speak life into my tired body and soul, both through personal prayer and through a mass offered on screen.

Prayer: Lord, help me on my journey to share joy, and lift me during my anxieties.

Closing: Shine Christs’ love and be there for others.

Melissa Velez is from Southern California, born and raised, and a current Cincinnati, Ohio transplant. A teacher by education, she now works in social services as a client advocate at St. Vincent de Paul. She is a lover of all things beautiful and educational, most especially poetry, the performing arts, and accomplishing her goal of visiting all 50 states (30 more to go!)

March 28: Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Readings: JER 11:18-20; PS 7:2-3, 9BC-10, 11-12; JN 7:40-53

Invitation to prayer: Lord, open my heart and mind to glimpse your fullness.

Reflection: The crowd disagreed about if Christ was truly the messiah because He didn’t fit each side’s opposing expectations. This reminds me of my relationship with Christ and the Church. As I have navigated my faith while transitioning into young adulthood, I continue to discover that my previous ideas on Christ and the Church were only a glimpse of the fullness in those areas. Like the crowds in the Gospel, I often put God into a box and place my own limitations upon His ways. However, Christ is calling me and each of us to respond differently.

Simply, His fullness is beyond my human understanding. Placing God in a box limits my ability to know, love, and serve Him as my Father and, consequently, to know, love, and serve the people intentionally placed in my life. When I transitioned from full time ministry to nursing, it was a turning point for me in recognizing that I had placed limitations on God. God invited me to see that He is so much more present in the world than I had previously thought. This recognition continues to serve as a touching point as I discern God’s movements in my life. Like Nicodemus and the guards in the Gospel, do we recognize Christ present among us, in unassuming ways? Or do we place our own preconceived ideas on God instead of having an open, humble awareness? Where is God inviting you to experience His fullness more deeply in your life?

Prayer: Father, your ways are above my understanding. You are the fullness of all that is good, true, and beautiful. May I enter deeper into your fullness during this Lent.

Closing: Ask God to open your heart and mind to where His is calling you to experience greater fullness instead of division during this Lent.

Michelle Ragusa returned to Cincinnati in 2018. She is a Registered Nurse at Cincinnati Children’s doing medical consultations for child abuse and neglect cases

March 29: Fifth Sunday of Lent
Readings: EZ 37:12-14; PS 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8.; ROM 8:8-11; JN 11:1-45

Invitation to Prayer: Jesus, you are Lord of heaven and earth, of life and over death. You rose Lazarus from the dead out of love for Him. Let us come to know that same love and to believe more deeply in your life saving power.

Reflection: All of the readings today cry out in unison: the Lord, our God, is Lord over all, even life and death. Ezekiel prophesies that the Lord God will open our graves and rise us from them, giving us new life. Paul preaches of Christ’s raising us from the dead of sin to new life in the Spirit. Jesus himself raises Lazarus from the dead as an act of both love and prophecy. Lazarus’ rising foreshadows Christ’s resurrection and prophesies our own.

We are in a desert time at present, in both our liturgical season and this season of pandemic. We are all crying out like Martha, “Lord, if you had been [here], my brother would not have died.” We are tempted to lose faith, we are worn down by the trials of our current times. We weep for those who have died because of Covid-19 and for those who will die if this is not brought to a swift end. Yet, Martha stops not at weeping, but rouses her spirit to faith by saying, “I know [Lazarus] will rise.” And what is Christ’s answer to her act of faith? He says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Christ declares emphatically: resurrection is not a future event but a person, Jesus Christ, Lord of life and over death. Then Christ walks over to the grave of Lazarus, weeps for love of him, and commands him to “come out!” And Lazarus rises!

That same Lord, Jesus Christ, is present here with us now! He weeps for our present struggle. We do not have a God who is absent during times of crisis, but present with us in the midst of it all, suffering it alongside us. Here with us, we are confident He will save us from our present crisis. Yet, we look not only with human eyes at the suffering around us, but with eyes of faith to the resurrection of the body that is to be ours, if we are in Christ. We know God has the power to end this current pandemic if He wills, and we pray that He does. Yet we remain at peace in God’s love for us, knowing that He would not allow us to suffer anything that would harm us more than it helps us. We know too that we will rise! More than this, we know that resurrection Himself stands by our side in love always.

Prayer: Come Lord Jesus, assure us of your love for us. We yearn for your resurrection at Easter and our own in time, but we know the cross comes first. Heavenly Father, we pray that, if it be your will, take this cup of Covid-19 from us, but not our will, but yours be done!

Closing: Jesus didn’t have to carry the cross alone. Simon helped him, Veronica comforted him, Mary stood by his side. Martha did not bear Lazarus’ death alone, Mary wept alongside her. How are your friends, family, loved ones, neighbors, etc… doing this lent and during this Covid-19 pandemic? Are they bearing the burden of their Lenten penance, the weight of this pandemic on their own? How can you encourage, support, and uphold them?

Benjamin Klare is the Associate Director in the Office for Marriage & Family Life at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. His primary responsibility is coordinating the Archdiocesan Anti-Pornography Initiative.

March 30: Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Readings: DN 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62 OR 13:41C-62; PS 23:1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6; JN 8:1-11

Invitation to prayer: Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.

Reflection: Today’s gospel is the famous story of the woman caught in adultery, and Jesus writing in the sand. Most of us have heard this story a thousand times. I usually think of how angry the Pharisees must have been at Jesus in that moment, or I think of Jesus and the heroic act He had done. But when I think of the woman, my heart aches for her. Surely she had not had an easy life, surely she was so ashamed. Those men, the Pharisees, had no respect for her, but worse still they treated her as if she had no human dignity. Death, for adultery? Well surely we all should be put to death nowadays for different sins we’ve committed. But then, they first man to speak life to her is the Christ. By the time Jesus came into her life, she had probably completely forgotten who she truly was, which is what we do each time we sin, we forget who we are.

And what a tempting time we find ourselves in, to forget who we are, forget what we are here for. Because we are so isolated, and in a sense we feel “cut off” from our Lord, because we cannot receive the sacraments. While we don’t know the name of this woman, her story brings to mind the story of Mary Magdalene. And in this time of isolation, perhaps we are guilt ridden, or angry, but I imagine us coming out of this dark time much like Mary Magdalene at the resurrection of Jesus, in our sadness Jesus will catch us off guard, we will be so excited that we must go and spread his Good Word to everyone. This Lent is much closer to Jesus’ time in the desert than any Lent of my past. During this time of isolation, I will do my best to look towards my Savior, who is loving, and never wants me to forget who I am. I will rest in the fact that I may meet Him outside of the tomb, when the time comes.

Prayer: My dearest Jesus, may I never forget who I am, may I never turn to things that will never satisfy me the way You do.

Closing: Pray for those feeling lonely during this time. Check in on a friend to see how they are doing. Send someone a flower, a treat, or a coffee to cheer them up!

Sarah Rogers: works in the Young Adult and Campus Ministry in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. She is a Cincy native, loves spending my time downtown, either in a historic church or historic building-turned coffee shop.

March 31: Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Readings: NM 21:4-9; PS 102:2-3, 16-18, 19-21; JN 8:21-30

Presence of God: O my Jesus, give me the light of faith to see you crucified and know that you are my saving God.

Reflection: Jesus says When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM. In his words, hear the echo of what the Lord spoke through the prophet Ezekiel from this past Sunday Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people. Keep in mind; it is one and the same God who spoke these two sentences.

This is one of three times in John’s Gospel that Jesus speaks of being lifted up. The first time is in chapter 3. In it he explicitly compares himself to the serpent lifted up by Moses in the desert. In chapter 12, he says that when he is lifted up he will draw all men to himself. This one is sandwiched between the other two in chapter 8. He says it while he is at the feast of booths, which is one of the three great pilgrimage feasts to Jerusalem in the Jewish calendar of that day. During the feast, the people set up small tents for themselves to stay in during the week-long celebration to commemorate their ancestors’ camping in the desert during the Exodus. Imagine a city packed with people all camping in tents, reliving the Exodus journey through this religious feast. Just a paragraph before this Gospel passage, Jesus proclaims that he is the light of the world. Think of the pillar of fire leading the Israelites by night out of Egypt through the desert. Jesus is the Light leading us out of the slavery of sin darkness, the fulfillment of the Exodus. Today God commands Moses to take the very thing that was causing death for the Israelites, the serpents, and set it up as a sign of salvation. Everyone who looked at it was saved from the deadly bite of the serpents. Everyone looking to Jesus on the cross in faith is saved from sin and its sting, death, because seeing with the eyes of faith, they realize that he is the saving God, that he is the One who opens our graves and has us rise from them.

St. Paul says to the Corinthians in his second letter, For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Jesus took the world’s sin on himself, though we must never think that he actually become sin in the sense that the Father would be displeased and punish him, because Jesus says in this same reading today I always do what is pleasing to him. If you seek to become the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, that is, to become pleasing to God the Father, and Jesus says I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father has taught me, then practice the same obedience in faith to our God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Prayer: O Lord, I want to be saved from my sin and to see you, who are from above. Thank you for coming down to me below so that I might see you and be saved. In you, Lord Jesus, and by your grace let me practice the same obedience of the cross, so that I may do what is pleasing to the Father and be counted among His children.

Action: Go before a crucifix. Let Jesus’s eyes fall upon you. Be still and know that He is God.

Marty is the director of Prison Ministry for the Archdiocese. He serves five institutions across the Archdiocese by conducting Catholic programming, leading the Archdiocese Prison Ministry volunteer team, and bringing the sacraments of the Church to the incarcerated.

April 1- Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Readings: DN 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; DANIEL 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56; LK 8:15

Invitation to Prayer: Lord, open the ears of my heart to hear your speak in Sacred Scripture; words that speak of truth and freedom and peace.

Reflection: “If you remain in my word you will truly be my disciples…”. Today’s words from Jesus are a powerful remind to us that one of the ways we can live out our discipleship is by remaining in God’s Word. Hebrews reminds us that, “The word of God is living and effective…” (Heb 4:12). It is alive and powerful and true. It can give us freedom and healing. It is a firm foundation for our lives. When we read and pray Scripture, it is a personal encounter with the One who loves us, Jesus, the Logos, the Word from the beginning (John 1:1).

In this difficult time, when we’re unable to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, let us be nourished by Him and remain in Him through Scripture.

Prayer: Lord, let your words be a lamp unto my feet that guide me into a deeper encounter with you and allow me to live my discipleship more fervently. Amen.

Action: How might you incorporate praying Scripture more into your daily prayer? Take some extra time today to pray Lectio Divina with the Gospel. Need help? Step-by-step guide or a quick video overview.

Christen Aquino is the Managing Director of VIA (Youth Evangelization & Discipleship). She has served as a youth minister for over ten years in both Georgia and Ohio.

April 2, Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Readings: Genesis 17: 3-9, 105:4-5, 6-7, 8-9, John 8: 51-59.

Invitation to Prayer: I invite you to this most important act in praying the scripture. When God speaks… listen! So, let’s listen in our hearts as we slowly read and reflect on His Word.

Reflection: Wow, isn’t it interesting what the Lord has had to say to us through this most intriguing and sometimes stressful time in regards to Coronavirus. I realize we might even be sick of hearing about it, but let’s remember the timing of God’s Word in scripture was set long before any virus decided to jump into the scene of our everyday life.
Between today’s Psalm and the opening line of the Gospel, God speaks poignantly:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.”

“When Abram prostrated himself, God spoke to him. My covenant with you is this…”

“The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.”

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

His Word is the beginning of the Covenant God made with us. And while we are not able to be physically present to Mass, we can engage in the deep reality of Mass through a Spiritual Communion. It is actually called an “Act of Spiritual Communion”. We act in the way we are called to live. And we discover what that looks like through our acts and actions.

Prayer: Father, please give me the grace to listen before I act so I know how I am to act. May my actions reflect your Word spoken to me now and through the ages. Please give me the power that flowed forth from your pierced side that equals and surpasses the power and weight of the tasks before me.

Closing: I want to send you off with a quote from St. Solanus Casey that I have found inspiring and invigorating in these days:

“Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger people. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks.”

Mark Hollcraft serves as Eastern Regional Director for NET Ministries. He has been involved in Youth Ministry in a variety of ways for 24 years. Being married to Meredith Hollcraft with  6 children has been his greatest adventure… so far.

April 3-Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Readings: JER 20:10-13; PS 18:2-3A, 3BC-4, 5-6, 7; JN 10:31-42

Invitation to prayer: Lord Jesus, keep my eyes open to the traps I might fall into.

Reflection: A well-made snare is easy to fall into. When I think traps, I’m reminded of the old Warner Brothers cartoon shorts (Looney Tunes), and specifically of one Mr. Wile E. Coyote. He was always coming up with traps, designs, and schemes to ensnare his inimitable nemesis, the Road Runner. His persistent, Acme-product-fueled quest for this crafty bird was animated by the hope that one day, the Road Runner would slip up.

Even though the coyote was the focus of the cartoons, you never rooted for him. You understood that he was the enemy of the story. In the readings for today, we see the craftiness and persistence of Jesus’ enemies. They are lying in wait to trap Him, much like those described in the reading from Jeremiah. They want Him to be able to accuse Him of saying the wrong things, or taking the wrong action. Jesus, however, always has the right response, because Truth is on His side.

Right now, in our world, we are fighting against an enemy that is invisible. Yes, in some sense we can say that enemy is the Coronavirus and the chaos surrounding it. Still, there is a deeper reality: the enemy we fight against, who waits to see us slip up, is the devil. Sin, darkness, disease, and brokenness are all a consequence of Original Sin – when mankind fell into his trap. We have an enemy that is waiting to see if we fall into the pits of despair, or fail to reach out in love to those who need us right now. He’s waiting to see if we give into temptation, or give up on our Faith altogether.

He tempted Jesus too, in the desert. He tried to entice the Lord with the most alluring promises, and Jesus would not give in. Our Lord Jesus has won the victory – over temptation, sin, and even this disease that we face. We need only remember the words of the Psalmist: “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, these are difficult times. I believe that You have won the victory for us over sin and death. I call upon You in my time of trouble, and know that you hear me.

Closing: Take a moment of prayer today. Reflect on your journey through the desert of Lent. What have been your temptations? What are the traps that have been prepared for you. Plot a course to successfully navigate to the end of your journey, remembering to call upon the help of the Lord.

Bradley Barnes has served as the Coordinator of Youth Ministry at Guardian Angels Parish since 2014.

April 4: Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Readings: EZ 37:21-28; JEREMIAH 31:10, 11-12ABCD, 13; JN 11:45-56

Invitation to Prayer: “And there He remained with His disciples.”

Reflection: I almost laughed when I read this line in today’s gospel, “Jesus no longer walked about in public…”. Who knew THAT would be the line in scripture I most connected with today.
We are a generation of the Church who have been raised to value community, networking, outreach and relationships… We’ve been raised to make everything personal. And now we learn to apply those values to daily life in a season of self-distancing, isolation and quarantine. So let’s make this season – personal.

“Jesus no longer walked about in public…But… he remained with his disciples.”

I don’t understand it, but I see God’s hand in sending all of us – Home. God, who makes “all things work together for good”, has chosen now – to call us to a mandatory stay-cation with the people in our homes. So while Jesus avoided crowds and remained with his disciples, with whom do we remain?

In the Urbi et Orbi address Pope Francis offered on March 27, 2020 he said of us in this season, “We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed… each of us in need of comforting the other.”

In living this stay-at-home order, may we hear Jesus invite us, “I want you to be with your families. I want you to serve the members of your own home. I want you to receive me so intimately (through prayer and the sacraments available to us…) & then go out. But not so far out that you don’t see the people living next to you – on the couch, in the kitchen, alone in their rooms. I want you to see them. See each other, and remain with them.”

Prayer: You, Lord, have been invited into more homes (through online mass & adoration, worship nights & Christian concerts) than maybe ever before. We fling wide open our doors for you & usher you into the center of our families! As we look for you, help us see with fresh eyes the people you’ve given to us – to love and be loved by them.

Closing: The next time you feel prompted to spend intentional time with someone in your home, to reach out, offer yourself – your time & your presence: listen and respond to that prompting. Remain with Jesus by remaining with them.

Abbie Kohler is a native of Minnesota who moved to Cincinnati in 2017 to work for NET ministries Eastern Region Office. Abbie has over 12 years of youth ministry experience & Currently volunteers on the core team for St. Gertrudes High School Ministry in Madeira. I like skyline and graeters… But I still have a soft spot for a tater tot hot dish!

Sunday, April 5, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Readings: MT 21:1-11, IS 50:4-7, PS 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24., PHIL 2:6-11, MT 26:14—27:66

Invitation to Prayer: Lord Jesus, your hour has come. May my worship of you be the palms at your feet. You are King. I praise you.

Reflection:
I am afraid to die. I don’t know what fears me more, the suffering of it or the mysterious hereafter. I am bound to my belief in the Heaven that lies beyond the grasp of my two hands. So I sometimes am tempted to doubt.

Pope Benedict XVI compares belief to the shipwrecked missionary, in Paul Claudel’s Soulier de Satin, who finds himself tied to a mast on a drifting piece of wood after pirates have sunken his ship. He is bound to this mast as if bound to the cross. Yet he floats over an obscure abyss. He is secured to Christ while suspended over the depths of uncertainty. This is, at least at times, the experience of faith.

I think it is ok to admit when we are afraid. Of whatever is fearing us. Especially when it’s uncertainty.

I recently discovered what, I believe, is the most adequate response in the face of uncertainty. I found it in the movie A Hidden Life. If you have not seen it, you ought to. It tells the life of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter and his wife Fani. The two lived a beautiful existence, with their three daughters, farming in the Austrian Alps …for a time. Then, Franz receives the sentence of death for conscientiously objecting the Nazis. A bitter agony assails the couple as they await his execution. Near the end of the film, Franz sits in a room with three guards, a lawyer, and a priest; all have unsuccessfully implored him to make the oath to Hitler to spare his life and his family the grief of his loss. Across from him sits his wife. He asks her, with a countenance of deep pain, if what he is doing is right. Her response stunned me. She answers neither yes nor no. Instead, with an anguished, uncertain, but trusting and strengthened gaze, she tells him:

“I love you. Whatever you do, whatever comes, I’m with you. Always.”When we fear, when we doubt, when we don’t understand, when uncertainty abounds, when the pain is piercing, when Jesus goes to die, and when He invites us to join Him, can we tell him:

Whatever you are allowing, whatever you are doing, whatever comes, I’m with you. Always.

Prayer: Jesus, I love you. I trust you. This week, you approach your Passion. Please, give me the courage to stand by you, to be faithful, to become an offering with you for the sake of souls. I love you.

Closing: You began Lent with a plan for yourself. Jesus began Lent with a plan for you as well. What has He brought you to? Whatever it is, He knows the good He will bring from it. Are you with Him?

Jeff Stephens is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. He is currently in his fourth year of formation at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary.

April 6 Monday of Holy Week
Readings: IS 42:1-7, 27:1, 2, 3, 13-14, JN 12:1-11

Invitation to Prayer: Holy Spirit, I know that every good and perfect gift comes from above. Grant me a holy detachment from things of this world and move me to surrender all that I have to You.

Reflection: “liter of costly perfumed oil…worth three hundred days’ wages”

Scrolls and ink weren’t cheap back in the time of the Apostles, so the fact that John makes it a point to mention twice how expensive the oil was that Mary used to perfume Jesus’ feet really tells us a lot about how the meaning he is trying to get across with her generosity.

If you ask my husband, he will say that I can be a cheapskate. I wouldn’t necessarily call it that; I would call it being frugal with money. That is what years of paying off student debt has taught me! It is good to be financially prudent. In Scripture and even in the secular world we see examples of people misusing money and living beyond their means. However, sometimes I can see this mindset crossing over into my generosity (or lack thereof) when it comes to the Church, and almost becoming greed and miser-y. We are called to give of our time, talent, & treasure to the Church. Tithing is one of the precepts of the Church. Our physical Churches rely on our contribution to keep their doors open, to give to the needy, to pay for employees who serve us, and to continue to provide beautiful liturgies that elevate our senses and lift our hearts and minds to Christ.

Now, tithing does not mean a strict “10% of our income.” But we are called to give a portion of our wealth back to God. It can be easy to make excuses: I am paying off my loans, I don’t have a lot of extra income right now, I am between jobs, etc. It can be hard to justify giving money to the Church, which has recently been the source of scandal, when there are so many good causes out there helping the poor, the homeless, the destitute. Judas had the same question! However, Jesus tells us, “You will always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.” Wow. He is not saying NOT to give to the poor, but rather He is showing us the importance of returning our treasure to the Giver of all good things – the Source of our wealth.

We are called to surrender to the Lord all that we have – holding nothing back.

Prayer: Blessed Mother Mary, I am all Thine, and all that I have is Thine. I know that you will take whatever I offer to you and turn it into something pleasing to Your Son; something much greater than anything I could have imagined. Jesus, I surrender myself to You, holding nothing back and trusting that You will take care of everything. Amen.

Closing: Use this last week of Lent to really examine what in your life you are holding back from giving totally to the Lord. Consider starting this life-changing Novena of Surrender: https://www.catholicdoors.com/prayers/novenas/p03530.htm

Sarah Rose is the Coordinator of Young Adult Ministry at St. Cecilia Church in Oakley. She graduated from Franciscan University is 2016 with a Bachelors in Theology & Catechetics, and is happily married to her college sweetheart John Paul. They welcomed their first child, Judah Zion, in 2019. She loves fictional novels, the saints (especially Blessed Chiara Luce Badano), & sharing conversation over a good cup of coffee.

 

April 7: Tuesday of Holy Week
Readings: IS 49:1-6; PS71:1-2, 3-4A, 5AB-6AB, 15 AND 17; JN 13:21-33, 36-38

Invitation to Prayer: Lord, help us to trust in you!

Reflection: In today’s readings we hear several perplexing juxtapositions that invite us to, nevertheless, trust in the Lord and his plan. In the first reading from Isaiah, the prophet describes the Lord as having made him a sharp-edged sword that is concealed, a polished arrow that is hidden in a quiver, and a servant who is to be a light to the nations. These images stand as contradictions of a sort. What weapon is useful in hiding? What servant is a leader? The theme continues in the Psalm where we proclaim “I will sing of your salvation” while also crying out for the Lord’s safety, refuge, and rescue. How can I beg for salvation and sing of it at the same time?

Finally, in the Gospel we hear part of John’s account of the Last Supper. We witness Judas’ turning aside to betray Jesus. We hear Jesus preparing his disciples for what is to come. But what he says should catch us as perplexing: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him…. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.” We all know that he is referring to his crucifixion, but how can this be glorifying?!

Right before these words from Jesus, as Judas is slipping out to betray him, John reminds us: “And it was night.” I think about my own children. The time when I often have to do the most consoling of them is at night. This is when their worries, their fears, and their perspective on reality is most uncertain. Weird sounds, a storm outside, a feeling of aloneness. Yet, what do I say to them: “Don’t worry. I’m here. Trust me. Everything will be fine.”

The very thing that is perplexing about these juxtapositions is also an invitation that we make to our own children, friends, and loved ones so instinctively: “Trust in me; it will be alright.” Today’s readings and the perplexing events of both our current world and the Gospel leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion ask the same of us: “Trust in the Lord; sing of His salvation.”

Prayer: Lord, we pray that you would give us a deep faith and an unfailing trust in your Providence. May we rejoice in times of uncertainty and rest in the knowledge of the goodness of your plan. May we see your glory and share in it, now and in the age to come. Amen.

Closing: Consider what is most perplexing or confusing in your life right now. How are you trusting or not trusting the Lord with that? Make an effort today to look for his peace in these areas of uncertainty.

Matt Reinkemeyer is the Director of Development Operations for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Stewardship Office. His passion is for sharing vision and mission rooted in the Gospel with others and inviting them to be a part of it.

April 8, Wednesday of Holy Week
Readings: IS 50:4-9A, PS 69:8-10, 21-22, 31 AND 33-34, MT 26:14-25

Invitation to Prayer: Jesus, help me to return to your merciful love when I turned away from you through sin.

Reflection: Since the days of the early Church Wednesdays and Fridays have always been days of fasting and abstinence, particularly during the liturgical season of Lent. Most of us are familiar with fasting on Fridays, but why Wednesdays? Today’s Gospel reading and this Wednesday of Holy Week hold the key to understanding this beautiful tradition we share. Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus, goes to the chief priests and offers to sell out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. He decides to sell the fulfilling riches of a relationship with Christ for the passing riches of this world. Before we judge Judas too harshly here, let us look within our own hearts. How many times have we abandoned or traded our relationship with Christ through grace for the seeming pleasures of this world? We do this every time we sin, especially through mortal sin.

When we betray or deny Christ we are not alone, “all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God” St. Paul says in Romans 3:23. Even St. Peter denies Christ three times. Yet, Peter is a saint while Judas is not, how can this be so? We see here two paths we can take when we find ourselves separated from Christ, the path of despair and the path of reconciliation, seen respectively through Judas and Peter. Judas initially regrets his betrayal of Jesus and returns to the chief priests in the Gospel, “‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.’ They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, Judas departed; and he went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:4-5) Judas initially repents and tries to undo his actions, but when his attempt fails he falls into the ultimate despair. Peter finds himself in a similar situation upon uttering his third denial, Jesus looks at Peter and Peter flees the scene, weeping bitterly. Only through an encounter with the Risen Christ in Chapter 21 of John’s Gospel do we see his threefold acceptance of the love of Jesus and his restoration into right relationship with Christ. The difference between Judas’ and Peter’s repentance is apparent: Judas tries to fix and undo his sins by his own power and Peter weeps and turns to the power of forgiveness and healing that can only be achieved through the Crucified and Risen Lord.

This is why we fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. On Wednesdays, because of man’s response to God, which is sin and our need for repentance. On Fridays, because of God’s response to man, which is grace and reconciliation. We cannot achieve repentance of our sins by our own power, but only through Christ’s power can we find our hearts truly healed from the wound of sin caused by our betrayal. Let us turn like Peter in our sorrow and find joy in the affirmation “Yes Lord, you know that I love you”. (John 21:15-17)

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Closing: What sins do you still hold onto in your heart, trying to make up for by your own power? Pray today that you can be freed and healed from those sins by surrendering them to the merciful love of Christ.

Matthew Cantrell is the Eastern Regional Engagement Officer of NET Ministries. NET Ministries challenges young Catholics to love Christ and embrace the life of the Church. Every August, 175 young Catholics aged 18-28 leave behind their jobs, school, family, and friends to devote nine months to serving with the National Evangelization Teams (NET).

April 9- Holy Thursday
Readings: EX 12:1-8, 11-14, PS 116:12-13, 15-16BC, 17-18, 1 COR 11:23-26, JN 13:1-15

Invitation to prayer: Lord, only say the word so my soul shall be healed.

Reflection: Today is the start of the Triduum. On Holy Thursday we celebrate the Last Supper, what a fundamental part of our faith. A main character in this gospel reading is Peter, he seems to bust into a lot of the readings within the Passion and assert himself as a main character, with his bold accusations and righteous anger. I love Peter, I feel akin to him. When Jesus tries to wash his feet Peter is so dramatic, “Lord, You will never wash my feet.” Can you imagine telling the Lord you will never let Him do something for you? My gut reaction is, “no I would never tell my Lord that.” But I do it every day! I believe other things or people will do and fulfill things for me that only my Savior could.

Then Peter goes to the opposite extreme, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” And Jesus basically says, dude calm down! “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed…” Peter can just listen to the small promptings it seems, he must go above and beyond what Christ is asking, which is impossible. And I am so totally Peter. What Peter seems to not understand at first, is the deeper meaning behind the simple actions Jesus is asking for. At the end of the reading Jesus says, “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow…” See, Peter? It isn’t about clean feet and hands, it’s about service to others. Jesus often has to put Peter in his place and bring him out of his own head to show him what He really means. And boy oh boy does he have to do the same to me.

If the story ended here, we would probably think of Peter as a punk, hopefully it clicked for him one day. But we know the end of this story, Jesus rises and he raises Peter out of himself to become the rock of Catholicism. If you are stubborn like me, I think we can take comfort that we are in good company. And we can offer that to Jesus, because He will transform it into something beautiful. If only we would enter into this Triduum and listen to His soft promptings. He has done the labor, we only need to receive.

Prayer: From the false security that I have what it takes Deliver me, Jesus.

Closing: Enter into this Triduum with an open heart and open arms. Jesus wants us to grieve with Him so we can rejoice in the season of Easter! I encourage you to pray the Litany of Trust. https://sistersoflife.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Mobile-Litany-of-Trust.pdf

Sarah Rogers: works in the Young Adult and Campus Ministry in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. She is a Cincy native, loves spending my time downtown, either in a historic church or historic building-turned coffee shop.

April 10-Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion
Readings: IS 52:13—53:12, PS 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25, HEB 4:14-16; 5:7-, JN 18:1—19:42

Presence of God: Lord Jesus Crucified, allow me truly to stand with Mary at Your Holy Cross, and to unite my cross and my sufferings to Yours.

Reflection: Everyone who reads this is suffering something. If that reality was distant from any of us before the pandemic, now it is right in front of our faces. It’s as if we were standing two inches from a picture on the wall; it’s too close for us to see the entire picture. Try as we might, we are realizing our own powerlessness before the grand scheme of things. It is humbling; the thought of being powerless is particularly repugnant to the proud modern mind. No, this storm has come upon us at sea and we are in the thick of it. The only way out is through.

Now, humbled to the ground, shaken to our core, and at our knowing’s end, we might finally enter in faith into the profound mystery of suffering and its answer, Jesus Christ crucified. Indeed, He is the answer to all things, which we will see if we let go of the notion that an answer is merely a number that comes after the equals sign in a math equation. No, He is a person, or rather a Person, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son, consubstantial with the Father. It is truly God who hangs on the cross, and truly Man. He takes all human suffering on himself for all time, because he is eternal God, outside of space and time, and came into time by taking our human nature to Himself so that he could suffer. From the cross, he sees every single person who ever has been, is, or will be, whom he creates, and he bears each one’s sufferings and offers it to the Father. Why? So as to redeem it. Jesus came to save us from sin and its ultimate effect, death, eternal separation from God. Yet the other effect of sin remains, suffering. Why? So that, united to Jesus Christ in faith as members of His body, the Church, we can play an active role in the redemption of the world, conquer sin and death in ourselves, and be united ever more perfectly in love to God. This is no wishful thinking or make-believe on our part. This is the truth. To those who will enter into the mystery of the cross, the truth will set you free. Jesus commands us to take up our cross daily and follow Him if we will be His disciples. What is our cross but our sufferings? Jesus knows your suffering. Give it to Him on the cross.

Prayer: My Lord and my God, see my sufferings. Give me the strength to bear them for love of You, as You bore them for love of me. I offer You my whole self, even my sufferings. Great Redeemer, make even the bitterness of this suffering sweet by the wood of Your cross, that in all things I may glorify you for all eternity. Amen

Action: Reverently read today’s readings, and see in it your own sufferings born by Christ, and make an act of love for Him, and offer your sufferings for the sake of someone else.

Marty is the director of Prison Ministry for the Archdiocese. He serves five institutions across the Archdiocese by conducting Catholic programming, leading the Archdiocese Prison Ministry volunteer team, and bringing the sacraments of the Church to the incarcerated.

 

April 11th: Holy Saturday / Easter Vigil
Readings: GN 1:1—2:2, PS 104:1-2, 5-6, 10, 12, 13-14, 24, 35, EX 14:15—15:1. EX 15:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 17-18, ROM 6:3-11, PS 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23, MT 28:1-10

Invitation to Prayer: Heavenly Father, in this time of uncertainty — both in regard to the COVID-19 Crisis and this Holy Saturday, being caught between the death of Our Lord and His Resurrection — help me to enter into the mystery knowing that even though I can’t see You, You are at work in my life and in the world. Help me to trust in you and find hope and encouragement in Your words.

Read & Pray with Matthew 28: 1-10

Reflection: Today we celebrate Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil. While praying through this passage, I was brought back to the Tomb of Jesus (in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem), where I spent an hour last summer reflecting on what Holy Saturday into Easter Sunday morning must have been like for Mary of Magdala. Was it a time of waiting with hope in the midst of uncertainty? Or was she caught in despair and fear as she went home to celebrate the Sabbath? *What was it like to meet the Risen Lord and to not recognize Him? *What was it like to have Him call her by name?
*cf. John 20: 11-18

Matthew’s account is the closest description of something like witnessing the Resurrection itself. What a sight it must have been for the two Mary’s to behold! In the midst of the awe, wonder, and fear of the miracle, the angel reminds them both, “Do not be afraid” and then adds for Jesus “is going before you.” While fear still remained in their hearts, surely some uncertainty and confusion, they left overjoyed! I imagine the rest of the fear dissipates when the two women lay eyes on the Risen Christ who says to them again, “Do not be afraid.” For fear cannot stand in the presence of the Lord.

“Do not be afraid.” These words should give us comfort and peace. There is no place we can go that God isn’t already there. He is leading a way for us; there is nothing to fear. He is Lord over all things, including death. Let us, like Mary of Magdala and the other Mary, share this joy and hope with others: that, because God loves us, God has not abandoned us but is going before us, and not COVID, not death, nor any fear or anxiety we have can stop Him.

For Personal Reflection:
– During this particular time that we are living, there is a lot of uncertainty about tomorrow, about this summer, about a year from now. In this time of waiting, are you waiting with certain hope and trust that God is at work or are you giving in to despair and fear?
– What has God been doing in your life during this Season of Lent? How has He been transforming you during this desert season?
– In particular, where do you need the Lord to go before you? What fears or obstacles do you need Him to remove?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, give me the strength and courage and perseverance to seek you above all things. Breathe into me new life this Easter Season that I might live with a new hope in You.

Action: What is one way that you can practically show the Lord that you trust in Him? Do it.

Christen Aquino is the Managing Director of VIA (Youth Evangelization & Discipleship). She has served as a youth minister for over ten years in both Georgia and Ohio.

April 12: Easter Sunday, The Resurrection of the Lord
Readings: ACTS 10:34A, 37-43, PS 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23, COL 3:1-4, JN 20:1-9

Invitation to Prayer: Lord, Grant us the grace to live in the freedom of your Resurrection

Reflection: Happy Easter! He is risen!

J.R.R. Tolkein coined a phrase that was the basis for his writing of Lord of the Rings. That phase is Eucatastrophe. This is an unexpected happening that brings goodness out of devastation. In letter 89 he stated the effect of this sudden happy turn is so that joy can penetrate our hearts to the depth of our being. He concluded that the resurrection was the greatest Eucatastrophe in history. At the moment when all seemed lost, Mary Magdalen found the empty tomb and brought Peter and John.

When they entered the empty tomb. They were greeted only by burial cloths. These cloths are in two different locations which means that Jesus purposely put them in two separate locations. The fact that he is not bound by the burial cloths show us that he has passed through death and it no longer has power over him.

This should give us joy on this Easter Sunday. Lent has been a lot more penitential than we expected. We are still bound to our homes right now. Jesus is not. He can truly raise us up out of the things we are going through. As St. Paul says, “If you were then raised with Christ, seek what is above.” We can still live our faith, we can still love our families, call those who need to talk, take care of those who are in need being safe and taking precautions. We can still do these things. It is because Jesus has risen from the dead. That joy can still affect us to our soul and bring goodness of our devastation. Let us today remember that Jesus took on the sin of the world in his death on the cross and peacefully rose from the dead. I pray his peace be in your hearts today.

Prayer: Jesus we ask that your victory over sin and death be the greatest joy of our life.

Closing: Spend some time today thanking God for the blessings he has given you this Lent.

Father Brian Phelps was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. He is currently pastor at St. Francis of Assisi in Centerville

 

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