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    The Lenten Devotional

    March 24, 2020

    Tuesday, March 24, 2020 

    St. Oscar Romero was assassinated forty years ago today, an early casualty of the Salvadoran Civil War that included the brutal massacre and disappearance of at least 75,000 Salvadoran civilians. Two weeks before, Romero told a reporter, "I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I will rise again in the people of El Salvador."

    Just last month, I had the privilege of spending ten days in El Salvador with the Ignatian Colleagues Program. I witnessed Romero's purpose, strength, love, and compassion live through the Salvadoran people, who despite decades of brutal violence and abject poverty still emanate a joy, warmth, and generosity of spirit that is inspiring.

    Romero's presence remains at every turn in El Salvador. People refer to him as "Monsignor" because that is what they called him in life or "the Saint of the people" even years before the Catholic Church chose to officially venerate him. Survivors work to protect the reality of Romero's life and death from the mythology of his sainthood. They fear the sanitation his memory, that the repression and violence will be forgotten because he was canonized.

    Their resilience could serve as a model for all who presently are suffering.

    Angelica of Tepecoyo ran a soup kitchen for children, but her funding was cut when increased violence led humanitarian organizations to flee. Angelica converted the site into a school to offer kids a space to study English and computers, do arts and crafts, and form community. Many of these children have suffered traumatic loss and abuse in their families: 93% of children in El Salvador test at war-time levels for PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Yet, the children I played with spent the morning trying to make me laugh because they were amused by my giggle.

    The most profound connections for me were with the students from the UCA (The University of Central America). While these stories are difficult for us to hear, imagine what it must feel like for them to face this information. This is their home and their lives. Still, they spent the week teaching us songs, inviting us into their home for dinner, and helping us process and reflect on our experiences. Their accompaniment kept the consequences of what we were witnessing in the forefront at all times. The strength, compassion, and joy of these young people – Adriana, Ale, Angie, Claudia, Lucy, Michelle, and Nelson – was humbling and inspiring.

    Over and over, the people I encountered professed being challenged and encouraged by their martyrs – by Rutilio Grande, Monsignor Romero, our UCA Jesuits, and the US churchwomen – to continue to work toward justice, truth, and reconciliation so that they can create a context for peace and justice among all in El Salvador

    How might we be challenged and encouraged by the people of El Salvador to work toward justice for the most vulnerable and through a process of truth and reconciliation in our present contexts?

    Teresa Grettano

    Associate Professor

    Department of English and Theatre

    Director of First-Year Writing

    Director of The Ellacuría Initiative

    Monday, March 23, 2020 

    Sunday, March 22, 2020 

    Psalm 23

    A psalm of David.

    1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
       he leads me beside quiet waters,
    3 he refreshes my soul.
       He guides me along the right paths
        for his name's sake.
    4 Even though I walk
       through the darkest valley,[a]
       I will fear no evil,
       for you are with me;
       your rod and your staff,
        they comfort me.
    5 You prepare a table before me
        in the presence of my enemies.
       You anoint my head with oil;
       my cup overflows.
    6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
        all the days of my life,
       and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
        forever.

    I have always been particularly enamored with the psalm that we find in today's liturgy. Psalm 23 is arguably the most popular and recognizable of the 150 psalms given to us in the bible. What I love most about the dynamic of this particular psalm is that the initiative and action comes wholly from God's side of the relationship. Reading it brings me great comfort because its words remind me that when times get tough that God's Spirit is still taking the initiative and leading me to places where my soul will be refreshed and find rest. My sole part of this relationship is to have faith.

    As we confront this unprecedented moment in our community's history, let us use psalm 23 as a daily reminder that God is with us even as we face our deepest fears and anxieties. As the psalmist proclaims: God is leading us along the right paths for His name's sake. Therefore, as we walk through the "valley of darkness" the current moment allots, let us take the words the ancient psalmist gave us and use them to comfort each other in our time of need. Amen.

    Rev. Patrick Rogers, S.J.
    Executive Director, The Jesuit Center

    Saturday, March 21, 2020 

    If the gift of piety makes us grow in relation to and in communion with God and leads us to live as his children, at the same time it helps us to pass this love on to others as well and to recognize them as our sisters and brothers. And then, yes, we will be moved by feelings of piety - not pietism! - in relation to those around us and to those whom we encounter every day. Why do I say "not pietism"? Because some think that to be pious is to close one's eyes, to pose like a picture and pretend to be a saint .... This is not the gift of piety. The gift of piety means to be truly capable of rejoicing with those who rejoice, of weeping with those who weep, of being close to those who are lonely or in anguish, of correcting those in error, of consoling the affiliated, of welcoming and helping those in need. The gift of piety is closely tied to gentleness. The gift of piety that the Holy Spirit gives us makes us gentle, makes us calm, patient, at peace with God, at the service of others with gentleness.
     
    - Pope Francis

    Friday, March 20, 2020 

    If the gift of piety makes us grow in relation to and in communion with God and leads us to live as his children, at the same time it helps us to pass this love on to others as well and to recognize them as our sisters and brothers. And then, yes, we will be moved by feelings of piety - not pietism! - in relation to those around us and to those whom we encounter every day. Why do I say "not pietism"? Because some think that to be pious is to close one's eyes, to pose like a picture and pretend to be a saint .... This is not the gift of piety. The gift of piety means to be truly capable of rejoicing with those who rejoice, of weeping with those who weep, of being close to those who are lonely or in anguish, of correcting those in error, of consoling the affiliated, of welcoming and helping those in need. The gift of piety is closely tied to gentleness. The gift of piety that the Holy Spirit gives us makes us gentle, makes us calm, patient, at peace with God, at the service of others with gentleness.
     
    - Pope Francis

    Thursday, March 19, 2020

    My favorite day in March comes just two days after that famed saint whose name graces Scranton's parade day. Today, the great solemnity of St. Joseph, is celebrated in my family (and those of many other Italian-Americans) with great joy, excitement, and, of course, food.


    It seems odd then, that for all the reverence and respect we give St. Joseph, we never hear much about (or from) him in the Bible. And yet, in his own quiet way, St. Joseph epitomizes what St. Ignatius teaches us – that love ought to show itself in deeds more than words. His acceptance of and obedience to God's will in caring for Mary and becoming the foster father of Jesus speaks volumes to his humility, his courage, and his faith. He is shown to be a loving and dedicated parent – protecting Mary and Jesus from Herod's cruelty, searching for his lost son in Jerusalem, and teaching Jesus the trade of the tekton, a builder or carpenter.

    For me, the example of St. Joseph is mirrored in the lives of the Josephs that I've known. My father, grandfather, father-in-law, and others who have worked tirelessly and without complaint to care for their families, friends, and communities.

    And so it's fitting that his feast day falls in the middle of Lent, a season not only of preparation, but of action. Let us look to St. Joseph and his example, that we may continue "to give and not to count the cost" as we wait to celebrate the Resurrection of the One he loved as his own.

    Viva La Tavola di San Giuseppe! 

    Joe Sorbera, III '08
    Member – Alumni Society Advisory Board

    Thursday, March 19th, 2020 

    "Try to keep your soul always in peace and quiet, always ready for whatever our Lord may wish to work in you. It is certainly a higher virtue of the soul, and a greater grace, to be able to enjoy the Lord in different times and different places than in only one."
    - St. Ignatius of Loyola

     

    This is often the work of the spiritual life: to quiet ourselves and limit distractions so that we might hear God's voice, active in our lives and present in the world. Whether we go on retreat to or travel to a foreign country on service, we are attempting to free ourselves from our normal routines and expectations so that we may experience God in different ways and in different places – different than the life that we are used to living.

    Now we are being asked to do two very different things at the same time. We are being asked to slow down and simplify our lives – a lot – and limit our interactions with others while simultaneously intensifying the stresses, anxieties, and fears caused by the world around us. To restate the obvious, there are far more questions and unknowns in the world right now than there are certainties. 

    But that is exactly where we are called to be at this moment. We are reminded, or perhaps awakened, to the reality that we are not always in control of our lives and we have not been given a choice in the matter. It's easy to read St. Ignatius' quote at the beginning in a light-hearted and casual way within the context of our "normal" lives. We are far from our normal lives.

    St. Ignatius led a complicated life and knew that ours too would be complicated and hard and uncertain. He expected this of our reality. He also knew that grace could be found in these times and that we would be called to find God within the chaos and hardship. Here we are.

    We are not going to have answers for a long time. We don't know where the stock market is heading or when our favorite bar or restaurant is going to reopen. Most community events, including Mass, are being held in abeyance. We aren't even sure when we will see our students and colleagues again. Most importantly, and perhaps overlooked or dismissed at these early stages, we don't know if our friends or loved ones will get sick from the virus at some point. 

    However, we remain a community of faith connected through a common mission even when we are physically and emotionally separated. We have served together in many ways: from academic departments and University committees to local service and international programs. We work together, pray together, serve together, and mourn together. We know each other's families. We know what brings us joy and what brings us sadness. We are connected in so many ways and we can hold each other up and care for one another during this time – a text, a call, a prayer. Our connections aren't lost during this time. 

    St. Ignatius and his early companions knew what it was like to be separated from each other and the sadness it created and they never lost sight that grace was always present in these times. In a letter sent to Ignatius from Japan, St. Francis Xavier offered his best friend insight that speaks to us directly at this uncertain and anxious time. He reminds his friend Ignatius that we are called to hear a different voice and to offer a different response.

    "Anxious and uncertain times would certainly stir most to meditate on spiritual realities and to listen actively to what God is saying to them. They would forget their own desires, their human affairs, and give themselves over entirely to God's will and His choice. They would cry out with all their heart: Lord, I am here! What do you want me to do? Send me anywhere you like."

    This is where we have been sent. Our desires and hopes have been put on hold. Our reality is much different than expected. May we be attentive to what God is asking of us and may we have the strength to respond to it.

    Ryan Sheehan
    Assistant Director, The Jesuit Center

    Tuesday, March 17, 2020 

    The Prayer of St. Patrick

    I arise today
    Through the strength of heaven;
    Light of the sun,
    Splendor of fire,
    Speed of lightning,
    Swiftness of the wind,
    Depth of the sea,
    Stability of the earth,
    Firmness of the rock. 

    I arise today
    Through God's strength to pilot me;
    God's might to uphold me,
    God's wisdom to guide me,
    God's eye to look before me,
    God's ear to hear me,
    God's word to speak for me,
    God's hand to guard me,
    God's way to lie before me,
    God's shield to protect me,
    God's hosts to save me
    Afar and anear,
    Alone or in a multitude.

    Christ shield me today
    Against wounding
    Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
    Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
    Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
    Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
    Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
    Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
    Christ in the eye that sees me,
    Christ in the ear that hears me. 

    I arise today
    Through the mighty strength
    Of the Lord of creation.

    Monday, March 16, 2020 

    Sunday, March 15, 2020 

    Have a Drink On Me!

    On the Third Sunday of Lent, parishes who have members among "the elect" (those who are unbaptized but are in the final stages of preparation to celebrate the Easter sacraments) celebrate what is called the First Scrutiny. Some years, even we at the U have members of the elect. No matter what year of the lectionary cycle it is, the celebration of the First Scrutiny always uses the readings we hear today. The woman of Samaria with whom Jesus converses at the well is not only a model for the elect during their final stage of purification, but is a model for all of us who acknowledge our need for continuing transformation into the Christians we hope to be. And so we pray:

    Lord Jesus, 
    Like the woman of Samaria
    May we always review our lives
    Before Christ
    And acknowledge where we have
    Caused separation.
    May we be liberated
    From the spirit of mistrust
    That prevents real communion.
    May we long for the living water
    That only You can provide,
    A water that quenches our thirst
    For wholeness,
    A water that can't be purchased in a bottle.
    May we not only accept the Son of God
    As our savior,
    But as our teacher as well –
    As the one who can tell us
    Everything that we have done.
    And may we always share with our
    Friends and neighbors
    How our encounters with Christ
    Through Word, Sacrament and Community
    Bring us joy and peace
    And make us want to
    Be Your instrument for the world.
    We pray this through Christ our Lord
    Living and Reigning
    Forever and ever.
    Amen.

    Saturday, March 14, 2020 

    Following Jesus does not mean taking part in a triumphal procession! It means sharing his merciful love, entering his great work of mercy for each and every person and for all human beings. The work of Jesus is, precisely, a work of mercy, a work of forgiveness and of love! Jesus is so full of mercy! And this universal pardon, this mercy, passes through the cross. Jesus, however, does not want to do this work alone: he wants to involve us too in the mission that the Father entrusted to him. After the Resurrection he was to say to his disciples: " as the Father has sent me, even so I send you" ... "if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven" (Jn 20:21, 23)

    Jesus's disciple renounces all his possessions because in Jesus they have found the greatest good in which every other good receives its full value and meaning: family ties, other relationships, work, cultural, and economic goods, and so forth .... The Christian detaches him or herself from all things and rediscovers all things in the logic of the Gospel, the logic of love and of service.

    - Pope Francis

    Friday, March 13, 2020

    When I first reviewed the readings for this day (and then reread them several times over), I felt daunted and even wished I had never taken on this special "assignment." They are not easy to digest and are pretty dark indeed. Genesis asks us to reflect on the horrifying treatment Joseph endures from his ten jealous brothers, simply because he receives a little extra love from their father. He is saved from almost certain death, at their hands, when they sell him into slavery instead. What a kind and lavish alternative they provided their brother! Matthew's gospel today asks us to consider Jesus's parable of the tenants, in which six faithful servants of a landowner are sent to retrieve the rightful harvest from his vineyard. Two are beaten, two are murdered, and two are stoned—by the supposedly trust-worthy tenants leasing the landlord's property. These tenants subsequently kill the landowner's son as well, believing they will acquire his inheritance if he is dead. What a crazy presumption on their part!

    As my good friends often hear, I have eight siblings (a couple less than Joseph). While we can at times be truly angry with each other, I hope we never reach the stage of jealousy that enveloped Joseph's brothers, even if we sometimes joke that one or the other of us always was Mom's or Dad's "favorite." My friends also frequently note my love for really good wine, but I cannot imagine murdering others to ensure my access to even the world's greatest bottle. My friends know as well that I have rented the exact same apartment during my 25 years in Scranton. I have experienced two different landladies and worked hard at being the best tenant possible, always treating them and their property (my home!) with care and respect.

    Yet Lenten journeys, like the one I am one, typically are designed to remind us of our humanity, and thus our susceptibility to an array of (sinful) vices. Yes, all of us are perfectly capable of treating others badly, especially when we experience fear or feel threatened. Today we depart the comfortable pattern of our beloved campus in the midst of a national and world health crisis, likely posing challenges especially for "our better angels." As we continue our Lenten journey (perhaps more remotely for a while), let us remember always to be good tenants of the myriad "vineyards" with which God has entrusted us: our families, friends, and colleagues; our local communities, our nation, and our world. Let us renew our Lenten commitment to embrace each person we encounter with great dignity, generosity, love, and compassion. For in these same encounters, we experience God's abiding love and mercy for each of us, his own cherished children and family on an earth he gave us to share with each other.

    Gretchen J. Van Dyke,

    Associate Professor of Political Science

    Thursday, March 12, 2020 

    43 years ago, Fr. Rutilio Grande, S.J. became the first priest assassinated prior to the start of the El Salvador civil war. A close friend of St. Oscar Romero, he is often scene as the inspiration for the Saint's awakening to the suffering of Salvadoran people. Pope Francis, the first Latin American and Jesuit Pope has long admired the two martyrs. Upon entering the Pope's room at the Vatican hotel one passes through a doorway adorned with a cloth stained with Monseñor Romero's blood and notes from a talk Grande once delivered on catechism. They are a constant reminder to the Pope of their sacrifice and martyrdom. 

    "I was a devotee of Rutilio even before coming to know Romero better," Pope Francis recalled last year. "When I was in Argentina, his life influenced me, his death touched me."
    "He said what he had to say, but it was his testimony, his martyrdom, that eventually moved Romero," Francis said. " This was the grace."

    Rutilio Grande studied and taught in the humanities – philosophy and theology – in the capital city of San Salvador. He was, however, drawn to the poor and marginalized in his country and desired to work among them. He encouraged his Jesuit brothers to utilize the social sciences to better understand the reality in which they lived and ministered. He spent a great deal of time simply listening to his people. In encountering the rural poor, he stated, "The first contact with the people was to be characterized by a human encounter, to try to enter into their reality in order to leave with a common reality." He got into trouble with the government because he valued his people's dignity, their value, and sought to end their suffering.

    Shortly before his death, he offered a Mass where he spoke out against the government's repression of the people and its attempt to silence priests who spoke out against the aggression. His straightforward and simple plea was for the Gospels to "grow little feet" so that they could come down to the people – the persecuted and the persecutors – so that they could be liberated from sin and from oppression.

    Fr. Rutilio Grande, S.J. was assassinated by El Salvador security forces on March 12, 1977, just outside of the village where he was born. He and his companions were ambushed while driving between smalls towns in celebration of the town's feast day. Upon reaching the safety of the nearest town, several children who were able to escape the car recalled his final words:

    "We must do what God wants."

    In his homily at Grande's funeral, Archbishop Romero said of his friend, "The true reason for his death was his prophetic and pastoral efforts to raise the consciousness of the people throughout his parish...Forming a genuine community of faith, hope, and love among them, he was making them aware of their dignity as individuals, of their basic rights."

    On February 21, 2020, Pope Francis approved a decree proclaiming Fr. Rutilio Grande, S.J. a martyr, setting up his beatification and the possibility of his sainthood.

    His image can be seen throughout El Salvador, often painted on walls of small houses and churches accompanying that of his friend, Oscar Romero. He is remembered as the man who cared for his people, championed the poor and suffering, and inspired a Saint.

    Wednesday, March 11, 2020 

    Lent has always been a time of dutiful, almost perfunctory, sacrifice for me. Growing up, we practiced no meat Fridays during Lent. It wasn't much of a sacrifice; I loved the Friday night pancake dinners. It was a small reminder that I was a Catholic, but I can't say that the sacrifice was very meaningful to me. Was I truly understanding and celebrating Lent as I should? Probably not.

    In 2018 I was again dutifully observing my small Lenten sacrifices. I vowed I would be "perfect" during this Lent, no mistakes. Tuesday before Easter, all of that changed. I was notified that my sister had suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm. As my family gathered at the hospital, we were told the devastating news; her death was nearly certain. Nearly, meant 95% certain.

    My Scranton roommate, Gina, my best friend of 35 years, was the first person I called. She had the perfect words for me. "Col, people get miracles. There is no reason you can't have one. It's the holiest time of the year. Pray. Believe." 5% odds aren't good, but they're something. On day two I intended to speak to my sister's husband about moving my sister to a different hospital. Was she in the right place? As I approached him, a nun was sitting beside him, comforting him. I heard her say to him "She's in the right place. She's where she needs to be.". God knew my question and provided the answer through this Sister who was there for us. 

    My sister survived. I know that she is here because God has decided that there is more for her here right now. Life is different for her and me now. She has disabilities that she must work through every day and her strength astounds me.

     For me, now, Lent is about so much more than giving up meat on Fridays (I still do that, though). It is truly about thanking God for all the blessings that He has provided me. Some of the greatest blessings have been my Scranton family...college friends, Alumni Board colleagues, Scranton staff...all of whom have tirelessly prayed for my sister and our family and shown me God's love. Lent is indeed a season of miracles for me and rather than focus on my small sacrifices during this time, I will instead focus on the love that God shows us all. 

    Colleen M. Neary '88

    University of Scranton Alumni Society Advisory Board

    Tuesday, March 10, 2020 

    Praying

     It doesn't have to be
    the blue iris, it could be
    weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
    small stones; just
    pay attention, then patch

     a few words together and don't try
    to make them elaborate, this isn't
    a contest but the doorway

    into thanks, and a silence in which
    another voice may speak.

    - Mary Oliver
    From: Thirst: Poems

    Monday, March 9, 2020 

    Sunday, March 8, 2020 

    Of all the many things in the Bible that perplex me, today's Gospel, Matthew's account of Jesus' transfiguration, is probably the one that confuses me most. And it doesn't just confuse me, it bothers me. I'm comfortable with Jesus being dusty from long days on the road, or jostled by needy crowds. I don't know what to make of him being all clean and white and shiny, or of the Charlton Heston voice from the clouds. Too baroque and specially-effecty for my liking.

    I console myself with the fact that the disciples don't seem to have much of a clue either. First Peter volunteers to build tents. Seriously, Peter? Tents? It's exactly the sort of inane chattering I do when I'm out of my comfort zone. Next minute they are all throwing themselves on the ground in terror. And on the way down, Jesus says "Yeah, so how about you don't talk to anybody about that? Later on you will, but not yet, OK?" because heavens knows what a mess they would have made trying to explain it to anyone before they have the whole picture.

    Like Peter, I get freaked out when I don't understand stuff, and I think and say stupid things to help me feel some sort of control. That's probably what I really need to give up for Lent – would go a lot deeper to the heart of my problem than giving up alcohol and the internet. But anything we do give up, however mundane, can be a letting-go – a loosening of our anxious grip on what we can understand and control. Like Abraham, in the Old Testament reading today, sets out from his native land to journey to the land that God will show him, the journey of Lent can be a step away from whatever image of Jesus we like to picture in our heads towards an encounter with Jesus as he really is.

    Maria Poggi Johnson PhD

    Professor, Department of Theology

    Saturday, March 7, 2020 

    The new man, "created after the likeness of God" (Eph 4:24), is born in Baptism, when one receives the very life of God, which renders us his children and incorporates us into Christ and his Church. This new life permits us to look at reality with different eyes, without being distracted by things that don't matter and cannot last long, from things that perish with time.... This is the difference between life deformed by sin and life illumined by grace.

    From the heart of the person renewed in the likeness of God comes good behavior: to speak the truth always and avoid all deceit; not to steal, but rather to share all you have with others, especially those in need; not to give in to anger, resentment, and revenge, but to be meek, magnanimous, and ready to forgive; not to gossip, which ruins the good name of people, but to look more at the good side of everyone. It is a matter of clothing oneself in the new man, with these new attitudes.

    - Pope Francis

    Friday, March 6, 2020 

    From a very young age—perhaps mainly from New Testament parables—we learn that our God is loving and compassionate. Like the father who joyfully welcomes home the prodigal son or the Samaritan who benevolently cares for the man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, so too does the Lord care for His children—even those who have been led astray. In today's first reading from Ezekiel, we learn that "if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness. . . and does what is just and right, they will save their life." This highlights God's compassion because He is willing to forgive us even when we make mistakes. This does not mean that we should take advantage of His mercy and act however we please. Instead, we should continue to act as His loving children and understand that only He holds the power of ultimate forgiveness.

    Likewise, in today's Scripture, the psalmist pleads with the people of Israel to place their trust in the Lord because He alone holds the "great power to redeem"; only God can liberate Israel, and all people, from all it has done wrong. This psalm illustrates our need for the Lord's forgiveness and the hope of eternal life that He brings to us because of His merciful ways. I pray that this Lenten season will not only remind us of God's relentless forgiveness but also encourage us to act more like disciples of mercy created by our loving and compassionate Lord.

    Olivia Zehel '23

    Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Philosophy

    Thursday, March 5, 2020 

    My favorite part of living my faith is taking the opportunity to always improve by becoming more positive and loving. That's why Lent is a good time for me because it helps me focus on things that I need to improve upon in my life. Our faith tells us that Jesus and his mother Mary are the only two to ever be without sin. Unfortunately, the rest of us fall into a different category! Recognizing that I am a sinner during the season of Lent presents a unique challenge because I have to balance how much time I'm going to spend helping others (which is really important) while at the same time bettering myself. 

    Finding the balance between self-growth and helping others is a journey that takes a lifetime. Throughout the entirety of my life, I have been on a mission to be as positive about life as I can be. I've been consciously doing this since I was in 8th grade and if I am going to be successful I know that I will have to rely on God's grace.

    I've heard it said that if you put your happiness into something eternal, then it will always be there. This Lent I'm trying to put my happiness into the something eternal by coming closer to Christ by being joyful with everyone I interact with. Sustaining a positive attitude is a challenge for sure, but realizing it is also one of my great blessings.

    Sean Smith, '23
    Entrepreneurship major

    Wednesday, March 4, 2020 

    Every time the story of Jonah comes around, I am in awe of the people of Nineveh. Famed for their evil ways, no one expects the people of Nineveh to repent. But every year, almost miraculously, they do.

    If we continue on with the story, Jonah, who doesn't see this conversion coming, stays blind to the mercy God offers these enemies of Israel. His heart is closed, caught on how he thinks God and the Ninevites are supposed to be, missing how they actually are. The Ninevite king proclaims a fast, admitting great vulnerability. He calls for peace. God responds with tenderness and mercy, with love at one of the greatest conversions in scripture. And Jonah misses all of it.

    A year ago, on Ash Wednesday, I found myself serving Mass on the edge of a farm in the Virginia countryside. Despite the darkness and the freezing cold, dozens of migrants and their children had crowded into a tent to pray with us. The floor was straw, the altar was a folding table, and dogs were running around. Our altar was decorated with streamers, purple cloth, and a grand image of la Guadalupana. Our priest had called many times to remind the hosts that Ash Wednesday was a day of ayuno, fasting, and not to prepare a feast. To no avail. We were greeted with pasta and sandwiches, donuts, and hot champurrado to drink. For months, the people had been asking for a priest who could speak Spanish to come and celebrate Mass for them, to bless their children, to pray for the sick. That that day was Ash Wednesday was not going to stop their joy.

    The priest could have reacted like Jonah—seeing only what he wanted to see, rejecting the rest. He could have reprimanded the people for celebrating or asked for a nicer place to celebrate the solemn day. As the night went on, and the priest made his way through the crowd, listening to stories, blessing children, and laughing, all I could do was laugh myself, and thank God for his open heart.

    Michael Petro, n, S.J.
    Michael is a 2nd year Jesuit Novice working for the semester in The Center for Service and Social Justice

    Tuesday, March 3, 2020 

    Praying

    It doesn't have to be
    the blue iris, it could be
    weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
    small stones; just
    pay attention, then patch

    a few words together and don't try
    to make them elaborate, this isn't
    a contest but the doorway

    into thanks, and a silence in which
    another voice may speak.

    - Mary Oliver
    From: Thirst: Poems

    Monday, March 2, 2020 

    Sunday, March 1, 2020 

    Thoughts and Prayers on the First Sunday of Lent's Readings

    Like Adam and Eve, we sin. As with them, "our eyes are opened," and we see that we are naked. Our first reaction is to cover it up. Yes, it's not just politicians who do that. The first grace from God is when we admit our sin.

    St. Paul then speaks of this original sin. But he refuses to speak of the guilt and punishment without shouting out that "where sin abounded, grace has abounded all the more."

    In the desert, Jesus is famished. But he's not a sucker for Satan's easy solution, of bread. Like him let us eat only after obeying the "word that comes forth from the mouth of God."

    Next, Satan tempts Jesus to make a public show of God's favor for him. Like Jesus, let us not presume on God's grace and help without doing our part.

    Satan then offers Jesus power over kingdoms if he will worship him. Since Jesus knows who God is and who Satan is, let us ask him for the grace to know the difference and to act accordingly.= 

    "In conclusion," says St. Paul, "just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so, through one righteous act, acquittal and life come to all." 

    James D. Redington, S.J
    Jesuit Fellow, The Jesuit Center

    Friday, February 28, 2020 

    Fr. Patrick: Good morning Molly. Thanks for coming into the Jesuit Center today. Would you care for a cup of Barry's Irish Tea? It's delicious I promise!

    Molly: Sure- sounds good to me!

    Fr. Patrick: So, as we begin Lent I want to ask you about fasting/giving things up for Lent. Do you have a regular practice of giving something up for Lent? Maybe even doing something positive? 

    Molly: Well, I do both actually. I usually give up sweets and desserts for Lent which is an important Lenten practice (although my family does make an exception for my dad's birthday and St. Patrick's Day)!

    Fr. Patrick: Good for you! Sometimes you just have to celebrate!

    Molly: I agree! Since coming to The University of Scranton, I try to emphasize doing something positive during Lent like going to daily Mass more often or increasing the amount of time I spend praying. I find these kinds of things much harder to do.

    I've also done the Operation Rice Bowl since I was a girl and I think that's a good way to increase my awareness of the poor in my midst while also being mindful of how blessed and privileged I am to be attending a great university like Scranton. I also make a point of attending Campus Ministry's Reconciliation Service held right before Holy Week. That's a great way to prepare for our Easter celebration.

    Fr. Patrick: I know you hail from the great state of Maryland. Did you get good fish every Friday during Lent like I did when I lived there? I always felt a little bit guilty because the Friday fast from meat wasn't very hard for me to do with all the great fish we got from the Chesapeake Bay.

    Molly: I totally agree! I always liked the food on Fridays during Lent because I like seafood as well. Even when we didn't have great seafood we would have awesome pizza. Memories about shared meals with my family during Lent are still very powerful memories from my childhood. 

    Fr. Patrick: Thanks for sharing Molly. Have a blessed Lent!

    Molly: You too Fr. Patrick

    Molly Elkins, '21

    Bio-Chemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology, Philosophy

    Thursday, February 27, 2020 

    "I'm so stressed. Please pray for me!"

    What are you thinking about if you speak this phrase to someone?

    Often it can be thinking out loud to a friend, standing in line to get coffee, venting at work, or seeking support during the final minutes before an exam. This phrase represents a kind of social compassion that we are all connected in some way.

    "I'm so stressed. Please pray for me!"

    Based on personal experience, a good many of us know that this same phrase also signals intimacy. It might mean we have to be vulnerable. We hear it in the person's tone of voice, see it in their body language and feel it in our own reflective response at the very moment we hear it. When we give ourselves permission to ask the deeper questions - it is then when we get involved - it is then we care - it is then we are compassionate.

    As we enter these first days of Lent 2020, whether we say it, or hear it, it is worthwhile to consider our response to "I'm so stressed. Please pray for me!" 

    Today, February 27, this second day Lent, is also the Feast Day of Saint Gabriel Possenti of Our Lady of Sorrows. An Italian, born on March 1, 1838, he decided to give up the professional circles associated with his family and enter the Passionist congregation. In 1720, St. Paul of the Cross, an Italian, had founded the religious congregation to encourage others to keep alive the memory of Jesus on Cross. "May the Passion of Jesus Christ Be Always In Our Heart" best summarizes the essence of his meditative spirituality and preaching. Even in our present day, we are reminded how our common sorrows and sufferings unite us; so, when we acknowledge faith in Jesus on the Cross and his Resurrection, we become one in the gift of His peace and healing. While Gabriel, unfortunately, died from tuberculosis at age 23 on February 27, 1862, at Isola of Gran Sasso in Abruzzi, Italy, it so happened that, soon after, local pilgrims started to visit his tomb. The sorrows of his youth gave them strength to face their living sorrows. Age did not matter. In 1926, St. Gabriel was declared joint patron of the Catholic youth of Italy; worldwide devotion now proclaims him as the "patron of youth."

    Here at The University of Scranton, Lent is a time to admit how our common stress is an opportunity to strengthen our compassionate resolve to care. All of us: students, faculty, staff, parents, or friends far and wide who are committed to the Jesuit educational mission might look and pray to Passionist St. Gabriel, the patron of youth, to be our guide. Why? Because, "I'm so stressed, please pray for me!" can be said by a person whatever their age might be. At such a moment, let us bring our sufferings to St. Gabriel. Through his intercession, may all of us receive the young healed heart we desire.

    Meditating on the life of St. Gabriel as the patron of youth has reminded me how important it is that young people and those who assist the young also make the commitment that I take the opportunity to "pray for myself." Doing so nourishes my self-respect of faith; with the correct attitude it is not self-centered. Rather it accentuates my maturity of faith. My compassion increases. In return, I am given a gift of wisdom; a confident faith to be able to share and receive with others.

    "I'm so stressed. Please pray for me!" So, on this Feast Day of the Passionist St. Gabriel Possenti let us offer our prayerful needs to this patron of youth: "St. Gabriel, pray for us." Let us be surprised by how God answers our prayers. 

    May the Passion of Jesus Christ Be Always in Our Heart as we travel on this Lenten journey of faith in 2020.

    Fr. Rob Carbonneau, C.P., Ph.D. is an Adjunct in the History Department at The University of Scranton and historian of the east coast region of the Passionists. He lives at St. Ann's Monastery, Scranton.

    Wednesday, February 26, 2020  

    Ash Wednesday 

    Did you know that the ashes that you are receiving on your foreheads today come from the burnt palms that we used on Palm Sunday? I didn't know about this tradition until I was 15 or 16 years old and, if I'm to be honest, the only reason I know this now is because I had a great CCD teacher. Thank you Francine Stoops! I'm not going to lie, I thought this tradition was kinda weird when Mrs. Stoops told our class about it. "Why on earth would anyone keep palm ashes around when you can get ashes from any fireplace in town!" I asked her in what I am sure was a smart-aleck tone. Her response was brilliant. "Because the palm branches are a sign of triumph and their ashes are a sign of betrayal. Jesus' followers hailed him as a triumphant messiah upon his entrance into Jerusalem and betrayed him not a week later. Putting the ashes from those once triumphant palm branches on our foreheads remind us that we, too, are capable of both great goodness and great betrayal. Lent is a time when we really try to cut down on the betrayals and live Gospel values."

    The power of that message still resonates with me today as I have to contend with the reality that I'm capable of great goodness and great betrayal just like our ancestors from the Gospel accounts. Lent is a time for me to consciously grow the goodness in my heart in order to starve the seed of betrayal which is also in my heart. Prayer, fasting, and service to others is a tried and true way of doing just that.

    Thank you Francine Stoops for being such a great catechist and model of Christian living. Your words to me and my classmates forty years ago still resonate with the power of your amazing discipleship.

    Rev. Patrick Rogers, S.J.
    Executive Director, The Jesuit Center

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