Meditations for Lent 2018


Theme of this 2018 Lent retreat : “Seeking Peace in Prayer”


"In humility and charity, by fasting and giving, by restraining ourselves and pardoning, by paying out good deeds and not paying back bad ones, by turning away from evil and doing good, our prayer seeks peace and obtains it."

- St. Augustine, Sermon 206, 3

By Bernard O'Connor O.S.A., priest at St Mary's, Harborne


March 20, 2018

1. The Sacrament of Reconciliation : Many older people found ‘Confession’ a grim experience – the detailed examination of conscience, the emphasis on sin, the dark confessional, the disembodied voice from behind the grill. The model was of courtroom, judge, criminal, guilt.


2. We now speak of Reconciliation, where the model is of physician, wounded human, healing. It is a Sacrament which celebrates forgiveness, where the emphasis is not on our sins, but on God’s forgiveness, where we hear those consoling words, ‘I absolve you from your sins’.


3. The examination of conscience ‘should not be an act of anxious psychological introspection but a calm evaluation of self in the light of Jesus Christ who calls us to a life of goodness’ (Pope John Paul II). We are immediately aware of anything serious, but usually recognise where we have drifted or caused hurt. It is not necessary to give a complete list of every little failing – we would never be done! God understands our frailty, He also understands our goodwill.


4. The celebration of the Sacrament was revised in 1974. One of the treasures of the revision was the Service of Reconciliation, whose riches are only gradually being unfolded. We come together as a community, recognising our weakness, our sinfulness, but also as a community redeemed in the blood of Christ. The fact of our presence is an expression of our desire for forgiveness. The people approach the priest for individual confession and absolution, an encounter with Christ in his healing power. The service concludes with praise and thanksgiving.


March 19, 2018

1. The Gospel tells of the woman taken in adultery, brought along to Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees, asking his opinion on the Law of Moses which would have her stoned to death. Jesus replied, ‘Let whoever is without sin among you cast the first stone’. And they slunk away, one by one.

Jesus looked up and said, as if surprised, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ No one sir’, she replied. ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ replied Jesus, ‘Go away and don’t sin any more.’


2. ‘Condemn’ is not a word in the vocabulary of Jesus. The Son of God did not come to condemn, but to save. Jesus said it is precisely for such as this woman that he had come, to enable them recover their lost dignity. There is no question that he was condoning the sin, but he refused to condemn the sinner.

One can only imagine the effect this encounter had on the woman. This man treated her with a respect that she had never before experienced, compared with how she had been used previously, and then manhandled by the crowd. Something new glowed inside her.


3. Passing judgement on others is one of the minor pleasures of life. It gives one the cosy feeling of moral superiority. Almost every day we read of public figures who fall victim to their privileged position, abusing another person sexually or using their influence for personal gain.

Such abuse of power is of course, abhorrent , and the perpetrators are rightly held to account. But we might beware of joining the public chorus of ‘shock, horror’. Would we have done any better, given the same opportunities? Do we always know the full story?

Likewise, with family and neighbour – we cannot help noticing when they behave badly.

But who are we to sit in judgement, and to feel superior?

It is salutary to remember ‘Whoever is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.’


March 18, 2018

Tomorrow, 19th: Feast of St Joseph


1. The prophet Nathan promised King David that God would build him a house, his dynasty, whose kingdom would have no end. This led to the firm belief that the Messiah would be a descendant of David, celebrated in the Psalms and in many other passages from the Hebrew Bible. It is significant then that Joseph was of the house of David. It was through him, the foster-father that the prophecy was fulfilled in the person of Jesus.


2. Joseph was man of faith – a ‘just man’. When he became aware that Mary was pregnant, he accepted what an angel of the Lord told him in a dream that ‘that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.’ In the remainder of the infancy and youth of Jesus, he is there in the background, solid, reliable, faithful.


3. When Jesus became an adult and began his public ministry, although there is occasional reference to Mary in the background, there is no reference to Joseph. We presume that he had died. As he died he would have had Mary and Jesus by his bedside to strengthen and console him. He is then, the patron saint of a happy death.


March 17, 2018

© Christ Carrying the Cross, Sir Stanley Spencer, 1920

The Jesus portrayed in Stanley Spencer’s paintings is a common man found in the local streets and suburbs of the twentieth-century artist’s beloved Cookham.  He’s very much a God who blends into the familiar, everyday environment - blink and you miss him. In the painting ‘Christ Carrying the Cross”, Jesus walks down the town’s high street followed by carpenters carrying ladders; the position of their ladders echo the shape of Jesus’ cross as they carry out their daily work. Meanwhile, Jesus, another carpenter, carries out his work of salvation.    


In the gospel reading today Nicodemus is the only Pharisee open-minded enough to consider that Jesus might just be the Christ; the others dismissed Him because they thought He came from Galilee - of all places!  Galilee and Jesus were below the Pharisees.


As a university student, St Augustine could not accept that Truth could be found in Scripture because as a work of literature it seemed too simple.     


How many times do we not recognise Christ because He is in the simple things, the all-too-familiar, in the people too close to us to get any proper perspective, or in those overlooked by our society?  


I just met some very ordinary-looking women in our parish centre. I learnt that they are religious sisters who help women escape from human-trafficking.  They look like residents of a Galilee or a Cookham; it turns out they’re other Christs.

By St Augustine’s Parish Priest and director of Austin Forum ,

Gianni Notarianni O.S.A.


March 21, 2018

1. The Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, shows a constant awareness of God – but not a remote God out there, but God who is active on behalf of his people. The highlight is the account of the Passover, leading to the deliverance of God’s people from slavery – an event celebrated each year by the Jewish people. Today we read of how God preserved the three young men who were prepared to be cast into the fiery furnace rather than renounce their religious faith, to the astonishment of the king who condemned them. In the Gospels, God has given us his Son Jesus, to be the Way, the Truth and the Life,

crucified, risen from the dead, and always there for us.


2. During this week the Gospel reading is taken continuously from the 8 th chapter of John’s Gospel. It consists of a dialogue between Jesus and his listeners. The people should not be dismissed as hard-hearted, or stupid, refusing to be convinced. They ask perfectly reasonable questions, such as we would want to ask of the extraordinary claims Jesus makes on his own behalf. The dialogue gives Jesus the opportunity to further explain.


3. Jesus’ argument is that he will go away to where you cannot come. You will recognise me when I am lifted up (lifted up on the cross, raised up in glory). I say only what the Father has taught me. The truth will set you free. Anyone who sins is a slave. If you were really Abraham’s children as you claim, you would love me since I have come here from God.


March 16, 2018

We are all a mix of light and darkness. It goes without saying that the more space within us we give to one, the more it will dominate the other.  We can even grow accustomed to one or the other. After a night's sleep, waking up to sudden light can be painful to the eyes. Bram Stoker's Dracula illustrates this well. The characters represent life to start with and when they become vampires they represent death - and can't cope with light.


At a spiritual and moral level, this is what has happened to the people in the first reading today and to those who want to kill Jesus. In the reading from Wisdom, a person who should have inspired admiration for his good character elicits hatred and revulsion.


"Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us."


St Augustine says that it is the good within us that makes us recognise the good in others. Therefore the bad within us makes us see the good in others as a bad thing. He described his pre-conversion self like someone who was asleep and, despite knowing that being awake is the better state, preferred to remain in spiritual slumber.


Jesus is the brightest light - in fact he is The Light - and so is the most painful to those accustomed to darkness. No wonder there were those who wanted to kill him. During Lent, the Church gives us yet another chance to allow God to clean the window of our soul so as to allow Christ's light to shine through.


PS. 106

March 15, 2018

Do you ever feel like you let people or God down?  A broken resolution during Lent might make you feel even worse. Today’s reading can help though, but it won't seem so at first.


In general, the Old Testament gets a bad press. It seems to paint a picture of an angry and even violent God; this reading from Exodus will do nothing initially to persuade us that this is not the case; God is angry. Really angry.  "Leave me alone with them and my wrath will blaze up and consume them", He says to Moses.  


His so-called chosen people, chosen by Him to be in a covenant - marriage - with Him, have already got fed-up and are looking for new gods; in his case, a golden calf seems to have done the trick! Pretty fickle, huh?  Moses, on the other hand, is much more forgiving and understanding. He even pleads with God to go easy on them.


So is Moses really more forgiving than God? No. Many Old Testament stories are myths. A myth is not a true story but it’s a way of illustrating certain truths or beliefs. They are true in another way to historical or scientific truth.  In this story God eventually calms down, changes his mind and forgives his chosen people. The real message is only understood by the outcome of the story: God forgives his people.


We let God down but He never lets us down. God never gives up on us; He always gives us another chance.  This is consoling during a Lent where perhaps we have not stuck to our promises.


“You were always there, Lord. You were with me, but I was not with you. You were within me, but I was outside”.  St Augustine


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