As Director of Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), I have the opportunity to record video reflections on the readings of the Scriptures proclaimed at daily Mass. I do so as part of larger group of colleagues at the Conference, along with lay and ordained leaders from around the country. I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the readings for the life of faith today and to share them here, along with the written text of the reflections. To view these video reflections for past and upcoming celebrations of the Eucharist, visit the USCCB website.
Happy Leap Year Day! Today, February 29, is a day added to our calendar to make sure our year is in sync with the astronomical year. Every four years, it prevents the calendar from drifting out of sync with the seasons.
In the midst of our keeping time by calendar and seasons, we are given an ‘extra day’ – a special inserted time to help us properly orient the seasons and times by which we mark our lives and the passage of time.
I vividly recall a Franciscan priest, Fr. Regis Duffy, who lived among the brothers in community at St. Bonaventure University where I went to college. He frequently celebrated Mass with the students. A skilled liturgist and kind person, you could always count on him to begin the Penitential Rite or Penitential Act of the Mass with the same invitation: “Won’t you join me in looking over the week to see how we’re spending God’s time?”
It was Fr. Regis’ way of remind us that all the time we have in our lives truly belongs to God, and not to us.
Spiritually, every year, we are inserted into the season of Lent by the church’s calendar – always at different times in the Western or Latin Church, depending on when the full moon of spring falls so we can mark the celebration of Easter. Unlike a leap year day, we never know precisely when Lent will begin, but it always seems to come precisely when we need it, by God’s gift and grace to us! And this season invites us to do what Fr. Regis asked – to see how we are spending our lives and God’s time!
These days after Ash Wednesday and before the 1st Sunday of Lent give us a chance to step back and notice our priorities as we move into this holy season of deep attention to our relationship and reliance on God as we seek to recommit ourselves to the Gospel message and life.
The readings for today’s liturgy continue to help ‘orient’ us with respect to how we are spending God’s time. Isaiah reminds us of the things that sadly and too often mark our time and our society these days: oppression, false accusation, malicious speech.
The prophet invites us away from those things. Instead, we should give bread to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted, and thereby find ourselves always strengthened by God when we need it – in God’s time – doing God’s work of justice and righteousness.
Living the life of justice and care for the poor is how God marks time; and so should we!
Jesus reminds us that he has perfect timing, too! In the Gospel from Luke, we hear the remarkable and immediate response of Levi the tax collector, to follow Jesus.
He likely left a lucrative life to0 – and a corrupt one, since tax collectors of the time often cheated their fellow citizens to curry favor with Rome or to take some off the top for themselves – and were thus despised by many.
It’s not without reason a common phrase to refer to unscrupulous or dangerous people in biblical times was “tax collectors and sinners.” Most people don’t want anything to do with tax collectors.
But not Jesus. He brings him into his inner circle of disciples.
The Pharisees – who ironically were a lay reform movement in Jesus time – can’t quite understand Jesus’ divine timing. Why does he eat with these ‘tax collectors and sinners?
Maybe you hear echoes of how some in our society refer to those they don’t like in the Pharisees’ question? these low-lifes? these expendibles? these outsiders? these thugs? These drug addicts?
Jesus, however, knows what time it is! It is time for healing, for reconciliation, for mercy and for justice. The time for repentance, and a second chance.
As we begin this holy season of Lent together, won’t you join me in looking over our own lives and the lives of those in our communities, neighborhoods and nation, and see how we’re spending God’s time?
God give you peace!