The Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday of Lent is the familiar passage of the adulterous woman and her accusers. For as long as I can remember, this story has been bittersweet: it involves targeted harassment and shame, but also redemption and conversion. At this point in Lent, I don’t think there is a more needed, or relatable, lesson for us to be reminded of and to work on accepting.
So, we’re five weeks into our Lenten journey. We’ve been skipping meat on Fridays and trying to live without whatever convenience or vice we decided to give up or purge from ourselves. Maybe we’re praying a little more than we normally would or are setting aside a few minutes to read a daily reflection from those little black books left in the back of our churches. But even with all of these intentional and humbling acts and motivations, we often still feel unworthy or like we’re faltering. Because of this, it’s possible to say that we don’t even need the Pharisees to judge us and bring us for judgement before God – we’re doing it enough for ourselves. To overcome this, I want us to reflect on three things: personal attitude, an open heart, and recognizing what’s in front of us.
I think sometimes we’re too hard on ourselves. We allow our own harsh judgements to replace the only one that truly matters: God’s. Our own personal attitude can prevent us from accepting and sharing in the love and grace of God if we constantly feel that we are unworthy or failing. In the Gospel, when the adulterous woman is brought before Jesus, it does not say that she cried or tried to run. In the Gospel account, she lays at the feet of Jesus, lets Him clear her name and, ultimately, lets Him forgive her sins. Here’s a secret I’ve learned that the Gospel has been trying to tell us for a few thousand years now: Man is never worthy on his own, but has been made so by Christ, who offers redemption to all. If man were worthy, Christ would not have needed to redeem us after the Fall. So, we need to stop allowing our own negative perception of our efforts to prevent us from bearing or receiving the fruits of God’s grace and forgiveness.
Why was Jesus’ reaction effective with the woman? Christ did not condone her sin, but met the woman in her sinful situation with love and mercy. Surely, such a transformation is not possible without a profound encounter with God’s mercy, an openness to change, and conversion of heart. The adulterous woman of this week’s Gospel is told by Jesus to “Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (John 8:11). As a result of her encounter with Jesus, her heart was changed, and she spent the rest of her life trying to grow closer to Him. We are called to do the same – during the Lenten season or any other time. If we are open to the love of God, it will fill us and strengthen us in our actions.
With a faithful attitude and a heart that is open to change, all that is left is for us to encounter God. In order to do this, we must recognize what is in front of us. In the challenges, relationships, beauty of nature, art, and moments of prayer, God is entirely present and inviting us to share in it with Him. What a beautiful gift, and how accessible and truly joyful this is for us!
I want to suggest that each of us take a few moments each day this week to reflect on how we’ve gone out of ourselves to be with or grow closer to God. Instead of grumbling about how much we miss Netflix or those amazing chocolate caramels, be proud of yourself for being so committed to your solidarity with Christ and His own suffering. Or, if you tripped up, instead of getting frustrated with yourself, reflect on the three Stations of the Cross in which Jesus falls. Absolute perfection is never what God expects or even desires – He’s just pleased to recognize a desire in us to do better.
For more resources to accompany you along your Lenten journey, please click here.
Question for Reflection: How can you grow closer to God in the final days of the Lenten season?
After being blessed with the opportunity to study abroad, I realized I had a lot of prep-work before actually stepping foot in Rome. Before I found myself settled and adjusted to life in Italy, there was much discussion amongst my family and friends about the possibility of leaving home for the semester to do something unknown and probably a little challenging. It involved taking inventory of packed luggage and making sure I had all my paperwork in order – over and over and over again. There were goodbyes to be said and nerves to quell – all for the bigger and extremely beautiful pursuit of this adventure abroad.
Being a student in Rome, with a faith life that begs to be fed with inspiration and experience, I have found myself smiling ear-to-ear both in Saint Peter’s Square as Papa Francesco drove by in the Popemobile and also on my knees, alone in a little chapel that has really become my home-away-from-home. Something that is often on my mind and recently discussed in the Synod is vocational discernment. “Vocational Discernment” is one of those phrases that is often more of an unknown idea rather than a reality being lived. In simple terms, I consider vocational discernment to be an alert willingness to hear and accept God’s will. And now that we have a definition, the next question is: How does one even go about this? I believe the answer is very similar to my process of preparing to study abroad or maybe to that of applying to college or even to searching for a job. However, many – myself included – often find these tasks to be obstacles, not opportunities. I’ve come to learn that discernment can be just as exciting as your next adventure.
I was recently able to attend a youth presentation to the pope in Paul VI Hall. After many dance routines, witness talks, and musical performances, Pope Francis delivered a short speech in which he expressed the following: “You won’t find yourself in a mirror or the screen of your phone, so get up and find beauty in nature, family, friends, and the faith.” One of the most important aspects of discernment is communication. Just as I spent many hours talking to my parents, sister, and best friends about the opportunity to go abroad, I spend quite a bit of time in prayer each day. I use prayer as a way to open my heart to God, sharing desires, fears, hopes, and struggles—just as you would recall your day to your parent or friend over dinner or Snapchat—to seek guidance and advice. And who better to seek answers of clarity from than those who know you best? A huge part of my discernment is actively listening – not only in prayer, but to all those around me. Listen to the girl who sits next to you in your English 101 class or the stranger leading your retreat who could be a potential friend and witness of the faith for you. Paraphrasing the words of Pope John Paul II at his pontifical inauguration: Open wide the doors of your heart—for God and all who are around you—and do not be afraid. Do this, and God will put the right people in your life and guide your heart in the direction it needs to go.
It is through a deep prayer life that you are then able to take a thorough inventory of your spiritual and relational life, often being led to questions you haven’t really asked yourself before. Perhaps you may become aware of a quality you admire in someone else, prompting you to work on it in yourself. Or maybe all those doubts you carry and try to file away in the corner of your mind come front and center, but now with a new understanding of how to face them. After you begin to recognize the good in yourself and acknowledge the things that are holding you back, it is then time to start saying goodbyes. Saying goodbye not in a literal sense, but in attempting to break bad habits, dying to self in pursuit of a greater humility, and in effect allowing more room for God’s love and mercy to calm your fears and erase the sins that hold you back. The more you allow God to work in you, the clearer and easier it will be to feel your faith grow, relationships flourish, and your heart rest.
Like anything, the hardest part of the discernment process is letting go of fear and “What Ifs”—but it is through prayer that God will provide the answers you need to move forward and the courage to live out your calling as authentically and faithfully as possible. As mentioned before, this may require leaving some comforts and pleasures behind, but Jesus assures us today, just as he did his disciples in their time, “Everyone who has given [anything] up… for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more and will inherit eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). Part of my vocational discernment led me to take this opportunity – full of unknowns and challenges – to study abroad in the “Eternal City.” I assure you, vocational discernment is necessary and opens so many doors, or in my case ATAC bus rides, to growth and understanding of God and His will for you.
For more resources on the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.