We are surrounded by many voices. There’s rarely a moment within our waking lives that someone or something isn’t calling out to us and, even in our sleep, dreams and nightmares ask for our attention.

Each voice has its own particular cadence and message. Some voices invite us in, promising us life if we do this or that or buy a certain product or idea, while others threaten us. Some voices beckon us towards hatred, bitterness, and anger, while others challenge us towards love, graciousness, and forgiveness. Some voices tell us that they are playful and humorous, not to be taken seriously, even as others trumpet that they are urgent and weighty, the voice of non-negotiable truth, God’s voice.

Jesus showed us God’s perfect love

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Passion Sunday (Year B) April 1 (Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 14:1-15:47)

Simple words can encourage and give hope to those who are on the verge of despair and defeat. Careless, foolish or cruel words usually destroy, deflate and snuff out life.

The Suffering Servant figure in Isaiah was a person of the first approach. We have no idea who he was and it really doesn’t matter. Of prime importance is the way in which this individual was guided by God — his inner spiritual senses were attuned to the whisperings of the Spirit.

Sublimation and the sublime

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Celebration is a paradoxical thing, created by a dynamic interplay between anticipation and fulfilment, longing and inconsummation, the ordinary and the special, work and play. Life and love must be celebrated within a certain fast-feast rhythm. Seasons of play most profitably follow seasons of work, seasons of consummation are heightened by seasons of longing, and seasons of intimacy grow out of seasons of solitude. Presence depends upon absence, intimacy upon solitude, play upon work. Even God rested only after working for six days!

There is no new life without death

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Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year B) March 25 (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33)

Human history is the story of broken promises. People break promises to one another; nations break covenants and treaties; and people let God down in very big ways. The result is shattered relationships and societies, and the most devastating of all, a sense of alienation and separation from God.

Consecrated by circumstance and need

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We can lose our freedom for different reasons and, sometimes, for the best of reasons.

Imagine this scenario: You are on your way to a restaurant to meet a friend for dinner, a perfectly legitimate agenda, but en route you witness a car accident. Some of the people in the accident are seriously hurt and you are the first to arrive at the scene. At that moment your own agenda, dinner with a friend, is put on hold. You’ve lost your freedom and are, by circumstance and need, conscripted to remain there and help. You phone for an ambulance, you call for the police and you wait with the injured until help arrives.

God is mercy and love

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Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year B) March 18 (2 Chronicles 36:14-17, 19-23; Psalm 137; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21)

All written histories are interpretations of events rather than “cold, hard facts.” Historians have a lens through which they view the world and events. They usually seek to demonstrate their own ideas through the arrangement, selection and interpretation of events. For example, I and II Chronicles are theological reinterpretations of Israel’s history after the painful 70-year exile in Babylon and the return of the people to Jerusalem.

Porous and buffered personalities

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A friend of mine tells this story: As a young boy in the 1950s he was struck down with pneumonia. His family lived in a small town that had neither a hospital nor a doctor. His father had a job which had taken him away from the family for that week. His mother was home alone with no phone and no car. Frightened and completely without resources, she came to his sick bed, knelt beside it, pinned a medal of St. Therese of Lisieux to his pyjamas and prayed to St. Therese in words to this effect: “I’m trusting you to make my child better. I’m going to remain kneeling here until his fever breaks.”

Both my friend and his mother eventually fell asleep, he in his sick bed, she kneeling beside it. When they woke, his fever had broken.

The cross is the door to the new temple

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Third Sunday of Lent (Year B) March 11 (Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-25; John 2:13-25)

Are the Ten Commandments old-fashioned or obsolete? There are those who think so. Cynics have sometimes called them the 10 suggestions or have mused on what would happen if archeologists discovered a tablet with numbers 11 through 20 inscribed on them. But they are as valid today as ever.

Six ways to avoid Lent (but it won’t be easy)

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Lent this year has been going on for a while now, but it’s not too late to get around it. For those reluctant to join with the many who are making a Lenten sacrifice and are instead looking for reliable methods to escape Lent, I offer six suggestions. Use at your own pace.

1. Don’t enter a church. Lent is everywhere in there these days, in the words, the music, the smells, the wall hangings. Even if you do happen to wander into a church or two, there are still ways to avoid Lent while inside, including the techniques listed below.

Finding gratitude through my illness

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As a columnist, I’ve always harbored a certain paranoia about being overly personal or exhibitionistic or in thinking my own emotional ups and downs are of interest to others. I’ve tried to respect that fear. Occasionally, however, circumstance dictates that I do write something more personal. This is such an occasion.

I want to express my gratitude for all the prayers and support I have received during these past seven months while undergoing treatments for cancer. That desert-journey has finally ended, and with a good result. Just over a month ago, I finished my last chemotherapy treatment and, three weeks ago, after a battery of tests, was pronounced “cancer-free.” To God, family, friends, colleagues and to the many who have supported me in prayer: Thank you!

John Updike, in a poem entitled “Fever,” once wrote about what illness might teach us:

Jesus Christ’s love for mankind holds nothing back

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Second Sunday of Lent (Year B) March 4 (Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Psalm 116; Rom 8:31b-34; Mk 9:2-10)

Can you imagine being asked to give away your most precious possession — a gift for which you had waited your entire life? And what if that prized gift was a beloved child?