Daily Lenten Meditation

The Cross of Christ Teaches Us. . . About Repentance

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 CORINTHIANS 1:22–24 


This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah. LUKE 11:29 

Some years ago I visited the Florida State Prison, accompanying a group of men from around the state who converged on the prison one Saturday of every month to have fellowship with men convicted of the vilest crimes imaginable. I introduced myself to Ron, who lived three hours away from the prison. After some pleasantries, I walked away, and then fell into conversation with another man, who introduced himself as Tom.

“You know Ron?” Tom nodded toward the first man, who had put his arm around an inmate.

“Just met him today.”

“See the guy he’s hugging?” I nodded. “Five years ago, that man murdered Ron’s only son. Now look at them. How does Ron do it—forgive him, I mean?” I didn’t know.

The first proclamation of the gospel by Jesus was that those who wished to follow him needed to “repent and believe.” We are prone to think of “repentance” as giving up sin—and to some degree that is true. However, in the time of Jesus the word would have been more accurately translated, “to radically change the mind, one’s way of thinking.”

The man visiting his son’s murderer every month had “repented.” His way of thinking would seem totally foreign to most of us; it makes sense only to those familiar with the gospel message of Jesus: Love your enemies. Forgive seventy times seven. See Christ in the least of his brethren—even in prison.

Sign of Jonah

The people of Jesus’ day wanted him to perform a sign to prove that his message was true. Today many of us wish for the same. In reality, these signs are all around us but we are blind to them. Even if we see the sign, it doesn’t always convince us. I once attended a healing service where people were literally jumping out of wheelchairs. It didn’t make me believe; if anything, I left the service convinced that the healer was a fraud.

In the preceding gospel passage, Jesus called those seeking signs from him evil. They were evil because they refused to acknowledge the many signs that God had already worked in their midst that confirmed that the ministry and teaching of Christ were from God. Even though I am tempted to look with disdain on those who asked for a sign from Jesus in the gospel, I know deep down that I, too, often forget about the many “signs” that God has given me to confirm the truth of Jesus as the Son of God.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus promised the “sign of Jonah.” This sign is often interpreted as the preaching of repentance: Jonah preached in Nineveh for less than a day before his message  The Power of the Cross  produced a radical change in the hearts of the people. By comparison, Jesus had preached for three long years. If pagan Nineveh was so quick to repent, why were those who heard Jesus’ message so slow to give up their way of thinking? Earlier in Luke’s gospel, Simeon’s prophesy may hold the key to this question: “This child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against” (Luke 2:34).

The oldest interpretation of the “sign of Jonah,” which is also found in the Gospel of Matthew (16:4) comes from an unfinished commentary on this gospel, penned by an anonymous source dating from the time of the early church fathers. For this nameless wise person, the sign of Jonah was the sign of the cross. His reasoning? St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, where Paul makes specific reference to the desire for signs among the Jewish people and what he gives them in response—Christ crucified.

Responding to the Sign

What will it take for us to trust in Jesus’ message? The cross of Christ can fill people with dread. And yet, it is at the heart of the good news that Jesus preached. It is diametrically opposed to the way the fallen human race thinks; enamored with forbidden fruit, from which it hopes to become “like God.” The world shuns the tree that bears the only true Source of life and wisdom. As St. Paul told the Corinthians, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

To the world, it is foolishness to think that anyone could forgive to the point of embracing his son’s killer. As for me, the power of the cross is poignantly revealed in this holy man I once met in a prison in Florida. By embracing the cross, he was able to do exactly what God does when he invites us to his banquet. The cross of Christ either convicts us of murdering God’s Son or makes us into a new creation—a being who is truly remarkable to behold

The Power of the Cross is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.

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Michael Dubruiel

The St. Joseph Novena

The St. Joseph Novena continues.

When Jesus ascended into heaven, he told his Apostles to stay where they were and to “wait for the gift” that the Father had promised: the Holy Spirit.  The Apostles did as the Lord commanded them. “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:14). Nine days passed; then, they received the gift of the Holy spirit, as had been promised. May we stay together with the church, awaiting in faith with Our Blessed Mother, as we trust entirely in God, who loves us more than we can ever know. 

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Daily Lenten Meditation

The Cross of Christ Teaches Us. . . How to Pray 


In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. HEBREWS 5:7 


And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. MATTHEW 6:7–8 

While visiting the Holy Spirit Trappist monastery in Conyers, Georgia, I wandered into the abbey church one afternoon to spend a few moments in prayer. A young woman with two small children was already there. Although she prayed inaudibly as her two small children circled about her, I could tell by her raised hands and her tears that she was pleading and reasoning with God. I have no idea what the woman was praying about, only that she was praying the way Moses is described in the Letter to the Hebrews, “. . .seeing him who is invisible.”

As the Israelites battled the Amalekites (see Exodus 17), Moses lifted his hands in prayer, holding his wooden staff over his head as the battle raged in the valley below. So long as Moses’ hands remained in the air, the Israelites were victorious; as Moses’ arms grew tired and began to fall to his sides, the battle turned to the enemy’s advantage. When they realized what was happening, Aaron and Hur stood on either side of Moses, holding his hands aloft, until the battle was won.

To the early church fathers, the prayer of Moses in the battle with the Amalekites foreshadowed the victory Christ won on the cross. Like Aaron and Hur, we have an opportunity to stand with Christ, interceding for the salvation of souls. Of course, Moses, Aaron, and Hur had an advantage that we do not: They could see the effects of Moses’ intercession on the battle raging below. How our prayer life would change if God gave us the ability to see the effect our intercessions—or lack thereof—have on the battle that is being waged daily for souls.

The letter to the Hebrews draws a strong connection between the cross and prayer. Because every moment of our earthly existence is threatened by death, and we know neither the day nor the hour when that existence will come to an end, we, too, need to cry out to the God who can save us. Like Moses, we need the help of our fellow Christians to hold up our arms when they grow tired. We, too, need the help of the Holy Spirit to make up for what is lacking in our prayer.

Praying as a Follower of Christ

Throughout the centuries, Christians in the East and the West have signed themselves with the cross. When it is done with little thought or care, the sign loses much of its power. Contemplating both the action and what it symbolizes as you make the sign, on the other hand, is the perfect way to begin any conversation with God.

As you make the sign of the cross, you place your entire being in the shadow of the cross of Christ. By invoking the Trinity as you make this holy sign, you immediately call to mind that  facing the cross is something we dare not do alone, but only in God’s presence. Every moment, we must choose between the way of the cross of Christ and the way of perdition. Every minute, the battle for our salvation is being lost or won.

“Do not pray like the Gentiles,” Jesus instructed his disciples. Some Christians see this as a prohibition of repetitive prayers, but clearly this isn’t what Jesus was condemning. The admonition had scarcely fallen from his lips when he proceeded to teach his disciples one of the most beloved prayers of all time: the “Our Father,” or “Lord’s Prayer.” Not only did Jesus teach his disciples to pray using a certain form; in the gospels we read that Jesus himself prayed the same words over and over in the Garden of Gethsemane, “He went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words,” (Matthew 26:44).

When we share in Christ’s Passion we will often find ourselves able only to mouth the same words over and over. The early disciples of Jesus, those most familiar with his teachings on prayer, developed litanies and other repetitive prayers. For example, the “Lord Have Mercy” litany has remained in the liturgies of the East and West to this day, and is drawn from several gospel accounts, most notably the two blind men in Jericho who voiced this prayer repeatedly in desperation to Jesus, and who voiced it all the louder when the crowd tried to rebuke them (see Matthew 20:29–31).

Similarly, the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) is taken from the story of a blind man in Luke’s Gospel (see Luke 18:38). In the early church, Christians prayed with their bodies as well as their minds. Congregants often prayed with their hands outstretched in the “orans” position, lifting their minds and hearts to God as well as identifying with the crucified Christ. There have been attempts to restore this practice within the church; others choose to pray this way in private. In this way not only do we imitate the cross of Christ, we acknowledge that all of our prayer is through Christ and in Christ. It is also a good way to express one’s abandonment to God’s will. As our arms tire, we remember that our strength cannot save us; we need help both from God above and from our neighbors below.

So what are the “empty phrases” of the Gentiles that Jesus condemned? He objected to the mindless offering of prayers without faith. While times of “spiritual dryness” are a normal part of the Christian experience, we must guard against “going through the motions” for the benefit of others, and persevere with faith and trust.

In times of doubt, we must strive to embrace the cross of Christ in our lives. Refuse to give in to the passions, or to be held captive by sin. The way of the cross is the way of healing. As Father Benedict Groeschel rightly points out, the only thing that Jesus promised his disciples in this life was persecution. Yet many of us get caught up with the “cares of this world” and forget about the cross we are to carry as followers of Christ. May the cross with which we sign ourselves, and the cross we place before our eyes, always keep us mindful of what we are doing and what is at stake.

The Power of the Cross by Michael Dubruiel is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.

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Matthew 25 Gospel Reading

Today’s Gospel is Matthew 25.

The genesis of this book was inspired by a set of talks that Father Benedict J. Groeschel C.F.R., gave several years ago in the Diocese of Manchester, NH. At the time while researching material for a project I was working on I came across an advertisement for the talks and found both the title and topic striking. The topic seemed to fit Father Benedict’s lifetime of working among the poor and raising money to help their plight. I approached him, shortly after listening to the tapes and asked him to consider doing a book version. He liked the idea but was reluctant to pursue the project alone due to the shortage of time available to work on it.

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Unwilling to let go of the project, I approached another friend of the poor, Bishop Robert J. Baker of the Diocese of Charleston. I knew that Bishop Baker’s priestly ministry had been devoted to finding Christ in the poor and with a wealth of experience he had in this area that if I could join his thoughts with Fr. Groeschel’ s we would have a book that would be of great benefit to the rest of us. After approaching Bishop Baker with my request he agreed and then Father Benedict agreed to collaborate on this book.

While the Bishop and Father Benedict were working on the written text of the book I came across a stunning work of iconography one day while visiting an Eastern Catholic church. On the back wall of the church was an icon of the Last Judgment taken from Matthew 25. I found that the great iconographer Mila Mina had written the icon. I immediately contacted Mila and asked if the icon might be used as an illustration for this book, her response was “anything to make the Gospel known!” Thanks to Mila and her son Father John Mina for allowing Joyce Duriga and David Renz to photograph the icon at Ascension of Our Lord Byzantine Catholic Church, Clairton, PA.

Fr. Groeschel has written the introductory text that begins each section as well as the final “What Should I Do?” at the end of the book, and Bishop Baker has written the individual meditations and prayers contained in each of the six sections.

While this book was being written, Father Benedict was involved in a horrific accident that nearly took his life. At the time of the accident the text he was working on was in his suitcase. He had just finished the introduction to “When I was a stranger…” as you read over the text for that section you might sense that he was having a premonition of what was about to happen in his life-where he would soon be in an emergency room under the care of doctors, nurses and as well as his family and religious community.

You will find that this book provides you with keys to finding Our Lord in the poor, and to overcoming the fears and obstacles (represented by the seven deadly sins in each section) that prevent you from responding to His call.

First Sunday of Lent Meditation

The Cross of Christ Teaches Us. . .

Our Mission


 And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your ass these three times? Behold, I have come forth to withstand you, because your way is perverse before me; and the ass saw me, and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have slain you and let her live.” Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that thou didst stand in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in thy sight, I will go back again.” And the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men; but only the word which I bid you, that shall you speak.” NUMBERS 22:32–35


 Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him. MATTHEW 4:10–11 

One of the strangest stories in the Old Testament recounts the mission of the prophet Balaam. A pagan king wanted to conquer the Israelites, and wanted Balaam to help him achieve this ambition by pronouncing a curse on the enemy. So he summoned Balaam.

At first Balaam refused to come, but eventually Balaam set out on his donkey to meet with the king. Although this story is found in the Book of Numbers, it is the Second Letter of Peter that gives us insight to Balaam’s motives: “Forsaking the right way. . . they have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Be’or, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a dumb ass spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness” (2 Peter 2:15–16).

Balaam was not setting out to do God’s will; he was trying to profit by the gifts that God had given him. Balaam was stopped en route by his donkey, which saw an angel barring the path. When Balaam beat his donkey, the animal protested that he was trying to save his master’s life. Finally Balaam’s eyes were opened to the angel of the Lord, who affirmed that, indeed, the donkey had saved his life. The angel told him to go along to the king: “Go. . . but only the word which I bid you, that shall you speak” (Numbers 22:35). In the end, Balaam blessed the Israelites, accomplishing God’s purposes. However, Peter’s epistle reveals that Balaam’s temptation moved him along the path to do the will of God. He did not start out intending to do good, but God intervened.

Spiritual U-Turns

A friend once told me of the time he decided to give in to a certain temptation that he had been fighting for years. As he went to get into his car that night, he discovered that one of his car’s tires was flat. Most people would see a flat tire as a momentary inconvenience; my friend saw the flat tire as a sign from God. He stayed home that night, and from that moment on the temptation left him. God used my friend’s momentary lapse to put him on the pathway to holiness.

Scripture has many examples of God using Satan’s ploys to accomplish his own purposes. The Gospel of Matthew offers one such example. When Jesus was about to begin his ministry in Israel, he went into the desert to fast for forty days—symbolic of the forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert. During that time, Satan presented three types of temptations to Our Lord. Ironically, each of the particular temptations Satan chose was related to the mission that God had given to Jesus. Each of them was a perversion of Jesus’ true mission and purpose.

Bread of Life. First the evil one tempted Jesus to turn stones to bread. After all, Jesus was hungry from fasting. However, Jesus knew that his greatest hunger was not physical but relational: He had a hunger only God could satisfy.

The significance of this temptation became clearer on the night before Jesus died, when he took the bread and changed it into his own Body and Blood. “I am the bread of life,” Jesus declared. “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:48, 51).

Those who partake in the Body and Blood of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine, wrote St. Cyril of Jerusalem, become “united in body and blood with Him.” Similarly, St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio) observed that after communion, “the heart of Jesus and my own—allow me to use the expression— were fused. No longer were two hearts beating but only one. My own heart had disappeared, as a drop of water is lost in the ocean.” The miracle of the Eucharist is that Our Lord transforms our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.

 Source of Life. In the second temptation, Satan tempted Jesus to demonstrate his power by throwing himself off the Temple roof, so the angels would rush to his defense. Jesus recognized that his enemy had twisted Scripture to achieve his own purposes. “You shall not tempt the Lord your God,” he replied firmly (Matthew 4:7).  The things that tempt us most in life can lead us to discover our true calling.

As with the temptation to turn stones to bread, Satan’s temptation was a perversion of the real mission of Christ. By dying on the cross, Jesus threw himself into the hands of the Father, trusting that God would raise him on the third day.

When Franz Jaegerstaetter, a saintly Austrian who refused to fight in the Nazi army, faced certain death because of his refusal to give in to the Nazis’ wishes, Franz wondered if he were committing suicide. It was a meditation on the mission of Jesus, who went to Jerusalem knowing that they were going to kill him there, that finally convinced Franz that standing up to the evil of his day, no matter what the personal cost, was the right thing to do.

 Prince of Life. Finally the Lord was tempted to bow down to Satan in order to win the world. However, just as Jesus rejected the attempts of his followers to make him king or to win the kingdom by the sword, so he rejected this bloodless solution. Jesus knew that real victory would not come easily, and that his kingdom was not an earthly one. His message was not a popular one; ultimately it led to his death on the cross. This “King of the Jews,” as the Romans named him, knew of but one way to win over the world: “. . .when I am lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32).

Those who would be powerful continue to bow to Satan in order to win the world, selling their souls for a temporary advantage. Politicians, religious, and others who promote evil in order to win—whether the prize is power, approval, or other earthly glory—may succeed for a time. But such victory is fleeting, and leaves in its wake an emptiness that is as close to hell as one can get on this earth.

Find Your Mission

Just as Satan tempted Christ with a perversion of his true mission, the things that tempt us most in life can lead us to discover our true calling. However, we will recognize God’s purpose for us only by the light of the cross. Using God’s gifts to achieve anything other than the divine plan will not bring long-term satisfaction. The path to true joy comes from placing our gifts under the control of the Holy Spirit, and allowing the cross of Christ to reveal Satan’s lies and deceptions for what they are. St. Augustine, who spent his early years tempted by the beauty of creation and even fathering an illegitimate child, later found in God the beauty he was seeking. “Too late, O ancient Beauty, have I loved Thee,” he wrote.

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The Power of the Cross by Michael Dubruiel is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.

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Repent or Perish

The First Luminous Mystery: The Baptism of the Lord

Our Lord, though innocent, takes on our sins as He enters the water of Jordan and is baptized by John. His mission of our salvation is blessed by the Father’s praise and the Spirit’s descent. Ask Our Lady to help you pray this decade, pondering the light that comes from submission to the will of God.

–from Praying the Rosary: With the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and & Mysteries by Michael Dubruiel and Amy Welborn.

Repent or Perish Luke 13:3

“I must decrease, He must increase” St. John the Baptist told his disciples after his encounter with Christ. Our submission to the will of God begins with our submission to Christ–our own dying with Him and rising anew in Him at our Baptism. But the act of submission needs to happen at every moment of the day. Every second brings with it a moment of prayer–will I submit to my will against His or will I bow down to His authority and choose Him. The world may cry out “I’ve got to be me,” but the servant of God cries out “I’ve got to be His.” St. Paul reiterates this when he declares, “I live, no not I, but Christ.”

We fear this repentance. We secretly grieve that we won’t be ourselves if we submit. Something within at a very early age urges us to resist (original sin) and it does not go away quietly. So many of us are slowly perishing, spending our demise judging others, living in darkness.

The biblical notion of this state of humanity is that of something that is lost. Will we continue to cling on to the lost being or will we allow ourselves to be found by Christ–at this moment and at every moment walking in His light and overcoming the darkness of the lost?

Friday Stations of the Cross

In 1991, Pope John Paul II introduced a new Bible-based interpretation of the Stations of the Cross. This devotional guide invites readers to prayerfully walk in solidarity with Jesus on his agonizing way of the cross—from his last torturous moments in the Garden of Gethsemane to his death and burial.

Now with full-color station images from previously unpublished paintings by Michael O’Brien, this booklet creates an ideal resource for individual or group devotional use, particularly during the Lenten season.

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