Like A Watered Garden: Lenten Reflections of a Roman Catholic Woman Priest

Today in our Lenten readings we are told that if we remove oppression from our midst, curtail malicious speech, “bestow bread upon the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted” light shall rise for us in the darkness, gloom shall be like midday and our strength will be renewed. “….You shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails….”(Isaiah 58:9-14)

What a beautiful image that islife blooms from us and around us and light and life-giving water flows from us.

If only we do something to alleviate the suffering of those who suffer most-perhaps those who have the least, perhaps those who are forced to leave their homes and become immigrants, those who lose everything like those in Syria and Turkey post earthquakes and in Ukraine as war continues ravaging and wiping out whole cities, communities, families and lives. Perhaps those who live under the bridges here in Fort Myers as they continue to recover from Hurricane Ian, perhaps those who have faced the personal ravages of life and health and mental health, economic, and relational issues and can’t seem to get out of poverty and homelessness. Perhaps those who are bereaved or just plain lonely… and those living in Nursing Homes and simply those managing alone. Our texts are saying instead of giving up food or conveniences we are to give love and life to others who need them most for whatever reasons.

This follows yesterday’s reading in Isaiah that clarifies the “fast” God wants of us, is not giving up meat or candy but living lives that enact the gospel for the poorest and most oppressed among us: “This, rather , is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly,…setting free the oppressed….sharing our bread with the hungry and sheltering the oppressed and the homeless…” (Is 58:6-9).

There is a woman named Chris Miller who has organized groups of local volunteers and restaurants to feed the hungry in Lion’s Park here every Friday night. She and her beloved husband Rick Judy started with our Good Shepherd Ministry in 2007 and continued their feeding program after our Ministry left the park and began serving in a building we purchased for a church, lunchroom and shelter in 2009-2010. We are so blessed to be part of the flowing water that nourished the seeds of their ministry that has continued long after us and bloomed so fully and beautifully. Even when Chris lost Rick to cancer she was able to continue their ministry and every Friday night the hungry are still fed in Fort Myers. Tonya Van Scoy who started feeding in the park with a youth group before us and then joined with us also continued a regular feeding program on Saturday nights until recently. Indeed “their light breaks forth like dawn”!

There are many wonderful examples everywhere of people who are moved by the Spirit of God to serve one another. Recently, a Mom and her daughter, Jennifer Mosseso and her Mother, quietly started bringing home made food and Panera Bread food to Hurricane Ian victims living under the damaged Matanzas Pass bridge to Fort Myers Beach. A tent city had grown up there. When the Press heard of it they showed how these two women not only brought food but made caring relationships with those suffering. Their compassionate behavior also prompted the Town and County to do something more for these tragically displaced people. One only hopes that they were not just moved away or “out of sight” but moved to good shelter and next steps leading out of their homelessness. Yes, neighbors helping neighbors are a beautiful expression of the “fast” that God is asking of us this Lenten season. They are a “spring that never fails” and plenty comes from even the “parched land” around them. (Is 58:11)

Today we also read of Jesus calling the tax collector, Matthew aka Levi, to follow Him. And “Levi got up ,left everything and followed him”. Tax Collectors were a hated class in Jesus’ day and they were often accused of fraud and cruelty. They were shunned by most of the religious establishment and ordinary people. Today we may hate unwanted and unrealistic taxes just as much but we usually don’t blame the tax collector. And today we realize that the taxes paid can also provide food and shelter for the poor and hospitals for the sick and schools for children, and so on. Not so then when the taxes went to the occupying Roman government and were not put back into the local economy. The critics of Jesus aligned the tax collectors with sinners and accused Jesus of eating with “tax collectors and sinners”. Jesus tells them that he came to”call sinners to repentance”. Too bad, though, the haters of Levi and other tax collectors did not seem to know that they too were sinners. Nor did they apparently get up right away and follow Jesus as Matthew did or throw a party for Jesus to attend in joy for being called to follow.

Pope Francis reflecting on this in “General Audience, April 13, 2016 said :

“Like the tax collector Matthew, each of us relies on the grace of the Lord despite our sins. We are all sinners, we all have sins. By calling Matthew, Jesus shows sinners that he does not look at their past, at their social condition, at external conventions,but rather opens up a new future for them. I once heard a beautiful saying: ‘There is no saint without a past and there is no sinner without a future”. This is what Jesus does. There is no saint without a past and no sinner without a future. It is enough to respond to the invitation with a humble and sincere heart. “

So as we look at our lives and activities in this Lenten season, and as we are tempted even as Jesus was when he began his ministry ( First Sunday in Lent- the Temptation of Jesus-Matthew 4:1-11) to lead self-centered lives instead of serving God’s people, let us be thankful that we are called to follow and to serve by a God who knows us and loves us and delights in our attempts to serve.

BLOOM where you ARE, BLOOM!

Love and Blessings,

Pastor Judy Lee, RCWP

Rev. Dr. Judith Lee

Good Shepherd Ministries


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