It’s the climb: St. Ambrose community shares Lenten reflections

Lindsay Steele
Members of the St. Ambrose University community pray the Our Father during Mass at Christ the King Chapel in Davenport.

Members of the St. Ambrose University community in Davenport are writing reflections on daily Scripture readings during Lent. Here are a few of the reflections, edited for space. To read more reflections go to

Jess Mendenhall, senior physical therapy student:

During winter break, I went to a rock climbing gym with my sister. After climbing some easier courses around 50 feet high, my sister recommended I try an 80-foot wall with a horizontal lip jutting out at about 65 feet… Never one to back down from a challenge, especially from my sibling, I agreed.

I started out strong, flying up the first 50 feet easily. By the time I made it to that horizontal lip, I was exhausted. My muscles were shaking as in a wild leap I tried to propel myself over the ledge. I didn’t make it. I flew downwards, landing safely in my harness and dangling high above the ground, held secure by my sister. Immediately I called down, “Yeah, I can’t do it. This isn’t gonna happen.” But my sister just yelled back, “Take a minute and rest, I’ve got you. You can stay right there and try again.” … After catching my breath and taking a minute, I called down that I was going to start moving again. This time when I leapt, I made it safely up over the ledge to the top of the course.

St. Ambrose University student Jess Mendenhall considers the connection between faith and rock climbing in a Lenten reflection.

This was the situation that came to my mind last week during eucharistic adoration as I prayed over life’s recent challenges. These past few weeks have contained stress, struggle and hurt. I feel exactly how I did on that horizontal lip: weak and fighting with everything I have to get over the edge to the other side. After sitting with this story, I realized there’s freedom in second chances. That freedom comes readily when you realize Jesus is the one holding you securely on the other side of that rope.

In the midst of all that life throws at me, it is so easy to grow tired. I often find myself in survival-mode as a college student, just trying to get through the day, let alone the week. When I pour all that I have into something only to come up short, my immediate reaction is just like it was when I fell from the ledge. “That’s it, I can’t do it.” Time and again, I hear Jesus speak gently, as my sister did that day, “Just rest right here for a moment, I’ve got you. When you’re ready, we can try again.”

That calling moves me to keep going, to progress, to grow, to know there is always hope. As Matthew 6:8 emphasizes (in the March 8 reading), “our Father knows what we need before we ask him.” Oftentimes, for me, that’s a place to rest when I grow weary, and to be surrounded by unconditional love no matter the circumstances.

Because of Jesus, when we do fall, an abundance of grace and forgiveness is waiting to catch us. We don’t have to be perfect, only willing to try again. When we grow tired, Jesus tells us to rest in him, meeting us where we’re at and holding us as we are. When we feel stuck, unsure how to move forward, we can continue in certainty that God will show us the next rock to step on, the next direction to take that moves us towards the goodness he has in store.

Luke Johnson, freshman nursing student:

Today (March 7), we find a call to action: God has given the commandments to Moses, and Jesus shares with us how he will distinguish his flock. Not an easy read, nor much of a comforting message in it all. It does one thing: it distinguishes those who choose God versus those who choose the desires of this world.

God has given these laws to us to create peace, love and civility among people. Jesus talks of his flock being separated on his right and on his left — a separation brought about by what we do (or don’t do) for those in need: feeding those who hunger, giving drink to those who thirst, visiting prisoners locked in chains, giving clothing to those who have none. When we do this for one of these who are suffering, we do this for Christ, he says. Those on the right hear the cry, and do something about it.

Those on the left abandon the cry, acting in selfishness and denying Christ. Jesus lives in the poor, the homeless, the prisoner, the people whom our society deems disgusting, unworthy or detestable.

These passages leave us — student, faculty, believer — with a call to action: to serve those in need of our resources and our love, to give them all that we can, to live by the commandments and keep our relationship with God. Let us be challenged to serve, even when we don’t want to. Give our last $20 bill, even though we want a nice dinner; give away our excess clothes and shoes, even though we have other things that are a priority. Visit a suffering prisoner and tell them that someone cares about them and loves them. Volunteer to feed and house the homeless and hungry in our cities, even if an evening of Netflix sounds so much better.

Bishop Thomas Zinkula

We hear of the prophet Jonah in today’s readings (March 9). When the Lord asks Jonah to set out for the great city of Nineveh and preach against their wickedness, Jonah runs away. Rather than going east by land, he goes west by sea. There is a storm; Jonah is thrown overboard; and he is swallowed by a large fish. After the whale spewed Jonah out on dry land, God commands him a second time to go to Nineveh and preach repentance. This time he does it; he had learned his lesson! The people of Nineveh repent.

How are we like Jonah? What are we running away from? Who is God calling us to be? What is God calling us to do? How might we experience conversion in our lives like Jonah (although it was half-hearted) and the Ninevites? The late Basil Pennington, a Trappist monk and priest, once wrote, “We can experience grace, conversion, acceptance if we have three things — a desire to be with God, a lonely place, a quiet heart.”

Jonah experienced conversion in the belly of a whale because he had time to be alone, to reflect and to pray. During this Lenten season, may we all have a desire to be with God, find a lonely place, and quiet our hearts so that we, like Jonah and the Ninevites, might experience conversion and surrender our will and our lives totally to God.

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