February 17, 2021
The meaning of the season of Lent has never changed although the way Catholics have experienced it have changed, and adapted, and continue to develop.
How do we celebrate the yearly celebration of Easter, of the Resurrection of Jesus is the question? It takes more than a day or two to prepare. Would that it could be just the time to prepare its special foods, drinks and dessert that associate with Easter, even to this day.
How much time do we need to prepare? Over the centuries, it was just the few days before the fest, but gradually developed into several, into a week, three weeks, and six, and then 40 days and an Ash Wednesday.
I am sure that we all recognize that we live in a busier and more complicated world today than we ever have. And so, we develop a locomotive pace to life which often takes away from Easter and the Risen Christ. We spend less time, rather than more in our spiritual selves. We can get all the recipes cooked, flowers purchased, and even new Easter clothes more quickly, but what about me and you are the Risen Christ?
Older Catholics believe (as they were taught, to focus on acts of penance, mortification of giving up something, cutting something out, offering up inconveniences, doing something to identify with the sufferings of Jesus, feeling his sadness, perhaps like his blessed mother did.
Some Catholic cultures have over identified even including physical suffering and harm to their bodies.
Lent does not require and the Church warns against, becoming overzealous. Equally true is also the opposite. Catholics who must get their ashes, as if they were a sacred charm that will protect them, living lives disconnected to a Christian spiritual life.
So let me share some information now, to help your Lent be helpful to you as a Catholic who wishes to feel closer to God.
For the last 1000 years, the Catholic Church has listened to today’s readings from our Scripture — for a thousand years.
“Return to me with your whole heart with fasting and weeping and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments and return to the Lord your God.”
These words were spoken to the people of Israel after they had returned as refugees from Babylon. The Prophet Joel blamed themselves for being far away from God, too busy to make any room for God in their lives. They had put their trust in everything other than God. They lost everything and were taken as slaves to Babylon.
Often, I wonder, is the pandemic our time in Babylon. Are we making God a priority or are we just hoping a vaccine will make it disappear? What is going to make God take pity on us today? To “return to me with all your whole heart” is still the answer.
If I were to bet on God, I would say that God is waiting and that our concern for God has not yet stirred God’s concern for us.
The well known speaker and writer Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister writes: “Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now. Lent is a summons to live anew.”
We don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know if we are close to God. We don’t have to be brilliant to know whether I let God be a part of my life. If I never much think of God, or do much to have a relationship with God, God is a blur.
Do we really want to change? All it takes is “a desire to do so.”
“Rend our hearts” is a metaphor for doing something that will change the status quo of our lives into a better person with a fuller life.
Lent is not about staying the same as if we are less conscious of who we should be like. St. Paul suggests in our second reading that we should be “ambassadors for Christ as if God were appealing through us.” We could work at being a positive, caring, helpful person who contributes to our family and to its relationships. A person who believes, who hopes, who trusts, who reaches out is a person whom God has touched. Good ambassadors for Christ step out of themselves and realize there is a big world out there which Christ lights.
Begin to live. Our “God within” waits for all of us to open up. God wants each of us to let out our true self.
You see, giving up a piece of candy just doesn’t quite do it, change our space to be better. Promising God that I will pray a rosary every day won’t do it if we don’t make some connection to Jesus and Mary beyond the words or find our hearts growing in love and changing us to be a better person.
Lent is a time to get better at growing up to be who we are supposed to be — that ambassador for Christ.
Lastly, in today’s gospel, Jesus cautions us in whatever we are going to do for Lent to “take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them.” If that is our aim, we will not receive any blessing or reward from God.
If you are going to be more generous with your money, and give some to projects like the Food Bank, like Meals on Wheels, Jesus advises us to do such good things without looking for a thank you and a slap on your back.
The most important word that Jesus uses today is the word “secret.” In fact, you don’t have to tell anyone what you are doing for Lent. If you change and grow in a positive way, others will see and feel that. They will intuit that you must be doing something very good and helpful for yourself.
I think that Sr. Joan has hit the nail on the head: “Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now.”
It is easier “to do a ritual,” to say a prayer than to ask the Holy Spirit to inspire us as to how to get around the blocks in our hearts. If we stop to think about it, we are the ones who built the blocks. With a little inspiration and encouragement from God we can remove them. And then we will feel so much better.
The word “secret”, I believe, refers also to being simple, being humble, and asking God to encourage and to help us.
If you were to ask what I think is a most important practice, I would suggest giving 10 minutes a day to be with God. It may seem “a long time,” when you first begin, but by the end of Lent you will experience that it is not.
Many good things can happen to you when you spend this deliberate time with God. You will be more “like yourself.” Others will like you. What has got over you, they will remark.
The last words of today’s Gospel tells us: “Your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” If you don’t believe me, really try Lent this year!