Sunday, 14 February 2016
First Sunday of Lent
So, Lent has begun. As every year, I am reminding folk that Lent is not about bashing ourselves over the head for our sin; we ate not meant to damage ourselves. Rather, Lent it is about weeping and mourning, as Ash Wednesday reminded us; weeping and mourning for having offended God who loves us so much. When we hurt someone we love, such as our child, our parents, our brother or sister, we hurt for them, do we not? We make up to them by doing something nice for them; by actively showing our love. This is a good way of handling Lent: doing something beautiful for God, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta would say. Those beautiful things are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The first two relate directly to God, the third to our neighbour.
Our prayer is our way of speaking to God and listening to His response in our conscience; our heart. We cannot have a good relationship with those with whom we never converse, and this is as true of our relationship with God as it is true of our relationships with those around us.
Fasting is not about giving up sugar or our favourite TV show for Lent then going back to them when Lent is over; it is about changing who we are by our way of life; about getting rid of old bad habits and developing new, good habits. It is about giving up all those things that, even though they may be good in themselves (such as sporting events, time with family etc) can become distractions from our religious duties (how many of us choose to play in a sporting event than attend Sunday Mass?) getting our priorities right: putting God first, not the glories or comforts of the world: as Thursday reminded us, what gain is it to have won the whole world yet lost or ruined one’s very soul?
Almsgiving is the social aspect of doing something beautiful for God, and fixes our attention on the acts of corporal and spiritual mercy; it is about taking the time to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, tend the sick, visit the imprisoned, pray for the sinner, instruct the ignorant etc.
We will all fail as we struggle through Lent -and through life. We came into this world handicapped by sin; we came into it broken people, and we cannot expect the broken to work perfectly. This is where the need to have ‘broken hearts’ rather than bashed heads is important: Christ equates sin with sickness of soul, saying He has not come for the virtuous but for the sinner; the healthy have no need of a physician, it is the sick who need him. And we are sick. All of us are sick in sin to one degree or another; all of us need Christ. Lent is a time for refocusing on our relationship with Him. The devil may show us the comforts and glory of the world with its relativism and subjectivism. We have to be strong. We have to worship not the things of the world or follow passing political correctness; we have to put God before worldly glories, and adhere to the truth, which is Christ, because it is only the truth which sets us free.