Wednesday, March 9, 2011

As we begin this Lent, God's word for today is "now."

“Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God’s ear to yourself” – St Peter Chrysologus

(Gospel Mt 6:1-6, 16-18)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you pray,
do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners
so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you fast,
do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast,
anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

What seems hopeless to you? Where is the destruction so great and the time so late? Jesus promises: "Even now," your marriage can be restored. "Even now," you can recover your health. "Even now," our country can be freed from the curse of shedding the innocent blood of aborted babies. "Even now," our lukewarm and sinful loved ones can be renewed. "Even now," Jesus can free us from years of compulsive behavior. "Even now," we can repent of the sins we have always rationalized. "Even now," we can accept God's grace to forgive. During these forty days we are invited into the desert with the Lord to do battle with the world, the flesh and the devil. Sin has fractured our freedom. The Cross is the Splint sent from heaven to set us free. Lent is a time to apply the splint and learn to walk again.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that "In man, true freedom is an "outstanding manifestation of the divine image" (CCC #212) However, as a result of sin our freedom was fractured. Again the Catechism reminds us that "The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin." (CCC #1734) That last phrase is from the Apostle Paul. (Romans 6:17) That same Apostle reminds us that "it was for freedom that Christ set us free". (Gal. 5:1)

In Lent, the desert comes searching for us. Beyond the din arises the emptiness. It takes a certain kind of time to listen. In Lent we are called into the presence behind the words to realize how we are not alone. Living can break us down into pieces but we come back together again in different ways. Sometimes it is in the square where people cry out for justice and the cry is heard around the world. Sometimes it is the desert where the words of love are heard again.

The ashen crosses on our foreheads are not marks of passivity or despair, but signs of hope. We believe that "now" is "new" and that "even now" there is hope. Lent means "springtime." Repentance evokes rejoicing (Lk 15:7, 10, 32). Fasting leads to freedom (Is 58:6). The cross is the tree of life. Therefore, "now" and "even now," let us return to the Lord with all our hearts (Jl 2:12).

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