In a couple of days, it will be Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week for many Christian churches throughout the world. It is a week of preparation, of intensifying our prayer life, of focusing our minds on what we are commemorating this week and following weekend. We call to mind that on Good Friday, Jesus Christ willingly suffered and died on the Cross, so that all of us may be freed from the chains of sin. We remember that on Easter morn, Jesus rose from dead, and by that event, we all have been promised eternal life, death no longer has hold of us.
This is what Holy Week should mean for us, but in reality does it? In our country, the marketplace has completely skipped over Good Friday, straight into Easter. Displays of bright colored clothing, Easter eggs, every possible sweet, crowd the store shelves. For many families, plans are going forward for gatherings for Easter Sunday dinners. Now these things are not bad in and of themselves. But we cannot forget what this passing season of Lent was for; what holy period of time we are now entering.
Now, I will be the first to admit, that my own Lenten experience has not been as intense, as focused as I wished it to be when the season started. But in these final days leading up to the Holy Triduum, can I; can all of us make a last intensive push to be ready spiritually for this coming week? Let’s give it “the old college try,” shall we?
I know I have been writing as much in the blog, as I should be. That being said, I going to try writing a post in thirty minutes, at least every other day. Let’s see what path that leads me down. Blessings to you all!
Since last Wednesday, “Ash Wednesday,” the Catholic Church, along with other Christian churches, began a 40 day period of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. This leads up to Holy Week, and the commemoration of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Today, the First Sunday of Lent, the sanctuary of our church is decorated in somber, purple; with no flowers. We process in, not with hymns, but chanting prayers, begging for God’s mercy; and for the intercession of the saints.
The scripture readings for today, first tell of how our first parents, gave into temptation, and brought sin and death into the world. Then we hear the Gospel, the “Good News,” of how Jesus resisted temptation, and began the journey that would lead to our liberation.
So how will we spend these days of Lent; will we intensify our spiritual lives? Will we “repent and believe the Good News?” Will we be lights to a world so threatened by darkness, by hate, and violence. Let us “prepare the way of the Lord, and be witnesses of the power of His Love!
Psalm 25: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9 (10)
1 Peter 3: 18-22
Mark 1: 12-15
The story of Noah and the Ark has in many ways become a child’s fairy tale. Most depictions of the story are like a cartoon, showing friendly animals, lining up two by two, to enter the Ark. We see Noah and his family, smiling as they welcome the creatures coming towards them. Yet, like most of our modern fairy tales, the origin of the story of the Ark; the deeper meaning of the story, can be grim and frightening.
We see God, looking out at the humanity that inhabits His world and seeing only evil and corruption. Like a potter, unhappy with the pottery he has made, God intends to destroy His creation, wipe the slate clean. Yet, God is a creator, not a destroyer. While He intends to wipe out the evil, He sees the good that still exists, exists in Noah and his family. So God saves a remnant of humanity, and insures their survival. And in Noah and his family, humanity is reborn, life begins again. And the Creator promises never to destroy all humanity again, and the rainbow is the sign of that promise. He will seek another way to save His people from the power of sin.
And that way is found in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who, through His death and resurrection, freed all humanity, past, present, and those yet to come from the power, and the consequences of sin. And with that freedom, with the fulfillment of the promise the Father made to His creation, the “kingdom of God is at hand.”
This is the Good News that Jesus is calling us to accept and believe. To believe that God does love this world, loves us; loves us so much He gave us His Son to save us, to heal us. That kind of love calls for a response from us, and that response is to change our lives, to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, to live the Gospel!
The season of Lent is meant to be a time of preparation, a time of reflection, a time of conversion. A reflection on what our lives have been, and to see, in light of the Gospel, what needs to be changed. And we prepare our hearts to be open to experience the joy, and wonder of Easter morning, to celebrate the love of God
Joel 2: 12-18
2 Corinthians: 20-6:2
Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18
“Even now, says the Lord, 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.” (Joel 2: 2-13)
In the frozen, snowbound Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the celebration of Ash Wednesday goes on. I have been assisting at two Masses, and one service, distributing the ashes; marking each person’s forehead with the sign of the cross (or at least, I am trying to!). Each time, I tell the person: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” I want them to listen to the Good News, and to change their lives. Ashes on the forehead are an ancient symbol of repentance, from the time of ancient Israel, and further back in time. But it is only a symbol, it has no power, it has no meaning, if the recipient does not commit himself or herself to living the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Now this requires change; a change in the way we live our lives. It is a call to enter into a closer, more loving, and deeper relationship with our God. It is a call to let go of our selfishness, our self-centeredness, and reach out the Father; and to reach out to each other, friend and stranger alike. It is a call to let go of the negative self-image we can have of ourselves; and realize that God love us for who and what we are, no matter what. And we are called to reach out to the other wounded persons we meet, and share this Good News, whether by word, or by action.
Lent then, is the season wherein we can enter into a more disciplined way of life, with the aim of growing closer to God. We are encouraged to make even more time for prayer, where we can open our hearts wider, to let God in, so that we can experience that Love that surpasses all other types of love. And as our experience of that Love grows and grows, we are impelled to make more and more room in ourselves for God’s Presence. We need to discover what is our internal clutter, that personal junk, which is getting in our way of loving God. This is where the discipline of fasting comes in, where we can discover what we really need to live, and what we can do without. Where we can discover how it feels to be empty, and ready for Christ to come, and knock at the door of our hearts. And finally, after receiving such a great gift from the Father, we feel the need to share that gift of love with others, others who may be alone, feeling unloved, who believe that they are alone in a cruel, uncaring world. By practicing almsgiving, we learn to reach beyond ourselves, and touch those around us, whether they are family, friends or strangers. And we learn that we are not just called to share from our “surplus,” but to share ourselves totally with others.
The season of Lent has been, is, and always will be an opportunity to deepen our commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. An opportunity and a challenge for all of us. The challenge to grow in our faith; and no matter often we might fail, we will pick ourselves up and begin again. We will not be alone on this Lenten journey, Jesus will be us, inspiring us by His Word, and He strengthens us with His Body and Blood. And on Easter morn, He will be there to welcome us, into a much more wonderful life.