SUNDAY of the First Week of Lent
Jesus, we are told in the Scriptures, was exactly like us in all things but sin. Jesus, in his humanness, knew how to say, “No.” And somewhere along the line, I don’t know exactly when, all of us learn to say the word, no. And from that moment we are, quite literally, on our own. Mom and Dad might think they are in control, but they aren’t. Once we learn to say the word, “No,” we are in charge of our own destiny. We must learn to say “No,” at the right times. We also know how to say, “Yes.” In today’s Gospel, Jesus said, “No,” to the Tempter. These temptations of Jesus are presented in the Gospel like a one- time happening. But, being like us in all things but sin, the same temptations of wealth, power and fame were probably with Jesus all his human life. We don’t get rid of all this stuff. We must learn to say, “No,” to it.
The Tempter is after all of us all of the time. The things that will draw us away from God, the forbidden fruit as it were, flash into our minds regularly. Old Satan doesn’t give up. Most of his suggestions for us fall under one or the other of the so-called, capital, or deadly sins, or cardinal sins. This classification of these sins has been around for a long time. Wikipedia, on the internet, tells us that their best known source is Dante’s Divine Comedy. But they were already around in the 6th century, which is way before Dante’s time. In any event, Dante, following Gregory the Great in the 6th century, lists them in the following order: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy and pride. Note they are also called cardinal sins. The word cardinal in Latin (cardus) means hinge. All sins, if you will, swing on these seven cardinal or hinge sins.
The purpose of the inventory in the 12 Steps (Steps 4 and 10) is to discover whatever it is in our lives that is blocking us from an intimate relationship with our Higher Power or God. This is a good idea for our Lenten practice. Take the capital sins one by one and see how they are the source of any defects or shortcomings that are standing between ourselves and our God. When we find something, let us humbly ask God to remove it. Lenten practices like this beat the daylights out of giving up peanuts or candy, or whatever. The inventory, and change, are what repentance is all about.
MONDAY of the First Week of Lent
In the first reading for today’s Liturgy from the Book of Leviticus, the Lord said to Moses,“Speak to the whole assembly of the children of Israel and tell them: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” God wants us all to be a holy people. He wants us to be whole, complete, fulfilled people. He wants us to be what he made us to be. I believe he made us all to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and being and our neighbor as our self. That is why the Great Commandment is the Great Commandment. And the closer we come to doing this, the holier we will be.
The Gospel for today gives us in a nut-shell how we fulfill both parts of the Great Commandment. Today’s Gospel, if you take it apart, adds up to what we commonly refer to as the Corporal Works of Mercy. We had occasion to mention them a short time ago in one of the daily homilies. Again, they are: Feed the hungry; Give drink to the thirsty; Clothe the naked; Shelter the homeless; Visit the sick; Visit those in prison; and Bury the dead. In doing these things, we are loving our neighbor. And in our Gospel for today, Jesus tells us: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.” By fulfilling the Corporal Works of Mercy we are not only loving our neighbor but Jesus, our God, as well. Again, to practice them as best we can when the opportunity presents itself is a wonderful Lenten practice leading to the holiness God desires of all of us.
TUESDAY of the First Week of Lent
Today’s Gospel selection from Matthew gives us something else to focus on during the Lenten season: Prayer. Jesus taught his disciples, and us, how to pray. He wants us to pray. We know we should pray every day. We want to pray. But, even with all this, we are lacking in our prayer.
The greatest block or difficulty with praying, for most people, is just plain doing it. I hear people say many times, and I probably say it to myself sometimes, “I don’t have the time to pray. I want to pray, but I just can’t find the time.” The time factor always seems to get in the way. And if there ever was a lousy excuse, that is it. We all have plenty of time to pray if we would just use it for that. There is an old AA cliche that comes to mind here: “Do it, dammit.” But we just don’t do it. We don’t take the time to pray. I have to do this and that and whatever that is so important. Baloney! And even if we are doing something else, we can still pray. Just make like Jesus is working along with you and talk to him while you are doing it. That’s all prayer is: talking to God. We can do it all day long no matter what else we are doing. Why not check out our prayer life during Lent and just make sure we are doing it no matter what else comes along?
WEDNESDAY of the First Week of Lent
For the past couple of days, we’ve been talking about how to get a closer relationship with God and our neighbor — things to be concerned about during Lent. And we have seen, to paraphrase today’s Gospel a bit, that “there is something greater” than what we are usually about. One of the things that blocks us from our concern for God and neighbor these days is the hurry that we are in all the time. Where are we all going so fast? I was on the freeway the other day, going along about 70 mph (the speed limit, incidentally) and someone passed me like I was standing still. He must have been going over 100. And I wondered where he was going in such a hurry. Where are we all going in such a hurry? What’s the rush?
I remember a column written years ago about this same topic by Ann Landers. Her advice: ”Slow down and smell the roses.” Not bad advice! Another piece of advice I heard somewhere along the line that also makes sense: “Make haste slowly.” Why not focus on this during Lent? Why are we in such a big hurry to get where we are going? There is something greater to think about than hell-bent-for-election speed.
THURSDAY of the First Week of Lent
Today is Valentine’s Day, the day set aside to express our love in a giving way to our spouse, family, friends, and people in general. I can’t think of a better Valentine gift than the one given to all of us today in today’s Gospel. Jesus said to his disciples, and to us: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Where else, pray tell, will you find a Valentine promise like this? Whatever you want that is good for you or others, is yours! “Your heavenly Father will give good things to those who ask him.”
FRIDAY of the First Week of Lent
Today’s Gospel points out the necessity of reconciliation on the part of the disciple of Christ when we are injured in some way by another or when we might be the cause of hurt to another. If I hurt someone or they hurt me in any way, an amends is due. We cannot hurt another person and then walk off into the sunset as though nothing had happened. This is not the Christian way. I must go to the person I hurt and express my regrets for what I have done and ask their forgiveness. This amends is for my own peace of mind and removing my own guilt and shame as well as an apology to the one I hurt.
The principle of amends is a big part of the 12 Steps of AA. Two steps, 8 and 9, are concerned with making amends to those I have harmed. Step 8 reads: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” And Step 9 reads: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” Sometimes this can get a little tricky and it is good to seek counsel before making an amends. In general, for the little everyday hurts we cause another, we are to make an amends.
Lent is a good time to reflect on whether I owe anyone an amends and, if I do, to go and do it. And it goes without saying that we will readily forgive anyone making an amends for hurting us.
SATURDAY of the First Week of Lent
Today’s Gospel goes hand in hand with yesterday’s where we saw we must reconcile ourselves with those we have hurt. Today’s Gospel tells us we must not only reconcile with others we have hurt, but that we are to love our enemies. This is the biggie commandment in the Sermon on the Mount. We are to forgive them for anything they might have done to us, make an amends for anything we might have done to them, and then, of top of all this, we must pray for them. The radical teachings of Jesus reach their pinnacle here.
All of this takes a great deal of humility, Some of us wonder why the split between the East and West in the Catholic Church can’t be reconciled. This split has been going on for a long time with the year 1054 usually being given as the starting point. The truth of the matter is that it happened long before this time. Why can’t this hurt be reconciled? Pride? The, “I’m right, you’re wrong thinking?” Do we even have the desire to reconcile this split? Yet, Jesus, the Lord of both the East and the West, tells us to love our enemies. My dear friends, we all have such a long way to go to fulfill this command of Jesus in many different situations. We need his strength and his grace even to begin. But let us remember that Jesus told us that all things are possible with his help. There is hope. And so we pray and pray and pray and when we are finished, we pray some more.