First Sunday of Lent
Mark 1: 12-15
“This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”
The word “fulfillment” has many different meanings in the Scriptures among which are “accomplish,” “perfect,” and “complete.” This would have the above words of Jesus for this First Sunday of Lent read: This is the time of perfection, the time of accomplishing your purpose, the time of completeness. This understanding makes these words very fitting for the season of Lent. Lent is a time to consider our perfection, accomplishing our purpose here on earth, a time of becoming complete. And all of this is another way of saying that Lent is a time for holiness. To be holy is to be a whole person, a perfect person in the sense of being all that we can be, a fulfilled person, a complete person.
St. Thomas Aquinas defines holiness as that virtue by which the human mind applies itself and all its acts to God. Holiness is the virtue by which we make all our actions subservient to God. The small ejaculation we used to say in grade school exemplifies the virtue of holiness: “All for thee, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
Holiness does not have to be a terribly complicated thing. St. Thomas tells us the concrete manifestation of the virtue of holiness is the keeping of the commandments. This simplifies things a bit, although it doesn’t make holiness an easy matter by any means.
There are, of course, 10 commandments given to humankind by God himself on Mt. Sinai. They are found in chapter 20 of the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament. They are a common sense way to happiness, joy, peace, and holiness. If I follow them, I will be the holy person God wants me to be. I remember being given the task of memorizing them in grade school. I still remember them. But how often I think of them is another question.
When is the last time you read these common sense ways to holiness and happiness? Here at the end of this homily I will write them out in their short form for all to read:
1. I am the Lord your God; you shall not have strange gods before me.
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
3. Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.
4. Honor your father and your mother.
5. You shall not kill.
6. You shall not commit adultery.
7. You shall not steal.
8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.
10. You shall not cover your neighbor’s wife.
“For I, the Lord am your God; and you shall keep yourselves holy, because I am holy.”
Monday of the First Week of Lent
Mt. 25: 31-46
“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers (and sisters) of mine, you did for me.”
In this quote from the Gospel chosen to be read today, Jesus refers to those who are “least in rank,” least in the pecking order of human beings, in the human community. Jesus further identifies himself with these “least” and tells us that whatever we do or do not do for these, we are doing or not doing for him. And he does not leave it entirely up to our imagination to figure out just who these “least” are. Jesus identifies them for us in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and those in prison. We see the closeness here to those mentioned in a homily last week with regard to the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
Jesus identifies with the lowly. St. Francis also points this out to us in his image of God. For Francis Jesus was among the disadvantaged of society. He was born in a stable, worked as a common carpenter, had no place to call home, had no money. Thus Jesus identifies himself with the least, the lowly, in the Scriptures. Francis tells us that our God is a “humble” God. He cries out in his Letter to the Entire Order: “Brothers/Sisters, Look at the humility of God.”
Lent is a time, therefore, to pay attention to the poor, the humble, the needy, the minorities, the disadvantaged, the handicapped – on all those looked down upon and shunned by society – in short, Christ himself. Let us ask ourselves just how we are going to accomplish this during this holy season of Lent.
Tuesday of the First Week of Lent
Mt. 6: 7-15
Today’s Lenten Gospel selection infers that we are to pray to our heavenly Father daily – if not many times during each day. Lent is a fine time to examine our prayer life, as I often hear it referred to. Is there an urgency in my daily prayers, is my heart in it, or am I rendering lip service to the Lord?
I remember my first few days in Guest House, a treatment center for alcoholic priests in Lake Orion, Michigan. I knew this was it! I was either going to get into recovery from my disease or I was going to drink myself to death. I prayed – and I mean I prayed with urgency for God’s help NOW. And he answered my prayers. There have been many other times during my life when I prayed with great urgency and God responded. Maybe during our prayers in this season of Lent, we can ask ourselves if there is anything of urgency that I should bring to the Lord.
Wednesday of the First Week of Lent
Luke 11: 29-32 – Jonah 3: 1-10
“This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah.”
Jesus had already given many signs that he was the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, the one for whom they were waiting. But the people refused to listen to him, to open their eyes and their hearts. A little bit of openness on their part would have made a world of difference.
Openness is a difficult virtue to come by. All of us have our own attitudes (mental habits) and opinions and they are hard to change. Any attitude is very difficult to change as we should all realize by this time in our lives. Openness or open-mindedness means to be receptive to the ideas and opinions of others who disagree with us. Openness tells me that they might just be right and I might just be wrong.
Whenever I think of becoming open where I was previously closed, I think of the rather miraculous event in the life of Bill Wilson, the chronic alcoholic, which eventually led to the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous and the saving of millions of lives. On a December day in 1935, Bill admitted himself to Town’s Hospital in New York to “dry out.” This wasn’t the first time he had done this same thing. His doctor, Dr. Silkworth, came into his room to see the patient for what seemed like the umpteenth time. This time, however, he came to inform Bill that there was nothing more that he could do for him. Bill was either going to go insane or die or both. Shortly after this, his now sober old alcoholic friend, Ebby, came into the room. Ebby was sober at that time because “he had found religion.” Bill had little or nothing much to do with either God or religion, but after Ebby left, and remembering the doctor’s words, Bill began to ponder the idea of a God as he lay there in the bed. Suddenly he hollered out: “If there is a God, let him show himself now.” Immediately a bright light filled the room and Bill felt a sense of peacefulness come over him that he had never felt before and was never to feel again. And from that moment, Bill Wilson, the chronic, hopeless alcoholic never had another drink of alcohol.
This spiritual experience or spiritual awakening broke through all the denial, closed attitudes, and rationalizations that prevent openness. Bill became honest with himself and the honesty produced the openness that helped him finally see the light. Bill went on to become the co-founder of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and the author of the 12 Steps which opened the door of recovery to millions of alcoholics and other addicts. Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 Steps are one of the greatest contributions of the 20thcentury to the world.
Lent invites us to search ourselves for any areas of close-mindedness in our lives. If we find any, let us pray to God for honesty and his help in becoming open to the way, the truth and the life of Jesus.
Thursday of the First Week of Lent
Mt. 7: 7-12
“How much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.”
In the above quote from today’s Gospel, Almighty God refers to himself as our “Father.” He could have used the word “Master,” “Overseer,” or some other dominating type word. But, he didn’t. He chose the intimate word Father. Fathers have a bond of love with their daughters and sons. God tells us he is joined to all of us in a bond of love. We all are to have an intimate relationship with our God, and one of the qualities or criteria of an intimate relationship is communication. Can you imagine loving someone and not communicating with them in some way or other? That would be a strange relationship, to say the least.
Our Father in heaven wants us to communicate with him through prayer and meditation. And he tells us in our Gospel today that he will listen to us and grant us our requests: “Ask and it will be given to you.” God always hears our prayers. His answer may not always be in accord with our desires, but he does hear us. Let us increase our prayer and communication with our Father during this special season of Lent.
Father, help me to love you and your will for me more and more.
Friday of the First Week of Lent
Mt. 5: 20-26
“Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous have two Steps concerned with making amends and repairing relationships. This to me signifies the importance of doing so. People with addictions who follow the 12 Steps were selfish people and therefore they hurt others or caused others not to be pleased with their behavior. They have plenty of amends to make upon acquiring sobriety. And it should be noted that these amends have nothing to do with who started the rift between the two people. If there needs to be reconciliation, amends, in a relationship, then do it. Don’t wait for the other person to do it just because it may have been his/her “fault.”
I found Steps 8 and 9 very difficult to work, but once accomplished they were perhaps the most freeing and rewarding of all the Steps. Reconciling ourselves with others, making amends, takes a huge weight off our shoulders. It truly sets you free. I was taught not to use the word “sorry” when making an amends. It is an overused word and often times a meaningless word because it almost always keeps the ball in one’s own court. I think that in making an amends it is necessary to put the ball in the other person’s court. I was taught to make an amends in the following manner, by saying to the person: I regret it if I hurt you in any way. Will you please forgive me? The word “regret” is far more effective than “sorry” and the final words “will you forgive me” put the ball in the other person’s court. They may forgive or not forgive. I personally have never been refused forgiveness making an amends.
Let us all reflect today on whether or not we have an amends that needs to be made in a relationship that has gone a bit sour.
Saturday of the First week in Lent
Mt. 5: 43-48
“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Sometimes people read the above words and begin to scratch their heads, followed by the words: You’ve got to be kidding! I am supposed to be perfect as God is perfect? Obviously there is something wrong here!
The Greek word teleioo, means to make perfect in the sense of “complete,” “accomplish,” “fulfill.” There is another word we talked about not too long ago in one of these homilies with the same meanings applied to it. That word was “holy.” A holy person is a person who is complete, who is whole, who has accomplished his potential, who is fulfilled. And so is the “perfect” person. Perfect is holy and holy is perfect.
God is surely complete, whole, accomplished and fulfilled. Otherwise he wouldn’t be God. He told us to be holy as he is holy. Holiness, perfection, is part of God’s very nature. He cannot not be perfect.
For us, it’s a different bag of apples. Perfection, holiness, completeness, wholeness, fulfillment are not part of my nature. They can be to a degree. I will never be perfectly perfect, if you know what I mean. I will never be God. But I can work at being whole, complete, holy, to a degree. This all depends on how I exercise the potential I have in the gifts and talents God gave me.
So our Gospel chosen to be read today should cause us to reflect on how well we are using our God-given gifts and talents. Am I being the best me I can be? Probably not. There is always room for progress. Where do I need to make progress? Where can I make progress, to be a better, more whole, complete, fulfilled person during this Lenten season? This is, as they say, a good question.