The readings remind us that we have started Lent and provide answers and directions to the questions we so often have as we prepare for Lent and all the suffering and glory that is part of that season and Easter. Just a week or so ago I was asking myself these very questions so being assigned this particular day with the focus of these readings is once again a blessing to me.
The first reading is very explicit regarding fast and how one needs to approach it. While the first part seemed very typical to me of Old Testament reading, I must admit to thinking that the last part seemed so New Testament in its emphasis of sharing the bread and clothing the naked. I could imagine those words coming from the lips of Jesus. As a child approaching Lent, I always asked myself (and sometimes even my mom), “What should I give up for Lent?” At that point in my life, the sacrifices to be made during Lent were related to “giving up” something I really wanted – candy, desserts, games, TV shows – it frequently was connected with a food sacrifice. Later in life, my sacrifices expanded to not only include giving up something but also adding something. What could I be doing extra during Lent? At that time, my “extra” revolved around saying the rosary daily, going to mass daily, or attending the Stations of the Cross. I still tried to “give up” something by this point I usually had a secondary gain from what I “sacrificed.” I could give up the sweets and gain being healthier and perhaps a modest weight lost because of the sacrifice. This year as I approached Lent I thought again about what to give up with a little different twist (perhaps I am finally maturing in my “later years!”) – what do I give up that is keeping me from the most important values in my life and from having a closer relationship with God. What are the distracters in my life – distracters that take precious time away from genuine time with family? What are the distracters that steal from time to engage in a more authentic relationship with God and my preparation for eternal life with him? A very different approach for me. . . . Now with these readings in mind, I am challenged to examine anew “the what extra” I should be doing as well. Who do I need to serve better this time to demonstrate the love of the Lord – to manifest what we have been taught and the sacrifices that were made for us?
The responsorial psalm focuses on attention on an honest and sincere seeking of forgiveness. It speaks of a contrite heart. We can only truly arrive at a contrite heart by first examining our own sins against God and others. Once again, I am reminded of the 4th and 5th steps in the 12 steps of recovery used in so many self-help groups. The 4th step addresses the need to do a searching and fearless moral inventory. Wow – easier said then done especially when you know the 5th step will follow with its expectation that you will share that inventory with God and another human being. Hmmm. . . .sounds as though one is getting ready for Reconciliation. How fascinating that the road to recovery emulates our road to salvation – no coincidence here! When we approach God with such authenticity and humbleness we will not be spurned but rather saved.
The gospel also answers questions about fasting. Here we are reminded to appreciate what we have when we have it. How often after the loss of a loved one do we hear, “I wish I had said, I wish I had done. . .” Jesus reminds us all to dance at the wedding, the bridegroom is still here but be prepared for when he is gone.
I am grateful once again for the opportunity to reflect upon these words that have allowed me to better answer my questions from a couple of weeks ago. How will I prepare for Lent? I know better now what to give up and what to do extra. No perfect answers but I believe moving in the right direction.
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