March 6, 2019
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
One Lent a faithful Catholic decided to give up coffee completely. So, he did. And everyone else suffered with him! He was irritable and short-tempered, so not only was he miserable without his daily caffeine fix, but he made everyone else miserable.
Now if God is calling you to give up coffee this Lent, and you discern that this is truly from God, then go for it. But know this — Lent is about something much more than giving up coffee or candy or soft drinks or alcohol. The Holy Season of Lent invites us to conversion, in the Greek sense of that word — metanoia. Which means a change of mind, which leads to a change of heart, which leads to a change in the way we live and love.
When we change our ingrained patterns of thinking, which are not attuned to the mind of Christ, then we can love others more like he loves. Thinking with Him, using the Gospels as our guide, we can then love one another as He loves us.
So Lent is not so much about changing what we eat or drink— the exterior stuff— as it is a change from the inside out. Changing the way we think, so that we might rend our hearts, and in breaking them open, be stretched to love even more, so that we might return to God and to one another.
Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are ancient practices, which transform our way of thinking and seeing the world, which in turn expands our heart to love as we’ve been made to love. Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are three interconnected penitential practices which become the energy of ongoing conversion, a dying to all in our life which is not of Christ.
Would that this Lent we would fast from judging and condemning others! When we give up looking for the splinter in our brother’s eye, then we can see more clearly the log in our own. When we pay close attention to our thoughts, we see how quickly we jump to judgment. The call of God in Lent is to pay attention to our own blindness, to those ways of thinking which blind us to the image of God reflected in the face of the other.
The invitation is to humility, to honestly recognize that we are no more holy or less holy than anyone else, that we are all sinners in need of God’s saving mercy in Christ. Humility kills hypocrisy and propels us to do good, not so others may think good of us, but because this is what God commands us to do.
Would that during these 40 days we would grow in our relationship with God through prayer! Many people say “I don’t have time for prayer.” Well, this is where fasting feeds a life of prayer, as we give up some of the wasted time we spend on Facebook or other social media, or the wasted time we spend vegging in front of our TV or other mind-numbing entertainment devices.
The prayer we all need to grow in is LISTENING to God. Too often we think of prayer as giving God a to-do list and then becoming upset with God, because God did not do everything we told God to do. This Lent listen to God by making the daily Mass Scriptures your daily food. Listen to what God is saying each day in His Holy Word that you might hear what God hears—the cry of the poor and the brokenhearted, the weeping of those crushed in body and spirit.
Would that during these 40 days we would give alms by giving of ourselves more fully in love of others! It is a good thing to give monetary gifts to help the poor, but Lent invites us to a more profound giving of alms, and that is the gift of our very self to others. We do this best when we put ourselves in the shoes of others.
Can we feel-with the homeless mother on the streets of Oklahoma City who is worried sick about how to provide for her child?
Can we empathize with the parents fleeing violence in Guatemala to make the long trek to the US border? Can we taste their fear and feel their terror and know how much they love the children they are trying to save?
Can we place ourselves in the shoes of a husband and father, who because of an accident and lack of health insurance, has lost his job?
Can we, with the Spirit’s help, break out of our own little self-centered world and enter the world of a family member or co-worker or fellow parishioner, and just for a moment see what they see and feel what they feel?
When we put ourselves in the shoes of the “other”, everything changes. Then any alms we give them come not from a place of pity but of compassion. The gift of oneself to another human being is what Christian hospitality is all about, because then we welcome and love the suffering Christ in them.
The cold ashes we will soon receive on our foreheads remind us that now is the time to be reconciled to God and to others. Soon these bodies of ours will turn back to dust, so now is the time for Metanoia.
Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving lead us to reconcile us to God and to others. These three Lenten practices bring us closer to God and to others.
They produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives for others to feast on, the fruit of love and joy and peace, the fruit of generosity and goodness and gentleness, the fruit patience and kindness and faithfulness.
Then when this Lenten journey leads us to the doorstep of the Easter Triduum on Holy Thursday evening we will have been transformed more fully into the Body of Christ. We will be living a more abundant life, united more closely to the Lord of the Life, the Conqueror of Sin and Death, the Risen Lord Jesus, who is the reason for this season.