21 February 2021 – 1st Sunday of Lent
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Brothers and Sisters,
“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Lent is all about?!”
In the spirit of this quandary, try and recall Charlie Brown’s similar question regarding Christmas, followed by a fantastic reply from his friend Linus. Where his blanket-loving-friend recounted Luke’s Gospel as his definitive answer. So, ask yourself once more: What is the true meaning of Lent? Much like Linus, my answer will point back to the Gospels for deeper understanding. Particularly the Gospel, according to Mark, which is “featured” in Year B of the Lectionary cycle. Mark 14-15 is the shortest of the four Gospels – and the most concise telling of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection; yet, Mark’s account highlights concepts for the reader with excellent efficiency. After reading, and confronted with those critical truths present in Mark’s telling of the Passion of Christ, don’t avoid them but instead, take these mysteries about Jesus to prayer.
Yes, Lent is about embracing our cross through penance, fasting, and conscientiously turning from sin to virtue. All are components of any Lenten journey, but if we aren’t careful, these good and worthy actions can cloud our horizon line’s focus point, which is Jesus. Our Savior should be a central focus – in all seasons and times – most notably, Lent. When we receive ashes, we hear, “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” but repentance absent of belief is pointless. Emptying without filling ourselves with what is good and holy will rarely grow fruit. Eliminating sin without a source of grace which can only come from a relationship with Jesus, will most likely lead to other sins creeping into our lives.
After all, sin is tricky, figuratively and literally. When sin becomes the only qualifier for our relationship with Christ, our view of God, redemption, and forgiveness becomes skewed. This mindset is a great tragedy because a God perceived as merely a divine authoritarian counting and weighing our misdoings could never understand our human hardships because a Creator only concerned with sin would only demand perfection. And so, a cage is created, where repentance without belief dominates, and there is never enough contrition to break free, and the truth and good news of the Gospel can’t take hold. Freedom comes by encountering a compassionate Lord, practicing trust in God, and accepting His offer of complete mercy. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, as conveyed in the Gospel today, He summarized: the kingdom is in our grasp. We can be in God’s presence – and we can remain there. While we want to eradicate all sin, not all sin removes us from God’s presence.
The opposite challenge exists in our world (and parish community) when we embrace belief without repentance. This mentality creates a “fluff” image of God who cares nothing about our sins – where no matter what offense we commit, our souls and ourselves are a-okay. At this other extreme, we need not even ask for mercy because God absolves without any participation in repentance on our part. Under this notion, the prodigal son would not need to return to his merciful father. Significantly reduced, the Sacrament of Reconciliation becomes something akin to a conversation with a therapist or counselor. A worthwhile effort if it makes you feel better, but unnecessary if you’re feeling fine. And in this approach, the importance of fasting, almsgiving, and penance quickly dissipates because our involvement in reparations for our sins isn’t required.
As with all virtue, the truth escapes either extreme. At the risk of being misunderstood, I offer the following suggestion to those who might fall in the trap of viewing God authoritarian, settling a cosmic score; spend less time in the Sacrament of Reconciliation this Lent. Instead, limit visits to a few select opportunities and focus on God’s abundant goodness any time you enter into prayer. Additionally, when examining your conscience, honestly consider both sides: your sin and your cooperation with grace. For those who have been away from the Sacrament, I encourage a return to Reconciliation this Lent. And don’t wait (after all, even with increased opportunities, lines generally get longer later in Lent). Take the first opportunity and click here if a guide to an examination of conscience is needed. An examination can be quite simple, though, such as: how’s your relationship with God, with your family and friends, with coworkers and neighbors, with strangers and others, and with yourself? And do not let yourself off the hook; take courage, go deeper. Our Lord’s mercy is waiting … for you.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help, pray for us.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
Live Jesus in our hearts, forever.
Rev. Michael S. Triplett