2nd Sunday of Lent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
We all know that Lent is about prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. We know it's about “giving something up” for 40 days. Fish-frys on Friday. Getting ourselves ready for Easter. So, we're about ten days in, and it's normal to for us to wonder, how am I doing? But before we can answer that question, we need to think about how we are going to measure success and failure. The usual way to measure how we're doing would be to take stock of our fasting: am I keeping my Lenten promise not to eat chocolate or not to drink coffee or not to smoke or ____________? Another way might be to take stock of my prayer life. Am I praying more? Am I going to daily Mass like I said I would? In other words, we could measure success/failure with how well we are behaving, how well we are doing or not doing what we promised to do or not to do. Here's another way, perhaps a more mature way, to measure: am I bearing my share of hardship for the Gospel? Am I bearing this hardship with my own strength, or am I calling on the strength that God alone can provide?If you're trying bear your hardship w/o God, hear this command from Christ, “Rise! And do not be afraid!”
Fear is a great motivator for getting things done. Out of fear we can fast, pray, and give alms. We can give up most anything; pray longer, harder, and faster; and dig deep into our pockets. But fear is also a great destroyer of freedom. It's hard to argue that we're freely bearing our hardships for the Gospel if we are doing so b/c we are afraid of failure, or afraid of God, or afraid of Hell. Fear gets it done, but fear cannot get it done freely. And God wants our sacrifices to be truly given, freely offered. Not just handed over at the point of a threat but eagerly, voluntarily done for no other reason than we need to give God greater glory. And so, Christ commands us to “rise and do not be afraid.” Yes, he commands. Because sometimes we need to be ordered to do something so that we can see that what we are being ordered to do is nothing dangerous or painful, and actually for the best. Once we obey, the second, third, fourth time, we grow in holiness b/c we obey out of love and not fear. Paul writes, “He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus.” Grace conquers fear. Grace turns our fearful obedience into true and worthy sacrifices.
How we understand our sacrifices is vital to their effectiveness. First, your sacrifices do not “buy” you holiness. You are not purchasing amounts of holiness by giving up your favorite vices. Small sacrifices buy you small amounts of holiness, and bigger sacrifices buy you larger amounts of holiness. Second, you aren't changing God's mind about you by sacrificing your vices. You are not performing some kind of magical ritual that forces God to love you more b/c you abstain from a vice. Third, prayer and alms-giving during Lent aren't bribes to God to persuade Him not to be angry with you, nor are they goodies meant to entice Him to be happy with you. The very idea that anything we can do or say or think has the power to change God in any way is a pagan notion, and one we need to vigorously remove from our thinking. The pagan thinks in terms of appeasing the gods or bribing them into favorable action. The Christian knows that every good gift, every blessing, every grace he/she will ever receive has already been given. Our Lenten sacrifices make it possible for us to see more clearly all that God has given us and more easily receive what He has given. God makes our sacrifices true and worthy – not us.
If you are plowing through Lent fueled by fear, or just getting by on small doses of guilt, then hear the Lord one more time, “Rise! Do not be afraid!” Christ appears in glory to Peter, James, and John not to intimidate them but to reveal to them what a life lived in holiness and sacrifice will look like after death. He reveals the end, the goal of a Christian life – eternal life lived in the glory of God. Your Lenten sacrifices, both small and great, freely and joyfully given to God, take you further away from the world, further away from destructive attachments and distracting dramas, and into the hidden life of Christ. Fear cannot enter such a life. Because fear is rooted in ignorance, in not knowing. But we know. Christ shows us how it all ends. It all ends in glory. Shining like the sun, white as light. It all ends with God the Father proclaiming the Sonship of Jesus and endowing us with our inheritance. And our Lenten purification ends with the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. So, rise and do not be afraid. Pray. Fast. Give alms. And do so joyfully, gladly, eagerly. Sacrifice your fear and expect the glory of God!
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