A few words on each of the readings that kick off Lent.
For the first two readings I am struck by the opening lines of each as particularly worthy of contemplation as we enter the penitential season of Lent. Joel (2:12-18) begins with these words:
Even now, says the LORD,2:12-13a
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
We tend to associate Lent with fasting even though only two days require reduced food consumption (today and Good Friday). While we may not be thrilled with being hungry, we can definitively say that we would prefer to avoid things that give us cause for weeping and mourning. That is as it should be. God, in this passage, is calling for repentance from what should be a cause for weeping and mourning: sin. So while we are called to fast from food (more about that in the Gospel), we do even better to fast from iniquity. We are called to tear our hearts from earthly pursuits that draw us away from the Lord and turn to Him completely.
Paul, in 2 Corinthians (5:20-6:2), does well in reminding us of our calling as we begin our journey toward Easter:
Brothers and sisters:5:20a
We are ambassadors for Christ
Every single Christian is called to be such an ambassador by word and example with Lent being a particularly apt time to do so as we become more introspective and strive to do more worthy things and avoid unworthy things. Paul tells us in the same verse how to be properly disposed for this role, echoing Joel (above): “be reconciled to God.” The Church invites us in a special way during this to give up that which has caused distance between ourselves and Jesus and to embrace that which can bring us closer to Him — and in the process be increasingly mindful of others. We are ambassadors for Christ when we are Christ to others and see Christ in others — “God…appealing through us” (5:20).
Last but not least the Gospel gives us the oft-repeated keys to a life lived for the Lord: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. None of these are to be done for show lest we become prideful — all that is important is that the Father knows. But all are necessary for the Christian. By opening up Lent with this reminder, the Church provides a reminder of the importance of these actions, encourages us to increase all of these actions throughout this season, and invites us to continue these worthy practices throughout the year.
BOOKS FOR LENT
I began today the recently released What Christ Suffered by Thomas W. McGovern, M.D. By studying Roman crucifixions, using medical knowledge, and contemplating spiritual and psychological aspects of suffering, he hopes to shed new light on exactly what Jesus experienced in His Passion. I can always use a vivid reminder of what (my) sin did to our Redeemer.
I also began today an advance copy of my friend Jim Papandrea’s soon to be released book called Praying a Christ-Centered Rosary. I will be praying the Rosary each day this Lent for a friend or colleague and his or her intentions and this book will help me enter into the mysteries more deeply. I’m quite sure.
SPIRITUAL HELPS FOR LENT
There are so many opportunities to draw closer to the Lord this Lent. You may just want to peruse my Catholic Links page and click through for some ideas. One coming to my inbox daily is from Catholic Answers, helping us be ambassadors to Christ. Another is daily reflections on the readings from some Dominican confreres (sign up here). One last recommendation: Parousia: The Bible and the Mass is available for free during Lent.