Joel 2:12-18; 2 Corinthians 5:20-62; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Saint John Baptist de la Salle February 22, 2023
I have now participated in over seventy Ash Wednesday celebrations. I loved Ash Wednesday. The beauty of the celebration, the cross formed on my forehead, reminding me that without Jesus, I am nothing more than ashes. However, as a child, at least for me, Lent was all about what I was going to give up. "What should I give up for Lent? I think I'll give up chocolate." What should I give up for Lent? is the wrong question to start with. Rather, it is not the first question we should ask. It's the last one. Let me explain. If someone asks you what you are giving up for Lent, run away. They missed the whole meaning of Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. The prophet Joel had gotten it right, although, as a child, I did not understand what he was talking about. "Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord your God." It is no accident that on this day our Church calls us back into the struggle against sin and to conversion. When you are deciding what to do for Lent, be childlike, not childish. Here is what I mean. If we expect or would like to see some kind of spiritual growth this Lent, we should be seeking something more meaningful than just giving something up. Perhaps some spiritual practices, some good works, some new and challenging ways of approaching the day, each other, or God. Sometimes it just makes sense for us to urge each other on, to try a little harder. We need to look a little harder at our spiritual lives and think a little longer about what God is asking from us.
To me, this year in particular, Lent feels different. And I think it calls for a different approach. We have all been through the ringer, in one way or another. Lots of us have had our faith shaken, and many have simply stopped coming to church. COVID brought us to our knees. Many of us are grieving over the loss of a loved one. Many of us are physically healing or are still suffering. These past few years have been a soul-crushing, exhausting time for most of us. It has been a time of constant assessment of other people's trustworthiness, while we try to keep alive some spark of hope and good will toward others. When is the last time that it hasn't been Lent? At least that's how I feel. But in my heart of hearts, I know that is not what Lent is meant to be. So, I find it helpful to ask myself, when I am discerning what to do during Lent; Is this childish, or is it childlike? Lent has a way of uncovering some very old spiritual patterns in our lives, for better or for worse. Lent can make us think that God is angry with us, mad at me, and we can fend God off by throwing little sacrifices in the path of God's anger. Lent can also help us remember how simple our spiritual lives can be. We just simply turn to God and tell God we are sorry for our sins. Then God tells us it is all right, we are forgiven, just because God loves us so much. This is the difference between childish and childlike. It is easy to be hard on others, and it is easy to be hard on ourselves. But Lent is our time to make things simple again. It is our chance to be childlike again while there is still time. For myself, during this Lenten season, I am starving to remember deep in my heart that, even if no one else in the whole world can be relied upon, you can rely on Jesus. I am starving for something sweet, not like chocolate, but like Jesus. If giving up chocolate helps me remember that then I'll give up chocolate.