Monday, January 29, 2018
Lent is coming, Time to do Penance
In a few short weeks the season of Lent will be upon us. Catholics as well as many other Christians, will be giving thought to what they might do for Lent, what type of penance to undertake. A good beginning is to visit the three-pronged approach to this practice--prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Focusing on these three, and not just on fasting (sacrificing, giving up) helps us to go beyond a trap that can really be ego-driven because Lent is not just about "what I give up", but about deepening our relationship with the Lord through prayer, and expressing our concern for the poor. Our fasting should be fueled by these two to insure balance.
I would invite my readers to include the above, but to go beyond it. We need to take a look at the meaning of the word repent, or do penance as found in the Gospel. Mark's Gospel, the most direct and to the point of the four, has Jesus, right after His baptism by John in the Jordan, going to Galilee and proclaiming the message, "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel."
Jesus here is not just saying, "Be sorry for your sins and believe in the Gospel." He is rather inviting His followers to make a radical shift on how they view life, not viewing it from the perspective of the leaders of this world or of the various ideologies offered by this world. He is inviting us to make a whole new basis for our life and for the decisions we make.
One of the challenges for Christians today is to realize that we tend to get caught in a trap. We want the Gospel and Jesus and the Kingdom to be the source of meaning in our life but we compromise that stance with our loyalty to political parties, politicians and different ideologies. We live in the real world. As Americans we have to choose whom to vote for and what party to back, and that is fine, but as we do so can we admit that in the present state of affairs our decision is always a compromise.
It is not only the world of politics that traps us but the various competing ideologies tossed at us by news media, talk shows, etc.
Perhaps for Lent we can read and meditate on the 9th chapter of John's Gospel, the story of the man born blind. This story is not about physical, but spiritual blindness. The Pharisees cannot admit that they are blind. Jesus tells them that there would be no sin in admitting blindness but tells them, "We see, you say, and so your sin remains." (Jn 9, 41)
Maybe, just maybe, this Lent we can say to the Lord, " I am blind. My vision is cloudy. I see You, Your values, but I cling on to some others. My blindness leads me to make idols of political parties and ideologies, to make idols of personalities and politicians. Help me to see Lord. Help me to make your Gospel and the Reign of your Father, the basis for every decision in my life."
If you do this I promise you:
A) You will have inner peace.
B) May people, including your friends, will misunderstand you
That is my experience anyway