Beginning of Lent
March 1, 2017
A Homily - Cycle A - 2016-2017
by Rev. Lewis S. Fiorelli, O.S.F.S.
First Reading - Joel 2:12-18
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14, 17
Second Reading - 5:20-6:2
Gospel - Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
Jesus said to his disciples: "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
"When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
"When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you."
Today begins another Lenten journey, a time when we join Jesus as he makes his way to Jerusalem to undergo, for us, the paschal mystery of his dying and rising. As we begin this journey with Jesus, let us heed the advice of St. Francis de Sales to never see this as just another Lent If we do that, we run the risk of not approaching it with the spiritual energy, seriousness and attention that it deserves. These 40 days are God's special gift to each of us; they are a time to look at our relationship with Him and with one another and to take whatever steps are necessary to better that relationship with God and others.
We begin this Season as we always do with the symbol of ashes that are placed in the form of a cross on every forehead. Scripture scholars have studied the use of ashes throughout the Old Testament and have discovered that they indicate three distinct spiritual attitudes: mortality, repentance, and intercessory prayer. Let us take a moment to look at each of these.
MORTALITY: Early in Genesis and after the Fall, the Lord reminds our first parents that they were created from the earth and "unto dust" they shall return. Lent is a good time to be reminded that all life leads in time to death. For the Christian the thought of death is not meant to be a morbid one at all. Rather, the knowledge that one day we shall all return to dust prompts us to make the very best use of each day of life that we have: living the double commandment of love, the spirit of the beatitudes and the practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Lent reminds us that a concrete love of God and neighbor is life's highest spiritual priority. Each of us ought therefore to ask how we can better love God and neighbor - not in the abstract but in the concrete and nitty-gritty of daily life!
REPENTANCE: None of us needs to be reminded that we are sinners. We confess that fact in the penitential act at the beginning of every Mass and frequently with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Lent is just that special liturgical season when we take especially seriously the need to undergo whatever conversion of life or of thought or of action that may be necessary in order to become the Christian that God calls us to be. For many, repentance may not include so much a conversion from sin but a conversion to do the good that we have neglected to do or to forgive the hurt that we have thus far been unwilling to forgive, and so on. Therefore, frequently take the state of your heart to God in quiet prayer during these 40 Days. Let Him heal whatever needs to be forgiven and prompt in you whatever concrete good that needs to be done.
INTERCESSORY PRAYER: When her people were threatened with extinction, Queen Esther covered herself in ashes and prayed fervently to God for their deliverance. Her prayers were heard. Pray during this Season for yourselves, for your family and friends and for this very troubled and hurting world. Pray as that great woman did - with persistence and confidence and in the spirit of love and humility.
Prayer, fasting, almsgiving: these Lenten practices take on a deeper meaning when they are coupled with an appreciation of our mortality, our need for conversion and repentance, and our duty to pray for ourselves, for others and for our world!