Homily – 1st Sunday of Lent

   Lent is upon us again my friends.  We may come to this season with some “baggage,” of not so fond memories of long fasts and long church services to go to, feelings of guilt perhaps about not being good enough and part of the reason that Jesus needed to come and die on the cross.

   If any of this sounds true for you, then I would like to invite us all to come to this season with some fresh ideas and see perhaps, these 40 days as a gift given by our Church to help us “open up” and grow closer to our God who loves us beyond all imagining, and came not because of our sinfulness, but for love of us so as to show us ways to live better, our one wonderful life—each of us. 

   Just as Jesus found it necessary before beginning his public life to go apart and prepare for the challenges he would face; we too need such times to do the same.  He knew that the challenges would be many—to speak truth to power, to let all his sisters and brothers—all of us, that is, know not only how much we are in fact loved, but to address those “lording” their power and position over the less fortunate to change their ways, to call all of us to be our best selves for ourselves and for others. 

    Today, we have the opportunity to receive ashes on our foreheads, which we will do after the homily today.  Receiving ashes is a simple, but very telling reminder of our vulnerability and impermanence in this life. The gift of a human existence is temporary, in other words, and our life in Christ is always calling us to that reality and challenging us to be our best for whatever time we have.

    In truth probably, none of us relishes thinking along these lines—I know I don’t, and I don’t think Jesus did either, in his humanity, and this was part of his agony in the garden I believe, knowing that his time in this life would end.

    Lent calls us then to struggle with these questions of impermanence, of justice for all—sharing the goods of this world, extending mercy as Paul writes of our God to the Romans in today’s 2nd reading: “Here there is no difference between Jew and Greek, all have the same Creator, rich in mercy toward all who call.”

   The first reading from Deuteronomy is a testament of gratitude for all that our God has done.  Lent can be a time when we become more grateful for the gifts in our lives that we regularly take for granted—gifts that in the impermanence of our lives could be gone tomorrow. Again, that was one of the unforeseen gifts that Michael gave us in his unexpected death—to treasure each day and make it one that we can look back on and see that we were able to do something good for someone, even if that “someone” was ourselves.

   In working with each of you through my ministry here and in the greater community of our outreach, I meet and work with many, very good people who are so generous with their time, talent, and treasure.  And within the generosity we shower upon others who we know have less than us; we must try and remember to share a bit with ourselves, because an “empty cup” can’t continue to give.  It’s a balance my friends.

   A positive thing that we might do this Lent is to spend some time, “in the basement of our hearts,” as someone once said, with our brother Jesus and discover how we truly look at ourselves.  Can it be said that we love ourselves, treasure our existence, are grateful for each day?  We can only face our world and all its needs, and do a good job of it, if we start from a place of love.  Maybe we will discover, “in the basement of our hearts” that there is an old wound to our spirit that needs healing.  Maybe we need to forgive ourselves for the times we have been less than Jesus asks of us.  Whatever we may find there, perhaps we can come to terms with it and move on to a healthier place, beginning to love ourselves again as God always has.

   My friends, for those of us who come out of many years’ experiences in the past of fasting, abstinence and other “penances” that signify, Lent, much of this is quite a task to take on; and end up, still appreciating a time like Lent.  Usually, it comes in the Church Year, at least in our climate, in the dead of winter and it might make us feel dull, but through the 40 days, we begin to glimpse spring, when new life begins to burst forth.  This new life not only shows itself in material ways around us, but there is every chance that this new life will be seen in us as well if we have allowed ourselves to open up to the larger world around us—the world that so desperately needs true followers of our brother, Jesus.

   The prophet Isaiah, in one of the Mass readings of this past week challenges us to be about the “fast” that our God truly wants—the “fast” that calls us to care for the least among us.  With this in mind, I share some commentary that I heard on public radio this past week. 

   The guest in the time slot I was listening to brought up the great suffering of the Ukrainian people at present in Putin’s war.  He rightly acknowledged their suffering, but went on to say that, in his experience, when the same kind of suffering-killing-injury, and destruction happens in countries of black and brown-skinned people, the same animosity and disgust against the perpetrators with a willingness to do something doesn’t seem to be present. 

   And being that this was a radio commentary, I wasn’t able to see this brother’s skin color, but from his next comment, I knew he was dark-skinned.  He was addressing the inherent, often unnoticed racism in several newscasters who were reporting on the people fleeing Ukrainian cities.  One of the reporters said, “These people look just like us (white skin) and many are Christian.” 

   Now to a white person and a Christian, this may have sounded fine and brought forth emotion and solidarity, but if you were a dark-skinned Muslim, you can imagine the reaction to this statement that does not match the lack of concern they likewise felt in their own times of trouble. 

   It shocked me when I heard this and had to wonder if I too have, in the past, sounded “racist” in comments I have made.  Of the many books that have been written in the past few years on racism, the authors seem to agree that racism is in our very DNA.  The same can likewise be said of “sexism.”  I know that I want to talk this over with my brother, Jesus, in the “basement of my heart” this Lent. 

   So, it would seem that a different kind of “fast” is before us to consider this Lent—one that can truly purge, not just our physical bodies, but our spiritual and emotional selves too—of racism and sexism—flaws that we perhaps aren’t even aware of.  This is not to say that physical fasting and abstinence aren’t good because many times such practices give us the strength to move on to the much harder issues—uncover them to the light of day and do something to change our behaviors.  Unfortunately, I think, many times we don’t extend the “fasting” beyond the physical. 

   Interesting that our country and its airwaves yearly sponsor, Black History Month in February, and a month to women in March.  On the face of it, we might say, this is good! But looking deeper, we might say, why is there a need to do either if we believe as Paul said in today’s second reading, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, all have the same Creator.” 

   Looking then to today’s gospel from Luke, I found it interesting that to all of the devil’s temptations, Jesus turns to the Scriptures to make his response.  Perhaps if each of us did the same more often—turn to the Scriptures for guidance in the ways to go, or as I always say to us, “Follow in Jesus’ footsteps, we would have a better track record trying to become our best selves.

   I find great comfort in today’s Psalm 91 response and especially in those times when I’m not clear on the way to go— “Be with me God, when I am in trouble…” 

   So my friends, as we begin once again, this really beautiful time of Lent—a gift, if we can see it as such, to come to know that One better that we profess to follow, then, I believe we can come through these 40 days more open, more loving, more willing to be all that we can be for ourselves and for others.   Amen? Amen!