This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent. These forty days of increased prayer, almsgiving, and fasting prepare us for the Easter celebration of Jesus Christ risen from the dead and living among us. With Jesus Christ and his Church, by virtue of our baptism, we can share in the Risen Lord’s ministry of redeeming the world.
Jesus wants us to enter into the desert with him where he gave himself completely over to God the Father by leaving everything else behind. For forty days he prayed and fasted, and by doing these three things he showed us how to overcome the temptations of the world, the devil, and our own broken nature.
By giving of himself completely to our Heavenly Father, Jesus was able to leave the video games, lattes and TV shows behind. Okay, you’re right, Jesus did not have those things, but he gave up all the comforts and entertainment of his day and age to increase his relationship, humanly speaking, with God the Father.
By this desert experience of giving of himself completely to God, prayer and fasting, at the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus showed us how to over-come our vices and how to work on our virtues by cooperating with God the Holy Spirit.
In today’s Gospel we read how Jesus’ complete self-gift to the Father and others overcomes all sin and death, hatred and revenge, for Jesus himself is the gift of love, reconciliation and peace. Because we are baptized into him, we share in his redeeming plan and he calls us to follow him radically: “… I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good… For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? ….And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Cf. Mt. 5:38-48.
Here are some examples of how participating in Jesus’ redeeming love and forgiveness might look like:
A young woman received her paycheck and gave 5% to her parish, but then placed another $20.00 into the votive candles and lit one for each of her six family members. She then knelt and prayed an Our Father and Hail Mary for each family member, holding them in her heart.
God repaid her by giving her a sense of peace and joy that her prayers are being used by God to bless her family, as well as increasing supernatural grace in her soul to deepen her share in God’s work of redemption. She felt inspired to fast from TV and invite family and friends to confession and Stations of the Cross. It was her best Lent ever.
A middle-aged man was asked by his Spiritual Director to practice saying to himself “Jesus mercy” any time conflict would come his way. He especially practiced this over Lent by calling to mind the times he could have said “Jesus mercy” at work, at home, even at his son’s sporting events.
At work he noticed tension rising between two co-workers who would often conflict with each other. He began to say interiorly, “Jesus mercy,” “Jesus mercy,” “Jesus mercy,” and the conflict subsided and the two apologized and worked to clear up any misun-derstanding.
Because that co-worker brought Jesus’ mercy into the workplace through his prayers, the employees were able to keep their focus on their goals and their work prospered. That business was able to help sponsor the mission work of a nearby Catholic Church.
When we follow Jesus Christ into these forty days of Lent by dying to our selfishness (that is what the ashes symbolize) and living for God and others by increasing our gift of self to God through prayer, alms-giving and fasting, God will reward us now and give us the eternal and ultimate reward of heaven.
Peace in Christ,
Fr. Thomas McCabe