February 14, 2018
Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.
Perhaps he will again relent
and leave behind him a blessing,
Offerings and libations
for the LORD, your God.
- Joel 2:12-14
Our homily today at St. Francis of Assisi in Brainerd, MN took those gloomy, negative thoughts or anxieties that can sometimes come with the beginning of lent and nipped them right in the bud.
"Return to me." How much of our faith is encompassed in those three words? How much of our Father's love?
The journey may be long and strenuous (see: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving). These practices are not God's tests to prove our worth, but cornerstones of the process that frees us to pursue the Lord with reckless abandon.
Our busy-ness, our lack of contemplation prevent us from seeing his hand in the workings of our lives. Prayer teaches us to rightly observe and order our lives in respect to Jesus. It teaches us to humble ourselves and ask for the things we need and admit the things we do not. Prayer teaches us to reflect on our lives and give thanks for God's providence. Prayer teaches us to cooperate with and intercede for one another; a community of prayer is so essential to living a life devoted to Christ.
Our love of sensory pleasures makes us reluctant to give up those temporary, unfulfilling enjoyments for eternal satisfaction. Fasting trains the will to overcome these impulses and urges to serve the greater good of our families and communities. It also teaches us to recognize the difference between fasting and true emergencies and scarcity of resources, so that we might better recognize the abundance that surrounds us. Think of the difference between fasting in a house full of food and fasting because there is no food. Fasting gives us one of life's most important gifts: perspective.
Almsgiving teaches us to stop grasping for every. stinkin. thing. that we think we need! It teaches us to loosen our grip on money, possessions, and our lack of trust. By tithing, we acknowledge the source of All Good Things and that God knows what he's doing. How many times have we neglected to give to causes we weren't sure we could trust? Can we actually trust ourselves to use that money well either? God is truly the best manager, because his philosophy is Love itself.
Which brings us back to the first words we hear from Scripture during lent: "Return to me". Not "you've got a lot to repent for". Not "strap in, this is gonna be a doozy". We hear, "I am your Father and I love you. Come home." Lent is the road home, and we have the benefit of knowing that Jesus Christ is walking with us. We know that home like the back of our hands; heaven has been inscribed on our achin' hearts from time immemorial. Lent is the Way, and Easter is rest. Lent is Christ's passion, and Easter is his resurrection.
This Lent, let us all pray together to return, not as reluctant penitents, but as weary travelers who are coming eternally home to Jesus Christ's endless and loving reign.