TUESDAY HOMILY: Returning to the Fundamentals
Are you ready for Lent?
Today's readings help us to prepare for Lent by reminding us of what it takes to be restored to God's image and likeness.
Today's readings help us to get ready.
In the first reading, we see the end of the story of creation, in which God created the human person in his divine image and pronounced him "very good." But we know how quickly our first parents fell from that image. Lent is a time for us to recall that like them, we have not always behaved in a "very good" way and so it's a God-given chance to help us to come back to God so that he can recreate us in his holy likeness.
Lent is, in some ways, analogous to the spring training that baseball players are now starting in Florida and Arizona. The world's greatest baseball players are about to start fielding ground balls, catching pop ups, laying down bunts, working on pick-off moves, taking relays from the outfield, and practicing double-plays. It's not that they don't already know how to do this.
Spring training, however, is a time to return to the basics, since if they don't perfect the fundamentals, it's going to be a long year on the diamond.
Likewise, Lent is the time in which Catholics return to the fundamentals of the faith. It's an occasion to focus on our responsiveness to God's graces in our life, leading not just to a "slight course correction" in our behavior, but a thorough conversion, a death to our old ways so that Christ can rise from the dead within us.
It's a time to focus our attention for 40 days on things that we're supposed to be doing throughout the year but that we can often do sloppily or not at all.
Just as baseball players get ready to head to the warmer climates in the south and west, so we need to be getting ready with Jesus to go to the desert for the next 40 days.
Tomorrow Jesus will focus on the fundamental practices of prayer, fasting and charity. As we today finalize our resolutions with regard to each of them, it's important that we recognize that these practices by themselves won't necessarily restore us to the image of God we disfigure by our sinfulness. We need to engage in them in a way that unites us in love to God and others. Otherwise, rather than helping to renew us, even these practices can separate us from God.
That's what Jesus indicates in the Gospel today.
The scribes and Pharisees of his day were full of religious practices. Even the minutest things of daily life - from the way they washed their hands to the way the cleansed their cooking utensils - were in a sense meant to be done in religious obedience.
The problem for them is that many of the scribes and Pharisees thought that if they carried out these practices, everything was fine in their relationship with God. And they would often think that their religious practices and traditions gave them an excuse not to follow the commandments.
That's what Jesus mentioned at the end of the Gospel when he pointed out that they were setting aside the fourth commandment of honoring one's parents in order, supposedly, to dedicate all their belongings to God - as if God was the one who wanted them to neglect to care for their parents.
Likewise, to live a good and holy Lent, it's not enough for us merely to say prayers, or to skip meals, or to give sums to those who are needy. We need to have more than good practices on the outside. We need to orient ourselves by these practices to God on the inside, so that we may be a good tree naturally producing good fruit in acts of love for God and others.
So let's examine the practices Jesus will mention tomorrow so that we can make good resolutions today about them.
In Lent, Jesus, through the Church he founded, calls each of us to increase the quality and the quantity of our prayer. Prayer, as Pope Benedict likes to say, is "faith in action," but prayer is far more than merely "saying our prayers." It's meant to bring about a transforming, loving communion with God.
Good Lenten resolutions about prayer would be: to come to daily Mass, where Jesus teaches us with his Word and then feeds us with his flesh and blood; to pray the Stations of the Cross each Friday, in which the Lord strengthens us to pick up our daily Crosses and follow him all the way home to heaven; to make a holy hour each day and come to adore him in the Eucharist, as we accompany him in his prayer the desert and in Gethsemane.
The second practice that restores us to God's image is fasting. Fasting, as all Catholics are called to do on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday by norm and each of us is called to do in a way we determine throughout Lent, helps us to recall ...
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