I’d like to begin this homily with a simple questionnaire. Don’t worry—it’s anonymous! I got it on the internet!
(In fact, I got it from a wonderful site that my readers would do well to visit: A Concord Pastor Comments. The author of the blog, Father Austin Fleming, is as much a poet as a preacher, and his meditations are exquisite and inspiring; he also posts audio of his homilies. You can sign up to have something in your in-box each morning. )
Check all that apply:
(a) I knew that February 14 was Valentine's Day…. but I had no idea it was Ash Wednesday, too!
(b) I knew that February 14 was Ash Wednesday…. but I forgot!
(c) I remembered that February 14 was Ash Wednesday…. but I was too busy to get to church.
(d) I went to church on Ash Wednesday.
(e) I went to church on Ash Wednesday and have been faithfully praying, fasting and serving the poor for three days now.
(f) I went to church on Ash Wednesday…. but haven't thought much about it since….
(g) I think I've already given up on Lent this year.
No matter which one(s) you checked, you can be sure of 5 things:
1. The Lord loves you...
2. The Lord welcomes you to the season of Lent...
3. The Lord has something in mind for you this Lent…
4. The Lord wants to help you make this a season of growth, a springtime of peace within you...
5. The Lord isn't going to give up on you this Lent!
I got those from the internet too! But I assure you that all five of these things are found in the scriptures we’ve just heard.
God’s love and care for us is clear even in the story of Noah and the Ark. One word jumps out from these seven verses in the Book of Genesis: covenant. Five times God speaks to Noah about the covenant he is establishing. And five times God speaks to us, promising that the covenant with Noah is a covenant with all humanity, with all future generations.
For several years our parish rallied around what we called the Covenant of One. Each parishioner was challenged to promise God one extra hour of prayer, service, and wages—to share more generously their time, talent, and treasure. But the Covenant of One wasn’t ‘good resolutions’ like we make at New Year. It was our response to the covenants that God has made with his people, from the time of Noah and Abraham and Moses, to the New Covenant in the Blood of Christ.
Everything we do—in Lent and at all other times—we do because God loved us first. We don’t earn his love, even by prayer, fasting, and serving the poor. He loves us when we keep our Lenten resolutions, and he loves us when we don’t.
The Lord welcomes us to Lent. Lent is really an invitation not a demand. We welcomes us to journey toward Easter as brothers and sisters, but he also welcomes us to walk with Him.
Seeing Lent as a long walk with Jesus can change our attitude to this season. I had a great 60th birthday, with one disappointment. My plans for a walking tour of Sicily with a dear friend fell through. I’d got very excited about it—not so much to see Sicily, beautiful though it is, but because having all the time I wanted to talk with a friend who’s a busy as I am really appealed to me.
As I said earlier, the Lord has something in mind for each of us this Lent. Ideally, he hopes we will use the traditional means of prayer, penance, and good works. These are proven paths to prepare for a great Easter. If all goes really well, we will experience forty days of blessing that can be summed up by the words of the prayer of St. Richard of Chichester, which many of us know also from in the musical Godspell: “to know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day.”
But if God has something in mind for each of us this Lent, he better have some ideas for those of us who ticked the wrong boxes in the questionnaire. If he wants to make this a season of growth, and a springtime of peace, I hope he has a plan B, at least for me.
Happily, the entire history of God’s covenant relationship with his people is a history of plan B—and plan C, and plan D, and so on. God was patient with the disobedience of his children while Noah built the Ark; he was patient with the disobedience of Israel—as we pray in the fourth Eucharistic Prayer: “Time and again you offered them covenants, and through the prophets taught them to look forward to salvation.”
And now, in this final era, we are given the eternal covenant, the covenant into which we enter through baptism and which we celebrate with the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Whether or not you came to church on Wednesday, whether or not you broke your Lenten resolutions on Thursday, there’s nothing you can do that will make the Lord revoke his covenant.
When we get the video projectors installed in the church, I hope to show you a short film where a father says this to his young son, who’s been caught in a lie: “Nothing you could ever do would make me love you less.”
With his covenant, God says “Nothing you could would make me love you less.” But He also says that nothing we could ever do would make him love us more. We don’t use our Lent to impress Jesus but to share the forty days he spent in the desert—to imitate him because we love him as our brother, and trust him as our model.
This season of growth, this springtime of peace inside us, is not a burden but a blessing. If you missed the boat on Wednesday, or it sunk on Thursday, just remember “The Lord isn't going to give up on you this Lent!”
I began this homily with something lighthearted that I stole from the internet. But the internet is also has spiritual treasures for those who want Lent to be more than giving something up for a month and a half. I've been using a Lenten retreat called Journey to Jerusalem; it comes from the Institute for Priestly Formation but it's good for anyone. Bishop Robert Barron at Word on Fire offers a wonderful daily Lenten reflection.
The always-interesting Matthew Kelly and Dynamic Catholic continue to offer us a Best Lent Ever reflection every day, and as I've already mentioned, A Concord Pastor Comments is a daily joy during Lent and any time--and everyWednesday he posts a text from God!
The Lord has something in mind for you… that’s for sure.