6 March 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl
Joel 2, 12-18 + Psalm 51 + 2 Corinthians 5, 20-6,2 + Matthew 6,1-6 16-18
As I have watched this date on the calendar draw near since Christmas, I have had countless memories of Lent’s gone by, and all the things I did and didn’t do to make the days go faster. Now at my age, there is an urge to slow things down. Days, weeks, and months fly by faster than I ever imagined. It seems like I just finished write thank-you notes for Christmas gifts two weeks ago! Those of us older than 70 will probably can remember Lent as a much more severe season than it is today. The fasting was more of a challenge. It was expected every day, not just today and Good Friday. Abstinence was an everyday thing, not just on Fridays. I think part of my girth is due to macaroni and cheese, and to this day I shy away from salmon patties! We gave up things like candy or alcohol for something else we really liked, and we did every day. We went to church more either to Daily Mass or Stations of the Cross. To this day I can hum or even play the Stabat Mater without looking. Since we have been encouraged to do positive things, many don’t give up much anymore, and so people do not find life much different during Lent than any other season. It still disturbs me a bit when parishes schedule dances, weddings, and parties during Lent. With all of that in our past, there is still the fact that Lent asks more us today as we have grown older and deeper in faith. We are now expected to accept adult for our spiritual growth.
Instead of being told how much fasting we must do and when, we are expected to take fasting seriously and do more than the minimum. That’s adult behavior. As kids we were always looking for the minimum requirement. We are not children any more in case you have not noticed. We’re old, at least most of us in this parish. We are also invited to abstain more seriously. Giving up meat and then ordering lobster is a joke that spiritually isn’t funny. What adults need to do is give up something that might be sinful or wasteful or extravagant. It isn’t just food. It is whatever keeps us from growing closer to Christ. When given up, it isn’t just for 40 days or the 960 hours I once counted up as child. The point is, we give it up for good.
Those Bishops at the Council most of us lived through decided to take a risk and to risk treating us like adults. While they removed many of the old rules, there was in place a challenge to observe this season with great seriousness, to take responsibility for our own spiritual growth which is a lot harder than just following a lot of rules. Now comes the potential of really making Lent a time to change our lives and become much more like Christ.
As you come forward shortly to accept the challenge through an ancient ritual, let it be a sign of true commitment to take this Lent seriously allowing the grace of God to truly change us in the next 40 days. Remember how the Lord called us through the words of the Prophet Joel at the beginning of this Eucharist: “Return to me with your whole heart.” The longing of God for us is never ending. Listen and respond this Lent as you never before.