February 22, 2023 at Saint Peter the Apostle and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL
Joel 2, 12-18 + Psalm 51 + Second Corinthians 5, 20 to 6, 2 + Matthew 6, 1-6 & 16-18
The three pillars of the spiritual life are set before us today as we step forward and into the Great Season of Lent. I am fairly sure that we all get it when we think of fasting. That’s not hard to understand even if it is a challenge in world of plenty with huge piles of food served up at restaurants all over town. Alms Giving too is not hard to understand. There’s a poor box at the entry of nearly every church, and our responsibility to fill it up does not go away just because walk past it every time. That empty poor box really means someone’s stomach is empty while we eat our way into diabetes and every other kind of illness that comes from eating too much. We don’t like to think about these things much less hear about them, but that’s what today is all about as the first reading indicates. It’s about calling an assembly and being reminded of who we are and why we are.
We are about to begin forty days that must challenge the kind of conspicuous consumption that is all around us. God did not give us life and call us all by name so that we could eat and buy things. There is more to us than that which brings up that third pillar of the spiritual life, prayer. That one is not quite so obvious or easy to understand, and I’m not sure we all get it right because it is not about reciting formula prayers over and over again. This season is not just about making the Stations of the Cross. They hang there all year round. We didn’t just put them up. At the same time, it is not about kneeling in Adoration unless those two things lead us deeper into a profound relationship in which we discover a real intimacy with God. That is the purpose of prayer.
Every now and then, I hear someone complain about the noise in church, the sound of people greeting one another, the sound of music, or of a baby crying. That complaint reveals a confusion over the difference between prayer and worship. We need to do them both, and they don’t really happen at the same time or necessarily in the same place. Worship is noisy or it isn’t working. Prayer on the other hand is something personal, intimate, often quiet, and usually experienced alone. The Gospel writer knew that when he encourages those in prayer to go shut the door. Right now we are here to worship God and get ready to go pray.
This season we must continue our worship, the duty we have before God to give glory, praise, honor, and thanksgiving. This season, we must renew our efforts in the midst of busy lives, hectic demands, ringing cell phones, and text messages to shut the door and put some contemplative and active balance back into our lives. Before we can turn outward toward others, we need to turn inward to God who waits quietly for us to be quiet, come closer resting in God and rising to serve. As St Paul says so well: “Behold, now is the acceptable time and now is the day of our salvation.” Let us begin.