Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow.

In the Letter to the Hebrews the author writes: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.[1] Yesterday, while watching the funeral Mass for Justice Antonin Scalia the Celebrant/Homilist (who happens to be his son) spoke these words. I was struck with just how profitable this line is for our Lenten journey. What the rest of Fr. Scalia’s homily was about I have no idea – these words took me into reflection.

As faithful we know that Christ is eternal and never changing. But sometimes it might slip our minds that our life in Christ is eternal – we too have ‘been’ yesterday, ‘are’ today, and ‘will be’ tomorrow. But whereas Christ is never changing; we should be changing.  The big question within each of us is whether we are comfortable that how we were yesterday, and are right now, is the way we want to be tomorrow.

Brothers and sisters, our journey from the age of reason to our death is one of correction and growth. Correction for the failings that we succumb to and sometimes wallow in. Corrections that allow us to both: grow in our relationship with He who created us and continually loves us; and grow in our relationship with those that He loves as much as us – each other.

Lent, more than other seasons, is a time of increased inward correction and intense conversion. The time to put behind us that person of yesterday and become the person that God created us to be for eternity. It is a season of action, our action. Whereas Christmas is primarily about God’s action in coming to us; the Sacred Triduum is primarily about His action in redeeming us, and Easter is primarily about His action in destroying death and opening the gates of heaven for us; Lent primarily is about our action in accepting these actions that God did for us and making them a reality in our lives.

Holy Mother Church urges us that our Lenten actions should follow the millennia honored path of penance, prayer, and almsgiving.  However, as we journey through Lent let’s not get caught up in the Lenten exercises of penance, prayer, and almsgiving if that is all we think this season is about; that these are the goals of Lent – because they are not.  Our actions of penance, prayer, almsgiving are the tools we use today to reach the goal of moving past who we were yesterday and embracing who we should be tomorrow. Our actions should be enwrapped in the desire of coming closer to who our Heavenly Father created us to be – ‘made in His own image.’[2]

On Ash Wednesday Holy Mother Church uses two proclamations; neither of which is ‘Make sure you do penance, prayer and give to others’. They are: ‘Repent, and believe in the Gospel.[3] and ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.[4] They are proclamations that help us understand who we are now. During this Lent, let’s strive to make sure our actions aren’t our goal, but that they move our hearts and minds in the correct direction.

Let’s make sure that today we are moving from our yesterday to God’s tomorrow.

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[1] Heb 13:8 (RSV)
[2] Gen 1:27 (RSV)
[3] Roman Missal: Ash Wednesday
[4] ibid

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Withdrawal Symptoms

Three days into this Lenten journey and, I must admit, that I have already felt a certain uneasiness come over me. A feeling of being sort of lost; of anxiety about my Lenten choices; a low-grade hopelessness at my ability to follow through with my Lenten exercises. It feels almost as if I have withdrawal symptoms from my normal life. And that is exactly what these feelings are, withdrawal symptoms.  I am being hit with the realization that I am trying to change my ‘comfortable’ faith life to an honest faith life, one that has a deeper relationship with God.

Every year I know going into Lent that it would entail struggles – but what I expect and what I encounter is never the same. Though not pleasant; these struggles are necessary.  Our Lenten exercises are a cleansing, a purgation of the barriers that keep us from being in a true relationship with God; it is our participation in what St. Paul wrote to the  Galatians ‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me[1]

My brothers and sisters, this angst, which we can feel during Lent, about our choices and our ability to fulfill them is part of the cleansing.  It is necessary; if we don’t have these moments of doubt and despair than it probably is a good sign that our Lenten exercises aren’t at the level needed to help us. These exercises and our feelings are, in a small way, our participation with Christ with what He went through in the Garden of Gethsemane – ‘the disciple is not above the master[2]. Again, these Lenten exercises that we have started should be hard exercises; aside from our own reluctance to remove these obstacles; we can be sure that the evil one is pressing us hard to not succeed.  The words of St. John the Baptist though inspirational are tough to follow:  ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.[3] These are not words of pleasure but of tough work and constant struggle.

Friends, let’s not give in to our weaknesses when we start to feel the angst of withdrawal from our comfortable lives.  Let’s place in front us the goal, God.  Let’s drop to our knees when these feelings flow over us and ask our Lord for the healing salve that the Holy Spirit can give us; so that when the wave passes we are still on the path of purgation and healing that leads to eternal joy.

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[1] Galatians 2:20
[2] St. Josemaría Escrivá – The Way #699
[3] John 3:30 (RSV)

Every Time

Bishop Javier Echevarría, in his February letter, writes about the blessings that God gives us with His mercy, especially during Lent, this great season of interior conversion and returning to the Lord’s embrace:

The invitation to a deep change is especially timely in the Year of Mercy, a special time of grace for all mankind. What trust and security it gives us to know that “God is always ready to give us his grace, and especially in these times; the grace for a new conversion, for rising higher on the supernatural plane: a greater self-giving, an advance in perfection, becoming more on fire.”[1][2]

In three short days we begin our Lenten journey. This time of Lent, if we use it wisely, is a time of challenges.

  • We are challenged to look within us in an ever deeper and more honest way. This can be threatening. We can be put off by the fear of seeing something that we have tried very hard to keep hidden, even from ourselves.
  • We are challenged by trying to give up something, at least for this Lenten season, to offer it to our Lord in love and thanksgiving for what He means to us. This can be very uncomforting and trying.
  • We are challenged by inadequacy, of the thought that we can never live up to what our Lord did for us. Our thoughts can veer towards whether our Lenten practices, even if done well, are enough to bring us closer to the love that God offers us?

But let’s go back to Bishop Echevarriá’s message; God is a God of mercy and because of that we can meet these challenges with the knowledge that He is embracing us in our struggles and He is helping us with them. He desires us to overcome these challenges and His desire is stronger than any doubt we have about our abilities. ‘Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave.[3] St. John Chrysostom wrote.

Brothers and sisters, let’s take the lessons of this Year of Mercy and use them to enter our Lenten journey with the will to dive deeper within ourselves, look more intensely at our heart and mind, and come to a clearer understanding of who we are – beloved of Christ. Lets always remember that God is there to pick us up every time.

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[1] St. Josemaría Escrivá, Notes from a meditation – 3/2/1952
[2] Bishop Javier Echevarría, Opus Dei Prelate– February 2016 Letter
[3] St. John Chrysostom – Easter sermon (circa 400 AD)