The devil wants more than anything for us to forget who we are. He really didn’t care if Jesus ruined his fast by turning some stones into bread, or if he killed himself trying to test God, and he certainly had no intention of making him king of the world. What he wanted, what he really wanted, was for Jesus to forget who he was and give himself over to him. And we see in the first reading that that’s how it all started. The serpent didn’t care what tree Eve ate from, he just wanted her, and Adam, to forget who they were, to forget that they were beloved children of God and that God would take care of them.
So if I could suggest a motif for our Lenten prayer, it might be “Remembering Who We Are.” That’s why we have the Cross up here, front and center. I want us to see that in the Cross, God gave us the very best he had, and that when we take up our own cross, God sustains us and makes us more than we could be on our own. Just as Jesus remembered that he was God’s Son and that he came here for a reason, and that reason was to save us from our sins, so we have to remember that we are sons and daughters of God, and we are here for a reason. The devil will try all sorts of tricks to get us to forget that. He will throw at us job difficulties, serious illnesses, the death of loved ones, family strife, and the list goes on and on. He will tempt us with the latest gadgets, the job promotion, the opportunity to get rich quick, and that list goes on and on too. He wants us, really wants us, more than anything, to forget who we are.
Because if we forget who we are, the devil’s job is an easy one. If we forget that God made us and redeemed us out of love for us, then he’s got his foot in the door. Once that happens, hell looks like something mysterious, enticing and exciting. It feels like living on our own terms, looking out for number one, and doing what “feels right to me.” And that’s awesome, except of course, that it’s hell. And the glamour fades and the excitement turns to rancor, and we’ve wasted our lives chasing after stuff that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.
The antidote to this hell of our own making, is letting go – giving what might even seem to be necessary to us, and trusting that God will give us what we need. That can be the treasure of Lent for us. In fasting, we can let go of the idea that we alone can provide what is necessary for our survival. God can feed our hungers much better than we can, if we will but trust in him to do it. In almsgiving, we can let go of the idea that everything is ours if we would just worship the one who cannot give us what we truly need. God gives us what’s really necessary in life, and eternal life besides. And in prayer, we can let go of the fading pleasures of this world and of Satan and take on the enduring luster of a life lived as a son or daughter of God.
And so I would like to suggest a program of retreat for these forty days of Lent. It’s nothing new; I didn’t create it. It’s what the Church gives us every Lent, and I feel like if we want to remember who we are, we should take it on in its entirety. So this retreat consists of the three things I just mentioned: fasting, almsgiving and prayer. And our parish gives you so many resources for choosing something to do for each of them. You may have seen our Lenten tear-out sheet in today’s bulletin. Take a look at it, post it on your fridge, and plan to make this Lent a good one.
For fasting, you might consider giving up what’s really taking hold of you. Maybe it’s some kind of food, but it could be technology, binge watching on Netflix or YouTube, or shopping for yourself on Amazon. What would it be like to set whatever that is aside and let God give you what you really need? Giving up these distractions, we can focus on our soul’s hunger for God.
For almsgiving, maybe tie it in with your Friday abstinence. Eat a simpler meal on Friday, perhaps come to our parish fish fry, but bring some food for the food pantry. Summer will be coming and food pantry shelves tend to be emptier then, so your donations can make a real difference. Or consider making a donation to Catholic Charities, and especially consider the Daybreak Shelter. Our parish provides a meal for the homeless every other month, and this month it’s this coming Tuesday and they can use your help: check the sign-up sheet in the commons to see what is needed. Those are just a few examples of almsgiving that will really make a difference. The saints tell us that almsgiving covers a multitude of sins, so it can really be an important piece of our Lenten repentance.
And for prayer, I’d like to encourage you to attend a daily Mass once a week during Lent. We have our usual daily Mass at 7:30 Monday through Saturday, but also have a Mass and video at 7pm on Tuesdays, and a simple beginning of the workday Mass at 6:15am on Thursdays. The Mass and Eucharist are the source and summit of our lives as Christians; I encourage you to deepen your relationship for our Savior who gave his life for you by attending an additional Mass once a week.
Fasting, almsgiving and prayer remind us that we are beloved sons and daughters of God who are always taken care of by God, if we let Him; that when we give of ourselves, we all become more; and that as we become more our prayer leads us into the life of God himself. May we have a blessed, and joyful Lenten retreat, never forgetting who we are, all of us, sons and daughters of God.