Today is the first Sunday in Lent. For many Christians, Lent is a time of self-reflection, a time to re-center our focus, our soul. Psalm 62:2 says, my soul rests in God alone. But many of us spend time, money, and energy finding other things, worldly things, to try to “rest our soul.” We search for the dream job, the perfect vacation, the newest and greatest…well, you can fill in the blank on that one. We search for substitutes for God to fill the void in our lives.
Lent is about sacrifice, Jesus’ and our own. We are called to pray, fast, give alms to the poor, and spend time in deeper reflection and self-examination.
I saw something interesting on Facebook a couple of weeks ago. Someone asked what other people were doing for Lent. The person who posted it said that they were looking for ways to deepen their faith and were hoping to get some new ideas. Sounds great, doesn’t it? I shared about a book that Father Robert gave us, The Tears of Christ. It is a book of meditations for Lent and Holy Week, drawn chiefly from the sermons of St. John Henry Newman. Later that day, I decided to see what other people had suggested, to maybe get some good ideas for myself.
But – as the saying goes – “Best laid plans of mice and men, soon will come to no great end.”
By the time I got back, the conversation had already taken a turn for the worse. It went from some helpful ideas to a contest of “who can give do more.” Some people were criticizing how “little” others were doing. When I checked the next day, it had been taken down. What a shame!
I thought about the post again this week. While reading Ash Wednesday’s reflections from The Tears of Christ, these lines stood out to me: What is given us by revelation to estimate and measure this world by? It is the event of the season: the Crucifixion of the Son of God.
As I though about those words, an image of a cross, made from a yardstick, came to mind. Here is how we should measure our Lenten sacrifices. Here is how we should measure our lives every day. Life was never meant to be a contest. But our fallen human nature certainly made it one.
In a world that tells us that our value lies in the balance of our bank account, we need only to look to the cross to see the truth. I remember a line from the movie, You’ve Got Mail. Tom Hanks’ character is reflecting on the wisdom he’s received from watching the movie, The Godfather. He says, “The Godfather is the I Ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question.”
While that works great in the fictional world, we, as human beings need more. The Godfather and all the other “self-improvement guides” are s a poor substitute for the practices God gave us to help us as we struggle through this life: prayer, fasting, and alms giving.
Why these tools? Because with this arsenal, we stand the greatest chance of staying in God’s will and out of Satan’s reach. When we pray, we are saying there is one mightier than us that we are depending on. It’s our chance not only to make our petitions and thanksgivings known, but to hear God’s will for our lives. Fasting is a discipline. When we deny pleasures in our lives, as Jesus did in the desert, we are taking control of our mind and body. Through alms giving, we empty ourselves of our selfish nature and take on Jesus’ nature of sacrifice. We become his hands and feet to others.
There is only one that we need to measure ourselves against. And to do it, we must stand at the foot of the cross. We can never measure up to what Jesus did for us. but that’s the point: we don’t have to. That’s why he died for us. But if we don’t go to the cross, we’ll never even come close.
So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm – Joel 2:13