EDITOR’S NOTE: The following Lenten reflection by Deacon Daniel Hurley, pastoral administrator of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Michael parishes in Rochester, originally appeared in the parishes’ bulletins the first Sunday of Lent.
Have you ever asked someone a question and they respond to you, "well, yes and no." It’s frustrating, isn’t it?
Well, I want to reflect with you this weekend on those two small but powerful words, "yes" and "no." But perhaps a better introduction for this letter to you this weekend might be "no" and "yes." You see, Lent and Easter are about hearing God’s "no" and God’s "yes" to us. First of all, Lent is about hearing God’s "no." Now that can be a challenge! Lent is a quiet season, a season of silence. This is not the silence of shame or defeat, but rather a time of deepening awareness. It is a time for seeing more clearly who we are and who we are meant to be. Seeking clarity and meaning in our lives is not something we have to do alone; in fact, most of us cannot do it alone! During this season, the church reminds us of at least five disciplines that will help us face ourselves and our God:
* Regular worship together. The liturgies of Lent help us focus on honesty and reconciliation so that we may prepare for Easter joy.
* Daily Scripture reading. The Scriptures remind us that other folks have turned back from harm’s way. They have returned to the God who has loved them from the very beginning.
* Daily prayer. Telling God what we need and then listening to God’s will for us is central to who we are and who we are to become.
* Fasting. Fasting is about turning away from those things we love more than wholeness; turning away from those things that are not good for us; turning away from things that distract us from God and from one another.
* Almsgiving. Lent is about much more than giving something up. It is about giving of ourselves — our time, talent and treasure — everywhere there is human need!
Recommitting to these disciplines during Lent helps clear our minds, it helps us unclutter our lives and it helps us turn our attention toward God. Most of us really need a special time to realize that the "desires of our own hearts" can get us nowhere fast! We might be struggling with our own weaknesses, errors or failures. We might be suffering under the weight of some past deed. During Lent, we are invited to no longer hide from ourselves or from our God. We are urged toward a deeper awareness that God indeed knows our sorrow, that God knows our shame and that God shares our suffering. We can face our own disappointments and sinful natures more readily in Lent because we are once again assured of the great mercy of God!
Dear friends, we hear God’s "no" to us when we realize that we have habits that keep us from being healthy and well-adjusted people. We also hear God’s "no" when we cling to choices in our personal lives that continue to bury us with fear and pain. We hear God’s "no" as well when we contemplate things actually done by us or done in our name that hurt other people. God’s "no" is a signal that something is deeply wrong! In a world that says "yes" to just about anything we want to do, Lent is our invitation to draw aside and be with God and one another for a single purpose! Lent is our time to become more clearly aware of things in our lives that are sorely in need of change or healing.
Our Lenten Scriptures and prayers all point toward two very important things: hearing God’s "no" to anything that keeps us from having a full and joyous life, and hearing God’s "yes" in the promise that, with the Risen Christ, we will find the help we need to live the life for which we were created! This assurance of the power of God and presence of God in our lives is just as real as any sin or sorrow we bear. God always says "yes" to healing our contrite and broken lives!
So what is Lent all about? It is, in fact, a journey we take with Jesus towards Golgotha, to be crucified with him there, with the knowledge that we will someday rise with him as well. It is about prayer, about fasting and about almsgiving. We hear very clearly this weekend the three temptations of Jesus, putting God to the test, pleasure and possessions. What are your three temptations? What are my three temptations? If you remember nothing else from me this weekend, please remember this:
* Whenever we pray, we conquer the temptation of putting God to the test!
* Whenever we fast, we conquer the temptation to live by bread alone!
* Whenever we give alms, we conquer the temptation to possess things with a greedy heart!
The beautiful message of Lent is simply this: Our God says "yes" to a joyful new life for us!
And that is the message as well of Easter. And we will celebrate that message in 40 days. And we pray that we will celebrate it for all eternity as well!