Well it is Lent. It is a good time for COMMANDMENTS. And we hear of three directives or commandments in our readings today.
In the first reading, from the Book of Genesis, we heard God tell Abram: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father's house to a land that I will show you.” Go forth!
In the second reading from St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy we hear: “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” Bear your share of hardship for the gospel!
And in the Gospel today we heard God’s voice from the cloud declare: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." Listen to him!
So we hear three injunctions or commands: “Go forth!” “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel!” and “Listen to him!”
I think it is worthwhile reflecting on each of these a bit. Together they form a wonderful prescription for a good Lent.
“Go forth!” God commands Abram to become a migrant, an immigrant, a refugee. “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father's house to a land that I will show you.” Given that Abram was leaving an area that is now Syria or Iraq, Abram may very well be blocked from coming here to Texas if his trip were in this day and age. And we could discuss what a Christian and humanitarian policy towards refugees and immigrants would look like, and what it would NOT look like. But I direct you instead to the US Catholic Bishop’s website, www.usccb.org, or their immigration website, www.justiceforimmigrants.org, for the strong statements issued by our Bishop, Joe Vasquez on this issue.
Rather, I wish to reflect on the life of faith as a journey. Even if we never leave our home town for our entire life, every one of us is called by God to “Go forth!” We are called to go forth out of our comfort zones, out of the assurances and prejudices we have inherited, to risk the journey of faith. That means we have to appropriate our faith and truly make it our own. Sometimes that command to go forth means being the first to reach out in reconciliation and forgiveness. Maybe it means going forth to help in a soup kitchen or Thursday Outreach, dealing with people you usually try to avoid. Maybe that going forth is volunteering to tutor, or lector, or be an altar server. Maybe that going forth is even to investigate becoming a priest or religious sister or permanent deacon. But in any case this going forth calls us to go out of ourselves to go deeper into the mystery of God, which is always somewhat scary because it is a journey into the unknown. For this Lent resolve to go forth!
Secondly we are told in our second reading, “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” Well, doesn’t that sound like fun!
What is your share of the hardship for the gospel? Well, I think it basically has two forms, those hardships or difficulties that come from within us, and those that come from without. The difficulties most of us struggle with most of the time are the ones that come from within.
The Gospel calls us to live in a certain way, as children of God and as disciples of Jesus. But all of us find resistance to this in our unredeemed human nature: our selfishness, our greed, our envy and pride, our laziness, our prejudices, our lust, our sin. This Lent you and I are called to bear our share of the hardship of living the Gospel more fully and completely. We pray, we fast, we give alms, we strive to be fuller, better Christians. We rely on the strength that comes from God. It is a struggle. It is a fight. And our enemy is ourself. But God helps and encourages us to become people of integrity, of compassion, of service, of righteousness, of joy. It is a tough fight, but it is worth it. Keep up the good fight.
The other part of the hardship that we bear for the Gospel comes from outside us. Sometimes this is anti-Catholic or anti-Christian prejudice. Sometimes this is pressure to go along with the crowd in things that are not right. Sometimes it is mocking of our sharing and standing with the week, the outcast, the loosers in our world. Again, this can be very difficult, especially for young people who have a natural desire to fit into the group. It takes great courage and a strong sense of self to oppose the wrong and evil all around us. It is easier to ignore it.
But God helps us with this, strengthening us to resist and to overcome. It requires courage. The Holy Spirit can and will encourage us, making us strong in the Spirit.
So for this Lent I urge you to “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”
Finally, in the Gospel we are told: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." Listen to him!
In this day and age of so many distractions, so many gadgets vying for our attention, so many messages bombarding us continually, genuine listening, deep listening, is so very difficult. And yet it is so important. It is what God the Father urges, pleads with us, commands us to do. LISTEN to him!
Lent is a time of listening. Carve out some time. Turn off the distractions. Quiet the incessant inner voices telling you of the million things you have to get done. Settle down in the Lord. And Listen. Maybe a good way for you to do this would attending weekday Mass once or twice a week during Lent. Maybe you can get some time at night before bed, or even while driving to work. One way I like to do this is to take a Gospel story, read it slowly, see if anything jumps out, then create the scene in my imagination. What does Jesus look like? What are the disciples doing? What are the onlookers engaged in? Where am I in the scene? And then just let it speak to me.
But in some way or another to consciously and deliberately heed the Father’s call this Lent, “Listen to Him!”
This Lent there is still plenty of time to heed the commands in today’s Scripture readings. Go forth on the journey of faith. Bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God. And most importantly, really listen to Jesus this Lent. Then you will have a successful, fruitful, and wonderful Lent. God bless!