Brothers and sisters, I have to admit that I am a little tired of Lent already. I am a little tired of Lent because I am a little tired overall of looking at the question of faith, of finding an apologetic for faith, of being asked by the world to continually question our faith, of not finding any support for anything but a milky, watered-down faith, of looking at the question of faith as something to be tiptoed around in parishes, and even here of continually being bombarded with fears about whether or not we can preach a true faith, a consuming faith, a powerful faith without having to face the consequences of being too “radical”.
Brothers and sisters, I think it’s time to get radical. We need it. We need it if the pains of living and working through the difficulties of this seminary are going to mean anything at all.
We need to get radical because we have become, all of us have become too complacent
We need to get radical because we have been lulled into the false reality that this faith experience doesn’t really reflect our wholeness as human beings.
We need to get radical because the world is going to continually tell us that our faith is only something quaint and accessorizing.
Listen again to the words of the prophet:
Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
Can our lent be a mealy mouthed event if we take seriously the words of the prophet?
Must it not be a life changing event?
We get the lecture from Jesus in St. Matthew's Gospel:
Pray, give alms, fast.
Do not let you left hand know what your right is doing.
We have heard all of this before. We have been here before. We have experienced this before and like a spiritual déjà vu we shake it off, deciding instead to pursue the disingenouness of a culture of comfort and consumerism.
What is Lent in the popular imagination? I propose that it is an unheeded season.
What you are giving up for Lent?
How can I get out of that?
What are the laws that govern these practices?
Tokenism, blatant tokenism in the face of a call to radical conversion.
We do not take the call of God seriously even in this environment and we are bewildered that lukewarmness and a real lack of concern exist, out there.
Trumpets are blown, faces are besmirched with the dirt of resentment, room doors are flung open to display the flagrant acts of asceticism taking place within.
We commit ourselves to our good works and fail
We submit our robust flesh to the relentlessness of exercise programs and fail
We strive to be the most abstemious and we fail
And in all of this unheard of sacrifice and heroic neglect of self, what happens?
Nothing of course
And all of this is accompanied by the rhetoric and cadences of a spiritual tokenism.
Here is the question I ask this community of faith every year …
Where is Lent leading us?
What do we want to BE on the other side of Lent?
What destination are we aiming for in this annual pilgrimage of discipleship?
How might this Lent be truly a time of difference
What if we could give alms and feel the pinch a little rather than scraping the bottom of the barrel of life for loose change to fling in the general direction of the unspecified poor.
What if we gave the alms of concern and time to help a brother in need, or attend to his pain?
Then we might gain alms for ourselves, the alms of a life lived in sacrificial service, the alms of charity, the alms of fulfilled love.
What if we could pray without constantly worrying about getting things done? What if we could learn to adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament without continual recourse to our schedules? What if we gave God the time he really deserves? What if the chambers of our hearts could be opened and the doors of our mouths could be closed? What if we talked more to our neighbors about the joy of prayer and less about the misery of seminary life?
Then we might find ourselves gaining softness in those open hearts. Then we might find ourselves able to nakedly reveal our struggles and pains. Then we might learn to love with an unfeigned love.
What if we could fast without flash, deny ourselves a little, purify ourselves a little, learn to control our desires a little more? What if we fasted from something meaningful and by our fasting created new habits and eradicated that which is useless from our lives? What if we gave up for Lent and for life?
Then we might find the purity of mind to discover what Lent truly is: a season of opportunity, a season of promise, a season of pure joy for the grace that God has given us to really look at ourselves.
Brothers and sisters, I propose that Lent is a radical season. A season in which everything must change, everything must grow, everything must be rethought. It is a season of expectation in which the promise of resurrection really exists.
Do we expect to rise on Easter as transformed, radically transformed people or do we expect to just go back to the damnable malaise of a conventional faith?
Let us begin this Lent with radical hearts, radical for grace, radical for conversion, radically ready to be fed first in this Eucharistic banquet, and then by the banquet of a life, fully lived.