February 14, 2024 – 7:00 PM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Joel 2:12-18 Psalm 51:3-6; 12-14; 17
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2 Matthew 6:1-6; 16-18

 + In the name of the Father, and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, AMEN.

One of the most profound gestures of my ministry has been marking foreheads with ashes on Ash Wednesday, beginning the season of Lent. The traditional words for that ceremony are,  “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

However, dust-making is not the aim of life. So much of the Christian world is focused on the next world instead of the one in which we live and using fear of what is to come after earthly life to manipulate people into parting with their money and obeying institutional rules.

That is not who we are here.  So today, we will be using the alternative words for that ceremony, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” This set of words more accurately captures what Lent should be for us.

The two verbs in that sentence are in what grammarians call the “imperative mode,” the verb form we use when we are requiring something to be done. Lent is commonly associated with accepting the three traditional disciplines of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Repenting and believing are very much a part of those disciplines.

As you all well know, Lent is associated with fasting from one or more food items to remind us of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and to enable us to share the feelings of hunger that Jesus experienced during the forty days that he fasted in the wilderness after his baptism. That is all well and good. If that works for you, do it, with my blessing. But also, repent and believe in the Gospel.

To repent is not an act of contrition, that is, to repent is not saying you’re sorry for doing something you shouldn’t have done. Rather, to repent means to change direction. To repent is to stop sinning. Saying you’re sorry about something is useless if don’t stop doing it.

Repentance and fasting go together. Fasting should be turning away from food that is not healthy for you, especially that with empty calories and no nutritional value like candy and soda.

To fast is to believe in the Gospel. Believing in the Gospel is far beyond accepting the truth of the existence of the Gospel of Jesus and its content. It means trusting the Gospel of Jesus. It means trusting that Jesus was right.

What is “the Gospel?” We’ve all heard of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. Those who’ve engaged in a deeper study of scripture have also heard of the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of James, and many others.  The writings of Saint Paul, particularly his Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians, have often been characterized as Paul’s Gospel.

But to classify a writing as a “Gospel” is more than its title. The word “Gospel” itself comes from the Old English “godspel,” which means “good news” or “good tidings.” So, today, despite the lugubriousness of Lent, I invite you to trust and to have faith in the Good News Jesus brought us while alive and continues to bring us by fasting.

Fasting relates to hope. Part of the reason we fast is to teach our hearts that we do not hope in our own strength, nor in the satisfaction of the food we eat. In fasting, we hope for something or someone stronger and more satisfying than relieving our hunger pains. But fasting can, and should, include more than food.  regard, As much as I disagree with Pope Francis on many issues, he does give us a pretty good list of suggestions for fasting:

☻Fast from hurting words and say kind words.

☻Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.

☻Fast from anger and be filled with patience.

☻Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.

☻Fast from worries and trust in God.

☻Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.

☻Fast from pressures and be prayerful.

☻Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.

☻Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.

☻Fast from grudges and be reconciled.

☻Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.

I won’t bore you with a detailed exegetical analysis, but suffice it to say, if you’re familiar with the four canonical gospels, you will find all of that in them in some form or another.  The secular world celebrates Valentine’s Day today. Valentine’s Day is all about love, and so is the Gospel of Jesus. What all of those suggestions for fasting have in common is that they reflect on the two Great Commandments, to love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. I invite you to do that every day, not just on Valentine’s Day. The Gospel of Jesus is the Gospel of love.

The second major theme of Lent is almsgiving.  In Christianity, almsgiving is associated with charity. It is seen as a way to demonstrate love and compassion for others, following the example of Jesus Christ, who emphasized caring for the least among us.  But poverty is more than some people lacking enough money to survive.  Poverty can be spiritual as well.

It’s easy to condemn atheists and agnostics as spiritually impoverished, and indeed, as followers of Jesus, we should pray for these folks, not condemn them. But spiritual poverty goes way beyond a lack of connection between humankind and the divine spirit of the universe, however, one conceives her, him, or it, to be.

Spiritual poverty can be found in living without meaning or purpose.

Spiritual poverty can be found in existing without inner peace and contentment.

Spiritual poverty can be found in feelings of isolation and disconnectedness from the world and other people.

Spiritual poverty can be found in a lack of clarity in moral or ethical matters.

But the very worst spiritual poverty can be found in an existence without performing and graphic arts. On a practical level, that means a school without music and art classes.  Hence, I condemn in the strongest terms the decisions of any Board of Education that discontinues those classes to “save money.” The spiritual poverty those decisions afflict on children is far more horrific than any budget deficit.  So, in addition to giving to organizations that relieve material poverty, please give also to organizations that cure spiritual poverty, like musical organizations and museums.

Finally, prayer is the third traditional Lenten theme. When we think of prayer, we usually think of praising God, asking God for something, or thanking God. But Lenten prayers are different. Lenten prayers are self-examination and self-reflection. Lenten prayers remind us that God is with us, and part of us, as we travel on our Lenten journey.

Self-examination is simply the act of prayerfully thinking over the events of one’s day at the close of the day with special attention to areas of our lives that need improvement. Try to recognize when you are at a “crossroads,” hearing the invitation of God or the attack of an enemy and needing to respond. Try also to ascertain what leads to a particularly unfavorable situation, and to see if and when you are in a position to declare victory in something significant. Lent is a time to prayerfully examine who you are, where you are going, and what you are doing to get there.

Lent is about more than its traditional disciplines.  Lent is a time to get your spiritual house in order by repenting and believing in the Gospel.

Repent and believe in the Gospel by fasting from negative feelings. Repent and believe in the Gospel by giving alms of compassion, empathy, and unconditional love.

Repent and believe in the Gospel by connecting with God in prayer to feel God’s unconditional love.

Lent is a rich and meaningful season in our calendar offering believers an opportunity for spiritual growth, renewal, and preparation for the celebration of Easter. Repent and believe in the Gospel by offering prayers of hope for a better tomorrow. AMEN.