The season of Lent is one which challenges us to truth. Beginning today, Ash Wednesday, we are invited for the next forty days to face the truth about ourselves, the truth about God and the truth about the world in which we live. The Holy Scripture assures us that truth is the way to freedom; it is the way to salvation; it is the way to wholeness.
The first truth we are called to acknowledge is that of the plan of God for humanity. The Prophet Jeremiah tells us: “Look, the days are coming, Yahweh declares, when I shall fulfill the promise of happiness I made to the House of Israel” (Jer.33:14). Jesus himself assures us: “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn.10:10). The Prophet Joel describes God as “all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger and rich in graciousness, and ready to relent” (Joel 2:13). This is the disposition of the One who wishes to engage us today and throughout this season of grace and beyond.
We are assured in these texts that the conditions of our lives do not change God’s disposition towards us. In fact, the only side from which change is possible and required is from ours, not from God’s. Hence, the cry of God through the prophet Joel is calling us back to reality, calling us to bask in “the jealous love of God” for us, because his love is the only source of true happiness.
The second truth we are called to acknowledge is the truth about ourselves. This is no doubt the most challenging and requires the greatest amount of work. The reason is that we live with many illusions about ourselves. Therefore, we need the sobering effect of truth to set us on the right path. We are who we are before God, good or bad. The sooner we embrace that person, the quicker we will be able to make improvements to the unwanted traits in our character.
Often enough, we underestimate our need for God, our need for wholeness. This truth is intimately connected to our awareness of our own sins, or the lack thereof. The human conscience in the modern world, unfortunately, has become dulled to sin. In that regard sin, like truth, has become relative. We live as if there is no objective sin anymore. With that mindset, sin is determined by the circumstance. The truth is, wrong is always wrong no matter who commits it. We convince ourselves that we have no sin by simply pushing the ugly side of our lives under the carpet. If we do it long enough, we begin to believe that our sins are not so bad, after all, and therefore we do not need to allow our consciences to be bothered. We say to our soul, we are not worse than everybody else, so we are OK and we do not need to discomfort ourselves with confession. Therefore, we go on living with a false sense of well-being, creating a compressed psyche by refusing to look at the ugly side of ourselves, until it blows over. Then we wonder why so many people in our society today are distressed, depressed and lonely. And we wonder why so many people lack the joy of living.
Our annual observance of Lent with its call for “fasting,” “weeping,” “mourning,” its demand for “prayer, almsgiving and self-denial,” is a reminder that all is not well. It is a reminder that we do not have to allow ourselves to be so compressed to the point of blowing over. We do not have to allow ourselves to be wooed by the enticement of sin to the point of spiritual death. Spiritual death is most evident when we are not able even to accept the fact that we need healing; that we need to return to a fuller life; that we need confession. That, my dear people, is the truth.
St. Paul presents a very positive view of who we are before God. He reminds us that we are ambassadors for Christ. He says: “It is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God. For our sake, God made the sinless one into sin so that in him we might become the goodness of God” (2Cor 5:20-21). This is essentially the purpose of our Lenten observance—that we will progressively become “the goodness of God.” For this we need to pray to “the Father who is in that secret place, and your father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you” (Matt.6:6).
The third important truth we are called to acknowledge is the truth about the world in which we live. This world was created by God for our use. Notice I say “use” and not “domination.” Jesus constantly warned his disciples to be careful in their approach towards the world in which they were to function. In his priestly prayer on their behalf, Jesus prayed to the Father saying: “I am not asking you to remove them from the world, but to protect them from the Evil One. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world, and for their sake I consecrate myself so that they too may be consecrated in truth” (Jn.17:15-19).
In this prayer, a few things come to the fore:
That the Father is not asked to remove us from the world but to protect us from the evil one;
That we do not belong to the world; and That we are being sent as persons consecrated in truth.
Therefore, ours is a responsibility to become more attentive to the nature of our relationship with the world. An inappropriate relationship can result in our spiritual death. Jesus makes it abundantly clear that we do not belong to this world. We recall the words of the famous song: “The world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” This is truth. To the contrary, we will discover that the more we seek to live by the standards of this world, the more they elude us. People die every day and they leave with nothing. The saints of God, however, leave a legacy that lives in perpetuity. Our observance of Lent prepares us to cash into that saintly legacy.
This is the reason why in the life of a Christian there should be no place for greed and hatred, violence and divisions, immorality or injustice of any kind. This is my prayer for all of us, that during these forty days of penitential pilgrimage, we get the courage to put all forms of wrongdoing in their rightful place. That rightful place is the tomb of confession, supported by the restoring effect of prayer, almsgiving and self-denial. Then, with Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, we shall all rise with Easter joy. In the meantime, let us heed the invitation of today’s liturgy: Turn away from sin and believe in the Good News! Amen!