A Lenten prayer of the church: “Father, through our observance of Lent, help us to understand the meaning of your Son’s death and resurrection, and teach us to reflect it in our lives.” Our faith is always seeking understanding, attempting to discover the meaning of our life in Christ.
What is Jesus’ message for us? Three things: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
There is a Latin adage: Carpe diem – seize the day! Jesus speaks with great urgency. Now is the time in which God’s grace is available to us. One of life’s great lessons is to understand that in every moment a spiritual fullness is asking for our response. When we meet a stranger, do we recognize the Lord’s presence in that person? When we hear the cry of poor, are we willing to render assistance? When our conscience prods us to seek healing in a relationship, are we willing to immediately respond? Now, in this great season of Lent, is the day of our salvation.
Jesus’ proclamation is always about the Father’s kingdom. That kingdom, the kingdom of truth and justice, of freedom and love, of life and grace, is always “at hand.” If we pray the “Our Father” from the heart, asking “Thy kingdom come,” changes our lives. Instead of singing “I did it my way!” with Frank Sinatra, we sing – “I did it God’s way.” In the end the choice is quite clear: doing God’s will over our own.
How can we further God’s kingdom during this Lenten season? There is no better way than to return to the parable of the sheep and goats. That familiar refrain, “Whatsoever we do to others, we do to the Lord,” should be tattooed on our heart. So we once again commit ourself to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger. We commit ourself to the Ash Wednesday admonition to pray, fast and give alms. We commit ourself to love God and our neighbor. Herein is the life of holiness, our universal calling.
Then Jesus calls us to repentance and to faith. Repentance is the call to look at those attitudes, values and behaviors that injure and even sever our relationship with God and one another. St. Paul tells us to put to death those elements in our life that oppose the Spirit. His letter to the Galatians gives us quite a list: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies (5:19b-21a). We have our work cut out.
The second call is to faith. The grace to believe in the mystery of God’s love and mercy revealed in Jesus is at the heart of our Catholic faith. For two millennia the saints have believed and witnessed to God’s besieging love. We do well this Lent to reflect on their lives.
Bishop Morneau, auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Green Bay Diocese, serves as sacramental minister at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Green Bay.