FRIDAY HOMILY: Lent - An Outward Bound for the Soul
This is a time for transformation not only participation
Like the physical wilderness of an outdoor adventure, we are called to "rough it" during Lent. We abstain from certain things, we fast at certain times and we add things to our lifestyle that promote spiritual growth.
During those days we were always intrigued by an organization called Outward Bound (OB), who used outdoor adventures to build strength and character in youth. Through camping, canoeing, backpacking, mountaineering, rock climbing, etc. they provided unique challenges.
The experiences of those involved revealed both strengths and weaknesses not just in the physical area but also the heart. You learned what you were made of.
In their publicity materials, OB states, Outward Bound is more than just an outdoor camp. It is more than a wilderness adventure. They are real expeditions that cross rugged, beautiful terrain with challenges designed to reveal your strengths.
As we are just dipping our toe in the Lenten season so far, I'd like to propose that we look at lent as a 40 day wilderness adventure of the spirit, a sort of outward bound of the soul.
Like the physical wildnerness of an outdoor adventure, we are called to "rough it" during Lent. We abstain from certain things, we fast at certain times and we add things to our lifestyle that promote spiritual growth.
The number 40 also has significance. We are reminded of Noah's 40 days in the ark, Moses 40 days on Mount Sinai, Israel's 40 years of wandering, and particularly Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness.
Forty has significance in culture of Israel. It signified a time of testing and trial as well as a period of judgment. For us it is a voluntary test given us by the Church Fathers. After Christianity entered into a period of relative peace and tranquility with persecution in the rear-view mirror, Lent was used to provide the edge that was needed to test our character.
Through self-examination, along with an emphasis of prayer, abstinence, fasting, almsgiving and penitence, we are can strengthen what's right and endeavor to fix what's wrong.
Today's gospel in Matthew 9:14-15 focuses on fasting, where Jesus talks about the fact that his disciples, who were not currently fasting would do so after he leaves. From our first reading, however, we see that God is not interested in an artificial fast of pretense but one of internal conversion, where the care of others is more important than our own pretense.
This is the heart of Lent, removing pretense and being honest about where we are and who we are regarding our Catholic faith. It also is a time when we are not complacent, staying with the status quo but eager to become more and more conformed to Christ.
To truly determine what is authentic growth and what is mere pretense, we need something like Lent to reveal who we truly are.
Our Lord has always spoken against pretense and faith worn only as a veneer. We began our Lenten observance on Wednesday with a gospel passage where He also talked about fasting but also underscored two additional areas where we can be found easily artificial - prayer and almsgiving.
These three areas, fasting, praying and giving, have always been seen by the Jews as the cardinal works of religious life. For Jesus, he wants to be sure that his disciples know that he is interested in a change of heart not a public demonstration. These are continued to be re-emphasized in these early days of the season.
Here are three quick tips to help you navigate your Lenten disciplines in an authentic manner.
I. When you pray, be sure there's not pretense
Jesus reminded us, When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them.
Many of us can't really relate with someone's desire to pray in public. That really doesn't fit who we are.
While we may not be one who wants to get that kind of public attention, prayer can still be artificial - especially during a season like Lent where we intentionally increase our prayer time. The problem comes when we see doing prayer as the goal rather than simply praying.
I remember when I was in elementary school - and yes, that is a long time ago - we had to turn in those infamous book reports. On some occasions I must confess I did read the book but that really only meant that I looked at all the words on the pages. There was no comprehension or enjoyment! Sometimes prayer can be like that.
Saint Josemaria Escriva wrote, "To pray is to talk to God, but about what? About Him, about yourself; joys, sorrows, successes, and failures, noble ambitions, daily worries, weaknesses! And acts of thanksgiving and petitions: and Love and reparation. In a word: to get to know Him and to get to ...
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