Jl 2:12-18; Ps 51:3-6,12-14,17; 2Cor 5:20-6:2; Mt 6:1-6,16-18
If we prayed Psalm 51 every day throughout lent, perhaps then we would retrieve the joy of God’s salvation. However, this may be just too much to ask; so perhaps we could simply pray for forty days, “Lord, give me back the joy of your salvation.” This is indeed the mercy for which we long with desert-like hearts. It is already an experience of his great goodness that we have the sacrament of reconciliation readily available; it is a sign of his great goodness that we have yet another lent in which to linger over his compassion. Like a spring rain upon a parched earth so, too, does his mercy fall upon our dry and arid souls. It is times like lent when we are summoned to acknowledge our offenses and keep our sin before our eyes always. Indeed, our failure in relationship with Abba and with all people is very personal and causes heart pain. However, we need not fear because the LORD creates a clean heart for us and renews our spirits within. The LORD does not cast us far from his presence no matter how far we may wander. He takes not his Holy Spirit from us lest we choke or languish. The joy of salvation is the point of Joel’s preaching. The LORD is stirred to compassion; we have no need to fear. Indeed, it is the joy of salvation that makes us ambassadors for Christ. The Lord Jesus assures us that the hidden beauty of our repentance will reveal the glory of God in the abundance of our joy.
Repentance is useless unless it is whole hearted. The prophet Joel makes this clear in today’s first reading. Our fasting, weeping, mourning, rending, praying, giving up things, and even taking on new things is a complete waste of time and energy if it is not from the depths of the heart, if it is not whole hearted. There needs to be some event, some social gathering, some assembly to begin everything, but it cannot stop there. “Blow the trumpet in Zion…call an assembly…gather the people…notify the congregation!” Without all this excitement no one will even notice that Lent has begun. Notice, though, in Joel’s preaching that everyone is invited from infants at the breast to ministers of the LORD. This summons is for all people. No one can be excused—even bridegroom and bride must quit their chamber! The whole people, the entire congregation of Israel is called, invited, and urgently summoned. Then the very personal and completely private weeping begins with the priests on down through the ranks of the assembled. This public manifestation of heart felt repentance is only the beginning of conversion. Moved from the depths of the human heart we pray, “Spare, O LORD, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach, with the nations ruling over them!” Indeed no one can rule over us and we are free from sin and when we are liberated from self-deception, and other-dependence. Such is the freedom of the children of God. Those, who live and move and have there being in Jesus the Christ and in the Holy Spirit, are truly free.
If we are not reconciled to God, we are not brothers and sisters. If we are not reconciled to God, we are not ambassadors of Christ. If we are not reconciled to God, we do not appeal on behalf of Christ. This is the choice that lies before us each lent. Indeed, this is why we have lent year after year. For our sake God made Christ to be sin he who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ. This is not unlike the patristic insight that God made his Son like us to hide his divinity is our humanity so that when death swallowed him up, when Satan took the bait, God would enter into that place were he could never go without empting himself of glory. If we are reconciled to God in Christ we work together. If we are reconciled to God in Christ we have not received the grace of God in vain. If we are reconciled to God in Christ we live in an acceptable time; we have all the help we need. Behold this is our lent, our acceptable time, our day of salvation.
What makes lent an acceptable time? What makes these forty days a season of salvation, mercy, grace? Three things make lent, almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Not that this is the only season for such activities, but during this season of preparation for a Holy Easter we strive to recover from the negligence of the rest of the year. However, what is it that makes these three pious practices more than merely Lenten activities? How do we prevent ourselves from performing righteous deeds so that other people may see just how holy we are? We do not blow trumpets. We do not stand on street corners. We do not neglect our appearance. Everything we do for Lent; we do in secret. This kind of hidden living is Lenten living. If we practice this for forty days, we just may come to find our true joy. If we practice living in a hidden world, we just might find ourselves at home in our innermost center. Lent gives us an extra push into the desert, into the wilderness, into the secret places where our true life is lived.