"What ever you did for one these least ones, you did for me . . ."
Less than one week ago our heads were marked with ashes. We heard one of two phrases: Remember you are dust and to dust you will return or Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel. Both certainly have a special meaning during Lent. One reminds us of our ultimate destiny in this life; that life is mortal and someday our bodies will return to the earth as our soul goes on to eternity. While we certainly need to be reminded of our own mortality now and then, the phrase is essentially passive. It is more of a declaration than an action statement. It doesn’t tell us to do anything. It reminds us of what we already know but, frankly, would rather not dwell on for very long. Yet, we do need that stark reminder in order to set our priorities right.
The other, I personally believe, captures the spirit of this season. It is a challenge to our complacency – Turn away and Be faithful involve conversion. Once I’ve made the free choice to reorient my life in a new direction I can then adopt a new vision for how I should live as a baptized disciple of Christ – I am called to be faithful to the Gospel.
This Monday morning’s readings imply the same for us. Lent is not a passive season by any means. Prayer, fasting, and giving alms (charity) to another mean I don’t just sit and think about my future; about my mortality in some sort of morose way. I am, on some level, actively involved in my faith and freely choose to change those parts of my life that are not faithful to the Gospel. Remember the phrase, "We will die as we live." Much food for thought there.
The Book of Leviticus 19: 1-2, 11-18 states: “You shall not defraud your neighbor. You shall not withhold . . .day wages of your day laborer. You shall not curse the deaf . . . judge your fellow men justly . . .”
The very familiar scene of the last judgment in Matthew 25: 31-46 reminds us: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me . . .”
If our Lenten resolutions and sacrifices mean anything, they will mean far more if we turn away from our own self interest and recognize the face of Christ in those around us; in particular, in the face of the poor and disadvantaged.
We don’t have to look very far to find others in need in this season of grace. Look to your neighbors and family members; your fellow parishioners and friends. Is there someone who is having a tough time right now? Someone you know whose marriage is in trouble, who is unemployed, is living with an elderly parent who is particularly frail, or someone who has asked for your assistance but for whatever reason you said, “Maybe later when I have the time.”?
What are we waiting for? Now is the time to, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” These are six weeks of opportunity given to us to set our hearts in a new direction.