First Reading (Joel 2: 12-18):
Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind him a blessing, Offerings and libations for the Lord, your God. Blow the trumpet in Zion! proclaim a fast, call an assembly; Gather the people, notify the congregation; Assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast; Let the bridegroom quit his room and the bride her chamber. Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep, And say, “Spare, O Lord, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach, with the nations ruling over them! Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” Then the Lord was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on his people.
1) Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me. (Refrain:)
2) For I acknowledge my offense, and my sin is before me always:
Against you only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight." (Refrain:)
3) A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence, and your holy spirit take not from me. (Refrain:)
4) Give me back the joy of your salvation, and a willing spirit sustain in me.
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. (Refrain:)
Brothers and sisters: We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says: In an acceptable time I heard you,and on the day of salvation I helped you. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. “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. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.
The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL.)
- Days of the Lord, Volume 2, pp. 1-21. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Mn., 1991.
- Catechism: #'s 538-540 (Jesus' fast), 1430 - 1439 (Interior Penance). United States Catholic Conference, Washington, DC: 1994.
-Ambassador For Christ, from The Letters to the Corinthians, by William Barclay. Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, Scotland: 1975.
-The Reward Motive In The Christian Life, The Christian Idea of Reward, Right Things from the Wrong Motive, How Not to Give, The Motives of Giving, How Not to Pray, How Not To Fast & The True Fasting, from The Gospel of Luke, by William Barclay. Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, Scotland: 1975.
-Internal Medicine, from Dynamic Preaching, Seven Worlds Corporation, 310 Simmons Road, Knoxville, Tn. 37922.
- Homilies for the Christian People, pp. 418-420. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN 56321: 1989.
- Preaching the Lectionary, pp. 35-37, by Reginald H. Fuller. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN 56321: 1984.
- We Are All Sinners, from More Stories for Reflection by Jack McArdle, SSCC, pp. 134-137. Twenty-third Publications, P. O. Box 180, Mystic, CT 06355: 1997.
- A Heart Transplant, from Stories for Reflection by Jack McArdle, pp. 57-60. Twenty-third Publications, P. O. Box 180, Mystic, CT 06355: 1997.
And a Child Shall Lead Them
Of course you all know that today begins our annual journey through the season of Lent. And I think that if we could sum up this journey in one word, that word would be “prepare”. Actually, we hear this word more often in Advent when it is associated with Isaiah's exhortation to “prepare the way of the Lord and make straight his paths” leading to his birth on Christmas day. And as a musician, I especially remember the setting called “Prepare Ye” which was put to his words in the musical Godspell (of course, I’m showing my age here, but it is currently in revival on Broadway for a whole new group of younger followers). But I think the word works just as well for Lent. And if it does, then it leads us to consider several questions.
First of all, for what are we preparing ourselves? Well, I think we should be preparing our hearts for Good Friday and Easter. I think it is a great loss for any Christian not to prepare for these most solemn days in the Christian calendar.
So the second question is: why are we preparing ourselves? Why is it even necessary? Well, if you follow baseball, you know that every year about this time, baseball players prepare for the season with spring training; and also every spring, ordinary people like you and me prepare for summer (and the arrival of many guests) by doing "spring cleaning". So why shouldn't Christians prepare for the most important events in Jesus' ministry, namely what he did for us on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and what he did for us on Golgotha's cross and at the empty tomb? So, if it helps, we could think of Lent as a kind of Christian spring training and spring cleaning.
So I think that we would all agree that preparation for any special event is necessary; otherwise, a baseball team won’t be able to play as a team when the games are really meaningful. And if we don’t do our spring cleaning, the house will be a mess when our guests arrive unannounced to partake of our hospitality.
But I think there is even a more compelling reason to prepare our hearts during this time of the year. It is appropriate to prepare our hearts now for our own resurrection on our last day. Which brings us to the final question of the day: how do we prepare our hearts for our annual remembrances of Good Friday and Easter and, even more importantly, how do we prepare for our own resurrection on the last day. This is where we return to today’s readings with their focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Spending time alone with God in prayer is something that our Lord himself taught us. And if he felt that he needed to do that, and he is the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, then how much more would it be necessary for us to do that also.
Fasting is something which helps us to tame the sometimes unruly desires of the flesh. And once again, this is something which our Lord did in his own life when he fasted for forty days in the desert and which we will hear about in this coming Sunday’s gospel .
And finally there is almsgiving which is being generous with those who have been less gifted than we have been. But I think it can easily be extended to mean being kind and loving to all those we meet on a daily basis. Consider the following story. The author writes:
âˆ™ The setting was a McDonald’s restaurant in a small community in central Pennsylvania. Most of us think of dining at McDonald’s as “fast food”. Not so for a lonely, retired eighty-year-old woman, whose physical and mental health was waning. Each day, she arrived early in the morning and sat at a back booth until late afternoon, seeking companionship and hoping to be included in the conversations of nearby patrons.
June was her name, and home was a second-floor apartment in the nearby college town. Despite the steep steps that were becoming increasingly difficult for her, the pleasant ambience of McDonald’s drew her to the corner she called her “home away from home”. Each day this proud woman sat bundled up in the same back corner, wearing a familiar babushka on her head, her eyes always hidden behind dark sunglasses, her heavy coat buttoned.
During the fall of 2001, my four-year-old granddaughter, Catie, attended preschool three days a week; I picked her up each day at the sitter’s and took her to lunch before I dropped her off at school. Most children love “Mickey D’s”, and Catie was no exception!
Catie’s favorite seat was one table away from June on the same bench seat.
I must admit I became tired of eating hamburgers, and I would often ask Catie, “Could we please go somewhere else today?â€› Her answer was always an adamant: “No, Nana, I have to see June”. Each day as we approached the parking lot, Catie’s eyes would search for June’s battered 1975 Monte Carlo, with the cluttered interior containing June’s “treasures”. When she spotted June’s car in the handicapped space, she was elated. As soon as I got her out of her car seat, she would race ahead of me, bounding through the restaurant, craning her neck to see if June was in her spot. If she was, they played a little game. Catie would pretend to hide behind a display, peek around the corner, then race into June’s arms. Many patrons watched for Catie and smiled tenderly as this adorable little blond child clasped her friend tightly, proving to all that friendship transcends age.
Over the months, Catie would bring June small gifts: a key chain from her first trip to Disney World, a bouquet of flowers hand-carried to her apartment when June was sick, a mug for her birthday with a photo of Catie perched on June’s lap in their favorite corner of McDonald’s.
Unfortunately, in the fall of 2002, just as Catie entered kindergarten, June’s health deteriorated to the point where she had to have dialysis treatments three times a week. Many days, her seat would be empty when we arrived at McDonald’s. Catie always asked one of the clerks about her friend. Sometimes, the manager or one of the workers, who had also befriended June, would give us an update. Near Christmastime, Catie and I received the news that June had gone to a nursing home.
When we first found June’s room, she was lying in bed with her eyes closed. June seemed to sense our presence, and, as her eyes opened, she spotted Catie. Catie walked over to the bed, June sat up and they hugged. Tears filled my eyes as I realized the power of the moment. They talked a mile a minute, and June showed Catie the birdfeeder outside her window. This visit was a ray of sunshine for June, whose life was far from sunny. Her diabetes was worsening; her beloved car had to be sold; and the outlook for the future was bleak.
Before we left that day, June opened Catie’s Christmas present, a pink fleece blanket to keep June’s feet warm. She loved it, and they hugged tightly once again. Over the next few months, school kept Catie busy, yet each time we went to McDonald’s, Catie’s eyes were drawn to that back corner.
Before Easter, I received a phone call from a McDonald’s employee telling me that June’s health was failing; they were going to have to amputate her leg. Catie sent a card to June, telling her she would pray for her. Soon, we got even worse news: June had passed away.
Catie would be in school on the day of June’s funeral, but we sent two pink roses with some babies’ breath. The morning of the visitation, I walked into the funeral home to pay my respects. Only two small flower arrangements were visible, and the people there were few. As I walked down the aisle, a woman who identified herself as June’s niece approached me, wondering who I was. When I told her that I was the grandmother of Catie, June’s friend from McDonald’s, she grabbed my hand and led me to the casket.
There lay this peaceful angel with her white babushka on her head and with Catie’s two pink roses in her hands. I soon learned from her niece that roses had been June’s favorite flowers. The pink fleece blanket covered her legs, and on top of the blanket were Catie’s card and the photo of the two of them in the corner booth at McDonald’s, Catie sitting on June’s lap and June resplendent in her trademark dark glasses and babushka. Tears flowed from my eyes. In that moment, I truly came to see what a gift God had given the world in my granddaughter, whose genuine love had wholly embraced this lonely, elderly woman.
While taking Catie to school the day of June’s funeral, we talked about my saying goodbye to June for her. She asked me about the memorial card that was lying on the seat next to me. I read it to her, and we talked about their birthdays both being in June, but that this year, June would be in heaven for hers. As she got out of the car, she wondered if she could take the card to school and I told her that was fine. She bounded up the sidewalk with her friend Carly, who asked her what she had in her hand. I heard her explain, “This is my best friend, June”. (1)
What this story exemplifies so well I think is that we don’t have to be wealthy to give alms to the poor and needy. Sometimes all it takes is something more precious than gold: our time and caring.
1. And a Little Child Shall Lead Them by Audrey Conway from Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christian Kids.
Just about two months ago, we were celebrating the Feast of Christmas and now here we are at the first day of our forty day journey through Lent to the celebration of Easter. What possible reason could I have for bringing up the joyous celebration of Christmas on this day of fasting and repentance?
On Christmas, we celebrated the birthday of our Lord and, just as on any birthday when we give gifts to the one whose birthday it is, so we should have given him gifts. But what possible gift could we give to the one who has created everything around us? It is the one thing which we have the power to withhold from him? So what is it? Well, the readings today have given us all the clues we need. Joel tells us that the Lord has said "Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning". The psalmist tells us to pray these words: "A clean heart create for me, O God". And in the gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to be on guard lest they perform acts of penitence only to gain the approval of others. He is telling them, and us, that what is important lies within.
So what did Christ want as a Christmas gift? The same thing he wants from us in today's readings: our hearts. God gave them to each of us and all he asks is that we freely give them back to him. But he doesn't want a heart that is sinful; he needs a heart that recognizes that its sin is a problem and which is willing to change. This change of heart is what is meant by the word repentance. Repentance means more than just being sorry for past sins. It entails a willingness to change our behavior in order to avoid sin in the future. In essence, what we need is an incarnation. We have to let Christ assume human form in us, just as he assumed human flesh in his own Incarnation. And if we let Christ into our hearts, we might be amazed at the transformation that will occur in our lives. Consider the following story. The author writes:
- I had never held a deformed infant in my arms before. In fact, I had never even seen a deformed infant before. Now I found myself delivering three tiny orphans to their adoptive parents on Christmas Eve. I taught English in Korea. College students rioted and succeeded in closing the college where I taught. Fed up, I desired to go home. A friend informed me of the "baby flights," a program whereby one can travel from Korea to the U.S. dirt cheap. But there was a hitch. The traveler must transport three orphans. The alternative was to pay the full fare. I found myself boarding a plane with three infants, aged 3 months, 7 months and 18 months. They came with runny noses, wet diapers and colds. As the plane took off, the poor kids howled. The plane vibrated violently and all the babies quieted. Seconds later, the plane stopped shaking and in unison the babies howled. The passengers burst into laughter.
One thing disturbed me. One of the infants was a deformed dwarf. Her massive head with disproportionately minute arms and fingers shocked me. I wondered if her new parents realized what they had coming. But the one on my lap was wet and the milk formula was low. I rapidly learned how to clean a wet bottom, put on a new diaper and stick a pacifier in an open mouth. Two American soldiers asked if they could each hold a baby. "No problem," I said and they both walked off with a baby. I sat there holding the baby with the very large head. She blinked her long gorgeous eyelashes and smiled. Funny how things like that can change you. From that point on she radiated beauty, and never left my arms.
Before landing in Tokyo, the soldiers handed back the babies. I clung onto my baby and one at a time changed the diapers of the two babies the soldiers had just handed me. As I pulled off their clothes, single dollar bills fell to the floor. I glanced at the departing soldiers. One of them blurted, "Little buggers are gonna need all the cash they can get. Merry Christmas!"
By now I had developed a strong bond with my baby. I even named her Tina. The more I thought about giving her to someone else the more I worried about her prospective parents. While waiting in the terminal during a rest stop between flights, I noticed a young attractive Asian woman pacing back and forth near me. She stared at the babies and me and then walked off. Finally she spun around and confronted me, "Are they orphans?" "Yes," I replied. "I was one of them 24 years ago," she said. "May I hold one?" The lovely woman took the noisiest one of the lot. She carried the child on the plane for the next leg of our journey, and she cared for the infant for the rest of the flight. Occasionally she'd show up and lend a hand feeding or changing the others when she could.
After two more stops and a total of 27 hours, the plane landed. New parents rushed in and sped off with two of the babies. I still held Tina and it seemed like nobody was coming on board for her. Worried that no one wanted her, I trudged off the plane. Then I saw them and stopped, unable to move. Little hands of a dwarf couple reached up to me. As I passed Tina down to them, she said "Oma" to me. That means mom in Korean. At that point, I sat and cried. I watched the delighted tiny family walk off to a new life and thought, "How perfect." But the next year I paid the full fare. The baby flight was too expensive. (1)
If a baby could change the heart of this man, how much more can divinity change us. Just a few weeks ago, we heard Luke's account of the Beatitudes. The word Beatitudes comes from the Latin word beatitudo which means "perfect happiness". If we follow them and make them a part of our lives, we will find that we are happier than we have ever been before. And that is because, by imitating Christ, we will be following the true desire of our hearts, a desire to be like our Creator, a desire which God himself has placed there and which can only be fulfilled by him.
If we are not happy for any reason whatsoever, we need to look closely at what is causing us the unhappiness. More than likely, we will find that it is because we are only looking at ourselves. As long as any smidgin of self is alive in our hearts, we will not be truly happy. As I mentioned numerous times during the Christmas season, if we are wallowing in self-pity, even for the most valid of reasons, or if we are grieving over the loss of a loved one, we will never be truly happy until we get beyond ourselves. Our focus of attention needs to be turned outwards, towards others, as the Beatitudes have taught us. Only then will we be truly happy.
So a repentance for sin should lead us to a true change of heart, a change of heart which focuses on Christ as he lives in others. And this change of heart should lead us to live lives which are compassionate, non-judgmental, forgiving and giving, lives which are lived in imitation of Christ, lives which have then found true peace and happiness.
1. The Baby Flight, by Paul Karrer. From A Fourth Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul, by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Hanoch McCarty and Meladee McCarty. Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL: 1997. Used with permission of the author.
(Copyright 2009 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan, with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Lord Jesus, you call us to repentance. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you call us to change our hearts. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you call us to be reconciled with one another and with the Father. Lord, have mercy.
Celebrant: As we begin our Lenten journey, we recall our sinfulness and pray for God's mercy and forgiveness.
Deacon or Lector: Our response is "Lord, hear our prayer".
That the leaders of the Church will show us the way to repentance and reconciliation by their example, we pray to the Lord.
That the leaders of the nations of the world will turn away from aggression and war and do all in their power to preserve peace, we pray to the Lord.
That our acts of penitence and self-denial during this Lenten season will, in some small way, help to unite us with all the sick, suffering and grieving members of Christ's body on earth, we pray to the Lord.
That the Elect, their teachers and sponsors may be enriched on their Lenten journey by the enlightenment of God's Word, we pray to the Lord.
That the signing with ashes will remind us of the passing nature of all material things and encourage us to build up an everlasting reward in heaven, we pray to the Lord.
That the members of our parish will grow in love and concern for those in need in our local community, we pray to the Lord.
For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.
Celebrant: Merciful Father, your Son has called us to turn away from sin and return to you. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to use this Lenten season to draw closer to you and to one another through our prayer, fasting and sacrifice. We ask this through Christ, your Son and our Lord. Amen.