A word from Pope Francis ~ “Obeying God is listening to God, having an open heart to follow the path that God points out to us.”
Today we are celebrating the First Sunday in Lent. This past Wednesday, the entire Church throughout the world entered into this holy season. At each of our various Masses and Scripture services from 6:30 am through the final Spanish Mass at 7:30 pm, row after row of people approached the altar for ashes. There were familiar faces, our regular parishioners. There were our young people, their parents and their teachers at our Grade School Mass. There were parents carrying infants and senior citizens walking with canes. There were business people going to or coming from work. There were visitors from other parishes. No matter the age or the condition, all were seeking to respond to the call of Lent. The encouraging thing is that we are all in this season together. Even though our Lenten penances may be individual and personal, there is no such thing as a “private Lent.” All of us are seeking to change, to make a course correction in our lives. All of us, young and old, short and tall, male and female, are observing this season together. It was a very encouraging moment as we acknowledged our sinfulness, our need to change, and entered this season together.
As encouraging as all that was, last Wednesday was only a beginning. Today is a new day and today’s Scripture readings invite us again to enter into this season of change. In all three cycles of our Sunday readings, we are presented with the various accounts of Jesus’ 40-day fast in the desert following his Baptism. This year we hear the account from Luke’s Gospel. We are invited to enter into the emptiness of the desert with him. I suspect that this invitation is not as welcome as the invitation to present ourselves for ashes last Wednesday. There is something about silence and emptiness that makes us very uneasy or even fearful. I wonder if we are afraid that if we really carved out some silent time in our day to allow God to speak to us, we might hear something we don’t want to hear.
The famous speaker and writer, Matthew Kelly, makes some very interesting observations in his book, Rediscovering Catholicism. In speaking about “The Classroom of Silence,” he points out that the ability to listen is essential if we hope to grow in prayer. And silence is an essential ingredient of the spiritual life. In silence, we will find God. In silence, we will also find ourselves.
Kelly goes on to address our present-day difficulties when he speaks about the practice of contemplation. He rightly observes that our modern world is spinning out of control. We are surrounded by noise from the moment we wake up and extending into our over-scheduled days and lasting until the moment our head hits the pillow at night. Our world has been filled with noise, and as a result, we can no longer hear the voice of God or notice God’s presence all around us!
The late Bishop Ken Untener in his “Little Black Book” for Lent invites us to take six minutes a day to “spend some quiet time with the Lord.” Matthew Kelly challenges his readers to spend ten minutes a day in silent, listening prayer. Whatever the actual amount, Lent is not a season designed to “give something up,” but a season that calls us to come closer to the Lord, to deepen our relationship with our God. Accepting ashes last Wednesday was only the first step, a personal witness that we are really going to try to grow and change this Lent. As we enter Lent 2022, I suggest that each one of us carve out a small segment of time that we give back to God in listening prayer. A few minutes a day can change our lives. May God continue to bless us with all that we need and more.
Father Jim Murphy