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.”
This past Wednesday, the entire Church throughout the world entered into the holy season of Lent. 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 and their teachers at our Grade School Mass and our Religious Education sessions. There were parents carrying infants and senior citizens walking with canes. At the noon Mass, there were some business people joining us on their lunch break. We had some visitors from other parishes who work in the area. The one common factor that united each one of us was that no matter the age or the condition, we were all seeking to respond to the call of Lent. We were 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 as disciples of the Lord. All of us, in our humanity, are observing this season together. It is very encouraging to realize that we are not alone as we acknowledge our sinfulness, our need to change. We enter this season together.
As encouraging as all that was, last Wednesday was only a beginning. Today, the First Sunday of Lent, is a new day, and today’s Scripture readings again invite us to enter into this season of growth. 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 Matthew’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 suspect that we are afraid that if we were to really carve 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 popular 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 find God. In silence, we also find ourselves.
He 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, 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” for a time and then embrace it again come Easter, 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 2023, I suggest that each one of us carve out a small segment of time that we give back to God in listening prayer. For some, that can be a major challenge! But, a few minutes a day can change our lives. Let us let Lent be Lent this year and not run from it by surrounding ourselves with excess activity or noise.
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Father Jim Murphy