Jl 2. 2-1; Ps 51; 2 Co 5.20-6.2; Mt 6. 1-6, 16-18
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Ambassadors For Our Messiah
The first character of Lent is baptism: recalling our baptism and helping others prepare for it. The second character is a spirit of penance./1/ Penance isn’t punitive; it’s an array of disciplines helping us focus more clearly on baptism and Christian living according to God’s measure and not by human measure. First, consider with me preparing others for baptism. I will close with a comment on God’s measure.
Preparing people for baptism belongs to the community of the church. The community is the first minister of initiation because baptism is “the responsibility of all the baptized.”/2/
Lent involves us all together. It is personal but never private. Just like relationship with God is personal, it is never private: God missions each of us to give witness to God by our deeds as well as our words and worship. Just like spurning relationship with God or rupturing it by my sin is personal, it is never private: when my relationship with God is shallow, I am not a clear channel to God.
Just like a grace God may give you is personal, it is never private: God blesses you in concrete ways so you may give more effective witness to God for others.
“Not private” is the essence of Joel’s prophetic message we heard: call an assembly; gather the people, notify the congregation; assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast. Together we return to [God] with our whole heart. We accompany each other on our journey to God. Lent is a time when the community’s role is greatly important. Lent is not for loners. “During Lent, penance should not be only internal and individual but also external and social.”/3/
If Joel made the communal nature of penance clear, St. Paul handed us our lenten vocation: we are ambassadors. God...appeal[s] through us, and Lent helps us shape our lives so that we make Jesus appealing to others and more appealing to one another.
We don’t make Jesus attractive if we leave out his struggles, his temptations, his fear and his sufferings and death. Temptations to picture Jesus as a non-suffering Messiah, as someone who did not count on others measure Jesus by human standards not God’s standards.
The gospel reminded us of Jesus’ words about piety--not abstract reverence but putting devotion into practice. Heavenly Father, the one seeing in secret, the one who is hidden was Jesus point of reference. Jesus did not chart a plan humans can accomplish completely and on their own. No! Jesus invites us to overcome our great temptation to fashion Christian living on our terms and, instead, allow God to shape our praying, our almsgiving and our fasting so that we may become better ambassadors of mercy, praise and the paschal life Jesus calls us to rediscover in a deeper way this Lent.
1. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Liturgy, 109.
2. Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 9.
3. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Liturgy, 110.
Wiki-image of ashen cross by Gareth Hughes is used according to the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 license.