The readings for the First Sunday of Lent are available HERE
We began Lent on Ash Wednesday with a very well-attended Mass and the distribution of ashes. If you could not be there, you can receive ashes at the end of this Mass, too. During Mass, I reminded people that the Church expects us to do three things during this holy season. The first and most important thing is prayer. We pray throughout the year, of course, but this is a season when we can really try hard to be close to Jesus by listening carefully to the Gospel or even reading it at home. We can learn from what He said and what He did, and do our best to become gradually more and more like Him. The second thing the Church expects us to do is to fast. Fasting from food is different from dieting, because when I follow a diet, I focus on myself. I may want to lose weight or feel healthier – both good things, but in both cases the focus is on me. Fasting in Lent should help us focus on other people and their needs. In many countries, Caritas encourages us to celebrate one Friday in Lent when we deliberately eat less, either on our own or as a family. By doing this we will, of course, save some money, and Caritas asks us to give that money to a particular cause. And this is the third thing the Church expects of us during Lent – almsgiving. That means letting ourselves be touched by the difficult situations in which other people live. During Lent this year, Caritas Danmark is asking us to contribute to the sanitary education of young girls in Uganda. There will be a way for us all to make a contribution in the coming weeks.
Lent is not meant to be a time when we focus on ourselves. There is no doubt that many of the prayers ask us to change our behaviour, but the whole point of Lent is that it should be a time which prepares us to celebrate something wonderful – the fact that Jesus Christ conquered death. Most people nowadays are afraid of talking or thinking about death, and in many so-called modern and civilised cultures people basically act as if there was no such thing as death. In the hospital where I worked in England, for example, I was not supposed to say the words ‘die’ or ‘death’. We were supposed to say that a person ‘passes’, but we were never supposed to mention where they had gone. Modern culture tries to offer us an anaesthetic, so that we do not admit that our life here on earth comes to a natural end.
It is very tempting to focus on ourselves too much in our religion, not just during Lent. We can think that religion is all about morality, about obeying the rules and getting it right. It is easy for us to worry too much about human weakness, and to be frightened by the possibility that God will punish us eternally for our sins. We do have to do our best to keep God’s rules. The first reading today is a warning that it is not a good idea to disobey God, like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. But we hear something just as important in the second reading. Saint Paul tells the Christians in Rome that “sin entered the world through one man, and through sin death, and thus death has spread through the whole human race because everyone has sinned”. But that is not the full story. Saint Paul says that there is hope for everyone: “as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous”. The two men are Adam and Jesus. Adam is a sign of our weak and sinful nature, but Jesus is God; He can help us overcome our failings.
There is a little thing that happens at every Mass that reminds us that we should never despair because of our weaknesses and failures. Jesus can lift us out of our weakness and failure and bring us into the presence of God, the Father. There is no way we can save ourselves from sin and from death, but Jesus can do it. In a few minutes, at the preparation of the gifts for the Eucharist, Christian will put some wine into the chalice. Into the wine he will put a tiny drop of water. Never forget that the tiny drop of water is a sign of the part we play in our salvation, and the wine is a sign of how much Jesus does to save us. We play our part, but it will never be enough: we need help from Jesus. We do all we can to fit into God’s plan, but Jesus does much more. Never think that your weakness means you cannot be saved. We do not save ourselves: Jesus saves us. Our religion does not depend on us, because what we can do is limited; we are human. We are not perfect. It is not a very popular thing to say, but we need help. We need someone to lift us up when we fall, someone who will take us by the hand and lead us along the road to heaven. Try to focus more on Jesus during Lent. Remember the chalice: there is a tiny drop of water but there is always more wine. We struggle through life and do our best, but we know that will never be enough. The important thing is that Jesus is always willing to help us and guide us. Try to stay close to Him in Lent.
Fr. Peter Fleetwood