All of us have heard the phrase, “The truth will set you free.” These are actual words uttered by our Lord recorded in chapter 8 of st. John’s Gospel. They are oh so true. But we sometimes know that the truth, at first, is difficult for us to accept. It’s difficult to face. But it is vital that we do so so that we might know the fullness of the freedom of life in Christ.
This reality is the core of our season of lent. The season that we began Wednesday this time of intense prayer and self-denial. We are to embrace the three-part regimen that our Lord gives us every year in chapter 6 of Matthew’s Gospel that we proclaim on Ash Wednesday: to pray, and to fast, and to give alms. But even more importantly and underlying all of it. Lent is a time for us to be honest with ourselves. To acknowledge the truth that all of us in some way have strayed from God’s plan, and that we need to turn back to him.
“I acknowledge my offense and my sin is always before me.” These powerful words we just heard from Psalm 51, the great penitential psalm of King David. He who is the greatest of all the kings of Israel has to admit his grave sins of adultery and murder. But he does that with the power of God’s grace and strength.[King David’s] words are applicable to all of us. We have all sinned. Too many times to count. We must come to grips with the truth that we are sinners so that we might admit that sin, to seek the only thing that will set us free, the power of God’s mercy.
The first reading is from the second chapter of the book of Genesis. The first book of the Bible tells of man’s first sin. We hear that God has created them, and placed them in that garden of paradise. He’s given them certain instructions about how they are to live. Then we hear of their disobedience. We’re told that their eyes were opened. They are aware of their sin. Imagine their heartache and their shock which prompts them to hide from God overwhelmed with guilt and shame.
You and I live in this same pattern of the lives of Adam and Eve in the beginning. Like them, we are surrounded with this garden that is the created world. Each day God gives us everything we need to be completely happy. Our families, and friends, and our careers in our faith which guides us always. He gives us every good gift. Just like the garden, everything is good. But he directs us to use those gifts in a particular manner. The manner that will be best for us.
But then we are deceived by Satan. In those disordered desires that are now ours we want things that are not good, or we want good things in measures in an excess that will harm us. We choose to sin. But then again we must acknowledge, as King David did, that our sin is always before us. But it’s not a cause of dread or fear. For now all things have been reconciled in Christ.
This is what we hear in our second reading words of st. Paul in his letter the Romans, “that while death entered into our lives the sin of man so life has come to us in Christ.” In the abundance of grace and the gift of justification, which he won for us through his righteous act, his perfect obedience in his passion and death for us, so that our sins might be forgiven.
Lent is a time for us to be brutally honest with ourselves, to look at our sin, and then to look beyond our sin to Christ. We see the example of our Lord in today’s Gospel when he fasts for 40 days and 40 nights. Does he need the discipline and the purification that will come with prayer and fasting? Of course, he doesn’t. He is God. But in his infinite love for us he desires to associate himself for us in all things. And so he is tempted. And each time he repels that temptation, he shows us the fruit of what prayer and fasting and almsgiving will accomplish in us. A strength that we can have if we only seek it.
I must share with you that the older I get, the more and more I love the season of Lent. I love the disciplines of Lent because they have helped me in so many ways to battle the temptations that I face. I guess it’s part of my weakness that I need the season of Lent to prompt me to embrace fasting and self-denial a bit more.
I hope and pray that all of us will do that during this holy season again through that prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; so we might be set free by this liberating truth that comes by acknowledging our sins, and then that even greater truth of the liberating power of God’s mercy available to us always.
Next Sunday we’ll begin our infused solicitation for our annual Bishop’s Appeal. This is a clear and tangible way in which we can participate in that third of that three-stage discipline that or Lord gives us: that of almsgiving.
Bishop Gaynor has introduced the theme for this year’s appeal. “I have given you an example.” These words that Jesus utters after he washes the feet of his apostles at the Last Supper. The brochure that you have all received the poster that hangs in our church shows a bishop of Bishop Gaynor washing one of the feats of our seminarian at the mass of the Lord’s Supper that he celebrates every year in our diocesan cathedral.
This beautiful right that shows to us what all of our practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are all about. They’re not end in and of themselves; but they are means to a greater life of charity and love. This collection is so important. Each year our parish responds so magnificently. So I pray that again we will do that.
And so you and I have come again to this holy season. May this lent be a time of great grace for us through those practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. May all of us grow in the very grace of Christ. May we share more generously all of the gifts that he has given to us so as to experience what all of this is meant to provide and give to us: a greater share in the very life and love of God.