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Who among us does not believe that Jesus Christ gave his life for us on the cross. Who of us would deny this total gift of Jesus for us and our salvation . Who can be indifferent to the incredible love that enabled Jesus to accept crucifixion . Lent is the season our churches set aside to reflect on this divine reality.
There is much wisdom in celebrating the season of Lent each year. We like our rituals, our habits, our traditions. They ground us in wonderful memories. They give us security in knowing who we are and where we belong in this human venture of life, death and resurrection. They give us roots to ground us and wings to challenge us to new heights. No season in the church year does this better than Lent.
Lent begins with ashes on the forehead. Ashes remind us that human life is more than that which meets the eye. Death is not the final answer.
After death is resurrection. It was so for Jesus. It is for us too. We who are destined to die need to pause for at least forty days each year to wrap our heads around the truth that death is temporary, but resurrection is not.
During Lent our churches recommend that we focus on one, or a combination of prayer, fasting and giving alms. The background for these Lenten practices comes from the book of Joel in the Hebrew Scriptures. (Joel 2:12-17) When we pray, we deliberately choose to make our relationship with God alive and personal. Fasting gives us the physical and moral strength to say no to temptation. Almsgiving reaches out with a hand up to others in need. Joel ends his passage with the poignant words, “Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”
Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are paybacks for the priceless gift of salvation. The “cool” thing about Jesus is that paying back is always paying forward.
Jesus insisted that what we do to others, we do for him. He is very blunt in saying anyone who claims to love God, but hates his neighbor is a liar. Clearly we love God by loving one another. It can never be just Jesus and me.
At the final judgment, the criteria for entry into heaven is whether we fed, clothed, housed, visited our neighbor—or rather chose hell by ignoring “Lazarus” in our midst.
Jesus constantly shows us by example how to pay it forward. Never outdone in generosity, Jesus rewards fidelity to our Lenten resolutions with blessings that never cease to surprise us.
Daily reflection and prayer around the blessings of the day remind us of how often Jesus is with us to support our daily living, dying and rising.
Sister Paula Gohs is the bilingual pastoral associate at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Carrollton, Ky.