1st Sunday of Lent (February 18, 2018) Year B
1 Peter 3:18-22
Well ladies and gentlemen, how’s your Lent going so far? We are only a few days into our 40-day journey through the desert. Are you going through chocolate or coffee withdrawals yet? Is your swear jar full yet? I hope whatever you picked to give up for Lent this year is both challenging and rewarding. I also hope you don’t look at Lent as “just another thing I have to do as a Catholic.” I pray that you actually get the full experience and all of the graces possible from this journey. In order to help you, I thought it might be good for a little pep talk today since we’re just beginning our desert journey. That way you can evaluate if you’re on the right path or if you may need to fine-tune something. In order to do this, I came up with two questions we need to make sure we understand.
The first question is simply, “Why do Catholics give something up for Lent?” It actually can be taken from today’s Gospel passage from Mark. It says, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days.” And what happens after Jesus’ time in the desert is up? He begins His public ministry. So he needed time away with fewer distractions to prepare for something bigger yet to come. What can we extrapolate from this? We humans, all too often, clutter up our lives with stuff that we don’t need or with stuff we use too often. And unfortunately, these things can divert us from the bigger picture… God. Food, money, technology, stuff. These things aren’t bad in and of themselves, but often we put too much emphasis on them, which leads us to lose focus on what’s really important.
So we all need to evaluate our lives and ask ourselves, “What do I unnecessarily do or use that could be taking me away from God?” Do I spend too much time on my phone when I could be reading a spiritual book? Do I eat too much of a certain unhealthy food that is leading me to have no energy for works of charity? Do I spend too much time using my speech for negativity rather than prayer? Whatever it is you choose to give up for Lent, it should be challenging. Remember, this is our desert journey. Although I’ve never hiked through a desert, I imagine it is not a pleasant activity.
The second question that needs to be asked and understood is, “Why don’t Catholics eat meat on Friday’s of Lent?” First, understand that when we say “meat” we are referring to non-fish meat like steak, pork and chicken. Back in Jesus’ day, the “common people” lived by the water and ate a lot of fish. It was the food of the poor, it was abundant and it was cheap. The other meat like beef, pork and chicken was for the upper class since it was more expensive. Occasionally, the less wealthy would eat these meats during a special feast like at a wedding.
So not eating meat on Friday’s of Lent, with the exception of fish, reminds us that we are the common people and we’re not celebrating a banquet just yet. We should be using this time to focus on what’s to come…. Good Friday. This act of abstaining from meat on Fridays is something that Catholics around the world do universally and in solidarity with one another. We offer this sacrifice up as a universal Church. The individual things we each give up on our own are a personal sacrifice. These two sacrifices, the universal and the personal, reminds us that we are united as God’s people and that we are not attached to the material things of this world.
Sounds easy right? Nope… not really! Anyone that is willing to change and become closer to God, needs to do it with open eyes. To put it another way, living in sin is easy. Our world allows us the freedom to mess up our lives daily through sin. And once you start going down the path of the “bigger sins,” the “little sins” just keep piling up without a second thought. However, it takes effort to turn away from sin and evil. It takes effort to live with faith, ethics and morals. Why? This also goes back to today’s Gospel from Mark. Remember, we read that Jesus went into the desert for 40 days. Then there are 3 little words in the next sentence that we often skim right over… He was “tempted by Satan.” Yup, just like us, Jesus was tempted by Satan on His desert journey. When you are trying to do better and walk closer with God, it really makes Satan mad. I’m not saying you’ll by physically assaulted by evil or tempted daily, but isn’t it funny how when you decide to give up sweets for Lent, the very next day someone brings donuts to work… hot… fresh…heavenly… donuts.
So use this Lent as a time of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Detach yourself from the unnecessary material things that you really don’t need. Instead, focus on God. Focus on the Great Banquet that is waiting for each of us after our desert journey is over… Easter. The resurrection of Jesus Christ after Good Friday opened the gates of Heaven for all of us. It gave all of us an invitation to the Great Banquet in Heaven. Use this desert journey to clean up whatever it is that keeps staining your banquet garment. Now is the time to, “Repent, and believe in the gospel” of Jesus Christ!