Monday, February 18, 2013
Reading: Matthew 21:31-46.
Today’s gospel seems to be laden with Lenten messages: a preacher could feast on the themes of judgment, sin, penance, alms-giving, heaven and hell. Beyond what it actually says, however, there’s also a message in how the reading flows. Opening with a rather dramatic and somewhat terrifying image of the apocalypse, with Christ returning with the heavenly hosts to enact judgment by separating the good sheep from the nasty goats, it concludes by focusing on the all too mundane reality of human suffering: the homeless, the lonely, the poor, the criminal, the infirm. Lent is shaped by precisely such a ‘descending’ movement, seeking to bring the faith we so often allow to become comfortably abstract into contact with the concrete realities of our lives.
Some of our older brothers tell the story of a friar who, many years, ago gave up smoking for Lent. After a few days of Lenten misery, the brothers were begging him to take up smoking again, and threatening to have the Prior put him under obedience so to do! Our Lenten penances are not designed to inflict maximum misery in our lives, and certainly not the lives of others, but rather to unleash love: they are to promote harmony, fraternity and charity, not only in some distant future, but here and now, in the Kingdom of God on Earth, established by Christ. More accurately, our penances serve to help create a space where God Himself can unleash love, acting through our lives to unleash love in the lives of others. In lifting our hearts and minds to God, we bring God’s peace down to earth.