Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Repent, And Believe In The Gospel (Mark 1:15)

The Holy Season Of Lent is a time we spend in the presence of our God, re-evaluating our ways of living and our ways of thinking. A period we realize the fleetingness of our existence on this earth and feel a great need to reach out to our God to tangibly experience Him – to open our hearts to His Love and be assured of His constant Presence in our lives. Ash Wednesday – the first day we enter into the Holy Season of Lent - is observed as a day of fasting and prayer by the Church. A day we resolve to make reparation for the many times we have hurt God by forsaking Him for the temporary and sinful pleasures of this world.

The ritual carried out on Ash Wednesday, in keeping with the tradition of the Church practices, is the blessing and laying of ashes on our foreheads. This is an ancient custom of the Church and has Biblical origins signifying the predestined end of the brief and miserable condition of human life. "You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) The laying of ashes is a sign cautioning us that if we live only for the insignificant pleasures of this earth, w will perish with it. At the same time, it is also a symbol of hope inviting us to look to God as the Giver of Eternal Life and to put our trust in Him.

"Man Shall Not Live On Bread Alone." (Matthew 4:4)
The season of Lent is a time of self-purification, a time we open our heart to God. The attitude with which to observe the season of Lent is explained in the Gospel passage which pertains to the temptations faced by Jesus. "And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. And the temper came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to turn to become loaves of bread.' But he answered, 'It is written, Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:2-4)

What is the meaning of bread? Bread does not mean only those things which we eat to satisfy our hunger. Eating is only one of the basic needs of our human form. Our body has many other needs and a large portion of our energy and time is spent in the pursuit of those things that will fulfill these needs of our body. We not only need bread to feed ourselves, we also need many other things to make life comfortable and secure. Most of us, in the pursuit of comfort and security, will not hesitate to drive ourselves to any extreme to have a successful career and status symbols that come with it – the latest luxury car, a spacious bungalow, a comfortable bank balance etc. – even to the detriment of our health and declining relationships with loved ones.

Besides, we like to indulge in various activities that not only give us joy and pleasure but also pamper our egos; theme birthday parties with an extravagant spread, luxury holidays and the like. Very often, it is a pathetic bid to keep up with the Joneses. For all these purposes, we need money! So while we are on this earth, we are busy all the time making money – for a life that concentrates only of satisfying our body’s needs. But there is a great danger in this living. The danger is we could be preoccupied with the needs of this world and end up becoming slaves to these same needs. In the pursuit of money to meet our requirements for bread and other temporal necessities of life, our existence becomes a miserable vicious circle. We become totally blind to our soul’s need to relate to the Creator and thus deprive ourselves of the spiritual delights that come from living in closeness to God. Therefore, we need to come to the realization that men should not base his existence for and on bread alone. Instead, he should live by and on the power of the Word of God. That is the real life we are called to live!

"Seek First His Kingdom And His Righteousness” (Matthew 6:33)
I remember talking to a very happy and successful businessman once. He told me that every morning, he would go to his office and spend the whole day there. But in the evening, he would put everything aside to go home to be with his family. At home, he would spend time with his wife and children. He would lead them in prayer and then they would praise God together – surrendering their lives to Him. Then, they would spend time eating and laughing together, discussing with each other, planning for the future and just being there for each other. For him, his relationship to God and family was most important among all other things of this world. I thought to myself, “What a model human being!” Here was an ideal businessman, making money, in the pursuit to live and meet the needs of his family. But he was not a slave to money. All his time and energy was not spent to make money. He had his priorities and values in the right perspective. To this man, God and his family came first in the right order of priority.

But very often, this is not the case with many of us. When we are living on this earth, we are so busy making money to meet various expenses that the temporal needs of this earth become idols for us. In the pursuit of these idols, we neither have the inclination nor the time to pray. God and family take secondary and tertiary positions as we concern ourselves with personal achievements and material acquisitions in this world. Herein lies the danger – for in the race of materialism, we lose sight of our God and our relationships fail. What a heavy price to pay when we are not focussed on our priorities in this life.

"For I Do Not Do The Good I Want, But The Evil I Do Not Want Is What I Do." (Romans 7:19)
It is in this Holy Season of lent that we come to God and raise our hearts to Him and evaluate – where do we stand? “Are my values in the right perspective and in the right order of priority? Do the things that have to be given first place, come first always?” The season of Lent is a spiritual journey towards freedom. To free us from the numerous shackles of slavery that life has put on our hearts, minds and lives. If we open our eyes wide enough we would become aware of the corruption, deception, envy and injustice, all around us. We too could be contributing to it! Let us look into our hearts and make a very honest soul-searching. “Why am I sad when my companions or my colleagues make it better in life? Why am I not able to rejoice with them and appreciate them sincerely? My neighbour is prospering more than I but I am not able to rejoice at his good fortune!” Today, man is travelling to space and walking on the moon. Why is walking in space easier than walking to my neighbour whom I do not like? Why am I often hot-tempered? Why am I getting discouraged all the time when someone makes a comment – a negative comment about me? Why am I so depressed? Why do I become so angry and agitated? Why is it that I have no time for my family?” When we ask ourselves these questions, it would reveal to us the areas of slavery that we are living in.

All these questions on a personal level lead us to a greater awareness of the person we are. Once we identify those areas of our lives which disturb us, we need to make a conscious effort to change them by surrendering those very areas to God and seeking His help. If I am not open to God and have no time to pray and read His Word, I will continue to be plagued by negative attitudes and tendencies that enslave me.

"Everyone Who Commits Sin Is A Slave To Sin." (John 8:34)
St. Paul was forthright when he laments, "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, it is no loner I that do it, but sin which dwells within me." (Romans 7:15-20) But then he looks up to Jesus, praises Him, and says joyfully, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24) St. Paul acknowledges Jesus as His God, who gives him freedom and liberation from sin. It is a similar journey we have to embark on during this Holy Season of Lent. How do we come out of this quagmire in which we find ourselves today?

Firstly, we need to identify the many areas of slavery that we are living in. In the pursuit of bread and other perishables of this earth, we tend to become earthbound. Affected with all the negative attitudes of selfishness and sin, our earthly life will become meaningless. So we need to raise our hearts up to God and look at Him and straighten out our ways. It is Him that we must be reaching for all the time as the final goal and destination of our pilgrimage on earth. While making a pilgrimage, we are always moving with our minds and hearts raised to God. Our journey on earth should be just like a pilgrimage and then we will help to make everything beautiful on the face of this earth. In this Season of Lent, let us ask the Lord to give us the grace to discern the real meaning of life and may all the fasting, prayers and penance that we take upon ourselves lead us and help us towards that end.

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