The most difficult times can produce the greatest spiritual blessings. God truly knows just what we need at every moment!

Friday, March 25, 2011

3rd Sunday of Lent “A”

One of the best ways that we can help the catechumens, that is those who are called the elect after the celebration of the Rite of Election on the First Sunday of Lent, in the process of their conversion during Lent, is through the celebration of the rites called “Scrutinies”.

The scrutinizes are ritual celebrations which the church celebrates on the Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Lent. Basically, the scrutinies are communal prayers celebrated around the elect. The purpose of these prayers is to strengthen the elect to enable them to overcome the power of sin in their lives and to help them to grow in virtue.

When we scrutinize something it means that we examine it closely.
The community however is not the one that scrutinizes the catechumens;
It is rather the catechumens themselves who are invited to scrutinize their own lives and to allow God to scrutinize them and to heal them.

There is a danger when we as a community mistakenly think that it is only the elect who are sinners here in our midst and it is only the elect who are in need of conversion.
Rather each and every one of us are called to continuing conversion throughout our whole lives. Each one of us are invited to join with the elect in scrutinizing our own lives. Each one of us are invited to pray to God for the grace to overcome the power of sin that still infects our hearts.

Taking seriously this practice of scrutiny and conversion gives all of us a richer perspective on the common Lenten practice of "giving up something in our lives."
What we are to give up more than anything else is sin, which is to say we are to give up whatever it is that keeps us from living out our baptismal promises to the full.

Along with the elect we all need to approach the season of Lent asking ourselves what needs to change in our lives if we are to fully live the gospel values that Jesus has taught us.
As a whole community our journey throughout these forty days should be one of moving ever closer to Christ and to the way of life He has shown us.

The elect deal with sin through the Scrutinies and through the waters of the Baptismal font; but those who are already baptized deal with sin through the Sacrament of Penance.
The same kind of reflection that enables all members of the community to share in the Scrutinies should also lead all of us who are already baptized to properly celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation so as to renew their own baptismal commitment.

Lent is the primary time for celebrating the Sacrament of Penance, because Lent is the season for baptismal preparation and baptismal renewal. Early Christian teachers called this sacrament the "second Baptism.” Why?
Because one of the main purposes of the sacrament of reconciliation is to enable all of the baptized to start all over again to live the baptismal life in its fullness.

All of us who experience the loving mercy of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation will then find ourselves standing alongside the newly baptized at Easter filled with great joy at the new life God has given all of us.
We all know that in the Catholic faith there are three traditional pillars of Lenten observance. Three things that Catholics normally focus on during Lent.

What are they? They are prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
The key to understanding prayer, fasting and almsgiving during Lent is to see how these three things are all linked to our baptismal promises.

Take prayer for example: More time given to prayer during Lent will most definitely draw us closer to the Lord. We might pray especially for the grace to live out our own baptismal promises more fully.
We are invited also to pray for the elect who will be baptized at Easter and to continually support their conversion journey by our prayer for and with them.

We might also pray for all those who will celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation with us during Lent praying that they will be truly renewed in their baptismal commitment.
And then there is Fasting. Fasting means much more than just developing a means of self-control.
Fasting is often used as an aid to prayer, as the pangs of hunger remind us of our hunger for God.
We may remember the first reading on the Friday after Ash Wednesday which points out something else about fasting.
Isaiah chapter 58: verses 1-9

We are told that the people are asking God to come near. They are calling out for just laws. They want to have their fasting and their penances noticed by God.
On the surface, they seem to be so religious, so pious and docile, but all the while they are neglecting to do what God really wants. “Why do we fast, and you do not see it? Afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?” they ask.

God, through the voice of His prophet Isaiah, gives them a powerful response, one they hardly expected. Instead of praise, they get condemnation.
O yes, they fast all right but at the same time they keep “doing their own things”. They do business on their holy days and oppress their workers.
They fast but at the same time quarrel and squabble and physically abuse the poor.

Is this what God wants? Is this real fasting and penance? Looking miserable, “hanging your head like a reed” in a show of humility, lying in the midst of sackcloth and ashes? Is it all these very pious acts that God cherishes and wants?
I remember when I was a kid in grade three at St. Paul’s Separate School in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Sister Anatole Marie had all of us write down what we wanted to give up for Lent.

As I recall it had to be something which was possible for us to give up, perhaps something which was normally good for us, but which would show that we were willing to part with this good thing as a sign of our willingness to convert, to change our lives and thereby to give up all the bad things in our lives.
I wrote down that I wanted to give up carrots and peas for lent.
Sister asked me why I would give up carrots and peas. I told her “my mom said carrots and peas were good for me”. And so I decided that they would be a good thing to give up.

Sister then asked me if I liked carrots and peas. I said “No, I hated the taste of them, but because they were good for me, I was willing to give them up for lent.”
Needless to say Sister helped me to make a proper adjustment as to what I was going to give up for lent.
The kind of fast that the Lord wants us to make is something altogether different than just giving up candy or cigarettes.

The words of Isaiah were explained to us. What God wants is not for us to make a big show of what we were willing to sacrifice for lent.
It is rather to share what one has with those who do not have. For example, to share one’s bread (money and goods) with those who were hungry.

And to act kindly towards those whom we normally ignored or did not like.
Also it was pointed out to me that we were being called to conversion. To acknowledge that we all are sinners. That we all need to turn away from our sin and to turn towards God.
I remember just before Lent Mom asked each of us kids at the supper table what we planned to “give up” for Lent.

My brother Tim, who was about 6 years old at the time, was a notorious tease. He was forever teasing his little sister Jen who was 4 at the time.
He would steal and hide her doll. He would break the points of all her coloured pencils so that she couldn’t do any colouring. He would tie her shoe laces together so that she couldn’t put on her shoes. Etc Etc.
Well, when it came to his turn, my little brother Tim announced that for Lent he was going to be nice to his sister. No more teasing. Needless to say, Mom and Dad were both pleased with that answer.
About two weeks went by. At the supper table Dad asked each of us how our Lenten promises were coming along.

When he asked Timmy how he was doing with his promises not to tease his sister, Tim said “I haven’t teased Jenny even once.” And the smile on Jenny’s face verified this as a fact.
However Timmy then added “but, I can hardly wait for Easter”.
That’s not exactly what Dad wanted to hear.

How often do we in our own lives give up something for lent. Something we know we should not be doing in the first place. It doesn’t do us much good to give up beer for Lent only to get drunk on Easter Sunday. Fasting is important because it helps us to see how blessed we are. Fasting is important because it helps us to realize that there is nothing that we hunger for that God can’t provide. Fasting teaches us, once again, that God is God and we are not.

Fasting teaches us that we can do without the things we’ve given up, and that God can provide for us in much richer ways. Fasting should be linked not only to our concern for those who are forced to fast by their poverty, but also to those who suffer from the injustices of our economic and political structures. In fact our fasting should be linked to those who are in need for any reason.

Thus fasting, too, is connected to living out our baptismal promises. By our Baptism, we are charged with the responsibility of showing Christ's love to the world, especially to those most in need.

We must love our neighbour. Love of our neighbour which falls easily under the general heading of almsgiving, along with fasting and prayer, is one of the traditional ways of preparing our hearts for Easter during Lent.
Reaching out in love and compassion to those in need and to treat every single person with respect and dignity – that is what is required of us. That is what God wants us to do. “Then will your light shine like the dawn and your wound be quickly healed over.”
What wound? The wound of our sinfulness, our lack of love and sense of responsibility. The wound of our hypocrisy and false religion.

After doing all that, when we cry out to the Lord, He will answer: “I am here.”
Almsgiving is a sign of our care for those in need and an expression of our gratitude for all that God has given to us.
Works of charity and the promotion of justice are very important parts of the Christian way of life we began when we were baptized.

Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving – all of them done in the spirit of love. We are to do just as our Lord did.
We are to follow His example. We are to love even our enemies. We are to love even sinners.
And this is the one theme that runs through all three of today's readings. It is a very impor¬tant and comforting theme. You could say that it is the heart of the Good News. That theme is: we are loved by God even in our sins.

We see this in the First Reading: in spite of the ingratitude and grumb¬lings of the people, God doesn't write off His people, but instead shows His love for them by providing water for them in the desert.
What is the message contained in the second reading? St. Paul says, 'What proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners.' And, of course, we see the message in action in the Gospel.
Jesus' approach to this outcast woman was ever so gentle. He didn't force Himself into her life.
In fact, He began from a position of weakness. He began with a request for a drink of water. In this way He disposed her to receive the gift He wanted to give her.

He treated her with great respect. From the start He was looking into her heart, yet He did not make her feel bad. She felt accepted and understood.
No one ever paid such close and loving attention to her before. Jesus explained her life to her more sympathetically than she'd been able to explain it to herself. Before she realised it, she had shared with Him the whole story of her sad and confused life.
Christ meets us where we are. He says to us what He said to that lost woman: 'If you only knew the gift that God wants to give to you.'
We find it very difficult to admit our poverty, weakness, and most especially we find it difficult to admit that we are even sinners. Because of this, because we refuse to even consider that we are sinners, we unable to receive the 'gift of God'. The gift that Jesus wishes to give us.
How can we turn away from sin if we can’t even acknowledge that we are sinners in the first place.
The woman went away greatly enriched as a result of her encounter with Jesus. Yet He didn't give her anything. On the contrary, He asked something from her.

In doing so He awakened her to her own riches, to the 'gift of God' within her. He showed to her a sense of her own worth and dignity. As a result, she underwent an extraordinary inner transfor¬mation. A recognition of her own sinfulness. Then, a conversion, a turning away from her sin.

In the heart of all people there is an indestructible core of goodness —the image of God.
It is on this “Image of God” that the future has to be built. This way¬ward woman possessed this core too. Jesus was able to put her in touch with the “Image of God” that was within herself.

Christ meets us where we are. He knows our deeper thirst — the thirst of the heart, which ultimately only God can quench. For this deeper thirst we need another kind of 'water', water that Jesus said He could give and wanted to give. What is this water? It is the life of God bubbling up inside of us.
This discovery of the “Image of God” within us is like a spring of living water within us. A spring from which we can drink and refresh ourselves. A spring which bubbles up into eternal life.
How do I think God sees me during this Lenten season? What am I doing in response to God’s call to come to His help in my brothers and sisters?
When we practice our Lenten observances it should not just be giving up something for Lent or doing something good for someone. We don’t have to choose between one or the other.

In fact, today’s liturgy points out that we should actually do both. Give up something for Lent and also do something positive to help my brother and sister.
In this way we are not only turning away from sin but also we are doing what God commanded us to do – Love God with our whole hearts and love our neighbour as ourselves for the Love of God.

Jesus said to her “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but the one who drinks of the water that I will give will never be thirsty. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

God Bless you.

Deacon Bernie Ouellette

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