March 9, 2020
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Making Lent Meaningful
Christ's Entry into Jerusalem by Hippolyte Flandrin c. 1842

Making Lent Meaningful

Lent is a time for deepening our faith and growing closer to God. Traditionally, for Catholics and many other Christians, it has been a time for prayer, fasting, penance, and self-denial in acknowledgement of their imperfection and mortality. Many also devote additional time to meditation on the Gospel by considering the relevance of its message to their lives.

Here are six Gospel passages, together with some preliminary ideas for meditation:

Hypocrisy (Matt 23: 4-6, 25-29) “[The Scribes and Pharisees] tie up heavy, burdensome loads and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. All their deeds are done for men to see. They broaden their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love the places of honor at banquets, the chief seats in the synagogue, the greetings in the marketplaces, and the title of ‘Rabbi’ by which they are addressed… Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness…”

Do I expect a higher standard of behavior from others than from myself? Do I try to appear more righteous, moral, or spiritual than those around me? What can I do to become more honest with myself and fairer to others?

Judging Others (Matt: 5-7 and 7:12) “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye . . . .In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

What are my own greatest faults and sins—the ones I tend to deny and am most sensitive about? And what are the faults and sins I tend to condemn most strongly in others? The same ones I have myself? If so, is this not hypocrisy?  Also, do I fool myself into believing that I am condemning the sin when I am really condemning the sinner? Do I perhaps believe that tearing other people down in some magical way lifts me up? What specific actions can I take, starting today, to stop judging others and instead treat them as I want to be treated?

A Tree and Its Fruit (Matt 7:15-20) “You will know [false prophets] by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.So then, you willknow them by their fruits.”

This passage is not only about my knowing others by their “fruits,” but more importantly about God knowing me by mine! What good fruit am I bearing in my relationships with others? What bad fruit? What steps can I take to ensure that I bear only good fruit?

The Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18: 10-14) “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’  “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’  I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In this parable, both the Pharisee and the Publican are expressing themselves to God. But before they did so they must have thought about themselves. So the key to avoiding the Pharisee’s pride and emulating the Publican’s humility is to purge my THINKING of self-adulation. This is not easy in this age when self-ESTEEM is considered essential. So how can I overcome this cultural influence and develop the virtue of humility?

Personal Relationships (Matt 5: 21-24) “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.  Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”

At the literal level, this passage concerns relations with our relatives, and at the metaphorical level, with all the people we come into contact with. To apply it in my life, I must first examine my relations with my parents and siblings. That means identifying the antagonism and/or alienation that exists among us and the ways in which I have contributed to it, and to take the initiative in on overcoming it. It also means extending this effort at healing to all my other relationships. As I reflect on Jesus’ words, I must remain aware that these initiatives are to be made now, in the present moment, and not delayed.

Giving to the Poor and Prayer (Matt 6: 2-12) “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. “And when you are praying [do so] in this way: . . .‘forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.’”

This scriptural passage concerns both the way we display our charitableness to others and the way we practice it within our hearts and minds. My meditation should begin by examining how silent I am about what I do for the poor and reflecting on Jesus’ warning that I will forfeit my spiritual reward by broadcasting what I do. Then I should examine my prayer life, asking in particular whether I make a display of myself before others or instead pray quietly as Jesus commanded. Finally, I should reflect on the meaning of Jesus’ instruction about the proper FORM of prayer—asking for the same measure of forgiveness that I give others; more specifically, to realize that Jesus is telling us that, in a profound sense, God allows us to determine the level of our eternal reward, a joyous reality but also a great responsibility. 

These meditations, and others like them, can make this Lent especially blessed one.

Copyright © 2020 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero