24 February, 2013

Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent (C) 2013

Today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem (Luke 13:33)

I remember looking at an old newspaper from the turn of the century. The front page engraving showed the burning of branches outside St Mark’s Basilica in Venice on the Sunday Next Before Lent. Palm and olive branches were arranged in a tall pyre; flames enveloping the structure. The Patriarch of the city stood at a safe distance donning cope and mitre, and assisted by other clergy and the faithful. As the paper observed the ritualised burning branches and leaves began the preparation for Ash Wednesday and Lent.

I have always wanted to begin Lent in the same way. By this I don’t mean as the Patriarch of Venice, rather I mean by making something liturgical out of the prosaic apply-lighter-to-dry-leaves in a BBQ. I believe there is something very powerful about the ritual burning of branches that speaks to our human need for marking with solemnity specific turning point in our lives.
This ceremonial burning is a destructive action; the only ritual act of its kind – at least that I know of. Here fire is employed to transform branches and leaves into ashes, and it should speak to the Church of the cleansing action of God’s grace in her life.

At the beginning of Lent God puts away our sins and gives us a chance of new life. He destroys our sin in the burning fire of his Love and gives us life again. Thus, Lent is not meant to be forty days of stewing on the evil we have done – indeed, many people think that Lent is a way of punishing ourselves with regrets and what-ifs, but let me tell you, it is not. Lent is a period marked by fasting, self-denial, prayer, and alms giving in order to help us understand better the Love that God shows for us in Our Lord Jesus. Through this penitential regime we foster anew the Life of Christ within us, putting to death the old man (cf. Colossians 3:5-17), and accompanying Christ in his journey to the Cross.

This is why approaching the sacrament of Reconciliation is so important during this season – and especially at the beginning of it (Shrove Tuesday, anyone?). 
When is the last time we have approached confession? Have we ever approached it at all? Once our sins have been forgiven in this way it is like excess baggage being lifted from our shoulders, and God casts [it] into the deepest ocean, gone forever ... Then God places a sign out there that says No Fishing Allowed! (Cornelia "Corrie" ten Boom, Tramp for the Lord). 

Let me say it again, the season of Lent is given to us for spiritual growth, and for conversion. This is not the seasons of regrets; it is the season in which with are encouraged to follow Christ ever more closely to Jerusalem – to that city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it (Luke 13:34).

In our Lenten exercise fasting is your hiking boots; self-denial is your walking stick, prayer is your climbing rope, alms giving is your rucksack on your back. Accompanying Jesus to Calvary makes for a long and difficult trek, but if we leave our sinful excess baggage at the start we will struggle a lot less on the road.

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