Ash Wednesday will be celebrated this week, the gateway to the Lenten season. The Scripture readings that were proclaimed at Mass on Sunday offer great assistance to us as we prepare to enter these holy days of repentance and renewal. They pose a fundamental question: trust in God or reliance upon self.
This question is, in fact, raised many times in a variety of ways throughout Sacred Scripture, which proclaims clearly that only by relying trustingly upon God – upon his love and his guidance – will we know happiness and peace, even in the midst of hardship or difficulty. In the first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses poses the question in terms of obedience or disobedience in relation to the commandments of God. The former, he says, leads to blessing; the latter to curse.
Jesus, God’s Word incarnate, places the question before us by means of an analogy with the construction of a house. Only a house whose foundation is built upon rock can withstand the storms that will inevitably come against it. One built on unstable sand will fall. Listening and acting upon the words of Jesus is the way to construct our lives on a sure rock foundation. Reliance upon self is tantamount to choosing sand as our life foundation and setting ourselves up for collapse.
Notice that Jesus insists it is not enough simply to listen to his words. Only those who hear and act upon them are establishing a trustworthy foundation for their lives. He said the same thing in different words in the first part of the passage. It is not those who simply say “Lord, Lord” – not those, i.e., who are Christians in word only – but those who do the will of the heavenly Father who will enter the kingdom of God.
The will of God, revealed in Christ, can be summed up in one word: love. Love of God and love of neighbour. This means that we hear and act upon the words of Christ when: the worship of God, especially at Mass, is the centre and highpoint of my day or week; I seek forgiveness of those I have hurt and strive to make amends; I grant forgiveness to any who have hurt me; I make every effort to be conscious of the needs of those around me, locally and globally, so as to give of myself to help them; I abandon pride and acknowledge my need for God and others; I turn frequently to the sacrament of Penance for the grace of forgiveness, etc.
Trusting in God or self-reliance; God’s will or mine? This is the fundamental choice confronting us each day, and which informs the myriad other choices that we need to make. How might this translate into a particular penitential practice this Lent? We usually give up something. What about fasting from fear? Occasions when we feel anxious or worried are opportunities to choose to give the situation over to Christ and to deliberately trust in his loving power. Faith or fear? Trust in God or trust in self? Let’s pray that God’s grace will make known to us in this Lenten season the option out of which we are living, the choice we have chosen as our foundation, and restore us to reliance upon his love and trusting obedience to his will.
Novena for vocations
Speaking of choices, this was the theme of the Central Alberta Youth Rally that I had the privilege of visiting on Saturday. It took place in Red Deer and developed around the Gospel passage proclaimed at Sunday Mass. I was deeply impressed with the level of engagement of the young people. They gave up the whole day – 9 in the morning to 8:30 at night – to encourage one another in their faith and to draw closer to Christ. The day ended with a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament, and the Scripture passage they chose for reflection was the call of Samuel. When this young man finally realized that the Lord was calling him by name, his response of openness and trust was the simple “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
This call of the Lord is not, of course, limited to Samuel. Each of our young people is being called to follow the Lord in some way. To help them give the same trusting response to Christ that Samuel gave when he was called, we will have in the Archdiocese of Edmonton a special novena for vocations. Details can be found on our website at Novena for Vocations. I would be grateful if you would join with us in these days of prayer for vocations to priesthood and religious life.