Homily, Lenten Sunday 1C
Let me just start out by saying that hate is not nearly a strong enough word for the complete idiocy that is daylight savings time. Of course, we strive to be grateful for the extra penance as we begin our Lenten season. A man reading the paper one morning came across an article that talked about how, on average, women tend to use far more words than men do each day. He was excited to show this to his wife to prove that he had been right all along when he would tell her that she talked too much. So he showed her the article that said that men use about 2,000 words per day while women use closer to 7,000 words. His wife thought for a moment before saying, “Well, that’s because women end up having to repeat almost everything we say.” And the man, looking up from the paper again, said, “What was that?”
There’s an old saying that repetition is the mother of all learning. So much of what we say at every Mass is simply repeated, it’s what we say at every Mass, but the danger in this is that we stop paying attention to what we’re saying, and we no longer let ourselves be challenged or changed by the Word of God. Our first reading from Deuteronomy contains what many scholars believe is a primitive sort of creed of the Hebrew people. They would repeat this same formula each and every time they came to offer the first fruits of their harvest: “My father was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as an alien. But there he became a nation great, strong, and numerous,” and so on.… It was a summary of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, their forefathers, and how God fulfilled these promises by bringing them into the Promised Land and granting them an abundant harvest even in their own present day. Much like the Nicene Creed that we repeat every Sunday is a summary of how God fulfilled and surpassed all His promises in Christ His Son, and by revealing Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But do we still pay attention to what we’re saying as we recite the Creed each Sunday after so many years? Are we able to make it our own prayer and an expression of the faith we place in the saving power of Christ, still active for us in our daily lives?
Besides the Creed, the whole Mass, everything we hear, say, and do at Mass is meant to be our most exalted prayer that we offer in union with Christ’s own perfect prayer to His heavenly Father. So are we able to really pray the Mass, or do we just try to ‘get through’ it, while our mind is in a thousand other places? Are we present in body but absent in mind and spirit? A great blessing for me as a priest has been having to read and repeat the prayers of the Mass and really think about what we are doing and what we are praying for. If we start to really mean what we’re saying, these are the most powerful prayers that the Church gives us. But even as a priest saying Mass every day, it always remains a challenge to really pay attention to what I’m saying and doing, and to not let it become just routine.
As I said before, routine and repetition are not the real problem. The problem is when our routine prayers become separated from living faith. In the midst of His temptations in the desert, Jesus always took refuge in the Word of God, in the words of Sacred Scripture. This is why Catholics memorize prayers and why other Christians memorize passages of the Bible, so that when we are tested and go through trials, we can fall back and find strength in the Word of God. It’s especially in times of temptation and trial that we are challenged to actually mean what we say and to exercise our faith. A good Lenten practice would be to strive each day to really be present where we are and to what we are doing, to be present to those around us, really listening when someone is speaking to us, and when God speaks to us through the prayers and readings proclaimed at Mass; and to strive each day to really mean what we say. When we tell someone, “I love you,” then we should prepare ourselves to sacrifice and suffer for the one that we love. And when we stand and say, “I believe in one God, the Father almighty,” then we should prepare ourselves to sacrifice and to suffer for the love of Christ, for the truth of the Creed for which countless martyrs bore the ultimate witness by the shedding of their own blood.
We should profess our faith not only here in the church, but to all the world by the way that we live every day. The world doesn’t need more Catholics who simply go through the motions. Our world needs Catholics who go through the motions animated by living faith. Even in the midst of temptations and trials, may all our thoughts, words, and actions—throughout this Lenten season and into eternity—proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.