For Thursday after Ash Wednesday
Yesterday in his Gospel, Christ told us each to share secrets one on one with our heavenly Father.
Our Father rewards the prayer, fasting and almsgiving we offer secretly to him.
He himself is the greatest reward.
Believing and hoping for deep closeness with God is the inspiration for our prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
St. Benedict tells us to offer these Lenten sacrifices with the joy of the Holy Spirit... while we look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.
Easter begins with the vigil we keep after nightfall on Holy Saturday.
On that night, Church believers stand together before the altar, and with one voice renew the oaths of baptism.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ.... he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. [Nicene Creed]
In today’s Gospel Christ spoke of his resurrection.
He said anyone wishing to come after him into the resurrection must deny himself and take up his cross DAILY.
So, the life of EVERY Christian is to be a CONTINUOUS Lent, just as St. Benedict said for monks.
However, who is strong enough for that, and why do it?
The reasons for lifelong daily penitential sacrifices are JOY and LIFE.
Today’s first reading from the Word of the Lord said: Choose life... by loving the Lord... and HOLDING FAST to him.
Penitential sacrifices can train us to stop grabbing at and HOLDING FAST to life and joy as objects to imprison in our hands.
Sacrifices can train us for HOLDING FAST to God himself.
Adam and Eve instead let go of God, and tried to grab life and joy for themselves.
Until then, God himself was their life and joy.
Once they chose to grab for themselves, they condemned their own grabbing hands to keep on working just to stay alive on the earth— though only for a while.
They condemned their own grabbing hands to work just to have anything earthly to enjoy— though only for a while.
With their grabbing, death entered their world.
Life and joy that are free, open-ended and everlasting can come only from the Creator.
If we would have them, we must stop grabbing.
Because of sin’s hold on us, we need deliberate effort to stop grabbing.
Deliberate penitential sacrifices train us to stop grabbing.
Christ did not grab at all.
He let go.
He let men TAKE, eat, and drink his body and his blood.
He let men GRAB his earthly life and joy.
He suffered and died.
In baptism we have chosen, entered and embraced his suffering, death and resurrection.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins. [Nicene Creed]
Baptism is a washing, a drowning, a birthing and a rising from the dead.
By baptism we as sinners are drowned into the death of Christ.
Then, the water breaks, and we are washed and born into his resurrection as children of God.
God has again freely put life and joy into our hands by putting us— baptizing us— into his life and joy.
Whoever stops grabbing, whoever lets go, or— as Christ says in today’s Gospel— Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
Our secret penitential sacrifices are acts of love that call forth and strengthen our intention to stop grabbing, to let go, to lose our lives for the sake of Christ, so that by Christ we save our lives.
Since we believe him, we have hope: I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. [Nicene Creed]