Quinquagesima – Lent is growing in Love

I am sure you have already spotted the Easter eggs which are already for sale. But before we rush off to buy Easter eggs, today the Church invites us to ponder on the period to prepare us for Easter: Lent. This Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, will mark the beginning of Lent.  What is the purpose of Lent? If one word could summarise living LENT it would be growing in LOVE.  Lent comes originally from ‘lengthen’ – the spring time when days become longer and the soil is prepared so that what is planted may grow. Spiritually, it is a time of spring as well when our soul is prepared and cleansed so it may flourish in love. Lent invites us to reflect on how we may grow in Love. Jesus himself summarized the goal of our life as follows: “Loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and loving your neighbor as yourself”.

Today’s readings illustrate both loving God and loving our neighbor. Let us first look at how today’s readings illustrate loving God.

  1. Loving God

The Gospel contrasts two types of attitudes towards God: a desire for seeing more of God, and having closed eyes to the truth of God. The Gospel tells that the eyes of the disciples of Jesus are still closed to who he really is, and how they do not understand what he is saying. The Gospel also tells how a blind man receives his sight and is able to see. Both these stories tell us something about seeing God as we seek to come closer to Him.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem [St Luke 18:31-end]. The goal of their journey is to celebrate the Pascha feast in the city; the feast to remember how God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt and brought them to the promised Land. While they are travelling, the disciples have made up their own mind as to who Jesus is. He is the Messiah, who will also deliver the people from the Roman oppressor – perhaps with violence and an army. Expectations are running high around the time of the feast. In their mind, He is clearly not someone who is going to suffer.

Jesus tries to make his disciples understand that his kingdom is not of this earth. He tells them about his upcoming suffering [vs. 31-33]:

See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.

Healing of the blind man, Brian Jekel

Christ clearly announces his suffering, his death and resurrection to his disciples.  Yet, as the Gospel says [verse 34]:  “they understood nothing about all these things.” Their eyes are closed and they do not see him as He is, even though, as Luke tells it, this is the third time he tells them about his suffering.[1]   Yet, their own aspirations and views block them from seeing who Christ really is. Their views block them from asking God “Lord, let me see”; it blocks them from praying, “Lord, let me know you more.” They think they already know everything.

It is the blind man in the Gospel that represents the desire to see more, and to see deeper. When he learns that Jesus is passing by, he cries out to Him for help.  Jesus reaches out to this blind man, gently asking him “What is it that you want?”  The man replies:  “Lord, let me see again.”  In response, Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.”  The disciples’ blindness and the blind man’s prayer for sight gently invite all of us to pray “Lord, let me see YOU so that my eyes are not closed to who you really are.

The prayer for seeing God is also found in one of Jesus’ beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.[2] Lent is a time of preparing our heart to become more pure and see God’s love. Psalm 51 invites us to pray “Create in me a pure heart.” We pray for the grace for a heart that is not distracted by evil, but a heart that is pure seeks the love of God and love of others. And purity has a great reward: “seeing God.”  Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that whatever we see of God, is still “dimly” and “through a mirror.” Yet we may believe that when we seek God, we may experience glimpses of that heavenly blessing in our life. God promises to send his light when we are in darkness, and to fill us with his joy and strength.

As we seek to see God and get to know more of Him during Lent, we may particularly focus on Christ who willingly and knowingly embarks on the journey of suffering. He is pure love, even when others hate and betray Him. Even on the cross, He prays for forgiveness for his cruel enemies. He displays God’s pure mercy and grace towards us.  When we turn to Christ, we can trust that He forgives when we have sinned.

But we can also trust that He who suffered Himself is with us when we suffer. He is with us when we face difficulties at work or unemployment, depression, loneliness, or when we have been damaged, hurt, or abused by others. Indeed, sometimes our lives can be very dark, and we may not at all be able to identify with a season of spring and hope. We may feel that God is far away, or we feel we do not experience as much of Him as we used to. This is also described in a poem by the thirteenth century poet and mystic Hadewijch. She compares the state of her soul to a winter amidst the season of spring:[3]

Far and wide we can perceive the new season.
The birds are in rapture, while mountain and valley burst into bloom.
All living things loose themselves from the torment of winter.
But it is all over with me…
Peace is refused to me….”

Because Christ is with us, we are given the strength to endure, knowing that He is with is:

I truly know that Love Lives, although I thus die often.
Because I know Love is living, I endure everything…
However cruelly I am wounded
what Love has promised me
remains irrevocably.

Christ’s love is with us, and within us, whatever we may experience.

In this season of Lent, we are invited to seek God so we may see Him more. For some of us, it might help to spend a few minutes to ponder on God’s love during the day.  To ponder on how Christ willingly takes up his cross for us, and how he is with us in our suffering. Taking a few minutes a day to make ourselves aware of God’s presence, and to allow Him to speak to us, can open our eyes to God’s love little by little.  If we are busy, we could do this for example as we are travelling, or as we are cooking or washing dishes. Take one minute to bring to God our suffering, our worries, as we struggle to carry out our duties, as we raise our children, as we seek to love our families. Trusting that He will be with us to the end.

  1. Loving others
Charity, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1878

Lent is also about growing in love for others. The Gospel reading of today shows that Jesus cares about a man, who is blatantly ignored and told to keep quiet by others. Christ himself tells us that the suffering Christ is found in those who suffer.  And when we serve those who suffer, we in fact, serve Him:

“…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Jesus summarises: ‘Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”[4]

Jesus came as a servant king, and calls us to seek out the outcasts of the earth, so we may serve Him. It poses us the question: Am I willing to go where Christ sends me? Am I willing to feed the hungry? Am I willing to support those who are vulnerable, the victims of abuse and modern slavery, those who are lonely and struggling?   As Christ said: ‘You are the light of the world… so let your light shine.’

Lent is a period to allow us to reflect on our own relationships. Are there perhaps people it would be good to reconnect with? Are we called to do our part to mend broken relationships?  It all comes down to the main question: Do we seek to love others more?

1 Corinthians 13 summarises love as follows:

 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 

When we fast during Lent, perhaps we should also fast from anything that is contrary to love.  Let us fast from impatience, and seek patience; fast from unkindness, and seek kindness; fast from envy and arrogance, and seek to serve one another. Let us fast from grudges, and be reconciled to one another. Fast from lies, and rejoice in the truth. In all this, let us seek out love above anything else – love is the greatest of the gifts of love, faith, and hope, and love never ends.

May God fill us with His love so we may come to know and love Him more, and may His Spirit inspire us to deepen our love for others.

Amen.

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[1] Luke 9:22, Luke 9:44 ,Luke 18:31

[2] Matt 5:8

[3] Hadewijch, Poems in Stanzas 16. From Hadewijch: The Complete Works (Classics of Western Spirituality), transl. Columba Hart (Paulist Press).

[4] Matt 25, 35-40.