Lent: Not closing off but engaging in

WE had the pleasure of having Bishop Joseph Brennan celebrate Ash Wednesday mass at the seminary last week. In his homily, he shared a funny act he put on while working as vicar general of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

One day while he was in a jocular mood, he took the sign “Out to Lunch” that his secretary would place on her desk during lunch breaks and put it around his neck. He then walked around the office to see the reactions of people around him. Some laughed at him, others found him amusing, and some did not say any word.

The bishop wanted to make a statement about how we often like to put signs on our bodies that mean something else like, “Sorry, I can’t talk to you,” or “Sorry, I’m closed off.”

The bishop explained then that Lent is not about “closing off” or “not engaging in.”  It’s about opening our hearts and minds to God in prayers and fasting. It’s about sharing our lives with others in almsgiving. It’s about entering into a heightened period of grace, a time of repentance and conversion. In the commonly used words of many motivational speakers now, it’s about becoming the best version of ourselves.

Lent is a time to listen to the voice of God who knows what is best for us. It’s a period of conscious adherence to the will of God and a loving response to his demands. It’s about sacrificing one’s personal desires so that God may be glorified.

Adam and Eve did the opposite in the First Reading this Sunday. They disobeyed God by succumbing to the temptation of pleasure, pride, and power. By eating the apple from the forbidden tree, they failed to be faithful to God’s command.

On the other hand, Jesus did something different in the Gospel. He reversed the sinful act of Adam and Eve by resisting every temptation of the devil by not allowing any appetite for pleasure, power, and easiness overcomes him. He stood on his grounds and was victorious in following his Father’s will.

During this Lenten season, let’s look into our lives and think of the ways on how we succumb to the lures of sex, possessions, pride, appearance, anger, and violence.  Let’s look at our habits. Are we eating too much and buying too much? Are we wasting too much time and money on unhealthy pleasures that suck energies out of us, which we can use for other meaningful activities and relationships? Are we easily prone to anger, hatred, and judgmental behavior?

Fr. John Foley, S.J. is right in presenting us these questions: “Could this Lent be the right time to unscramble your values? Since God is the most wonderful and loving being everywhere, do you really want to block him out with lesser, undependable desires, especially those that boil down to riches, honors or pride? Isn’t this true: whatever really counts in your life is actually rooted in the love of God and not the other way around?”

The Church invites us to enter this season of Lent with a spirit of introspection and examination of our lives, and willingness to change our ways. It’s a period to return to the original identity and grace that God has given us: We are his children, each one of us is special in his eyes.

Let no other voice prohibit us from seeing this truth. Let no other affairs darken our souls to prevent us from seeing the beauty and the goodness that lies within us. Let Lent be a time of renewal and strength of will and confidence!

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From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1999-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of ImmAaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.

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