19 Feb 2012
“Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob, for you grew weary of me, O Israel.” (Isa. 43:22)
In the name …
We tend to keep it pretty cool over in the rectory. Actually in the low 60’s. After a while you get used to it; you adapt. You learn to layer on the clothes to hold in the body heat. But five weeks ago, the furnace died on a Saturday. We didn’t notice right off the bat. Like I said, we’re used to it being pretty cool over at the house. That happened to be the day that Bp. Sobiechowski came to our church for a Pre-Synodal meeting. Both Sharon and I are on that Committee. We started off with a lunch of pizza and then the meeting let out somewhere around 3PM, so we were gone for most of the afternoon. The only one in the house all day was Amanda. When we came back to the rectory, it was cool, but I think both Sharon and I thought, “Well, it’s always cool in here.” We didn’t say anything. Then we went upstairs and poor Amanda was under a pile of blankets and she was still cold. The sad thing is, is that she also thought this is just the way the house is all the time. Then Sharon and I began to think it felt a little bit cooler than cool. I went down to check the thermostat and it was reading in the low 50’s. Sure enough the furnace had died and we weren’t getting any heat.
It was fixed in relatively no time and the rectory started warming up again to the balmy 60’s. But Amanda under the pile of blankets made me think about the frog in a pot of water. It’s said, and none of the young boys here can go home and try this out, it’s said that if you very slowly heat up the pot of water in which a frog is sitting, that the frog won’t notice the incremental increase in the temperature, and slowly but surely, it will end up being cooked. Amanda was the only one in the house as the rectory grew gradually from cool to downright cold. She just kept layering on the blankets. Coming from the warm church hall, we noticed pretty quickly that something was wrong, but when things gradually deteriorate, and if it happens slowly enough, we may not even notice.
And then comes Lent! Lent is not designed to make us suffer because Jesus suffered. Whatever we do or give-up for Lent is not in any way, shape or form going to make us suffer like Jesus suffered. He died an intentionally torturous and publicly humiliating death on the cross. Not eating meat on Fridays, and going to church twice or even three times a week is not the same. Rather, Lent is to remind us, of all that God in heaven and Jesus on earth, did in their love for us. When a mother of a sick child says with complete honesty that she wishes she could be ill in place of her child, that she is willing to accept all of the consequences so that the child won’t have to, it rings true to our ears. We understand that kind of love. Lent tries to help us better appreciate the love of God for us when Jesus actually does take our spiritual illness on Himself.
It’s not about guilt or shame. If the mother of the sick child could, she’d face anything in place of her child, and no one would ever imagine that she expected her child to forever feel guilt or shame because of that sacrifice. If anything, the mother would sacrifice her health or even her life, just so that the child could have a chance at life. And Jesus once said: “‘If you … know how to give good gifts to your children, then how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him.’” (Matt. 7:11) Lent is about helping us to understand God’s sacrifice, Jesus’ sacrifice, in this way; that Jesus goes to the cross not to prove that we are sinners, not to have us walking around with our heads hung low in guilt and shame, but to prove that in the eyes of God we are worth even this, even the death of Christ, and to give us the chance to live as the children of God whom we are.
Lent is about reversing the possible gradual decline of the presence of God in our lives. It gives us the opportunity to re-orientate ourselves so that the decline can’t gradually continue uninterrupted until one day Jesus just doesn’t matter too much anymore, and then that absence becomes our normal. I’ve seen it happen with families who were once so active, whose normal was to actively make room for God in their lives, and then slowly, gradually, all of this disappears. Their new normal is a life without time intentionally set apart for God, for Jesus. This is what the prophet Isaiah was talking about when he revealed the thoughts of God: “You did not call upon me, O Jacob, for you grew weary of me, O Israel.” “You grew weary of me.” We may not even notice it happening. Excuses are made, short-cuts are taken, and through it all a new normal is set, the standard is lowered. In the rectory, cool gradually became cold, but it wasn’t really noticed. Just throw on another blanket. Try and make due. When it comes to God in our lives, the same thing can happen.
And then comes Lent. When Lent asks us to stop and to think on Fridays about what we’re going to have for our meals, it’s not because meat tastes great and fish stinks, and therefore, we sacrifice like Jesus sacrificed. The Lenten fast makes us remember why we’re fasting. It brings Jesus to mind at a time when otherwise we may not think about Him. When the church invites us to her Lenten Devotions and to our Ecumenical Lenten Discussions, this isn’t intended as a sacrifice. Their purpose is to draw us closer to the Crucified God. When a child reaches for a candy and remembers that he gave it up for Lent, whenever any of us are interrupted from our usual routines and are reminded by a Lenten sacrifice of our own choosing that we gave this up for Jesus, we reset our normal. We bring God and Jesus more consciously into our lives. This is Lent. We stop the gradual and unnoticed disappearance of religion in the way we live. This is the purpose of Lent, and it all begins this Wednesday. I hope and pray that this season will reset our normal so that Christ can be a greater part of our lives. The cross proves how much God loves us; and may Lent remind us of this love, and may we be changed by this love. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo