Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A fresh start with God

Ash Wednesday, February 6, 2008:

“Do not be like the hypocrites.” As always, we begin this season of Lent today with a hard message to bear. Jesus tells us to stop being hypocrites, to stop looking like Christians on the outside while being something else on the inside. The word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek word for “actor”. In ancient Greece, actors performed their art by wearing masks in order to appear to be someone they were not. As we begin this Lent today, Jesus is challenging us to take off our masks, to stop pretending, and to be only the person He created us to be.

This can be a hard lesson to hear - for two reasons. First, we don't like to admit that we sometimes act like hypocrites. But the fact is, we do. We try to deceive, to wheedle, to give the right impression, even if it's false. We try to hide our motives. We are all hypocrites at one point or another. Second, we are afraid that if we take off our mask, God may reject who we really are and no one wants to be rejected.

But Jesus gives us a reason to trust Him enough to accept this hard lesson. The reason is that He already knows us, even our sins, and still He loves us. That’s why He reminds us that the Father sees what we do in secret. That means He has seen all of the most selfish and sinful chapters of our life. Everything. He knows it all. And yet, He still loves us with the tender love of the perfect Father, the perfect friend. He still wants us to live close to Him – and constantly grow even closer.

Sometimes it's hard for us to accept that God still calls us by name; hasn't given up on us and is eager to walk with us in spite of everything. A well known speaker started off his seminar by holding up a $50 bill. He asked, “Who would like this $50 bill?” Hands started going up. He proceeded to crumple up the dollar bill. He then asked, “Who still wants it?” The hands went up again. Then he dropped it on the ground and ground it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, crumpled and dirty, and said. “Now who still wants it?” The hands went up. He said, “Of course you do. Because, no matter what I do, it doesn’t decrease in value. It was still worth $50.”

My friends God views each of us the same way. Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by our own decisions or those of other people. We feel like we are worthless. But no matter what has happened, we will never lose our value: dirty, clean, crumpled or finely creased, we are still priceless to the one who knows us through and through, and values us so much that He wants to live in friendship with us forever. No matter what happens, God always wants us.

If you still find it hard to believe, look closely at the crucifix. That is the real message of Lent. Christ wants us with Him forever in heaven, so much that He was willing to be torn and crumpled and stomped on and humiliated even more than we have been, to show each of us how much He loves us.

Jesus wants the truth and the power of his love to penetrate and transform our lives in a fresh way this Lent. But He needs us to take off our masks in order for that to happen. He needs us to peel them away so that his grace can heal our wounds.

He points to three masks in particular. First, we have the mask the blocks our relationship with God. This is the one Jesus points to when He tells us to work on our prayer life, to pray from the heart, sincerely, not just to go through the motions.

Second, we have the mask that blocks our relationship with other people. This is the one Jesus points to when He tells us to give to the poor in secret. He wants us to open our hearts to our neighbors. He wants us to care about them, to be interested in them, to look for ways to serve and encourage them instead of looking for ways to take advantage of them.

Third, we have the mask that blocks our own growth to maturity. This is the one Jesus points to when He tells us to fast in secret. He wants us to learn the art of self-governance and self-discipline, of humility and nobility. He wants to free us from opur degrading slavery to sin.
And so make a pledge today that you are going to pray more this Lent, come and receive God’s forgiveness in Confession, attend Mass during the week, pray the Rosary, pray the Stations of the Cross with us on Friday evenings. Do the things God calls you to in order to remove the mask bit by bit.

In this Mass, God offers us the grace we need to make a fresh start in our friendship with Him. He offers us the strength we need to peel away whichever mask is blocking out his love, a love which never wavers. Let's accept this grace and put it to work. Let's not leave here today without having committed to peel away one of those masks, to move up a notch either in our relationship with God, or with our neighbor, or with ourselves.

If we promise to do our part this Lent, we can be sure He will do his part.

May God give you peace.

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