So it’s been what, ten - eleven days since we began our journey together? Our journey up that mountain that we call Lent.
I don’t know about you guys, but for me, that’s just what it’s like - climbing up a big, high, rock covered mountain in the dark. I say “in the dark” because because sometimes, when it comes to fasting, prayer, and giving to charity, I don’t know where I’m goin’ or why I I’m doin’ it. I mean, all we really have to do is abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays and fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but I was encouraged years ago to try to do a little more than what is required by church law.
And I gotta tell ya’ sometimes it’s just the hardest thing for me to do. Somehow, when I make resolutions at other times of the year, I find them easier to stick to because I know that I’m just doing it for me and if I want to cheat on the whole thing it’s O.K. But when Lent rolls around I everything I’ve agreed to fast from and abstain from just looks better and better to me all the time. And as I grind away those weeks to Easter like taking step after step up that steep, rock strewn mountain, I need reminders like today’s gospel of why I’m doing it.
But I think I’m beginning to understand a little better the reasons why we fast. I mean, there’s an entire biblical tradition behind it not to mention the fact that Jesus recommends it so there must be something to it.
For one thing, fasting is very specific. At the end of each day, you know if you’ve fasted or not. And when Lent comes to an end, you’ll know hoe well you’ve done. More “positive” things like promising to be kinder to your spouse are vaguer and more difficult to quantify or verify.
True fasting should involve a struggle. Medieval stories about the knights who were about to go into battle or out to slay the dragon often tell of how they would fast. Fasting deepened their resolve to carry out their quest, not cringing in the presence of evil. The forty days of Lent paint a similar picture of the confrontation of good and evil locked in deadly combat.
Secondly, fasting comes to an end. We feel a great relief when we’ve made it all the way to Easter. Even our bodies should ring out with joy. Our spiritual and physical selves should be united in appreciating what God has done for us in the Resurrection. If we give up something for Lent that we will want to continue to give up once Lent is over, we lose all that.
Finally, and most importantly, a fast is like a little microcosm of our spiritual lives. It highlights our sinfulness and our dependence on Godbecause it’s the same excuses we make in getting around the fast that we make in our moral lives.
I remember one Ash Wednesday in particular when I decided to give up coffee for Lent. The next day I decided to give up coffee at every meal except for breakfast. On Friday I decided to give up coffee only at supper and by Saturday the whole thing would fell through so I gave up and decided to give up something else.
What I discovered were these were the same excuses that I would make in my moral life. When things become difficult, I find ways to rationalize - saying things like, “Well, this isn’t really so bad” or, “This one time won’t hurt” or, “I’m a pretty good person and this is just one fault that I have” or ‘No one will know.”
Lent make us aware of the spiritual emptiness inside of us. It makes aware that the emptier we are, the more we crave food, money, clothing, and a confortable lifestyle. We don’t really feel the deeper hunger on our soul because we spend so much time trying to satisfy our material hungers.
But knowing all this doesn’t make it any easier. What does make it easier is knowing what’s at the top of the mountain. That’s what Jesus did for Peter, James, and John in today’s gospel and in the same way it should be a little hand up for us until we reach our great feast of the Resurrection.Jesus had been telling his disciples that he was going to have to suffer and die. He knew that they really didn’t comprehend what was going to happen when they got to Jerusalem. So what he does today is to give them a little glimpse of the glory and heavenly delights that are to come. His glory and our glory. Something that’ll carry them through the suffering and the hard times.
And that’s something that we have to keep focused on. Not just during Lent but throughout our lives. If we trust that what Jesus taught us is true, and we live our lives doing our best to be the kind of people God intended for us to be when he created us, then we too can attain the beauty of heavenly glory. That’s the goal. Nothing else matters.
But it’s not magic. We have to want it and consciously make an effort to change our hearts and minds and reconcile ourselves to God, not just during Lent, but throughout our lives.
And that’s what Lent is for - to admit our dependency on God and begin to live our lives according to his laws and desires, not our own. To respond in a more radical way to the great gift that Jesus gave us by his death and Resurrection, reconciling us with God and reopening those gates of heaven and the great glory that’s waiting for those people who persevere.
So like Peter, James, and John, let’s continue to climb this mountain of Lent with Jesus at our side so that we can better share the joy of the Resurrection that’s sure to follow.