The Narrow Gate this week is taken from Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers‘ blog The Deacon’s Heart, originally published on Ash Wednesday of 2011.
I am the oldest of four children in a family that includes three boys and a girl. My younger brother and I often gave our youngest brother a very hard time growing-up. We often teased, made fun of and beat-up on him as older brothers have a tendency to do to younger brothers. Last year, I visited my sister and her family, and my youngest brother and his wife joined us for dinner. As we reminisced about “the old days,” my brother became somewhat upset and talked about how much the ridicule he received when we were kids hurt him. There was something in his voice that touched me, that spoke to my heart, that moved me to seek his forgiveness. And so I apologized sincerely–from the heart–and he accepted my apology.
We do not repent and seek forgiveness in order to be rewarded by God but as a response to Christ’s call to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. When we return to the Lord our God with fasting and prayer, we walk in the footsteps of Christ who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Joel 2:13).
We know that we need to pray but so often struggle to maintain an active and fruitful prayer life amidst the busyness and confusion of the world around us. We know that God calls us to live according to His law and His truth, yet we struggle every day to say “yes” to God: to end bad habits and vices, and to control addictions and sinful desires. Sometimes our weakness overwhelms us and the Cross feels so heavy that we buckle under its weight. Yet, it is when we are down on our knees that the Lord lifts us up. It is when we’re not looking that the Lord seeks and finds us. It is when we are weak that Christ is strong!
When we return to the Lord our God with fasting and prayer, we walk in the footsteps of Christ who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Joel 2:13).
Lent is a time to seek forgiveness; a time for strengthening our relationship with Christ, a time to be open to the Holy Spirit, a time to reflect on the meaning and purpose of our lives. Through prayer and fasting, Lent opens our eyes and urges us to peer into the darkness of our spiritual poverty and pain—to come face-to-face with those desires within us that seek to separate us from Christ and His Church. Lent is the time when we build up the courage to become reconciled to God as ambassadors for Christ, and turn toward the voice of the Lord calling us to life!
Lent is a time to seek forgiveness; a time for strengthening our relationship with Christ, a time to be open to the Holy Spirit, a time to reflect on the meaning and purpose of our lives.
In order to hear the Lord calling us, we must do what the devil does not want us to do: acknowledge our sins. The serpent beguiled our first parents in the Garden of Eden by telling them, “If you eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, you will be like God.” In other words, Satan tricked Adam and Eve into believing that they don’t need God and can live apart from His life and love. Today, Satan is trying to fool us into thinking, “As long as I am a good person, God will always love me no matter what.” It is true that God’s love is infinite but the question is: what does it mean to be a “good person”? Our culture tells us that we can define “good” for ourselves, and that what is good for you may not be good for me. The result is that we don’t attend Mass or go to Confession as often as we should, and Satan knows all too well that without receiving the Eucharist in a state of grace, we have no life within us. Jesus Christ tells us that a truly good person loves the Lord God with their whole heart, soul, mind, and with all their strength; that goodness flows from a life lived according to the truth and beauty of our faith; that a good person’s actions speak louder than their words.
The Psalm of the mass of Ash Wednesday encourages us to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness; to come before God and say, “My offenses, truly I know them. My sin is always before me. Against you, you alone have I sinned. What is evil in your sight I have done.” Armed with the weapons of prayer and fasting, we “rend our hearts”, turning back to our gracious and merciful God. Yet we do not repent in order to be rewarded by God, but to show our love and dedication to His Son; to show the world that our faith is a gift to be given and shared—that the ashes we wear, abstaining from meat on Fridays, and the giving up good things for forty days—show in some small way our willingness to enter into and share in the sufferings of Christ, to become living witnesses of the Eucharistic Lord—to truly become what we receive.
“My offenses, truly I know them. My sin is always before me. Against you, you alone have I sinned. What is evil in your sight I have done.”
This is the bottom line: God’s love is so immense, and it’s power so limitless, and its embrace so tender and intimate, that Love Himself brings forth life. God has created us in His image and likeness, has written His law of love and life into our very being, and has allowed us to share in His very life. God invites us through His Only Son, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to draw deeply from the wellspring of salvation. He invites us in the sacraments, most especially in the Eucharist, to unite ourselves to Him in the deepest and greatest possible way. He calls us to works of mercy to show that we love Him as much as He loves us.
Lent is a time to unite ourselves to the Cross of Christ; to offer everything we have and everything we are in loving sacrifice to our heavenly Father. As we carry our Cross along the way–as our shoulders bear the burdens of this life–let us cry out to God without fear and say, “Save me, O God, for the waters have risen to my neck. I have entered the waters of the deep and the waves overwhelm me” (Psalm 69:1-2). Yet we know that Easter will come: that God, in His great love, will turn toward us with compassion–that He will open His heart and redeem us. And when the day of rejoicing comes, let us praise God with the angels and saints, and sing with joy: “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; for His love endures forever” (Psalm 118:29).
©2011 Aurem Cordis and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers