|Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus to Carry the Cross|
In the very first moments of consciousness this morning, I lay in bed and thought, "Did I give up too much for Lent?" I began coming up with loopholes and compromises to extricate myself from these Lenten disciplines. "After all, it is really only the first day of Lent, so I could still back out before it is too late. I don't have to be a hero." (As if my disciplines were even in the neighborhood of heroic.) How in the world on day one am I already weakening in my resolve? A few weeks, maybe. But day one?
Not surprisingly, the Liturgy today was prepared for me and my weakness. The Liturgy not only reveals to us something about God, but because the Liturgy is the action of Christ, it reveals to us something also about man. In today's instance, it was as though the Liturgy were anticipating that less than 24 hours into the penitential season, we would already be thinking about taking a different path.
Mid-Afternoon Prayer today provided this gem from the Letter to the Hebrews: "Do not surrender your confidence; it will have great reward. You need patience to do God's will and receive what he has promised" (Hebrews 10:35-36). The Church's Liturgy was reminding us that what we are doing will have a great reward. And, I like rewards. So, all of this fasting etc is not just about fasting. There's a reward involved. That helps me. Yeah, sometimes I need a bit of a bribe. Fasting . . . reward. Fasting . . . reward. Okay, I can hold out a little longer.
The Mid-Afternoon reading from Hebrews only alluded to the promised reward. But, the Gospel of the Day gave the full picture:
"If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world
yet lose or forfeit himself?"
What's the reward for struggling to keep the Lenten disciplines? Well, Jesus says that it's bigger than gaining the whole world! That's my kind of reward. We keep these disciplines and take up the daily cross so that we "come after" Jesus. Without the Cross, we lose everything. We lose ourselves. But, if we accept willingly a sharing in his Cross, then we are saved. Whenever we take up the Cross, we receive the ultimate reward--God.
Jesus is always found on the path of the Cross. So, when we take that path, we always "come after" him. We always find him. Thus, our fasting, prayers, and almsgiving are always rewarded with nothing less than Christ himself. This is totally awesome! We give up a little food, a little time, a little money. And in return, we discover Christ. And, the Collect for the day reminded us that we were not doing this solely on the strength of our own will. We begged God: "Prompt our actions with your inspiration, we pray, O Lord, and further them with your constant help, that all we do may always begin from you and by you be brought to completion. Through our Lord Jesus Christ." In other words, it's not only at the end that we get the reward. We are prompted, inspired, helped, and brought to completion by God.
Tonight, as I preached about these things to those who were gathered at evening Mass, the smiles on their faces confirmed that the Church's Liturgy was not only directed towards this one man--but to every man and woman in the church. At first glance, the whole "take up your cross and follow me" thing sounds like an invitation to drudgery. Instead, it was a word of consolation to those who heard it. The Church reminded all of us that we are in this Lenten season for the reward!
Along with the new translation of the Liturgy came a special treat. The new missal restored the traditional "Prayer over the People" during Lent. As I said that prayer tonight over my people, it brought a smile to my face because it confirmed exactly what I had just preached about:
"Almighty God, who have made known to your people the ways of eternal life, lead them by that path, we pray, to you, the unfading light. Through Christ our Lord."
So, if you're already getting weak in the Lenten discipline department or if you haven't even attempted to start, let today's Liturgy encourage you: There's a reward involved.