What image comes to mind when you think of Lent: the desert, fasting, etc.? For me the image is spiritual rebirth,to have a renewed spiritual life. The season of Lent has one purpose, to renew our baptism. The goal is to renew our baptismal identity as children of God. Normally our spiritual life grows dull because we lose focus on the essentials. What is essential for a spiritual vitality?
Let’s take a lesson from Jesus. What was the focus of his spiritual life? What word was at the center of Jesus’ heart? What one word expresses his spirituality? Listen again to a few verses from today’s Gospel (Mt. 6:1-8, 16-18): “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. . . . Keep your almsgiving secret and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. . . . When you pray, go to your room, close your door, and pray to your Father in private. And your Father who sees what is secret will repay you.”
The Father was at the center of Jesus heart. ‘Father’ is the word that captures his whole spirituality. Throughout the gospels, do you know how often he speaks about his Father? It is 4x in Mark, 25x in Luke and half of those are about the Prodigal Father’s love for his lost son, 40x in Matthew, and 107x in John. In all four gospels, he mentions the Father 175 times!
To renew your Baptism, keep first things first. The first priority is to be in relationship with your heavenly Father. Jesus did everything to please the Father. Often we get derailed morally because we’re like the hypocrites whom he describes in this gospel. We are trying to please others. We let our self-worth be defined by what others think. For a spiritual rebirth, keep God the Father at the center of your heart.
Fasting, Almsgiving and Prayer are meant to please the Father. They are not about rules but a relationship. Listen to the words of the Father in your prayer. Fast to remember that the food that really satisfies is God’s presence. Do good deeds to imitate the Father’s mercy.
This Lent, instead of reciting prayers, do more quiet listening. Learn from Jesus’ relationship with the Father. In his prayer, he listened and received. When the disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, he said: “If you, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Lk. 11:13)
For Jesus, the Father is the great Gift Giver. Parents, despite their sins, know how to give good gifts to their children. Yet, God’s goodness far surpasses them. Are you convinced that your Father in heaven will give you the Holy Spirit whenever you ask?
Jesus was utterly convinced of God’s generosity. His own prayer was shot through with great confidence because he experienced God as a Father who gave him everything. Jesus was an only child, and he prayed like a pampered only child. He had a sense that the Father would do anything for him. This Lent when you pray, believe that your heavenly Father wants to fill you with the best gifts, especially the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 18:3) Unless you become small and dependent on God, you will not be reborn spiritually. In your prayer, be a little child who receives gifts from the Father.
Then, with your almsgiving act like the Father. Boys with good dads trust them and mimic them. They want to be just like them. Jesus had the best dad, and he mimicked him. In John’s gospel, Jesus says that his work is exactly like the Father’s work.
He said to the Jewish leaders, “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work. . . I say to you, a son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees his father doing; for what he does, his son will do also. For the Father loves his Son and shows him everything that he himself does . . . For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes.” (Jn. 5:17-21)
The Father sent his Son to fill us with his life. He sent him to the cross. Why? Because the Son mimics the Father who generously pours his Life out for us. So we are called to pour out our lives for others. To be God’s children means to be life-giving.
The prophet Isaiah insists that fasting and almsgiving are meant to be life-giving. In the first reading for this Friday, Isaiah describes God’s vision in this way: “This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: Releasing those bound unjustly . . . Setting free the oppressed . . . Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them. . . Then your light will break forth with the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed.” (cf. Is. 58)
Spiritual rebirth includes receiving the Father’s love in humility, then bringing the healing of God to others. That’s Lent. Renewing our baptismal identity as children of God – relishing the generosity of the Father and bringing his Life to others.