One of the things that I try to hit on at the start of each Lent is that the season gives us the chance to look at our lives and say “how can I emerge as a better person?” when we get to Easter. In some cases, people may give up something they enjoy as an act of penance, and while that is a great practice, as I also say each year, the point of the season is not to hide the Oreos just to tear them open come Easter. The point is to truly become a petter person. So if a person, say, gives up going out on Fridays to go to Stations of the Cross, or alcohol, or whatever it might be, they may have learned over the season that maybe these things took too high of a priority in their lives and learned how to be more temperate.
I also encourage people to “think outside of the box” and quoted the pope in my Ash Wednesday homily. Pope Francis has encouraged different kinds of fasting. As a reminder, among his recommendations: Fast from hurting words and say kind words; fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude; fast from anger and be filled with patience; fast from pessimism and be filled with hope; fast from worries and have trust in God; fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity; fast from pressures and be prayerful; fast from bitterness and fill your hearts with joy; fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others; fast from grudges and be reconciled; fast from words and be silent so you can listen. Very good ideas indeed!
Well, Easter is now finally here, and hopefully you’ve made progress and learned something. Lent is really about transformation, not resumption of old ways. And the thing that I hope transforms the most in people is a desire to have a deeper relationship with God.
The trouble is for a lot of people, God can seem removed. What does God have to do with passing a math test or making a football team? How can God help pay a mortgage? How can God help me make sense of why my life is so stressful? The end result is in the world are many people who are busybodies, but keep God as one among many things in their life, when really, God should always be front and center.
It is so easy to put God at a distance. We’ve gotten quite good at multi-tasking but I think while we are great at sending texts and tweets, God can be further away than ever for most people. Which gets us to the question, why does today matter? Because Easter changes everything!
Easter is a tough day to preach. It’s a big crowd, and quite diverse from the daily Mass goer to the person who checked out after you said “In the name of the Father.” I always try to welcome people from all walks of life into the doors of our church. I think we do a great job of that here at Saint Joe’s. But my hope is that if they don’t remember a single thing I say, they leave with a notion in their hearts that this Easter story is so important because they are so important. Our God is closer than we can imagine. Human beings chose to move away from God through making bad decisions, and, though He could have come in any form, God chose to become one of us and to show us the ultimate meaning of love. We’ve heard that love story told again during these solemn days leading up to Easter. But my challenge too to people is that God is close – He is with us day in and day out. The Eucharist is a reminder of that, our food for the journey, but God really does come to us in many ways.
I’ll be the first to admit, sometimes God can seem far away. We all experience Good Fridays in life, and perhaps even more excruciating for our Lord then the physical pain He endured was the emotional pain – seeing his friends leave Him and sensing the abandonment of the Father; but yet He trusted in the Father, and because of His act, we were redeemed and the whole world learned the true meaning of how deeply God loves us. I can’t give someone all the answers about why bad things happen in the world, but one thing I can look to is the cross as God’s definitive statement that I am loved and I matter.
And so, as we come together again on Easter, my hope is that you see today as a reminder of how deeply loved you are. So respond to it. Lent is over; but hopefully this Lent you learned how to grow closer to God and learned a bit about yourself too. If you have been away from the faith for a while, try to make an effort to start coming back to Mass. Remember you are always welcome here. Rather than spending every last waking minute online or texting or running from one sports league to the next and being a perpetual busybody, set aside a few moments each day for prayer. Do a regular examination of conscience and think about how you can become a better person, and ask for God’s help to do that. Listen to the voice of God who may be challenging you to do something new or to change as a person. And with that, set aside time for family and other people too. Remind yourself to sacrifice for them and for one another, helping one another to grow in holiness. At the end of our lives, we don’t want to say to God “I made a lot of money” or “I managed to be busy 99.9% of the time” but “I learned how to grow closer to you and to bring your love to the people I met.” When we have that mentality, we’ll be amazed as God opens our eyes to the difference we made in the lives of others by being a person of hope.
Being a Christian is a 24/7/365 affair. The story of what Jesus did for us is the greatest love story ever told, and Easter, when our Lord triumphs over death, shows us that sin, death and darkness do not have the last word, but that God does. God wants a relationship with you – hopefully He doesn’t get a busy signal when trying to call your soul.
Have a blessed Easter, and remember we’re here every Saturday night and Sunday three times for Masses at 7, 8:30 and 10:30 God’s house is your house too!