Homily for April 2, Saturday of the III week in Lent
As hard as it may seem to believe, we are already half-way through Lent. We would do well to ask ourselves if we are living Lent today with as much enthusiasm as we were the day after Ash Wednesday. Maybe it’s the time to catch our second breath to keep up our Lenten prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Often it seems like making a real commitment to do something or to give something up, makes it ten times harder than if we had decided to do it on a whim. Maybe we have not lived up perfectly to all of our good intentions. Or, perhaps we have been faithful to our plans for Lent, but at the same time have realized that we are not as generous with God as we should be in some other way. Whatever the case, even if we have lapsed to a greater or lesser degree in keeping our Lenten resolutions, it’s not the end of the world. On the contrary, maybe by experiencing our own weaknesses we have grown in humility before God. That in itself would make this Lent a success.
That is largely the message of the readings today: God wants us to do our best, but He especially wants us to be like the tax collector who acknowledges his sin and sincerely asks for mercy. Even if we keep all the external observances, they are worthless if we do them with pride and fail to recognize that our success is the fruit of God’s grace, like the Pharisee in the parable. Love, mercy, and knowledge of God, united to humility and true contrition, are more meaningful to the Lord than keeping a perfectly clean record. We can only do our best, and God knows our limitations, and does not expect more from us than we can do.
Certainly, Jesus also taught us to “be perfect as [our] heavenly Father is perfect”, but that perfection consists primarily in love and humble service of God and others, as Jesus tells us in chapter 5 of the Gospel of Matthew. This is not to say that we shouldn’t also make an effort to keep the external observances; rather, it means that they are not an end in themselves. If we get our hearts in the right place, the rest will come together, and God will heal us, “bind our wounds”, exalt us, and “raise us up to live in His presence”.