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Learn to see joy this Lent

Giuseppe Cacace | AFP

Tom Hoopes - published on 02/28/19

The traditional Lenten practices are tailor-made to help us to grow not in the appearance of holiness, but actual holiness.

We are going through the motions of life and headed for disaster. But Lent is coming, just in time.

That’s the message of the readings on this last Sunday before Lent, the Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C.

We can be blind to so much.

The Gospel starts with an image from Jesus that has become a cliché, so that we hardly think of it anymore. “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?”

But Jesus is addressing this to each of us — he sees a real problem he wants to warn us about it. The problem is spiritual blindness.

We are at risk of becoming blind to our faults. We have so often indulged and excused the small luxuries and indiscretions we allow ourselves that we hardly notice the extent to which we have embraced a consumerist lifestyle that is morally lax.

We are at risk of becoming blind to the worth of others. We have enjoyed so much violence, sexuality, and ridicule of others in our entertainments and online that we hardly notice that this has changed the way we think of the people we meet.

We are at risk of becoming blind to the needs of those around us. We have so often rehearsed our excuses for not serving the material and spiritual needs of others that we often don’t even bother to rationalize it anymore.

“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?” asks Jesus.

It is because we have deadened and darkened our conscience, the voice of God in our hearts, but it refuses to be silenced. The alarm of our conscience still goes off — but often, we only hear it when it registers others’ faults, not our own.

Lent is uniquely designed to address blindness — first of all, by showing us why we need to.

The Second Reading this Sunday, from St. Paul, gives us a preview. After reminding us that we are “mortal” and “corruptible,” it reminds us of Christ’s triumph. “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

Lent begins when we have an ashen cross smeared on our head and hear the words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

It ends when we venerate the cross of Jesus Christ on Good Friday and then celebrate his Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Lent is all about confronting the inevitability of our death and doing all that is necessary to align ourselves with the only way out of death, which is in Jesus Christ.

Death has no hold on those who are “firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord.”

Those people can trade mortality for immortality, corruptibility for incorruptibility.

The victory of Easter is not automatic, however. The readings this Sunday makes that clear.

The first reading describes how we will be tested like husks in a sieve, like a pot in a furnace.

Jesus says that the evidence of our life will show who we are. “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good,” as Jesus says, “but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil.”

You can’t fool God. There is no substitute for actually becoming holy.

Lent is the time to do that.

The traditional Lenten practices are tailor-made to help us to grow not in the appearance of holiness, but actual holiness.

By fasting from those things we normally indulge in, we can see again all the excesses in our life that we are blind to, and break the bonds of slavery to them.

By praying more, we can see our lives from God’s point of view, giving us an objective view of our own state and others’ worth.

And by almsgiving — giving more and doing more for others — we can train ourselves in the generosity we need to get out of ourselves.

As Pope Francis put it, sin “is a blindness of the spirit, which prevents us from seeing what is most important, from fixing our gaze on the love that gives us life. This blindness leads us little by little to dwell on what is superficial, until we are indifferent to others and to what is good.”

Lent is the time to do the hard work necessary to rediscover Jesus Christ and the people all around us — and that will be our greatest joy at Easter.

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