The readings for the first week of Lent show that what the
Israelites wanted from God was a sort of salvation arithmetic: “If we
add up enough good deeds that will secure our relationship with you,
The readings also show what God’s response always has
been: “I want more for you. I have something much bigger in mind for our
For example, in the first line of the first
reading of the week, God says to Israel: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your
God, am holy.” And in the last line of the last reading of the week
Jesus says: “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus
also says, in the middle of the week: “Unless your righteousness
surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees (those who pile up the
greatest number of good works in their salvation arithmetic), you will
not enter the Kingdom of heaven.”
God has bigger plans for us than
a mere balance sheet that adds up good deeds and subtracts bad ones. He
wants us to share in His own holiness!
Lent doesn’t require that
we get there — that we achieve perfect holiness — by the end of six
weeks. That would be discouraging! Year after year we try and fail. The
Holy Spirit is never discouraging, in that sense. Still, God is
encouraging us to think of a bigger and deeper possibility than
If you could express your life in just one word what would it be?
may sound crazy. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that
“through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single
Word” (CCC 102). There are more than 500,000 words in the Greek and
Hebrew versions of the Bible, and close to 800,000 words in its English
translation. But through all of those words God is speaking one Word:
Of course, the Hebrew concept of “word” is slightly
different from ours. For example where we refer to “the Ten
Commandments,” Jewish people speak of “the ten words.” So a word can
stand for an entire idea or concept. But even in that sense the question
remains: Among our many words and our many actions, what one word does
our life speak? For some people it’s “service.” For some it’s “peace.”
For some it’s “wisdom” or “prayer.” And sadly, for some it’s
“bitterness” or “resentment.”
Perhaps that’s why the prophet
Ezekiel tells the Israelites: If you convert from evil to good, God
won’t remember your past deeds. You will, in effect, be speaking a new
word, and He will hear it. But if you turn from good to evil, God won’t
remember your past good deeds. You will also be speaking a new word. God
will hear and judge that word.
Lent is a time to do three things.
1) Consider the word that our lives actually speak, and the word that we want our lives to speak.
2) Shave off, from our words and deeds, whatever is inconsistent with that one word.
3) Deepen, in our daily actions, whatever is consistent with that word.
the end, that word is something that God wants to say to the world
through us. Lent is a time to listen more deeply to what God wants to
say to us and then to cooperate more deeply with what He wants to say