Our Christian churches are celebrating the season of Lent right now.
These six weeks before Easter are traditionally known as a time for personal reflection and change of heart as we realign our lives with the values of the Gospel. We are especially encouraged to devote time to prayer, fasting and alms-giving, all of which help us to grow more deeply in our relationship with God and in our brotherly/sisterly care for those who are in need.
Now that we have reached the half-way point of Lent we have a good opportunity to assess how we have been doing with our Lenten resolve to be more engaged in prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Let us be encouraged and grateful if we have made some positive advances with these, and if that is not the case, we still have time to begin. Our celebration of the Paschal mysteries on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter will be all the more meaningful if we take time to prepare now.
I am mindful of the familiar words of the Gospel of John (3:16), in which the Evangelist reminds us, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life."
This is a statement that summarizes well all that we celebrate at Easter, and which provides encouragement for us each day of our lives. Reflecting on these words and internalizing their meaning is cause for great rejoicing. We are forgiven and we are called to love and forgive others.
It is interesting to note that all of this happens because of God's love for us and not because we have done anything to earn or deserve it. It is all God's doing! This verse also makes clear that God does not act for his own sake, but for ours, and that includes everyone. God loves not only those who love him, but the unlovable and the unlovely, the lonely who have no one else to love them, those who love God and those who never think of God, those who rest in God's love and those who reject it. All are included in the vast inclusive love of God.
Augustine, a Christian theologian and philosopher from the 4th Century wrote, "God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love."
All who are able to accept that love and let it permeate their lives become ambassadors of God's universal and unconditional love in Christ. We might like to consider this week to whom God might be sending us as an ambassador of unconditional love -- that might well be the least likely person we would expect to reach out to.
BY FATHER TOM FLANAGAN
ST. JOSEPH CATHOLIC CHURCH