Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion


for Multi-purpose

1. These reflections are not written like an essay, but in six precise steps. Choose what you like.

2. They are not meant only for preaching homilies, but for a multi-purpose: for teaching, prayer (either personal or common), reflections and socio-pastoral guidance.

3. They can be used outside the liturgical celebrations also on any other occasions for preaching (by using the same text), private and common prayers, Bible Vigil, Adoration, Prayer Service, Gospel Sharing, conferences, talks, etc.

4. Only the Gospel text prescribed for the Sunday Liturgy in the Catholic Church is used for these reflections, and not the First and Second Readings. The latter are quoted only for reference. Those who want to include them, have to find their own applications.

5. These reflections are written from a pastoral and spiritual perspective, and not from academic or exegetical.

6. The preachers have an option to develop only the focus-statements given in Step 2 on their own into a full-fledged homily. If they want to make their homily shorter, they need not include all the points/thoughts written by the author; instead can select what they like, and (if they want) add their own stories/ anecdotes/ examples.

7. The title, “Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion” indicates the author’s intention to highlight the life-sustaining or life-saving issues in our world and society in the midst of anti-life forces.

8. Though much of the material presented in these reflections is author's, no claim is made for the originality of all the thoughts and ideas. They are adopted from various authors.

9. Reproduction of these reflections in any form needs prior permission.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Second Sunday of Lent (B)

Second Sunday of Lent [Mk 9:2-10]
25 February 2018
The Transfiguration of Jesus
Readings: (1) Gen 22:1-2.9-13.15-18 (2) Rom 8:31-34
  1. Theme in brief:
Attaining glory through the cross
  1. Focus Statement:
We can reach the mountain of glory only after crossing over the valley of suffering, sacrifice and humiliation.
  1. Explanation of the text
The main focus of last Sunday’s gospel was on Jesus’ humanity; that is, as a human being how he struggled against temptations of the devil. On the contrary, today’s gospel focuses on his divinity by highlighting his glorious state at his Transfiguration on a high mountain. This tremendously fascinating mystery is placed in all the synoptic gospels immediately after Jesus’ question to them: “Who do you say that I am” (cf. Mt 16:15; Mk 9:29; Lk 9:20)? As spokesperson for all the Twelve, Peter had already answered this question by declaring him as the Messiah (Mk 8:29). But his understanding of the Messiah was that of a worldly or political king. According to today’s gospel text “six days” after this question about his real identity, Jesus took Peter, James and John to a high mountain (9:2). The purpose seems to be twofold: (1) to correct their wrong conception of the Messiah; and (2) to teach them about the inevitability of the cross to attain glory.
Earlier also Jesus had tried to correct their wrong understanding by telling them that he is going to be a suffering Messiah (Mk 8:31). That conception must have shocked them. To neutralize this shock and to give them something to hold on to during those shattering moments, Jesus gave them a preview or glimpse of the glory which he was going to attain at his resurrection – of course, only through his suffering and death on the cross. Therefore, the main theme of his Transfiguration, though not directly mentioned in the text, is hidden: the hope of attaining glory through suffering and sacrifice.
Since Transfiguration of Jesus happened on a mountain, it is understood that it happened during Jesus’ prayer – as mountain is a symbol of encounter with God in solitude. The change that takes place in his bodily figure or form ( hence, called Transfiguration) with his clothes shining in dazzling white as if they were perfectly bleached (9:3), clearly points to his glorious state after the resurrection. It was meant to give his disciples a glimpse of his future glory (in anticipation) in order to prepare and strengthen them to face the scandal of the cross. In fact, he wanted to point out that there was a crown beyond the cross.
By now Jesus had made a firm decision to go to Jerusalem and take up his cross. But he wanted to be assured whether he had made the right decision. On Mount Tabor he got a ‘double signature’ for his decision: (1) the appearance of two great figures of OT, namely Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the prophets) to give approval or testimony to the path chosen by him; and (2) the voice of God coming from the cloud to approve the path chosen by him. He was declared by the Father as his Beloved Son precisely for choosing the way of the cross (9:7). In their vision, though the three disciples saw Elijah and Moses talking with Jesus (9:4), today’s text does not mention what the topic of their conversation was. We come to know it from Luke’s gospel that they were speaking about his “departure” or “exodus” which he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem (Lk 9:31) – a technical word for his passing over from death to life, from the cross to the glory of resurrection.
The voice heard by the three disciples coming from the cloud (= God) has a clear reference to God’s “chosen servant” or the Suffering Servant in the Book of Isaiah (cf. 42:1). By substituting the words “chosen servant” in this OT text with “Beloved Son,” Mark’s gospel identifies the Suffering Servant with the Son of God. Jesus became the Father’s Beloved Son precisely because of his willingness to become his obedient servant unto death on the cross. The disciples were told to listen to Jesus (9:7), that is, imitate him or obey his teaching that no glory could come without paying the price of sacrifice, humiliation and suffering.
Peter’s spontaneous reaction to this tremendous experience by proposing the erection of three tents or dwellings (9:5) indicated his desire to prolong it and remain permanently on the mountain of glory bypassing any suffering. This was his short-cut method to attain glory by avoiding the cross. Jesus ordered them to maintain top secret about this vision until his resurrection in order to avoid misunderstanding about the type of Messiah he was going to become (9:9).
  1. Application to life
Every day when we recite the Angelus we pray that we may be brought to the glory of Christ’s resurrection by his passion and cross. This is called the “paschal mystery of Christ” in Christian theology. ‘Pascha’ (a Hebrew word) refers to his passing or crossing over to the glory of resurrection through his death on the cross; and ‘mystery’ (a word used by St. Paul) refers to a hidden plan made by God (now revealed to his saints through the Holy Spirit) to save us only through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ, and not in any other way (Col 1:26-27). According to today’s gospel, this paschal mystery unfolds before the three apostles (Peter, James ad John, 9:2) on a “high mountain” (traditionally, Mount Tabor) in a dramatic way. On it they get a vision of the Transfigured Lord to tell them and us that we can reach the mountain of glory only after crossing over the valley of suffering and sacrifices. In short, its message is this: there is no crown without a cross.
What is a cross? It is a symbol of (1) suffering because Jesus suffered an agonizing death on it; (2) sacrifice because he sacrificed his life on it; and (3) humiliation because he died shameful death of a criminal on it. The crosses in our life can be persons, situations, places, work or job and responsibilities that give us a lot of pain, agony, physical and mental torture, discomfort, risk and humiliation. For example, an alcoholic husband is a cross to his wife, an unfaithful wife/husband to her husband/wife, a disobedient or delinquent child to its parents, and an enemy to his/her enemies. A serious illness (either one’s own or of others in the family) which does not get cured, a risky work or job, a heavy responsibility of family/ workplace/ institution/ organization, a dangerous and insecure place to live can become a cross. All the humiliations we get from our own family members, colleagues, companions and opponents are crosses. Feelings of failure, loss, loneliness, unrest, rejection and hopelessness are also other crosses. The cross daily reminds us to sacrifice our selfishness, security, power, comforts and even friends in order to share Christ’s glory. Our sharing of his glory takes place to some extent when we experience peace, joy, change, transformation and progress in this life after going through a lot of suffering and sacrifices. But this glory is only a glimpse of the everlasting glory of heaven. Compared to that glory, all the sufferings of this present life are not worth (cf. Rom 8:18). This hope of the glory to come sustains us when we walk through the valley of tears.
In this season of Lent, the same voice that came from the cloud (namely, the voice of God) resounds in our ears: “As my beloved son/daughter, are you listening to or imitating Jesus in your moments of trials, temptations, sufferings, humiliation and rejection?” We are asked to “listen to” or follow and obey our Master when we cannot understand God’s ways; when we have to undergo suffering and humiliation, sometimes even unjustly; when we find it hard to carry our daily crosses of family life/ religious life/ priesthood; when our faith in God is shaken by shocking events; and when we are mocked for taking a firm stand on moral issues. We are asked to listen to Jesus in prayer and solitude (symbolized by “the high mountain” in the gospel text). We are invited go back to this ‘mountain experience’ (peak experience) and find solace and reassurance from God in such moments. In our hunger for power, position and ambitions, we are reminded to imitate him who rejected these worldly standards in obedience to God’s will. When we walk in his footsteps, that is, walk the way of the cross in our suffering, failure, humiliation and rejection, we prove to be God’s beloved sons/ daughters in whom he is well pleased. Lent is the most appropriate time to listen to him, to follow his footsteps by embracing the cross with an unwavering hope of sharing his glory.
Like Peter, we have a tendency to prolong happiness and stay fixed on the mountain of glory and escape from the problems, pain and hardships of life. We have a desire to attain glory and prolong its joy by trying to evade crosses or sacrifices. Lent is the most opportune time for us to embrace our crosses rather than running away from them. Let us reflect seriously whether this is true: We want to attain unity and harmony in our families, but without sacrificing our time for guiding our children; as married couples we want better understanding with our spouses, but without spending time for communicating mutual expectations; we want to see a corruption-free society, but won’t mind giving bribe to avoid trouble and inconveniences for us; we want children to obey us, but give them bad example by not practicing what we preach to them; or we want peace, but do not want to forgive or take steps for reconciliation. This is the short-cut method or bypass road to glory proposed by so many Peters all around the world.
There are also some other Peters who want to build only ‘tents’ (memorials, monuments, churches, institutions, conduct novenas and establish healing centres), and forget about the mission to the poor and the marginalized. Like Peter of the gospel, they want to remain comfortably fixed in these ‘tents’ and do not want to enter into human misery and problems below the mountain. Of course, mountain of glory is more enjoyable and comfortable than the valley of struggles and tensions. We should not forget that Christian life involves both "going up the mountain" and "coming down the mountain". Our intimacy with the Master and experience of his splendour/glory in prayer and contemplation (which is like our ‘transfiguration experience’) energizes us to go to the valley to face the shadow of the cross in daily realities.
In this Lenten season Jesus invites us to retrace our steps towards the path followed by him. He invites us to climb our own ‘Tabor’ more often – to encounter God in prayer and solitude – with the intention of sending us to the valley of suffering/ problems/ tensions to become beloved servants of God for his cause. He assures us of a crown beyond our crosses – to some extent here on earth in the form of an inner joy which the world can neither give nor take away, and to fullest extent hereafter when we shall participate in his heavenly glory.
  1. Response to God's Word
In moments of trials, suffering, failure and humiliation, do we follow Christ, or our own impulses? Are we willing to climb down from the mountain of achievements, name and fame, power and honour, comforts and pleasures and walk with Jesus up to Calvary? As God’s beloved children, do we listen to Jesus in prayer and solitude? Do we listen to his teaching when we feel we are not on a mountain of glory and honour, but deep into the pit? How often did we fail to be God’s beloved children by turning a deaf ear to his voice in the dark moments of our lives, when things do not go our way? When and in which moments and situations we tried to run away or escape from crosses and got settled in our own comfort-zones?
  1. A Prayer
Lord Jesus, we pray that by your passion and cross we may be brought to the glory of your resurrection. Empower us with your Spirit that we do not run away from crosses in our life or escape from sacrifices involved in fulfilling your mission. Give us the courage and strength to carry our daily crosses so that we may share your glory. Confirm us with an unwavering hope in your promises so that we may courageously face sufferings of this life by keeping in mind the glory of an eternal reward . Amen.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

First Sunday of Lent (B)

First Sunday of Lent [Mk 1:12-15]
18 February 2018
The Temptation of Jesus and Beginning of His Public Ministry
Readings:  (1) Gen 9:8-15 (2) 1 Pet 3:18-22
  1. Theme in brief:
Our struggle against temptations  
  1. Focus Statement:
Lent is a God-appointed time for us to examine how far we have deviated from our faith-commitment made at baptism, and to decide to live the gospel of Christ in a more radical manner.
  1. Explanation of the text
Though the account of Jesus’ temptation in today’s gospel according to Mark is very brief, it is rich in its symbolic meaning. We are surprised to read that the same Spirit who descended on Jesus at his baptism now drove him into the wilderness or desert (1:12). The strong word “drive” used here may refer to an inner urge in Jesus under the influence of the Spirit to go into the wilderness or desert to spend a quiet time of encounter with God before beginning his public ministry. But there he had to encounter temptations of Satan as well. Mark links the temptations of Jesus to his baptism by saying that he was tempted by Satan immediately” after his baptism (1:12). Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not tell us about the exact nature of his temptations. But we can very well imagine that they were against his decision and commitment at baptism to be faithful to his mission of service unto death. Satan stands for everything, every force that is against God and his ways.
The fourty-day period of his temptations (1:13) is not meant to be taken literally but in the biblical sense of a longer or considerable period of time; in fact till his death. Even while dying, his temptations came from the mouths of passers-by who challenged him to come down from the cross (Mk 15:29-30). Mark tells us that Jesus had an encounter of fiercely contrasting forces in the desert (1:13): both the evil spirit (Satan) and Good Spirit (Holy Spirit); the wild beasts (representing Satan’s army) and the holy angels (representing God’s army). Biblical scholars can only guess what Mark had in mind: (1) may be a reference to the messianic age foretold by prophet Isaiah when wolf and lamb, lion and little child would live together in peace (Isaiah 11:6-9); or (2) may be he wanted to portray Jesus as the New Adam who overcame Satan’s temptations, whereas the first Adam in the Garden of Eden had failed. Thus, he restored the peace and harmony of the paradise destroyed by the fall of Adam; or he regained the lost paradise. The ministering angels (1:13) may indicate this: (1) Jesus was preserved from being torn into pieces by wild beasts in the wilderness because of the special care and protection of God through his angels; or (2) God did not leave Jesus alone in a time of temptation but gave his protection through his angels.
After winning a victory over Satan’s tests, Jesus began his public ministry with the proclamation of the summary or the main theme of his preaching, that is God’s rule of total and unconditional love (technically, God’s Kingdom) had come on earth in his person (1:14-15). Mark begins this central theme by saying that Jesus had come to proclaim the good news of God (1:14). God’s good news was that his love and salvation had now come very near to all in the person of Jesus (1:15). [In fact, Jesus himself was (is) God’s Good News in person.] The time of waiting (the long period of OT in which the Kingdom was promised) was fulfilled (completed) with the arrest of John the Baptist. God’s appointed time or the time planned (fixed) by him to begin a new age or rule was near for all who were willing to receive it.
How should one respond to the challenge of the breaking good-news of God’s Kingdom? In two ways: by (1) repenting or changing one’s ways and (2) believing in the good news (1:15). To ‘repent’ means more than feeling sorry for one’s personal sins, but a change of mind/ attitude/ life-style. To ‘believe’ does not mean to believe in a doctrine as we do while reciting “I believe” (the Creed). It means to be attached to the person of Jesus or to have a deep faith or trust in him. It also means to live according to the gospel of Christ.
  1. Application to life
A temptation is basically a test of faith or a test which reveals whether we are faithful to God or not. We are tempted throughout our life, not to put our faith and trust in God, or not to live by our faith. Sometimes we are even tempted to make Jesus come down from the cross and save us miraculously from all calamities and suffering, just as the passers-by did during his crucifixion. Traditionally a temptation is also understood as an inducement to sin. It is not a sin in itself, but an inclination towards it. It is only a test which can either make or beak us. If we do not yield to it, it can make us strong in faith.
Now we can understand why the Holy Spirit drove Jesus towards temptation according to today’s gospel text. We are used to understand a temptation only in the negative sense that it necessarily ruins us. By driving Jesus into the desert for prayer and solitude, the Holy Spirit wanted to prepare him to face tests against his baptismal commitment so that he could come out strong. In baptism, we make a commitment to worship God alone and promise to be faithful to the mission of Christ. Just like Jesus we too are tempted to deviate from our baptismal call and mission. Lent is a time to examine whether we have fallen prey to Satan’s temptations to go against our faith-commitment made at baptism, and to renew that commitment by returning to God and his ways. For this we need to make use of various spiritual means such as regular prayer, penance, works of charity, Word of God, reception of sacraments with proper disposition (especially the sacrament of reconciliation).
Lent is also a time to fight against evil tendencies and forces within and around us with God’s power so that we can experience the peace and harmony of the Garden of Eden. Just as God’s protective Spirit was with Jesus when he struggled against the test and allurement of the Evil Power in the desert, now also Jesus’ protecting Spirit is with his disciples in their desert experience or struggle against personal weaknesses. God’s protection comes to us from our communion with him through spiritual means already mentioned above. When we possesses sufficient spiritual energy, ‘wild animals’ (evil forces) cannot do harm to us.
Lent is a period of desert experience of prayer and penance for us so that we get enlightenment to distinguish between God’s voice and the Satan’s voice; between wild beasts and holy angels who waited on Jesus. Wild beasts represent all the evil as well as violent forces in our world or society such as terrorism, violence, hatred, crimes against humanity and God’s creation (such as environmental destruction). They also represent something of the wild beast or violent tendencies in all of us lurking at the door. The Bible says that we must master them (Gen 4:7). When we read the story of Cain and Abel (Gen 4:1-16) we come to know how Cain’s envy and anger towards his brother Abel ended up in hatred and cold-blooded murder. We have to admit that there is a Cain sitting inside of each one of us who gives in to aggressive and violent behaviour against his brothers and sisters. If violence which is inherent in human nature is not contained or mastered, it will create havoc in human/social relationships and contribute to the all-prevailing culture of violence in our world. Here the term ‘culture’ refers to attitudes and behaviour which accept violence as an inevitable way of life. All-prevailing violence in our society causes threat to human life. Like Cain we too try to cover-up our guilt and refuse to accept responsibility for containing the escalating violence in our society by saying: "Am I my brother's keeper (Gen 4:9)?" God’s voice coming from his Word resounds before us in Lent more loudly than other times: “Are you also not responsible (at least indirectly) for the prevailing culture of violence in the world?”
The peaceful co-existence of Jesus with the wild animals in the wilderness (which did no harm to him) as per today’s gospel text, symbolizes for us the need to create a culture of active non-violence which is life-promoting. In this Lent Jesus invites us to become active in overcoming violent tendencies within us and in our communities, instead of merely feeling sad about it or becoming passive spectators. Unlike the first Adam who yielded to Satan’s temptation to be like God and spoiled the harmony of Paradise, we are called to imitate the Second Adam (Jesus) to restore it by overcoming Satan’s temptation with the protection of God or with the spiritual power that comes from him. Personally we can promote non-violence in various (direct or indirect) ways, such as (1) by consciously cultivating non-violent language in our speech and teaching the same to our children; (2) by following the path of non-aggressive behaviour in our personal lives; and (3) by cooperating with so many good willed people in our world who promote non-violence.
We can decide to take up a self-imposed Lenten penance to consciously avoid not only abusive language but also rough/ rude/ unkind/ violent words such as “bash”, “bang”, “smash”, “thrash”, “hammer”, “shoot” or “kick” so and so. Also we can decide to avoid threatening and ‘subtly bloodthirsty’ words such as, “I’ll show him/her…” or “I’ll teach him/her a lesson…” Parents/ teachers/ managers/ administrators/ superiors could make an effort not to use violent/ insulting/ abusive words towards their children/ students/ workers/ employees/ subjects such as, “fool”, “stupid”, “good-for-nothing”, “ass”, and “lazy goose”. When we live with people of other races/ caste/ ethnicity/ religious faiths we should make conscious efforts to totally avoid name-calling done on them by other people. Observe how children imitate this language from their parents and companions. Further, we need to examine whether we indulge in any form of domestic violence against women or our domestic helps.
Lent is also the most opportune or fitting time for us to respond in a better way to the Good News of God as proclaimed by Jesus as he began his public ministry. Lent can become God’s appointed time for us to change the direction of our life and to be converted to the values of God’s Kingdom or to live the gospel more radically. In simple terms, we can understand the Kingdom of God to mean living a qualitatively different way of life in which God’s values taught by Jesus (such as sacrificial love, humble service, unconditional forgiveness, active concern for the needy) become the rule. When we try to live these gospel values, we find that sin/ evil/ selfishness are obstacles to its path. Removal of these obstacles necessarily leads to repentance. Hence, believing in the Good News involves a conversion to the gospel-way of life from worldly/ evil/ selfish ways. In this Lent, it is right and proper that we examine how much percentage of our life is in line with the gospel of Christ and try to ‘upgrade’ our Christian life with the spiritual means already mentioned above.
  1. Response to God's Word
Are we faithful to our baptismal promises of renouncing Satan and his pomp – implying all evil forces and violent tendencies? What is our plan to seek God’s protection and to fight evil forces (sinfulness) during this Lenten Season? What can we do this Lent to deepen our trust and faith in God as our only source to fight against temptations against our baptismal commitment? What are we doing to have a ‘desert experience’ in this Lent? Are we attuned to the Spirit so that he drives us to such places as he drove Jesus? Do we consciously strive to master something of the wild beast lurking at our door? How can we create a culture of active non-violence? How can we ‘upgrade’ our Christian life with Lenten practices?
  1. A Prayer
Lord Jesus, just like you we too are often tempted not to be faithful to our baptismal promises as well as the mission which you have entrusted to us. We believe that you are with us in our struggle and give us the strength to face these temptations because you too were tested like us. Give us the grace to make decisive choice for God’s values and always to say ‘no’ to the ways of the world. Send forth your Spirit and purify our minds from all violent attitudes, motives and ways of thinking and grant that we may create a culture of active non-violence in our society. Amen.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Ash Wednesday (B)

Ash Wednesday [Mt 6:1-6.16-18]
14 February 2018
Almsgiving, Prayer and Fasting with a Difference
Readings: (1) Joel 2:12-18 (2) 2 Cor 5:20-6:2
1.  Theme in brief
Right motive and attitudes for Lenten observances
2.   Focus Statement
Our Lenten observances should be done for right motives that give glory to God, and not for self-glory or for attracting people’s attention and getting a merit certificate from God.
3.   Explanation of the text
In today’s gospel Jesus speaks about three religious practices found in all religions, namely, almsgiving, prayer and fasting.  He approves these practices, but with a difference. He criticizes the manner in which they are practiced by pious Jews (mainly the Pharisees) of his time and points out their wrong motives. He attaches three prescriptions to be followed by his disciples while practicing these deeds of piety: (1) the type of behaviour they should avoid; (2) the proper motive or attitude they should observe; and (3) the type of reward they should look for.
In today’s gospel, he emphasizes three times the need to avoid hypocrisy and showiness while practicing each of these pious deeds (6:2,5,16). [A hypocrite is an actor in life’s drama, who pretends to be what he/she is not in real life.] Instead of practicing these deeds like actors in a pious drama, these deeds should be done to give glory to God and not to be seen and praised by others (6:1-2); that is, not for self-glory or to earn public reputation. They are only means to achieve an end – an expression of our inner attitudes and motives. They are not to be practiced to attract people’s attention (6:1,3,6,17) or to get a merit certificate from God. Jesus’ instruction to shut the door of one’s room and pray privately or secretly (6:6) does not mean we should not pray in common or publicly. What it means is that prayer should not be done with other ulterior motives than for glorifying God and entering into a deeper communion with him. Here Jesus points out how self-centeredness can be the motive for even the best of religious practices. If they are done for personal glory rather than for God’s, they lose their real meaning or purpose.
While speaking about the reward for such practices, Jesus contrasts between the shortsighted earthly reward and the everlasting heavenly reward. The former is earned through recognition, admiration and reputation among the public and the latter is an eternal reward of heavenly bliss given by the Father. In human society, the one who gives alms earns the reputation of being generous, the one who prays regularly in public places of being a devout person and the one who fasts rigorously of being an ascetic. In contrast, the Father who sees everything in secret, looks into people’s hearts, and rewards them by judging the inner motives behind these deeds (6:4,618). Since those who make a public display of these deeds already receive their reward here on earth in terms of a high reputation, honour and name, there is no further scope for any other reward in the age to come.
4.  Application to life 
Today we enter into a 40-day period of inner purification called the holy Season of Lent. For many Catholics, Lent means just giving up meat on Fridays and attending the Way of the Cross on that day. They also very well understand that Lent is a period of penance for their sins by focusing on Christ’s passion. Though this is true and noble, the primary purposes of Lent are less emphasized and less understood by many Catholics: (1) It is a time of preparation for Easter or the Lord’s Passover. Just as the Lord Jesus passed (crossed) over from death to eternal life at his resurrection, this is a period set apart for us to pass over from all sinful, selfish, ungodly and worldly ways to new (holy) life on Easter day by following the path of charity, ardent prayer and penance, as outlined by Jesus in today’s gospel. (2) It is a time for renewal of our baptismal grace and commitment. At baptism (which was our first Easter) we crossed over from sin to a new or holy life, or in St. Paul’s metaphor ‘died’ with Christ and ‘rose’ with him. But we have soiled our baptismal purity by our sins and by not “believing in the gospel,” as per the words used by the priest while imposing ash on the head (Mk 1:15). Not “believing in the gospel” means not living or following the way of life laid down for us in the gospel of Christ. So Lent is a period set apart for us to turn away from sins and come back to the Lord and to his gospel. In St. Paul’s metaphor it is a time to ‘die’ to our sinful/ selfish ways and ‘rise’ to a new/ holy life as we complete fourty days of penance on Easter day.
How? In today’s gospel text Jesus lays down three Lenten observances as aids to renew our baptismal commitment, namely, almsgiving, prayer and fasting. He gives a new meaning to these traditional practices, which is different from what many pious people of his time as well as in our own times understand. These practices are to be external expressions of genuine repentance and conversion. They are means to reach the goal of renewing our baptismal call. This renewal needs to be done by coming close to God and a determination to give up evil practices and sins. We have to examine our inner motives and dispositions and ask ourselves if these observances will lead us to a renewal of our baptismal call – the aim of Lent – and make us committed disciples.
The first Lenten observance of almsgiving must be broadly understood to include all charitable deeds and sharing of our goods with the needy as well as solidarity with those whom we have excluded from our schemes. It is an expression of our gratitude to what God has given us out of his bounty and our responsibility to share something of that with the have-nots. The second one, namely prayer should proceed from our genuine love of God, and lead to a deeper communion with him flowing into more committed service to our neighbours. The third one, namely fasting includes all acts of penance and abstinence. Lenten abstinence from meat, alcohol, smoking, etc., is to be practiced for spiritual benefits and not purely for health reasons like lowering one’s cholesterol or preventing cancer. Nor penance should be done for its own sake, or just for experiencing a good deal of pain by giving up something dear to us without using it as a means to change of hearts. Fasting and acts of penance need to be signs of our genuine repentance - a turning away from evil and turning back to God. When done with pure motive, they can lead us to an inner disposition for repentance and sorrows for our sins. They are aids for “dying to sin and rising with new life” when we shall celebrate EASTER.
Let us enumerate some of the spiritual motives for fasting and abstinence:
(1) It is a means to humble ourselves before God and is an expression of mourning for our sins and wrongdoing. It is meant to make us realize the harm inflicted on ourselves and others by our own sins and to seek the path of conversion. (2) It is an aid to prayer. It is up to us to use it for reflecting on our hunger for God as we feel physical hunger. (3) It reminds us to feel the pain and agony of so many people in the world who go hungry due to their poverty, and the suffering of those who are seriously ill or are victims of natural calamities, or experience injustice, etc. (4) It reminds us of the need to do our bit for the alleviation of suffering and misery in the world, by spending a bit of our money/ time/ energy/ expertise for this cause. (5) It is a form of self-discipline and self-control we want to practice by giving up a pleasurable thing. When we freely choose to impose discipline on ourselves for a greater cause or a higher good without any external force, we shall look as if we are going for a feast when we actually are fasting. This could be one of the applications of Jesus’ saying: “When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face” (6:17). (6) It teaches us to manage without things we are so used to, such as food, drink and modern comforts. Before motor vehicles, electricity and mobile phones came into existence people knew how to manage their affairs. Now, can we manage without electricity or mobile phone for an hour without making a fuss or becoming restless? One of the penances in Lent could be to switch off or not to take the mobile phone to the church/ chapel, or during the common meal ( at least ar supper).
Apart from abstinence from meat/ smoking/ drinking we can do more creative types of fasting and penance during this Lent: (1) walking to the railway station or bus stand if it is within a km instead of going by our vehicle or hiring a vehicle for the noble cause of protecting our environment from further degradation; (2) saving energy and water by limiting their usage or resisting their unnecessary wastage; (3) resisting the desire to get glued to the mobile phone all the time and using it for fun-calls and needless talk like, “What did you cook for dinner”; (5) donating money for charitable/ worthy causes secretly without any desire for display of one’s name on the notice board/ on marble stone or mention of it in church announcements. We need to reflect and see whether we would have donated any money for that good cause if our names were not mentioned or displayed anywhere. Since Jesus asks us to purify our motives and check whether they are genuine, why not give it a try and move from common practice of the world.
The best penance we can do in Lent is to practice in a visible manner the traditional works of mercy. They are divided into two categories: (1) The Corporal Works of Mercyto feed the hungry; to give drink to the thirsty; to clothe the naked; to shelter the homeless; to visit the sick; to visit the prisoners; to bury the dead; and (2) The Spiritual Works of Mercy  to instruct the ignorant; to counsel the doubtful; to admonish sinners; to bear wrongs patiently; to forgive offences willingly; to comfort the afflicted; to pray for the living and the dead. We could try to choose any one of the corporal works of mercy and put them into practice in the following manner: by not wasting food; sending a portion of one’s food (not left over food) to an orphanage; making drinking water available to passers-by or distributing it during a public function; sharing our space with others ( e.g. with workers for taking a break in between their work or for studies/ coaching of children); donating blood to the sick; visiting a home for the aged with small gifts; visiting the sick in homes or in hospitals; giving material help to the family of prisoners (especially when breadwinners are imprisoned); visiting the bereaved families and visiting the local cemetery to pray for the repose of those who are not related to us.
In a similar way, we could choose any one of the spiritual works of mercy and put them into practice in the following manner: by sharing our faith-convictions with those who have doubts of faith; accompanying a relative or neighbour who is undergoing mental or physical pain to a retreat/ healing/ prayer/ counseling centre; explaining to others the truth of our faith as much as we know; inviting neighbours to attend a group Mass; volunteering to teach catechism in the parish; admonishing somebody who has gone astray from Christian path and showing the way to turn back to God; forgiving or asking pardon from somebody with whom we have stopped talking for a long time or doing a charitable deed for that person or his family; praying to be patient with those who are unbearable; praying for the persons against whom we have grudges; etc.

5.  Response to God's Word
Do we do Lenten observances with above-mentioned motives? Or do we do them only to follow a custom or gain merit here and hereafter? Do we use them as means to improve our Christian commitment? Are we self-centred even in our religious practices? Are we going to follow the path of giving and sharing, praying more, sacrificing and renouncing with the motive of self-renewal and better Christian commitment throughout this Lenten Season? Which of the above-mentioned creative ways of fasting we would like to observe?
6.  A prayer
Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness; in your compassion blot out my offence. O wash me more and more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. A pure heart create for me, O God; put a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence; nor deprive me of your Holy Spirit. Do not despise my broken and contrite heart and restore to me the joy of your salvation. Amen.