Lent and Loving God

02-26-2020Letter from the PastorFr. Don Kline, V.F.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The season of Lent gives us a chance to strengthen our relationship with Our Lord. Through daily prayer, intentional fasting, and selfless almsgiving, our relationship with God and others can help us to grow in love. God is love and the two greatest commandments emphasize the love we are called to have as a disciple of Our Lord Jesus. These two commandments are: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31}

The first three commandments deal with our relationship with God and the last seven are about our relationship with one another. I am writing about the first three this weekend.

Throughout Israel’s history, the people periodically abandon God turning to idols. The clearest example is found in chapter 32 of the Book of Exodus. Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God while, under Aaron’s leadership, the people make and worship a golden calf. Anticipating their disobedience and ours, the First Commandment is a prohibition against idolatry and a call to worship the living God.

Worshipping a golden calf seems odd to us. But the reality is that the golden calf reminds us of the idols in our lives that surface when we tire of the seeming obscurity and silence of God. In other words, our relationship with God is often found in the silence of our hearts. These moments when we may not “experience” the presence of God, may challenge us to grow in faith and trust. But when we don’t want to be stretched, we turn to the familiar - our own golden calves. Things like work, entertainment, money, alcohol, busyness, food, internet, an unhealthy relationship, and so on can become our focus.

We often say that God comes first in our lives, but following the counsel of the First Commandment, we have to ask, how much time do we make for God? As you look at your priorities, where does God enter into your life?  It is tempting to let God come in fourth, behind the spouse, the kids and the job. What or who comes first for you? Does it have to be that way? If God is not first in your life, what is preventing you from making God number one?

The Second Commandment forbids us to take the name of the Lord in vain. Consider that for the Jewish people, God’s name was so sacred that it could not even be spoken or written. What would they think of our practice of using God’s name as a curse during moments of frustration? Or uttering, “Oh my God!” when we’re excited or angry?

When we come to know and love God, we respond with reverence and respect for His holiness, which should impact the way we talk - and not just about God! That is, a Christian refrains from lies, nastiness, blasphemy, and cursing, as well as speech that is violent, false, disrespectful, vulgar, or abusive and other language that does not glorify God. These are just a few things that are part of our identity as a disciple of Our Lord Jesus.

This is tough stuff. Living the Second Commandment in our culture is difficult! But by its nature, it’s also prophetic. If you simply refrain from swearing, telling off-color jokes and gossiping, you will probably be considered a saint today!

Finally, the third commandment invites us to keep holy the Sabbath. We keep the Sabbath holy by celebrating the Eucharist. Imagine how different the world would be if every Catholic went to Mass every Sunday to praise and thank God! It would change the world for the better. Imagine how much more peace-filled we would be if we refrained from unnecessary chores and shopping, replacing these priorities with rest - time spent with family and friends, praying and reading, sharing a meal, taking a nap or going for a walk. In our frenzied world, maybe one of the greatest ways we can evangelize others is to simply keep holy the Sabbath.

As we approach Lent, perhaps we can ponder if we are really following the first three commandments and make changes that give God primacy, that cleans up our language and keeps the Sabbath holy!