We had the interesting coincidence this year of Lent beginning on Valentine’s Day. Maybe you celebrated your Valentine on “Fat Tuesday”, with a nice meal, flowers or chocolates. Regardless, I pray you were been able to start Lent in earnest on Ash Wednesday with a day of fasting, abstaining from meat, Mass and being marked with ashes. It was a time for us to again hear and heed the admonitions: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” and “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”
These past weeks, we’ve been hearing from the Gospel of Mark at both the weekday and the weekend Masses. Jesus begins his public ministry by joyfully proclaiming: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” He calls followers, he teaches, he calms a storm, he heals, he casts out demons. While on the way to attend to the seriously ill 12 year old daughter of the synagogue official, a woman who has been sick for 12 years courageously pushes through the crowd thinking “if I can only touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” She does touch them! She is cured! Jesus, realizing that power had gone out from him, asks “Who touched me?” He finds her to let her know that it is her faith that has saved her. Messengers arrive with sad news: the little girl is dead. They say: “Why trouble the teacher any longer?” Jesus encourages faith and upon arriving at the home, raises up the girl. (Mark uses here the same word for raising that will be used for Jesus being raised from the dead.) As the Gospel continues, the crowds continue to bring their sick to Jesus and Mark tells us, they “begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.” Tassels? God had told Moses: “Speak to the sons of Israel and tell them to put tassels on the hems of their garments” and the sight of them “will remind you of all the commandments of the Lord. You are to put them into practice then and no longer follow the desires of your heart and your eyes, which have led you to make wanton of yourselves.” (Lev. 15:37-39)
My friends, “the annual observance of Lent is the special season for the ascent to the holy mountain of Easter.” (Bishop’s Ceremonial) By our observance of Lent this year, may each of us prepare a beautiful valentine of love to give God at Easter. How? By prayer and penance. Jesus wants us to approach him with our needs and concerns as did the synagogue official. Jesus wants us to have courage to reach out to touch him for healing as did the woman sick for 12 years. Jesus wants us to bother him with what is bothering us. In our prayer, Jesus wants us to tell him where we’re hurting so that he can heal us. In our prayer, Jesus wants us to know how he is taking our hand and raising us up. In Lent, we need to touch the tassel of Jesus’ garment, seeing how we have not kept God’s commandments and commands. We need to take a good look to see how and where the desires of own hearts and our eyes have led us to sin. By works of penance each day of Lent, we show God our disdain and sorrow for sin and ask God’s help to sin no more. And “During Lent, penance should be not only inward and individual but also outward and social, and should be directed toward works of mercy on behalf of our brothers and sisters.” (Bishop’s Ceremonial) And during Lent, we need to avail ourselves of the healing sacrament of Penance, the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
We have the interesting coincidence this year of Easter falling on April 1, “April Fools’ Day”. If we are conscientious in responding to God’s gift of grace this Lent; if we exercise discipline in prayer and penance these days of Lent, we will not be an “April Fool” this Easter Day, April 1. We will, instead, know and experience all the more the love of God which prompted God to send us Jesus who suffered and died and rose again that we might be forgiven, healed and raised up to eternal life. And our Easter celebration will truly be a beautiful valentine of love for God.