Lent always seems like somewhat of a challenge. We head into it with an expectation of being better on the other side of it, and by Easter somehow the marker moves, and I am never sure if I am any better of a person. Therein lies the personal challenge. We want quantifiable evidence. E.g., “if I give up snacking after dinner every day of Lent, I am sure to lose a few pounds!” Of course, it is our spiritual exercise that truly serves our souls, and we consider that as well.
In grade school, (or primary school) Lent was about giving something up (candy and gum were a given). Then, in high school (secondary school), it was more about “offering it up”. My lifetime Catholic school friends and I still laugh about being encouraged to “offer up” our babysitting money for the repose of the soul whose funeral the parents needed to attend. These disciplines were blessings in disguise, delivered by our parents and teachers, passing on the tradition of offering small sacrifices for spiritual gain. Those who loved us were being “ambassadors for Christ” as St. Paul suggests in today’s second reading.
Reflect for a moment on Christ and His Mother in their kitchen garden in Nazareth. They each in their own way knew what they were to do, but in their humanity, they were likely feeling as we do: apprehensive, filled with high expectations, wondering who would help them. They look up and see you and as your eyes meet, they are both filled with joy, big smiles, “oh, thank you for your offering to help us!” It may just have been that unkind word which you did not say, or the time you took to meet with the co-worker that tends to annoy you, or the salt you did not shake onto your supper. Their loving, joyful, and appreciative gaze is well worth it! Perhaps in these small ways of being ambassadors of Christ, the Lord gives us back the joy of salvation and sustains a willing spirit within us (Ps. 51:12).
Asking the Lord to “sustain a willing spirit within me” is intriguing. Sustenance, or sustainability, implies both short-term action and long-term effect. A good ambassador represents the varied needs of his people within a foreign, or otherwise uncertain, context. Further, she must connect resources to needs. We each have infinite spiritual resources within us, just waiting to be applied to the needs of others. And, for this Lent, maybe it is not a grand financial contribution, or intense immersion experience (i.e. do not blow a trumpet before you, Matt. 6:2), but the simple ways in which we can offer our personal spiritual resources to meet the personal spiritual needs of those with whom we interact. Christ asks us for humility regarding these internal, less explicit, offerings. In many ways, this makes things easier and more effective. In today’s Gospel, Jesus clarifies that these spiritual sacrifices are to be between each of us personally, and God. Our deeds, prayers, and fasting…just between us. Head into your head, and look for that gaze from Jesus and Mary, they will be anxious to smile big and thank you for your help with their work. They have even given you the impressive title of “ambassador” of Christ. Let us try to fulfill our role as ambassadors as best we can this Lent. It is well worth their gaze.