As I read this week’s gospel and hear Jesus’ counter-cultural instructions on how we should deal with the people God puts in our lives, I am reminded of one the biggest influences in my spiritual journey, Fr. Peter McKee. When someone would ask him, “do you have a minute?” he would reply, “for you, I’ve got two.” What a marvelous tone to set for the conversation to come.
Although this gospel comes up this year just prior to the season of Lent, it gives us a pretty good idea of what our Lenten journey should look like. In an R.C.I.A. session recently, I was blessed to be able to sit with our younger folks seeking to complete their initiation and talk about the upcoming season. When I say younger, they are between the ages of 8 and 14. After going through the instructions on Ash Wednesday, the change in liturgical colour and the disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we had a great conversation about what it looks like to live that out in our daily lives. This is what we came up with:
Prayer: we talked about our current prayer life and then looked at what we could do to go the extra mile as Jesus invites us in today’s gospel. I invited them to think of prayer as a conversation with the most loving parent you could ever imagine. If they were worried about a test at school, or a meeting with a friend or teacher, just say to God beforehand, “God, please be with me.” That is as valid as the “Our Father”, because prayer does not bring us into the presence of God as we are never out of the presence of God. Prayer creates a greater awareness of that presence. I think that’s why Jesus invites us today to pray for our enemies; it creates for us an awareness of the presence of God within them. Our commitment was to spend an extra five minutes a day in prayer (talking to God).
Fasting: everyone had heard of the concept of “giving something up for Lent”, but how can we turn that into a ministry to help others? Denying ourselves of food, for instance, can give us a better idea of what the hungry in our world have to live with daily. And you don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to find the hungry, just to the other side of the city. So if we can take the money we would have spent on whatever it is we are giving up and put it toward helping a food bank, soup kitchen or shelter, then our fasting lets us answer the gospel call to give to anyone who begs from you.
Almsgiving: while most of the folks gathered had never heard of the term, almsgiving, they have certainly heard of the importance of giving. We talked about giving to the church, helping the poor and supporting worthy charities. We are reminded in today’s gospel of the importance of giving to those who cannot repay. We decided that it was best to do it quietly and without fanfare so that the thanks given by the needy you are helping, is given to God and not to you. And remember that generosity is not measured by how much you give, but rather, by how much you keep.
Our commitment for the last two disciplines was what we called building the “ARK”, with acts of random kindness. We will try to do one kind thing each day for someone. In the end, we decided that this Lent we will take advantage of every opportunity to do something good, because if it’s a good thing, it’s a God thing.