Setting the Tone for the Lenten Journey
"Remember that you are dust.....and to dust you shall return"
Throughout the course of your life you are bound to encounter the occasional "office politican", an individual who is keenly well-versed in the art of back-slapping, apple-polishing and playing the role of a glorified "lackey" for want of a better term.
"Great idea boss - I wish I had the foresight and intelligence to have come up with that one myself"
"Love that necktie boss - you certainly have a flair for fashion"
"Have you lost weight?"
You get the idea.
In a day and age when pink slips are handed out like tic-tacs, it's hardly a surprise that this not-so-subtle talent has now reached an art form the likes of which would make Picasso blush. Quite frankly it's hard to blame the perpetrator when it comes right down to it. Truth be told If we were honest with ourselves, we could probably all harken back to a time when we played the role of the bootlicker, easily justifying our behavior in the face of downsizing, "right-sizing", organizatonal re-engineering and other assorted games of corporate musical chairs in which the goal is to secure a seat before the chorus comes to a screeching halt in the face of plunging sales charts and "challenging" fiscal quarters.
But while the Corporate Engine chugs along and it's spreadsheet-armed denizens do what it takes to pay the mortgage, drive that high-end luxury sedan and punch away at the latest souped-up I-Phone, Jesus warns us against this type of showmanship in our spiritual and religious life. This message is of course designed to set the tone for our Lenten Journey, a time in which we are asked to repent, sacrifice, and reflect on how we can become better disciples of Christ.
To that point, Saint Paul in his 2nd Letter to the Corinithains (5:20-6:2) reminds us all of our role right off the bat when he rather pointedly says "Brothers and sisters: We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." Paul is essentially reminding the Corinthians that the good news has been revealed to them, but it is not enough to simply receive the word and attempt to live a life that is consistent with Jesus' example. It is also their duty (and ours in the year 2013) to spread this message through our words and more importantly, our actions.
He then goes on to remind us why God sent Jesus to this Earth:
"For our sake he made Him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Working together then, we appeal to you not to receive the Grace of God in vain."
Oftentimes when watching a football game in which the home team trails by a few touchdowns midway through the 4th quarter, the Announcer will point out on cue that the "home team must start to play with a greater sense of urgency". In a similar fashion, Paul is urging the Corinthians to act upon this outpouring of God's holy grace.
God sent His only begotten Son, delivered to us in the form of a man so that He would walk among us and share in our humanity. He would then go on to ultimately die for the sins of the men and women He came to save. We cannot let this remarkable act of love go to waste. Not only must be act, but we must act now; the clock is ticking and unlike our gridiron analogy, we are not afforded the luxury of calling a timeout.
Now that we understand what's at stake, Matthew's Gospel provides us with the foundation as it relates to how we are to carry ourselves in order to properly fulfill our mission. Once again, office politicans, those with a flair for showmanship and anyone who has inadvertanly sprained their elbow while in the act of patting one's self on the back should take note:
Jesus said to his disciples: "Take care not to perfrom rigtheous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your father who sees in secret will repay you.
"When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret. And your father who sees you in secret will repay you."
"When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, annoint your head and wash your face so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who sees what is hidden and will repay you."
So.....after reading this scripture passage, has anyone decided to give up Facebook for Lent?
In all seriousness though, this edict flies in the face of many of the things we are taught at an early age. Self-promotion and self-congratulatory behavior has become the oxygen that helps us to breath life into our careers, the social circles in which we run and the relationships that define our sense of self-worth. We're constantly reminded that "it's a dog eat dog world out there - you've better look out for yourself and make sure the higher-ups understand the value that you bring to the table".
To that point, every year around this time I take it upon myself to write each of my direct reports' individual yearly accomplishments for them. Why do I do that you may ask? Simply because I'm concerned that they are going to sell themselves short, and knowing how hard they work and the talents they so diligently share for the good of out team, I feel that it's my personal responsibilty to engage in some good old fashioned unabashed bragging on their behalf. Is that fair to the other employees in the Company whom they will be measured against for bonuses and future promotions? One could argue that it is not and that I am essentially manipulating the process to give my team members an unfair edge.
Once again Christians are called to accept the challenge of this paradox, that of dwelling in the finite world while preparing for the eternal banquet that God has planned for us. Yes, we were made for eternity yet our current journey finds us struggling to do what it takes to provide for our families and to use our God-given Earthly talents (whatever they may be) for the good of our brothers and sisters, all the while trying to stay one step ahead of the bill collectors.
For those of you looking for a Lenten reflection point, perhaps that can be your focus. Can we become better at living in the moment while making ourselves worthy to spend our infinite moments with God in paradise one day?
In closing, perhaps you will vew the 3rd responsorial Psalm chosen for Ash Wednesday as the keynote for this year's Lenten Journey:
"A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me. Cast me not out from your presence, and your Holy Spirit take not from me."