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Lent With An Advent Flavor


I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints...” ~ Billy Joel

I’ve enjoyed this short two day trip through the 58th Chapter of Isaiah, which started yesterday on the 1st Friday of Lent (Isaiah 58:1-9) and concludes today, the 1st Saturday of the Lenten Season (Isaiah 58:9-14). Yesterday he shared his unique perspective on fasting while today the sage prophet expounds upon the virtue of discipleship; What it looks like, the fruit it yields, and the blessings that God bestows on those who walk in his ways. Looking ahead, we will read from Isaiah again this Tuesday (55:1-10) on the Feast Day of the intrepid Saint Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr of the Church, and again on March 2nd (Isaiah 1:10, 16-20). But we’ll cross those bridges when we get to them.

Biblical Scholars and Theologians have referred to Isaiah as the Advent Prophet, and for good reason. Isaiah serves as our divine tour guide through the Advent Journey, which happens to be my favorite Season on the Church’s Liturgical Calendar. It’s not lost on me how odd this may seem to many. After all, for someone to say that Advent is their favorite Liturgical Season, as opposed to the Christmas Season for instance, would be akin to an avid Dodgers fan saying that they enjoy Spring Training more than the actual baseball season itself. Perhaps it’s the anticipation that I cherish, of which French Author Albert Camus once said “We need the sweet pain of anticipation to tell us that we’re really alive.”

Like Advent, Lent too is a season of anticipation, wherein the faithful endure the sweet pain of fasting, almsgiving and the disciplined, sometimes frustrating path to a deeper and more profound prayer life. It all crescendos of course with Holy Week and the Easter Triduum, when Jesus conquers death in a very real and tangible way, emerging from the tomb and opening the Gates of Heaven.

Picking up where he left off yesterday, Isaiah goes on to proclaim “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; Then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.” When we shun the world and its self-serving ways to instead forge the path that leads to the narrow gate (Luke 13:24, Matthew 7:13), a life rooted in the Commandments, charity and repentance, we experience transformative grace and the blessings of a God who shows us the way through His Son. The Readings in the days and weeks ahead will focus heavily on these aspects of Jesus’ Ministry in order that we may have a perfect example to learn from.

In today’s Gospel (Luke 5:27-32), wherein the illicit tax collector Levi is swiftly and suddenly transformed into the Apostle Matthew , it’s interesting to note what this conversion prompts Matthew to do. He promptly throws a huge banquet, one in which he invites all of his fellow tax collector friends. And Jesus. If one were to look for a modern day equivalent, imagine Mafia Kingpin John Gotti at the height of his stranglehold on the organized crime underworld inviting all of his Captains ~ and Jesus ~ to dinner. And Jesus accepting the invitation.

This of course draws the ire of the Pharisees, who were quick to question Jesus on his dubious choice of dining partners. “Those who are healthy do not need a physician,” Jesus explains. “But the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.” In his book The Ragamuffin Gospel - Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up and Burnt-Out, author Brennan Manning explains that “Jesus reveals that he forgives sins, including the sins of the flesh; that He is comfortable with sinners who remember how to show compassion; but that He cannot and will not have a relationship with pretenders in the Spirit.”

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In this respect, the Lenten Season offers something for everyone. We are all sinners of course, so this Gospel Passage is in many respects Jesus’ personal invitation to each one of us. But for many, hypocrisy and self-righteousness is also a stumbling block. Whenever we allow them to get the best of us, we too become pretenders in the Spirit. We’ll never grow in our relationship with Christ if we remain in this state and thereby continue to construct this wall between us and our Savior.

“Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb!” These words, taken from the Book of Revelation (19:9), are proclaimed at every Catholic Mass just prior to the receipt of Holy Communion. When all is said and done, to be blessed by that callto the beatific vision and eternal banquet are all that matters. Lent calls each and every one of us to be transformed, as Matthew was. To repent, to make promises to Jesus and keep them, to invite him into the home of your heart and partake of the banquet of his friendship and his ability to change you.

Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of Salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).

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