For 1st Sunday of Lent, Year B, we have a touching and thought-provoking homily by Father Hanly on the topic of Lent.
Readings for Mass
First Reading: Genesis 9:8-15
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading: First Peter 3:18-22
Gospel: Mark 1:12-15
Recording of Homily
Transcript of Homily
Most people don’t know what the word “Lent” means, yet I’m sure they’ve gone through it all their lives. Lent means springtime. Believe it or not, it means springtime. And what it is is short for lengthening, you see. And lengthening days, now that’s a sign that winter is over and the springtime draws near, so that’s what Lent means. So feel better now; it’s a happy thought.
Most people have very dark thoughts about Lent. We love to do many things except two things we’re pretty much afraid of, I think.
One is freedom. Nobody really likes to be free. We talk about it but if you’re put, like Jesus in the desert, you’re free, and now create your life the way you want to do it, it’s scary.
We need people. This is true, so that even in Lenten retreats we always have other people with us. Sometimes you make a retreat all by yourself, but it’s very hard, it’s very harsh and it’s very scary sometimes.
So the first thing to learn about Lent is it’s not meant to be a dark period. It’s supposed to be filled with hope, just as Advent.
Christians are people who live on hope. They don’t live on money, they don’t live on good friends; they live on hope. They always feel, “Well, that was good but maybe next time it will be a little better,” or “That was a disaster. All I’ve got left is hoping that things do get better.”
And that means that we hear often about faith and we hear often about love, but hope is the little girl that gets up every morning and says, “Give it another try.” I love that. I asked someone, “What does he mean by hope?” He says, “When I get up in the morning I’m like a little girl and I say to my wife, ‘Give it another try’.”
Lent is a time where we’re supposed to give up things. When I was a kid we gave up all the things that a child, a young child or an older child, would dream of. I had to give up candy, I had to give up chocolates, I had to give up movies, I had to give up stick ball. It seemed like the adults or the priests couldn’t run out of things to give up. It was always give up this and give up that and I never really mastered the giving up bit.
But many years ago I met a priest. He said, “You should stop saying what you should give up and start asking what we can do.”
And he had a whole list: you can be compassionate to the rest of the family or be compassionate to those who are suffering. You can try to love and understand when all love and understanding seems empty, when the people which you are with or the people that you love but they can’t seem to get things straight…
Compassion is God’s — God’s own special virtue. He is the compassionate one. Sometimes we think of God as creating sort of like little difficulties that we might overcome and gain merit or whatever that was. It’s not true. God can only love.
Nobody thinks of this. God can only love. He can’t hate, he can’t hold grudges, although when you read the Old Testament a way of understanding God is to see His negative side, so they always talk about God as complaining about His people not living up to their promises and all of these things. And it’s true. But he says in the depths of great love He bargains with His people.
The Jews had a great understanding about God. They saw Him as a bargainer. Abraham used to pray to God in this way. He would say, “You’ve got to help my cousin Lot, who is in terrible condition in one of those evil cities.” And God would say, “Well, why should I help him, he never even thinks about me?” And then Abraham pulls the string, he says, “But you’re God. You have to help.”
Everybody else can live life totally (inaudible), be cheesy and awful and that, but not God. He’s not allowed, even if He could be. But He can’t be, He doesn’t know how to be. God doesn’t know how to be angry and fierce and destructive — or small minded. (Inaudible) so that everybody died. All this is nonsense. God loves, God lives, God serves.
Remember that: God loves, God lives, God serves. What are we supposed to do? We’re supposed to live, love and serve. Very simple. It’s lasted two thousand years. That’s the doctrine of the Messiah. Why did Jesus come? “I came to love, to live with you and to serve.” You ask the saints, “What should I do to be a saint?” Love, live with people, open your heart to people. Don’t sit around making everybody cry, making them unhappy.
I was a great pouter. Do you know pouting, any of you? I’m an expert pouter. I used to teach kids how to pout. The secret of pouting is to make the whole family every Sunday afternoon while they’re sitting around, about to take the one good meal of the week, and you pout. And, “What’s wrong with you, Denis?” “Mm-mm.” “Why aren’t you eating?” “Mm-mm.” You have to have everybody around you though. The pouter needs an audience, the bigger the audience the better. Some politicians have mastered this you know (laughs). But pouting is a sneaky way…
Really though, my father came over to me one time when I was pouting. My mother used to put me in the cellar during the dinner. But she’d give me Brownie, so she still loved me. Brownie was my dog. She loved me but she wasn’t going to let me spoil the whole dinner with the family on Sunday so she put me in the cellar, gave me a nice plate of food and said, “Now you can enjoy yourself with Brownie. We’ll let you know when the family meal is over.”
She was very wise because pouting can become a habit. Somebody will say, “What’s wrong?” “Oh, nothing,” but you mean something. “No, nothing is wrong.”
So if you pout, remember that they talk about terrible sins like murder and burning your house down and war, but pouting will do when everything else fails, to get your way and make other people feel unhappy so that you can feel unhappy not alone.
All these things I mention because it’s Lent time. You should look at your negative side. If you can’t look at your negative side you can never move forward; you’ll be maybe a nine-year-old child for the rest of your life. You’ve got to face your negative side because only through facing your negative side do you get pain about yourself. And you will only move if you have pain. You’ve got to. Nobody learns from success. This is true. Nobody learns from success. Everybody learns from loss and pain.
What does that mean? It means that we didn’t believe that until Jesus died on the cross. He took all the pain of the world. And this was his great gift to all of mankind. “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” And then we saw what a man really is. A man is someone who does not back away from the pain that life itself serves up. It doesn’t mean you should seek pain. It will find you wherever you are. But during Lent don’t be afraid to face the dark side of yourself.
Here’s a thing you need though: you’ve got to have faith. You have to have faith like Jesus had faith and people we know have faith. Faith is very important and little Hope will tell you the time when you need to give all of your faith to what you are doing.
I won’t go on too much longer on this, but I think what you can give as a gift to your family, your friends, to me and to everybody else, you can give them two gifts.
One is to learn how to be patient with people, and the second one is learn how to love the way Jesus loves: no conditions, deepening our understanding, coming and, with this kind of love, bringing yourself and others a new flowering of hope — a new life, very often.
And it will give you the best gift of all, which is to face yourself so that you can live with wonderful opening faith, with great love in your heart, but, most of all, to keep your hope strong and let no one take away from you what God has given to you, which is how to have faith, how to have hope and, most of all, how to love each other.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
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This homily was delivered on 21st February 2012.
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