Produce fruit in keeping with repentance....The man who has two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same....Don't collect any more than you are required to.... Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely, be content with your pay.Luke 3:8-14
As I look at the liturgical calendar, I notice that the Catholic Church, in the wisdom given by God has two days of solemnity preceded by calls of repentance. Christmas is one which is preceded by Advent. Easter is another one, preceded by Lent. Being a greater day Easter calls for greater preparation. Lent is longer, 40 days as compared to four weeks for Advent (give or take a few days). Also during Lent, the preparation involves fasting, prayer and alms-giving.
All these preparations have one purpose: to call us to continuous repentance. Why is there a need for repentance? Were not our sins forgiven when we were baptized? And are we not forgiven when we confess our sins? When we were baptized, God wiped our slate clean. Likewise when we confess our sins, he wipes it clean. Yet the wounds of sin are still there and these require healing, constant treatment with medicine. The medicine I talk of is prayer, fasting and alms-giving, the three acts that the Church recommends. All these are to be acts that will train us to detach ourselves from material things and focus on Christ alone.
Yet, doing these things does not guarantee that we have repented. These are ways of training us and these are suppose to allow us to ear the fruits of repentance. Our repentance should “bear fruit” as John the Baptist says in the passage we quoted. What are these fruits?
Generosity. The first fruit as illustrated by John: “The man who has two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” Man is inherently selfish. That is why we sin in the first place. Almsgiving, fasting and prayer should teach us to deny ourselves and instead consider others. Generosity is not only giving the excess we have, it is doing away with what we do not need.
Truthfulness. “Don't collect any more than you are required to.” One of the reasons why greed comes in is that we want to satisfy thirst for things we want yet do not need. This is further strengthened with media advertising. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving aims to teach us generosity so we can tame our desires for things we do not need. Once we become generous, there is no need to cheat to get more than what we need.
Justice. “Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely. Isaiah 58:6-7 says “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” Once we become generous, our tendency is to share with those who have less. God gave us what we have, not for us to hoard them but to share them with others. God created us to take care of his creation. And if we do not share with others we are not being good stewards.
Contentment. “be content with your pay.” This is the most important of all. We cannot be generous if we are not content with what we have. If we are not content, there is this feeling that we have to get more. And the more we want, the more we hold on to what we have. “He who has much - much will be given. he who has little - even what little he has will be taken away”. This is what Jesus said. If we are not contented, we see that what we have is very little and we will not give. Therefore, we deprive ourselves of being blessed by the Lord. But if we are content, we will give. In doing so, we allow the Lord to bless us and give us more.
Lent is a season of preparation. It is supposed to start towards the end of winter and it ends at the beginning of spring. During the days before spring, the weather clears up. The snow stops. And you see a lot of people cleaning their houses. I personally take the car out and give it a good wash during these days because I could not wash it (or was too lazy to wash it) during winter. As we do for our stuff, we should also do for our souls.
Let us stand naked before the Lord without fear but with confidence in his love. Let us be generous to the Lord and allow him to take our souls out. And let him wash us clean with the blood of Jesus.
May we all have a meaningful Lent so that we can really understand the power of God's love.