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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Lent: listen for the whispers of God

At the beginning of the Lenten season, our God invites us to listen for his whispers.  In gentle and sometimes unexpected ways, he calls to us and invites us to learn how to be more like him.  As we prepare to celebrate the triumph of Easter, we do well to pray for the grace to listen for these whispers and to follow their promptings.

Learn to listen for the whispers

Every time that we gather to pray, we are reminded that we are on a journey.  Our travels lead us to moments of celebration and trial, but for people of faith, every step of this journey is made side by side with our loving God.  The liturgical season of Lent, which we begin today, is an annual reminder of this essential truth: we journey through life side by side with one another and with our loving God.

The text taken from the book of the prophet Joel reminds us that everyone is invited to make this journey: ... return to me with all your heart ... return to the Lord (Joel 2:12-13).  The Lord invites us all to take part in the adventure of coming to him: gather the people ... assemble the aged ... gather the children, even infants at the breast (Joel 2:16).  Every one of us is invited to return to the Lord ... for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Joel 2:13).

Throughout the history of God’s people, we human beings have had cause to celebrate, but there have also been moments when we would rather hide because our motives are sometimes not so pure.  At such times, we tend to want to hide, rather than to bring such dark aspirations into the light where they will be exposed.  This season of Lent is given to us so that we may no longer be ashamed of our behaviour, but rather that we may discover the love of our Father who wants to forgive us, who wants us to know the depth of his love for us.

At times, even while we are cowering in the darkness, God calls to us with what seems to be a mere whisper: a voice that is barely audible, a word that could easily be ignored.  When we hear this whisper, we have a choice to make: we can either follow its promptings or we can try to ignore it in hopes that it will go away.  The thing is that if God is the one whispering, he will never harm us, but he won’t ever stop whispering, he won’t ever go away until we stop, listen and choose to answer his call.

Perhaps he is whispering in our ears right now, calling to us and inviting us to make this Lenten season a different experience.  Maybe there’s a part of us that practices piety so that others will see us and think well of us (cf Mt 6:1).  Saint Matthew warns us that if this is the case, we have already been rewarded.  Instead, let us be sincere in our prayer, recognizing our need for God’s mercy and forgiveness.  If our intentions are well founded, our almsgiving will be done with a cheerful heart, our prayer will be offered in humble trust and our fasting from the distractions of this world will allow us to listen more profoundly to the invitation of our loving God: come, return to the Lord (Joel 2:13).

Despite our weaknesses, God continues to call to us, even in whispers: return to the Lord and be aware that you are an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor 5:20).  Well aware of our sins and our frailty, Jesus calls us to be his ambassadors: to dare to believe that his words are true, that his invitation is honest and that his promise will come true.  For our sake, God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Christ, we might experience the power of his forgiveness (cf 2 Cor 5:21).

We remember only too well the many ways in which we have tried to hide from him, and we know in our heads that he has the power – even with a word – to take our lives and return us to the dust from which we were created.  Yet, especially during the season of Lent, we dare to hope, and we dare to listen with the ear of our hearts for God’s whisper: this whisper calls us to believe that we have not been left alone, that we are deeply loved, that we can indeed come back home.
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