Two days before Ash Wednesday, the Church blessed us with the kids of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel.
(Gen 4.1-15). Eve’s gratitude to God stands out. Yet tragedy hits the first family.
The two brothers offer God the fruit of their labour. We don’t know the degree of love they put into their labour, nor do we know why God smiled more at Abel’s gift of “one of the best firstlings of his flock” compared to Cain’s “fruit of the soil.”
You can be his master
God sees how downcast and resentful Cain is and speaks a word of encouragement and warning to him.
“Why are you so resentful and crestfallen? If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master.” (Gen 4.7-8)
Had Cain asked God to help him with his resentment, showing humility and love for God and his brother, we might not be as frightened by the truth of God’s wisdom.
Instead, we see the lurking demon topple Cain, who plunges into murder, killing his brother.
We have 2000 years to look back on the Church’s history. What do we see? Sin’s destructive power dominates the human journey of multiplying and building, weeping and praying. Today’s digital information deluge can taper our line of sight toward a view of “chaos out there.”
Each of us knows how our sins have darkened the landscape of the trail we trod. Dealing with that must be our priority.
St. Ambrose: Our own evil inclinations are far more dangerous than any external enemies.
A life humbly turned to the Master, shapes a vision of the Lord’s victory over chaos and evil. Through his action in us, we do see the mess, but we see Christ’s authority over it.
God gives us the same warning, “…sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master,” so that we seriously look at our own hearts. Knowing how weak and needy we are in the face of temptation, we can turn to him so he can silence those demons. Jesus wants us to see the demon lurking and be its master through complete confidence in Him.
St Gregory Nazianzen:
If the tempter tries to overthrow us…demanding that we fall and worship him, we should despise him; we know him to be a penniless impostor. Strong in our Baptism, each of us can say: “I, too, am made in the image of God, but unlike you, I have not yet become an outcast from heaven through my pride. I have put on Christ; by my Baptism, I have become one with him. It is you that should fall prostrate before me.”
That belonging to Christ is the Rock on which we should build. And the Church helps us maintain the foundation built by our Baptism. Lent is a beautiful time to fortify and fix any cracks.
What are the tools?
Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving.
The most important is prayer. It’s the gentle breeze that swings open the door of our heart, or the key that unlocks it, or the pry bar that forces it open. Through prayer, Jesus comes to take possession of us, and there’s nothing more beautiful than a soul radiating Christ.
The second tool is sacrifice. A place to start is fasting. Then continue with almsgiving.
St. John Paul II:
Prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history.”
The Church gives us the beautiful Season of Lent to use those tools as we move from winter to spring.
The Entrance Antiphon for Ash Wednesday Mass banishes our anxiety over failures and sins, reminding us that God is merciful to all, despises nothing he has made, and overlooks people’s sins to bring them to repentance.
Next, the priest, using the Collect, asks God to help us “begin with holy fasting…so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.” We have those weapons at the ready and have been using them outside of Lent.
In the Eucharist Liturgy, we hear this preface:
“ For you have given your children a sacred time for the renewing and purifying of their hearts, that, freed from disordered affections, they may so deal with the things of this passing world as to hold rather to the things that eternally endure.”
No one enters Lent without sorrow for sin, grief over the loss of someone or something treasured, or hope for a bright horizon. Lent is a sacred time to abandon ourselves to Jesus, who died for us and continues to draw us to Himself, the source of our lasting happiness.