"Brethren and friends, let us never allow ourselves to misuse what has been given us by God's gift. If we do, we shall hear Saint Peter say: Be ashamed of yourselves for holding on to what belongs to someone else. Resolve to imitate God's justice, and no one will be poor. Let us not labor to heap up and hoard riches while others remain in need." (From a sermon by St. Gregory Nazianzen)
At the beginning of Lent, I usually try to find something "different" to do as a Lenten practice. (Notice that I do not call it a penance.) This year Lenten dawned just as I was finishing up my meditation on the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis. So I thought it might be interesting to follow that up with a greater attention the readings from the Fathers of the Church which are featured in the Office of Readings. This morning's offering really took me by surprise.
The debate that rages on in our society over the distribution of wealth is, if we listen to St. Gregory, nothing new. However, St. Gregory's rationale certainly is different than what we ordinarily hear. St. Gregory offers the notion that the reason we need to share with the poor is that our riches are not ours in the first place. Of course he is right. Everything we have including our talents, skills and treasure is a gift from God. God has generously blessed us not only with spiritual gifts, but with material gifts as well. God's generosity is without equal. To our shame we have failed to imitate that generosity.
Monday of the first week of Lent always features that famous Gospel passage of St. Matthew in which we see the Lord Jesus return to judge the nations. He separates the sheep from the goats on the basis of how they have responded to the needs of the hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, ill, etc. In the first centuries of the Church, the public sinners were expelled from the church at this point and were required to do public penance for the next forty days.
Coupled with the reading from St. Gregory, these sentiments inform us about what God expects of us during the Lenten Season. We are to imitate God's generosity, to return to the image in which we were first created, to the image of God. In so doing we are reminded that God's blessings are not to be regarded as our personal property, but as signs of God's gracious generosity.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator