Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

A new springtime to rekindle an old friendship

Sunday, February 21, 2016

We see this technique of repetition again as we begin season of Lent. In the Gospel passage for Ash Wednesday, Jesus tells us to take up fasting, almsgiving and prayer. In doing so he repeats each time that these penitential acts should be done “in secret.” They are to be done behind closed doors, out of the notice of others and even the notice of ourselves, as the right hand should not know what the left hand is doing when we give alms. Only God is to see what we are doing.

All of this suggests that the aim of these penitential practices, and for that matter all of Lent, is to draw us into an intimacy with God. It is the kind of intimacy in which confidences are shared. It is the kind of intimacy in which we become vulnerable to the other.

The aim of Lent, in short then, is to rekindle our intimacy, our friendship with God. The penitential practices are not just exercises in spiritual athleticism or measures to prove our level of self-discipline. Their goal is to draw us more deeply into our friendship with God.

Describing our relationship with God as a friendship may seem strange to us, especially if we tend to look at God as someone who has given us laws to obey. In fact, we may find it easier to relate to God as a lawgiver, by which we can know the rules and measure our progress or failure with a certainty familiar to us. This allows us to maintain some control and relate to God on our own terms.

Relating to God as a friend, however, is more demanding, not unlike the demands of any friendship. We have to cultivate and invest in that relationship. We have to be open to being wounded and hurt and even take risks of being rejected.

But, there is also something else involved in friendships. They change us and transform us. Friends call the best out of us and share their lives and gifts with us. St. Irenaeus, a second-century Father of the Church, understood this when he wrote that our “friendship with God brings the gift of immortality to those who accept it.” This is the promise of rekindling our friendship with God in these holy days of Lent. We begin now to share in some way in the life that God promises will last forever. We do not have to wait until we pass from this life. God’s friendship and the eternal life it brings, with all its joy and peace, can be experienced now in some way.

There is the happy coincidence that the Anglo-Saxon word “Lent” means springtime. Lent is a new springtime for us to rekindle our friendship with God. It is a springtime to experience now the promise of that eternal springtime of everlasting life.

Let us take up our prayer, fasting and almsgiving in secret, so that your Father who sees you in secret may reward you now with his friendship and the eternal life it brings.