There are two aspects to the Lenten season. I don’t like to use these words because both are good, but there is a positive aspect and a negative aspect. In the negative aspect, we take something away. We sacrifice something willingly, or we give something up, a temptation, a sin. Someone once said the fine art of sculpture is the art of taking away what is not necessary, and something wonderful appears. Lent is like this.
This is what we see in the Gospel today. Jesus takes something away. He casts out a demon. And it is no gratuitous favor, but a clue to the essential character of His mission. He challenges the naysayers around Him, “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons then the Kingdom of God is upon you.” The Kingdom of God. We hear much of this when the Lord speaks of the last things, when Matthew gives the parables of the reign. But here, the Kingdom of God is not a place, but an activity. The authority of God releasing the world from the bonds of Satan and sin. Remember Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and the creation of Adam, where God reaches out with His finger to impart life to the creation He has made. Now the finger of God reaches out to free us from sin. This is the mission of the Lord, this is the work of Lent, the Kingdom of God is with us even now.
The house is swept and tidied, but then it must be filled with something, and this is the positive aspect, we do something, we add something. The obvious answer is that, freed from sin, we should be filled with virtue. But there is something more. Right away, St. Paul says, “Be imitators of God,” and he refers to the cross of Christ. “Love as Christ has loved you, giving Himself for us.” By His cross, the great exchange, He has stood in our place, so that we may stand in His. Created in the image and likeness of God, we have been re-created by our faith and baptism in the image and likeness of Christ.
If you will pardon this homely example, many years ago, I used to have dinner with a couple whose wedding I presided. Some friends had given them the gift of a basket of canned goods. But as a practical joke, they carefully removed the labels and exchanged them on the cans. It made for some very interesting meals, but after awhile it wasn’t very funny at all. How simple and important it is, and I must say, refreshing, when the inside and the outside match. Blessed Pope John Paul II put it better when he repeatedly appealed to the faithful, “Be who you are.” To families, to spouses, to religious, to priests, to the single, to all who believe in Christ, he said this, “Be who you are.” Who are we but beloved sons and daughters of God in Christ, each with our own vocation. He is our model of virtue. As imitators of Him, we become more who we are, during this season of Lent.
Saint Paul uses the analogy of light to describe this way. We were once in darkness, but now in light, we are to walk as children of the light. Light has to do with seeing, and Christ has shown us the way. The Gospel presents us with deafness in a metaphor for the Kingdom of God. The evil spirit was mute, it could not hear or speak. At the end of the Gospel, the Lord proclaims a beatitude, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” In our baptism, the priest touched our ears and said, Ephphatha, that is, “Be opened.” “May the Lord touch your ears to receive His Word and your mouth to proclaim His faith, to the glory of God the Father.”
He has created us, He has recreated. He has freed us, He fills us now, with sanctifying grace, where the Christ whose image we bear, is the Christ within.