Lent begins in three weeks.
For the next three Sundays,
you and I will hear from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians,
from chapter 15, where he talks about resurrection.
This is a great transition to Lent.
Let’s recall what we believe as Catholics.
At the moment our life in this world comes to an end,
you and I will immediately face Christ as our judge.
We call this the “particular judgment.”
And in that moment, Christ will weigh our faith:
did we respond to his grace? Did we obey his commands?
Did we repent of our sins and turn to him for mercy?
And one of two things will happen.
If we die without God’s friendship, having rejected his grace;
refusing to change, or, perhaps giving mere lip service, then what?
Remember what he said: “Not everyone who cries, ‘Lord, Lord!’
will enter the Kingdom.”
And they will say, “but look what we did in your name!”
And Jesus will say, ‘Depart from me! I never knew you!’”
So if that’s where we are in that moment before Christ,
then we will go to hell, precisely because we refused the grace
and the conversion of our lives that would prepare us for heaven.
On the other hand, if we “die in God’s grace and friendship”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church 1030),
Then we enter into heaven.
But at that point, you and I may need some further brushing-up,
so that we are truly ready for heaven.
This is purgatory.
That said, if we made this life a time of conversion,
of breaking bad habits, of self-denial,
purgatory will have little or even nothing to offer us.
Here’s a prayer that you may want to pray each day:
“Lord, send me here my purgatory.”
The point Saint Paul wants to make is simple:
Do not make the mistake of thinking this life is all there is.
You and I are meant to live forever.
Moreover, our bodies are not just something
we throw away or leave behind.
We will have our bodies back in the resurrection.
And in the Gospel, Jesus warned us not to put too much confidence
in the usual measures of success:
Having lots of stuff, being comfortable,
and having the praise of others.
None of these things will matter in the long run.
Someday, when Christ chooses to draw this phase of history to an end,
this world will be remade: a new heavens and a new earth.
All people – redeemed or damned – will have their bodies back.
If we are among those who submitted to the Kingship of Jesus Christ,
then it is a resurrection to life. Otherwise, it is a terrible fate.
Scripture refers to the fate of the damned as a “second death.”
We don’t talk about hell very often. But Jesus talked about it a lot!
He wants us to take it seriously when he says,
“Repent, and believe in the Gospel. The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
So Lent is coming, and we have three weeks to gear up.
Since I mentioned purgatory, that’s a good way to understand Lent:
You and I are seeking our purgatory here and now.
Our sacrifices, penances and extra prayers are tools,
in service of what Lent truly is about:
Conversion. Change of heart. Change of life. Getting ready for heaven.
The origin of Lent is that it was a time of intense preparation
for those who were going to be baptized at Easter –
and that is why they fasted, and prayed intensely,
and examined their lives so closely.
And for those of us who have been baptized,
Lent is our time to re-embrace our baptism.
So notice: at Easter you will be asked to renew those vows.
It's not a mere ritual; it’s a very solemn moment we take weeks to prepare for.
Those of you who are married -- do you remember the day you made your vows?
Was that a powerful moment? Of course it was!
And I remember the day I was ordained,
and especially the hour before as I prayed very intensely.
Well, our baptism is far more solemn and important than those events.
And that preparation for renewing our baptism
parallels what our life on earth is about:
Preparing very seriously and intentionally for heaven.
So, Lent is near. It’s time to get ready.
I want to issue everyone in the parish a challenge:
Let’s make this the best Lent you’ve ever had.
I’m asking that we all unite in that desire –
and help each other make it happen.
So I want to ask you – every single person here –
to do two special things.
First: now is the time to think about what your plan for Lent will be.
And, second, I ask everyone to begin praying that this Lent
will indeed be a powerful time of conversion for our parish.
Pray for yourself, your family, and for each other.
Let’s pray for our parish to experience conversion.