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Godzdogz

The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

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Tuesday of the First Week of Lent - Gift and Duty

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In today’s gospel, Jesus gives his disciples a new way of praying that distinguishes them from the “babbling pagans”. It is only by Christ’s gift that we are able to participate in the eternal son’s relationship with the Father, and thus are given the gift – and the obligation – of addressing God as “Our Father”.

From time to time Catholics are required to defendthe practice of observing the season of Lent against accusations of ‘paganism’. It’s certainly true that the spiritual practices that dominate the Lenten landscape – prayer, penance and almsgiving – have Pagan analogues. It is unsurprising that in centuries of reflection on the human condition, pre-Christian philosophers would have seized upon these ways of reaching out to the God who stands as the answer to every authentic human longing. YetChristian piety is of a radically different character: it is not so much a ‘reaching out’ as a ‘being reached’ by God.

When Jesus disperses his followers in Luke 10, he tells them not to carry a begging bag, but to rely on divine providence. The carrying of a begging bag was distinctive of the pagan followers of the cynic Diogenes ‘The Dog’ of Sinope, whose message of asceticism, honesty and a radically simple lifestyle was likely seen by some first century Palestinians as similar to the teachings of Christ. Whereas Diogenes saw his penitential lifestyle as a choice for a ‘good life’ made on one’s own terms, however, Christian devotion always begins with God: it flows from Christ, and returns to Him. Diogenes was proud of the rigours of his penances; Christians boast only inChrist.

Through our Lenten penances, then, God is reaching out to us. He is working in us, to offer us to Himself, that we may be reconciled with the Father. That this penitential season is a gift, however, does not make it any less of an obligation, nor mitigate its challenges. We are co-operators in Christ’s mission of reconciliation, and this demands an imitation of Christ’s self-emptying on the Cross. Accepting the gift of reconciliation is the great challenge of our lives, and this penitential season is a gift that helps us to see the bigger picture, and not (like Diogenes) get caught up in a human competition to outdo each other in asceticism.

Oliver James Keenan OP

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