"Do not let the sun go down upon your anger" says Saint Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians (Eph 4:26). But how often do we go about our day as though nothing were amiss after having been gossiping about someone we know. Or having been dealt a criticism from our supervisor, we grumble and complain to coworkers at break. Or even worse, having set out to ruin a person's reputation, we immediately forget this, and when Sunday has come and we go to liturgy, having put such terrible things out of mind and receive the Holy Mysteries. What are we doing?! We are drinking our own condemnation when we do this says Saint Paul (1 Cor 11:27).
The Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night, let us never forget that. Thank God that the Church in her wisdom has set aside for us times of fasting and penitence. It is a fake Christianity that asks for nothing from the person. Jesus himself whenever he healed someone told them, "Go and sin no more." If we are to love as Christ loves, we can only do so by changing ourselves. "Be transformed by the renewal of your mind" says the Apostle (Rom 12:2)! Like Lazarus, Jesus calls us out from the tomb of sin, and into a new and changed life with Him. If we are to follow Him, he expects us to change.
The world would like you to think of Lent as 'giving up' stuff, but really Lent calls us to take up more--to change. We take up once again our baptismal vows, we take up our faith in Christ, and we take up our duty to love one another as He loves us. We take up the Cross, however small it may be, for there is no surer way to love God, than to be crucified with Him says Saint Paul (Gal 2:20). To give up food (or anything else for that matter), while continuing to harbor evil against our brother is pure hypocrisy says Saint John Chrysostom.
Two parables convey to us the simplicity and necessity of forgiveness as part of this change. In the story of the publican and the pharisee, the pharisee, a well respected religious figure, is boastful, publicly attesting to his sanctity, and declaring his false humility within the temple and thanking God he is not like the sinful publican. How much more uncharitable can one get? On the other hand, the publican is a tax collector, reviled by society for the dubious nature of his work. He, unlike the pharisee, recognizes his sinfulness, and coming before God, bows low, acknowledging his sins with boast. Unlike the pharisee, he says simply, "Have mercy on me Lord" and is reconciled to God.
In the story of the prodigal son, the father's lost son returns after spending years squandering his inheritance on ridiculous things. Despite this, the father rejoices at his sons return, and his boldness in facing up to the awkwardness of seeing his father again. The other son however grows jealous of the celebration being thrown in honor of the prodigal son. What should be a time of joy is marred by the resentment shown by the son who stayed with the father. The parable ends with the father reassuring the envious son, that he should rejoice in the return of his brother, and that all that the father has, will be his (the eldest son's) when he passes. Jesus teaches us the necessity of forgiveness, in the prodigal son, the joy of forgiveness in the Father, and what we must appear like to others when we are hard of heart like the eldest son.
Christ asks us to love Him, and to love one another with our whole hearts. How can we pretend to fast, when we are like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son? How can we pray, when we are the pharisee, boasting of our holiness, while judging the lives of others? How can we be charitable, when we lack charity? This is why we must seek forgiveness and grant forgiveness always, and most especially now if we are ever to claim we are followers of The Way. Great Lent is of no use to us if anger, hatred, and judgement smolder in our hearts. It is a fact that we cannot get to Heaven without one another. If you love no one and yet attend the church's services, calling out to God here and there, but leaving your relationships unreconciled, who will be your defense? Saint John Chrysostom says, it is all of us, who loved one another, whom Christ will turn to on the day of judgement and ask if our word and deeds are true. As Saint Ephrem the Syrian says "If your brother is angry with you, then the Lord is also angry with you."
This Lent, make an effort to not only go to Confession, but also, to personally reconcile with those whom you have offended and say "Brother, forgive me the sinner." And if you are asked to forgive an offense, be like the Father, and pardon the offenses of your brother. In forgiveness, and forgiving, you will find the crown of virtues, Humility. Saint John of the Ladder writes "Just as darkness retreats before light, so all anger and bitterness disappears before humility."
Attend the Divine Services!
Keep a Prayer Rule!
Work on charity in thought, word and deed!
Have a Blessed Lent!