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The Lord calls us to a fundamental conversion – Fr Benoit Malvaux, SJ
The General Curia community began the Lenten journey with Mass presided by Fr Benoit Malvaux, the Society's General Procurator. In his homily, Fr Malvaux invited the community to reflect on the three invitations of Jesus in the Gospel: Almsgiving, Prayer, and Fasting. Fr Malvaux noted that these invitations correspond to three important axes in our lives: "Almsgiving refers to our attitude towards others, prayer to our attitude to God and fasting to our attitude towards ourselves and material goods. Considered in this way, the Gospel invites us to ask ourselves about the way we live these important dimensions of our lives."
Below is Fr Benoit Malvaux' homily in full:
Ash Wednesday Homily
14 February 2018
The readings we have just heard are well known to you. We hear them every year during the Ash Wednesday Mass. The disadvantage of such a situation, especially if we have been participating in this Mass regularly for years or decades, is that these readings tell us nothing more. We already know that the Gospel offers us to pray, fast and give alms in secret. It is familiar music, a routine. And so we do not allow ourselves to be challenged any more.
I think it would be a real pity to reason this way. In fact, the Word of God has such a wealth that it is always possible to allow oneself to be challenged by it, to find a new teaching. It is in this perspective that I would like to say a word on today's readings. I will not pretend to say anything new here, but at least suggest some trajectories that may perhaps provoke new answers in us.
Obviously, today's three readings invite us to a conversion: to return to the Lord with all our heart, as the first reading says; or to let ourselves be reconciled with God, as the second proposes to us. Indeed, the time of Lent, which is a time of preparation to celebrate the mystery of the Resurrection and therefore of the presence of the Risen Jesus in our lives, can be an excellent opportunity to take stock of our life, to ask ourselves: how could I live more in conformity with the message of Jesus?
In the Gospel, Jesus proposes three interesting paths. I think it is important that we do not consider them too narrowly. In fact, we could understand this Gospel literally. Is Jesus talking to us about almsgiving? This is the money we can give to people who ask for alms, and we know that there are many of them in Rome. Telling us about prayer? It is about Our Father, the Hail Mary and other formulas that we use when we want to speak to God. Telling us about fasting? It is the fact of refraining from certain foods, such as meat, or even skipping a meal, if we have the strength. If we reflect on the possibility of conversion with this literal understanding of the Gospel, we can decide for example to give more coins during Lent to the beggar at the door of the church, to recite an extra decade of the rosary in the evening and not to eat chocolate on Fridays.
This kind of resolution is certainly not contrary to the Gospel, but the risk would then be to think that it is enough to make small formal changes to convert. Well, I think the Lord calls us here to a more fundamental conversion.
Considering today's Gospel in this perspective, I was struck by the fact that the three attitudes that Jesus proposes correspond to three great axes of our lives. Almsgiving refers to our attitude towards others, prayer to our attitude to God and fasting to our attitude towards ourselves and material goods. Considered in this way, the Gospel invites us to ask ourselves about the way we live these important dimensions of our lives.
For example, reflecting on almsgiving, we might ask ourselves: what place do my relatives, friends, colleagues and confreres occupy in my life? Do I really dedicate myself to their time, attention, listening? Or am I so worried about myself that I listen to them with a distracted ear, without worrying about what they are experiencing?
Reflecting on prayer, we might ask ourselves: what place do I give to God in my life? Do I really involve Him in what I live, asking for the help of his Spirit before making an important decision, thanking him for what happens beautifully in my life, offering him even the most difficult moments? Or do I consecrate to Him a few minutes a day with a formal prayer and I live all the rest of the time as if God wasn't there?
Reflecting on fasting, we might ask ourselves: what place do material goods occupy in my life? Are they means to help me live, love God and our brothers and sisters? Or have they taken on such an importance in my life that I have become a slave to them, do I suffer from addiction of excessive dependence on them, and this prevents me from fully living the love to which God calls me?
As I said at the beginning, these are some paths that I propose to you at the beginning of this Lent. Everyone is, of course, free to do what he thinks is good for him, to prepare for Easter, but if we have the opportunity to take at least a moment to reflect on one or the other of these fundamental questions, and to see how to grow in this regard, I think we will have make good use of the opportunity for conversion that the time of Lent offers us.
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