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Bishop Paul Sirba: Think about how will we approach this Lent

How will we approach Jesus this Lent?

In describing their own relationship with Jesus, many of our Confirmation candidates refer to him as their friend. Perhaps the verse from Saint John’s Gospel comes to mind, “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15).

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
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Almost to a candidate, our young people desire to have a deep relationship with Jesus — they struggle with how to do so. We learn deep lessons about true friendship and false friendship in the Scriptures. Meditating on the lives of the true friends of Jesus and the false ones will help us grow in our own relationship with our Lord.

The disciples of Jesus approached him with confidence. They also did so with a sense of his transcendence. Like our best friends, they were with him when he was hungry (John 4:31), when he was thirsty and tired (John 4:7), when he was asleep (Matthew 8:24), crying (Luke 19:41), broken with sorrow and looking for comfort (Matthew 26:38), and at home with children (Matthew 19:13). Jesus is our friend, but in a way far beyond any human friend, because he is God. Jesus has experienced everything we experience, yet without sin. Jesus is always faithful to his friends.

Some months ago, Pope Francis offered a homily that touched on “open obstacles” and “hidden obstacles” to friendship with Jesus. The theme of the homily was about conversion, but the principles apply here as well. In our relationship with Jesus, we may be resisting his friendship because we are convinced we are doing his will and we are not. Saul, St. Paul before his conversion, was actually persecuting Jesus before he was converted to Jesus.

“Hidden obstacles” are the ways each of us have of resisting God’s grace. They are many and personal. The Holy Father describes three types: empty words, words that justify and accusatory words. “Empty words” are summarized by the passage, “not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” and the parable of the two sons sent by their father to work in the vineyard. One son says “yes” but then doesn’t go. How often do we say “yes” to Jesus but not follow through?

“Words that justify” are those words spoken to our friends or interiorly to ourselves that we used to justify our behaviors. We rationalize, minimize and justify ourselves so we have no cause to change. We are good enough.

“Accusatory words” take the focus off self and point the finger at someone else. The scribes and Pharisees were experts at this. When we point out the sins of others in our words, our conversations over breaks, or in our hearts, we resist the grace of conversion our friend Jesus offers us. We are called to hold our tongues and repent ourselves.

Lent is the season to refocus our hearts, to deepen our love for our Lord and his people. Jesus offers us the deepest and most meaningful friendship possible. Let us ask Jesus this Lent to re-make us into the best friends possible, through his cross and resurrection.

Bishop Paul D. Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.