As I was studying the Scripture readings for today, the first questions I asked myself were: “Who is Joel?” and “Why is there an entire book of the bible dedicated to him?” Scholars who have studied him note that very little is actually know about him. The writings we have are a collection of speeches that he gave to a group of elders during a time when Judah was being devastated by draught and a locust infestation. He was giving practical warnings for surviving the trials at hand, but was also speaking allegorically of the danger of the coming invasion of armies from the north.
Just as Jesus did in the Gospel, Joel was calling those who heard his plea to change their lives and prepare for coming tribulation. In the speech we heard excerpted today, he warned those around him to “rend their hearts,” “proclaim a fast,” and pray fervently to the Lord. This is not unlike the call from Jesus to a life of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Joel was certainly working to prepare those he knew for the tribulation at hand, but he was also working to prepare their lives for whatever may come. Jesus did the same for us in the Gospel. Let us consider, for a moment, what this might mean for us. If we only hold penances service during Lent or Advent, does it heighten our awareness of the need for Reconciliation, or cause us to see Confession as something we only need once or twice each year? If we only sing chant during these times, does it cause us to think of chant as something that is only associated with the penitential times of the year? And, if we only recall Christ’s agony and suffering through the Stations of the Cross on a handful of Friday’s, are we robbing ourselves of the opportunity to be regularly reminded of something we should never forget? By the same token, if we only follow the Lenten prescriptions during Lent are we missing an opportunity to fully experience life as Jesus instructs?
My brothers and sisters, I deeply believe that Lent should be a time for us to refocus on the need for penance and on the ways Christ taught us to prepare ourselves to enter into the kingdom of Heaven. But I am also suggesting that Lent not be a stopping point for this transformation. Let us not treat it as a quickly forgotten resolution after the new year, or a short-lived attempt at a diet. Let us change ourselves, down to the very core, to be all that God intends us to be. As St. Paul tells us, “now is a very acceptable time,” “now is the day of salvation.”