*Editor’s Note: the following columns originally appeared in the Feb. 16, 2007 issue of the Florida Catholic*
As much as we may want to avoid it, that time of the year has arrived when we seriously have to think about income taxes. We have already received many forms in the mail both from the government and other income sources reminding us that we must take an inventory so we can pay the proper tax. It is a taxing time in many ways!
As we prepare to pay our taxes, it is a fitting time to reflect on the well-known scene in the Gospel where Jesus was questioned about the appropriateness of paying taxes. The Pharisees, in an attempt to trap Jesus, asked Him if it was lawful to pay taxes or not. If Jesus had said yes, He would have been considered guilty of siding with the secular authorities. If He had said no, He would have been considered guilty of civil disobedience. So Jesus had the Pharisees answer their own question. Asking them for a coin, He inquired as to whose inscription was on it. When they answered, “Caesar’s,” the Lord said, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matt 22:21). The Lord’s words are a reminder to us that tax payment time is coming and we must give to the government what is due. However, His words also remind us that the time of Lent is upon us, Ash Wednesday being next week, and it is far more important that we give to God what is His. As we take careful inventory to pay our income taxes honestly, so we need to take a more important inventory of our lives so we can live as God wants. Lent is even a more taxing time.
It takes time to prepare our income tax. We need to take a careful inventory of our financial situation. It also takes time to prepare for Lent. Likewise, we need to take a careful inventory of our spiritual lives and decide what would benefit us most during the forty days during which we prepare for Easter.
One area of our lives that we need to consider carefully has to do with our sinfulness and shortcomings. We are all sinners and in need of some change. The great saints of the Church recognized this basic human condition and worked on it throughout their lives. Jesus began His public ministry by announcing the need that all have to turn away from sin. “Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God, ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel’” (Mk 1:14-15). Jesus’ words are the same ones that are used on Ash Wednesday as ashes are placed on our foreheads, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” Continually, Jesus made it clear that “He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17). Since He came to call all of us, He called us all sinners!
In taking inventory of our lives for Lent, we need to examine ourselves to determine where sin exists most radically. It is there that we have to put in our hardest work. The Lord will always give us the grace we need and He will never give up on us. However, we must be honest in facing ourselves and our own sinfulness. This is the first step in overcoming sin.
Another area where we need to take careful inventory is our relationships with others. We need to discern who the people are in our lives that are in need of the love and compassion which the Lord asks us to give. Many times, it is those who are closest to us who are in need of the most attention from us. We tend to take them for granted, sometimes even hurting them by our inadvertence to them. Perhaps there is someone for whom we need to show more respect, someone to whom we need to express more love, someone we need to forgive or someone who needs our assistance. Taking an inventory of all of our relationships and then doing something positive about one or some of them during Lent is truly living the heart of the Gospel.
The most important area of our lives that needs to be examined closely is our relationship with God. Obviously, every aspect of our lives and all of our relationships center around our personal relationship with God. A true relationship with God is nurtured by prayer which takes many forms and includes many practices. Prayer is at the core of our lives and we cannot exist in relationship to God without it. Ultimately, prayer is being in union with God at all times. That union truly brings joy.
Lent is a fitting time to deepen our union with God through prayer. Taking an inventory of how and when we pray is a good way to prepare for Lent as it can give us some insight into what we can do during this season to improve our prayer. The celebration of Mass, the use of the Sacrament of Penance, prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, the reading of the Scriptures, praying the Rosary, silent time by ourselves, prayer with our families, and so many other methods of prayer can be carefully examined to help us decide what we need to do to nurture our relationship with God.
Some of us may receive a refund on our taxes. Our careful inventory of our financial situation and accurate reporting of it can bring us something in return. Giving to God what is His always does the same. We not only get back what is ours, we also get back more. However, an inadvertence to our spiritual life can cause us to lose what we have. This is precisely what Jesus referred to when he said, “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matt 25: 29). What sounds like the way of the financial world is the way of the spiritual life. That is why, while we must give to Caesar, it is a joy to give to God! As taxing as it may be, the time is now before us.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
Original Column – Lent February 16, 2007
Re-printed- February 20, 2015