Two of my cousins came to Cebu for a short vacation. It had been years since they returned. Work and family abroad have absorbed most of their waking hours. Theirs was such a sweet-respite to get a break. They were more than willing to stay longer so that we could do more catching up with our lives. Both came at a time of the year when Christmas carols have ceased playing over the airwaves. At least they heard the Sinulog drumbeats before they fell silent. They stayed on when things had gone back to normal and I was getting into the groove of my routine again.
I had ambivalent feelings when I was told of their arrival. The excitement of seeing them was great; yet that nudging why-only-now feeling was beating faster. I had to squeeze my schedule to meet them in order to spend quality time. I had to prioritize their presence and actually had to go the extra mile for them. In the end, the effort, the time, the sacrifice was worth it. The simplest reason was: I cared about them. They are my family! I realized when you do something out of love, it feels like it cost you nothing.
When Jesus, in the Sermon of the Mount, taught his disciples: “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles,” it must have caused consternation among his listeners. Rome imposed a legal obligation to the Jews, a colonized people, to carry a burden for a mile. Roman soldiers especially compelled Jewish men to carry their heavy backpacks. And they hated it that after a mile they refused a step further. Yet Jesus was getting them to understand that they are to do more than is required by law. They are to go beyond the minimum. A Christian’s love is to love without measure.
Ash Wednesday ushered us into the Season of Lent. And as Catholics flocked into Churches to wear their faith in their foreheads, they were once again invited to practice the spiritual disciplines of almsgiving, fasting and prayer. For some, the rules for fasting and abstinence may be cumbersome. The penitential requirements may be demanding. But the aim for all these is: to create a space of God in our lives. More than a ritual to be practiced or a task to be done, Lent is about prioritizing God. We are invited to go the extra mile because we truly care about Jesus. This attitude ought to be the true spirit behind our Lenten observance.
There are two dangers in our Lenten observance. One, we become indifferent. We take on the I-don’t-care attitude and let just Lent pass unnoticed. We don’t practice any spiritual discipline at all. We just don’t have time for these trivialities because of other priorities in school or work. We just don’t like to listen to God’s voice or to give up anything at all. Pope Francis, in his Lenten Message for 2015 pointed out a phenomenon he calls the “globalization of indifference.” He reminds us that “indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.”
The second danger is our selfishness. We become focused on what we give up that they become potentials for our bragging and boasting. We become high on ourselves. Pope Francis gives us this light: “whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.”
The goal of our spiritual discipline is selflessness and spiritual renewal. In the Gospel, Jesus cautioned his disciples not to “perform religious deeds for people to see.” The basic Lenten program is expressed in the Prophet Joel’s message of “return to the Lord.” It is a call directed from inside-out. It is a challenge of having a “new heart” that becomes more available for others. This makes Lent a time of grace in our preparation for Easter.
If taken seriously, we could develop healthy spiritual habits that could go beyond the 40-day limit. We become less self-absorbed and take on the attitude of Christ. Such attitude of generosity and extending ourselves beyond what’s expected can truly enrich others. It can make a positive difference. Perhaps the world becomes better starting with ourselves. I believe when we do more that what is necessary, it becomes a true act of compassion. Truly, the extra mile is the mile of great love. It is a mile of joyful sacrifice.Disclaimer: This section of the website is a personal creative writing of the author and does not necessarily reflect the official views, opinion, or policies of the Salesians of Don Bosco – Philippines South Province. For concerns on the content, style, and grammar of this piece, please contact us.