Today is Mardi Gras— “Fat Tuesday”—the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Apparently, the name comes from the ancient custom in France of eating rich, fatty foods before the fasting period of Lent kicks in!
Another name for today is “Shrove” Tuesday. “Shrove” is a derivative of the verb to “shrive” or “absolve”—the point here that one prepares for the penitential period of Lent by being aware of one’s sins and the opportunity to be absolved of them through the Lenten fasts and practices.
The Scripture readings for this day do not allude to either of these descriptions. Rather than gearing up for the rigors of Lent or reflecting on our need for repentance, the Lectionary texts alert us to our dignity and “holiness” as followers of Jesus.
The first reading is taken from the First Letter of Peter. The author reminds the recipients of the letter (a string of local Christian communities in present day northern Turkey) of the exquisite grace they have received as Christians. He portrays the prophets and their spiritual ancestors of the Old Testament as longing to see the grace that believers in Jesus now are privileged to experience.
The conclusion is that those so blessed should now “set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ…” “Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, Be holy because I am holy.”
This last phrase— “be holy because I am holy” is a quotation from Leviticus 11:44 and reflects the biblical conviction that we are made “in the image and likeness of God” and can even dare to strive to be God-like by living lives of integrity.
The Gospel selection for today from Mark moves in a similar direction. While on the road to Jerusalem, Peter states to Jesus: “We have given up everything and followed you.” The spirit of his question is, “so what do we get in return?” Jesus’ response is strong: “Amen I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more…” both in this life and in eternal life to come.
Put another way, those whose lives are driven by love, reaching out to those in need and not just consumed with our own concerns, will live lives full of meaning. I remember the words of Cardinal Francis George, the former Archbishop of Chicago, shortly before he died of cancer—words that also echo Jesus’ promise: “The only things you can take with you when you die are the things you have given away.”
We are all aware of our failures and weaknesses—we are, for sure, imperfect followers of Jesus (ask Peter!). But the season of Lent is not just a time to be aware of our sins; it is also a celebration of abundant life—from death to resurrection.
Fr. Donald Senior, C.P. is President Emeritus and Professor of New Testament at Catholic Theological Union. He lives at the Passionist residence in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.