Homily: 40-Day Time Out

February 15, 2018

Yesterday I delivered a homily at our Ash Wednesday all-school Mass. Here are the key points from that homily:

I once read an article that referred to the Lenten season as a 40-day “time out” – referring to the disciplinary strategy used by many parents. I never liked that image when it came to Lent, as I do not like to connect Lent with punishment.

However, while cleaning the basement recently, I came across some old Psychology textbooks from college. In a Child Psychology textbook, I happened to flip open to a unit on behavior modification, which included a description of the time out strategy. It was not presented as punishment at all, but focused purely on changing behavior.

This is what a well-done time out would look like: A child behaves inappropriately. The parent stops the behavior and takes the child to the designated time out chair. Mom or dad then firmly yet lovingly explain what needs to happen next. (I picture my mom taking my face in her hands and locking eyes with me to ensure she has my attention.) The child is told to:

  • Think about what he or she has done
  • Consider the impact of the behavior on others
  • Determine if any amends need to be made
  • Think about how the child could have responded more appropriately

After a pre-determined amount of time, the parent discusses these points with the child, and sends him or her off with a hug, encouraging the child to apologize to whoever was harmed and to avoid the inappropriate behavior in the future.

Well – given this definition of a time out, Lent being described as a “40-day time out” makes sense.

Jesus has our face in His hands and has locked eyes with us. He wants us to consider how we are living our lives. He wants us to think about how we are treating other people:

The words we use when face-to-face with others or behind their backs – are they uplifting and positive or demeaning and hurtful?

The things we post on social media – is the sole reason we are posting this to hurt someone? Is it productive or destructive?

Are we inclusive? Or do we keep people from entering our restricted “inner circle”? It may not harm you or others in that circle, but the person rejected walks away damaged in some way.

Our behaviors have a ripple effect. What kind of a ripple goes out from your actions?

We are offered Lent each year as a 40-day time out. Jesus asks us, “What can you do to be a better person, a better Christian – more loving, more giving, more nurturing, more accepting? Who have you hurt – what amends need to be made? What changes do you need to make in your life?”

Jesus is probably not wishing people would watch less TV and drink less soda (things we often give up for Lent); He is likely wishing we would treat each other better.



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