In my homily for yesterday’s Ash Wednesday Masses at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Nashville, Indiana, I reflected on one of the two options of words to be said during the imposition of ashes: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1.15). It seems to me that many of our Lenten practices are focused more on the first part of that statement – helping us to repent, to turn from our sinful ways, to sacrifice something that gives us pleasure, to “give up” something that we enjoy. But what about the second part? How do our Lenten practice help us to believe in the Gospel?
So here’s a suggestion for this Lent: read the Gospel according to Mark. Before we can truly believe in the Gospel, we need to know the Gospel. When was the last time you read one of the four Gospels in the New Testament from beginning to end? We often hear the Gospel accounts in bits and pieces – but it makes a lot more sense when we are able to put individual Gospel accounts in their larger context. We begin to discover the overall message of Jesus Christ – what was most important to him – how the various parts of his life, ministry, death, and resurrection fit together. And then, we can also be more confident in sharing that Gospel with others. But we can’t share what we don’t believe – and we can’t believe what we don’t know – so read the Gospel according to Mark this Lent.
Why Mark? For one, it’s the shortest of the four canonical Gospels. I sat down yesterday and read the entire Gospel according to Mark from beginning to end – and it took about 45 minutes. It’s possible to read Mark in one sitting – although you could also read a chapter a day, or a few verses a day, to spread it through the entire Lenten Season. But Mark is also the Gospel we hear from on most Sundays this year – and it is the Passion Narrative from Mark that we will hear this year on Palm Sunday. So reading the entire Gospel according to Mark will help us to better understand and appreciate the Gospel passages we hear at Sunday Mass this year.
And when you’ve finished reading the Gospel according to Mark, if Lent isn’t over yet, read it again. And if you’ve finished reading it a second time, read it again. Keep reading it until we get to Easter – or even beyond. The more we read, the more we know, the more we can come to believe, the more we can share the Good News.
So if you’re still looking for something to do during Lent – or if you’re Lenten practices are more about repentance than about believing in the Gospel – consider reading the Gospel according to Mark. You’ll be glad you did.