Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Lent Begins

Tomorrow I will read from the Prophet Joel. His voice echoes through the millenia with the same message he proclaimed to the people of Israel:
Even now says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment....
The selection from Joel ends with these words of hope:
Then the Lord was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on hia people.
Lent is that recurring season that culminates in Easter. Before we get to Easter however, there is work to do, and suffering to endure. C. S. Lewis wrote that "nothing that has not been crucified will rise." A number of candidates seeking the office of our United States presidency have latched onto catch phrases such as "rise" and take up "greatness." Rising, just like the process of tiny plants during their growth crack open the seed and leave it behind as they push through the earth toward the sun, requires leaving the familiar and cozy behind to risk getting above ground and thriving in the light of the sun. So we need to crack open the shell of our old sinful patterns of allow the Light of Christ's grace to penetrate us to our very depths.
Even in our mundane world changes, many of them painful events transpire before positive changes are made to improve a family, a community, a nation. Physical trainers repeat the axiom, "No pain, no gain." It is so true that Christ saved us without us, but he wants us to correspond to that amazing grace with our own daily practice of virtue. Just as muscles rebel when made to exercise, so our human side can rebel at the very idea of change. Durig Lent we want to emphasize imitating Christ, even in some little thing every day. Certain folks give up chocolate, or ice cream, or going to movies. Why not fast from an hour of TV to do some good spiritual reading for an hour a day? If you are not a reader, you can listen to good audio books, or watch Catholic TV or EWTN if either or both of these are available to you. In Canada Salt & Light TV offers wholesome Catholic viewing. Pope Francis is asking us to remember those who are financially poor in this Year of Mercy. On the Internet I have seen how some families keep a supply of plastic "survival kit" bags in their cars. The kits contain bottled water, granola bars and other snacks. Others keep modest supplies of dental hygiene needs, bars of soap, shaving needs and other toiletries. I know of some people who purchase gift cards for Dunkin Donuts, or McDonalds and hand them to street people. I heard of a family that often has to drive through a depressed neighborhood. Before the couple and their teen children set out, they prepare bags of sandwiches to hand to any homeless people whom they see.
"Lent is like a long 'retreat' during which we can turn back into ourselves and listen to the voice of God, in order to defeat the temptations of the Evil One. It is a period of spiritual 'combat' which we must experience alongside Jesus, not with pride and presumption, but using the arms of faith: prayer, listening to the word of God and penance. In this way we will be able to celebrate Easter in truth, ready to renew the promises of our Baptism." -- Pope Benedict XVI
While most of us cannot physically retreat from our daily routine, we can always reflect more, examine our consciences on a daily basis, pray more intentionally, practice humility and patience. None of these practices are flashy or attention-getting. It is love for God lived out in the nitty-gritty of our lives; stuck in traffic, yet not cursing or complaining, but taking that time to pray or turn on the local Catholic radio, or listen to an audio book on the spiritual life...there are so many ways to return "love for love" in this Holy Season. These 40 days are a way for us to say a daily thank you to Jesus for coming among us, especially for suffering and dying and rising for us. I wish each of you readers a holy and grace-filled Lent. May it be the best ever!

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