Did you ever wonder why Catholics do these things? Now you know.
- We make the Sign of the Cross because it is the sign of our salvation. While we make it, we pray as we should always pray “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” and to remind ourselves that we live in and with the Trinity.
- We use a crucifix (and not just a cross) to remind us visibly of the sacrifice of Jesus. He offered his flesh and blood for us – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
- We pray the rosary to meditate on the lives of Jesus and Mary and to ask them to help us to imitate them in the scenes in our lives.
- We use statues of saints in much the same way that our country uses monuments of our forefathers – to have visible reminders of the heroes of our faith in Christ.
- We receive ashes at the start of Lent to proclaim a fast (as the Israelites proclaimed a fast through sackcloth and ashes) and to remind us that we are dust (and to dust we shall return).
Prayer | Fasting | Almsgiving | Everyday Stewardship
Can you recite the Ten Commandments by heart? Several years ago, a national US survey found more people could identify the ingredients in a Big Mac and name the children in the Brady Bunch television show than recite the Ten Commandments. Of course, being able to recite them is not nearly as important as living a life in harmony with them. However, if we simply live to not break them then we are only living out half of our discipleship.
Every commandment calls us to action beyond the simplicity of its words. We are not to kill, but we are also called to support life. We are not to steal, but we are also to share what we have freely. We are to have no other Gods before our God, but we also need to actively praise and glorify Him.
To live a moral life is to do more than follow rules and laws. It is to actively live in a way that gives witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ. This way of living is stewardship. As we focus more on the penitential message of Lent, we need to not just reflect on what we have done wrong, but equally what we have failed to do. To be given so much by a loving God and not share those things with God and His people is wrong as well. Perhaps as we reflect on these things we might find ourselves adding something to our lives that will last for many Lenten seasons to come.
The hope of being transformed or transfigured into the image of God awaits all of God’s children. We walk through this life knowing that our eternal destiny is to be like God and live eternally in his presence. How does this truth about who we can become change the way we live today? Does it even matter to us that we are called to a higher purpose that is often quite different than the one we fabricate for ourselves here on earth? A transformed, eternal life is God’s desire for all of his daughters and sons. Knowing this helps us put suffering in perspective and walk peacefully with hope in our hearts.
When I was first in parish work, I remember the parish priest talking with the schoolchildren about the topic of Lent and prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. He asked them if any of them knew what fasting was. After a very long wait, one student raised his hand and said, “It is what I do when my Mom is mad at me. I run really fast!” The adults in the assembly burst into laughter.
Laughter is good. However, the Lenten devotions of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are very serious practices for us as we prepare to celebrate the Easter mysteries.
As our catechumens prepare for the Easter sacraments, we are called by the Church to model what it means to be a Catholic Christians. We are called, especially during this Lenten season, to pray, fast, and give from the wealth we have to those who need our assistance.
This season is not merely a season of obligation to act more intently as God calls us to act; it is a season of opportunity to practice the foundation of our faith more attentively: prayer, fasting, almsgiving.
Prayer | Fasting | Almsgiving
Prayer: Throughout Scripture, Jesus goes to pray in deserted place. Lent is our “deserted place.” We draw near to God through Mass, confession, and spiritual practices like the Stations of the Cross, but we are also invited to spend time in prayer alone with the Father like Jesus did.
Fasting: Fasting is not a diet! With a diet, we try to achieve a physical goal in this world. In fasting, we try to achieve a spiritual goal in the next. Fasting helps us to sacrifice our preferences and less-than-healthy impulses to build discipline to choose the good in all areas of life.
Almsgiving: Time and time again, the Bible tells us that to love God we must love others. Our “neighbor” is someone we might not expect. Giving alms is an opportunity to support and care for our neighbor in need.
Repent and believe in the gospel! This is the message that is found on Jesus’ lips after forty days in the desert. As the forty days of Lent come before us, we are asked to create a desert experience in our lives so that we can learn anew the ways of God. Our daily cares and concerns can distract us from truth and cause us to become absorbed with the world and secular priorities. Lent is an opportunity to free ourselves from illusion and focus us on what really matters. In doing so, we open up new possibilities for our relationship with God, others, our world, and ourselves.
When we suffer, we can easily find ourselves thinking that we have been abandoned by God or have done something to displease him and are now paying the price. Suffering is not God’s fault. The reality of suffering and death is much more complicated than this and even somewhat mysterious. When Jesus preached the Gospel, it was made clear that suffering has meaning and always brings with it new life. It requires faith in order to understand this mystery. The Gospel brings us new life both here and in the life to come. This is truly Good News! When this Good News is understood by the believer it stirs within us a passion to urgently preach this healing and life-giving message to others.
Sometimes it is difficult to hear God’s call. We are trained to listen attentively and to hear many things, but spiritual ones are often missed. God is calling us all of the time. He is calling us to drink deeply of the well of life and not get distracted by the superficial and short-lasting things we choose to cling to. Have we ever given a true spiritual life and relationship with God a chance? Jesus says to us today, “Come, and you will see.” May we take Jesus up on his invitation and like Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, be able to exclaim: “We have found the Messiah.”
Jesus proclaims today the Gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” Jesus challenges us to accept a change of heart, to start believing and thinking differently. The Gospel asks us to take the focus off ourselves and away from self-concern, and place it on our brothers and sisters, especially those most broken and in need, and on our environment. We are called to be stewards of all God has created. This means that we are also called to work on God’s behalf ensuring that all that God created and all who God created is cared for and protected.
Families face many challenges. All of the demands of work, school, and society can easily put a strain on even the best intentioned of families. Hurt, anger, and bitterness can grow in our families especially when conflicts are not properly resolved, or relationships nurtured. Human beings require time, patience, love, and nurturing. We need to take time to celebrate the gift of family and not allow other demands to rob us of the time we need to spend together. Life is short. The Holy Family stands before us today showing us that love, commitment, and perseverance can see us through any difficulty or challenge life can bring. May we learn from their example!
Fr. Greg Shaffer
3401 Martin Luther King Jr. AVE, SE
Washington, DC 20032
Fr. Greg Cell: 240-463-9960
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