4th Sunday of Lent
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.
Last year, I gave you several examples in this column of answers to the question of “Why do Catholics do that?” It was wildly popular, so I’ve decided to give you more! Actually, I don’t think any of you ever commented about it haha. Anyway, I’ve been doing the same Q & A with the fabulous group from RCIA at the start of each of our weekly meetings. We’ve gone over why we make the Sign of the Cross, use a crucifix, pray the rosary, use statues of saints, and receive ashes at the start of Lent. Feel free to ask me about these anytime!
Why do Catholics call priests “Father”?
We heard in the Gospel (Mt 23) at last Tuesday’s Mass Jesus say to the crowds, “Call no one on earth your father”. Protestants like to bring this up to Catholics when asking why we call priests “Father”. They take this saying of the Lord literally and isolate it which is their common practice with certain Scripture verses. That can be dangerous because lines like this taken literally and by themselves contradict Scripture itself. The Bible calls men on earth “father” all over the place. For example, the fourth commandment is “honor your father and mother”.
We have to take Mt 23:9 in the context of the entire passage. The Church asks us to do this with each Scripture passage and with the whole of Scripture. In other words, we are to have a “global view” when reading the Bible. This global view helps us to see what Jesus is saying in Matthew 23. He is railing against the scribes and the Pharisees for loving the salutations of “Rabbi”, “Father”, and “master”. They are into the prestige of being a religious leader, and have gotten carried away with spiritual pride. So, he is basically saying that we should call no one on earth “Father” who only loves the title of father.
Jesus shifts quickly to the real fathers on earth: those who reflect the “one Father in heaven”. And, the greatest example of this is Jesus Christ himself. His whole mission is to reflect the Father in heaven. He is referred to as the Word (Logos in Greek). He is the Word of the Father. He speaks of the Father and communicates the Father to us. He is the knowledge of the Father. His whole mission is to reflect the Father so that we come to know the Father through him. So, any father on earth that lives Christ is reflecting God the Father.
Every Catholic priest is known as alter Christus (another Christ). Everything I just wrote about Christ becomes true about Catholic priests, especially in the sacraments (when priests act in persona Christi – in the person of Christ). So, we call priests “Father” because they reflect the love and mercy and goodness of God the Father in Christ. We know that the early Church referred to the Apostles (the first priests) and their successors as “fathers” by the following passages:
“Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel”.
- 1 Cor 15:4–“Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel”.
- Acts 7:2–“And he replied, ‘My brothers and fathers, listen…”
- Acts 22:1–“My brothers and fathers, listen to what I am about to say to you in my defense”
There’s no doubt that we should not use the term father lightly. The term carries great significance to us when it applies to our biological and spiritual fathers. But, the ultimate point that the Lord is making and that the Church has honored for 2,000 years is that we call fathers all those who show us God the Father.
May you know the freedom of Christ this Lent,
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.
Happy Lent!? It’s hard to believe that Lent is upon us already, but it’s good to get going with it, in my opinion. As you read the words of Msgr Thomas Wells below, you might think that he wouldn’t say the same. But, he did see this as a holy season even if he didn’t particularly enjoy it. I don’t know how many of us will enjoy this Lent, but I hope that we will experience it as a gift. My prayer is that it will be a season of grace and freedom for all of us.
May you know the freedom of Christ this Lent,
I know some people who look forward to the coming of Lent with a sense of anticipation – even of joy. They look forward to the Church’s invitation to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to give them a spiritual shot in the arm. Not me! I see that Lent begins in ten days, on Ash Wednesday, and I groan within. Not for me the call to penance and self-denial. However, whether received with joy or dread, this great season of grace is upon us. In the days before Vatican II, there were three weeks of preparations for Lent, where Catholics were encouraged to decide how they were going to observe the season. The Church, wisely, wanted to encourage people to take advantage of these six weeks in the desert with the Lord.
…Following Jesus is hard! Picking up a cross and carrying it toward a share in crucifixion goes against the grain. Even the Lord Himself dropped his Cross three times. The crosses we choose for ourselves during Lent should remind us of how weak is our commitment; they should attempt to attack with some vigor areas of weakness in our lives. The person who sees a possible addiction to work that affects family relationships should attack that addiction; the person who is tight with money, using any excuse to avoid giving it away, should dramatically commit to fighting that self-sufficiency that we think money can guarantee. The person who has heard friends and family make the comment, “You’ve always got to be right,” should begin the painful process of examining pride and a competitive spirit and recognize that it is tough to need God if I am always right.
Finally, we must resolve to take seriously the call to prayer. For many of us, the things of God are not first in our lives. I knew God was important to my parents because they taught me to pray and because they often talked about the things of God. If only an Our Father and a Hail Mary at the time of grace, we must begin to pray as families. Individually, many of us can participate in the only perfect prayer, the Mass. We can take the first ten minutes of our daily commute to say the Rosary. We can open the Bible and meet Jesus in the Gospels. And, most especially, in this season of repentance, we must plan to take advantage of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and go to confession.
“How can I hear God?” One woman asked this with some exasperation at Bible study when we discussed today’s first reading (Sam 3) of Samuel hearing the voice of God. It is a question to which we all want the answer. Every day. St. Teresa of Avila taught that “Jesus is always speaking to us; the question is, are we listening?” If we are men and women who pray daily, read and meditate on Scripture regularly, and come into the Real Presence of the Lord in Adoration, then we are listening. Of course, these are not the only ways to hear God, but they are the best.
To that point, we will increase our hours of Eucharistic Adoration on Wednesdays starting in Lent. I will explain the significance of this for us as a parish in the days ahead. For each of us, it will provide a tremendous opportunity to hear God. The first time in my life that I heard the voice of God was when I started praying in Adoration. I promise you that God will reward whatever time you give to adore Jesus, and it very well might be an experience of hearing Him.
I thought that the words of another priest would help would be more beneficial when it comes to hearing God. So, here is a good reflection by Fr. Killian J. Healy at www.catholicexchange.com. See you at Wednesday Adoration!
May you know the peace of Christ,
God does not have to use external words and signs to attract our attention and convey ideas to us. He enters our minds directly. He speaks secretly, noiselessly, as befits the Divinity. It is only by faith that we know He is working in us. For example, God once spoke in a special, hidden way to St. Peter, who then confessed Jesus to be the Son of God. “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona,” said our Lord. “For flesh and blood hath not revealed this to thee, but my Father in Heaven.”
St. John tells us that we will know all things from the Holy Spirit: “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.” St. Paul says that God enters our very thoughts: “Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.”
God also enters our hearts and inspires us to holy desires. “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God, was listening; and the Lord touched her heart to give heed to what was being said by Paul.”
Thus, the Scriptures and the Church tell us that God speaks to us in the silence of our minds and hearts. He speaks to all men, but all men do not hear Him. God speaks to our mind and heart when we kneel to meditate or to adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament. He enters our mind when the passing things of time excite our thoughts. It is He who gives us holy thoughts to conquer our temptations. It is He who stirs up within us the desire to persevere against all adversaries.
Perhaps we have never realized that God is illuminating our intellect and inspiring our will. Yet He does just that. That is why we are told not to do all the talking in prayer. For, if we continually recite vocal prayers without pausing now and then to think, we will stifle the thoughts and desires that God wishes to excite in us.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux tells us how she listened to the voice of God. “I know and have experienced that ‘the Kingdom of God is within us,’ that our Master has no need of books or teacher to instruct a soul. The Teacher of teachers instructs without sound of words, and though I have never heard Him speak, yet I know He is within me, always guiding and inspiring me; and just when I need them, lights, hitherto unseen, break in upon me. As a rule, it is not during prayer that this happens, but in the midst of my daily duties.”
But we are not only to listen; it would be folly to remain in a state of mental blankness, waiting for God to speak. No, prayer is a loving conversation, and, when the Holy Spirit moves us, it is time to begin our part of the colloquy.
One way, then, to practice the exercise of the presence of God is to listen to God, to be aware that He speaks to us, to be ever conscious that God can use all things to communicate with us.
by guest priest Fr Gregory Pine, O.P.
Fr. Greg Shaffer
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