Archive | March, 2017

The meaning of the season of Lent

March 10, 2017

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GoodFriday

There are four general Prefaces in the Roman Missal for the Season of Lent, and these texts are not only spoken liturgical prayers, they also serve as texts for personal prayer and meditation, and they express the spiritual purpose and importance of the season.

Preface I of Lent explains the meaning of the season.  It begins by noting that Lent is God’s gracious gift to us each year.  Lent is not monthly, quarterly, biannually, or every five years, but once a year.  God gives us the season of Lent for our own spiritual good.  Sin is insidious.  New sins pop up.  We fall deeper into the rut of old habitual sins.  Laxity creeps in.  God knows that we need to set aside time each year to reexamine our lives, face our shortcomings, renounce our evildoing, admit instances when we should have done good and failed to do so, repent, be cleansed, and start anew.

Lent is the time that God’s faithful await the sacred paschal feasts.  It is a forty day journey of preparation for the three holiest days of the Church year, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, all three woven together into the Sacred Paschal Triduum.

The goal is for each believer to be able to celebrate the Triduum with joy, a genuine sense of inner peace and contentment that comes from being in right relationship with God and neighbor, loving others, speaking the truth, performing good deeds, and observing the commandments.  Joy is the result of minds made pure.  Our minds are impure when we think about bad things like how to get back at someone, how to get away with something without being caught, or how to treat ourselves to something that is harmful, and then to desire the bad thing for ourselves and devise a plan for how to get it.  Lent is a time to cleanse our minds of all mental impurities and to desire what is good and wholesome, and for our desires to conform with the gospel and God’s will.  A pure mind is the path to true joy, and a joyful heart is the ideal spiritual disposition for the celebration of the Sacred Paschal Triduum.

Lent is a season to be more eagerly intent on prayer and works of charity.  To be eagerly intent is to strongly want something, to recognize it as worthwhile, and to pursue it with excitement and energy.  It is a time of intensification.  Presumably prayer is already a part of our spiritual lives.  Lent is a time to improve the quality or the quantity of our prayer.  Presumably we already perform good deeds.  Lent is a time for additional or new acts of kindness.

During Lent we participate in the mysteries by which we are reborn.  Each Christian is born of flesh, and reborn of water and spirit (see Jn 3:5,6).  Lent features conversion, a stronger belief in Jesus as Messiah and Lord, he who is the resurrection and the life (Jn 11:25); the mystery of the Cross, how Jesus as our Savior and Redeemer washes away our sins with the blood that he shed and gives us new life in his grace; and forgiveness, how Jesus is compassionate and merciful and grants pardon and peace to the sinner.  Lent looks ahead to Holy Thursday, the Eucharist and how Jesus lives within those who receive his Body and Blood (Jn 6:53-58); Good Friday, and how Jesus’s death on the Cross leads to salvation and eternal life; and Easter, how in the waters of Baptism each believer dies to sin and is reborn in the fullness of God’s grace.  It is through Baptism, the featured sacrament of Easter, that we become members of the Body of Christ, and God claims us as his sons and daughters.

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A fresh approach to self denial and good works

March 3, 2017

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FourPillarsPen

This Lent don’t be stuck in a rut.  “Same old, same old” – is old.  If nothing changes, nothing changes!  The same old routine yields the same old results.  If we want things to be different (i.e., better), we must do things differently.  Except different requires change, and change requires effort, and change can be uncomfortable.  Fear and laziness are the two biggest obstacles.  Don’t be afraid.  Give a little extra effort.  Keep what works but add or substitute something new.  A fresh approach can be invigorating.

Consider a two part-plan for starters.  Part One:  Give something up for Lent!  About this time of year I brace myself for my one big pre-Lent pet peeve.  As Ash Wednesday approaches it is a strange annual phenomenon, but several people will whisper their little secret to me:  “Father, I’m not going to give up anything for Lent this year.  All of this denial stuff is too negative.”  And then proudly declare, “I am only going to do something positive this Lent.”  It is not nice to say in reply, “Bad plan,” but it is misguided. Lent is a penitential season, and self-denial is an indispensable penitential practice.

The “negative” part of Lent is the focus on sin.  It is not very “positive” to pay attention to our evildoing, but we must.  Jesus said “Repent” in his opening statement in Mark’s gospel (Mk 1:15).  “Repent, and believe in the gospel” is the formula for the signing with ashes.  Repent means “Quit sinning,” “Be sorry for sin,” and “Change for the better.”  It takes tremendous self-control and self-denial to stop sinning.  We may not like self-denial, but Jesus demands it:  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself” (Mk 8:34).

Self-denial is extremely beneficial because it teaches self-mastery and builds strength to battle temptation.  It is relatively easy to give up a little pleasure.  Select something different to give up this year.  It could be sweet rolls, cookies, popcorn at bedtime, or a favorite TV program.  We all have something we really like that we really do not need.  Make a firm resolution to give it up for forty days, no exceptions.  Our desires should not control us, God should.  If the item is a sweet roll, when it comes to mind, it is a moment to be mindful of God because our goal to please God is the motivation behind our self-denial.  And we need to practice saying, “No!”  As we get better and better at refusing the sweet roll time after time throughout the day, we gain spiritual mastery over our preferences, particularly our sinful ones, and we become increasingly adept at saying no when temptation comes knocking.

Part Two:  Do something positive for Lent!  The person who only wanted to do something positive had a good idea, but it was incomplete.  A balanced approach is both negative and positive; we should give something up and do good works.

When it comes to good works, try to be sneaky and invisible!  In the gospel for Ash Wednesday Jesus tells us, “Be on guard against performing religious acts for people to see” (Mt 6:1).  Jesus wants us to be invisible.  Jesus also advises, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Mt 6:3). He wants us to be sneaky – in a good sense!  The purpose of our good works should not be to gain the admiration or thanks of others.  If our good works are “sneaky,” they will be a pleasant surprise to someone, and if they are “invisible,” the person will have no idea who did it and be unable to offer a complement, sing our praises, or return the favor.  Surprise blessings of unknown origin are gifts from God.  When we are sneaky and invisible we are like angels, God’s messengers bringing God’s blessings.

It is like Secret Santa for Lent.  Leave an encouraging note in someone’s cube at work.  Put a candy bar on someone’s desk or a little gift in someone’s mailbox.  Let someone else go first.  Anonymously pay for the meal of someone at another table.  The possibilities are endless.  Be creative in finding new ways to be kind to others, and be so clever as to go unnoticed.  Then, to God goes the glory!

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