Lent — Part Two

Pope Francis, in his message for Lent 2018, began with a discussion of what ails contemporary society (we discussed this in our last edition of The Anchor). Under the heading, “What are we to do?” the Holy Father brings the problems of our world down to the individual level. “Perhaps we see, deep within ourselves and all about us, the signs I have just described. But the Church, our mother and teacher, along with the often bitter medicine of the truth, offers us in the Lenten season the soothing remedy of prayer, almsgiving and fasting.”

Maybe we don’t think of fasting and parting with our money as something “soothing,” but the pope endeavors in his message to show “how sweet it is to be loved by” God (to paraphrase James Taylor and Jackie Gleason) and to respond to that love with concrete actions.

Pope Francis challenged us: “By devoting more time to prayer, we enable our hearts to root out our secret lies and forms of self-deception, and then to find the consolation God offers. He is our Father and He wants us to live life well.” After the mention of self-deception, Pope Francis included a footnote which pointed to his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Spe Salvi, paragraph 33. 

That paragraph by the German pope is very rich, full of good food for thought about prayer. Pope Benedict wrote in 2007, “We must learn that we cannot ask for the superficial and comfortable things that we desire at this moment — that meager, misplaced hope that leads us away from God. We must learn to purify our desires and our hopes. We must free ourselves from the hidden lies with which we deceive ourselves. God sees through them, and when we come before God, we, too, are forced to recognize them. Failure to recognize my guilt, the illusion of my innocence, does not justify me and does not save me, because I am culpable for the numbness of my conscience and my incapacity to recognize the evil in me for what it is. Yet my encounter with God awakens my conscience in such a way that it no longer aims at self-justification, and is no longer a mere reflection of me and those of my contemporaries who shape my thinking, but it becomes a capacity for listening to the good itself.”

Continuing this line of thought from his predecessor, Pope Francis discussed almsgiving, which “sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbor as a brother or sister. What I possess is never mine alone. How I would like us, as Christians, to follow the example of the Apostles and see in the sharing of our possessions a tangible witness of the communion that is ours in the Church. I echo St. Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to take up a collection for the community of Jerusalem as something from which they themselves would benefit (cf. 2 Cor 8:10). This is all the more fitting during the Lenten season, when many groups take up collections to assist Churches and peoples in need. Yet I would also hope that, even in our daily encounters with those who beg for our assistance, we would see such requests as coming from God Himself. When we give alms, we share in God’s providential care for each of His children. If through me God helps someone today, will He not tomorrow provide for my own needs? For no one is more generous than God.”

Our father in faith, the patriarch Abraham, told his son Isaac, “God will provide” (Gen 22:8). This bedrock Judeo-Christian teaching pushes us to always grow in generosity, since God will pay us back (even though He owes us nothing) with interest.

Turning to fasting, Pope Francis wrote (last autumn, when this document was released) something that speaks to the current situation of the United States. “Fasting weakens our tendency to violence; it disarms us and becomes an important opportunity for growth. On the one hand, it allows us to experience what the destitute and the starving have to endure. On the other hand, it expresses our own Spiritual hunger and thirst for life in God. Fasting wakes us up. It makes us more attentive to God and our neighbor. It revives our desire to obey God, Who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.”

Humans often use violence to try to obtain something which is not ours. Fasting helps us to accept that nothing really is “ours”; God is the real owner of everything and everything we have is a gift, meant to be shared.

Pope Francis urged non-Catholics to join with us in praying, fasting, and almsgiving. “I would also like my invitation to reach all of you, men and women of goodwill, who are open to hearing God’s voice. Perhaps, like ourselves, you are disturbed by the spread of iniquity in the world, you are concerned about the chill that paralyzes hearts and actions, and you see a weakening in our sense of being members of the one human family. Join us, then, in raising our plea to God, in fasting, and in offering whatever you can to our brothers and sisters in need!”

Then, under the heading “The fire of Easter,” the pope reminded Catholics of our joyful duty to do all of this. “Above all, I urge the members of the Church to take up the Lenten journey with enthusiasm, sustained by almsgiving, fasting and prayer. If, at times, the flame of charity seems to die in our own hearts, know that this is never the case in the heart of God! He constantly gives us a chance to begin loving anew.”

Pope Francis then gave an example of “[o]ne such moment of grace,” which would be the “‘24 Hours for the Lord’ initiative, which invites the entire Church community to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the context of Eucharistic Adoration. In 2018, inspired by the words of Psalm 130:4, ‘With You is forgiveness,’ this will take place from Friday, March 9 to Saturday, March 10.”

In our diocese Saturday, March 10 we are invited to come to Stonehill College for our second annual Women and Men’s Conference, where many priests will be available to hear Confessions, Eucharistic Adoration will be provided, along with many dynamic speakers, meant to help us grow in our faith and put it into practice.

Pope Francis closed by pointing us to Easter: “During the Easter Vigil, we will celebrate once more the moving rite of the lighting of the Easter candle. Drawn from the ‘new fire,’ this light will slowly overcome the darkness and illuminate the Liturgical assembly. ‘May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds’ (Roman Missal for the Easter Vigil) and enable all of us to relive the experience of the disciples on the way to Emmaus. By listening to God’s Word and drawing nourishment from the table of the Eucharist, may our hearts be ever more ardent in faith, hope and love.”

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