Lent 2019

In his message to us as we began Lent this week (which you can read in this week’s Anchor), Bishop Edgar M. daCunha, S.D.V., urged us “to embrace the spirit of prayer, penance and sacrifice, to recognize our need for continuous conversion, and to pass onto the next generation these same values.” Earlier in the message he described the “nostalgia” that those of us who are older feel for the days in which churches had good crowds for daily Mass, the Stations of the Cross and other devotions during Lent. The bishop reminded us that “the Church has not changed its teaching, but our secularized world has influenced and affected our view of Lent.”

Our shepherd reminded us that we are not to despair about the “good old days” no longer being here; instead we are to be active participants in Lent, responding to Christ’s invitation that we partake “of fasting, prayer and almsgiving” during this time when He calls us to “conversion of heart.”

Our society became so secularized in part because we did not put conversion at the top of our personal agendas. The bishop noted that so often we think more about “giv[ing] material things to [our] children,” even though these are not always “what is best for them.” Instead of training ourselves or the younger generation in sacrifice, we fail “to put limits” on our desires.

Pope Francis, in his message for this Lent, had a similar theme. “Unless we tend constantly towards Easter, towards the horizon of the Resurrection, the mentality expressed in the slogans ‘I want it all and I want it now!’ and ‘Too much is never enough,’ gains the upper hand.” 

Ines San Martin, of the Catholic news website, Cruxnow.com, distinguished those two quotes the Holy Father made as coming from the rock groups Queen and Florence + The Machine (this has nothing to do with the British monarch nor the Italian city).  She noted that “[T]his is not the first time a pope has used famous rock lyrics to make a point. For instance, in 1997, while he was in Italy’s northern city of Bologna participating in a Eucharistic congress, [St.] John Paul II took the lyrics of [Bob] Dylan’s famous song, answering a question posed to him a few minutes before by a young man who asked, ‘How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?’ Dylan’s song suggests that the ‘answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,’ and the pope, who had greeted the musician earlier in the same event, concluded that, ‘It’s true,’ adding that it’s not ‘in the wind that blows everything away into nothingness, but in the wind that is the breath and voice of the Spirit, the voice that calls and says, “Come.”’”

Pope Francis, in a paragraph entitled “the destructive power of sin,” discussed how having no “limits” leads to evil. “[W]hen we fail to live as children of God, we often behave in a destructive way towards our neighbors and other creatures — and ourselves as well — since we begin to think more or less consciously that we can use them as we will. Intemperance then takes the upper hand: we start to live a life that exceeds those limits imposed by our human condition and nature itself.”

Living without discipline, evil takes over. The Holy Father warned, “Once God’s law, the law of love, is forsaken, then the law of the strong over the weak takes over. The sin that lurks in the human heart (cf. Mk 7:20-23) takes the shape of greed and unbridled pursuit of comfort, lack of concern for the good of others and even of oneself. It leads to the exploitation of Creation, both persons and the environment, due to that insatiable covetousness which sees every desire as a right and sooner or later destroys all those in its grip.”

Bishop da Cunha noted that many parents give to their children what their own parents (the grandparents of today’s children) could not give them, because they (the older generation) did not have the money to do so. However, the bishop reminded parents and everyone that something much better could be shared between us: “Lent is a great opportunity for families to spend more time together, to pray together and to teach their children the meaning of Lent, and to teach the importance of cultivating a spirit of sacrifice.” This doesn’t cost money and can be enriching for both the young and the old.

In a similar vein, Pope Francis wrote, “All Creation is called, with us, to go forth ‘from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God’ (Rom 8:21). Lent is a Sacramental sign of this conversion. It invites Christians to embody the Paschal Mystery more deeply and concretely in their personal, family and social lives, above all by fasting, prayer and almsgiving.”

The Holy Father then gave brief explanations for these three Lenten essentials. “Fasting, that is, learning to change our attitude towards others and all of Creation, turning away from the temptation to ‘devour’ everything to satisfy our voracity and being ready to suffer for love, which can fill the emptiness of our hearts” (“Voracity” is when our stomachs and minds are voraciously consuming whatever we want).

“Prayer, which teaches us to abandon idolatry and the self-sufficiency of our ego, and to acknowledge our need of the Lord and His mercy.” What the Holy Father wrote here ties in well with Bishop da Cunha’s explanation that “Lent is a time for deeper reflection on the mystery of our Salvation as we prepare for the Paschal Mystery of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.”

The pope then ended with “Almsgiving, whereby we escape from the insanity of hoarding everything for ourselves in the illusory belief that we can secure a future that does not belong to us. And thus to rediscover the joy of God’s plan for Creation and for each of us, which is to love Him, our brothers and sisters, and the entire world, and to find in this love our true happiness.”

This is for which we are to long and to work this Lent — not merely reveling in some memory of the past, but instead using the Spiritual tools the Church has given us to conform ourselves more to Christ.

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