February 1, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Lent is a fresh opportunity to deepen our conversion to Jesus

Ash Wednesday is less than a week away. Lent arrives extraordinarily early on our 2008 calendar.

Over the years, I have learned to consider Lent a special and timely gift. It is a time to get our spiritual act together once again.

I look on it as a fresh opportunity to get our proverbial “head and heart” straight about what counts in the stuff of everyday life.

I surely don’t want this to sound like one more self-centered opportunity to get caught up in ourselves because there is too much of that around already.

Instead, getting our heads and hearts straight about what counts in life does the opposite; it helps us see more clearly something we already know but can easily forget—namely, that we are not the center of the world. God is.

This view of life is freeing because it is true. While it is so obvious, it is not a view that stays with us naturally. I think that is true of most folks.

This annual gift for new freedom in the stuff of everyday life is expressed in the call of Lent: “Repent and return to the Gospel.”

The Gospel is the Good News about the way that leads us to God. Jesus showed us the way by his teaching and his own way of life.

Before he began his saving ministry of service to the poor (all of us), he went into the desert to fast and pray.

He began his public ministry with the call, “Repent and believe in the good news.” A combination of special prayer, fasting and service (almsgiving) has become the traditional program for our observance of Lent.

Fasting is a tremendous practice that has almost been lost in our culture except to trim waistlines and purify the body’s system.

One spiritual writer calls fasting “a focus of the heart” and says maybe it is time to reconsider the value of fasting as an act of worship.

Fasting is a way of saying “God, you are the center of my life.” It is a way of saying God is our nourishment. Rightly understood, we can say fasting is a form of prayer.

In addition to abstinence from meat on Fridays, I suggest that we fast at least one day per week as a form of prayer and a reminder that God is the heart of all life and we need to turn to him in our need.

Further, I suggest that each of those fast days be offered up for some person in need of our love and support in prayer.

In his most recent encyclical letter on hope, Pope Benedict XVI remarked that it is timely to renew the devout practice of “offering up” prayers and sacrifices for others.

Some people are quick to point out that fasting is negative and old-fashioned. The better thing is to do some positive good work or service for another. The wisdom of the Church calls us to do both.

Fasting and almsgiving, fasting and good works are age-old companion Lenten practices. It is our more recent society that wants to see fasting as something without value. In fact, fasting is a positive practice.

Almsgiving can take many forms. Giving to others out of our own need—and not merely from what we have left over—is the true intent of this practice.

I find that performing extra good works of love, especially for those who we may not particularly like, is the true test of good works. Day in and day out, there are numerous unexpected opportunities to do the loving thing for others.

One of the most important good works we might do during this season of special grace is to review and evaluate our practice of prayer.

Are we faithful in attendance and do we participate at Sunday Mass? Might we not attend Mass more frequently during this Lenten season? Do we pray at home? Do we support each other, especially our young folks, in faith and prayer? When was the last time we made the Way of the Cross? It is an inspiring Lenten devotion.

Are you familiar with the Twelve-Step Recovery Program of Alcoholics Anonymous? The fourth step calls for a completely honest and courageous moral inventory of one’s life. The fifth step, in effect, calls for a confession following on the heels of that inventory.

Lent is a season during which we can accept the special grace and help we need to evaluate honestly and courageously our way of life from a moral perspective.

Confession is freeing. In this season of special grace, let’s deepen our conversion to Jesus, and truly prepare for an Easter renewal of our baptismal promises and vocation.

It may be the chance of a lifetime! †

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