February 16, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

Lenten season is a time of repentance and renewal

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Do not turn your face away from any of the poor, and God’s face will not be turned away from you. … Give to the hungry some of your bread, and to the naked some of your clothing. Whatever you have left over, give away as alms; and do not begrudge the alms you give”
(Tb 4:7,16).

Last Wednesday, we blessed and distributed ashes as a sign that we are mortal and totally dependent on God’s grace. As we continue our journey on the first Sunday of Lent, we are reminded this is a time of repentance and renewal in preparation for both the sorrow of Christ’s passion and death, and the joy of the Lord’s resurrection.

Lent is a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Those are the traditional terms for three very simple, but also very powerful, actions that are designed to make us ready to accept the healing power of Jesus that comes to us in a special way at Easter.

Through prayer, we humbly and honestly confess our sins—all the ways that we turn away from God and from our sisters and brothers to pursue our own selfish desires. In prayer, we realign ourselves with God’s will for us—praying from the heart, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.” We open ourselves to God’s will for us. We let go of our selfishness, and we let God’s love heal us and guide us in our daily living.

Through fasting, we are reminded that just because we want something doesn’t mean we need it or that it’s good for us.

Fasting helps us turn away from the pampered, me-centered life that we are urged to live by our modern culture, especially through the advertising and the entertainment media we’re all exposed to every day. “If it feels good, do it. Or if your neighbor has it, you should buy it. Or if you want it, go for it.”

Fasting and self-denial remind us that there is much more to life than satisfying our own desires. We fast in order to prepare ourselves for lives of genuine service and sacrifice as disciples of Jesus Christ.

During Lent, we observe the ancient traditions of fast and abstinence because we know that they lead to spiritual health and to the joy that is made possible only by Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.

Through almsgiving—generous sharing of our time, talent and treasure—we discover that the best way to free ourselves from the negative power of selfishness and sin is to open our hearts (and our wallets) and give to others. Have you ever known a generous person who was miserable, or self-centered or stuck in his or her sinfulness?

Giving is the opposite of self‑centeredness. It is the solution to the loneliness and despair that come when we believe the media hype that tells us the more we have the happier we will be. The practice of almsgiving helps us remember that we are happiest when we share with others—rejoicing in the knowledge that God has shared with us his gifts of life and love and thus made us his free sons and daughters.

The Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent (Mk 1:12–15) tells us that we are not alone in facing temptation. St. Mark tells us that “the Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert” (Mk 1:12), suggesting, perhaps, that the Lord’s human nature might have preferred staying where it was more comfortable. Obedient to the “driving” of the Holy Spirit, Jesus went to the desert and stayed there for 40 days “tempted by Satan” (Mk 1:13). Fortunately, he was not alone. St. Mark tells us “he was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him” (Mk 1:13).

The Church proposes the season of Lent as a “desert experience” for us, not because we are eager to do penance but because it’s good for us to follow the Lord’s example and seek out opportunities for renewal. If we respond with open minds and hearts, we will be given a chance to confront the demons that tempt us to selfishness and sin. We will also experience the ministry of angels who comfort us with the certainty of God’s love and mercy.

This Lent, let’s go to the desert with our Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s confess our sins and open our hearts to God’s mercy. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are Lenten virtues, but we should practice them all year long if we want to be truly happy.

May the wild beasts, who are among the most majestic of God’s creatures, protect us from all harm. And may the holy angels minister to us this Lent and always. †

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