February 12, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Make more personal prayer a part of your Lenten practices

This Sunday is the last time our parish communities will sing the Alleluia until the solemn Easter Vigil. Ash Wednesday is fast approaching.

Some folks dread Lent because they think of it as a time of desolation and painful sacrifice.

Actually the Lenten season is intended to be a time of renewal of faith and hope which can build a deep sense of joy and interior peace. This is a definite possibility because Jesus is with us in an undeniable expression of God’s love. And God’s love is not just some generic theory but a truly individual and personal reality.

There are and have been enough tragedy and worrisome events in our recent common human experience. Who has not been deeply moved by the tragic earthquake and devastation of the poor folks in Haiti? Many of us have been touched by the continuing effects of the recent economic crisis. There is still much anxiety about the impact of this downturn close to home.

Perhaps the approach of Lent does remind us more than other times of the year about the sin in our lives. Gnawing feelings of guilt about these sins can be a cause of personal anguish and discouragement. Will I ever become holier? A lack of fidelity to our beliefs may drag down our spirit.

All or some of the above negative factors may be real to us, but that does not have to be a cause of dread as Lent approaches. In fact, we are about to enter a season of special grace.

Lent may very well be a time of opportunity during which we can nurture our confidence that God is in charge and that he is by nature all-knowing; he knows very well the worries and concerns that may be part of our daily lives in this year of 2010.

The special grace of Lent can spark a renewal of our belief that God not only knows our sufferings and pain, but is in fact close to us in them. The special grace of the 40 days of Lent can confirm our hope that is born of a renewal of our vision about the true meaning of what life is about, that it is a pathway to a kingdom where every tear will be wiped away.

The grace of this season of renewal offers a new opportunity to be honest about our call to love our families and our neighbors at home, at work or school or in the community where we live. The experience of renewed efforts of charity can open new vistas of authentic freedom and a sense of well-being.

We may be inclined to wonder, well, in this manifold opportunity for renewal during Lent how does the Church’s call to repent and do penance fit the picture? How do fasting, giving alms and occasional abstaining from meat foster renewal?

The question can be answered in a variety of ways. From a spiritual point of view, the Church invites us to enter into the experience of Jesus who suffered a great deal, even dying for us. Acts of self-denial and penance can foster a certain solidarity with Jesus. These penitential acts also encourage a point of solidarity with the suffering, the poor and the helpless who are not very far from us at all.

From a personal point of view, acts of personal sacrifice can have the wholesome effect of making us realize that the world does not revolve around us and our wants. Personal sacrifice can expand our sense of solidarity in a larger sense with our human family.

Acts of generosity foster in us a real experience of the truth that it is in giving that we receive. Generous almsgiving is a way in which we do our part to share the responsibility of helping those who for whatever reason are less fortunate than us.

Folks who responded generously to the devastation of the poor people in Haiti know what I mean. By the way, almsgiving to the Haitian continuing need for help could be a meaningful Lenten practice.

The most effective stimulant for our spiritual renewal in the approaching season of Lent will be a renewal in the practice of our prayer. The Church calls us to new fervor. Practices like attending daily Mass, praying the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary and the Way of the Cross are a pretty sure way of intensifying our understanding and appreciation of what Jesus did for our redemption. He was and is a real person who in his humanity suffered a dreadful and embarrassing death for each of us.

Prayer brings us close to him as a way of saying thank you. He died for us individually. Surely our gratitude needs to be personal. †

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