On this coming Wednesday, the 22nd of February, we will be celebrating Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is a very special day for Catholics who see this as the beginning of Lent, a journey of 40 days leading up to the Sacred Triduum. The journey entails, according to the teaching of the Church, an intense period of preparation for those persons who are planning on joining the Church by receiving the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil or for those already baptized who are being received into full communion into the Church. Lent is also a period of intensifying our relationship with the Lord by turning away from sin to embrace the ways of God and to live those ways as faithfully as possible going forward.
Over the centuries the Church has encouraged the Faithful to take on the spiritual discipline that will assist them in their quest to deepen their relationship with the Lord. Traditionally, the Church has presented three particular disciplines which are rooted in God?s teachings contained in the Books of the Bible. The three disciplines which I am sure all people are familiar with are almsgiving, fasting, and prayer.
By embracing almsgiving a believer, by sharing his or her resources, experiences both a personal turning away from undue reliance on material things by sharing them generously with others and a concrete way of helping others lighten their burdens.
Fasting for the sake of deepening one?s relationship with God is realized by our focusing on the things above instead of the things below--in other words, by fasting from things around us we have the opportunity to focus on God and the things of God because we are not consumed with realities which can hinder our journey to God.
In any relationship there is need for time together, for communication. Much has been written and said about prayer; and my thoughts on this are far from original. However, some lessons can well be repeated for the sake of looking at something ?anew,? which in turn can help us to recommit ourselves to something. Prayer involves our giving time to God and our sharing with God our adoration, our praise, our petitions, and not least of all our thanksgiving for all that we have received. This discipline, along with almsgiving and fasting, are never outdated; they are time-tested ways of furthering the journey to God.
Following upon the Second Vatican Council, the Church has encouraged all to strive during Lent to increase acts of love for others along with practicing the more traditional disciplines of the Lenten time.
I dare say none of us would go wrong with making our Lenten practice the disciplines of almsgiving, fasting, prayer and the loving others.
This year our Holy Father Benedict XVI has again shared his Lenten Message with the world. In this message he notes the primacy of love in our journey to God. He speaks of God?s love for us, and speaks of our love for God, especially as it relates to others.
Interestingly, the Holy Father focused on a verse from the Letter to the Hebrews which reads: ?Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works.? Often times when we think or reflect on our love for another person it is in response to a particular need that we see afflicting a person or that we hear about affecting someone.
However, Benedict XVI is inviting us to go beyond responding to evident needs which arise in the course of our daily lives. Reflecting on the teaching contained in the verse from Hebrews, he is challenging us to develop an attitude, a way of living that profoundly results in our being ?concerned for each other.? Not just to relieve this or that issue. Rather, a deep concern, an awareness of what each other needs, and thus develop a full picture of what people ?truly need.?
Often times needs that are evident capture our attention and receive our generous response. This is good; however, the Holy Father invites us in being concerned for others to be alert to needs that may not be visibly perceived but none the less are just as real, and for some are more serious, thus crying out for ?a response in love and good works.?
The Holy Father notes in his message that having concern for each other includes their true well-being, their spiritual state, their progress or lack of in growing in holiness and virtue. Such concern when practiced and realized challenges each person in light of their concern for others to ?a response of love and good works.?
This Lent Pope Benedict invites us to a deeper commitment in love for the good of each other for the good of all people.
The Sacred Triduum reminds us of God?s deep love for all people; our Holy Father is inviting each of us in our own way to share that same love for each other. May the Lord guide us in this journey.