Sunday 18th March 2018

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A Leaven In The World… The “Inner Room” Of Lent

February 19, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


“Go to your inner room and pray to your Father in private.”
Another Lent is upon us. With the Mass of Ash Wednesday we hear once again the Lord’s call to grow into a deeper awareness and love of the Father who is always lovingly aware of us. The tasks of Lent in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are an occasion to both imitate the Lord and to share more deeply in His relationship with the Father. Conversion spurred by penance and self-abnegation is the path to divine communion.
Ash Wednesday, though celebrated also with Mass and imposition of ashes, is not first about works which others can see. It’s about sincerity and the necessity of love to make all we do authentic, seen or unseen.
There are, of course, public aspects to our faith. Some things we must do as faithful Catholics will always be observed by others, such as our keeping the Lord’s Day holy at Mass. There are some aspects of faith, on the other hand, such as the fast and abstinence enjoined upon us by the Church, which can be known only to the Father, assuming we keep our counsel. We all fast together on some days, such as Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but these inspire us to make use of the discipline of denial on other occasions as well. The Church prescribes the minimum, but places no limits on how we might do more penance to atone for sin and grow in spiritual freedom through detachment from temporalities.
The Church desires to deeply impress upon us that we will one day die. She rubs the fact in our faces, marked as we are with ashes on this day by the priest as he warns us, “Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” It’s dangerous to ignore our coming appointment with the end of life on Earth because there is more than one possible outcome. And only one of the possible outcomes is pleasant. Thus the need for repentance.
Anything unholy about us will prevent our sharing in what is happy in the hereafter. Holiness may not always be coterminous with happiness here on Earth but it would be a mistake to let that determine our choices because of their eternal significance.
Our freedom must be trained by the truth that life in its fullest sense comes to us only through Christ. It for this reason that we now journey toward His death on the cross: “Let us go up to Jerusalem.” Because Olympic-mania is in the air, with many eyes watching what unfolds in South Korea, with the medal counts and a spirit of competition, we can borrow from it by calling Lent the “annual Catholic holiness Olympics.” And, if our Lent pilgrimage is the annual Catholic race to the victory of a holy and joyful Easter, then Ash Wednesday is its opening ceremony.
There was a luminous and energetic quality to Ash Wednesday this year. The light of faith often shines with greater wattage when the disciplines of fast and abstinence throw the grace into high relief. That was true for me this year as I moved through the day with a supernatural energy that could not have been supplied by food alone, my sole fuel being only the regulation morning coffee until early afternoon.
Two parish Masses in Traditional Latin and one in English were supplemented by a morning drive to the Office of Naval Intelligence for a fourth service of the day, a Liturgy of the Word and distribution of ashes for military and civilian workers there.
Walking into any room of unfamiliar faces of faithful gathered for prayer brims with spiritual possibilities. My mind always goes back to my chaplain experiences around the world at sea or on land and, particularly, in Iraq each time I do so. The experience of hearing the Scriptures among new faces had a fresh quality to it, which freed me to preach with greater intensity and joy. The great number of Confessions I heard also made the visit a rewarding one.
The season of Lent is bursting with the grace of renewed faith, with the promise that because faith is about love, the invitation to share the love of the Son for the Father and the Father for the Son makes faith grow. The prospect of growth gives hope for what may appear to be merely a seed. This is a consolation for all of us because faith comes in all ages and sizes, as do each of us.
We focus in these 40 days upon our baptismal graces which were given to become a “fountain welling up to eternal life.” The custom of making a Confession to prepare for our “Easter duty” reception of Communion arises from this spiritual necessity.
Lent is another sign that God never ceases to offer another chance to anyone who needs it. The radical mercy of God made available through Confession means we can say we are sorry as many times as we need to between Baptism and the grave. I am reminded of Pope Francis’ words that it is “not God who tires of forgiving us, rather it is we who tire of asking for it.”
St. Augustine described the Lord as a “beauty ever ancient, ever new.” Our faith, which brings the Lord so close to us in grace as to be intimately one with us, above all in the Blessed Sacrament, is also ever ancient. No faith could be older because it was founded by the One who is the continuing source and summit of our revealed faith. The newness of our faith is made more palpable for us in the refreshing nature of the liturgical seasons.
Lent is meant to be one such opportunity to return to faith for those who have been away from it and to deepen it for those who have remained within the boat of the Church. The intensity of fasting and the inconvenience of abstinence are meant to stimulate the spirit by upsetting the routine of the flesh.
Endlessly moving for me on Ash Wednesday are the words of the Lord who invites us to share more deeply in His life with and love for the Father. When we do something “in private” to please only the Father, the Father who sees in secret will “reward” us. It is these words which I find most stirring for the soul as there can be no reward greater for us than that blessed communion now shared already by the Father and the Son in Heaven.
The word Lent means “spring,” and spring is in the air. Come, Holy Spirit. Thank you for reading, and praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

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