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A Leaven In The World… The Interior Priorities Of Lent

February 25, 2021 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


A man called recently to request a Baptism for a newborn. I couldn’t recognize his name, beating my brain to recall him as I did. I certainly did not remember him and his family attending Sunday Mass, even before COVID. To my chagrin, I explained to him that we aren’t like addicts, attending Mass for six months in order to get a child baptized, but unsure what we are going to do about our faith afterward.
More people email rather than call in their orders for sacraments. “How do I sign up for the baptismal class?” they ask. The “baptismal class” in my parish is Sunday Mass. Until death.
Yes, many bishops have suspended the obligation to attend Holy Mass. But this is while people are doing many other potentially risky things, such as going on airplane flights — not all airlines block middle seats. If we believe the Lord who offers Himself in Word and Sacrament in the Mass is number one, we must be willing to take some measure of risk, as we always have, to act on our convictions.
Lent is recommitment to our baptismal promises. Lent is the great penitential season of the Church because, through it, we prepare for the greatest celebration and reality of the Resurrection of the Lord which began with the grace of Baptism. Don’t get dissipated in distractions. There are so many today, however. How does one choose? It’s a matter of priorities: give time and attention to putting first things first.
When times are bad the word “Lent” is used to describe them. We are indeed living through a long Lent, as they say. But isn’t life itself with all its crosses and challenges a Lent? It indeed is if you have faith and understand that eternal life is waiting for us just on the other side. Lent is about prioritizing the interior life. The prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that characterize this season make that clear.
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:6). Whether we are at Holy Mass, in the midst of public prayer, or at home in our room where we physically shut the door and pray in secret, we carry with us at all times the interior private place where we can be alone with the Lord any time we desire. The “door” which closes us off from distractions, noise, and superficiality is available to us always. It is the prayer of the heart which unites us to God through the powers of the intellect and will.
Prayer is an internal dialog with the Lord. He prayed, and commanded that we do the same. Prayer must be a daily habit. Like everything else that is important, one must plan for it. If prayer is to be important in Lent and in life then we must prepare for it in practical ways.
Priests are among those blessed to live under the obligation to offer the prayer of the Church, called the Breviarium Romanum, or Liturgy of the Hours. Along with the Holy Mass it is the primary way in which the Church obeys the command of her Lord to “Pray always.” It is gravely obliging for priests, deacons, and men and women religious. For that reason failing to live up to the duty through one’s own fault must be confessed.
That which is done under obedience has greater merit. Thus, those who pray the “Office,” as the daily round which sanctifies the hours is also called, gain great graces for themselves as well as for the Church and the world.
Everyone in the Church can take part in these prayers voluntarily. Some pray the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which requires less time but nonetheless sanctifies certain hours of the day, a mirror of the Breviary.
As I write the morning Angelus bells are ringing and I pause to say the eponymous prayer in union with others unknown to me. The Angelus is a venerable means of sanctifying the day, easily memorized and repeated at the hours of 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. each day. You may have seen the famous painting of the same name, the weary farmer and his wife pausing in the midst of their labors in the field to intone the ancient prayer, “The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary. . . .”
Prayer is the font of the other works of Lent and life. Fasting and almsgiving are means of detachment from all that is passing away for the purpose of prioritizing that which will never end.
Food nourishes the body but, as we are reminded on Ash Wednesday at the season’s beginning, “Remember, man, you are dust.” The use of food is penultimate: “Man cannot live on bread alone.” Fasting drives us back toward that which alone will remain in our dying hours: prayer which draws us closer to the Word Himself, as our meeting face to face with Him draws closer to us.
All that we have is meant to be shared. Any excess we have truly belongs to those who have less. Almsgiving borrows from what ultimately does not belong to any of us, that which we cannot take with us, and makes holy use of it.
The active charity of serving the needy is perhaps the purest form of almsgiving, made possible by giving of our time and physical effort. This is a countersign today, when everyone is so often in a rush, desiring more of the world than it is possible to have in 24 hours. Taking care of others frees us from selfish concerns and, making us more like Christ, opens our hearts like His to be more attentive to the will of the Father.
So many do not give of their time to God through the perfect means of attending Holy Mass each Sunday. Many readily speak of the Lord without the desire of the heart. Many want Baptism or other sacraments, giving only what is necessary to get these, but without an eternal perspective. Grace is divine help for perseverance, without which we cannot enter the Kingdom of God.
The interior life is a commitment, loving and serving the Lord without conditions. The practices of this season of Lent are meant to spur us toward a life with God. God is our Father, and like good fathers on Earth He protects us from harm and shows us the safe path to Him.
I encouraged the father on the phone to be a good one and to “get back on the horse” by attending Mass as so many are now doing without danger of death. The Heavenly Father’s commitment to us in Christ is the path upon which we journey in Lent. Only our commitment through the whole of life is worthy of Him.
Thank you for reading and praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.
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