Monday, March 14, 2011

Lent and the Communion of Saints

By now we are well into our observance of Lent and the penitential practices that come with them.  As I wrote in my last message, we do not walk alone in our journey with Christ, but are united with all the members of Christ’s Mystical Body the Church.  All the sacrifices and aggravations, big and small, that we endure in faith and cheerfulness have a positive effect on others.  We become imitators of St. Paul who wrote that his sufferings were “filling up what was lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” (Colossians 1:24) This is not to suggest that Jesus’ redemptive death was not enough to save the world, but rather that in His plan God has made us active participants in the work of salvation.

The Church is a reality of earth, purgatory and heaven.  We on earth are pilgrims on the journey of faith.  Those in purgatory are experiencing the final purification before entering into the direct presence of God.  Those in heaven see our Lord face to face and are already rejoicing in His glory.  We should not think of these as “places” separated by walls.  These profound realities are interconnected mysteriously and are in communion with each other, all sharing the spiritual goods of the One Church.  The saints in heaven pray for us as one friend may pray for another, and we should not be afraid to ask for their help. We assist the souls in purgatory on their journey by our prayers and hardships offered for their cause.   Some spiritual writers have suggested that those in purgatory are already praying for us now out of gratitude. What is sure is that they will not forget us when they finally reach paradise.  Our efforts can also help to bring sinners back to Christ here on earth.  This relationship that I write of what we call the Communion of Saints that we profess at every Sunday Mass in the Creed.

So when we are faithful to our Lenten practices and when we endure the difficulties of daily life with joy we are doing more than helping ourselves on the road to heaven.  We are sharing with others a precious gift.  So be faithful! Don’t be discouraged into thinking that Lent is too long and our efforts are wasted!  With the Grace of Jesus Christ all is possible.  He is the one who takes our works and perfects them for the good of the entire Church, which is His Body.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday

Today we enter into the discipline of Lent.  We will, or have received our ashes and hopefully have decided on a Lenten penance, like giving up candy, soda or adult beverages.  Lent is also a time to give alms for the poor, so maybe we’ve chosen a worthy cause to donate to.  These are good things, but the readings from the Masses of Ash Wednesday and the days that follow warn us that these external religious observances are not the most important part of Lent.  The purpose of this holy season is repentance and conversion. 

Today we hear the Prophet Joel tell us that we are to return to the Lord eagerly and completely, but in doing so we are to rend our hearts, not our garments.  It was common in ancient Israel for a person doing penance to tear his cloths as an outward sign of repentance.  What the prophet is saying is that this outer expression means nothing if the conversion is not real.  We may be able to fool other people, we may even be able to fool ourselves, but we can never deceive God.  In the reading from Matthew’s Gospel Jesus warns his disciples not to fast, do penance or give alms so that others will see them.  God sees what others can not; only His judgment counts. 

On Saturday we will hear the story of Jesus calling Matthew the tax collector to follow him.  Tax collectors were hated during Jesus’ time because they worked for a foreign power, the Romans, and often extorted money from the people, money that went into their own pockets. Matthew leaves his old life behind, represented by his tax collector’s table that he abandons.  Lent is not just a time to observe rules and regulations but it is an opportunity to change our lives.  God wants us to abandon our sins and be better disciples of His Son.  This is the Lenten penance most pleasing to Him.

So by all means, let us follow the discipline of this sacred time.  But let us also remember that the sacrifices we make and penances we observe are to remind us of the internal purification that we need.  This work can only be done by God.  May our hearts be open to Our Lord’s call to conversion.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lent is on the Way

This Wednesday we will be beginning the holy season of Lent.  It is a time associated with fasting and sacrifice. Often we try to give up something we like, such as sweets or a favorite food.  We may even try to do some extra acts of charity, like volunteering at a soup kitchen or organizing a clothing drive for the poor.  All these things are good, but we should never forget that Lent is primarily a celebration of the Church community, not of our selves as individuals.  Any sacrifice we make is for the building up of the Body of Christ, which is the Church.

It is with this focus in mind, the Church, that I am beginning this series of letters.  We will be looking at this great mystery from the stand point of Don Bosco.  Our patron was a fiercely independent person who had a firm vision of how he wanted the Salesian mission to proceed.  At the same time he was always a man of the Church who respected and promoted the initiatives of his bishop, and especially the Pope.  This was not always easy.  He and his bishop didn’t always see eye to eye, but the spirit of obedience led him in all he did.

What would Don Bosco say to us today about Lent?  It is true that Don Bosco was very strict with himself, and was known for his self sacrifice, which included fasting.  He advised the boys in the Oratory to fast when the Church fasts, but that they shouldn’t give themselves over to harsh penances, and be mindful of their health.  The Saint taught that best penance is not the one that we choose for ourselves, but rather the one that God gives us, like having to put up cheerfully with annoying situations or people.  He taught his benefactors to mindful of the poor, especially those who are young.  Be in all things be joyful, even when it is not easy.  In these things we will be fulfilling our Lenten observance and building up the Church.