Thursday, February 27, 2014

Time to Prep for Lent!


He became poor,
so that by his poverty you might become rich 

(cf2 Cor 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As Lent draws near, I would like to offer some helpful thoughts on our path of conversion as individuals and as a community. These insights are inspired by the words of Saint Paul: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich" (2 Cor8:9). The Apostle was writing to the Christians of Corinth to encourage them to be generous in helping the faithful in Jerusalem who were in need. What do these words of Saint Paul mean for us Christians today? What does this invitation to poverty, a life of evangelical poverty, mean for us today?

1. Christ’s grace

First of all, it shows us how God works. He does not reveal himself cloaked in worldly power and wealth but rather in weakness and poverty: "though He was rich, yet for your sake he became poor …". Christ, the eternal Son of God, one with the Father in power and glory, chose to be poor; he came amongst us and drew near to each of us; he set aside his glory and emptied himself so that he could be like us in all things (cf. Phil 2:7; Heb 4:15). God’s becoming man is a great mystery! But the reason for all this is his love, a love which is grace, generosity, a desire to draw near, a love which does not hesitate to offer itself in sacrifice for the beloved. Charity, love, is sharing with the one we love in all things. Love makes us similar, it creates equality, it breaks down walls and eliminates distances. God did this with us. Indeed, Jesus "worked with human hands, thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, he truly became one of us, like us in all things except sin." (Gaudium et Spes, 22).

By making himself poor, Jesus did not seek poverty for its own sake but, as Saint Paul says "that by his poverty you might become rich". This is no mere play on words or a catch phrase. Rather, it sums up God’s logic, the logic of love, the logic of the incarnation and the cross. God did not let our salvation drop down from heaven, like someone who gives alms from their abundance out of a sense of altruism and piety. Christ’s love is different! When Jesus stepped into the waters of the Jordan and was baptized by John the Baptist, he did so not because he was in need of repentance, or conversion; he did it to be among people who need forgiveness, among us sinners, and to take upon himself the burden of our sins. In this way he chose to comfort us, to save us, to free us from our misery. It is striking that the Apostle states that we were set free, not by Christ’s riches but by his poverty. Yet Saint Paul is well aware of the "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph 3:8), that he is "heir of all things" (Heb 1:2).

So what is this poverty by which Christ frees us and enriches us? It is his way of loving us, his way of being our neighbour, just as the Good Samaritan was neighbour to the man left half dead by the side of the road (cf. Lk 10:25ff). What gives us true freedom, true salvation and true happiness is the compassion, tenderness and solidarity of his love. Christ’s poverty which enriches us is his taking flesh and bearing our weaknesses and sins as an expression of God’s infinite mercy to us. Christ’s poverty is the greatest treasure of all: Jesus’ wealth is that of his boundless confidence in God the Father, his constant trust, his desire always and only to do the Father’s will and give glory to him. Jesus is rich in the same way as a child who feels loved and who loves its parents, without doubting their love and tenderness for an instant. Jesus’ wealth lies in his being the Son; his unique relationship with the Father is the sovereign prerogative of this Messiah who is poor. When Jesus asks us to take up his "yoke which is easy", he asks us to be enriched by his "poverty which is rich" and his "richness which is poor", to share his filial and fraternal Spirit, to become sons and daughters in the Son, brothers and sisters in the firstborn brother (cf. Rom 8:29).
It has been said that the only real regret lies in not being a saint (L. Bloy); we could also say that there is only one real kind of poverty: not living as children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ.

2. Our witness
We might think that this "way" of poverty was Jesus’ way, whereas we who come after him can save the world with the right kind of human resources. This is not the case. In every time and place God continues to save mankind and the world through the poverty of Christ, who makes himself poor in the sacraments, in his word and in his Church, which is a people of the poor. God’s wealth passes not through our wealth, but invariably and exclusively through our personal and communal poverty, enlivened by the Spirit of Christ.
In imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it. Destitution is not the same as poverty: destitution is poverty without faith, without support, without hope. There are three types of destitution: material, moral and spiritual. Material destitution is what is normally called poverty, and affects those living in conditions opposed to human dignity: those who lack basic rights and needs such as food, water, hygiene, work and the opportunity to develop and grow culturally. In response to this destitution, the Church offers her help, her diakonia, in meeting these needs and binding these wounds which disfigure the face of humanity. In the poor and outcast we see Christ’s face; by loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ. Our efforts are also directed to ending violations of human dignity, discrimination and abuse in the world, for these are so often the cause of destitution. When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth. Our consciences thus need to be converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing.

No less a concern is moral destitution, which consists in slavery to vice and sin. How much pain is caused in families because one of their members – often a young person - is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography! How many people no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future, how many have lost hope! And how many are plunged into this destitution by unjust social conditions, by unemployment, which takes away their dignity as breadwinners, and by lack of equal access to education and health care. In such cases, moral destitution can be considered impending suicide. This type of destitution, which also causes financial ruin, is invariably linked to the spiritual destitution which we experience when we turn away from God and reject his love. If we think we don’t need God who reaches out to us through Christ, because we believe we can make do on our own, we are headed for a fall. God alone can truly save and free us.
The Gospel is the real antidote to spiritual destitution: wherever we go, we are called as Christians to proclaim the liberating news that forgiveness for sins committed is possible, that God is greater than our sinfulness, that he freely loves us at all times and that we were made for communion and eternal life. The Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of this message of mercy and hope! It is thrilling to experience the joy of spreading this good news, sharing the treasure entrusted to us, consoling broken hearts and offering hope to our brothers and sisters experiencing darkness. It means following and imitating Jesus, who sought out the poor and sinners as a shepherd lovingly seeks his lost sheep. In union with Jesus, we can courageously open up new paths of evangelization and human promotion.

Dear brothers and sisters, may this Lenten season find the whole Church ready to bear witness to all those who live in material, moral and spiritual destitution the Gospel message of the merciful love of God our Father, who is ready to embrace everyone in Christ. We can do this to the extent that we imitate Christ who became poor and enriched us by his poverty. Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.

May the Holy Spirit, through whom we are "as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything" (2 Cor 6:10), sustain us in our resolutions and increase our concern and responsibility for human destitution, so that we can become merciful and act with mercy. In expressing this hope, I likewise pray that each individual member of the faithful and every Church community will undertake a fruitful Lenten journey. I ask all of you to pray for me. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady keep you safe.
From the Vatican, 26 December 2013
Feast of Saint Stephen, Deacon and First Martyr

By Bishop James Conley: 

"Create in us clean hearts" 
Three hundred years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Saint Ephraim the Syrian

became a Christian. In the desert of Syria, he was baptized and ordained a deacon. When he was baptized, he wrote a simple prayer:

O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness,
lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity,
humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother,
for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

To this day, Syrian Christians pray Ephraim’s prayer when they begin the Holy Season of Lent. We should, too.

We cannot become saints if we do not recognize the spirit of sinfulness that keeps us from following Jesus Christ. We’re called, each one of us, to confess our sinfulness and trust in God’s mercy.

But God wants to do more than forgive us. God wants to turn our shame into joy, our vice into virtue, our bondage into freedom. God wants to transform us; to create new, clean hearts in us.

Lent is a reminder that Jesus Christ came into this world to bear our sin, and to offer his life for us on the cross. Our part is to offer our own lives in union with him: to ask the Lord to make us worthy followers of Jesus Christ; and to trust that God, and God alone, can set us free from the spirit of sin.

We know, and God knows, the extent to which we are in need of his mercy. We know about the sinfulness we’ve been clinging to, or are carrying in our hearts. Each of us knows the times when we have chosen sin – have chosen our will over God’s will.
This is why Lent should begin with the sacrament of penance – with a good confession. In the sacrament of penance we reveal our sinfulness to God. We reveal our sorrow, and express our commitment to amend our lives. And then, through his priest, we are forgiven by God the Father.

As we confess our sins and encounter mercy, we can be transformed in holiness, as loving disciples of Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis recently said that confession is like a second baptism. Through God’s mercy
we have the chance to begin again, with new, clean hearts.

I encourage each of you to begin the Holy Season of Lent with the sacrament of confession. Bring your spouses, your children, or your friends. Confess your sins to Jesus Christ, and ask him to make in you a new heart—ask him to transform the spirit of sin into the spirit of love.

During the season of Lent, we’re called to prayer, and fasting, and almsgiving. The Gospel of St. Matthew, read on Ash Wednesday, commends these practices to us. Christ calls us to pray, and fast, and live charitably in hidden ways—without boasting or complaining about our Lent. The reason is because our Lenten sacrifices are not designed to be a measure of our virtue, or an affirmation of our Catholicism. Our Lenten sacrifices are meant to draw us close to God, so that he can form our hearts in His image.

Our virtue—our love for God and neighbor—should be the witness of our Lenten sacrifice. The fruit of God’s love should be evident. Christ invites us to follow him quietly, and unassumingly, so that God’s glory will shine, instead of our own.

As we begin Lent, may we begin by confessing our sins. And may we ask the Lord to transform our hearts—to make us love as he does—so that the glory of Jesus Christ may shine through our lives, and transform the world.

From the Carmelite Fathers; 

We are a week from beginning the Lenten Season, and it is a good time for remote preparation before Ash Wednesday comes around. What is remote preparation? It is the things we do to prepare a good time before the event happens. As we approach Lent, we are called to begin to think about those spiritual practices we want to engage in to make our Lent fruitful in the ways of the Lord.

A good place to start is with the question everyone asks themselves: What am I going to give up for Lent? One way to answer this question is to ask yourself: What is the one thing that keeps me away from Jesus? When you can answer that question, then you can begin to address you Lenten penance seriously, for it now becomes a question of: How can I address that “one thing” in Lent? How can I cooperate with God’s grace to diminish this “one thing?”

Also, we are called to deepen our commitment to those four areas of Lent that need our attention: Prayer, penance, fasting, and alms-giving. Throughout Lent, we try to deepen our union and love of Jesus, so we can perform these acts of mercy for ourselves and the whole world.

Reading a spiritual book is also important. For example, “The Imitation of Christ” is great to read during Lent. Reading one of the four gospels is an important way to deepen our Lenten journey of faith. There are also many other important spiritual books that will assist us in living our faith in Jesus in a serious manner.

To be able to do our Lenten spiritual practices, we need time alone with Jesus. We are to do our best with this, trying to make time in our lives to be alone with Jesus, so we can hear His voice, and listen, listen, listen.

To help our Facebook readers during this season of Lent, we will be presenting daily Lenten reflections to assist all during this special time of faith. These will begin on Ash Wednesday and conclude on Easter Sunday.

Let us begin to pray for one another, that this Lent will be a special time of grace, not just for us individually, but for the entire world, that the Good News of Our Lord Jesus Christ may enter into every heart, and all may bend the knee at the name of Jesus.

Fr. Matthew Williams OCD

By Archbishop Jose Gomez: 

We begin another Lent this coming Wednesday, which is Ash Wednesday.

In these next 40 days, we share the desert time of Jesus. We share in his fasting, in his prayers, and in the trials he endured as the Son of God.

Every Lent reminds us that our Christian life is a journey, that we are all following the call of Jesus in our lives.

Lent reminds us that we are walking with him. Companions in his mission of bringing all men and women to know his salvation. Striving for his Kingdom, until the world is filled with God’s glory.

In these 40 days, we are preparing for Easter when we renew the promises of our Baptism. The traditional Lenten practices — fasting, prayer, almsgiving and penance — are meant to strengthen us in our identity as children of God and followers of Jesus.

Following Jesus means two basic things. It means being disciples — people who are always learning from the words and example of our one Teacher and true Master. And it means being missionaries — people with a life-mission to spread his teaching and the love of God in everything we do.

Jesus shows us the way we should approach our lives and he invites us to find joy on a journey of daily conversion, trying to grow every day a little more in our likeness to him.

This Lent, I want to invite all of us to deepen our journey of conversion by reflecting on the Beatitudes. I’ve found myself reflecting on the Beatitudes since my pilgrimage to the Holy Land late last year. There was something powerful about being in the place where Jesus first spoke these words to his disciples.

Jesus gives us the Beatitudes at the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount, the great program of life we find in St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 5, 6 and 7. They are familiar to us:

Blessed are the poor in spirit ...

Blessed are those who mourn …

Blessed are the meek …

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness …

Blessed are the merciful …

Blessed are the pure in heart …

Blessed are the peacemakers …

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake …

Blessed are you when men revile you … on my account.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus isn’t talking about different sorts of people — such as people who are poor, or people who are meek or merciful.

If we notice, Jesus is really describing himself in the Beatitudes.

In assuming our human condition, Jesus made himself poor for our sake, with no place to lay his head. He wept for sin and death and was merciful to sinners. He was meek and pure in heart. He made himself hungry and thirsty for justice and our salvation. Reviled and persecuted for his righteousness, on his Cross he made peace, reconciling all things to God.

The Beatitudes show us the face of Jesus. And his face should be like a mirror in which we see ourselves. When Jesus looks at us, he wants to see us living the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are what a child of God looks like.

Beatitude means “blessedness” — perfect happiness. So the Beatitudes are the summary of the path of Christ, the way of love that leads to the happiness that every human heart desires — the holiness and eternal beatitude of God’s Kingdom.

God’s ways are not our ways. The way of life that Jesus calls us to follow is a way the world calls foolishness. How can we find happiness in being poor and powerless, persecuted and mourning?

In his Beatitudes, Jesus turns the world’s expectations inside out and upside down. The challenge for us is to have the courage to believe him, and to really follow the path he sets before us.

Lent is a time for doing that.

During my columns this Lent, I want to keep reflecting on the Beatitudes. And let’s try to use this Lent to help us deepen the attitudes and actions of the Beatitudes in our lives.

Our fasting can help make us poor in spirit. Our almsgiving can help us to hunger and thirst for justice, to be peacemakers. Our penance can help us mourn our sins and be merciful to others. Our prayer can help us to become meek and willing to suffer for the sake of God.

So, as we begin Lent next week, let’s pray for one another. May we set the Beatitudes before us as a path for our own lives and for our Church. We cannot change the world without the spirit of the Beatitudes.

So let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help us grow in this spirit, in the joy of living as God wants us to live.

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