Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lent Begins

Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, we begin the holy season of Lent.  Reflecting on the meaning of Lent and doing the usual deliberation on my "Lenten Plan", I found the Church already gave us a clue in this past Sunday's Gospel:
And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases;
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
"Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. "Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.
"Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man!
Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
"But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.
"Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger. "Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
"Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
LK 6:17, 20-26
Notice how Luke's Beatitudes are different than the ones we are accustomed to hearing in the Gospel of Matthew (blessed are the poor, blessed are the hungry).  Jesus does not refer to the poor or the hungry in generic terms here, but "He lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: 'Blessed are YOU poor...blessed are YOU that hunger'".  And likewise Jesus directed a stern warning to the disciples: "Woe to YOU...".  Jesus speaks directly to His disciples, and in turn speaks directly to us.  If we are rich and full now--the terms Jesus used connote 'absolute capacity' or 'completion'--we have no room for God or desire for fulfillment in Him.

Lent, therefore, is a holy season to examine ourselves and purge those things in us which leave little or no room for God, and renew our desire for holiness.  Pope Benedict in his Lenten Message instructs us:
Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel, ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need – the need of others and God, the need of His forgiveness and His friendship. 
During the holy season of Lent, we are called to increase our normal practice of Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving.  What are these practices and what can we do to prepare for the Solemn Feast of Easter?  More to come.

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