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The gut feeling is, the time is about right. With all living things of which we are a part, we instinctively feel the need for a yearly renewal. And Lent is here, a timely and precious gift of new life from God. As the world becomes more fascinated and engrossed in the culture of death, the inner alarm for conversion and renewal is also being heard with greater urgency and need.
It has been observed that apart from Christmas, many more people attend Ash Wednesday Mass and receive ashes than any other feasts including Easter. This is evidence that the call to renewal is a mystique and attraction which goes deeper and beyond “religions”. It is deep in us; it’s important to acknowledge this inner call to renewal honestly and humbly and to do something about it.
Pope Francis has a most striking way to suggest the kind of fasting we should do in Lent. The pope often quotes St John Chrysostom the mystic: “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.” Hence the Pope says if we’re going to fast on anything this Lent, he suggests that even more than candy or alcohol, we fast on indifference towards others.
The Pope describes the phenomenon of this cultural expression of death calling it “The Globalization of Indifference”. He writes: “whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.” But when we fast on this indifference, we can begin to feast on love. In fact, Lent is the perfect time to learn how to love again. Jesus—the great Leader and Lord of this holy season—certainly showed us the way. In him, God descends all the way down to bring everyone up. In his life and his ministry, no one is excluded.
“What are you giving up for Lent?” It’s a question a lot of people will get these next few days. If you want to change your body, perhaps alcohol, candy and fags, is the way to go. But if you want to change your heart, a harder fast is needed. This narrow road is gritty, but it isn’t sterile. It will make room in ourselves to experience a love that can make us whole and set us free.
Now that’s something worth fasting for!
In most parishes at Lent there are often candidates preparing intensely to receive baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist, or being received into full communion with the Catholic Church. When we fast, we think of them and support them not just in prayer but in every practical way we can. The least we can do is to appreciate the many scrutinies and rites during Masses instead of being irritated by the longer Mass.
Many parishes also organize to collect funds and stuff for the poor. But we should not limit ourselves to leave the care for the poor to a group or ministry. Unless we rise beyond this and be personally taking up the initiative to help others in need, then we are hardly dealing with the globalized and comfortable indifference.
Because of RCIA we continue to use the Sunday Readings from Year A, the Classic Cycle. These readings have been highly selected through the centuries to call for conversion and renewal and have been picked purposefully to prepare catechumens for baptism. They are baptismal classics. Their lessons are always relevant and new and never outdated in every age both for the baptized and the catechumens.
From this Sunday, the readings take us to be confronted with the ugly reality of the human condition: the Fall and Sin. With Jesus the Lord of Lent, we are called to join Him to come to grips with the brute in us. Out there in the desert, with Him, we fight against the temptation to live by our own word and on bread alone; reluctant to let go humbly, we test and challenge the faithful providence of God; and without doubt, we find ourselves in the temple of money, power, and pleasures. Scripture cannot be denied: all have sinned said St Paul.
Keep the humbling ashes visible on our forehead throughout Lent, for a humble and contrite heart the Lord will not spurn. Wishing all a different and holier Lent against the globalized indifference and a … brilliant Easter! – Fr Cosmas Lee