Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lent and Ash Wednesday

Morning everyone, welcome to the season of Lent.  While it is not in fact a Holy Day of Obligation, I suspect that most of my Catholic readers will in fact take the amazing opportunity to begin this season with the Eucharist.  I was struck by the first reading for today, and I thought I would share it and a brief reflection. 

Joel 2:12-18.
Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting,
and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For
gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting
in punishment.
Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind him a blessing, Offerings and
libations for the LORD, your God.
Blow the trumpet in Zion! proclaim a fast, call an assembly;
Gather the people, notify the congregation; Assemble the elders, gather the
children and the infants at the breast; Let the bridegroom quit his room,
and the bride her chamber.
Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD,
weep, And say, "Spare, O LORD, your people, and make not your heritage a
reproach, with the nations ruling over them! Why should they say among the
peoples, 'Where is their God?'"
Then the LORD was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on his
It seems, (and mind you, this perception is magnified by my temperament), that there is a movement out there to make Lent "happy."  I have heard exhortations that, "It's not just about giving things up, you could take something good up, too." While this is true, the implication sometimes seems to be that as opposed to a personal Lenten fast, one should have a personal Lenten good work.

There is nothing wrong with good works, good works are exemplary.  However, the readings don't say, "pick up litter on the ground when you see it."  They say, "Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning."

We would be wrong to neglect our sacrifices for the season of Lent.  Now is the time Christ spoke of in the Gospels when he said, "Soon enough their bridegroom be taken away from them, and then they shall fast."  

Now, that aside, there is a tremendous need to also do good works, they just must not replace our sacrifices.  Take this exhortation from Saint Peter Chrysologus:

Saint Peter Chrysologus (c.406-450), Bishop of Ravenna, Doctor of the Church
Sermon 8 ; CCL 24, 59 ; PL 52, 208 
Exercises for Lent: almsgiving, prayer, fasting
My dear brethren, today we set out on the great Lenten journey. So let us
take our food and drink along in our boat, putting onto the chest the
abundant mercy we shall need. For our fasting is a hungry one, our fasting
is a thirsty one if it isn't sustained by goodness and refreshed by mercy.
Our fasting will be cold, our fasting will flag if the fleece of almsgiving
doesn't clothe it, if the garment of compassion does not wrap it around.Brethren, what spring is for the land, mercy is for fasting: the
soft, spring winds cause all the buds on the plains to flower; the mercy of
our fast causes all our seeds to grow until they blossom and bear fruit for
the heavenly harvest. What oil is to the lamp, goodness is to our fast. As
the oily fat sets the lamp alight and, in spite of so little to feed it,
keeps it burning to our comfort all night long, so goodness makes our
fasting shine: it casts its beams until it reaches the full brightness of
self-restraint. What the sun is to the day, almsgiving is to our fast: the
sun's splendor increases the light of day, breaking through the dullness of
the clouds; almsgiving together with fasting sanctifies its holiness and,
thanks to the light of goodness, dispels from our desires anything that
could petrify. In short, what the body is for the soul, generosity acts
similarly for the fast: when the soul leaves the body it brings about
death; if generosity abandons the fast, it is its death. 
So do good, be generous, be merciful, and this will inflame your fasting, that our Heavenly Father may be pleased by the offering of a contrite heart, and give back to us the joy of his salvation.

I leave you with the words of today's Psalm:

Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion blot 
out my offense. 
Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me. 
For I know my offense; my sin is always before me. 
Against you alone have I sinned; I have done such evil in your sight That 
you are just in your sentence, blameless when you condemn. 
A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit. 
Do not drive me from your presence, nor take from me your holy spirit. 
Restore my joy in your salvation; sustain in me a willing spirit. 
Lord, open my lips; my mouth will proclaim your praise. 

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