Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Preparing for Lent

As we begin this Lenten season, I thought I would share a few thoughts, but before I get too far, I would like to give a hat tip to a few sources that have helped me prepare for this reflection. Earlier this week, my friend Tom Perna wrote a great reflection on Psalm 41. I’m hoping he will give a similar treatment on Psalm 51 for Ash Wednesday. I found it particularly interesting that as we begin Lent, much focus is brought to our sinfulness, our weakness, that we must also find comfort in that if we will give ourselves fully to God, we will find the joy of salvation, through God’s loving mercy.

Second one is not to a friend (yet, but would like to know him!) is Father Dwight Longenecker, Parish Priest at Our Lady of the Rosary in Greenville, South Carolina. You may have read his blog, but I have found that I would like to add his book, The Gargoyle Code, to my reading list now. It is based on CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters¸ and focuses on two gargoyles during Lent, beginning on Shrove Tuesday. That post made me realize that the Enemy is always working against us, and never sleeps, constantly plotting our destruction. Fr Longenecker posted this excerpt today, and I pray he will forgive me for not seeking permission in advance, but I hope that you might find it to be efficacious and certainly poignant as we begin to prepare for the Resurrection of the Lord.

Those of you that attend Mass on Ash Wednesday will see the most peculiar phenomenon: In many cases, the church will be packed to the rafters, even though it is not a Holy Day of Obligation! I have often wondered why people that cannot find their way to any mass on any Sunday will search high and low to find a place to receive ashes on their forehead. Sometimes I wonder if we should not be seeking to get ashes every Sunday, if that would draw them in. This makes me ponder the message of today’s Gospel reading (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18), where Jesus warns us about practicing our piety in order that other men may see it. WOW! So why then, are we going to Mass, and then walking about showing them off all day? Doesn’t this seem to contradict precisely what Christ is telling us? So, I dug a bit, and then of course, I should have just turned to New Advent for the answer! On Ash Wednesday ashes are put on us by the priest to remind US that we are mere mortals, not so we can show off!”

Lent is a time for prayer, fasting and alms giving. We must also be mindful of Christ’s warning to be careful in how we approach this. Do not do it simply for the viewing pleasure of others, seek humility, meekness, and discretion in how you proceed on your Lenten journey. This morning we were all mindful to prepare for today in most ways that it were an ordinary day, teeth were brushed (even by the 12 year old!), clean fresh clothes, I took time to shave, while being mindful that today we are entering into the desert, and pray that with the Father’s mercy, and the Son’s saving grace, we will be a better instrument of the Spirit’s work in the world. We will attend mass this evening, and receive our ashes, and then go home together, strengthened by the graces received in attending mass with our community.

We have of course made some choices in things that we would offer up for Lent, most I will not mention, but the one I will is our choice to offer up the viewing of television during Lent. I was on the fence on this one until yesterday. I said to myself, “Self, you are strong; you can control your television viewing. That silly lady you married is being, well, silly.” Then I read the excerpt from The Gargoyle Code for Shrove Tuesday, and knew that I had to enter into this joyfully, and to provide my family the leadership and loving example we need.

Another goal is to refocus my prayer life, to keep it private as we are reminded by the Lord, but to find intentionality in my prayer. As the spiritual head of my household, I know that if I am not praying well, then my family is not praying well. A speaker at a conference once told us, “Prayer is your relationship with God!” So, if I my prayer life is not what it should be, then it stands to reason that my relationship with God is not what it should be. Let us use this time to strengthen our relationship with God that we might hear Him in the whisper in the wind, and find our place with Him in Heaven.

I am not suggesting that if you are not regularly praying that you should leap into a full Rosary every day! If you can do that, then you will be richly rewarded, but many try this and fail. Years ago, I was told to start off with an Ave and a Glory Be. Then up to a decade of the Rosary, and so on.

Alms giving is a subject that frequently causes many to cringe. But why, I wonder? All things come from God, though we may not recognize it as such. Our time, treasure and talents are from God, we are called to share them, not to hoard them. For what comes of that which we stockpile when we go to our eternal reward? You are dust, and to dust you shall return. At a later time, I will talk about how we plan for our alms giving, our charity. For now, I would remind you to set aside a portion of your time, your talent, and of course, your treasure to return back in gratitude for the life we are given.

So many focus on the “suffering” part of Lent. We should instead focus on the chance this is for us to grow in relationship with Christ, uniting all that we do, all that we are to Him, and especially, yes, to offer up our sufferings in unity with Him on the Cross at Calvary. He alone has borne our sins; He alone could provide us with justification. Only through Christ, the Son, can we find the Father. Only in these times of challenge can we change our lives and convert our hearts that we can properly receive the love intended for us from all eternity.

During this time of Lent, please do not think of it as an arduous task, something to be painstakingly endured and to suffer through. Empty yourself of worldly wants and open your hearts to be receptive of the gift that God so lovingly wants to bestow on all His children. Pray without ceasing, that your relationship with God will never cease, and you will find your life change in ways you could never imagine. Give until it hurts, and then give a little more. All of this, not so your neighbor can marvel at your piety, but that you might be grow in love with Our Lord.

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