Now that we have begun the Season of Lent through coming to church in order to receive our ashes as an outward sign of our interior desire to come closer to the Lord through fasting, almsgiving, prayer and works of charity, it may be time for us to reflect more seriously on what all that means on a daily basis. For many of us, we have lived a number of Lents, and still we find that we have a ways to go in likening ourselves more and more to Jesus Christ, to allowing Jesus to completely transform our lives, to listen more attentively to the Holy Spirit as that Spirit encourages us to go deeper and deeper into a life of conversion.
Pope Francis, when he first announced the Jubilee Year of Mercy, stated that he was hopeful that especially during this particular Lenten season we would both experience the mercy of God and to do our best to put into practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. With this in mind, he has written to the faithful in a letter entitled, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice: The works of mercy on the Jubilee path.” I think it is very apropos, then, that we listen to Pope Francis at the beginning of Lent and discern how best to use these sacred days leading up to the Paschal Mystery.
“God’s mercy transforms human hearts. It enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbor and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbors in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them. On such things we will be judged. For this reason, I expressed my hope that ‘the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; this will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy.’ For in the poor, the flesh of Christ ‘becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled…to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us.’ It is the unprecedented and scandalous mystery of the extension in time of the suffering of the Innocent Lamb, the burning bush of gratuitous love. Before this love, we can, like Moses, take off our sandals (cf. Ex 3:5), especially when the poor are our brothers or sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith.
“In the light of this love, which is strong as death (cf. Song 8:6), the real poor are revealed as those who refuse to see themselves as such. They consider themselves rich, but they are actually the poorest of the poor. This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars. The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow. It can even reach the point of being blind to Lazarus begging at their doorstep (cf. Lk 16: 20-21). Lazarus, the poor man, is a figure of Christ, who through the poor pleads for our conversion. As such, he represents the possibility of conversion which God offers us and which we may well fail to see. Such blindness is often accompanied by the proud illusion of our own omnipotence, which reflects in a sinister way the diabolical ‘you will be like God’ (Gen 3:5) which is the root of all sin. This illusion can likewise take social and political forms, as shown by the totalitarian systems of the twentieth century, and in our own day, by the ideologies of monopolizing thought and technoscience, which would make God irrelevant and reduce man to raw material to be exploited. This illusion can also be seen in the sinful structures linked to a model of false development based on the idolatry of money, which leads to lack of concern for the fate of the poor on the part of wealthier individuals and societies; they close their doors, refusing even to see the poor.
“For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favorable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practicing the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited. In the spiritual works of mercy—counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer—we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need. By taking this path, the ‘proud,’ the ‘powerful’ and the ‘wealthy’ spoken of in the Magnificat can also be embraced and undeservedly loved by the crucified Lord who died and rose for them. This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches. Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell. The pointed words of Abraham apply to them and to all of us: ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them’ (Lk 6:29). Such attentive listening will best prepare us to celebrate the final victory over sin and death of the Bridegroom, now risen, who desires to purify his Betrothed in expectation of his coming.
“Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favorable a time for conversion! We ask this through the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, who, encountering the greatness of God’s mercy freely bestowed on her, was the first to acknowledge her lowliness (cf. Lk 1:48) and to call herself the Lord’s humble servant (cf. Lk 1:38).”
Corporal Works of Mercy Spiritual Works of Mercy
Feed the hungry Counsel the doubtful
Give drink to the thirsty Instruct the ignorant
Clothe the naked Admonish sinners
Shelter the homeless Comfort the afflicted
Visit the sick Forgive offenses
Visit the imprisoned Bear wrongs patiently
Bury the dead Pray for the living and the dead
FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT
Today’s reading from Deuteronomy provides instructions for a ceremony of offering the first fruits to the “Lord, your God.” This phrase is characteristic of the author of Deuteronomy, who identifies the Lord as the God of Israel, in contrast to the various gods of Egypt and Canaan. Because it was the Lord who delivered them from Egypt and rescued them at the sea, the Israelites pledge to accept the Lord as their own god, exclusive of the gods of their neighbors. Offering the first fruits acknowledges that they would have nothing without the Lord’s help. During their forty years in the wilderness, Israel learned to rely on the Lord for their existence.
Paul tells the Romans that dependence on God is the key to salvation. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” He tells us that we are called to “confess with our mouth…and believe in our heart” in order to be “justified” and “saved.” In the biblical world, to be justified is to be made right with God; the heart was the organ of decision-making and thought, not of emotion as in our day. So believing with our heart means that we have incorporated our belief into our way of thinking and living.
Luke tells us that after Jesus was baptized, he “was led by the Spirit into the desert…to be tempted by the devil.” His temptations deal with satisfying hunger, acquiring power, and trusting God. In each case he replies to the devil using verses of Scripture. His dependence is on God, as ours should be. Interestingly, Luke tells us that after the devil “had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.” This implies that the devil is not done with his work. We know from personal experience that temptation is not something we encounter just once in life. Jesus’ example teaches us that with the help of God and God’s word, we can resist temptation.
For Reflection: Does my life indicate that I “believe in my heart”? Do I employ God’s word to resist temptation? How do I try to get rid of temptations, especially those which seem to recur on a regular basis?
AN IMPORTANT ARTICLE
This article by Archbishop Blasé Cupich appeared in the latest issue of the Catholic New World, but I suspect that not everyone receives a copy of the archdiocesan newspaper every two weeks. It is such an important statement from the Archbishop that I am reproducing it in the bulletin especially for those who have not yet read it in the media. Please take the time to both read and digest what the Archbishop has written to all of us.
Renew My Church
Dreaming Big about the Archdiocese of Chicago
Archbishop Blasé J. Cupich
Americans are known as a people who dream, and dream big. As a country of immigrants, dreaming is in our national DNA. The dream of a better life gave immigrants the courage to leave their families and ancestral homes and start over. Their dreams sustained them as they shouldered unimaginable burdens, inspired them to take risks, and gave them the daring to do things never done before.
And just as dreaming big has distinguished us as Americans, it has also marked the Catholic Church in this country, particularly in this archdiocese. Catholic immigrants came to this land not only with their dreams but also with their deep faith, energizing them to build churches, schools, and hospitals. They formed and sustained vibrant communities, enriched by the cultures of their places of origin. Responding to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Catholics drew on the resilience they learned as immigrants to rebuild. Like the mythical phoenix, which today adorns the crest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, these hearty dreamers lifted themselves from the ashes, making the Church even more vibrant and alive.
As the first American pope and a son of immigrants, Pope Francis is calling the entire Church to dream, and dream big. He wrote in “The Joy of the Gospel”: “I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.”
I have long shared this dream. It was a dream that began to stir in me when I entered the seminary just after the close of the Second Vatican Council. Over my forty-plus years as a priest, I have become even more convinced of the great potential of our parishes, when vibrant and alive with the Gospel, to transform lives and make a singular contribution to the world. That conviction has only increased since becoming archbishop of Chicago, as I witness every day a vitality in our parishes that enriches the lives of so many people.
Admittedly, the fulfillment of this dream is a patchwork of success and failure. Every parish has its strengths and weaknesses in fulfilling the mission of Christ. While measuring parish vitality is complex, if I were asked to describe a parish of my dreams, it would be a parish that adopts and pursues these seven priorities.
- We bring people to Christ: The parish strives to evangelize its members to live more fully as intentional disciples. In turn, the parish’s intentional disciples are continuously evangelizing others by making known the presence of the Church and Christ’s mercy in the midst of the community.
- We support each other in knowing Christ more deeply: The parish enables a lifelong process of formation for deepening one’s faith and relationship with Christ by passing on the Church’s teaching and Tradition to parishioners of all ages.
- We encounter Christ and receive nourishment through prayer and worship: The parish is intentional in developing a culture and tradition of prayer, devotion, and well-prepared liturgy, with the Eucharist as the “Source and the Summit.”
- We build bonds among each other to sustain our life in Christ: The parish represents a genuine Catholic community that is conscious of its solidarity in Christ with the entire Church of Chicago and the Universal Church. It is inclusive and harmonious, respecting and appreciating diversity in all its forms as an asset in worship and community life.
- We transform the lives of others through service as Christ’s missionary disciples: The parish prepares and sends parishioners as missionary disciples into the world to transform society with the joy and truth of the Gospel. The parish is a beacon of faith and an advocate for justice and peace, reaching out in love to all who are in need, on the margin of society, or who live in fear and loneliness.
(to be continued next week)
AN INVITATION TO MEMBERS OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION
The Catholic Lawyers Guild of Chicago invites you to their 2016 Lenten Day of Reflection entitled “Jesus: The Human Face of God’s Mercy.” Please join us Saturday, February 27, 2016, from 8:30 A.M. until 3:30 P.M. for a day of prayer, reflection and discussion. The presenter will be Fr. Donald Senior, C.P., President Emeritus, Chancellor and Professor of New Testament Studies at the Catholic Theological Union.
The Day of Reflection will be held at the Catholic Theological Union Academic and Conference Center, located in Hyde Park at 5416 South Cornell Avenue, Chicago. For further information and to register, please visit www.clgretreat.org or contact Bill Castle at 773-787-8783.
A CHUCKLE FOR LENT
After two tries using Facebook, I have given up. However, I am trying to make friends outside of Facebook while applying the same principles.
So, every day I go out on the street and tell a passerby what I have eaten, how I feel, what I have done the night before and what I will do after I go inside. I give them pictures of my spouse, my daughter, my dog, and me gardening and spending time in a pool. I also listen to their conversations and tell them I love them.
And it WORKS. I already have three people following me: two police officers and a psychiatrist!