Bottom line: To find hope when life hurts, Jesus invite us to pray, fast and give.
Welcome to Lent! This year we have an interesting coincidence: We are observing Ash Wednesday on Valentine's Day! The last time it happened was 1945. Let's take advantage of this opportunity to reclaim the meaning of love: not so much a warm feeling or an attraction, but a decision, a grace from God that enables a person to sacrifice - to give one's life for others and for God.
Sister Barbara exemplified that love. She spent her life - over 65 years as a religious sister - serving God and serving others, including us. Her death has affected all of us. The blues come over me suddenly and I feel empty. A Lenten booklet is helping me: Finding Hope When Life Hurts. That in fact will be our Lenten theme - Finding Hope When Life Hurts.
One thing we'll see in this booklet by Joseph Sica: If you want to find hope, you gotta make a decision. Stop drifting and make a decision. In his introduction Fr. Sica says, "Almost daily I hear tales of people with incredible heartaches, tragedies and misfortune. Others feel worn down by life's normal stresses and strains. No matter what life is handing you right now, Lent is here to remind you to hang on to hope and turn to Jesus. He is walking with you."
When we receive ashes we will hear, "Repent and believe in the Gospel." Make a decision today to turn to Jesus. He calls us to prayer, fasting and giving. He doesn't say "if you pray, if you fast, if you give." He says "when you pray, when you fast, when you give."
To find hope when life hurts involves prayer, fasting and giving. This coming Sunday I'll talk more about prayer. We'll hear about Jesus' 40 days in the desert. If Jesus can spend 40 days in prayer, can you and I not spend 40 second when we rise or go to bed? Or maybe carve out 40 minutes to come before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament? Or maybe at a prayer corner in your home? If we cannot set apart time for Jesus we are unlikely to find the hope he offers us. He is walking with you and wants to speak to you.
Lent reminds us we need to join fasting to prayer. You know, we are the only generation - I'm talking about my generation, baby boomers and younger - our generation lost sight of fasting. In 1980 Pope John Paul II asked an American priest, "What happened to fasting and abstinence in the United States?"
The answer lies in our character. We are overall a pretty law-abiding people. In 1966 our bishops voted to "terminate the traditional law of abstinence...in the hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law."* We know how well that worked. A few people kept meatless Fridays but most do no Friday penance except during Lent.
Americans are law-abiding and we can also be legalistic. We think we're fine if we do what the law requires. But, we say, "for heaven's sake, don't overdo it." That mentality - don't overdo it - in fact has undone us. It's fatal for a disciple. Doing the minimum requirement is a good start. Jesus does rejoice in the smallest step, but ultimately he wants your entire self.
It's not too late to make a new beginning. St. Paul says "now is the acceptable time." Prayer, joined to fasting, has great power. You see it throughout the Bible. For example Ezra say, "So we fasted and earnestly prayed that our God would take care of us, and he heard our prayer." (8:23)
I invite you to join me in the Daniel Fast. The prophet Daniel fasted 21 days from all savory foods and wine. That means no meat, no cheese, no dairy, no eggs, no bread, no sugar, no fried food, no alcohol. So what's left? Nuts, whole grains, seeds, legumes, vegetables, olive oil, fruit. Try the Daniel Fast on Fridays of Lent, especially this Friday when Pope Francis asks us to fast and pray for the people of Congo and South Sudan.
I know that some cannot do such a fast. I understand that each person has different circumstances and may need to modify. Those who do undertake the Daniel Fast will benefit not only spiritually but also physically and emotionally.
Most of us would obey a doctor who tells us to avoid certain foods for health or to live longer. But what about spiritual health and true life? To find hope when life hurts, Jesus invite us to pray, fast and give. "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."
Here's the key section from “Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence”:
Among the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance which we especially commend to our people for the future observance of Friday, even though we hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday, we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat. We do so in the hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law.
From Archives (Ash Wednesday Homilies):
Homilies for First Sunday of Lent ("Temptation Sunday"):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources) *New episodes for Ordinary Time leading up to Lent*
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron
Bulletin (St. Mary of Valley Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru