March 7, 2000
volume 11, no. 47
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CATHOLIC PewPOINT editorial for Tuesday, March 7, 2000
Therefore, in keeping with the remainder of that axiom, "for tomorrow we may die," we surely should. Not physically for the vast majority, but in striving to die to ourselves in the true spirit of Lent. The Church very wisely sets the tone with the words pronounced at the placing of the ashes on our foreheads, "Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return" as taken in part from Genesis 3: 19. How many truly understand those words and the stark realization of the fleeting world. No matter how much money or fame one attains in this world, to quote another axiom, "you can't take it with you!" But you can take with you the spiritual treasures built up during Lent and that's why banking with the great Deposit of Faith is so rewarding.
The Church over the centuries, especially this last one, has been badly maligned by the world and it is in that sense of being shunned that we should take the greatest consolation. In her wisdom and verification of her authenticity, the Church provides the penitential season of Lent annually not just to fill forty days in the spring but rather as a time for all members of the Mystical Body of Christ to willingly nail themselves to the Cross with Our Lord through their acts of prayer, reception of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist, sacrifice, charity and almsgiving. It is a great time to put into action the Corporal and Spiritual Acts of Mercy. Unlike the olden days, it is the only time the Church requires fasting and abstinence for all Fridays in Lent and Ash Wednesday. Even though that is the only time it is mandatory, the Church, as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary in her reported appearances at Medjugorje, strongly encourages year-round fasting and abstinence to make us strong and fit to run the good race as Saint Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 9: 24-27: "Do you not know that those who run in a race, all indeed run, but one receives the prize? So run as to obtain it. And everyone in a contest abstains from all things - and they indeed to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. I, therefore, so run as not without a purpose; I so fight as not beating the air; but I chastise my body and bring it into subjection, lest perhaps after preaching to others I myself should be rejected."
We truly need to be in spiritual shape and Lent is one way to tone our souls. Because of the confusion left by modernists who have downplayed this important aspect of grace, it is important to clarify the Lenten regulations here so there is no misunderstanding. Fasting means that all Catholics who have reached the age of 18 and not yet their 60th birthday, are required to limit their food consumption to one full meal, meaning that a smaller breakfast, supper or lunch cannot add up to a full meal. While many look at fasting as a way to lose weight in this vanity conscious society, we should rather look at it as a way to shed vices and gain grace. After all, we have enough dead weight to carry with us into eternity and if we can lighten the load considerably here on earth, it will afford us less time in Purgatory later. This kind of fasting is relatively easy and, in the truest sense, doesn't even constitute the true echelon of fasting which often entails, as Our Lady encourages at Medjugorje, fasting on bread and water alone on Wednesdays and Fridays. Many strict religious Orders follow this same fast year-round. So, we ask you, how hard is it to limit yourself to one full meal a day? Then consider that there are only two days this is required: tomorrow and Good Friday. Good grief, that's ridiculous if anyone can't observe the kind of fasting the Church asks for in two days out of 365. If anyone starts to feel hunger pains, just think of Africa and the countless millions there who are either dying from starvation in the Sudan, Congo, or Mozambique where, like in East Timor, their homes and lives have been totally wiped out.
The number of days of Abstinence are just slightly a few more. They include the seven Fridays of Lent in which any Catholic 14 and older must abstain from meat. That means fewer trips to McDonalds, Burger King or Pizza Hut, and maybe a stop at Long John Silver's instead, or better yet, be creative in making breads or experimenting with vegetables. Americans would be surprised how many other wonderful edibles are out there other than hamburgers, pizza, and tacos. You can tell by now we have teenagers in our home who pass over Mom's cooking for fastfood and we still don't understand it since their mom is an excellent cook and brings that homegrown love and mouthwatering flavor to the table every time. But too many youth today are spoiled on the spoils of "gotta eat, g'bye" lifestyle. Again, how hard is it to go without meat for seven days out of 365?
As the Blessed Mother points out in her messages, there are other ways of fasting and sacrifice that don't entail food for there are many who, because of medical reasons, cannot physically fast and keep up their health. But they can turn off the TV's, they can go out of their way to be extra kind to the grump down the street, or the annoying kids next door, or the gossip lady three houses down who watches everything. This editor's bride has often said that Our Lady has told her that the greatest fast we can perform is to wake up in the morning and throughout the entire day not say one bad thing about anyone, always practicing true charity through holding our tongues as Paul affirms in 1 Corinthians 13: 1, "If I should speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have charity, I have become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal." He goes on to say, "And if I have prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, yet do not have charity, I am nothing. And if I distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, yet do not have charity, it profits me nothing."
And it will profit us nothing if we enter this Lent without charity towards ourselves and others; charity towards ourselves in getting our own houses in order before God for someday we will indeed return to dust, and charity towards others as brothers and sisters in Christ, all made in the image and likeness of God which is Basic Baltimore 101. If we can all work on charity this Lent, reconciliation, which will have its emphasis this coming Sunday during the universal Church's observance of "Mea Culpa Day" or "Reconciliation Sunday," will come easier for all. It reminds us of another axiom, "you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar" and with so many applicants for holiness "flying" around out there, it's time to dump the sour sauce and reach for the nectar of the bees. That's what will make Lent more meaningful, more fruitful and bring into the fold more converts who, seeing our actions, will realize they're missing something wonderful. Just as the saints exhibited such virtues, so we also should strive to attain those attributes and the Church, in her wisdom, provides the perfect vehicle: LENT!
While the most pertinent grain during this time and everyday of the year is wheat providing the bread that will become the Body of Christ in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, there is another grain we can utilize and that is the grassy clover known as hay. It is the same substance Our Lord was laid on in the manger at Bethlehem and which, as willing receptacles for Him, we can rest our souls in His crib and be the hay that cradles Him and let His grace and holiness rub off on us so we may receive pure virtues and grace through some of the exercises outlined above. Think about it, we can be hay for Him, or chaff for the furnace! You make the choice. And that choice begins tomorrow for Lent provides the time to tone our souls so we can atone for our faults. Thus during this next forty days and nights, to paraphrase an old proverb, we have the opportunity to make 'hay' so the Son shines in our hearts and souls!
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