Why is it so challenging to grow in our faith? We hear what Jesus Christ and his Church teaches, and yet we don‟t think about it, or it doesn't make sense to us, and so we dismiss it because we do not want to take the time to ponder it, or we move on to easier things because of the obstacles.
In today‟s Gospel Jesus calls us to humbly remove the obstacles from our spiritual eyes, so that we can help re-move the obstacles from the spiritual eyes of others. It is a communal effort. When we remove the obstacles, then we can grow in faith, hope and love. The beginning of this communal effort is this Wednesday, March 2, Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent.
Jesus says to his disciples: “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother‟s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own? How can you say to your brother, „Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,‟ when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother‟s eye.” (See Luke, 6:39-45)
Clearly, we should remove the grave obstacles of mortal sin from ourselves first, before we can help others to grow in their dedication to Jesus Christ and his plan of salvation. Instead, we often look at other peoples‟ faults for an excuse not to grow in our own spiritual journey. Or we overlook our serious sins, only to hen peck the venial sins of others.
For this reason, Jesus has inspired his Church to make a communal effort to journey together into the season of Lent in order to remove the obstacles that are placed there by Satan (the Father of Lies), the fallen world, and our own fallen nature. We overcome these three opponents of our salvation through an increase of prayer (especially after receiving Jesus worthily in the Eucharist), fasting and almsgiving.
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis Office of Worship has given us a reminder of how to live deeply these forty days of the Lenten season of grace, fruitfully: “Penitential days – the penitential days for the universal Church are each Friday [Yes, you read that correctly “each Friday”] of the whole year and the season of Lent. Lent begins Ash Wednesday and concludes with the celebration of the Paschal Triduum. During this time the whole Church is invited to do penance in order to purify our hearts in preparation to celebrate the renewal of our baptismal promises on Easter Vigil/Sunday (April 16/17).
+The following regulations should be observed by Catholics during Lent:
Abstinence – Catholics 14 years of age or older are bound to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday, all Fridays of Lent, and Good Friday.
Fasting – Catholics 18 years or older, and under 59 years of age, are bound to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting is one full meal, with two other meals sufficient to maintain strength which together do not equal another full meal. Eating between meals is not permitted.
Both fasting and abstinence are required on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. When health or ability to work would be seriously affected by fasting, the law does not oblige. Of course, those younger than 18 or older than 59 years of age can work with their primary care giver to see how they, too, can participate in this communal fasting.
The goal of all our Lenten disciplines is the conversion of hearts. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance” (CCC, #1430). These penances help us to “repent” as the Lord asks, by redirecting our whole life toward God and away from sin and evil which wounds our nature (CCC, #1430-1439), and our relationship with God, others and ourselves. Penance frees us from excess so that we can help those in physical and spiritual need.
Each weekday of Lent, with the exception of Solemnities (which includes Sundays), is also an obligatory day of penance and should be marked by increased prayer and devotional practices such as the family Rosary, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Stations of the Cross, or giving up watch-ing TV, internet, desserts and other self-imposed fasting and abstinence.
Together, let us follow Christ into the desert of Lent. There, we realize more deeply our dependence upon our loving God and our need for his mercy through Jesus Christ and his Church, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the mercy we share with one another and the poor.
Peace in Christ,
Fr. Thomas McCabe