Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I would like to begin by extending a big thank you to all those who took part in last week’s Multicultural Mardi Gras Celebration. Thank you to Father Joe for all his hard work in planning the event, and thank you to all the volunteers who so generously and enthusiastically cooked and performed – it was great seeing so many different cultures from our parish come together to celebrate what unites us, above all our faith.
From that celebration, we now find ourselves in Lent. Pope Francis once wrote, “Lent comes providentially to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy.” These first days of Lent may feel like a bit of a shock – shaking our normal comfortable routing – but the season can be an incredible opportunity of growth for ex- actly that reason. It’s by breaking our routine that we can see how we can improve it and bring Christ more to the center. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote similarly, “Lent is like a long ‘retreat’ during which we can turn back into ourselves and listen to the voice of God, in order to defeat the temptations of the Evil One. It is a period of spiritual ‘combat’ which we must experience alongside Jesus, not with pride and presumption, but using the arms of faith: prayer, listening to the word of God and penance. In this way we will be able to cele- brate Easter in truth, ready to renew the promises of our Baptism.” He uses strong language – of combat and arms – but he captures that idea well that we go out into the desert with Christ during Lent to defeat the temptations of the world around us.
In the coming weeks I hope to focus on each Lenten practice of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and the practice of fasting seems to be a good place to begin, especially as it resonates powerfully with this im- agery. If we are in combat with evil, if we are faced with temptation, one of the most important virtues we can have is the ability to fast. By fasting we look at the world and choose perfectly good things, like food or drink or entertainment, and cast them aside to show that they have no power over us. We put aside worldly things that can occupy so much of our lives, remembering that all of it will turn to dust, and focus on Christ. Like soldiers, we develop that discipline to be able to reject even good things, so that we are prepared to reject evil things when they tempt us. And it can be incredibly encouraging and incredibly fulfilling, because we realize we don’t need these things or live for these things, we live for something more, something beyond this life to which nothing in this world can compare.
What a powerful witness in our time! In a world that is so caught up in comfort, that lives only for this world and finds despair, we are called to stand apart by choosing discomfort for God’s sake, revealing that there’s something worth dying for, which means there’s also something worth living for. We are called to have a disciplined control over ourselves which allows us to give ourselves as a gift, freed from the chains of attachment to the world.
Far from being a negative thing then, fasting is a great affirmation of life and what life is all about. We take time to fast, so that when Easter comes we have all the more reason to feast, to celebrate the joy Christ brings to those who offer themselves to him. As Lent goes on, may we challenge ourselves to sacrifice a little more each day, knowing that by descending more deeply into the tomb with Christ, we will rise more glori- ously with him on Easter morning.
Yours in Christ,