Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

Ashes: The Christian in Lent

Ok, so I am going to try, briefly, to tie a few things together.

1. Every Christian is by baptism a priest, prophet, and king (or queen, as the case may be). That includes every man, woman, and child who has been claimed by Christ under those regenerating waters. What does this mean, though? I am going to strip away the rhetoric for once and (try to) get to the point.

1A. Christ is the Great High Priest, the Great Prophet, and the King of All Creation. In baptism, we are united with Him and become part of Him, and adopted brothers of His, and adopted sons and daughters of the Living God with whom He is One, and we through Him.

1B. A priest, fundamentally, is one who makes intercession to God and offers sacrifices to Him on behalf of the people, and gives to the people God's blessings. Every Christian is called to be a man or woman of prayer, especially for others, and of sacrifice, especially of our own bodies and wills. We offer these prayers and sacrifices, in imitation of Christ, on behalf of ourselves, our loved ones, and the world. Ordained priests serve this role in a particularly acute, sacramental way within the Church, and the whole Church (that's all the baptized!) serves this role within the world in a less crystalized, more day-to-day way.

1C. A prophet, fundamentally, is not one who tells the future (though he might), but one who speaks for God - "pro-pheme" in Greek, a "speaks-for." Christ came as the final, fullest revelation of God's love for us. In His own flesh, He (God) manifests His desire to be with us intimate in bodily union, a union accomplished first in baptism and then most perfectly in Eucharistic Communion. Jesus' very existence makes this will of God clear to us. His words announced what He and His Father are about. We Christians, sharing in the mission of our Master, our Friend (John 15:12-17, esp., 15:15), also must speak God's word. We must put priority on living it out though. We cannot wait to live it perfectly before we speak it, or else we'll never speak it. But the emphasis in our lives must be on prayerfully hearing God, digesting and living His voice, and then amplifying it to the world in our own deeds and words.

1D. A king (or queen), fundamentally, is not one who bosses around and tyrannizes, but one who has been given authority by God to make a patch of the world more like the Kingdom of Heaven. That's all of us. We all have a patch of the world over which we have influence or even authority: our homes, friends, work environments, students, neighborhoods - all of these to varying extents are within our reach, as it were. We are, like Jesus, to use what the Father has given us to make our area more like God would have it be. We are to use our abilities, influence, and authority firstly for service - never for lordliness (Mt 20:20-28). We are to heal hearts, serve the weak and poor, right wrongs, salvage relationships, make good use of resources - all to make the world more like the Kingdom.

1E. These three dimensions of Christ's life and of our life in Christ are called the Triple Munera, the Three Offices/Duties/Functions of Christ. The Church, His Mystical Body, shares in them - our ordained clergy firstly and in a particular, sacramental and directing-leadership sort of way - and all the rest of us in a general and raw-horsepower sort of way.

2. We have just begun Lent. During Lent we are commended to remember our sinfulness and God's mercy in a particularly acute way in order to prepare for the remembrance of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our blessed Lord. The Church has three ways of life that are now more than ever to be lived out with diligence - prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

2A. Prayer is time spent opening our heart and lifting it toward union with God. It might be while we do something else, but like everything else, if we want to really get good at it (like all communication, it takes practice) we need to set aside time for it daily. Lent is an especially good time to adapt some new prayer discipline - a daily rosary or morning offering, weekly Stations of the Cross, something. Prayer is especially important for living our our priestly office, but also for our prophetic office, and even for our royal office. After all, if we are to govern as God would have us, we had better be listening to Him.

2B. Fasting is, broadly speaking, abstaining from some food, drink, (or other other pleasure) or food and drink in general. The Church's rule is minimal: on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday we must carry out a simple fast, which means we take no meat, only one full meal, and up to two other meals that combined are smaller than a meal, without any snacking in between. Only those who have reached adulthood and haven't yet reached old age are required to fast. Everyone else merely abstains from meat, and everyone abstains from meat on Fridays in Lent. Really, the Church encourages us to abstain from meat on all Fridays, or to do some other sacrifice instead. During Lent, we pick an additional Lenten abstinence or fast that can hopefully be a sacrifice we continue in altered form after Lent, something that will change our lives for the better, for the godlier. Fasting is especially important to the prophetic office because one who preaches the Word of God had better feed on it, and remember that it is his primary food (Mt 4:3-4). Because priests offer sacrifice, a sacrifice of our time and even of our own bodily needs and desires, is perhaps the most concrete way to sacrifice our will to God. But good kings also sacrifice to God because they know that they are not the real top-dog, but that God is.

2C. Almsgiving is giving to the poor. It should be a near daily way of life for Christians, something we plan into our budget and not just something we do if we have anything left over (who really ever does?). Living a Christian life, or working for the Church, is not a substitute for generosity to her poorest children. I used to work for the Church and was given a small salary, and did not give to the poor very much. I am very embarrassed of that now. I might have given something. I earn less now, because I am studying full time, but give a lot more than I did then (it is still not much, lol). Even homeless people can give a bit of change. At least I know now that I am doing what I can to support the Church (the tithe) and care for those in need (almsgiving, properly speaking). Almsgiving is especially important to our royal office as Christians because as Christian king-lets and queen-lets, we are not to lord our Christianity over others ("See how holy I am!") but to serve them. The neediest first. Almsgiving keeps us oriented in that direction.

2D. As per Matthew 6, we are not supposed to do these things SO THAT others can see them. But as per Matthew 5, we are also supposed to be a good example to glorify God by our good deeds. How do we reconcile these two things? We should do our good deeds as part of our ongoing interior conversion. The quieter the better, generally speaking. If, for the sake of another, it is useful to the other that he should know of a good deed of ours, then we may allow him to know. And we need not be ashamed of our good deeds, either, especially when we are doing them as part of a group activity of the Church, as part of a public gesture of the People of God. If you are as vainglorious as I am, then it is probably best to keep your personal good deeds as private, tucked inside your vest when possible. The whole idea is to lose ourselves a bit in the heart of God and in the needs of the world.

2E. For each of our disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we should pick something that fulfills all four of the criteria that follow:

  1. It should be difficult. A challenge, people. Lent is not supposed to be easy, but a reminder of our weakness.

  2. It should be doable. Lent is not setting us up for failure, but setting us up to remember that we need God.

  3. It should be permissible. We must not do anything contrary to our real duties. A student cannot give up homework for Lent. Nice try, kids.

  4. It must be good. We can commit to going to Mass on Wednesday evenings. We can commit to giving up sweets. Mass is a good thing. Sweets are good things. We are supposed to be giving Jesus good gifts, whether we give him prayers or sacrifices or acts of love to his poor brethren. We must not give up fornicating. Fornicating is bad. We should have given that up ANYWAY. Although, frankly, I suppose Lent is a good time to do so if you haven't already. But give up sweets, too.
2F. And don't forget to go to confession before Easter. It is the solemn duty of a Christian to so. In fact, we call (confession) + (receiving holy communion during the Easter season) our "Easter duty," or the "Easter obligation." By secretly confessing our sins, we loudly proclaim not only our sinfulness (our true, current condition) but also the Lordship of Jesus. It's the only time of year that we are required to go to communion in order to maintain our communion with the Church. And to do so, we should prepare by going to confession. Especially if we haven't been in a while. If it kinda hurts, or you can think of ten reasons not to go, or you are scared - that's all pride and fear waging a spiritual warfare in your head to keep you from God. Don't listen. Just go to the priest and receive Jesus' mercy like the Bible tells us to (James 5:16 and John 20:23). You won't regret it.

Happy Lent!

1 comment:

Marisa said...

Really great intro to Lent - I think I will read it to my family tonight. They might not think it so cool, but it will be good for them :-) Do you mind if I link to this from my FaceBook?