We have now been living in the holy season of Lent for three days. Most of us have made some type of commitment to endeavor to take care of this spiritual gift, and most of us are faithful to those commitments with only three days behind us. Today, the Church gives us a stark warning about clear thinking. The Isaiah text deals with the fact that centuries before the birth of Christ religious arrogance and self satisfaction abounded even then. In today’s first reading, Isaiah warns his listeners, “Your fast ends in quarrelling and fighting. Is that the manner of fasting I wish?” Then he refers to the pomposity that is present around him and Yahweh goes on in warning all of us,
“This rather is the fasting I wish – releasing those bound unjustly, untying the throngs of the yoke, setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke, sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked when you see them and not turning your back on your own.”
That is a step above giving up candy or movies for Lent, is it not?
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Most of us learn the hard way that the cliche, practice makes perfect, is really true. Regretfully, a large percentage of us also tilt towards being lazy. We are now in the first days of Lent. The challenge before us is to strengthen our spiritual commitment to our Divine Lord. To prepare properly to celebrate the Resurrection. In view of these facts, we’ve learned that one of the important things we do is to practice discipline. It is necessary to control our use of time. We must not only decide to pray more, we must actually PRAY more. We must not only desire to let our minds towards profound religious thoughts through prayer, conversation and reading, but we must discuss our faith and make use of the countless spiritual books that are always at our fingertips.
Exercising spiritual discipline will build up the strength in our day to day life to enable us to avoid complaining about that neighbor’s dog, or really exploding in the front seat of the car when all of those idiots on the freeway are driving improperly (something WE never do!).
This is a simple explanation of spiritual exercises worked into our daily routine. We must remember that these exercises are not an end in themselves, they are simply to strengthen our control over the automatic reactions that we have as we work our way through our hectic daily schedules. I realize that many people connect Lent with giving up something that they really like. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is far better to practice positive spiritual activity than simply skipping candy.
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When I was a kid back in Houston going to All Saints grammar school in the late ‘30’s and early ‘40’s, my classmates and I often made martyrs of ourselves. We did not have to fast as the adults did. For 10 or 12 year old kids, we did things that were more difficult. We gave up candy! We gave up desserts! We gave up movies! We were told rightly that if we could practice discipline, giving up things that were good, we would have greater strength in giving up things that were bad. I am sure that this is basically true. However, I would like to urge a different approach to Lent for adults.
Instead of giving things up for 40 days, we should endeavor to practice positive virtues in those areas of our personal life where we are having difficulties. Is there any one of us who is not having difficulties in our personal life? Is there any one of us who does not have a tendency to live our lives in such a way that it makes life unnecessarily difficult for those around us? I think not!
Let’s try this on for size. Do we adequately practice the virtue of patience? Regretfully, most of us have a tendency to judge ourselves rather easily and be somewhat harsher on the people around us. Did you ever notice when you are driving down IH-35 that there are so many crazy and irresponsible drivers? We ourselves, of course, travel serenely down the same lane without ever failing to give signals or ride too close to the car ahead of us. We all love to hear interesting stories but older people aren’t getting many new ones and therefore tend to repeat themselves about that great thing that happened in 1948. Repeating those stories gives our older friends great pleasure. Instead of cutting them off by telling them that we have already heard it, we should just lean back and let them have the satisfaction of telling a special story even though we have already heard it six times.
The list of possibilities goes on and on and every single day is filled with them. Let’s give God a commitment to being more patient as our Lenten sacrifice.
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