Sunday, February 26th
Once again, we find ourselves confronting this wonderful spiritual gift that the Church presents to us each year in the spring. I am referring to the holy season of Lent and it is truly a gift. The important thing is that we should properly utilize this gift.
All of us find ourselves harried, over-extended, busy, over-committed, stressed out, and sometimes nervous and insecure about the direction that our life seems to be taking. When any one of us is experiencing some of those feelings, the Church says with the warm, loving voice of a mother, “Here is the gift of Lent. Here are a few weeks for a calm spiritual renewal.”
In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus walking out into the desert. Let’s don’t let him go alone! Let’s walk with him. In the desert, there is a sameness about the terrain, there is an absence of distractions and there is the opportunity to lift our eyes towards God while at the same time looking inside of ourselves.
Let’s see these six weeks as a walk. We are not alone. We are walking behind Jesus and we will be walking with St. Mark. We will be walking with millions of our brothers and sisters in faith as we try to pull our battered and tired lives together, and give ourselves a clear focus on what life is about and how it ought to be lived.
Onward into the desert.
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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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We all know about ashes. Ashes are all that remains of some object that has been consumed by fire and is now reduced close to a state of nothingness. Whatever the object that was consumed by fire it has lost its substance, its form, its purpose. Ashes are terrible and yet today, the Church uses ashes to mark a beginning. Ashes are used to call us into a six-week period of prayer, study and sacrifice. We are to calmly observe the ashes sometimes present in our own spirituality and have them draw our minds and hearts upward towards the death of Jesus which will commemorate six weeks hence on the great feast of the Resurrection.
It is easy to spot Catholics on Ash Wednesday. I got a kick out of Vice President Joe Biden giving a TV address last year with that big black cross right in the middle of his forehead. He didn’t take it off. Most of us don’t. It is a reminder to each of us about the shortness of life, and a reminder to others that when they see that black cross that they also need to be concerned about how they are utilizing the gifts that God has given them.
Most of our churches will fill up several times today because people really love this simple symbol. They see its meaning, its value, they respond generously, and most will make a commitment to make better use of this year’s Lenten season than we did a year ago. I think that a vast majority of those simple resolutions are sincere but many of us fade out by the third week in Lent.
Let’s do get our ashes. Let’s be determined to prepare for what they signify over the next six weeks.
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We are now deeply into the holy season of Advent and we should be preparing ourselves spiritually for the great feast of our Lord’s birth. However, let’s face it. Nearly all of us are involved giving some degree of thought and planning to the logistics connected with that celebration. High on the list of our concerns is the fact that Christmas involves both giving and receiving. In my opinion, receiving is not a problem. We don’t have much control over it. It may require a little bit of exchanging following the opening of the gifts but we will get through it.
A more important issue is giving. At Christmas, we celebrate the reality that God has come to us, that God has given us the awesome gift of the power to share in his life. Whether we think about it or not that is the underlying justification for the exchange of gifts on this happy holiday. In view of that fact, there could be a question as to how we will handle our own giving policies. Are our gifts a reflection of our concern and appreciation of the recipient? Are our gifts a tit for tat based on what we received from that recipient last year? Or are our gifts really a reflection of ourselves – what we are like, what we represent and what we want our friends to see and share in their dealings with us?
About ten years ago, a new method of giving began to develop in this country and it is really a wonderful thing. I feel very happy and blessed when I get a number of Christmas cards during this holy season that a financial gift has been given to some special charitable program, some special need, some special ministry and that this gift has been given in my name. That method bonds me to the person and bonds me to that ministry or program.
I would like to urge others to program at least some of their gifts in this manner.
Most of our friends do not really need anything so we rack our brains trying to come up with something reasonable and meaningful. Believe me, you could not give a better gift than to send a check to St. Louise House, to Habitat for Humanity, Hospice Austin or maybe Meals on Wheels. A check like that takes on new life, reaches across the city and changes lives. Let’s all put some of our gifts in that category this year.
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