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Lent is time to notice God's work, receive God's mercy

Lent is a time for Christians to get their hearts in sync with the heart of Jesus, Pope Francis said.
 
"Let the Lord heal the wounds of sin and fulfill the prophecy made to our fathers: 'A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh,'" the pope said Feb. 14, celebrating Mass and distributing ashes at the beginning of Lent.
 
After a brief prayer at the Benedictine's Monastery of St. Anselm, Pope Francis made the traditional Ash Wednesday procession to the Dominican-run Basilica of Santa Sabina on Rome's Aventine Hill for the Mass.
 
He received ashes on his head from 93-year-old Cardinal Jozef Tomko, titular cardinal of the basilica, and he distributed ashes to the cardinals present, three Benedictines, three Dominicans, an Italian couple with two children and members of the Pontifical Academy for Martyrs, which promotes the traditional Lenten "station church" pilgrimage in Rome.
 
In his homily, he said the Church gives Christians the 40 days of Lent as a time to reflect on "anything that could dampen or even corrode our believing heart."
 
Everyone experiences temptation, the pope said. Lent is a time to pause and step back from situations that lead to sin, a time to see how God is at work in others and in the world and, especially, a time to return to the Lord, knowing that his mercy is boundless.
 
Lent, he said, is a time "to allow our hearts to beat once more in tune with the vibrant heart of Jesus."
 
Hitting the reset button, the pope said, requires taking a pause from "bitter feelings, which never get us anywhere" and from a frantic pace of life that leaves too little time for family, friends, children, grandparents and God.
 
People need to pause from striving to be noticed, from snooty comments and "haughty looks," he said; instead, they need to show tenderness, compassion and even reverence for others.
 
"Pause for a little while, refrain from the deafening noise that weakens and confuses our hearing, that makes us forget the fruitful and creative power of silence," the pope said.
 
Use the pauses of Lent "to look and contemplate," he suggested. Christians can learn from seeing the gestures others make that "keep the flame of faith and hope alive."
 
"Look at faces alive with God's tenderness and goodness working in our midst," the pope said, pointing to the faces of families who struggle to survive yet continue to love, the wrinkled faces of the elderly "that reflect God's wisdom at work" and the faces of the sick and their caregivers who "remind us that the value of each person can never be reduced to a question of calculation or utility."
 
"See the remorseful faces of so many who try to repair their errors and mistakes, and who from their misfortune and suffering, fight to transform their situations and move forward," Pope Francis said.
 
But most of all, he said, "see and contemplate the real face of Christ crucified out of love for everyone, without exception. For everyone? Yes, for everyone. To see His face is an invitation filled with hope for this Lenten time, in order to defeat the demons of distrust, apathy and resignation.
 
The invitation, he said, is to "return without fear to those outstretched, eager arms of your Father, who is rich in mercy, who awaits you."
 
"Return without fear to join in the celebration of those who are forgiven," the pope said. "Return without fear to experience the healing and reconciling tenderness of God."
 
  • Published in World

Recognizing the feast of ashes, boredom and dull moments

“Lent comes providentially to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy.”
—Pope Francis

 
Many people have morning rituals. Mine include stretching, prayer, a good cup of tea and catching up with on-line news I missed during the night. As might be expected from a person of varied interests — and a grandmother — I am often distracted by other interesting tidbits, like the recent story, ‘The scary truth about what’s hurting our kids.”
 
As a grandparent, I just had to read it. It was worth the time and underscored the damage social media and an obsession with mobile devices causes to children’s mental health.
 
The article notes that, among other things, children suffer from an absence of dull moments and are being deprived of the important fundamentals of a healthy childhood, including opportunities for boredom.
 
As most wise grandparents will share, boredom is a nurturer for children, giving them a much-needed absence of stimulation, a blessed silence, moments when they can hear the whirring of their own minds in creative endeavors, an opportunity for them to hear the whisperings of God instead of the noise of everything else.
 
Children, like adults, need time to think.
 
When my husband was a child, before the advent of taking “time out” in some specially designated place in the house after a childish transgression, my mother-in- law, Muriel, wise as she was, doled out the punishment of pulling weeds. No sitting in the corner for my husband or his siblings. They could reflect on their wrong doings and make themselves useful at the same time.
 
I often wondered if Muriel took her cue from Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, whom she greatly admired, and who once said, “We can think of Lent as a time to eradicate evil or cultivate virtue, a time to pull up weeds or to plant good seeds. Which is better is clear, for the Christian ideal is always positive rather than negative.”
 
Muriel, who was no shrinking violet, would no doubt have reminded Bishop Sheen that you can’t plant the good seeds until you pull the weeds.
 
For today’s adults, who are continually lulled into a spiritual malaise by the white noise of a world where the absence of anything is considered deprivation, a time of emptiness devoid of worldly distractions is a feast for the spiritual life.
 
And so we come to the wisdom of Ash Wednesday and the days of Lent, time set aside in the liturgical year to focus interiorly on our relationship with God, and subsequently, our relationship with others. It is a time to strengthen both, realizing that our relationship with God is meaningless if some good for the other does not flow from it.
 
Too often, it seems we approach Lent with a serious solemnity, brought about by our sense of suffering through sacrifice. I am guilty of it, as much as at other times I am guilty of having no feelings about Lent whatsoever. I simply go through the motions, wear ashes and purple and convince myself that I am doing Lent because I am making sacrifices.
 
I have actually learned to do Lent better by watching my grandchildren in those rare dull moments when they are not distracted by toys or technology, when they have been sent outside because they are bored and are soon excitedly gathering stones and pine cones, examining bugs or catching toads and crickets, pulling apart fallen seed packets and planting seeds with great expectations that they will return in a few days to find new seedlings growing. And at the end of their unexpected adventure they run to you and say, “Look what I found!”
 
That is how I wish to approach Lent, when making sacrifice is a time of discovery, and when an examination of conscience leading to change is an experience of joy.
I want to keep in mind the thoughts of Thomas Merton who wrote, “Even the darkest moments of the liturgy are filled with joy, and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten fast, is a day of happiness, a Christian feast.”
 
— Mary Morrell
 

Pope: Lent breathes life into world

Lent is a time to receive God's breath of life, a breath that saves humanity from suffocating under the weight of selfishness, indifference and piety devoid of sincerity, Pope Francis said. 

"Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia born of relationships that exclude, that try to find God while avoiding the wounds of Christ present in the wounds of his brothers and sisters," the pope said March 1 during an Ash Wednesday Mass.

Pope Francis celebrated the Mass after making the traditional Ash Wednesday procession from the Benedictine monastery of St. Anselm to the Dominican-run Basilica of Santa Sabina on Rome's Aventine Hill.

After receiving ashes on top of his head from Cardinal Jozef Tomko, titular cardinal of the basilica, the pope distributed ashes to the cardinals, his closest aides, some Benedictines and Dominicans. 

He also distributed ashes to a family and to two members of the Pontifical Academy for Martyrs, which promotes the traditional Lenten "station church" pilgrimage in Rome.  

Lent, he said, is a time to say "no" to "all those forms of spirituality that reduce the faith to a ghetto culture, a culture of exclusion."

The church's Lenten journey toward the celebration of Christ's passion, death and resurrection is made on a road "leading from slavery to freedom" and "from suffering to joy," he said. "Lent is a path: It leads to the triumph of mercy over all that would crush us or reduce us to something unworthy of our dignity as God's children."

The ashes, while a symbol of humanity's origin from the earth, the pope said, is also a reminder that God breathes new life into people in order to save them from the suffocation of "petty ambition" and "silent indifference."

"The breath of God's life sets us free from the asphyxia that so often we fail to notice or become so used to that it seems normal, even when its effects are felt," the pope said. 

The Lenten season, he continued, is a "time for saying no" to the asphyxia caused by superficial and simplistic analyses that "fail to grasp the complexity of problems" of those who suffer most.

"Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia of a prayer that soothes our conscience, of an almsgiving that leaves us self-satisfied, of a fasting that makes us feel good," the pope said.

Instead, Pope Francis said, Lent is a time for Christians to remember God's mercy and "not the time to rend our garments before evil but rather make room in our life for the good we are able to do."

"Lent is the time to start breathing again. It is the time to open our hearts to the breath of the One capable of turning our dust into humanity," the pope said.
 
  • Published in Vatican
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