On Monday, February 16th, we begin the holy season of the Great Fast. Once again, our Church invites us to embark upon this annual journey – a period of grace when we identify more closely with our Lord Jesus Christ in his suffering, death, and Resurrection.
During this time, we are encouraged to be faithful to our traditional Lenten practices. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are practical means for our spiritual move in the direction of our Savior. But we do not stop with just these. Micah the Prophet sets for us a good checklist: “Act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Without this right relationship with God and with others – no amount of fasting and prayer will help us to draw closer to the Lord.
The Great Fast makes sense when it is seen precisely as preparation for the celebration of the Paschal Mystery – the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus – which spells out the Gospel (Good News) in terms of our being reconciled and made one with God, and consequently our being at peace with self, with God, and with others.
That reconciliatory peace our Lord proclaimed to his followers on the day of his resurrection: “Peace be with you . . . Receive the Holy Spirit; for those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained” (Jn. 20:21, 22-23). To believe the Gospel is to believe that Jesus’ forgiveness is to be experienced in the Mystery of Reconciliation (Penance). That’s Good News! That’s the Gospel! Therefore, the Mystery of Reconciliation serves to couple the call to repent by acknowledging sin in our lives and the call to believe the Gospel by seeking and accepting God’s loving forgiveness.
God does not want us to get discouraged or overwhelmed by our sins. When St. Paul the Apostle looked into his own life, he exclaimed “I do not understand what I do; for I do not do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate” (Rom. 7:15).
How typical! Don’t we all experience this? We have such good intentions and poor performance. We start well, but somewhere along the line our will power runs out. We slide down the slippery slope and often end up pretty much where we started. We could get discouraged. To help us when we are tempted to give up, St. Paul continues:
“I know that no good lives in me, that is, in my human nature. For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it. I don’t do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do . . . What a miserable man I am! Who will rescue me?” (Rom. 7:18-19, 24). And St. Paul gives the answer: “Thanks be to God, our Lord Jesus Christ!” (Rom. 7:25). God does not abandon us to our sins. Throughout the entire Holy Bible, from the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament to the sending of his Beloved Son in the New Testament, we get a picture of a loving, heavenly Father seeking and calling his children to come home. With warnings, invitations, promises, and the offering of his Only-Begotten Son, has the call of God gone throughout the world. He has spoken to us in words and gracious deeds and by the Holy Spirit in our own consciences. All the promises that God has made to us have been confirmed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
The call of the Great Fast is a call to return home, so vividly seen in the story of the prodigal son. It is a call to fear the Lord, to love him, to serve him, to glorify him, to rejoice in him. So much has been done for us, especially that great sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross for the sake of our salvation, of bringing us home. God has endless blessings to bestow upon us if we open our hearts to him. And this is the time to do it! Beloved sisters and brothers in Christ, please be assured of our daily prayers for all of you. Let us remember also at this time our sisters and brothers in Ukraine as they undergo tremendous hardships in their continued struggle for peace, dignity, unity, and territorial integrity. May our good Lord look favorably upon them and fulfill all their requests.
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen