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Approaching Lent

In 13 Today's Church on 2016/02/14 at 12:00 AM

 

  • Last week I mentioned how, in the days before the liturgical reform of Vatican II, the three Sundays immediately preceding Ash Wednesday formed a short period of preparation for the penitential season of Lent.
  • As last Sunday was known as Septuagesima Sunday in the old liturgical calendar, this Sunday was known as Sexagesima Sunday, referring to the number of days until Easter.
  • As we get closer and closer to the season of Lent, we are encouraged today on Sexagesima Sunday to cultivate within ourselves a certain detachment from the things of this world.
  • It is for this reason that Catholics are encouraged to give up something they enjoy for Lent, for this practice helps to foster detachment within us.
  • While it is also good to take on virtuous practices during Lent, nothing can substitute for the act of depriving yourself of something you enjoy. Self‐denial of this type is not only a good penance, but it also helps us to deepen our attachment to God.
  • And deepening our attachment to God is ultimately the message of today’s readings, for as Jesus tells us in the Gospel today: “No one can serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
  • In other words, we must not approach our Lord with a divided heart. We must be wholly intent on serving Him, and serving Him alone. And this requires that we learn to be detached from everything else – most especially from ourselves.
  • In today’s affluent Western society, we are constantly encouraged to turn inward and focus solely on our needs and our own wants. And all of us, from time to time, are guilty of becoming self‐absorbed.
  • This is dangerous, for selfishness is at the heart of all sins because all sin is a matter of choosing our own will over God’s will. But today’s Gospel acts as a sort of antidote to the selfishness engendered by today’s society.
  • We are told not to worry about our lives, or what we will eat, drink, or wear. Rather, we are to place our trust solely in our heavenly Father, who knows exactly what we need.
  • Our fallen human nature has a tendency to seek self‐sufficiency. In our quest for material and financial security, we can gain a sense of independence that negates any sense of dependence on God.
  • This is not good, for if we believe that we can provide for ourselves, God can quickly become irrelevant to us. Moreover, if we believe that we can provide for all of our own needs, we are living a delusion – for in truth everything we have is a gift from God.
  • But more importantly, when we follow our Lord’s direction in the Gospel to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” we are told that we will be given all the things we need to be happy in this life.
  • This is because when we possess God, when we have a deep and abiding relationship with Him through faith and prayer, we possess all things, for it is God alone who can truly fulfill all the desires of the human heart.
  • Not only is God the only solution to whatever emptiness we might experience in life, in His unimaginable love for us, God will never forget us – despite what our feelings and emotions might lead us to believe from time to time.
  • It is for this reason, my dear brothers and sisters, that as we prepare for the penitential season of Lent, Holy Mother Church encourages us to fix our attentions on God alone. It is for this reason that we fast and do penances during Lent.
  • You see, the penances that we take on during Lent are not for their own sake. Our Lenten fasting and penances are not ends unto themselves.
  • We do these things because they help us to see more clearly our human weakness and need for God, thus fostering within ourselves a greater dependence upon God and deepening our love for Him.
  • And in truth, we should be eager to be dependent upon God and to love Him with all our hearts, minds, and souls because we know by faith of His great love for us.
  • The prophet Isaiah reminds us today that just as a mother could never forget her child, our Lord can never forget us, so great is His love for us. He knows all our needs and will provide for us according to His will.
  • As we consider this truth, we may very naturally wonder why a God who is so loving would ever allow His children to suffer. If God knows our needs, why are there people in our world who starve to death or go without basic human needs?
  • This is a very complicated question that is not easily answered in the space of a homily. But we should realize that most suffering that comes into this world is the result of human sinfulness, and God will never interfere with the free choice that He gave to man – even when we use that free choice for evil or sinful purposes.
  • And we must always approach questions of suffering with the eyes of faith, trusting that God is not deaf to our pleas or prayers. We must simply trust that He knows what’s best for us, even when we can’t understand why He allows certain things to happen.
  • Furthermore, we must look for the good that our Lord desires to bring out of every form of suffering. Pope St. Gregory the Great once wrote that: “In His wisdom almighty God preferred rather to bring good out of evil than never allow evil to occur.”
  • Believing this requires faith, and God desires that each of us have enough faith to trust Him, most especially in our suffering when it seems that He has abandoned us. For this, my brothers and sisters, is where true holiness is found.
  • Indeed the sufferings of life often quickly reveal whether a man is truly self‐centered or God‐centered, because suffering tests our faith in God.
  • And as suffering comes upon us, we must remember that holiness is found in the response of Job: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord!” Above all else, Job was a man of faith, and we are all called to that same faith.
  • If we find that we are lacking in faith, it’s generally because we have failed to practice the virtue of faith in our lives. But if we pray to God for an increase in faith, and if we seek to deepen our relationship with Him, He will be quick to strengthen our faith.
  • The irony of deepening our relationship with God is that those who are closest to God through their lives of holiness are often the ones who feel the most removed from Him.
  • Many saints, like St. John of the Cross, St. Therese of Lisieux, and Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, wrote of feeling abandoned by God in their suffering. And their feelings of abandonment were often worse than the other sufferings they were enduring.
  • But each of them is a saint because they realized that God allowed them to feel abandoned in order to help detach themselves from all that was not of Him, even their own feelings and emotions.
  • This is because God wants us to approach Him by faith alone, for it is when we approach Him by faith alone that He can work His greatest miracles of healing within us.
  • The Gospels are full of stories of sick or possessed people who approached Jesus in faith whom Jesus healed precisely because of their faith in Him. And if we wish to be healed of that is not of God within ourselves, then we, too, must approach Him with great faith.
  • St. Augustine reminds us that: “our souls are restless until they rest in God.” Let us pray for the faith to believe that God alone is the answer to all the desires of our hearts. And then let us attach ourselves completely to Him and Him alone.

© Reverend Timothy Reid

Fr. Reid is the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC

Homilies from June 17, 2012 onward have audio .
To enable the audio, please go directly to Fr. Reid’s homily homilies and select the matching date.

Link to Homilies:
http://stanncharlotte.org/content/index.php?option=com_content&view=section&id=8&Itemid=61

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