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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Preparing for Lent 

“My God, My God why have you abandoned me?” Matthew 27:46

Lent is a solemn Liturgical Season designed by the Church to draw us closer to the Lord. As we enter Lent, let’s reflect on Matthew 27:46: “My God, My God why have you abandoned me?” [Matthew 27:46] A few verses later, Matthew writes that Jesus “cries out again with a loud voice and then yielded up His Spirit.” [Matthew [27:60] St. Matthew does not tell us what these last words of Jesus were. By way of contrast, St. Luke records Jesus’ last words in the following way: “”And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice said, Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” And having said this he breathed his last.””[Luke 23:46]

Both Gospels point to Jesus’ willingness to hand over His Spirit to the Father; however, the first does so after attributing that willingness to both Jesus’ humanity and divinity. His cries evidenced his humanity; his initial assenting to the plan provides clear evidence of his divinity. And because he was full of grace — humanly speaking — his humanity never rubbed or competed with his divine self. Yet, these passages describe the pain Jesus felt in part because of the silence of His Father during the passion and suffering on the cross. 

We too will also experience silence — or feelings of being abandoned by God -  at certain times of our life. It is then that the essence of our faith will undergo personal scrutiny. What do we do about these periods of silence which challenge our faith? It depends on how well we prepare for them. Jesus is the model to imitate and he showed the way by entering into Forty Days of Intense Preparation. Unlike Jesus’ preparation, we will need to eat, It is also unlikely that we will have to endure  the frontal assault by Satan. The Church advises the following: prayer, reflection, almsgiving, self denial, fasting, penance, and performing charitable works of mercy [CCC 1438]. If we merely flirt with our spiritual preparation, we will be less prepared for whatever lies ahead. And at least yearly, we have at least one chance to really grow in our faith and accept the Holy Spirit’s active participation in granting us Divine Grace - as He infused in Jesus before the Final Trial. Like Jesus, we will need to have storehouse full of grace in order to endure the trials and suffering that is sure to come our way in this lifetime. And that suffering will include periods of silence during which time it will feel as if the Father does not exist or is not interested in us. These trials will surely test our faith. Allow this Lent to help you get prepared —  spiritually and mentally.

Lacking a full storehouse of grace, we will react to trials much like any other human being who is weakened by original and personal sin. We will draw inward and further distance ourselves from those we love; our neighbors and God.

All of us know what abandonment [of any type] feels like — at least partially — because we have experienced it in one form or another. While God will never leave us or abandon us, He may allow us to experience His Silence - which in effect will feel like abandonment. How do we know this? Because it happened even to Jesus - and while he was sorely wounded physically and mentally. Yet, Jesus did not give into temptation principally because He was fully prepared and bolstered by the  storehouse of graces infused by the Holy Spirit. 

Each of us will also experience God’s silence as He tests our faith and love. While few of us will have to endure the physical torture that Jesus experienced, we will feel the sting of being dismissed by someone at some time in the past, present or future. We will react in one of two ways. Either we will commend our lives into our Lord’s hands — no matter what — or we will commend our lives to ourselves or the situation at hand and fail to turn to God. The first reaction allows us to draw closer to God and cash in the grace chips awarded during our times of preparation. The latter will only allow us to withdraw from God as we pump our fists; grow angrier and angrier; yell or scream demeaning words to hurt someone [even God]; develop a grudge or two; refuse to forgive; lash out uncontrollably; cry and maybe even try to get even.

This Lent, let’s prepare like there will be no other time of preparation. Let’s commit to experiencing the Forty Days of Preparation [Lent] as Jesus did — by denying self pleasure in dramatic ways. This will allow the Holy Spirit to fill up our spiritual storehouses with divine grace which in turn we can cash in on as needed trials come our way. 

What do we have to do? Stop, Look, Think and then decide how to prepare yourselves this Lent. Then write down your plans. Don’t leave it to memory because that will fail in moments of weakness. Then stick to the plan. What’s the plan? Each of ours will be and should be different from everyone else’s. God desires our personal response — not a canned, group think, plan. 

Let’s be proactive in ways none of us have never been before. Let’s pray intentionally. Let’s receive the Sacraments often. Let’s give alms to the poor more purposefully. Let’s fast meaningfully. Maybe all of us should avoid those fish fries that make life easier — or anything that makes our life easier this Lent. Let’s deny ourselves those things we would not ordinarily give up. Let’s think about new things to give up. Let’s stop giving up the same old same old things that end up being pretty meaningless. Let’s get involved in others’ lives unlike our usual ways. Let’s attend to the charitable and spiritual works of mercy by asking ourselves the following questions: When was the last time I visited the imprisoned; fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, admonished the sinner; sheltered the homeless; visited the sick; buried the dead; counseled the doubting; consoled the afflicted; forgave offenses willingly and easily; bore wrongs patiently; prayed for the living and the dead; instructed the ignorant about faith; practiced mercy willingly; pledged to step out in faith without fear? After answering these questions; let’s prepare our battle plan for Lent! 

God’s blessings on you!