Fr. Bryan Howard
8th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 3 March 2019
Today’s readings are about bearing good fruit and following in the way of Christ so that we can rise to new life with Him. As St. Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Lent comes before Easter to teach us that the way to life, to the new life of Christ, is to follow the path that He did, the Cross.
A lot of people think of the Lenten Fast as just a bunch of rules that some old guys in Rome said we have to follow, but there’s a reason for all of the things that we do. I’ve heard so many people say that they don’t give up meat on Fridays because it’s not really a sacrifice in Louisiana, where our seafood is so good. So, instead of making a small sacrifice, they choose not to make any sacrifice. Instead, why don’t you take it to the next level. St. Frances de Sales in his famous book, Introduction to the Devout Life, says that, instead of giving up meat, you should instead eat whatever is set before you without complaint, which may be a harder thing to do for most people. Whatever you do, keep in mind the reasons that we fast and how it can prepare us for Easter.
First, we fast to be in solidarity with the poor. The poor don’t have a choice; they live with limited resources, not for forty days, but every day. Fasting can give us a new appreciation for what we do have. Instead of taking things for granted we are more able to enjoy the small pleasure of life. That sense of gratitude for the people and things in our lives and for the blessings that God has given us can lead to greater compassion for the poor. Our Christian spiritual tradition has always said that we shouldn’t just fast during Lent, but that we should take what we’ve saved in time and money and give it to the poor. Fasting should lead to almsgiving.
The first reading, from the book of Sirach, says, “When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear; so do one's faults when one speaks. As the test of what the potter molds is in the furnace, so in tribulation is the test of the just.” Lent is meant to be a sort of tribulation, a test, and it can teach us a lot about ourselves. If we choose what we give up well, it can show us where we’re struggling in the spiritual life. We shouldn’t choose something too hard, as that might discourage us and tempt us to give up, but we also shouldn’t choose something too easy. Like kids always joke that they’re going to give up homework. It should be challenging, but not debilitating. When we really enter into the silence of Lent, the sensory deprivation, then we suddenly have time for our own minds to start working, to start thinking and reflecting on our lives. We’ve invented ways to always have sound, especially music, with us, from the Walkman isn’t he ‘80s to wireless earbuds today. There are many great quotes about silence, but here’s something that Mother Teresa said that I recently found, “If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.”
We sometimes think of the Lenten Fast as giving up bad things, but really what we’re doing is giving up good things. The Lenten Fast is an offering to God; let us never offer God anything that is evil. The ancient Jewish people would give the first fruits and the unblemished lambs to the Lord, meaning that they would take the very best of what they had, the juiciest grapes, the most perfect part of the crop, and give it to God. During Lent, we cut back on or give up things that we enjoy, good things, as a way of expressing our love for God. By doing so we’re saying, “I love this, but I love God more,” and, “This is good, but God is the source of all goodness.”
We sit here under the Crucifix not because we’re “keeping Christ no the Cross,” as some people say, but because as long as we are in this world we are on the Way of the Cross longing for the Resurrection. Seeing that Christ allowed Himself to be lifted up for our sins and the sins of the world we can be strengthened by Him to carry our Crosses. The little crosses that we choose to carry during Lent are light compared to the great crosses that all people have to bear at some point in there lives, but they can give us the hope that we don’t carry them alone, and that the Resurrection of the Lord is waiting for us at the end of the Road.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.