Fr. Bryan Howard
6th Sunday in Easter– Year C – 26 May 2019
Why should we obey God and why should we obey the Church? The second part of that question is the easier part to answer. We should obey the Church because Jesus founded the Church and gave her the authority to teach in His name. The Church doesn’t claim any authority to change the deposit of faith. We can grow in our understanding of the faith, but we can’t change it. The Catholic Church was founded by Jesus when He told St. Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”
Has the Church made mistakes? Yes, very many. We’ve had Popes, bishops, and priests have given in to every temptation under the sun, but for these 2000 years the Church has protected the deposit of faith that was entrusted to her by the Lord. It has been kept whole an entire not because of the people who make up the Church but because of the Holy Spirit. We don’t have faith in the Church, we have faith in God, and God works through the Church.
That brings us to the real question, “Why should we obey God?” The word obedience comes from the Latin words ob, to, and audire, to listen. So, obedience means “to listen to.” Why would we listen to God? First, because He’s all good and all knowing. It’s in our best interest to listen to God because He wants the best for us and can help us get it. St. Thomas Aquinas points out that true and lasting happiness can’t come from pleasure, wealth, honor, or any worldly good. These always leave us wanting, and often turn against us. Only God can satisfy the longing of our souls.
However, that’s kind of a self serving reason. God wants to bring us past the fear of punishment and hope for reward; He wants to bring us to love. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” Really think about what that means. When you’re passionately in love with someone you really pay attention to them when you’re with them. You want to look at them, to listen to their voice and what they’re saying. You want to be with them all the time, and, ultimately, to make your dwelling with them. God is courting us. He’s drawing us into a deeper relationship with Himself. He seeks us out, calls to us, gives us grace and light and life, and invites us to “come and see,” as the Lord told the first disciples.
We each have to make a choice for ourselves, to believe or not to believe, to live the faith or not to live it, to love God or not to love Him. We can’t put off the choice forever. We know that atheists are people who don’t believe in God, and theists are believe who do believe in some sort of God, but agnostics are people who say that there’s not enough evidence to know. They say that they’re just not sure, so they won’t make a decision one way one the other. However, there’s a time limit. There will come a day when we run out of time. It’s like a ship at sea in a heavy fog. There’s a storm rolling in and they need to make it to a safe harbor before it reaches them are the ship will be capsized, but they can’t tell which harbor is there home port. If you wait too long, then that is a decision, and you’ll just have to take your chances. Is there a God or isn’t there? Is there an afterlife or isn’t there? Not making a choice is the same as choosing not to believe.
We have at least two types of evidence to help us to believe. There’s the writings of the great theologians who give us logical reasons and evidence. Then there’s the lives of the saints, who give us an example of the power of the faith. One of these, Pedro Sanz, was born in Asco, Spain in 1680. He went on to join the Dominicans in 1697 and was ordained a priest in 1704 at the young age of 24. He was sent on a missionary journey to the Philippines in 1712 and then to China in 1713, where he would spend the rest of his life. St. Pedro was arrested by anti-Christian forces in 1746. On this day, May 26, 1747, he martyred for the faith and celebrated his heavenly birthday. The viceroy of Peking, one of their captors, wrote about St. Pedro and the other Dominicans held prisoner, “What are we to do with these men? Their lives are certainly irreproachable; even in prison they convert men to their opinions, and their doctrines so seize upon the heart that their adepts fear neither torments nor captivity. They themselves are joyous in their chains. The jailors and their families become their disciples, and those condemned to death embrace their religion. To prolong this state is only to give them the opportunity of increasing the number of Christians.” St. Pedro Sanz’s last words were, “Rejoice with me, my friend; I am going to heaven!”
Fr. Bryan Howard
Divine Mercy Sunday - 28 April 2019
Three sacraments were instituted during Paschal Triduum, the ministerial priesthood, the Eucharist, and Confession. The Eucharist and ministerial priesthood were instituted at the Last Supper, when Jesus showed His disciples what to do and told them to "do this in memory of me." You cannot have one without the other. You need the ministerial priesthood because only a priest can offer the sacrifice of the Mass, which is Christ’s own sacrifice offered to God the Father anew, and you can't have a priesthood with the Mass, because a priest is, by definition, one who offers sacrifices to God on behalf of the people.
In the Eucharistic prayer, the celebrant prays, "Remember, Lord, your servants and all gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you. For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them." Everyone who is gathered at Mass offers a sacrifice to God, and so you are all also priests, through the grace of baptism; it's called the baptismal priesthood or the priesthood of all the faithful. What is the sacrifice that all Christians are called to offer? "The sacrifice of praise:" your joys and sorrows, your works of charity and faith, your prayers of thanks for the graces God has given you and of petition for what you need from God, and the ways in which you glorify God in your life. And what are you offering this sacrifice for? Listen to the rest of the prayer, "for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being, and paying their homage to you, the eternal God, living and true."
Baptism is another sacrament that is linked to Easter, since we renew our baptismal promises every Easter, rejecting Satan and His works and empty promises and professing our faith in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Why do we do that at Easter? Why not at Christmas or the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord? The word sacrament didn’t always refer to the seven sacraments; originally it referred to the oath that a Roman legionary took upon entering the legion and again, every year, on the anniversary of the ascension of the current emperor. Our emperor, the King of the universe, was raised up in glory on Easter Sunday, and so every Easter we renew our oath to Him, and ask for His help to fulfill it. The baptismal priesthood is found in any Christian who offers up their lives and their deaths for the glory of God and in union with the life and death of Jesus Christ. Are you living out your oath, our baptismal promises, as a soldier for Christ. Our weapons are not swords and spears, but the Word of God and prayer, and our armor is truth, righteousness, and faith. For as St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
In battle we may be wounded, and so that leads us to the final sacrament that was instituted during this time, for our heavenly physician has given us a remedy for sin and it’s power over us. “The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” Jesus gave the apostles the authority to forgive sins, and they passed this authority down to their successors the bishops, down to today. Every Catholic bishop has apostolic succession, meaning that they can trace their ordination back to the apostles through the laying on of hands, as Archbishop Aymond was consecrated by Archbishop Schulte, who was consecrated by Cardinal Krol, and so on. The bishop then delegates his priests to assist him in this ministry. The power of Confession, as all the sacraments, comes from the Cross. On the Cross Jesus died to forgive our sins, and in the Confessional that forgiveness is made available to us. It doesn’t make sense to leave a wound open and untreated so it can get infected, which, untreated, will end up killing us. Mortal sins kill our relationship with God and wound our souls, and venial sins wound our relationship with God, but enough small wounds can kill just as surely as one grievous wound. In His mercy, God desires not only to forgive our sins but to help us to avoid them in the first place.
In baptism we are commissioned as soldiers for Christ and promise to serve Him faithfully, in the Eucharist we are strengthened for the spiritual combat, and in Confession our wounds are healed. So let us not surrender, but fight for Christ.
Fr. Bryan Howard
Easter Sunday – 20 April 2019
Throughout Holy Week we’ve considered who Jesus is. Jesus is God and man, Jesus is the one who comes among us to serve and to stand as a model for us. Jesus is our Savior. But the theme of this Mass, of the Easter Vigil, is, Lumen Christi, Christ our Light. On Friday after the Service of the Lord’s Passion, the Eucharist is removed from the Church, and tonight Christ re-enters His Church symbolically as the light of the Paschal Candle, and sacramentally in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In the Exsultet, we heard that “This is the night of which it is written: the night shall be as bright as day, dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness.” Light not only allows us to see, it also gives life, and that is what Christ does for us, He helps us to see the world as it really is and gives us life.
You see, our sins affect us. They affect both the way we act and the way we think. Sin darkens our intellect and affects our ability to reason. We start to make excuses for ourselves and to find all the reasons why it’s really not that bad. Then we start to think that it’s really not bad at all. But to keep thinking that, we have to blind ourselves to the affects of our sin. The Nazi’s, for example, didn’t think that they were the bad guys. They convinced themselves that what they were doing was necessary for the defense of Germany, then they convinced themselves that their victims were lesser humans, and then that they weren’t really humans at all. They called them untermenschen, “under-men.” In smaller and bigger ways, we do this with our own sins. Living in the light of Christ helps us to see through those self-deceptions, and live in the truth.
As St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “For the wages of sin is death. But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Our sins damage and kill our relationship with God, with the Church, with the people around us, our family and friends, and even with ourselves. You know this already. You’ve seen the results of your own sins, the damage they’ve caused. The grace of God restores us to life, just as Christ rose to new Life in the dawn of Easter Sunday, but it’s not a miracle pill. We have to actively live in the light of Christ. We have to actively accept the new life that He’s offering us. You can try to go your own way, but you may not realize your on the wrong path until it’s too late and you’re standing before the Just Judge, God our Father. As a priest I know likes to say, “Don’t be a test pilot.” We’ve been given a road map that we know works in the Gospels, in the Traditions of the Church, and in the lives of the saints.
People used to ask me all the time, “Why do you like going to Mass?” That was before I was a priest, now people just assume that I’m weird. But I would ask them if they realized what was happening on the altar. On that altar, the death and the Resurrection of Jesus are made present for us. All the grace of God is contained in the Eucharist. So, yes, we are required to go to Mass every Sunday and every Holy Day of obligation, but, really, we get to go to Mass. Maybe it’s boring to you, and maybe there are other things you’d rather be doing, sometimes I feel the same way, but we’re not controlled by our feelings, and we know that in the Mass we can experience God in a more powerful way than anywhere else. Be generous with God, because what He wants to give you is far more than He’s asking in return.
Fr. Bryan Howard
Good Friday Solemn Service of the Lord’s Passion – 19 April 2019
Who is Jesus Christ? Jesus Christ is our Savior. He came to save us from sin and death and He accomplished that salvation through His Cross. We just heard the account from the Gospel of John about how Jesus was arrested, condemned, and crucified. The innocent died for the sake of the guilty, and the just one for the unjust so that He might justify us.
The Letter to the Hebrews says, “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Jesus Christ, even in His humanity, was obedient to the will of God and willingly took up the Cross. Some people try to explain the Cross by saying that Jesus when Jesus took our sins on Himself God poured out all of His wrath on Jesus instead of on us. No, that’s not it at all. It wasn’t Christ’s suffering that God desired, but His obedience in love. The Cross isn’t a sign of God’s wrath, but of His unimaginable love for us. The obedience of Christ undid the disobedience of Adam. Whereas Adam refused to stand between the serpent, Satan, and his bride, Eve, Jesus, through the Cross, does stand between Satan and His bride, the Church. “Greater love than this has no man, that he lay down his life for his friends.” At the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples, who stand in for us, “I no longer call you servants, but my friends.”
The Prophet Isaiah said, “Through His suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear. Therefore I will give him his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.” Jesus did much more than just take the punishment for our sins on Himself; through the Cross He wants to give us the ability to love as He loves, to follow His example and not Adam’s.
As Jesus Himself told His disciples, “And I, when I am lifted up, will draw all to myself.” Jesus is our Savior by drawing us out of sin and into the love of God. So, take up your Cross, and follow after Him. The only way to grow in the love of God, to learn to love as He loves, is to do it. We have to push ourselves to love more and better. We have to be willing to go into uncomfortable circumstances to help someone, to make ourselves vulnerable for others, to show our love for those who are the most difficult to love. Jesus didn’t say that we have to like anyone, but He did say that we have to love everyone, and that is to be dedicated to doing good for others. St. Therese of Lisieux spoke often about her Little Way, which was to be willing to do little things for God in love, and she wasn’t all talk either. After she died of tuberculosis at the age of 24 her autobiography was published, The Story of a Soul. In it she talks about one of the other nuns who always got on her nerves. She just didn’t get along with her. So, she made this nun her best friend, spending a lot of time with her, talking to her, doing their work together, and other things like that. Apparently, when she read about that, this other nun wasn’t offended but was deeply touched.
St. Therese shows us that you don’t have to be rich or powerful or famous, or even a priest or nun, to make a difference in someone’s life and in the world, you just have to love like God loves.
Fr. Bryan Howard
Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper – 18 April 2019
On Palm Sunday we asked the question, “Who is Jesus of Nazareth?” Today, Jesus gives us one possible answer to that question, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” Jesus has come among us as one who serves, to be a model for us, that we might do for one another what He did for us.
We say that Jesus condescended to come down to us. That word, condescension, is one that normally has a negative connotation. If I say that someone is acting condescendingly towards me it means that they’re insulting me by treating me as if I’m inferior to them, and I need their help to do something that they find easy. It’s particularly easy for priests to fall into this sort of behavior, because we spend so much of our time teaching and preaching; we might start to think that we have all the answers. We have to remind ourselves, first, that we are all equal before God and rely on Him for everything that we have, and, second, that we all have a calling from God and something vital to contribute to the Body of Christ, the Church.
Jesus condescends to us in a deferent way, in the way that a parent or teacher condescends. The young child truly does rely completely on its parents. When a parents teach their children to walk, for example, they must get down to the child’s level, or condescend, which literally means “to go down.” I’ve seen this type of behavior, this truly humble and loving condescension, with some people when they interact with very young children. My mom, for example, is great with children. She’s far more patient than I am, she can explain things in ways that they understand, as many times as necessary, and she’s always able to tell what that picture is supposed to be. That is how Jesus is with us. Jesus approaches us with humility and love in order to lift us up.
Jesus becomes a model for us, to teach us by example, and example is the best teacher. Today Jesus washes His disciples’ feet to put into action the lesson that He had been trying to teach them, “If you wish to be greatest, you must become the servant of all.” Of course, this example is pointing forward to another, more powerful example, the Cross, of which Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” St. Peter resists having His feet washed by Jesus, but he relents in the end when Jesus tells Him that he must be washed to have an inheritance with Jesus. He will resist again when he runs from the Cross. Christian tradition holds that St. Peter was in Rome, founding the Church there, when the persecutions broke out. They sought especially to arrest the leaders of the young Church, so the Christian community urged Peter to flee. On the road out of the city, St. Peter saw Jesus walking into the city, and said, “Domine, quo vadis?” Lord, where are you going. He replied, “To Rome, to be crucified again.” And Peter replied, “Then I shall go with you.” With that, Jesus ascended to heaven, and St. Peter understood that it was his own crucifixion that Jesus meant. Tradition also holds that St. Peter was crucified upside down, because he didn’t see Himself as worthy of being crucified in the same way as Jesus.
In the Last Supper, Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me.” We do this every time we celebrate the Mass and commemorate the death and Resurrection of Jesus. The Mass is the only thing about which Jesus told His disciples, “Do this in memory of me.” We also “do this in memory of me” by doing what He did, by serving one another in love, by taking up our Crosses and following after Him, and by sacrificing for the good of others. As we come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in this Mass, let’s ask the Lord to strengthen us to wash one another’s feet in love and to bear our own Crosses out of love for God.
Fr. Bryan Howard
3rd Sunday of Lent – Year C – 24 March 2019
The second commandment of the 10 Commandments is that we are not to take the name of the Lord in vain, and the Jewish people have always taken that commandment very seriously, much more seriously than most Christians do, and I think we would do well to learn something from them here. For the ancient Jewish people names were very important. You name isn’t just what you are designated as, but it’s the description of who you are. So God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, meaning “father of a multitude,” and Jacob’s name to Israel, meaning “who struggles with God.” Similarly, Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter, meaning “rock.” Jesus means “to deliver,” but Jesus is also called Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.” These names define who those people are, and in our first reading today God appears to Moses at the burning bush and tells Moses His name.
First, God calls Him “the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” In other words God is near to us. He is always seeking to enter into relationships with us, as He did with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He wants to share His life with us, and His life is love; it is the love the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share in the unity of the Trinity from all eternity. God created us to share His life and love with us.
God also reveals Himself to Moses as Yahweh, which means, “I am that I am,” or “I am Who am.” God reveals to us that He isn’t just another thing in the universe, or even the highest and greatest thing in the universe; God is existence itself, the One Who Exists. We all exist because of Him, but He simply IS. We all need something to explain the fact the we exist, so we can say that our parents caused us to exist, but they need something to explain their existence, too, and so on and so on all the back to the beginning of time. Well, for anything to exist at all, there has to be something that doesn’t need anything else to explain it’s existence, but simply exists. God is the one who explains why anything exists at all rather than nothing, because He wanted to share His existence with us.
The New Testament explains to us that God has a new name now. St. Paul writes to the Philippians, “Because of this God greatly exalted Him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” We should have the same reverence for the name of God as the ancient Israelites and modern Jews do. Whenever we take the name of the Lord in vain, whether that is Yahweh, or Jesus Christ, or simply God, we are disrespecting who God is. Most other sins offend God because they harm His children, our brothers and sisters on earth, but taking His name in vain in disrespectful of God Himself.
How do we use God’s name in prayer? Do we call on His name to ask Him to be with us, in our heart and soul? Do we ask Him to give us strength and grace? Do we ask Him to help us to know and love Him better? We need to “take the Lord’s name” because we need God’s help in our lives.
How do we use God’s name in our speech? Do we use the name of the Lord to teach people about Him, to encourage them or console them, and to call people to prayer? How often do we, instead, use God’s name in a profane way, like when we’re upset about something and need to blow off some steam? How often do we use God’s name as a weapon to hurt someone else?
Think about Who God IS and what that means for you. Taking the name of the Lord in vain can very easily become a habit, but if we take the Lord’s name in prayer, then He can help us to break that habit and, by respecting and loving the name of God, come to have a deeper respect and love for God Himself.
(The text for the last 2 minutes of the audio isn’t here, as it’s the introduction to the First Scrutiny which took place at the 4:00 PM Mass on Saturday.)
Fr. Bryan Howard
2nd Sunday of Lent – Year C – 17 March 2018
What does it mean to be human? Are humans merely biological robots, the product of mere chance, programmed by the forces of evolution and without any real freedom? Or are we meant for more? Are we meant to realize that we were created to the image and likeness of God, adoptive children of God through baptism into Jesus Christ, the Son of God? We were destined for the freedom of the children of God, not to sell ourselves back into slavery to sin.
When the Lord called Abraham to travel from his home in Ur to a new land, He promised to give Abraham and his descendants the land that he would show him, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, and that his descendant would be a blessing to all the nations, and in today’s reading God seals those promises with an oath, thus forming a covenant with Abraham. God has Abraham bring him certain animals, clean animals that would make suitable sacrifices, and cut them in half and lay them out on the ground in two rows. Notice that it was nighttime at the beginning of the reading, as Abraham can see the stars, and he keeps vigil there all day until the next night. Then, God appears to Abraham as a fire pot and a flaming torch, the fire representing the presence of God, and passes through the animals, thus forming a covenant. By having His presence pass through the animals, the Lord is vowing to keep His promises to Abraham, or else let what happened to those animals happen to Him, thus sealing His promise with His very life.
Unfortunately, a part of God’s promise is left out of the reading. God told Abraham, “Know of a surety that your descendants will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be slaves there, and they will be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation which they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” This promise is about the Exodus, when God delivered the descendants from slavery in Egypt and led them into the promised land and made them His own chosen people.
There’s a worse slavery that God wanted to save us from, and it’s not physical and political slavery but moral and spiritual. In our second reading, St. Paul writes, “For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their "shame." Their minds are occupied with earthly things.” Slaves are taken by force or bought and sold, but it’s against their will. When we sin we willingly enslave ourselves to forces that are beneath us. We think that these things will make us happy, and in the short term we may even be right, but our experience speaks for itself. We know that every time we sin it leads to more misery than happiness and that, in the long run, holiness is the only path to true and lasting happiness, but we keep doing what we know is wrong over and over, and usually in the same ways. What we need is a new Exodus and a new covenant.
On Mt. Tabor, the mountain of the Transfiguration, Jesus begins to prepare His disciples for the new Exodus. He gives Peter, James, and John a glimpse of His glory to strengthen their faith, knowing that their faith will be tested by His crucifixion and death. Then it says, “And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” Moses and Elijah represent the two parts of the Old Testament, the Law, Moses, and the Prophets, Elijah, and they’re talking to Jesus about His crucifixion, but they call it “his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” Through His crucifixion Jesus will accomplish a new exodus and free His people from slavery to sin and death.
So that’s the new exodus, but I also mentioned a new covenant. Did you know that another word for covenant is testament? We call the part of the Bible that talks about Jesus the New Testament, of course, but the phrase New Testament, or new covenant, only appears once in the New Testament, and it’s not talking about the Bible. At the Last Supper, Jesus takes the chalice filled with wine and, giving it to His disciples, tells them, “Take this and drink of it. This is the chalice of the New Covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in commemoration of me.” In the Bible, the term New Covenant refers the crucifixion of Jesus and to the Mass, in which we commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Through the Eucharist we are united to Jesus Christ and become children of God, which was God’s plan for us all along. We are not just restored to the grace that we lost through sin but lifted up to an even higher place. In one of his Christmas homilies Pope St. Leo the Great put it this way, “Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God's own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God's kingdom.
Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.”
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 became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.