As you probably know, Ash Wednesday is this week.
So it’s time to get ready and make our plans.
Lent has two purposes that go together.
It’s a time of preparation
to celebrate the heart of our Faith:
Jesus dying for us and rising from the dead,
to give us life that lasts forever.
When someone has a wedding
or an anniversary coming up,
you don’t just put it together the day before.
That is…I guess you can if you want,
but I’ve never met a bride who was satisfied with that.
So, gentlemen…good luck with that!
If it’s really worth doing, it’s worth preparing for.
But Lent has another purpose: conversion.
At the heart of our faith we admit something that humbles us:
We are sinners. We turn from God,
we bring pride and greed and lust and wrath
to our daily lives, that creates conflict
and when you multiply that by six billion souls,
There’s the sad story
of most of the suffering in the world.
As bad as a tornado or a crippling disease is,
the disasters spawned
by our sinful choices or neglect are even worse.
Changing the world starts with changing ourselves. Ouch!
So, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday,
if you’re between 18 and 59,
and in good health, you are obliged to fast.
That means just one meal,
and maybe a snack or two besides.
Also on Ash Wednesday, as well as each Friday,
everyone over 14 is obliged to abstain from meat.
If you’re traveling or a guest of someone else,
use common sense.
Beyond that, we all make our own decisions
about some extra sacrifice,
Extra prayer, extra generosity, as what we “do for Lent.”
Why do we do these things?
It’s not that we’re “paying” for our sins.
Jesus already did that.
It’s because conversion is hard work.
These are the tools.
A lot of folks struggle with bad habits.
And they often fail over and over.
They ask, what can I do?
Well, one thing I suggest is go to confession frequently.
Yes, it does humble ones pride
to go to confession week after week,
or even more often than that.
Sometimes what we need
is to have our pride knocked down a peg.
But remember, these are sources of grace—
God’s power to help us change.
Why do people take vitamins? To fortify their bodies.
The sacraments are what we take to fortify our souls.
Also, if you find you have a habit involving appetite—
eating, drinking, or some other pleasure—
you may want to try fasting.
Now, let me be candid: I don’t like to fast!
As if that wasn’t obvious!
But the thing about fasting,
or other forms of self-denial,
is that it is kind of like
what people in competitive sports say:
they need to be “keyed up” and focused on the game.
Fasting does that.
When you give up something you like,
and then you get that craving,
it forces you to make a choice.
Either you can say, “Darn, God made me do this!”
Or, you man up and say, “No—I chose this!”
The truth is, we are engaged in spiritual battle.
Battle for our own souls and that of others.
But we can easily be lulled into sleeping through it.
Fasting and self-denial
help keep us awake to the battle—
It’s a way of saying, “I don’t want to be AWOL!
I want to stand for something!”
And this isn’t just about our own conversion—
it starts there, but it’s even more about
the conversion of others.
Most members of my family don’t practice the Faith.
What about your family?
When we pray for their conversion,
we’re like the men in the Gospel
who bring their friend to the Lord.
After all, a lot of us
are going to start Lent with big ideas;
and somewhere along the line, we’re going to regret it!
So when we pray intensely during Lent,
we’re praying to support each other.
I confess I will waver in my Lenten promises.
Pray for me, please!
Finally, we pray for our nation.
In the Scriptures, whenever
God’s people were faced with a crisis,
They put on sackcloth and ashes, they fasted and prayed.
The alarm bells are sounding for religious freedom
in our country.
I know you’ve heard in the media
that the President backed down.
But it’s just not true.
Most of you know
the President proposed to force all of us to accept,
as part of health care,
that we’d have to pay to provide
contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs.
Then we all heard the President say
he would change his mandate—
and the media said, “problem solved.”
Now, let’s skip over, for a moment,
the fact that many problems remained
even with his proposed “accommodation.”
Let’s skip over that for a moment.
How many of you knew
that after the President promised a change…
He went ahead and put into effect—as law—
the original rules?
Let me say that again:
he didn’t pull it back to be reworked.
The mandate he put into effect as law
was not changed AT ALL.
In any case, as Archbishop Schnurr
explains in a letter in the bulletin today,
even that promised change
doesn’t do much about the problem.
Let me give you an example.
There’s a religious order called the Sisters of Life.
They are dedicated to promoting the dignity of life.
As sisters, of course, they take a vow of chastity.
They won’t marry.
Under either version of the President’s order,
they are forced to buy health care
that includes contraceptives and sterilization
and drugs that cause abortion.
Since they take a vow of chastity,
they obviously don’t need it.
More to the point,
it violates their conscience to have to be involved in it.
Yet if they refuse, they break the law,
and they will be fined and punished by our government.
Of course, it’s the same for all our religious orders,
all our Catholic schools and hospitals, for all of us.
So if you’re wondering why
you’re being summoned to 40 days of spiritual battle,
there it is.