Ash Wednesday: Let Us Enter Into Lent
(Mt. 4:2). We should note that it was the Spirit who led Christ into the desert to pray and fast: thus we too should be attentive to the prompting of the Spirit during Lent. And, in Matt. 6:16, the Lord reminds us of the importance of fasting, telling us that our Father will repay us for our sacrifices.
In Acts 13:2, we find that the apostles engaged in self-denial: "While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting" the Holy Spirit spoke to them. Moreover, Paul and Barnabas appointed presbyters for the disciples in "each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith" (Acts 14:23).
When we read the writings of the saints we find they regularly fasted and engaged in acts of mortification and self-denial. By voluntary penance they sought to gain mastery over disordered passions. In this way, St. Thomas More´s hair shirt trained him for the martyrdom that would one day be offered him. Fasting is also a sign that we love God above all else. As we meet our Love of loves in self-denial, we empty ourselves to be filled with Him.
Our compassionate God often supports us with special graces in our voluntary mortification. St. Simeon cultivated a profound love for God when, during Lent, he chose to fast from all food and drink for forty days, a practice he began in his youth and continued the rest of his life. And St. Antony, after selling all his belongings and giving himself over to an ascetic life with Christ, experienced severe temptations. What was his solution? He sometimes fasted from all food for days on end, and often slept on the bare ground.
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days which require both fasting and abstinence. Other Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence only. Note that every Friday throughout the year is a penitential day (cf. Can. 1250). On fast days, Catholics are careful to take only one full meal each day, with no food taken between meals.
On days of abstinence, Catholics take no meat (fish is allowed) or meat by-products. Those who have completed their fourteenth year (the day after one´s fourteenth birthday) are obliged to abstain; while those who have completed their eighteenth year are obliged to both fast and abstain when required.
Those who have attained the beginning of their sixtieth year are no longer required to fast (Can. 1252). The substantial observance of the laws of fasting and abstinence is a grave obligation. The Christian faithful are also to devote themselves in a special way to prayer, and perform works of piety and charity (cf. Can. 1249).
Those who sincerely desire to cultivate their closeness to the Beloved take acts of penance seriously. Lent is particularly appropriate for these spiritual exercises. As we engage in self-denial, the body is trained, the will is strengthened, and spiritual hunger is increased.
"The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church´s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works)" (CCC No. 1438).
Let us, this Lent, prepare by fasting and self-denial so that we may open ourselves to "the spiritual understanding of the economy of salvation as the Church´s liturgy reveals it" (cf. CCC No. 1095). Let us go into the quiet desert with Christ that we may better recognize his mission of salvation; that we may understand more fully what it really means to be Christian; that we may live in the light of faith, truly see, and understand what we are to do.
"From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly . . . and be killed and on the third day be raised" (Mt. 16:21). During Lent we too must go the way of sacrifice, carrying our cross toward the Place of the Skull where, with trusting love and obedience, we kneel along with our Blessed Mother before Christ crucified. And, like the holy Virgin, may we open our hearts in complete submission to God´s loving will of unfathomable Light.
In that moment before the Cross, tears rain down; yet they soon give way to joy, for the resurrection of our Lord is at hand.
F. K. Bartels is managing editor of catholicpathways.com. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
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