Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel! These are the words I will pronounce on Ash Wednesday as the faithful come forward to receive ashes on their foreheads. Usually applied in the sign of the Cross, they are a symbol of our willingness to enter into a protracted period of prayer, fasting, repentance and almsgiving called Lent.
CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel! These are the words I will pronounce on Ash Wednesday as the faithful come forward to receive ashes on their foreheads. Usually applied in the sign of the Cross, they are a symbol of our willingness to enter into a protracted period of prayer, fasting, repentance and almsgiving called Lent.
The word Lent is derived from the "lengthening" of the hours of the day every year. It is no accident that it falls in this transition time, when we move from the barrenness of winter with its long periods of darkness into the verdant new life and longer days of sunshine we call spring. There are other terms which have grown out of the practice of this penitential season, such as the use of the phrase the "Forty Days".
Its' practices of piety, penance, asceticism and special worship open us to a new experience of freedom through an encounter with the One who alone can truly set us free, Jesus Christ. Sometimes we hear the question, even from other Christians who do not keep the Lenten practices, who needs Lent? The answer is simple, we do.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that "In man, true freedom is an "outstanding manifestation of the divine image" (CCC #212) However, as a result of sin our freedom was fractured. Again the Catechism reminds us that "The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin." (CCC #1734) That last phrase is from the Apostle Paul. (Romans 6:17) That same Apostle reminds us that "it was for freedom that Christ set us free". (Gal. 5:1)
To an age enamored with false concepts of "choice" the Catholic Church rightly insists that some "choices" are always and everywhere wrong. She teaches that what is chosen not only affects the world - but changes the "chooser." Saint Gregory of Nyssa gives some insights concerning our choices in an ancient homily, "Now, human life is always subject to change: it needs to be born ever anew.but here birth does not come about by a foreign intervention, as is the case with bodily beings, it is the result of a free choice. Thus we are in a certain way our own parents, creating ourselves as we will, by our decisions." Freedom has consequences and our choices make us.
The Venerable John Paul was a prophetic voice for authentic human freedom. So too is Pope Benedict XVI. Together, they give leadership to the emerging freedom movement of this Third Millennium. They expose the lies of this age and tell the truth about its illusory claims to freedom. Pope Benedict spoke to an assembly of families in 2005 of what he called "anarchic freedom": "Today's various forms of dissolution of marriage, free unions, trial marriages as well as the pseudo-matrimonies between people of the same sex are instead expressions of anarchic freedom which falsely tries to pass itself off as the true liberation of man."
This "anarchic freedom" is what the Venerable John Paul referred to as a "counterfeit" notion of freedom. It can lead to something he warned of in his extraordinary encyclical letter "The Gospel of Life", the "death of true freedom". Exposing the "erroneous interpretations of freedom" and proclaiming the full truth concerning freedom is the task of the hour and Pope Benedict XVI is clearly up to that task. Our invitation is to heed his words and follow them, committing ourselves to the struggle for freedom. In one of his seminal works entitled "Introduction to Christianity" he wrote: "one could very well describe Christianity as a philosophy of freedom."
Pope Benedict XVI once opined concerning legal abortion and creeping euthanasia: "The freedom to kill is not true freedom, but a tyranny that reduces the human being to slavery." By calling what is always wrong a "right", contemporary men and women are increasingly bound by the chains of their own self delusion, materialism and nihilism. They are being imprisoned by the lies of "anarchic freedom."
To an age enamored with so many false concepts of "choice" the Church proclaims the unchangeable truth that some "choices" are always and everywhere wrong. Choosing them does not make one free, rather it erodes freedom and leads to slavery. The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses these wrong exercises of human freedom reminding us of the extraordinary implications of our use of our power to choose: "Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself." (CCC # 1861.)
It is not simply that we can choose; the real question is what do we choose? Authentic Human Freedom will never be found in decisions that are made against God and against the Natural Law. During these forty days we are invited into the desert with the Lord to do battle with the world, the flesh and the devil. Sin has fractured our freedom. The Cross is the Splint sent from heaven to set us free.Lent is a time to apply the splint and learn to walk again.
During these forty days Catholic Online will provide our readers with articles, spiritual reflections, and catechetical instruction on the invitations of grace presented during this season called Lent. It is an opportunity for everyone of us to turn away from sin and learn how to be more faithful to the Gospel. Now it begins.
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