Ash Wednesday: Pope Says 'Seek To Experience God's Presence Within'
love, it is necessary to take concrete steps along the path of love which Jesus Christ has opened before us from his pierced side on the Roman cross.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent: a sacred season of repentance in which, through the disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we make of ourselves an offering to the Father through Christ. We enter into Christ's infinite and timeless self-gift of his body and blood, perpetuated throughout all time in the Eucharist, and give of ourselves: an eternal self-gift to the Father: our own fiat in which we abandon the isolated and individual "I" in favor of an unending existence immersed in the boundless "Thou."
The Value of Voluntary and Innocent Suffering
The importance of the disciplines of Lent cannot be exaggerated. As St. Teresa of Avila wrote, "Christ does not force our will, He takes only what we give Him. But He does not give Himself entirely until He sees we give ourselves entirely to Him."
Christ voluntarily and innocently sacrificed his sacred humanity for our sake. If we are to become "little christ's" and experience a deep awareness of God's presence, it is necessary for us to also make voluntary and innocent sacrifices. This is accomplished in beginning with small sacrifices, drawing our energy from the Spirit through fervent prayer and heartfelt desire, then moving to larger acts of self-giving.
Something as simple as not eating chips, if they are something that will really be missed, is a good starting point. Also, fasting on bread and water for lunch is an excellent spiritual discipline to practice. And, of course, we must remember to faithfully adhere to the disciplines of fasting from food and abstinence from meat on those days during Lent prescribed by the Church. In making these sacrifices, we are freely conforming ourselves to Christ, and training our spirit in the building of personal discipline and virtue.
All that we are suppose to be and do and become, every possible meaning of our life as men and women created out of God's superabundant love, is revealed in God made Man: "In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear" (CCC 359). It is by gazing deeply upon Christ Crucified that we see into the depths of our own being: here the diamond becomes a pure and transparent gemstone of immeasurable beauty.
"For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God" (CCC 460).
Today when we are signed with blessed ashes and hear the words: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return," we are drawn into the acknowledgement of our complete dependence on God, and reminded of our finitude and our smallness -- an attitude of humility which is a prerequisite of an awareness of God's presence. Yet by the light of faith we know we will never be merely ashes: for if we die in Christ we will be raised with him and appear in glory (cf. Col 3:4).
Whatever the experience of God, whether it be a sudden, paralyzing rapture or sweet tears which pour spontaneously forth as we place ourselves at the base of the cross, each is an unforgettable and life-changing event in which, like St. Paul on the road to Damascus (see Acts 22:6 ff.), Christ transforms us into a new creation: the old is gone, the new bursts forth as we move through a sacred doorway into a sublime reality which before had lain hidden. This Ash Wednesday, enter into Lent. Become one body as an eucharistic people in Christ. Seek the things that are above (Col. 3:1). Experience God.
F. K. Bartels is a Catholic writer who knows his Catholic Faith is one of the greatest gifts a man could ever receive. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. Visit him also at catholicpathways.com
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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.
Keywords: Ash Wednesday, fasting, sacrifice, voluntary and innocent suffering, Paschal Mystery, experience God, awareness of God, F. K. Bartels
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