TUESDAY HOMILY: Returning to the Fundamentals
that our body of dust and its desires are not the most important thing. "Man does not live on bread alone," Jesus will say to the devil in the desert, "but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Mt 4:4).
Sometimes we can live a life in which we just try to satisfy our hungers and desires, to go from one pleasure to another. We can shy away from the tougher parts of the living our faith. Fasting allows us to subordinate our bodily desires and needs to those of our soul. It allows us to control our desires rather than let them control us.
That is why oftentimes priests will encourage to fast those who are trying to overcome addictions - to alcohol, to drugs, to sex - because if they can learn how to control a desire that is necessary for survival, like eating, then they can also more easily grow to control desires for things that they don't really need to survive, like drugs, sex or booze. The more we acquire the ability to say no to our desires, in other words, the easier it is to say yes to God and to more important things.
The third Lenten restorative practice is to give alms. Very often the sins we commit flow from selfishness or egocentrism, from putting ourselves first. That is why the Lord commands us to give alms, which requires us to look toward others' needs, not just our own; to love others in deeds and not just wish them well; to take responsibility for the welfare of others, for as often as we fail to do something for them, we fail to do it to Christ (Mt 25:45).
Jesus, who gave everything for us down to his last drop of blood, tells us to follow him in this way, by giving of ourselves, our time and our material resources generously for others.
As we make our Lenten resolutions at the cusp of this 40-day interior pilgrimage, it's important, first, to keep all three of these practices in mind. Making Lenten resolutions is not meant to be a multiple-choice test in which we select only one of the three fundamental practices to work on.
We should make a resolution in each of these three areas, spurred on by a deep repentance for how we've so often marginalized God rather than prayed without ceasing; sought to satiate our desires rather than deny ourselves, pick up our Cross and follow Jesus; and ignored or used others rather than loved them as Christ loves us.
Just like baseball players in spring training need to work on all aspects of their game, one at a time, so we, too, need to focus on each of these fundamental areas of the Christian life. Otherwise we'll be no more effective than a ball player who fields fabulously but throws wildly.
Secondly, we need to recall what is the purpose behind all of these practices: to become holy, to become Christ-like, to become a saint. Just like spring training is meant to lay the foundation for what every baseball player desires, a championship, so Lent is supposed to train us for the full season of life so that we might make the eternal hall of fame, not merely individually, but together with the teammates God has given us.
The resolutions we make are meant to keep that in mind. Is giving up sweets or coffee during Lent a good penance? It's certainly not harmful, but it's hard to see how alone that will be enough to form the person on the road to holiness.
It also needs to be admitted that a great deal of pusillanimity has crept into the way many of us make our Lenten resolutions. Christ calls us, rather, to be bold. He gives us this time as an annual three-a-day training camp during which - after the failures of past seasons - to train for holiness.
It's not enough to give up "something," or to pray "a little more" or to fill up a rice bowl for those in need. It's a time to respond to the offer of the Lord's help to push ourselves beyond what we think capable, in order to be formed into the persons and team he created us to be.
It's a time to be formed into other Christs who pray, fast, give of themselves - who truly live by faith.
Father Roger Landry is pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Fall River, MA and national chaplain of Catholic Voices USA. His homilies and articles are found on catholicpreaching.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: year of faith, daily homily, lent, ash wednesday, father roger j. landry
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