Archive for February, 2012
Today is Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday begins the great season of Lent, when we are invited to “return sincerely to the Lord our God with fasting prayer and mourning” (Jl 2:12) and to offer to God a sacrifice of a humble and contrite spirit. It is the time of the year when we are reminded again that we are dust, and to dust we will return. On a more positive note, we are reminded “to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”
Today is universal day of fasting and abstinence. Catholics all over the world are encouraged to pray, to fast and abstain, and to share to the poor and the needy. Simply put, to do penance. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer and almsgiving (Cf. Tob 12:8; Mt 6:1-18), which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God and to others (CCC 1434).
What is penance? What does it mean to do penance? “Penance is concrete daily effort of a person, supported by God’s grace to lose his/her own life for Christ as the only means of gaining it; an effort to put off the old man and put on the new; an effort to overcome in oneself what is of the flesh in order that what is spiritual may prevail; it is a continual effort to rise from the thing of here below to things above, where Christ is. Penance is ,therefore, a conversion that passes from the heart to deeds to the Christian whole life” (JP, PR)
Penance such as prayer, fasting and almsgiving prepare us for the liturgical feast; they help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart (Cf. CIC, cann. 1249-1251; CCEO. Can. 882)
How do we make our penance fruitful and meaningful?
- Let us do our penance out of personal conviction and in freedom. Let us guard ourselves of legal formalism and superficiality which the prophets had already denounced, pride and ostentations if one fasts “in order to be seen by men. It must be done in secret, with sincerity and voluntarily.
- Let us fast, pray and share to the needy as our penance out of our love for God and neighbor. This is the greatest commandment. This is the summary of the all the laws of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. Nothing more, nothing less and nothing else.
- “This rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread to the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked, and not turning your back on your own” (Is 58:6-8).
- Penance finds its fulfillment, meaning and relevance only in the context of “Jesus call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, “sackcloth and ashes”, fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance (Cf. 2:12-13; Is. 1:16-17; Mt. 6;1-6; 16-18).
Interior repentance is a radical orientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our hearts, an end to sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of the spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of the heart) (Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1676-1678; 1705; cf. Roman Catechism, II, V, 4).
Fasting, prayers and almsgiving are interconnected and complimentary. Fasting is the soul of prayer. Mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So when you pray, fast; when you fast, show mercy.
Starting this Ash Wednesday as we begin the season of lent, strive to be humble and “return to God with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts not your garments, and return to the Lord your God. For gracious and merciful is He, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Jl 2:12-13).
“When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them.” (Mk 2:11).
“Jesus is now back in Capernaum after a long Galilean tour of teaching and healing. The flames of his fame—fanned by his words, fed by the flow of miracles—are blazing forth in every part of Palestine. Never was a man’s name on as many Palestinian tongues as is this Man’s. His doctrine, his deeds, his doings—all that he says and every good thing that he does—are discussed in every home, at every festive meal, in every synagogue. The believing among the sick and the penitent among the afflicted seek him with a hope of being healed; those who hunger and thirst after righteousness hang on his every word and find peace to their souls as they live in harmony with his teachings; the rulers and the rebellious rate him as an evil troublemaker and seek ways to entrap and defame and even to slay him.” (Bruce R. McConkie. The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979-1981], 2: 47.)
They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven (Mk 2:1-5),” “rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this (Mk 2:11-12).”
This miraculous healing is remarkable on many levels. If faith precedes the miracle, then friendly foursome had faith even as great as a grain of mustard seed. So many of us would have seen the crowd huddled around the door and given up exclaiming, “I hate crowds.” Others might have edged as close as possible, hoping to hear a word or catch a glimpse. Still others when hindered by the press might begin to press others out of their way.
But faith is the power to see things which are unseen. This includes the power to see possibilities that others do not or will not. Such is the faith of the four men. Their faith was the kind of faith that thinks of a way to accomplish the impossible. Theirs was the faith that breaks down barriers, tears up roofs, and uses ropes or whatever is needed to accomplish the task. His ingenuity and persistence are an example to all of us on the path of discipleship. If we are hindered by ‘the press,’ or turn back because we can’t seem to get close enough to the Lord, it is only because we lack the faith and persistence to receive both forgiveness and a physical blessing at his hand. Indeed, only persistence amidst the press brings us to the presence of the Master.
The story is one of the many “faith-making miracle stories” that can be found throughout the gospel, Unlike most “faith-making miracle stories” in the gospel, here Jesus did not heal the paralyzed man because of his faith. Jesus did not heal him because he asked for it, he prayed for it. Rather, Jesus healed him because of the faith and prayer of the four men who brought the paralyzed man to him for healing, deliverance and reconciliation. The words of the gospel said it best:
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven (Mk 2:1-5),” “rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this (Mk 2:11-12).”
The central message of the gospel story is this: the prayer of intercession works. The story proves to us the validity and the power of intercessory prayer. Intercession belongs to the prayer of petition. We are indulging in intercessory prayer when we are asking others to pray for us or praying in behalf of others.
What does the prayer of intercession consist? Intercession consists in asking on behalf of another. It conforms us and unites us to the prayer of Jesus who intercedes with the Father for all, especially sinners. Intercession must extend even to one’s enemies. Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2634) says: “Intercession is a prayer of petition which leads us to pray as Jesus did. He is the one intercessor with the Father on behalf of all men, especially sinners (Rom 8:34). He is ‘able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them,’ (Heb 7:25). The Holy Spirit, ‘Himself intercedes for us…and intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.’” (Rom 8:26-27)
When you know someone who has a problem, who is in crisis, in great trouble and danger, or afflicted with various diseases and disabilities, like what the four men did in the gospel story, let us also bring him to Jesus for healing, deliverance and reconciliation. Let us never ever hesitate to approach Jesus who will always be there to help and save us, who will always be there to listen and grant what we ask for our families, relatives, friends and even our enemies.