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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 a universal day of fasting and abstinence. Catholic spirituality traditionally includes in repentance some form of penance. Penance means some practice that lets us express sorrow for our sins and helps repair the damage that sin has caused.
Penance gives us important practice in resisting temptation, thereby strengthening us. It greatly strengthens a number of virtues, especially charity, and it greatly enriches life.
The Catholic Church has two official forms of penitential practices: fasting and abstinence. These are so important that they’re one of the precepts of the Catholic Church.
Fasting is reducing the amount of food you eat below normal levels. Specifically, on fast days you may eat one full meal and two smaller meals, but those two smaller together should not exceed the amount of the normal meal. Snacking is also prohibited on fast days.
All Catholics age 18 to 59 are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. You are excused from fasting if you have a legitimate need to eat a normal amount of food on fast days. This includes:
The sick or infirm, including handicapped or mentally ill people who need the nourishment or cannot make a free choice to fast Pregnant or nursing women Some manual laborers Abstinence means not eating meat (fish is not considered meat in this case). All Catholics 14 and older are required to observe abstinence on these days:
Ash Wednesday, Good Friday (the Friday before Easter), and all Fridays in Lent. This is required on all Fridays of the year, in honor of the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday. In the U.S., it is still strongly recommended to observe Friday abstinence outside of Lent, but Catholics may choose to substitute another penitential practice or act of charity for these days. Note that the duty to perform the tasks of your state in life takes precedence over the law of fasting in the precepts of the Catholic Church. If fasting honestly causes you to be unable to fulfill your required tasks, it is uncharitable to fast — the law of fasting would not apply in this case. (Consult with a priest if this is a concern to you.)
Catholics all over the world, in this season of Lent, 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 fast “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).
In the Prologue of the Gospel according to John, the Evangelist solemnly declared: In the beginning was Word. And the Word was with God. The Word was God…He dwelt among us. And we have seen his glory, the glory that belongs only to God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth.
How the glory of Jesus as the Christ was revealed, manifested and shown upon to the nations, to the Gentiles? The glory that belongs only to God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth, is revealed to the Gentiles in many and various ways:
- In the Birth of Jesus which we commemorate every time we celebrate Christmas.
- In the person and visit of the “Magi” or the “Learned Men” from the East which we commemorate every time we celebrate the Solemnity of Epiphany, the climax of the Christmas Season.
- In the Baptism of the Lord which the Church commemorates every time we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, the conclusion of the Christmas Season.
- In the First Miracle of Jesus at Cana where he transformed jars of waters into jars of quality wine.
Today, the Christmas Season concludes with the celebration of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The Liturgy offers us, in St Luke’s account, the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan (cf. 3:15-16, 21-22).
The Evangelist narrates that, while Jesus was in prayer, after having received Baptism among the many who were drawn by the preaching of the Precursor, the heavens opened and under the form of a dove the Holy Spirit descended upon him. In that moment a voice from on high resounded: “You are my beloved Son. On you my favour rests” (Lk 3:22).
The Baptism of the Lord was held in great importance by the apostolic community, not only because in that circumstance, for the first time in history, there was the manifestation of the Trinitarian Mystery in a clear and complete way, but also because that event began the public ministry of Jesus on the roads to Palestine.
The Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan is the anticipation of his baptism of blood on the Cross, and it is the symbol of the entire sacramental activity by which the Redeemer will bring about the salvation of humanity.
There is a strict relationship between the Baptism of Christ and our Baptism. At the Jordan the heavens opened (cf. Lk 3:21) to indicate that the Saviour has opened the way of salvation and we can travel it thanks to our own new birth “of water and Spirit” (Jn 3:5), accomplished in Baptism.
In it we are inserted into the Mystical Body of Christ, that is, the Church, we die and rise with him, we are clothed with him, as the Apostle Paul often emphasized (cf. I Cor 12:13; Rom 6:3-5; Gal 3:27). The commitment that springs from Baptism is, therefore, “to listen” to Jesus: to believe in him and gently follow him, doing his will.
In this way everyone can tend to holiness, a goal that, as the Second Vatican Council recalled, constitutes the vocation of all the baptized. May Mary, the Mother of the beloved Son of God, help us to be faithful to our Baptism always.
Today’s Gospel narrative speaks about Judas’ betrayal and prediction of Peter’s denial. Betrayal, simply means, to hand over. “In the gospels many people “hand over” Jesus: the Sanhedrin hands him over to Pilate (Mk 15:1, 10; Mt 27:2, 18; Lk 24:20; Jn 18:30,35), Pilate hands him over to the will of the people (Lk 23:25; Jn 19:16) or to the soldiers for execution (Mk 15:15; Mt 27:26). However, the one who is par excellence the person who hands over Jesus is Judas Iscariot. He is branded in all four gospels with this characteristics, as if were his special trademark: 11 times in Mt, 6 times in Mk, 5 times in Lk, and 10 times in Jn. In all, Judas is 32 times presented as ‘the one who handed Jesus over’” (365 Days with the Lord 2003, Liturgical Biblical Diary, On Passion Sunday, St Pauls).
“Judas, ‘the man of Kerioth,’ one of the Twelve, waited on the high priests, probably while Jesus was engaged with the Greeks (Jn 12:20-50), and offered for sufficient remuneration to betray him into their hands. Judas was a disappointed man. He had attached himself to Jesus, believing him to be Messiah, and expecting, in accordance with the current conception of the Messianic Kingdom, a rich recompense when the Master should ascend the throne of his father David, and confer offices and honors upon his faithful followers.
The period of his discipleship had been a process of disillusionment, and latterly, when he perceived the inevitable issue, he has determined to abandon he deemed a sinking cause, and save what he might from the wreck. It may be also that he desired to be avenged an the Master who, as he deemed, had fooled him with a false hope. He therefore went to the high priests and asked what he would give him to betray Jesus into their hands. They leaped at the proposal and offered him thirty shekel. It was the price of a slave (cf. Ex 21:32). Impervious to contempt, he accepted their offer; and as though in haste to get rid of him, they paid him money on the spot” (Hastings J., DD, Ed., Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, Edinburg: T. & T. Clark).
Jesus, aware of Judas’ design and anxious to eat the Passover with his disciples (Lk 22:15), “reclining with his disciples, made a startling revelation: ‘One of you shall betray me’ (Jn 13:2). Amid the consternation which ensued, Jesus secretly gave Judas his dismissal. The traitor left the room, and hastening to the high priests, summoned them to action.
Soon after, Jesus was “rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes,” who handed him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified” (Mk 8:31; Mt 20:11; see cf. CCC 572).
Certainly, Judas’ betrayal contributes to the crucifixion and death of Jesus. But Judas is not the only the person responsible for his death. Pontius Pilate, the Sanhedrin, the Jews had their own share too. Behind the scene, all sinners were authors of Christ’ passion.
In her Magisterial teaching of the faith and in the witness of her saints, the Church has never forgotten that “sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured” (Roman Catechism 1, 5, 11; cf. Heb 12:3). Taking into account the fact that our sins affect Christ himself (cf. Mt 25:45; Acts 9:4-5) the Church does not hesitate to impute to Christians the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus, a responsibility with which they have all too often burdened the Jews alone:
We must regard as guilty all those who continue to relapse into their sins. Since our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross, those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for he is in them) and hold him up to contempt. And it can be seen that our crimes in this case is greater in us than in the Jews. As for them, according to the witness of the Apostle, “None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” We, however, profess to know him. And when we deny him by our deeds, we in some way seem to lay violent hands on him (Roman Catechism 1, 5, 11; cf. Heb 6:6; 1 Cor 2:8).
Nor did demons crucify him; it is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins (St. Francis of Assisi, Admon. 5, 3. ; CCC 598).
As Jesus made His way towards Jerusalem where death awaits him, He stopped in the village of Bethany where He was invited to dinner party by a wealthy friend named Simon. In the course of the gathering, a woman interrupted the meal which shocked all those who were present.
What scandalized them? First, they were shocked because the woman who came to Jesus loosened her hair in public. During that time, to loosen one’s hair in public even for a married woman, was a sign of grave immodesty. Second, they were shocked because the woman wasted lot of money when she anointed Jesus’ feet with precious ointment. When Mary anointed Jesus with an oil worth a whole year’s wages, Judas protested that the perfume could have been sold. It would have brought three hundred silver pieces (he’ll betray Jesus for just thirty), and then the money could have been given to the poor. Jesus, however, fully aware that he is a traitor, unconcerned about the poor, and a thief.
The contrast between Judas and Mary of Bethany is powerful. Mary spent what she had on “very costly ointment” in a gesture of love, affection, and respect. While Judas complained for losing the money that does not belong to him in the guise of being concern for the poor.
How did Jesus react to that given situation? Jesus defended what the woman did for him out of gratitude and thanksgiving and then used that occasion to teach them about the virtue of hospitality and his imminent passion and death in the hands of the scribes and the pharisees who will deliver him to the pagans to be mocked, crucified and be killed.
For Jesus hospitality is more than just welcoming a guest into one’s house. It is more than just serving a guest with food and drink. For Jesus, hospitality is, above all, welcoming someone what he stands for or represents. This is the reason why he praised what Mary did to him than Martha who prepared everything for their meal when he visited their home once. On that ocassion Mary both as a friend and a disciple welcomed Jesus and what he stands for and represents.
Today is Monday of the Holy Week. On this day, let us reflect on the prophetic anointing of Jesus by a woman named Mary (the sister of Martha and Lazarus who were close friends of Jesus), which foreshadowed Jesus’ imminent death, honored Him as God’s anointed, and poured out to Him love and devotion too deep for words. Her action reminds us that our journey through Holy Week is a matter of the heart.
Passion Sunday or popularly known as the Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. During Holy Week, the Church celebrates the mysteries of salvation accomplished by Christ in the last days of his life on earth, beginning with his messianic entrance into Jerusalem and followed by his suffering and death on the cross.
Jesus entered the gates of Jerusalem to the sound of great rejoicing and triumphal acclamation. Crowds greet him with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna,” the battle cry of nationalistic Zealots, which means”save us, we pray” from the dominion and oppression of the Roman empire. Five days after, however, Jesus was crucified on the cross.
At the beginning of his last week, Jesus was greeted in Jerusalem as a heroic savior, someone to free the Jews from Roman authority. By the end of the week, Jesus was no longer seen as a hero. He was even betrayed by Judas, the treasurer of the apostles, for thirty shekels of silver which is the monetary worth of a slave. Denied thrice by Peter, whom he has chosen to be the head of the apostles. Abandoned by the other apostles except John. Demanded to be crucified by the same people who shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” [Mt. 21:9]. Lastly, “rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes,” who handed him to the Gentiles to be mocked, scourged and crucified (see Lk 24:26-27. 44-45; Mk 8:31; Mt 20:19.) as he prophesied earlier.
Jesus’ violent death was not the result of chance in an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, but is part of the mystery of God’s plan, as St. Peter explains to the Jews of Jerusalem in his first sermon on Pentecost: “This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Act 2:23). This biblical language does not mean that those who handed him over were passive players in a scenario written in advance by God (cf. Acts 3:13, CCC 599).
For the sake of accomplishing his plan of salvation, God permitted the acts that flowed from their blindness (cf. Mt 26:54; Jn 18:36; 19:11; Acts 3:17-18). The Scriptures had foretold this divine plan of salvation through putting to death of “the righteous one, my Servant” as a mystery of universal redemption, that is, as the ransom that would free men from the slavery of sin (Is 53:11; cf. 53:12; Jn 8:34-36; Acts 3:14). Hence, Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.
The story of the passion of Christ is the story of God’s faithfulness to His people and their salvation and man’s unfaithfulness, sinfulness and wickedness to God and to one another. God remains faithful and true to his promise of salvation in Christ despite of our unfaithfulness, sinfulness, and wickedness. Instead of condemning us to death and hell he continues to call us to repentance, conversion, reconciliation and offering for “Yahweh is a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, …forgiving wickedness, crime and sin” (Ex 34:6-7). Our Lord does not seek the sinner’s death but his conversion, and his life (cf. Ezekiel 33:11).
Faithful to the saving mission he received from God the Father, Jesus “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” [Phil. 2:8] In His Divine incarnation, He humbled Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. Jesus did not empty Himself of His Divinity but He voluntarily gave up the Divine glory to which He was entitled, a glory that would be restored at His exaltation. [Jn. 17:5; Mt. 17:1-8] Having humbled Himself, even unto death, God exalted Jesus, giving Him the Name that is above every name. [Phil. 2:9; Eph. 1:21; Heb. 1:4; 1 Pet. 3:22] That at the Name of Jesus, in an act of religious adoration, every knee should bend, in Heaven and on earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [Phil. 2:10-11; 1 Cor. 12:3; Rom. 10:9; Col. 2:6]
What, then, should be our response to God’s faithful and saving love for us? Our response should be:
First, we must have faith in Jesus Christ and to the One who sent him for us and for our salvation. As John says, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3). Besides, “Without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Hebrews 11:6).
Second, we must be faithful to the ever faithful God. Let us be truly sorry and turn away from sins and, be reconciled with God and with one another and be faithful to Jesus and his Gospel. I do not know if you still remember that on the first day of Lent, that is, Ash Wednesday, the priest ,while putting ashes on our foreheads, said to us: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”
What does faithfulness to God mean? What are the dimension of this faithfulness?
The first dimension is called search. To seek God and His saving will or plan for us and for the world. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.
The second dimension of faithfulness is called reception, acceptance. Let it be done, I am ready, I accept: this is the crucial moment of faithfulness, the moment in which man perceives that he will never completely understand the “how”; that there are in God’s plan more areas of mystery than of clarity; that, however he may try, he will never succeed in understanding it completely. It is then that man accepts the mystery, gives it a place in his heart, just as “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19; cf. Lk 3:15). It is the moment when man abandons himself to the mystery, not with the resignation of one who capitulates before an enigma or an absurdity, but rather with the availability of one who opens up to be inhabited by something – by Someone! – greater than his own heart. This acceptance takes place, in short, through faith, which is the adherence of the whole being to the mystery that is revealed.
The third dimension of faithfulness is consistency, To live in accordance with what-one believes. To adapt one’s own life to the object of one’s adherence. To accept misunderstandings, persecutions, rather than a break between what one practices and what one believes: this is consistency. Here is, perhaps, the deepest core of faithfulness.
But all faithfulness must pass the most exacting test: that of duration. Therefore the fourth dimension of faithfulness is constancy. It is easy to be consistent for a day or two. It is difficult and important to be consistent for one’s whole life. It is easy to be consistent in the hour of enthusiasm, it is difficult to be so in the hour of tribulation. And only a consistency that lasts through out the whole of life, can be called faithfulness. Mary’s “fiat” in the Annunciation finds its fullness in the silent “fiat’, that she repeats at the foot of the Cross. To be faithful means not betraying in the darkness what one has accepted in public.
Allow me to share a simple story of faithfulness.
Mark Hatfield tells of touring Calcutta with Mother Teresa and visiting the so-called “House of Dying,” where sick children are cared for in their last days, and the dispensary, where the poor line up by the hundreds to receive medical attention. Watching Mother Teresa minister to these people, feeding and nursing those left by others to die, Hatfield was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the suffering she and her co-workers face daily. “How can you bear the load without being crushed by it?” he asked. Mother Teresa replied, “My dear Senator, I am not called to be successful, I am called to be faithful.”
God holds us, His children, to the highest standards of holiness and faithfulness (Mt 5:20). Yet God pours out unending supplies of grace so that we can repent and not only meet His standards, but flourish and grow in holiness (Eph 1:3).
Be faithful to God. Be faithful to his commandments. Be faithful to your vocation. Be faithful to your work, duties and responsibilities. Be faithful to your baptismal promises. Be faithful to your marital vows and promises. Be faithful to the deepest longing of your heart.
In the preceding parable, Jesus warned us against unreadiness and extolled the value of wathcfulness, vigilance and readiness. While, in the proceeding parable he dramatically shifted to another metaphor in which he compares his Second Coming to the unexpected arrival of a thief. He said to his disciples, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Lk 12:14). The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour, like a thief at night. And he will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead.
In that Day of Judgment at the Parousia or when the call of death arrives, “each one of us shall give account of himself or herself to God” (Romans 14:12) as a steward of the gifts of nature and the blessings and graces of God. What is a steward? A steward in ancient culture was a slave who was left in charge of domestic affairs when the master was away (16:1; 1 Cor 4:4-5; Michel 1967:149-51). The steward’s major responsibility was to care for the other servants’ welfare, especially to allot food to them. Food might be handed out daily, weekly or monthly. A steward’s job was to serve, not to exercise power. This may well be why Jesus uses the image (Manson 1957:118).
What kind of steward God expects us? God expects Christian as accountable, faithful and productive stewards of God’s grace and gifts of creation, life, body, talents and skills and wealth and possession.
Negatively, in order that the Lord will find us responsible, faithful and productive stewards when he comes in glory, let us avoid some of these pitfalls and mistakes while awaiting the second coming of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior:
· First, complacency that Jesus’ return is not yet imminent.
· Second, idleness or sloth. Doing nothing.
· Third, gross negligence in the performance of duties.
· Fourth, procrastination. Always postponing to another day what can be done for today.
· Fourth, abuse of power and position and squandering of resources.
· Fifth, manana habit. Only good in beginning. Lack of perseverance.
Positively, let us religiously perform the tasks require of us and fulfill our role as stewards of God’s gifts and graces:
· First, protect, preserve and conserve all Gods’ gifts entrusted to us.
· Second, develop to the maximum all the spiritual, material and physical resources entrusted to our care.
· Third, communicate and share all the fruits and benefits of the gifts and talents we preserved, developed and cultivated.
Good stewards will be generously rewarded while bad stewards will be severely punished and will suffer a great loss. “The reward or punishment will be proportioned to the powers, gifts, opportunities, and knowledge of the offenders.” As scripture says: ‘everyone to whom much is given, of him will much be required’; cf. Mt 5:19-20; 7:21-22; 25:41-46; Jas 2:14.
Friends, if and when the Lord comes now, do you think will he find you responsible, faithful and productive stewards or lazy, abusive and unfaithful stewards. Can you give him an account of your stewardship? Remember, “What we do in life, echoes in eternity” (Gladiator Poster).