Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

from Google images

Lent is once again upon us: this grave season that is marked by penance and prayer. The post-modern man might find this season repulsive on account of the discipline, the mortification which characterize its gravity. However, in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul gives us a refreshing perspective on the season of Lent. He calls it the acceptable time and the day of salvation: In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation. Lent is called “the acceptable time” because, in the light of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, God is most disposed to accept us sinners once again into his bosom. This is the most opportune time to be reconciled with God. St. John Marie Vianney said, “It is not the sinner who comes back to God in order to ask him forgiveness, but rather, it is God who runs after the sinner and helps him come back to him.” And because he is most disposed to accept us back, he is most disposed to pour upon us all his graces and blessings to help us come back to him. Thus, this is “the day of salvation.”

On account of the superfluous grace and mercy of God to us during this season, St. Paul admonishes us: “we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” He invites us to take advantage of this season of grace, to do all we can to get as much grace as we can. Hence, the mortification, the fasting, the abstinence, the penance. It is like being in the middle of a long dry spell, at the sight of dark and heavy clouds in the horizon, we put out as many empty pails as we can so that we can catch as much rain water as we can. Of course, to get optimum results, the pails have to be empty and clean. If pails are filled with sand, or garbage, or murky water, we waste the opportunity to catch pure rain water. We cannot benefit from the graces which God intends to pour upon us during this season if we are so filled with ourselves. I remember once, I chanced upon this noontime variety show in which the contestant must gather as much coins as he can because the heavier the total weight of what he gathered, the higher the price money gets. The show had a heavily bosomed woman and on account of her massive breasts, the coins keep falling off into the ground. He gathered almost nothing. Fasting and other disciplines help empty us of our egoism so that we may be prepared to receive everything that comes from God. In his Lenten message this year, Pope Benedict writes: “With bitterness the Psalmist recognizes this: ‘Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me’ (Ps 51,7). Indeed, man is weakened by an intense influence, which wounds his capacity to enter into communion with the other…By nature, he is open to sharing freely, but he finds in his being a strange force of gravity that makes him turn in and affirm himself above and against others: this is egoism, the result of original sin… Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel, ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need – the need of others and God, the need of His forgiveness and His friendship. So we understand how faith is altogether different from a natural, good-feeling, obvious fact: humility is required to accept that I need Another to free me from ‘what is mine,’ to give me gratuitously ‘what is His.’" Fasting helps free me from “what is mine” so that I can receive in abundance “what is His.”

In a similar light, fasting also addresses the scandal of our times: the discrepancy of the abundance of our age and the widespread hunger of people. The scandal of hunger is so blaring that politicians jump into this issue with one candidate promising “masarap na pagkain sa bawa’t mesa” and another pledging “masustansyang pagkain sa bawat mesa.” The Church looks at fasting as the solution to the discrepancy of affluence and hunger. We empty our plates so that we may put food in the plates of the hungry. Receiving in abundance “what is God’s” I freely give up “what is mine” so that it may also be “theirs.” This charity does not only make up for a multitude of sins but also makes up to God the worship that I have failed to offer him. The Holy Father said: “giving to the poor (for the Israelite) is none other than restoring what is owed to God, who had pity on the misery of His people.”

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