Saturday, February 16, 2013

Ash Wednesday, Temperance and Self-Mastery

Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

We were all shocked by the news that last Monday, the Holy Father declared his intention to renounce his ministry as Successor of St. Peter to take effect at 8:00 pm of February 28, 2013. He cited advancement in age and poor health as reason for his retirement and so he will spend his days in prayer in a monastery in Rome. The world will definitely not understand what the Holy Father just did. After all, we live in a time when people in power hold on to what they have as long as they could. Isn’t this a reality about the political dynasties in our country? Also just think of the Arab nations that were under fire last year because of the refusal of their leaders to step down from power. And who could be more powerful than the Pope? No one is able to wield power over a billion Catholics except the Bishop of Rome. And this Pope did what many leaders would not do…to give up power in favor of a life of silence and prayer. This is an incomparable Lenten sacrifice. While we give up meals of meat today…the Pope gives up the much coveted Papal authority for the sake of silence and prayer.

Ash Wednesday, which ushers in the Lenten season, reminds us of giving up not what is superfluous but what is essential. We are encouraged by the Church to eat less, pray more and love without limits during this Lenten Season. This is really an exercise in self-mastery. We have seen in yesterday’s liturgy that God commanded Adam and Eve to have dominion over all creation. And yet, we know that eventually, they fall into sin because they have not exercised dominion over their own selves. Wanting to have more than what is allowed, our first parents lost everything: their communion with God, paradise, and even their own dignity. All was lost because they did not master themselves.

How should we understand prayer, fasting, and almsgiving? I would like to propose that we look at these spiritual exercises as part of an “apprenticeship to self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy. Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraints. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.” (CCC. 2339) Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving are means used by those who wish to remain faithful to their baptismal promises and resist temptations. These ascetic practices help develop in us the virtue of temperance, “which seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason.” All the social ills of our times, be it the ecological imbalance, or political dynasties, or poverty, or even sexual promiscuity, are manifestations of our lack of temperance. We do not know how to say “no” to ourselves. Constantly giving in to what we want, we become slaves of our passions and appetites. Lent offers us the opportunity to grow in self-mastery. I want to eat but I choose to fast. I want to spend time leisurely but I choose to pray. I want to shop but I choose to give alms. If only we acquired the virtue of temperance, we would become truly more human, and eventually, be more of what we should be: image and likeness of God. Eat less. Pray more. Love without limits.

Jesus, I trust in you. O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

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