Lent: journey to heart of ChristBy: Bishop Edward M. Rice
My brother texted me the morning of Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14, at 5 a.m., saying “Happy Vash Wednesday.” I responded, “Don’t you have anything better to do this early in the morning?”
This year, Ash Wednesday fell on Valentine’s Day, which is a great opportunity for us to reflect on the different definitions of love. In the secular world, Valentine’s Day is all about chocolate and flowers and red hearts, expressing the belief that the heart is the symbol of human love.
For us, on Ash Wednesday, we sing Lenten Songs and mark ourselves with ashes as a sign of repentance. Our Feast of Love is the Eucharist, the heavenly banquet where Jesus Himself completely satisfies our deepest hunger, our deepest longing, and our deepest desires.
As people of faith, the Cross is the fullest expression of divine love. The love of Christ on the Cross is an expression of total, unconditional love, a love whereby the highest expression is the laying down of one’s life for another. In the journey of faith, it is the challenge of the Christian, the Catholic, to take our human love and raise it to a higher level, divine love.
In a sense, our 40-day observance of Lent is a 40-day observance of divine love, a journey of love into the very heart of Christ and His passion where we commit to take up the Cross and follow in His footsteps.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in his message for Lent certainly encourages us in works of prayer, fasting, and charity. And, he also highlights two other encounters with the love of Jesus; Eucharistic Adoration and Reconciliation. In Adoration we present ourselves to the source of divine love, the very heart of Jesus given to us at every Mass. It is this Divine Love that calls out to us in Adoration. In Reconciliation, we are greeted by Divine Love expressed in Mercy, through the forgiveness of our sins.
In both of these avenues of grace we encounter the love of Christ for us. This is what Lent is all about.
Seek out the opportunities for Adoration and Reconciliation this Lent, whether it be in your parish or in a communal or even regional celebration. This Lent, take advantage of the greatest Sacrament of Love, the Eucharist, and be reconciled in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Better yet, invite someone to join you who is away from the Church. Make time to reverently subject yourself (and a friend or family member) to the Divine Love that pours out onto us in Adoration. Let this Lent be a 40-day celebration of love that extends into a blessed Easter.
Vietnamese Lunar New Year
I was invited on Feb. 11 to celebrate the Vietnamese Lunar New Year. This is the Year of the Dog. In investigating the dog, I discovered that its attributes are loyalty, honor, and kindness.
Scripture provides us a lesson on loyalty. It reminds us that we cannot split our loyalty to Christ, we cannot serve two masters (Mt 6:24). Either our hearts are set on Him or set on the things of this world. It is true that we certainly need many of the the things of this world, but our hearts should never be possessed or defined by them. We work hard for the clothes we wear or the food we need, but we are called to trust that in the business of life it is part of God’s plan to give to us what He knows we need, not what we think we need.
With trust in the Divine Providence of God, there should be no worry about life. As Our Lord states in the Gospel of Matthew, “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your lifespan?” (6:27). Just as God cares for the birds of the sky and the grass of the field, we should trust that God will provide for the things we need.
That trust is what makes us different from those who do not believe. With such trust there is no anxiety or worry. With our hearts set on God, we turn to Him in all things with prayer and confidence, with peace in our hearts. As St. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
Happy Vietnamese Lunar New Year! May this coming year unfold with loyalty, honor, and kindness for all of you. May this be a year of trust. May your heart be set on God alone. May you seek first the kingdom of God, and with hearts filled with His peace, Rejoice in the Lord always. Be assured of my prayers.