May Lent bring our One Church, East to West closer to ChristBy: Bishop Edward M. Rice
When I give talks or homilies, I have often mentioned the dangers associated with being “out of control.” For some, the issue may be the overuse of alcohol, taking illegal drugs, or the overconsumption of food. For others it may be “out of control” emotions, such as anger. No matter the substance or issue, it is never good to be out of control. Typically, when we are out of control, it leads to actions that we later regret. And so, words like, “self-control,” “restraint,” or “discipline” should come to play.
The Opening Prayer for Ash Wednesday expresses this very thought: “… as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.” The traditional works of Lent—prayer, fasting, and charity (almsgiving), assist us in developing a sense of self-control during the 40 days of Lent.
Pray, Fast, Give
In prayer, we control our time, precious that it is, and make the conscious choice to set aside time for a weekday Lenten Mass, or Stations of the Cross on the Fridays of Lent, or a visit to the Blessed Sacrament to pray the rosary or to read the Scriptures. If we are not in control of our time, it often escapes us and we end up “wasting” time.
In fasting, we control the cravings of our appetite: “My body does not control me, I control my body.” In foregoing sweets or soda or meat, we develop stamina and fortitude. So often we see our lives reflect the negative results of always giving in to what we want. Just because we want something doesn’t mean it is good for us. And in denying ourselves even good things, one can build up stamina and the virtue of fortitude so that the next time we’re tempted, we’re better equipped to not succumb to the temptation. Of course, we can extend “fasting” to include activities as well, not just food or drink, such as time spent watching television or on our phones mindlessly surfing the Web, etc.
Finally, in works of charity one is able to break out of a selfish mindset and become more aware of the needs of others. Any money saved from giving up a favorite snack, for example, can be donated to Rice Bowl or another worthy cause. And let’s not limit ourselves to financial charity. I can also overcome my selfish tendencies by giving my time and talent to some worthy cause, actually laboring to offset someone else’s poverty of body, mind, or spirit.
We live in a culture that looks down upon and discounts the notions of “self-control,“ “restraint,” and “discipline.” The prevailing attitude is “give me what I want, when I want it, because I want it.” And yet, we can look around and see how unhealthy such an attitude is for the human body and, in extension, to the soul. As I give in to the cravings of the body, I become physically lazy and I become a slave to my appetites. The same results happen spiritually: When I fail to spiritually exercise, I become spiritually lazy and my life suffers. The traditional works of prayer, fasting, and charity complement each other, resulting in a stronger spiritual life where I can “take up battle against spiritual evils” (Opening Prayer). And when these practices are undertaken for a period of 40 days, they can become a good habit, a virtue!
This might sound odd, but I have always liked Lent! I enjoy the challenge of Lent. While I may not always be successful in my Lenten practices for 40 days, there is value in any attempt to invigorate one’s self-discipline and fortitude. If and when I fail, it is simply proof that I indeed need a Savior (don’t we all?), and that I literally can’t do everything by myself: I am reliant on my Savior.
The Gathering Tree, Eden Village
While Operation Rice Bowl remains a Lenten charity staple in many of our parishes throughout the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, I am asking the youth of our diocese to join me this Lent in a unique opportunity to encounter Jesus in the poor of our own community. Dr. David and Mrs. Linda Brown have begun a program known as Eden Village, which is a “micro-home concept” developed by in response to homelessness in our community. Each tiny home is built at a cost of $30,000, and provides lifetime housing for a chronically-disabled homeless individual. It is my hope that every young person in our parish youth groups, parish religious education programs, elementary schools, and high schools will embrace this Lenten work of mercy and make building one micro-home the focus of the 40 days of Lent. Materials have been sent to all parishes and I encourage the principals and pastors to be creative in raising funds so that we can “help raise the roof” this Lent.
In addition, I encourage parents to spend time discussing with your children how you all may practice as a family the traditional works of Lent, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
We find our mission in the motto of our Diocese, “One Church, East to West: Loving Jesus, Serving Jesus, and Sharing Jesus.” The prayers and good works of our youth will provide a forever home to one homeless person in southern Missouri. More information on Eden Village may be found at www.gatheringtree.org/eden-village.
It is my privilege to remember all of you in my daily prayers. As this season unfolds may our prayer, fasting, and charitable works bring each of us closer to Christ. ©TM