The Cross is the Greatest Sign of Love

“Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return!”

 Lent is right around the corner, and as we anticipate Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, it’s good to have a plan on how you want your Lent to unfold. The traditional areas of prayer, fasting, and charity are the pillars of the 40 days, but what is the foundation of Lent? I would ask you to see the upcoming 40 days as an invitation to a deeper foundation of love culminating in the greatest sign of love—the Cross!

I’ve often preached that of all the words we can use to describe what we see gazing on a crucifix —be it suffering, pain, sacrifice—if we do not understand the Cross in terms of love, then we have failed to proclaim the Good News! Therefore, any prayer, fasting or charity should be an expression of that love of Christ on the Cross. Any prayer I may choose during Lent: additional Masses during the week, Friday Stations of the Cross, the family rosary, or time committed to Scripture reading or Adoration, should all flow from and lead to a greater love of Jesus. If it is looked upon as a burden and not an opportunity, such is not the right attitude.

In fasting, “giving up” favorite foods, TV or social media, or consumerism, the goal should be developing a deeper, sacred hunger for union with the Lord. By turning off the television or social media, I might immediately experience “silence,” which can make one feel uncomfortable. Silence forces us to “disconnect” in order to “connect” to Jesus. But, if it is looked upon as a burden and not an opportunity, such is not the right attitude.

In works of charity, such as the Rice Bowl, our Lenten Youth Mission of Mercy, or other ways to donate one’s time, talent, or treasure, the goal should be a more authentic love of Christ shown toward the neighbor in need. This year, the Lenten Youth Mission of Mercy will support the Stockton Area Ministerial Alliance (SAMA), in Stockton, MO. In Cedar County, 18.5% of the population is below the poverty line, which is higher than the state average. Over 11% of that population are military veterans. I encourage adults to support the Rice Bowl Program and I ask all of our schools and PSR programs to support the Lenten Youth Mission of Mercy. But again: if this is looked upon as a burden and not an opportunity, such is not the right attitude.

LENTEN REGULATIONS

Please make note of the Lenten regulations. Catholics over 14 years of age are obliged to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent. On such days of abstinence, meat may not be used at all. Catholics over ages 18 to 60 years old are bound to the obligation of fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On these days, only one full meatless meal is allowed with two smaller, meatless snacks, sufficient to maintain strength, taken according to each one’s needs. Eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids are. Looking ahead, I note that March 17, a Friday of Lent, is also St. Patrick’s Day, a day of celebration for all things Irish! If desired, I offer the faithful a dispensation for meat, requesting in its exchange the praying of the 5th Sorrowful decade of the Rosary, the Crucifixion, for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life for our diocese.

The Lenten Season invites us to a deeper walk with the Lord. By planning ahead and making practical decisions on how you want your Lent to unfold, you can take better advantage of this season. It is not 40 days to lose weight or get in better physical shape. It is not 40 days of guilt for not keeping resolutions. The ashes that will mark our foreheads on Ash Wednesday are a physical reminder that we are sinners in need of God’s mercy; we are frail, on a pilgrimage to our eternal home. The Cross, the symbol of total, unconditional love, awaits us at the end of our 40-day journey and ultimately the Cross will greet us at the end of life where we will share in the victory of life over death—all through the Cross, the greatest sign of love. It may sound odd, but I hope everyone has a “happy” Lent!

Published in the February 17, 2023 issue of The Mirror.