February 18, 2015
Readings: Jl 2:12-18; Psalm 51; 2 Cor 5:20-6:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
You may have noticed that, for the past few Sundays, Jesus the Great Physician has been very busy. Since the beginning of Ordinary Time, we have been in the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark. Now, Mark doesn’t beat around the bush. His Gospel is the oldest and the shortest and he gets right down to business. He spends just 20 verses telling us about the events that led up to Jesus’ ministry. Contrast that with John who devotes 51 verses, Matthew who spends 87, and Luke who spends 183.
Mark uses the first 37 verses of his story about the public ministry of Jesus to tell us how he healed people. As Fr. Benoit pointed out in his homily on Sunday, this is very appropriate leading up to the season of Lent because Lent is a time of healing. It is a time when we are reminded that we are not in charge of the world. We are reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Thomas Merton, on an Ash Wednesday years ago, wrote:
“The source of all sorrow is the illusion that of ourselves we are anything but dust. God is all our joy and in him our dust can become splendor.”
Lent is a time when we are invited to surrender to God so that we can be healed and realize the splendor of his plan for each one of us.
The prescription for our healing is written down for us in today’s Gospel. It is a tried and true treatment for all the spiritual maladies that prevent us from becoming who God wants us to be. If we stick to the regiment of Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving in Lent, we will be much healthier come Easter. So let’s take a closer look at each step in the treatment program.
Step one is prayer. St. Thérèse of Lisieux once wrote that
“…prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”
I like her definition – its depth of insight grows the more you think about it. If you are like me though, you like something a little more concrete; a little more systematic. So I offer you my own definition: Prayer is a conversation with the divine and like any good conversation it involves speaking and listening. In fact, I believe that it should involve at least as much listening as talking. Probably more. I know that I need to practice listening more and talking less so that is something I plan to work on this Lent. Maybe you would like to join me. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a wonderful section on Christian Prayer. It is very accessible and I recommend that everyone read it at least once.
The next part in the program is fasting and abstinence. Fasting works on many levels to strengthen us spiritually. Since I did not grow up Catholic, I had never fasted until I was an adult. One year, on Ash Wednesday, I decided to join my wife in a fast. At the end of the day, she asked me what I thought. I said, “You sure do think about God a lot when you are hungry.” Hunger is a feeling that most of us here in the first world never experience. As a result, we can forget that everything that we have ultimately comes from God. It all belongs to him and we just get to use some of it while we are here on Earth. Fasting can be a reminder that we really do depend on God for everything; for the air that we breathe, the sun that makes our food grow and the water that we drink. Fasting can also remind us of those around us that lack proper food and shelter, and that brings us to step three.
The final part of the prescription is almsgiving. If we make do with a little less, then others can have a little more. The funds that we save through fasting and abstinence should be used to help those in need in our community and world. This coming weekend, our bishop asks us all to contribute to a collection to support the Health Wagon. This is a mobile clinic that provides health services to Southwest Virginia. The poverty rate in this area is much, much higher than in the rest of Virginia and for many people there, the Health Wagon is their only source of health services. I encourage you to be as generous as you can.
As we move closer to God through these spiritual exercises this Lent, we will experience the true healing that only He can bring. Fr. Mooney told us in his homily two weeks ago that healing is for service. God heals us for his glory and for the good of his people; so that we can extend healing to others. In doing this, we receive the grace that comes through service to others. In the second reading, St. Paul urges us not to receive the grace of God in vain. This Lent let us open our hearts to God so that we can be healed and spread the grace that we receive out into the world.