Monday, February 29, 2016

Marianist Monday

March, 2016

Dear Friends,

“How is your Lenten journey going?” Around this time last year, a relative of one of the Brothers was visiting for a few days, and this was how she began the conversation at breakfast one morning. It’s a legitimate question, but it isn’t really something I wanted to discuss with a near stranger over my bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats.

The question stuck with me and got me thinking about Lent and the idea of Lent as a journey. Every year, as Lent approaches, I am deluged with e-mail advertisements and print catalogues for resources that are meant to help me have a “good Lent.” I always wondered what people meant by that expression, a “good Lent.” Does it mean I faithfully abstain from whatever it was that I chose to give up for the season, like a person who keeps his New Year’s Resolutions? Or, does it mean that I am spiritually prepared for Easter? Honestly, I think that it’s supposed to be the latter, but we tend to emphasize the former.

Lent is a journey, and the purpose of any journey is to get you to some destination; otherwise, it’s just wandering around. The whole point of Lent is to get us ready for Easter. It is like spiritual spring-cleaning, where we clear out all of those things that have become obstacles to our relationship with God. The traditional Lenten practices of Prayer, Fasting, and Alms-giving are great ways to do this. They help us to recognize the things in our lives that we might give too much value and then help us to put them in their proper place. But, Prayer, Fasting and Alms-giving aren’t the only things we can do.

Pope Francis declared this year a Jubilee of Mercy, and maybe this Lent would be a good time to begin thinking about Mercy if you haven’t done so already. In his message for Lent 2016, the Holy Father encourages us to incorporate the corporal and spiritual works of mercy into our Lenten practices. He writes:

. . . Divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbor and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbors in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them.

When you get down to it, the Works of Mercy are about bringing the love of Christ to our neighbors, and I think Pope Francis is saying is that maybe the best way for us to prepare for Easter is to reach out to our brothers and sisters in need. Maybe this also means that we should be less concerned about what we are giving up and more concerned about what we are giving. (Besides, giving mercy is much more satisfying than giving up chocolate.)

Fasting and abstaining are important spiritual disciplines that shouldn’t be neglected, but we can over-emphasize them and run the risk of treating them like ends in themselves. As I said before, the whole purpose of Lent is to get us ready for Easter and Easter is all about joy. So, if what we are doing is only making us gloomy, it isn’t preparing us for Easter. Pope Francis tells us that “an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!” and St. Augustine, who doesn’t have a reputation of being a barrel of laughs, tells us that “We are an Easter people and ‘Alleluia’ is our song.”

So, I wish you success on the rest of your Lenten Journey, but even more, I hope you have the fullness of Easter Joy, the joy that is a foretaste of Heaven.

May God bless you and your families.

Yours in Christ,

Bro. Patrick Sarsfield, S.M.

P.S. For your reference, the traditional works of mercy are:

Feed the hungry; Give drink to the thirsty; Clothe the naked; Shelter the homeless; Visit the sick; Visit the imprisoned; Bury the dead; Counsel the doubtful; Instruct the ignorant; Admonish sinners; Comfort the afflicted; Forgive offenses; Bear wrongs patiently; Pray for the living and the dead