Fr. Bloomfield's Blog

I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, currently assigned to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, Michigan. When I manage to keep the page updated, hopefully something interesting can be found here!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Faith Seeking Understanding for February 26, 2006

Lent is nearly upon us. Certainly the pączki (found in nearly every grocery store and bakery this week) remind us that Ash Wednesday is not far behind. Shrove Tuesday, known also as Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) and Karnival (carne vale, or “farewell to meat”), is customarily our final day of indulgence before the austerities of Lent begin. In fact, the word “shrove” comes from the Old English “shrive,” meaning “to hear confessions.” Lent can often catch us off guard, though: we “give up” our favorite dessert, beverage, or pastime, and grudgingly grit our teeth for the forty days ahead until Easter Sunday. Unfortunately, the true conversion of our hearts (or metanoia) sometimes gets lost in the shuffle and Holy Thursday finds us unprepared for Easter.

Nevertheless, such challenges to the great spiritual and corporal penances of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving shouldn’t discourage us, but rather encourage us to make the fullest use of this Lent. Since we are made up of both body and soul, these penances should motivate us to deeper love of our Lord and our neighbor; in turn, our love of God and neighbor reminds us to do penance for our sins and to renew our commitment to holiness.

Since the season of Lent is a time of penance (cf. CIC, can. 1250), the Church also obliges certain practices during this holy time: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fast and abstinence. Every Friday of Lent is a day of abstinence from meat as well. After our fourteenth birthday, we are bound by the law of abstinence; the law of fasting binds those eighteen years and older until they are fifty-nine years old (can. 1252). But why do we practice penance – giving up meat on Fridays or giving up chocolate for all of Lent?

The Catechism reminds us that penance “prepares[s] us for the liturgical feasts and help[s] us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart” (CCC 2043). We also read, however, that “Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, ‘sackcloth and ashes,’ fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance” (CCC 1430).

Such interior repentance is appropriate, even for the baptized, because we are all sinners; we are in daily need of conversion to God, breaking with sin, and turning from evil. God Himself desires our hearts more than anything, and throughout these forty days of preparation for the solemn celebration of the paschal mystery – that is, Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection – at Easter, we gain this conversion by contemplating the cost of sin: Jesus Christ, scourged and bloodied, crucified for our sins. Penance allows us to enter deeply into Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, to recognize our own infidelity and His mercy, and prompts a deep sorrow within our hearts. This, however, is not a sorrow of discouragement or despair, but a pain which arises from love and which brings about healing.

May we strive this Lent to enter into authentic fasting and deny ourselves good things out of sorrow for sin, and love for Christ; may we practice deeper prayer, coming to known our Savior through the Gospels and the Psalms; and may we grow in concern for our neighbor and give alms, not just from our surplus, but from our need. Let this Lent be the best preparation yet, so that we may fully celebrate the sorrow of Good Friday and the boundless joy of Easter Sunday as true members of Christ’s Body.