How will you love better? I don’t say that because today is Valentine’s Day…I say it because Lent is coming up. And a question to ask during Lent: how will you love better this Lent? Really everything we do during Lent, the prayer, the fasting , and almsgiving could all relate back to this question: How do I love better? These three pillars of Lent are all meant to help us grow in authentic love of God and of neighbor: to purge and purify us from, not only distractions but those things that make us selfish and the goods we put before others and before God. So every time I find myself reaching for that thing I decided to “give up” for Lent, I could say, NO, I am denying myself this thing OUT OF LOVE for God; I can also offer that DENIAL, that little suffering (or what we call a “penance”) as PRAYER to God for other, uniting our little suffering, our small self-denial with the salvific suffering of Christ on the Cross.
These past several months have shown us that the world is in need of love more than ever: The strife, the anger, the chaos, the pushing of policies that ultimately destroy life… and it can be easy to respond to all of this with MORE anger, resentment, bitterness, hatred, and despair. But while we are called to resist these things, we are to do so with prayer, with love, and with hope.
So as I’m sprinkled with ashes, I may recall the ways that I contribute to the anger, hatred, resentment, bitterness, and despair of the world. I may recall how certain actions of our culture, society, and nation are opposed to God and lead to destruction of life of others. I may also recall that I am called to respond to our opponents or enemies, who are fellow sinners, with the TRUTH of the Gospel, YES…but also with LOVE. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Jesus says. The same Jesus who while in the midst of his agonizing crucifixion on the Cross prayed, “Father, forgive them…” Part of the power of the Gospel, the power of FORGIVENESS and MERCY of the Gospel, is to BREAK the cycle of evil, to stop evil in its tracks. And so whatever craziness and chaos has been going on in our nation the last several months, the response is to PRAY and to LOVE. And prayer combined with acts of self-denial (penance and/or fasting in various forms) is particularly powerful, as Jesus says, “some evil spirits are not driven out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). As fasting combined with prayer, not only allows us to deny ourselves, and thus purify ourselves of selfishness that hinders our love, but also, as I said, we can prayerfully unite our suffering with the most perfect act of love in human history: the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross…the act of love that has the power to save the world.
May God bless you this Lenten season!
PS: remember to check the bulletin or website for Ash
Wednesday Mass times this week.