Thursday, November 9, 2006

Offering our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12,1)

"Repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mk 1,15). I begin this post with these words of our Lord that are also the first words of Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Constitution on Penance, Paenitemini because we are called to conversion in a very concrete way on Fridays, for the purpose of conforming ourselves ever more to Christ. Once again, sisters and brothers, we stand on the threshold of Friday. Hence, I am taking this opportunity to post a friendly reminder that sunset here in Utah this evening is 5:15 pm and tomorrow evening it is 5:14 pm.

Fridays, according to ancient Christian tradition, is a day of penance and abstinence, a little Good Friday each week, just as Sunday is a little Easter. According to canon 1251 of the Code of Canon Law "Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday." Canon 1253 stipulates "The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast." As I pointed out in an earlier post, the Bishops of the United States did exactly that in 1966 with their document On Penance and Abstinence, which norms are re-addressed in their wonderful pamphlet Penitential Practices for Today's Catholics (this link takes you to the entire text, which you can download as a .pdf and print, or just read on-line). To wit: Catholics in the United States are to abstain from meat on Fridays, or, if we do not, to perform other penitential act or act of charity, but not on the pain of sin.

Therefore, I invite you, I encourage you to do as Pope Paul wisely taught us. Let us heed the task of bearing in our bodies and souls "the death of the Lord." Through such practices as abstinence, increased prayer, and assisting the poor the whole lives of we who are baptized are affected "at every instance and in every aspect". In other words, through practicing these spiritual disciplines, we heed Pope Benedict's call to make the Lord visible and present in the world. As the Holy Father told the visting Swiss bishops his week, if Jesus Christ is not at the center of our lives, He is not present in the world. It is through us, the baptized, who compose his mystical Body, that the our Lord is made "decisively" present in the world. So, you can easily see, it is not a matter soulless and soul maiming rule-keeping. No! It is far too important to be imposed, it is proposed: "Repent, and believe in the Good News."

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