Sunday, March 13, 2011

First Sunday of Lent

Today Lent begins in earnest. Jesus' forty days and our forty days: straight-up, today's Gospel is the scriptural basis for Lent. The temptations Jesus dealt with are archetypal of the temptations we face all the time. It's easy to overlook that Jesus was fasting and these temptations came "afterwards". Strengthened by His fast, he was able to resist what the devil threw His way.

Similarly, when we read about the fall in Genesis, it is easy to miss the obvious, namely that the tree from which our first parents ate was forbidden them, which is a form of fasting. Fasting does not merely consist of not eating, but, at least within the Christian tradition, both East and West, not eating certain foods, like the meat of warm-blooded animals, dairy products, wine, olive oil, et al. for fixed times, as, for Christians, all food is clean.

Fasting is indispensable for anyone who seeks to follow Christ, no matter what anyone tells you. Whose word carries more weight than the Master's? We do not fast for health reasons, to lose weight, to detox. Lent is not the Catholic diet plan. It is undeniable that there are health benefits to fasting. Despite this we fast for spiritual reasons, as Jesus shows us. One reason we fast is that through our self-denial we are strengthened to resist temptation. The great wit Oscar Wilde once averred, "I can resist anything but temptation." Maybe he should've considered fasting.

In his Wednesday audience for Ash Wednesday, Pope Benedict reminded us that the Church Fathers taught the interconnectedness of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving:

"Saint Augustine calls fasting and almsgiving the 'wings of prayer', since they prepare our hearts to take flight and seek the things of heaven, where Christ has prepared a place for us. As this Lent begins, let us accept Christ’s invitation to follow him more closely, renew our commitment to conversion and prayer, and look forward to celebrating the Resurrection in joy and newness of life."
St. Paul synthesizes Genesis and today's Gospel, showing us starkly that we are not saved by our own obedience because, frankly, we are disobedient. Only the Son, Jesus Christ, was obedient to the Father in all things, which is why only He can reconcile us to God, to each other, as well as redeem the whole of fallen creation.

On this First Sunday of Lent, let's not forget the people of Japan. Let's fast and pray that the Lord will meet their spiritual needs and be generous in our response to their material needs.

There are several subjects I am actively avoiding this Lent. At the top of my list is the suspension of twenty-one priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia after a Grand Jury report showed credible allegations of child sexual abuse against them. In addition, another priest, this time from the chancery, is being charged with child endangerment for knowingly placing abusive priests in situations in which they could abuse again. I could chime in, but it's all being said or has been said. I refer anyone who is interested to Nicholas Cafardi's piece in Commonweal. I am bereft, especially for the victims. I am disturbed that, even after the Dallas charter, the same mistakes and cover-ups are still going on, at least in some places.

Next on my list is the renewed persecution of Christians in Egypt. Where is the coverage on that? Well, it doesn't fit the preferred narrative of the long discredited fourth estate: "The evil tyrant is gone, democracy is fully realized, even without a revised constitution, and they all lived happily ever after."

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

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