March 13, 2012

Still going at 92

Fr. Swift, a 92 year old priest, serves our Sisters and the community in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  He inspired our Sisters with his homily for the First Sunday of Lent.  Yes, it may be a few weeks later, but it may be a good source for reflection on how our lenten resolutions have been lived out.  If we have been lax, now is the time to begin again and to recommit!  No matter what our age, the Lord uses us as His instruments!  Take a few minutes to receive from the heart of a faithful servant of the Lord.
FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT

The last words of the Gospel reading today, brief as they are, should force us to some very serious thinking:  This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the Gospel.

For us Lent is a time of conversion, which is the purpose of all penance.  And those words of Christ should force us to stop and look over our efforts to live as Christians.

All of us surely can find more to do for Christ.  We all have some selfishness to overcome, and we all need to make our lives more gospel-centered.  The answer to that will be found in penance, among others things such as prayer and virtue.

Penitential practice is still a most misunderstood ingredient in Catholic life.  It is very often been seen as something negative, as a way to put down self.  Rather it is meant to be a device by which we loosen the grip of selfishness in our lives so that we might be more open to God, more open to one another so that we can become that beautiful person we are capable of becoming.  Penitential practice is a necessary ingredient in the authentic Christian life --- it is a concrete acknowledgement of the fact that we always fall short in our quest for holiness and wholeness.

The need for penance is universal:  its form will be specific to each individual...

...What is appropriate penitential practice for contemporary Christian?  It's difficult to say, but we can offer some general guidelines by which one can make his own decision.  Penitential practices should manifest certain qualities.

First of all, it should be honest.  That means it should be integrated into teh entire Christian life.  It should be something that directly helps me to grow in gentleness, in concern, in love.  A penance is not honest if one gives up movies and then spends all his evenings watching television....

A second quality is that it should be positive. Penance should not be seen in terms of something we give up or in terms of pain inflicted upon self.  Penance is not an endurance contest.  Punishment does not teach love, but teaches fear.  And we don't come to God through fear.

A third quality --- it should flow from one's daily life.  There is generally enough stress in one's daily life without adding more.  People who are always trying to do their best to be gentle, kind, considerate, e.g. parents in caring for sick child; a young person genuinely interested in fellow man; and older person taking time to share little moments with the young and vice versa, these need not be additional burdens to improve.  If we all did these things all the time, we wouldn't need any penance, but we all fail.  Doing penance is an acknowledgement of failure in some area of life --- being a considerate driver, a friend who listens, a stranger who welcomes --- all could be practicing penance.  How penitential the words "I'm sorry!" can be.  Penitential practice should flow from daily life.

If we are looking for guidelines for our Lenten practices, the second Vatican Council helps:  During Lent, penance should not only be internal and individual, but also external and social.  The practice of penance should be fostered according to the possibilities of the present day and of a given area, as well as individual circumstances. (Constitution on Liturgy)  Christ gives us teh mandate.  We heard it in the Gospel today.  "Repent and believe in the gospel."  The Church gives us the season.  It is for us to put it together in the moments of our lives.

May your Lent be wonderful and penitential.  Amen.

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