March 2006 - Volume 10, Issue 8
March 1st is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. All during our lifetime from our Baltimore Catechism days onwards, we were reminded of the value of personal sacrifices based on the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us on Good Friday – the sacrifice of His life. So in our own way, years ago when we were children when we gave up going to the movies during Lent, gave up candy, gave up desserts, in some strange ways we associated our personal acts of sacrifice with the sacrifice Jesus Christ endured for us on the cross on Good Friday. There is no question about it, whether you are studying Buddhism or Confucianism, that sacrifice is a part of every religious teacher for the last 5,000 years. Sacrifice is an ingredient for sanctity and each one of us is called upon to be a saint. Those acts of denial that we perform, those acts of giving up something we really love all have value when they are associated with Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for us.
I would like to share a few different ideas on how to make Lent a more important spiritual event for our future and our personal growth and holiness.
I would like to emphasize one word that should be practiced by all of us during this season of Lent. It is the word meditation or prayer or contemplation. Whatever word you choose, that act of prayer links and unites you with the Christ of Calvary in a very specific way. You can meditate on what? If you study your Gospels quite closely you find out that in the Gospels of the New Testament there are three wonderful stories that can be the basis for all our meditation. The Gospel of the woman found in adultery, the Gospel of the prodigal son and the Gospel of the good thief on the cross next to Christ.
The story of the woman taken in adultery is a story of total forgiveness. Jesus Christ was confronted with a woman that men were about to put to death, they probably had sinned with her themselves. Here was a woman that had a rotten reputation, was known as an adulteress and Christ simply looked at her and said, Ago in peace an sin no more." That act of forgiveness is more important than the story of the woman caught in adultery. That act of forgiveness is a story that reminds us how often Christ has forgiven us and how often we should be willing to forgive others. The woman taken in adultery, the story of forgiveness is a theme that should find us, meditating constantly concerning our idea of forgiveness towards those who have sinned against us.
The story of the prodigal son, how often we have heard about the son who squandered his share of his inheritance went to a different country, spent all the money that he had, was forced to live in squalor after his money was spent and was actually forced to eat the food that was being feed to the pigs. He decided to come back home. There the Gospel reminds us, his father was like on the top of a little hill standing there daily, looking for his prodigal son to return and the prodigal son returned, The father gave orders to the staff to have a feast, to get the best food, the choice wine, because my son who has been lost has now returned. When you look at that story from our mentality, you say that is unfair to the others who were really bearing the burden of the noon day sun and working hard to keep the fathers estate intact. This son comes home who has squandered everything and is now treated royally. You cannot understand this story from our perspective, you have to understand it from the prospective of Christ. Christ was offering forgiveness, Christ was looking for someone to forgive. This is the theme that is constantly repeated by Francis Thompson in his poem, The Hound of Heaven. Of God going out every day and in a relentless fashion almost like a hound, searching and chasing for the one who needs to be forgiven. This story of the prodigal son really should be called the story of the prodigal father of one whose desire to forgive is something that should be imitated in our relationship of those who have hurt us.
The third example of forgiveness is that which took place when Christ was on the Christ on Good Friday. There were two thieves, one was complaining and moaning about how he had been treated. The other thief called Digmas was a robber, one of the worst criminals you could have, he was not complaining about his lot in life at that time. He looked over to Christ on the other cross and he said, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom!" Jesus Christ looked at this criminal who had raped and robbed, had broken every law in the books and Christ in a spirit of forgiveness simply said, "this day thou shall be with me in paradise."
If you take all three Gospel stories, the woman taken in adultery, the prodigal son, the good thief, they highlight and repeat one theme, it is the theme of forgiveness. This is the theme that has to be implemented in the Middle East between the Palestine and the Jews, this is the theme that has to be implemented in northern Ireland between the Protestants and Catholics, this is the theme that has to be implemented in our own relationships with those who have hurt us.
The element of forgiveness is something that has to be highlighted by all of us during the season of Lent. This should be one of the constant themes of meditation by each one of us during the season of Lent. There is no question in anyone's mind that oftentimes the sacrifices we make during Lent, such as not going to a movie, giving up drinking or giving up smoking are all great, but none of them can compare to the spiritual importance to the value of forgiveness that we offer to those who have hurt us.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. On this day, ashes are blessed and applied to the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of penance. In the fourth century, public penitents dressed in sackcloth and were sprinkled with ashes to show their repentance. The practice of public penance gradually died out. By the eleventh century, it had become customary for the faithful to receive ashes at the beginning of Lent, the season of penance in preparation for the celebration of Easter.
From The Catholic Encyclopedia
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