Continuing with Pope Francis’
Lenten Message we read:
«The Church, our Mother and Teacher, along with the often bitter medicine of the truth, offers us in the Lenten season the soothing remedy of prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
By devoting more time to prayer, we enable our hearts to root out our secret lies and forms of self-deception, and then to find the consolation God offers. He is our Father and he wants us to live life well.
Almsgiving sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbor as a brother or sister. What I possess is never mine alone. How I would like almsgiving to become a genuine style of life for each of us! How I would like us, as Christians, to follow the example of the Apostles and see in the sharing of our possessions a tangible witness of the communion that is ours in the Church! For this reason, I echo Saint Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to take up a collection for the community of Jerusalem as something from which they themselves would benefit (cf. 2 Cor 8:10). This is all the more fitting during the Lenten season, when many groups take up collections to assist Churches and peoples in need. Yet I would also hope that, even in our daily encounters with those who beg for our assistance, we would see such requests as coming from God himself. When we give alms, we share in God’s providential care for each of his children. If through me God helps someone today, will he not tomorrow provide for my own needs? For no one is more generous than God.
Fasting weakens our tendency to violence; it disarms us and becomes an important opportunity for growth. On the one hand, it allows us to experience what the destitute and the starving have to endure. On the other hand, it expresses our own spiritual hunger and thirst for life in God. Fasting wakes us up. It makes us more attentive to God and our neighbor. It revives our desire to obey God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.
I would also like my invitation to extend beyond the bounds of the Catholic Church, and to reach all of you, men and women of good will, who are open to hearing God’s voice. Perhaps, like ourselves, you are disturbed by the spread of iniquity in the world, you are concerned about the chill that paralyzes hearts and actions, and you see a weakening in our sense of being members of the one human family. Join us, then, in raising our plea to God, in fasting, and in offering whatever you can to our brothers and sisters in need!
… Above all, I urge the members of the Church to take up the Lenten journey with enthusiasm, sustained by almsgiving, fasting and prayer. If, at times, the flame of charity seems to die in our own hearts, know that this is never the case in the heart of God! He constantly gives us a chance to begin loving anew.
During the Easter Vigil, we will celebrate once more the moving rite of the lighting of the Easter candle. Drawn from the “new fire”, this light will slowly overcome the darkness and illuminate the liturgical assembly. “May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds,” and enable all of us to relive the experience of the disciples on the way to Emmaus. By listening to God’s word and drawing nourishment from the table of the Eucharist, may our hearts be ever more ardent in faith, hope and love.
With affection and the promise of my prayers for all of you, I send you my blessing. Please do not forget to pray for me.»
Fr. John R. Waiss
Christians should be on fire with God’s love, filled with the charity that overflows with deeds of kindness that confer joy and peace. The fire of God’s love should move us to reach out to others in their need and to share with them the Good News and everything else good we have received from God.
Yet our Lord warns us: “Because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). We don’t want to be among those whose love has grown cold. As Pope Francis says:
«In his description of hell, Dante Alighieri pictures the devil seated on a throne of ice, in frozen and loveless isolation. We might well ask ourselves how it happens that charity can turn cold within us. What are the signs that indicate that our love is beginning to cool?
More than anything else, what destroys charity is greed for money, “the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). The rejection of God and his peace soon follows; we prefer our own desolation rather than the comfort found in his word and the sacraments. All this leads to violence against anyone we think is a threat to our own “certainties”: the unborn child, the elderly and infirm, the migrant, the alien among us, or our neighbor who does not live up to our expectations.
Creation itself becomes a silent witness to this cooling of charity. The earth is poisoned by refuse, discarded out of carelessness or for self-interest. The seas, themselves polluted, engulf the remains of countless shipwrecked victims of forced migration. The heavens, which in God’s plan, were created to sing his praises, are rent by engines raining down implements of death.
Love can also grow cold in our own communities. In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I sought to describe the most evident signs of this lack of love: selfishness and spiritual sloth, sterile pessimism, the temptation to self-absorption, constant warring among ourselves, and the worldly mentality that makes us concerned only for appearances, and thus lessens our missionary zeal» (Message for Lent 2018).
The Pope points out many things that can cause our love to grow cold: love for money and greed, which turn money, possessions, and pleasures into our god, whereby we reject and replace God with an idol of our own creation. The god of greed cannot give us the happiness and peace for which we long, but causes us to lay into others with violence in order to force them into serving the god of selfishness. Euthanasia and abortion, xenophobia and racism often arise from “the root of all evil”—the god of greed.
Chosen isolation can also cause our hearts to grow cold. How many people go into their room and close the door to escape from opportunities to love and serve others? They escape into music, TV, computer games, news sites, or social media, which is often really unsocial. Some find pornography and masturbation their ultimate “relief,” which conveys the message: “God I don’t need you to be happy… by doing this I can make myself happy. I don’t need another person to be happy… I can do it myself.” Certainly this act of isolation gives rise to loneliness, self-absorption, and sterile pessimism.
Lent can be a great opportunity to get out of ourselves and to embrace the fire of God’s love. This fire, though, must radiate outwards in deeds of love and service toward others. So, take advantage of this time of Lent to do something in service of the poor, the elderly, or the needy in any way.
Fr. John R. Waiss
When the apostles asked our Lord about the time when the destruction of Jerusalem would occur. Jesus answers them indirectly, weaving in comments about the end of the world, saying:
“And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:10-13)
In his message for Lent this year, Pope Francis focuses on “because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold.” The Pope wants us all “to come back to the Lord wholeheartedly and in every aspect of our life.”
The Pope first warns us about false prophets who,
«can appear as “snake charmers”, who manipulate human emotions in order to enslave others and lead them where they would have them go. How many of God’s children are mesmerized by momentary pleasures, mistaking them for true happiness! How many men and women live entranced by the dream of wealth, which only makes them slaves to profit and petty interests! How many go through life believing that they are sufficient unto themselves, and end up entrapped by loneliness!
False prophets can also be “charlatans”, who offer easy and immediate solutions to suffering that soon prove utterly useless. How many young people are taken in by the panacea of drugs, of disposable relationships, of easy but dishonest gains! How many more are ensnared in a thoroughly “virtual” existence, in which relationships appear quick and straightforward, only to prove meaningless! These swindlers, in peddling things that have no real value, rob people of all that is most precious: dignity, freedom and the ability to love. They appeal to our vanity, our trust in appearances, but in the end they only make fools of us. Nor should we be surprised. In order to confound the human heart, the devil, who is “a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44), has always presented evil as good, falsehood as truth. That is why each of us is called to peer into our heart to see if we are falling prey to the lies of these false prophets. We must learn to look closely, beneath the surface, and to recognize what leaves a good and lasting mark on our hearts, because it comes from God and is truly for our benefit» (Message for Lent 2018).
Each one of us is different. We ought to identify how the false prophets manipulate us personally. For some it will be for the false hope of material wellbeing—how many play the LOTTO seeking this false hope? Others it is for the momentary pleasure and escape of alcohol, drugs, pornography, computer games, or social media… These false prophets manipulate us, telling us that it isn’t a big deal, I’m not hurting anybody, I need a break and a little fun, I have it so hard, etc., etc., and these false prophets end up controlling our lives. False prophets enslave and control, whereas Christ came to set us free with the intoxication of true love!
Notice how often the Pope warns us of the activity of the devil. He mentions Satan in many of his documents and discourses. Perhaps Pope Francis knows something we don’t about the influence of the father of lies in our time.
Lent is a time of self-giving self-denial that prepares us to embrace Christ’s ultimate gift of himself on the Cross. So, Carpe diem—Seize the day!—turning to Jesus Christ, the Truth who sets us free from the slavery of false prophets.
Fr. John R. Waiss
We are journeying on this path through Lent that leads to the Cross and the Resurrection, that leads us to that union with God we call holiness. I thought we’d benefit from a recent article of Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles speaking about Ash Wednesday and Lent.
A Crisis of Meaning: Why I am?
«We are living in times when many people have lost their “why.” They no longer know the answer to basic questions. Why do we get up in the morning? What purpose are we living for?
There is a crisis of meaning that has been spreading slowly over many years across our society. It expresses itself in many unlikely ways—from rising suicide rates to epidemics of drug addiction to the growing numbers of people who say they feel alone and isolated.
This is the sad irony that lies at the heart of our secular, technological society. People are thirsting for God even as our “thought leaders”—politicians and judges, scientists, entertainers, artists and educators—all insist that we can build a progressive and prosperous society by living as if God does not exist and as if the human soul does not desire things that transcend material entertainments.
For me, the question of “why” comes down to a question of “who.” We cannot answer why we are here or what we are living for unless we know who we are and what we are made for.
That is the one answer that our science, technology and politics—all those things in our society that substitute for religion—cannot give.
Of course, God is the great “who” and holiness is the great “why.”
We need to recover this awareness that we are created by the holy and living God and that he creates us to be holy as he is holy and to love as he loves.
And this begins with understanding that holiness is the ordinary measure of what it means to follow Jesus.
In the Trappist monk Thomas Merton’s conversion story, he tells of how when he decided to become a Catholic he told a friend, “I guess what I want to be is a good Catholic.” His friend responded, “What you should say is that you want to be a saint.”
The point is that holiness, to be a saint, is what God created us for.
This simple, beautiful fact, should be at the center of everything in the Church—our preaching, our Catholic schools and religious education, our work for justice, our sharing of the gospel with our neighbors.
This is the good news that we are called to proclaim in our times—that we are made to be saints. That is the same thing as saying we were made for love.
[Venerable Madeleine Delbrêl, a former atheist who served the poor in mid-20th century Paris] described her conversion as falling in love with the living God. “By reading and reflecting, I found God,” she said. “But by praying, I believed that God found me and that he is a living reality, and that we can love him in the same way we love a person.”
Delbrêl discovered that holiness is our mission—a message we deliver without words, that by our personal holiness we bring others to follow Jesus with us.
This is a discovery all of us need to renew, as we continue to follow Jesus, making our ordinary lives “our place of holiness.”
And let us ask God for the grace to make real progress on our path of holiness during these 40 days of Lent.
Holiness is not our work but God’s work in us. So, this Lent, let us allow him to do his work, by opening our hearts to him through our prayer, fasting and almsgiving —asking him to create in us a new heart, and a new desire to want only what he wants.
May our Blessed Mother Mary go with us and help us to follow the living God with living faith and to know that we are called to be saints.» (Angelus News, “Our Place of Holiness,” February 06, 2018).
Fr. John R. Waiss
Lent is a good time to examine our conscience and discern the vices that draw us away from Christ so we can work on being more like him with virtues.
The Seven Deadly Sins (“Martyrdom”)
“There are six things which the LORD hates, seven which are an abomination to him” (Proverbs 6:16). The seven deadly sins (or capital vices) are “works of the flesh”—temptations or habits—that directly lead to the kind of behaviors that “those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21). The deadly sins are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. Here is a short description of each:
Pride or hubris—the sin of Lucifer—exalts ourselves over God severing our soul from him. It fails to acknowledge God as God and ignores his image and likeness in others—the source of human dignity— shaming others, including victims. Pride seeks to supplant and destroy God, “the complete anti-God state of mind,” according to C.S. Lewis.
Greed makes material possessions the goal of our existence, instead of God. It often leads to stealing, fraud, or abuse of authority. Envy is discontent over another’s good fortune with desires to possess it. It keeps us from seeing God’s generosity towards ourselves and may lead us causing others’ misfortune by ruining their reputation. It can even lead to hatred and murder, as Cain did with Abel.
Lust makes sensual pleasure the object of our desires instead of God. It leads to fornication, adultery, pornography, and other carnal acts. Gluttony is the overindulgence of animal needs to the neglect of our spiritual needs and the needs of others. Wrath is uncontrolled rage that uses fear, hatred, and violence to control others for selfish purposes.
Sloth or acedia fails to respond—with our whole heart, mind, strength, and soul—to God’s love, to his total gift of self. Lack of effort leads to neglect of our work, duties, and charity toward others—loving others as ourselves. The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for the good to be lazy.
All the capital sins cause unhappiness. We can look upon the corresponding virtue as a real “martyrdom,” a real dying to self.
We fight pride with humility: “He who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14), like “the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner’” (Luke 18:13). Humility is a real sacrifice that leads us to serve our God we see in others.
We counter greed with detachment and generosity, using our possessions to serve God and others. Generous almsgiving means dying to our own selfishness, granting us true freedom. Gratitude for all the good things God gives us moves us to trust that everything “works for good with those who love” God (Romans 8:28), including what he has given others. This kills off all envy.
Chastity—purity of love—means dying to sensual attraction of the flesh so as to be able to love with our whole body and soul. Temperance helps us control our desire for food and drink, giving us the freedom to care for our spiritual needs and those of others. Patience enables us to die to ourselves (killing our wrath) by enduring difficulties and hardships so as to seek the good of our love.
Industriousness is the fruit of love, overcoming our tendency toward comfort and laziness in order that good may abound in the world and that the Kingdom of God may prosper.
So, let’s seek to die to ourselves by practicing the virtues, witnessing to Christ with a true martyrdom of love.
Fr. John R. Waiss