Lent calls us to grow in our Easter faith Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Mar. 31, 2011 -- 12:00 AM

When Matt Hasselbeck, the Seattle Seahawks quarterback, was a Boston College junior, he volunteered to spend eight days in the missions of Jamaica during spring break.

The people’s poverty shocked him. But their faith, especially the faith of George McVee, a leper, inspired him.

George, a horribly disfigured leper, had no money, no nose, no feet or hands. Yet he daily thanked God for his blessings.

Inspired by George’s faith, Matt promised God that despite setbacks, he would always do his best. George’s good example helped Matt to appreciate his blessings and to grow as a Catholic and football player.

Invitation to grow in faith

During Lent, we seek to grow in our faith as Matt did. Lent’s 40 days remind us of the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert preparing for his public ministry after his Baptism.

Lent invites both baptized Catholics and Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) catechumens and candidates preparing to become Catholics, to grow in their faith. A candidate has been legitimately baptized in another Christian faith.

After a long preparation, the candidate makes a profession of faith and receives the Sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil or when he or she is ready. At the Easter Vigil, catechumens are baptized, confirmed, and receive the Eucharist. During the Easter Vigil, the baptized are invited to renew their Baptism promises.

A sign of our commitment

We begin Lent on Ash Wednesday when we receive a cross of ashes. The ashes remind us that our body upon which we lavish so much attention will turn to dust. The soul that we sometimes neglect will live forever.

Receiving the ashes is a sign of our commitment to choose a Lenten penance that helps us to grow in Jesus’ image.

The words accompanying the imposition of ashes are “Remember, man you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”

The alternate words are “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” One combined message of both is that while we yet are alive, we are to repent and believe and live the Good News.

Called to be ‘perfect’

In No. 2013 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it says, “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity. All are called to holiness: ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.’”

In No. 2015 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church it says, “the way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails the ascesis (self-discipline) and mortification that gradually leads to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes.”

For centuries the Church has asked Catholics to choose a penance of prayer, fasting, or almsgiving for Lent.

Prayer can deepen our relationship with God and help us to participate fully, consciously, and actively in the Mass. During Lent we can go to daily Mass if we can, pray the Rosary, participate in devotions, or pray for others.

Fasting: not just from food

Catholics between ages 18 and 59 are obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

In addition, all Catholics 14 years of age and older must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent.

Fasting and abstaining make us realize how trapped we are in the culture of self-gratification. Those who fast experience a personal liberation.

Fasting means more than fasting from food. In Isaiah 58:6-7 it says, “This is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”

We can fast from gossip, criticism, grudges, resentments, revenge, and the like. We can fast from being in control and having a need to dominate and control others. Fasting from food should be accompanied by a loving and forgiving attitude towards others.

Another Lenten penance can be almsgiving. Ideally the alms or time that we share should somehow bring us into solidarity with the people we help. We can contribute to help Haiti and other countries recover from tragedies. We can volunteer at homeless shelters or help the hidden poor in our midst. We can sponsor and write to a Third World child, contribute to food pantries, or visit shut-ins.

Spiritual growth

Prayer opens us to grace and strengthens us to see and respond to the needy. Helping the poor is a response to Jesus’ words, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

The word Lent comes from a Teutonic word which means springtime. May our Lent be a springtime of spiritual growth as spring break was for Matt Hasselbeck and other volunteers.

May we enjoy a graced Lent that helps us grow in Easter faith.

Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus of the Diocese of Madison.