Lent is a journey we share

By Jeff Hedglen

North Texas Catholic

3/10/2014

A war wages daily, on one side of the battle is the materialistic world that lures, romances and entices our baser, self-focused instincts for pleasure, comfort, luxury and wealth. On the other side is the call to discipleship to Jesus Christ which, in contrast, invites us to seek a simpler life ruled by love of God and neighbor, requires self-sacrifice for the common good, and calls forth desires for peace, justice, worship, and communion with others.

I don’t know about you, but the battle rages strong in my soul. I want so much to be a disciple and live for Jesus, but the trappings of the world and the incessant secular marketing machine tugs at me, and, more often than I want to admit, I fall for the lies of the world instead of the love of the Lord.

Praise be to God, the Church gives us a “reset button,” an opportunity to refocus our lives on the person of Jesus. Our yearly Lenten journey is that chance. Ash Wednesday ushers in a season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving all aimed at helping us center our lives on Jesus, taking the focus off of ourselves, and offering sacrifices.

Pope Francis’ first Lenten message gives some great food for thought and an impetus for action. The basis for his message is the Scripture, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). He sees this as an invitation to a life of “evangelical poverty.”

Pope Francis goes on to explain that God did not reveal himself through worldly power and wealth but rather “in weakness and poverty.” The God who is rich in eternity emptied himself to become a mortal being to show his love. This is a special kind of poverty. It is a poverty of place. God knows that in his divinity He is the highest form of being, yet He sends his divine Son to grab hold of a lower rung on the level of being. In doing so, He at the same time, impoverished Himself and lifted us up to connect with divinity in a new way. Or as St. Paul says it: “by his poverty you might become rich”.

The Pope reflects on this in saying “God did not let our salvation drop down from heaven, like someone who gives alms from their abundance out of a sense of altruism and piety.” He goes on to say that Christ’s love is different because He became one with the ones He came to save.

This is the model for us to follow. We are not going to conquer poverty with our wealth. Rather Francis says, “God’s wealth passes not through our wealth, but invariably and exclusively through our personal and communal poverty, enlivened by the Spirit of Christ.” So it is when we answer the call to embrace the poverty of Jesus that we open the door to God’s power working through us.

But, true to form, Pope Francis takes it beyond the theological theory and puts hands and feet to the challenge: “In imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it.” It is not enough to merely meditate on Christ emptying himself into humanity fully, unto his death on the cross. Yes we should meditate on these great mysteries, but our meditations must carry us off our knees in prayer and onto our knees in service.

St. Francis is often quoted as having said: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” While this is a great sentiment about living the Gospel with our lives, our pope, who has taken this Francis’ name takes this idea a step further when he says in his Lenten message: “Wherever we go, we are called as Christians to proclaim the liberating news that forgiveness for sins we have committed is possible, that God is greater than our sinfulness, that he freely loves us at all times, and that we were made for communion and eternal life.”

Many a Catholic (including myself) has taken refuge in St. Francis’ words saying that we only have to speak when necessary, for in some ways it is easier to serve a stranger than to talk about Jesus with our friends.

Francis’ Lenten message pushes the envelope of what it means to observe Lent. He says: “Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.”

What a challenge! First we are called to self-denial. This is nothing new. We usually give something up for lent. But, again, true to form, we are thrust beyond our normal offering. What we sacrifice in some way should “enrich others.” To do this we have to go beyond giving up sweets or not eating meat on Friday and instead going to Red Lobster. Francis is calling us to take it up a few notches.

That last line “I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt” is a tough one to hear, but there is a raw truth to it that inspires me to go beyond my typical effort. Pope Francis has chosen Lent as the time to push us out of the comfortable nest we live in and force us to fly on our own into the world to make a difference, share the love of God, and proclaim the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

We Catholics are historically shy about speaking and acting with others about our faith and this is a shame, for there is such good news in Jesus and such bad news in the world. If we are to gain any ground in this battle that is waged in our world, on our streets, our television screens, and in our hearts we have to take Pope Francis’ Lenten message to heart and give until it helps someone in need.

Jeff Hedglen is Campus Minister at UTA and associate director of Young Adult Ministry for the diocese. He is a regular contributor to Word To Life, which originates with the NTC and is offered by Catholic News Service. WTL appears in the newspapers of the archdioceses of New York and New Orleans, among many others.

A war wages daily, on one side of the battle is the materialistic world that lures, romances and entices our baser, self-focused instincts for pleasure, comfort, luxury and wealth. On the other side is the call to discipleship to Jesus Christ which, in contrast, invites us to seek a simpler life ruled by love of God and neighbor, requires self-sacrifice for the common good, and calls forth desires for peace, justice, worship, and communion with others.

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