God is gracious, loving, bountiful, generous, self-giving, compassionate and merciful, and personally involved in our lives! His love knows no limits and this is expressed most eloquently by contemplating His total self-giving on the cross that first "Good Friday". He Himself remarked clearly: "No greater love has a man than to lay down His life for His friends."
Lent is the holy season that the church-- the Mystical Body of Christ-- offers as a special gift every year! A gift should be received graciously and used generously! May this be a "Lent well spent" for all! Jesus spent forty days and forty nights in the desert, paving the way for us, giving us a splendid example of how we should be striving to live out our Lent.
Our enemies are many! But of crucial importance is the knowledge of the enemies of the devil, the flesh and the world, trying to seduce, lure, entice and trap us into falling away from the love of Jesus and the attainment of our end: heaven!
Success of the party depends on the prior preparation; the results of a good athlete are the long hours of blood, sweat and tears poured forth before the performance; good teaching, writing, preaching and communicating demands intense work and expended energy. Of even greater importance, is the spiritual race we all must run--- not to gain a crown that only perishes--- but the crown of immortal/eternal glory. As soldiers of Christ, as athletes of the Victor, as fighters in the school of the "Eternal Champion", spiritual "Boot camp" is called Lent! May this be the best of all "Lents" culminating in dying to sin, growing in grace, and falling in love with the "Greatest of lovers", The Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced with the lance, pouring forth Blood and water for your salvation.
Let us outline our "Game-plan", our "Spiritual Strategy"! What might be some efficacious practices to undertake so as to live to the utmost this Lenten season....
1. PRAYER. Indeed prayer is the "Key" that opens up the floodgates of God's infinite graces! A devout Jesuit theologian, Suarez, commented on the value of prayer, of the value of one Hail Mary, saying that he would gladly trade in all of his theological works for the value of one fervent Hail Mary. St. Gertrude, the Great saw Jesus in heaven with a pile of shiny, glimmering golden coins, and Jesus was placing another brilliant coin on the top. The saint inquired what these coins were! Jesus responded: "Every time you pray a fervent Hail Mary, I am accumulating for you in heaven golden coins! May Lent be a time of accumulating spiritual treasures, by intensifying our prayer life. Let us give more time to prayer and with added fervour and devotion! May Our Lady, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, help us!
2. FASTING. Lent is a time of fasting! By fasting we imitate Jesus. Fasting purifies us of our sensuality. By fasting, we lift up our mind more to God and what pertains to the higher realm. Applying oneself to fast, devils are conquered. Serious fasting covers a multitude of sins. Reparation for sin is accomplished by fasting-- both for ourselves our family , our society, as well as for the whole world. Fasting can hold back the chastising hand of God as we see in the book of Jonah and the Ninevites. Also, fasting unites us to the poor and suffering who have nothing to eat and often no place to stay--- solidarity with the poor. Fasting offered generously can alleviate the suffering and pains of the souls in purgatory. Lastly, fasting can help us to conquer the flesh and help us to attain the liberty of the sons of God! Jesus fasted forty (40) days; we can at least a bit!
3. ALMSGIVING. Paul's states, "There is more joy in giving than in receiving." Blessed Mother Teresa asserted: "Give until it hurts!" Remember that giving to others is really done to Jesus Himself! Read Mt. 25! "I was hungry, thirst, naked, prisoner, sick, and a foreigner....Whatsoever you did to the least of my brothers, that you did to me! Almsgiving can be played out on different fronts. How? Just read and reflect! Giving monetarily to the poor or to the church, saying a kind word to a lonely-heart, smiling at an elderly-sick person, listening attentively to somebody who may be considered a "Bore", sharing your bread with the hungry, encouraging the down-hearted, sitting by the bedside of a cancer-victim about to die, showing concern to the outcast, writing a letter, E-mail to somebody who nobody considers important! All of these are ways to be practicing almsgiving! Let us broaden our spiritual horizon!
4. SILENCE. Time and time again the saints, the present Pope Benedict 16, and the mystics insist upon the indispensable need of SILENCE. To the seminarians of New York, Pope Benedict stated that many today do not hear the voice of God because they are being bombarded today with so many noises! Such that, the voice of God can be distorted, muffled, or simply snuffed out! Remember! Jesus spent 40 days in the desert in silence! Elijah encountered the Lord not in the thunder, nor lightning, not earthquake--- rather, God was indeed present in the gentle whispering breeze. "Speak, O Lord, for your servant is listening!"
5. WORD OF GOD. St. Jerome put it bluntly, "Ignorance of the Word of God is ignorance of Christ." Dei Verbum (Vat. II Dogmatic Constitution) Verbum Domini, (Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI) are two monumental documents emphasizing the same essential message: Followers of Jesus Christ must read, meditate, contemplate, and pray often over the Word of God. "Lectio"," meditatio", " contemplacion"," oracio" and "actio". These are the 5 steps that the Holy Father invites us to undertake in the practice of "Lectio Divina":interpretation: read prayerfully.... "meditatio"--- think, ponder deeply the meaning (Like Mary who did in her Heart), "Contemplatio"--- allow the Word to penetrate from your mind into your heart, "oracio"--- the Word becomes prayer and transforms our lives, "Actio"--- the meditation of the word of God, must motivate us into action, to evangelize, to be missionaries, to bring the message of the Word to others, like Mary who heard God and moved in haste to bring it to Elizabeth for the sanctification of the Baptist! In sum, Lent is a prime-time to find quality time to encounter God in His Word. Jesus said, "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God." (Mt.4)
6. DAILY DUTY DONE WITH PERFECTION. Our Lady of Fatima pointed out to Lucia de Los Santos that the penance/sacrifice most pleasing to God is first and foremost the faithful accomplishment of one's daily duties/ state of life! Cooking, cleaning, toilet-cleansing, washing dishes, buying groceries, picking up kids from school and sports, morning prayer, evening prayers, the Daily Rosary, attentive listening at times,encouraging or even correcting, smiling and at times crying--- all of these are part and parcel of the daily routine of most house-wives! A key difference is not so much the"Doing" of the work, but rather the "Intention"! Paul says, "Whether you eat or drink, do all for the honor and glory of God." The essence of the greatness of St. Therese, "The Little Flower" is the "Little Way"of holiness and it can be boiled down into one short sentence: "Do the ordinary things of your daily life, with extraordinary love!" Pick up a pin for the love of God and you can save a soul! It is not in the greatness of the action, but in the purity of intention that the eyes of the Lord is attentively watching and will generously reward!
7. WAY OF THE CROSS. Traditional catholic piety for centuries has strongly encouraged the practice of the WAY OF THE CROSS. Pope John Paul II , for years almost up until the last years of his life, would make the Way of the Cross" on Good Fridays in the Roman Colosseum--- where many early Christians shed their blood, being devoured by wild animals! To Faustina, Jesus strongly urged her to meditate upon his dolorous passion, but specifically to do the way of the cross, and if it were possible every day at the mercy hour--- 3:00 p.m! This practice, if well done, elicits deep sentiments of love for Jesus, as one walks step by step with Jesus up Calvary, to the crucifixion itself, contemplating His wounds, His Blood, and grieving with Our Lady in the "Pieta" as the dead body descends into the arms of she who loved Him more than anyone could ever imagine! Find time for "The Way of the Cross" in Lent, especially on Fridays! "We adore you O Christ and we bless you, because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world."
8. MOVIE: THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (GIBSON). Highly recommended as a means to plumb the depths of the passion, suffering, and death or Our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ is to view the movie, done by Mel Gibson, of "The Passion of the Christ". However, do not approach the movie/film as simply a Hollywood rendition. NO! Rather, approach it and view it , rather contemplate it as if it were a prayer, an "Ignatian Contemplation." If St. Ignatius were living now, beyond the shadow of the doubt, he would encourage the exercitants of the Spiritual Exercises, to utilize the viewing of this film as a most efficacious tool to engrave in the memory, understanding and seeping into the heart, this film of the Passion of the Christ! Why not utilize the positive in cinema/ movies/ technology to draw deeper into the essence of love--- the Passion, suffering and death of Jesus. Never forget, the point made by St. Ignatius, "Jesus suffered all of His passion for "Me" as if I were the only person in the world." How great is God's love for you and me! View the film as prayer, with pen in hand, jotting down the scenes that most move your heart; then revisit them in your private-prayer time! Graces in abundance!
9. HOLY MASS AND LENT! Of greatest importance in Lent--- or any time of the year-- is the value of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass! Nothing in the whole universe can be compared to the value of one Holy Mass that is celebrated in any time, any place, any priest, even the most remote area in the world! Why? The truth of the the matter is that in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Jesus truly becomes present in Hos Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity! On the wall above the altar in almost all churches is a big crucifix! Why? To draw our minds, hearts, souls and spirits to the lofty mystical plane of reality that takes place in every Mass. Mass is not simply a "meal", but a sacrifice! The sacrifice is "Calvary" revisited. All of the graces present that first Good Friday, as Jesus' Precious Blood was poured out till the last precious drop, for the salvation of all humanity is present in every Mass! Then, how awesome, sublime ineffable, mind-boggling, staggering to the human intellect--- this same Jesus descends into our little hearts every time we receive Holy Communion. How great is the love of God for each and every one of us. "O come let us adore Him and humbly thank Him!"
10. MARY:OUR LADY OF SORROWS. In all of our efforts to draw close to Jesus, we must always invite the powerful, pure, noble, holy presence of Mary. Mary is indeed the quickest, easiest, and shortest path to the Heart of Jesus. Mary formed the most Sacred heart of Jesus in her womb for 9 months. However to penetrate the depths of the passion of Christ, there are several Marian devotions strongly encouraged! Conntemplating the five (5) sorrowful mysteries, through the eyes and heart of Mary; meditating on the 7 sorrows of Mary; contemplating the scene of Mary standing at the foot of the cross, (Stabat Mater); doing the Way of the Cross, but in the company of Mary; singing the sorrowful Marian hymn (with the many beautiful verses) "Stabat Mater"; contemplating the "Pieta" of Michelangelo, as Mary painfully embraces the limp, mangled, lacerated dead Body of the Son of God that she carried in her womb for 9 months; viewing the film of the Passion of Christ, but through the eyes and heart of Mary. Finally, we should beg Mary for the grace to carry our crosses patiently, be willing to sacrifice ourselves in reparation for our past sins as well as for the conversion of sinners. To arrive at the depths of the pierced and wounded Sacred Heart of Jesus, we must first enter into the Sorrowful and immaculate Heart of Mary! "Sweet Heart of Mary be my refuge, strength and salvation!"