Sunday, February 26, 2012

First Sunday of Lent

A favorite painting in a side chapel at St. John Lateran
As it was custom while living at the Domus Santa Maria in Rome, to “go out” for Sunday Mass, we often attended Mass at the Basilica of St. John Lateran’s. Today's Station Church is this ArchBasilica of the Holy Savior and Ss. John the Evangelist and the Baptist. Here the Holy Father has his Cathedra, the seat of the authority as Bishop of Rome. The donation of land for this first Christian building project in Rome, came from the Emperor Constantine shortly after his great Edict legalizing Christianity and ending the persecution.

Among the major relics of this Basilica are the heads of St. Peter and Paul, the table of the Last Supper, the Eucharistic table used by St. Peter to celebrate the Holy Mysteries, and many other wonderful treasures of the Church. It is a special place of pilgrimage and a must visit if you only have a short time when traveling to Rome.

There is a wonderful website that will take you on a virtual tour of this Basilica. So enjoy.

On this First Sunday of Lent, I would like to offer a short refection on Lenten practices.

Fasting, at first glance, does sound a bit austere. But the law of fasting strictly applies only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. That doesn't sound like too much – only two days a year. But there is more to fasting than that and if it only entails two days, why does the Church encourage it? I can remember the Lent I spent in Germany. There were some books in English and the Sisters knew English, but that was about it. There were no newspapers or magazines in English, none of the neighbors knew English very well, internet access was very limited. Sure, when we watched the news on TV, I could understand some key words, like: “Obama,” and “Washington,” but it wasn’t enough to figure out what was happening. That Lent I fasted from news and from the English language.

When I was a novice, I thought almsgiving did not apply to me. I had taken a vow of poverty and did not have any money to my name. How wrong I was! We must give of the treasure we have. Whether we are considered rich or poor by the IRS has nothing to do with the amount of alms we are capable of giving. I can give the alms, the gift, of taking the time to listen to someone, to smile and show gratitude, to love someone unconditionally. This is not to diminish the value and duty of giving alms of wealth and material goods. These are good and necessary, but not the only alms we can give.

Prayer seems to be an obvious practice for Lent. After all, prayer is the lifting of the heart and mind to God, conversing with Him. It is normal for us to want to converse with our friends, so if we consider God our friend, we want to converse with Him. Perhaps the greatest challenge of prayer for us is to remain quiet long enough to hear Him speaking to us and to trust that He does hear us and care about us.

Lent is about living a Christian life that consists of fasting from sin, giving of ourselves to others in charity and staying close to God in prayer. It is an annual reminder of the things that really matter in life – it is like the yearly tithe, the 10% of the calendar year that we specifically dedicate to growing closer to God by means of fasting, almsgiving and prayer.

Let us pray for one another that our lenten practices, whatever the are, may lead us closer to a transformation into Christ.

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