Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sunday word, 10 Feb 2008

Lenten Sunday1 A (10Feb2008) Gn 2.7-9; 3.1-7; Ps51; Rm 5.12-19; Mt 4.1-11
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Pillars of Life, Life-Giving Pillars

Lent has three pillars--praying, fasting and alms-giving. I want us to consider them as pillars so we can appreciate how the three work together. Pillars support buildings, bearing weight, say of a ceiling or roof. Pillars stabilize by distributing the stress weight loads on walls. Pillars can be human. We use the word “pillar” for people who hold central or responsible positions--pillars of state; pillars of the parish; pillars of the community.

Lent’s pillars have a stabilizing function. Sincerely practiced--faithfully not scrupulously--prayer, fasting and almsgiving connect us with God’s life, which Jesus embodied and their Holy Spirit communicates to us. This reconnection is both individual and social. Lenten “penance should not be only internal and individual but also external and social. The practice of penance should be fostered according to the possibilities of the present day and of a given area, as well as of individual circumstances.”/1/

In addition to preparing for Easter; in addition to preparing us to join those we will baptize and confirm at Easter; the pillars of Lent ground us in Jesus and the mystery of his dying and rising. The more we participate in Jesus’ paschal mystery, the more solidly we stand as Christians and give testimony to others as disciples of Jesus. Our lenten pillars help us make our Christian stand. Praying connects us with God, “as...honored ambassador[s]”/2/ Fasting focuses our spirits in a world filled with lights contrary to Jesus’ gospel, lights which blind us to our Christian vocation of reconciliation and service. Almsgiving allows us to respond externally and socially after reconnecting with God’s heart to which Jesus has given us access. Practiced together the pillars of Lent stabilize our lives as disciples of Jesus, enhancing our Christian witness.

Praying and fasting focus us and allow us to enter into the heart of God. Almsgiving helps us to shelter those in need within the divine heart we encounter afresh by praying and fasting. Almsgiving refreshes our praying and fasting with the “external and social” concerns so dear to Jesus. Jesuit Fr. Michael Barnes has expressed well in one sentence the global and social fruits of almsgiving: “Almsgiving redresses the balance in God’s creation and reminds people of the needs of the poor.”/3/

Our Christian life flows from our baptism, and the eucharist sustains our baptism. The pillars of Lent refresh our baptismal commitment and give new longing for the sacrament of the eucharist, which helps us exercise our responsible positions as contemporary colleagues of Jesus. Each of us is a Christian pillar and together--more powerful than any of us alone-- Jesus invites us to “redress[] the balance in God’s creation and remind[] [each other and everyone] of the needs of the poor.”

Each one has individual responsibilities, and together, like pillars distributing and supporting forces of a building, we heed Jesus’ invitation and live in sync with his heart for the sake of those in greater need. Bishop Lennon has asked the parishes of the Diocese of Cleveland “to open our hearts gratefully to Jesus and [respond] to his saving message. ...Catholic Charities in our Diocese is one of the most comprehensive health and human services organizations in the Nation.”/4/ I have seen beneficiaries not only of its charitable power, but also of its Catholic, social transformative power. Our meager, modest or magnanimous gifts to and our support of Catholic Charities flow from our praying and fasting. The Catholic distribution of our gifts to 64 sites and 143 programs in eight northeastern Ohio counties transforms our individual almsgiving into social, Catholic generosity none of us could do alone, and it does so throughout an entire year!

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, praise Jesus for welcoming you into his heart. Converse with Jesus about how he fasted for you, and how Jesus invites you to fast in order to become a more stabilizing pillar of the Church. Ask Jesus’ Spirit to enlighten you and your family to help you discern your gift to the 2008 Catholic Charities Appeal. All of us are its pillars, who sustain its work so dear to Jesus’ heart. Close by saying the Lord’s Prayer, which reminds us that God makes all our alms effective.
/1/ Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Article 110.
/2/ St. John Chrysostom, Homily on prayer, excerpt in Office of Readings, Liturgy of the Hours, v.2, p. 69.
/3/ Michael Barnes, S.J. “Keeping the Lenten Fast– thoughts from a dialogue with Islam,” at Thinking Faith: the Online Journal of the British Jesuits.
/4/ his 2008 Appeal, 10 February bulletin insert.
Wiki-image of Jesus in the desert is in the public domain.
Wiki-image of Sagrada Familia interior is used under the GFDL.

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