Saturday, February 9, 2008

Embarking on the Great Fast

Did you receive ashes this past Wednesday? Lots of people here in southeastern Wisconsin did not due to the huge snowstorm from Tuesday evening through Wednesday night! However, that shouldn't stop us from entering Lent.

As the People of God we embark upon a Sacred Journey each year. A Holy Retreat, as Pope Benedict XVI reminded the Catholics in Rome at St. Sabina Church this Ash Wednesday night. (He receives ashes, too, by the way!).

In the Eastern Churches it is called the "Great Fast" (in Poland, a Western Slavic country, it is called "Wielki Post" -- great fast, also). This is the time we as a community undertake the traditional penitential practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving (giving to the poor). These ancient biblical traditions (which are also echoed in Islam, especially during Ramadan) call us as Catholic Christians to renew our baptism. We purposely abstain from certain things so that we may avail ourselves to God and grow more closely in the likeness of Christ Jesus (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18).

We the baptized receive the ashes on our forehead (or sprinkled atop our heads, as according to local custom) being signed to call us to deeper repentance, to grow deeper with those who are preparing for the Sacraments of Christian Initiation. To grow deeper in our relationship with the Lord; to grow deeper in our love of God and neighbor. Especially the poor. Especially to be reconciled with our enemies.

We heard in yesterday's First Reading from Isaiah 58 the call to the "true fast" -- not just abstaining from foods and delights as though we were trying to please God merely by our penitential practicies or try to curry favor with God. Rather, true penance is a change of life; that is, to live justly and conduct ourselves as a redeemed people. To live lives of integrity that corresond to our baptism. That is the Great Fast -- to turn away from sin and to believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

As Franciscans we participate in this Great Fast, whether Roman Rite or Byzantine Rite, according to our respective Church customs. We are Men of Penance who wear the habit of penance. Our life is about conversion, daily conversion to the Lord. And both St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi took this Holy Season very seriously in their own ongoing conversion to the Lord and his manner of living.

Please note the following:
In case you are not aware, Catholics of the Roman (Latin) Rite abstain from meat (i.e. beef, chicken, lamb, goat, pork, turkey -- basically any animal with lungs) on ALL Fridays of Lent; and on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Likewise, all between the ages of 18-59 are required (unless medically unable to do so) to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as penitential practices. This means eating only ONE full meal those two days of the year. Byzantine Rite Catholics have different customs, according to their particular laws (i.e. Ruthenians, Melkites, Ukrainians, Romanians) -- to abstain from meat AND dairy products especially on Wednesdays and Fridays of the Great Fast.

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