Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Giving Up? Giving Over!

Perhaps something for us to consider this Ash Wednesday 2009 is what we are handing over to the Lord. As Catholics, we have been well-trained (I hope!) to think about "giving up" as a means to penance. Chocolate, ice cream, alcohol, pastries, desserts . . . renouncing all of these can help us to be aware of the luxuries of life and to help increase our awareness of Lent.

We certainly fast during Lent from the Gloria and the Alleluia during our liturgical celebrations and prayer. But all the giving up, as it were, the abstaining from meat (i.e. poultry, beef, veal, pork products) on all Fridays of Lent is meant to be a signpost to us of our need to convert. And to point us to what -- that is WHO -- is really important. The Lord Jesus Christ and his Holy Gospel!

Something that is ancient, that is biblical, that is primordial in the human-divine relationship is giving over. This handing over, not as a passive resignation but an active trust into Someone else's safekeeping, this is really what we are called to. It is the basis, interestingly enough, of the Latin root for our English word tradition (in Latin, traditio). In his first Letter to the Corinthians, in both chapters 11 and 15, St. Paul writes to the Christian Church there, "I hand on to you what I myself received, namely . . ." (1 Cor. 11:23; 15:3). He hands over, in trust and safekeeping, to the Corinthian Christians from whom he has been absent, the deposit of faith and the right practice of that faith.

Handing over is actually a choice for life. Jesus does so continually during his ministry, culminating in the Agony in the Garden and his death on the Cross -- for the life of the world, for our salvation. The Eucharist is our frequent celebration of this handing over.

Our handing ourselves over to the Lord is not some kind of "human sacrifice." Although it is, indeed, a sacrifice, it is us allowing the Lord to be Lord, to be Savior, to be who Jesus says he is in our lives. And it's allowing the promise of our Baptism to be once again renewed and fulfilled in us!

We see St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi do this frequently in their lives, both in imitation of Jesus and even moreso in response to his call. It is the vocation of every Christian to hand ourselves over to the Lord. Our Franciscan vocation impels us to do this, to be a people of penance, so that we are not only giving up what is unnecessary, but giving over in hope and trust to the One who has saved us and who never gives up loving us.

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