Indulging Ourselves in the Season of Lent
This is an excellent time to renew our efforts in evangelization and catechesis.
“I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes (to the nations).” —Pope John Paul II
Lent is not normally associated with indulging oneself — it’s a time dedicated to taking control of our baser passions. But it’s all a matter of perspective. What if, in addition to forswearing those useless and frivolous things that detract from our wholehearted dedication to our salvation, we were also to indulge ourselves in doing things that would bring honor to God, service to others and highlight the Church?
Lent is an important time of the liturgical year because it prepares us for the single most important historical event in the history of the cosmos. Nothing can be as important as Easter. Nothing would mean anything had Christ not suffered, died and resurrected.
And because his Passion, Death and Resurrection are so important, we should be spiritually prepared to receive him into our hearts at this time of the year.
In his encyclical, Redemptoris Missio, Pope St. John Paul II stressed to the faithful the “urgency of missionary activity.” Other than concern for the poor and the spiritual health of the faithful, the Church’s history has been one dedicated to evangelization — first in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. And then later, when Europeans came in contact with the New World and the Far East, missionaries were sent there also. In contemporary times, evangelization principally continues in Africa and Asia but important work still needs to be done in the secularized and paganized areas of Europe and America.
The task of being Catholic and Christian is sometimes a daunting one. We’re required to love our enemies, protect life and preserve truth. In addition, we are asked to make sure others know we are Christians by our love (John 13:35). We’ve all heard about it and I suspect that all of us, regardless of our ecclesiastical stripe, ultimately agree that we ought to. But the question still remains, what exactly are we to do when we evangelize our brothers and sisters?
Westerners are blessed in that we have people from many other nations who wish to remake their lives here among us. We also have our fair share of Christians who have become disenfranchised and discontented with the Church. These people need to be reached out to lovingly and charitably. The question before us now is how we go about it.
It seems to me that not all of us are made to knock on neighbors’ doors and most of us are not learned enough to write books on Christian apologetics. But evangelization does not merely refer to the act of missionaries among nonbelievers. It is also the process by which we can better direct our souls to God — to replace our hearts of stone with ones of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19).
When considering the question of our current situation it is natural to look at our past successes. The beauty and genius of Christianity is that it is not a theoretical cloud of ideas existing in some perfect and nonexistent universe. Instead, it is a God-centered philosophy of life in a very concrete world which leads us to the Source of Life.
A life centered around the Church’s sacraments is sufficient, if done properly, to bring us to a state of sanctity. But, in so doing, the Holy Spirit will lead us to spread the joy we receive as part of God’s grace. The world tries to misdirect us with bright, flashy material possessions, slowly sapping us of our time, energy and resources, but we must reject this and instead answer Christ’s call.
We should distinguish between several aspects here:
- Catechesis — the process by which one learns and accepts the faith.
- Mystagogy — we find evidence for the things we learn through direct experience of God in prayer and the sacraments (Luke 24:30-32).
- Service — putting into practice the love with which one is imbued. If one is not motivated by love to help others, then one’s faith is merely an intellectual exercise and essentially worthless (James 1:22-25).
- Evangelization — if one is enflamed by God’s love, one can’t but help share that love with others by witnessing and offering instruction (Matthew 11:1). This doesn’t necessarily mean that one has to stand up in the marketplace or knock on neighbor’s doors. In essence, it means bravely witnessing for Christ.
For the sake of our souls, this Lent, let us indulge not in chocolate and expensive cuts of meat. Instead, let’s indulge in catechizing ourselves and others.
For the sake of our souls, this Lent, let us indulge in mystery by praying for our loved ones and our enemies — indeed, everyone in the world, living or deceased.
For the sake of our souls, this Lent, let us in indulge in the service to others — friends and family, strangers and enemies.
For the sake of our souls, this Lent, let us evangelize ourselves and the world. Spread the Gospel to all living creatures — to all Creation itself.
This Lent, let’s make an effort to bring Christ into this world. He’s sorely needed. If not, we wouldn’t have the need for Lent.
I hope you all have a fruitful fast.