In a few days — Feb. 13 — we will again celebrate Ash Wednesday and begin the sacred season of Lent. In our faith tradition, we come before the altar to receive a Sign of the Cross on our foreheads.
As we approach this celebration of Ash Wednesday with an open heart, this is not a time for a sham kind of religion. It is a day for focusing on the meaning of our lives in the light of the Cross of Jesus Christ, a time for basting the cross on our hearts even as we place it on our foreheads. Christ gave His life on our behalf. Perhaps we could learn much by looking at our own faith history and understanding how it challenges us today.
These are hard days for many of us. The wreckage of the economy has left us scarred, overwhelmed, and perhaps even angry. We have tried to do the right things. We have worked hard. We have saved, and now we find our jobs, our homes, our children's education, our retirement all in jeopardy. Many are struggling to the point where we just want to give up. We find ourselves no longer caring about anyone or anything.
This is not a new feeling. The first generation of Christians experienced this same frustration and detachment. The Fathers of the early Church called this acedia, from the Greek word meaning "to no longer care." They spoke of acedia as a "demon." Acedia is that feeling that our hard work and commitment don't really matter. It's the sense of defeatism that leaves us no longer caring, hating ourselves and our lives. The "demon" of acedia takes the form of boredom, impatience, callousness and apathy.
The Fathers of the early Church realized that a person afflicted by the "demon" of acedia refused to care or was incapable of doing so. When life becomes too challenging and engagement with others too demanding, acedia offers a kind of spiritual morphine. You know that the pain is there, yet you can't rouse yourself to really care.
With so many demands on us as priests, spouses, parents and breadwinners, we can easily get into a rut of believing that nothing we do or believe matters. In struggling to make a home for our families on the ground that keeps shifting, we find ourselves mired in callousness and apathy.
This season of Lent challenges us to take on the "demon" of acedia, to realize what is important to us, to decide what we want our lives to become, to rediscover the love of God we share with family and friends.
These 40 days of Lent are an opportunity to see our lives in the light of our faith and rediscover God's presence in our lives, a presence that enables us to recharge, to reconnect and to reorder our lives in God's grace.
During this coming Lenten season, we pray that God will grant us His grace to conquer our own experiences of acedia, to find the resources within ourselves to be caring and compassionate again, to rediscover within our hearts the love of God as the source of compassion, generosity and forgiveness, but most especially of hope.
When Easter morning dawns at the end of our Lenten journey, may we rise from the ashes of acedia, renewed in the life of the Risen Christ.
Guidance for Catholics observing Lent
During Lent, the baptized are called to renew their baptismal commitment as others prepare to be baptized through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a period of learning and discernment for individuals who have declared their desire to become Catholics.
The three traditional pillars of Lenten observance are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The Church asks us to surrender ourselves to prayer and to the reading of Scripture, to fasting and to giving alms. The fasting that all do together on Fridays is but a sign of the daily Lenten discipline of individuals and households: fasting for certain periods of time, fasting from certain foods, but also fasting from other things and activities. Likewise, the giving of alms is an effort to share this world equally—not only through the distribution of money, but through the sharing of our time and talents.
The key to fruitful observance of these practices is to recognize their link to baptismal renewal. We are called not just to abstain from sin during Lent, but to true conversion of our hearts and minds as followers of Christ. We recall those waters in which we were baptized into Christ's death, died to sin and evil, and began new life in Christ.
— From the US Conference of Catholic Bishops
Cardinal to lead retreat
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI has asked Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, to lead his Lenten retreat Feb. 17-23. The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, reported Jan. 18 that the cardinal will focus on "Ars orandi, ars credendi" (the art of praying, the art of believing), looking particularly at "the face of God and the face of man in the Psalm prayers." Cardinal Ravasi, 70, told L'Osservatore that he would begin by reflecting on the verbs associated with prayer: to breathe, to think, to struggle, to love.
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