PREPARING FOR LENT
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
“Remember, you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” These familiar words of Ash Wednesday should not cause fear, but joy, for through the union of our suffering and death with Christ, we are being freed and raised with Him in glory.
No one wants to suffer. Nor does God desire us to suffer. In order that we not suffer, He sent His only-begotten Son into the world to die for us. By His Passion and Cross, we are reconciled and united with Him in joy. Yet, because of the reality of sin, suffering is often necessary for faith. Our “yes” to God necessarily includes a “no” to all that is opposed to God: the devil, and all his evil ways, and sin and the glamour of evil. Just like our Lord Jesus Christ, when we are truly faithful and obedient to God the Father, we make ourselves the enemy, and the target, of His enemy. These upcoming forty days of Lent call each of us to reflect upon the temptations of the devil, sin and God’s forgiving grace.
Because we bear His name and the sign of His cross, we are often rejected and ridiculed for our fidelity, by a world that knows Him not, nor values His sacrificial love. We are subjected to fearsome worldly powers, to persuade us to compromise or abandon our faith and what we know to be true. If we stand firm, we are threatened with losing friends, or opportunities, or a job, or a health insurance plan. And what harm can it really do, we are told, to be silent about the Faith – or are you really a bigot? What harm, to bow and pray at some other altar than Christ’s – or aren’t you loyal to the State? What harm, to share in the flesh sacrificed to demons – or would you punish a woman with a child?
Christ warns us, “What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?” (Mk 8:36). Such compromises with the unfaithful world will bind our souls in slavery to sin. Consider, for example, last week’s revealing fracas over the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s short-lived attempt to extricate itself from the clutches of Planned Parenthood’s political web. The first compromise, to offer those grants for women’s health, might once have seemed reasonable, if one did not look too closely at Planned Parenthood’s real activities and agenda. But it led to complicity in a lie about Planned Parenthood’s purported mammograms, which it does not offer. It led to further complicity in the very illness that the Komen Foundation hopes to cure, because the abortions and birth control pills Planned Parenthood does offer have repeatedly been shown measurably to increase the risk of breast cancer. And in the end, those layers of complicity could not be broken, as Planned Parenthood and its misguided supporters proved on Friday, forcing the Komen Foundation to continue funding the causes of more breast cancer. As the Komen Foundation has now learned to its chagrin, it is not in possession of its own soul. It compromised it away for worldly gain, and now has nothing to show for it.
The other issue confronting us these days is of course the Obama Administration’s mandate against religious freedom regarding contraception. These are dangerous times. What of us, then; what of the Church? How can we live in this world, if we will not compromise?
My brothers and sisters, I beg you to understand with the mind of faith, that this question is one of the devil’s lies. To ask this question already assumes that the world is irredeemable; that there is no place in it for holiness or goodness. But we know that this is not so; we know the world is good, and intended for our good and salvation: “And the Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning, in which he placed man whom he had formed” (Gen 2:8). We do not reject the world; we embrace it, for it is God’s gift to us. We claim the world for Christ, by the victory of His Cross.
What we reject is not the world, but the devil; and therefore we reject the way the devil wants the world to be: violent, lightless, hopeless. We will not compromise with anything that dims the divine light of Christ, and His Church, and the full practice of our Faith. By steadfast fidelity to Christ, we are seeking not only our own salvation, but that of the whole world. Lent is given to us as a special gift of forty days to fast, to pray, to care about others and to grow in faithfulness.
“Remember, you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” When we ask for the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, we recognize that we are truly dust, the clay of the earth (Gen 2:7) – and yet not only dust. We live and move and have our being by the breath of His mouth, for He breathes His own life into each of us when He creates each immortal soul. Christ came to set us free; how then can we contemplate returning to “the fleshpots of Egypt” (Ex 16:3)?
As we anticipate this Lenten pilgrimage, pray for Pope Benedict and all our bishops, who, despite our human weakness, are called to lead the Church in these difficult times. May our Lenten sacrifices be one with Christ’s, and may God, by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and all angels and saints, readily hear all these prayers which we pour out for the conversion and salvation of souls, and for the liberty and exaltation of our holy mother Church.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend Walker Nickless
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