8th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 26, 2022
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a serious season of repentance and renewal in the life of the Church and in our own personal lives of faith. To prepare for the arrival of Lent, I will devote this homily to three interrelated topics:
1) Ash Wednesday as a day of prayer and fasting for an end to the military invasion of the Ukraine by Russia;
2) Steps you and I should take to get ready for Lent;
3) One specific step we should all take, flowing from today’s Scripture readings. With these three point in mind, let’s get started!
The Invasion of the Ukraine
This past week all of us were saddened and filled with dismay over the invasion of the Ukraine by Russian military forces. Mr. Putin has been sending signals of an invasion for a long time, but now armed conflict in the Ukraine is unhappily a fact. It is not my role to offer an in-depth analysis of this dangerous situation, but I think we can all agree that the world has become a much more dangerous place. And all of us can join together in lamenting and condemning the death, bloodshed, and wanton destruction which this military incursion is inflicting upon the peace-loving Ukrainians.
Pope Francis has asked us to set aside Ash Wednesday as a day of prayer and fasting for the restoration of peace in the Ukraine. May I urge that we wholeheartedly respond to his request? First, let us pray and sacrifice for the Ukrainians themselves – for the innocent civilians who are now in harm’s way, for those fighting to maintain their freedom and independence, and for those who are already lost their lives and have been injured. In a special way, we should pray for our fellow Christians in the Ukraine and for the Knights of Columbus which has taken root in the Ukraine in recent years. Second, let us pray for world leaders, that the aggressors will cease to threaten the peace of the world, and that the leaders of peace-loving nations will unite in taking effective steps to bring this conflict and further incursions to a halt.
Prayer and fasting is how Jesus beseeched his Father to have mercy on us. By abstaining from food and drink, we focus our prayer of petition, seeking God’s will in all things, especially that peace which the world cannot give. Prayer and fasting is also an expression of our solidarity with the people of the Ukraine and with people throughout the world who are poor, oppressed, and persecuted.
Getting Ready for Lent
Let me move on to steps you and I should take to get ready for Lent. As you know, this year Lent begins somewhat later than usual. Even so, Ash Wednesday has a way of sneaking up on us. Before we know it, it arrives, and there we stand without a plan. So, let’s not let that happen; let’s spend the next few days getting ready for Lent.
Getting ready for Lent is more than dusting off our New Year’s resolutions. It really isn’t about going to the gym or losing weight. Rather, Lent is a graced period of forty days in which to encounter Christ afresh, to renew our relationship with him by removing obstacles to that friendship, sinful obstacles which we, in our stubbornness, have created. Further, Lent is not solely about our personal relationship with Christ, for our relationship to Christ is intimately linked to our relationship to the Church. After all, the Church is the Body of Christ.
How do we go get ready for Lent? Three ways: First is to set aside time each day to pray, in the privacy of our hearts. Reading Scripture, reflecting on Jesus’ own words, praying from our hearts— these are moments when we encounter the Lord, meet him in our depths, moments when prayer is less about our talking and more about our listening – listening to Jesus speak to us words of truth and love, challenge and mercy. In those moments, we see our sins more clearly and how our lives need to change… so Lent should always include a good, unburdening confession of our sins. At the center of our life of prayer is Holy Mass. If you haven’t been attending Sunday Mass in person, now is the time to return. Of course, it is easier to watch Mass online or on TV at home, but it is not the same. For one thing, Jesus invites us to unite with one another in giving thanks and praise. For another, when we watch Mass electronically, we don’t actually receive Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ. How ironic that some who refrain from coming to church nonetheless frequent stores, restaurants, and other venues. Lent is exactly right time to return to Sunday Mass, if your health permits it.
Second, you and I need to engage in fasting or in another form of bodily mortification. Over the next few days, we should plan how we are going to do this. Traditionally this means eating two small meals, one full meal, and nothing in-between. For some Lent is a time to give up drinking, smoking, and deserts. Lent might be a good time to abstain from social media or watching television. The idea is to make more room in our hearts for the Lord — to ensure that food, drink, entertainment or even work do not occupy center stage in our hearts. Such deprivation also puts us in solidarity with people throughout the world who lack the necessities of life that most of us take for granted.
Third is sharing the love of Jesus and our love with the poor and needy. We can do this in many ways such as volunteering at a soup kitchen, donating to ministries that assist those in spiritual or material need, or performing daily acts of kindness and generosity to those around us who are in need, including those whose names we don’t know and may never see again. Whatever form our charity takes, we should think it through in the next few days, and by prayer and fasting ensure that, whatever we do is an extension of Christ’s love.
A Final Thought
One final and brief thought drawn from today’s Scripture readings. As we plan to celebrate Lent, both the Book of Sirach and the Gospel remind us how destructive angry, sarcastic, hyped-up speech can be – whether conveyed face-to-face, or in writing, or on social media. The old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” – that old saying just isn’t true – our words can and do wound others even as the angry words of others can wound us. What’s more, the angry words we utter not only hurt others, they hurt us as well, for what we say shapes who we are and what we stand for.
It’s no secret that we live in angry culture, awash in angry words. Individually, we cannot change that, but we can contribute to a more peaceful world by resolving to tone down our rhetoric and to speak the truth in love. Lent is a perfect time to examine what we write, what we say, how we communicate. I hope you will have a grace-filled Lent that will lead to the joy of Easter! May God bless you and keep you in his love!