Friday, March 13, 2020

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent - March 15, 2020

Homily for Lent 3
March 15, 2020
The Transformation of a Soul

            The gift of being human means that we can change direction in our lives. Perhaps we’re heading down one path, and then something comes and shakes us up, opening our eyes and changing our direction entirely. The woman in today’s Gospel had such an encounter.
            When we meet her in the beginning of the Gospel, she is a woman of shame. Notice how she comes to the well around noon – this is significant because in ancient times, women would draw water in the morning and evening, when it was cooler. No one would go out in the heat of the day unless they were purposely trying to avoid others. So here she was, an outcast because of her sinful lifestyle, just trying to get a drink.
            You can almost hear her weary cynicism in her snarky responses to Jesus – “How can You, a Jew, ask me for a drink? Are You greater than our forefather Jacob, who gave us this well?”
            She comes to the well because she is thirsting for water, but Jesus knows she is thirsting for more: for love, for meaning and purpose, for direction in life. This is why the woman has gone through men like they were shoes to try on and then discard – she is thirsting for love. Jesus wants to quench that thirst.
            It is so fitting that the woman’s sin is infidelity. All throughout the Old Testament, the relationship between God and Israel is described as a marriage. Israel is meant to be God’s exclusive Bride, fruitful in holiness, and Israel is meant to be exclusively faithful to God. But over and over again, Israel broke that marriage bond by worshipping false gods, and failed to give God the fruit of holiness that should have been the result of such a marriage. So this Samaritan woman’s unfaithfulness is a living sign of Israel’s unfaithfulness as a whole.
            It may seem strange that the discussion shifts immediately from her sin to where to worship – is the woman trying to avoid talking about her sinful life? No, not at all. She recognizes that this Man Jesus is a true prophet, and so who better to bring your religious questions to! She cannot turn from her sin unless she gets the first thing right: how to best worship God.
            Up to now, God has been worshipped in Jerusalem in the Temple. But now Jesus says that there will be a new way to worship. “Spirit and truth” means that it’s not enough to attend Mass and do external things – we must give our whole lives to the Lord, from the heart.
The woman is so changed by this encounter that she goes out and tells others. Notice her transformation – first, Jesus is just “sir” to her. Then, He is a prophet. In the end, she calls Him “the Messiah”. She has finally found what she’s looking for. She has made the conversion from unfaithful woman to seeker to disciple.
So I leave you with two considerations this morning. First of all, where are you along this journey? Are you living, like the woman, in a life of unfaithfulness? Those “five husbands” might look different for you – perhaps they are the greed, lust, sloth, pride, or unforgiveness that you harbor in your heart.
Or are you a little further along: a seeker? Do you thirst for love, for meaning, and for purpose in your life? Do you want to know what it’s all about? Are you willing to sit at the feet of Jesus and ask Him questions?
Or are you ready to be an Apostle, like the woman? Are you so convinced of Jesus’ love for you that you are ready to go and tell the world? Do you believe that Jesus died and rose to reconcile us to God, and are you thirsting to tell others about Him? Where are you on this journey – and are you ready to take the next step?
Secondly, I ask you: how do you worship? Is it just with your lips only, doing just the bare minimum that our Catholic Faith asks? Or do you truly worship with your whole spirit? Lent is a good litmus test for that – many people look for “loopholes” to get out of their Lenten penance, but one who loves God generously seeks to give more, sacrifice more, spend more time in prayer, love more.
The grace of God can transform souls. I want to close with the story of St. Mary of Egypt, a saint who experienced the transformation that an encounter with Jesus can give. St. Mary of Egypt grew up in a rural community in the late 300s, but as a young teen she ran away from home so she could experience the excitement of the big city – in her case, Alexandria. It was the New York of her time – culture, activity, excitement. But after a short while, realizing that she had no way to support herself financially, she turned to prostitution and sold her body for food and money.
She lived as a prostitute for many years. When she was in her twenties, a church group from Alexandria was planning a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She decided to attend, only out of curiosity, and so that she could offer her “services” to the pilgrims! When they got to the Holy Land, they began touring the various churches. All the pilgrims began entering into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built over the place where Jesus was crucified and buried. Everyone walked through the doorway, but when Mary tried to enter, she felt herself hit an invisible force that prevented her from entering the church! Three times she tried to enter, and each time it was as if a force field did not allow her in. She realized it was due to her sinful life that she could not enter the sacred space, so she cried out to the Lord for mercy, promising to repent.
The Lord had mercy on her, and she was allowed in. She made a good confession and spent 24 hours in prayer in the church, receiving her first Holy Communion. When the tour group began heading back to Egypt, she knew she needed to make a complete break from her former life. She went into the desert, and lived the remainder of her life in prayer and penance as a hermit. Here was a woman who knew the pain of unfaithfulness, but when she encountered the Lord in that church, sought to give everything to follow Him.
So where are you along the journey? Have you yet given it all to Christ?

Monday, March 9, 2020

In the Hands of God

Bulletin Column for March 15, 2020

            Every news outlet has been covering the coronavirus epidemic with regularity. It’s hard to avoid the news of this disease – it is literally everywhere. And now the Church has had to get involved – the entire diocese of Rome has cancelled Masses, and we have received certain directives from the diocese which requests cancellation of the Sign of Peace and holding hands during the Our Father. I have even seen a church (not in our diocese) with blessed hand sanitizer in the Holy Water fonts!
            Caution is one thing, but panic is quite another. I think many people (and institutions!) have slipped into a panic-mode that is neither realistic nor helpful at a time like this. Here are three things to remember as we all seek to stay healthy during this virus:
            First, do not be afraid. This is one of the most often-repeated sayings in the Bible. In fact, it is said that the phrase “Do not be afraid” appears 365 times in the Bible – one for each day of the year, because we need to hear it every day.
            Why should we not be afraid? Because God is in control. In our rationalistic, science-based culture, we tend to forget this – we think that the destiny of the human race is in our hands. On the contrary – God is in control, and His will always prevails. If it is His will that we contract this disease, we must surrender our will to His. Yes, take precautionary measures, but in our hearts we must not forget that our lives are in His hands. He is a good Father, Who does not abandon His children but orchestrates everything for our good. Yes, “all things work for good for those who love God” – all things includes coronavirus.
            Second, as a Christian we must reckon with the fact that all of us will die. It says in Scripture (Romans 14:8) that “if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” We sometimes think that we can avoid death forever. But we cannot. Our life is not ours to own and cling to – it has been given to us by the Lord, on-loan, and we will have to return it to Jesus one way or another. What peace there is when we recognize that we will someday return this gift back to the Father!
            As the Christian writer John Eldridge once said, “The most powerful man on earth is the one who has reckoned with his own death.” In other words, if you do not fear death, then you are unstoppable. In the same way, once a Christian has accepted the fact that their life is not their own, that we will have to come to God one way or another, this liberates us from the need to fear death. It frees us from our frantic grasping of life, as if this physical life were the most important thing to protect and preserve. Yes, life is a gift, and we should go to great lengths to protect it. But the gift of life is not absolute – we must all give that gift back to the Lord at some point. Whether it is coronavirus or cancer, a car wreck or old age, we all must die. Christians keep their gaze fixed on eternity, where our true life will never end.
            Finally, we must remember our duties to the sick. We have a duty not to abandon the sick – even if they are contagious. As St. Charles Borromeo said during the plague of 1576, “Be ready to abandon this mortal life rather than the people committed to your care.” This past week, we celebrated the memorial of St. Frances of Rome, who lived in the early 1440s during a time of great societal upheaval. She dedicated her life to the sick. Listen to the words of a contemporary of hers:
            Many different diseases were rampant in Rome. Fatal diseases and plagues were everywhere, but the saint ignored the risk of contagion and displayed the deepest kindness toward the poor and needy. She would seek them out in their cottages and in public hospitals, and would refresh their thirst, smooth their beds, and bind their sores. The more disgusting and sickening the stench, the greater was the love and care with which she treated them. For thirty years Frances continued this service to the sick and the stranger…(“Life of St. Frances of Rome” by Sr. Mary Magdalene Anguillaria).
            We, too, ought to seek ways to take care of victims of this disease. Do not abandon those who have come down with it! It is our Christian duty, one of the Corporal Works of Mercy. Take precautions, of course, but if we happen to catch the virus from someone infected because we are serving them, it is a form of white martyrdom, love-in-action.
            And finally, let us keep this all in perspective. As of this writing (Monday night) there are 22 people who have died of coronavirus, while over 10,000 have died of the regular flu!! We place all of this in God’s hands. If it is His will that we stay healthy, we shall praise Him for it. If it is His will that we get sick, then we shall suffer well for Him. And if it is His will that we die from this virus, we commit our lives into His Hands.
            So, yes, take caution, stay home if you’re sick (you are not committing a sin if you miss Mass due to illness!), wash your hands and try to stay healthy. And leave the rest to God.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Homily for Second Sunday of Lent - March 8, 2020

Homily for March 8, 2020
Second Sunday of Lent
In Good Times and Bad

            Jesus gave His disciples the gift of seeing His glory in the Transfiguration so they would not lose faith when He was beaten, bloodied, and hanging on a Cross. It is important to remember that Jesus is Lord when we are on the mountaintop with Him, and He is the same Lord when we are hanging on the Cross with Him. The same Jesus who has promised us Heaven has also promised us Calvary.
            Mountaintops have always been, in Scripture, places of encounter with God. We think of Moses on Mount Sinai, or Elijah on Mount Carmel. To have a “mountaintop” experience means to have a joyous experience, where we sense God closely – perhaps the birth of a child, the joy of a happy marriage, delight in prayer, beauty in nature, the joy of friendship. Peter wants to set up three tents, right there on the mountaintop, so that he could stay there forever, in the experience of God.
            But as a hiker I can tell you that while mountaintops are beautiful, you can’t live on a mountaintop. Nothing grows there. It’s rocky, steep, and there’s no water. You have to leave the mountaintop to live in the valley – the humdrum, ordinary life where we just keep plugging along, seeking to be faithful to the Lord and to our family. But God is present in the valley in the same way He is present on the mountaintop.
            He is even present when the valley seems to be the “valley of the shadow of death” that we hear about in the Psalms. It can be hard to believe that when we suffer! We feel abandoned by God – “Where are You, Lord?” we cry. But He is the same God in good times and bad, on the mountaintop and in the shadow of death.
            Just this past week I got a letter from one of my closest college friends, a Dominican nun who teaches in Tennessee. She told me she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, at 36 years old. But she wrote, with utter trust, “The Lord has taken it upon Himself to plan my Lent, and beyond! Please pray for my sanctification!” Here is a woman who, when faced with the Cross, trusts that the same God who called her to religious life, the same God who showed her His love in a thousand different ways, is the same God who will bring her through the suffering and death that is likely immanent.
            The saints knew this intimately – God is God in good times and in bad. Have you ever heard of Saint Ansgar? He’s not a popular saint – I’ve never met anyone pick him as a Confirmation saint! But, like all the saints, he trusted in God both in success and failure, in sickness and health, in good times and bad.
            Ansgar was a humble Benedictine monk in France in the 800s, living happily in a monastery, when he happened to befriend the exiled king of Denmark, King Harold. Harold was so impressed by Ansgar’s holiness and humility that he converted and was baptized. The exiled King then successfully returned to rule Denmark, casting out the usurper king, and immediately invited Ansgar to come and bring Christianity to his country. He did so and was wildly successful – with thousands of Danes converting.
            In fact, he was so successful that the nearby king of Sweden asked for Ansgar to come to his country too! He did so and found equal success in bringing souls to Christ. He built the first church in Sweden.
            The Pope heard about his success as a missionary and named him bishop of Hamburg, Germany. Out of obedience, he accepted, and as soon as he left Denmark and Sweden, Viking tribesmen invaded, burned his church to the ground, put to death all the clergy, and the people reverted to paganism. Ansgar was crushed! Thirteen years of work destroyed overnight. Had God abandoned him? Should he give up? Question his faith?
            He did none of that. He got on the next ship to head back to Denmark – and was promptly captured by pirates. Finally escaping them, he preached the Gospel again to these pagan lands. After his death, sadly, these northern countries once again reverted to paganism – his work once again destroyed.
            But despite his failures, his trust in God never wavered. God was in charge when thousands were converting; He was still in charge when his church was burning and the Faith was decimated. Ansgar never wavered in this: in good times and bad, God was in charge.
            The Transfiguration shows us that Jesus is Lord on the mountaintop. Let us not forget that He is also Lord upon the Cross.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Inculturation - The Gospel In Time & Space

Bulletin Column for March 8, 2020

            It was two thousand years ago that St. Paul stepped into the agora in Athens and gave his famous speech in Acts 17. In it, he referenced all that was good among the Athenian people – most notably, that they were very religious. So religious were they, in fact, that they had a shrine dedicated “To An Unknown God”. Paul used that idea as a launching-point to explain that there IS a God (only one, in fact) and that He has revealed Himself to us in His Son, Jesus.
            This idea of finding what is good in a culture and incorporating the Gospel into it is called inculturation, and it is one of the main themes in the Pope’s latest document on the Church in the Amazon. In it, he recognizes that to be effective evangelists, we must seek to inculturate the Gospel – not to change the essential teachings, but to make it palatable, understandable, and relatable to each and every culture.
            This is not a new idea. St. Justin Marytr (died approx. 150AD) wrote that pagan philosophers contained “seeds of the Word” – hidden elements of truth that point the way to the One Truth. It was controversial in his day, but St. Thomas Aquinas used Aristotle and his logic to explain the Catholic Faith. The Vatican II document “Ad Gentes” (“To the People” – Document on Evangelization) instructs all Catholics:  “In order that they may be able to bear more fruitful witness to Christ, let [believers] be joined to those men [unbelievers] by esteem and love; let them acknowledge themselves to be members of the group of men among whom they live; let them share in cultural and social life by the various undertakings and enterprises of human living; let them be familiar with their national and religious traditions; let them gladly and reverently lay bare the seeds of the Word which lie hidden among their fellows.”
            How inculturation is best accomplished has been the subject of debate in the history of the Church. When Sts. Cyril and Methodius began to evangelize Russia and Eastern Europe in the 800s, they began using Slavic languages in the liturgy. Other missionaries criticized this so strongly that the brothers were instructed to appear in Rome before Pope Nicholas I to explain their evangelization methods. They ended up receiving the Pope’s blessing to inculturate the Gospel in the Slavic language and customs, and were so successful as missionaries that the Orthodox Church gives them the title of “Equal-To-Apostles”.
            In contrast, a Jesuit named Matteo Ricci sought to evangelize China in the mid-1600s. He was extraordinarily successful, converting many nobles, artists, and the ruling class. So well-respected was he that the Emperor paid him a salary as his personal expert on all things Western, such as mapmaking and linguistics. He converted thousands to the Faith, but ran into trouble when he allowed the Chinese to keep certain customs (such as calling God “Tianzhu”, which was a pagan word for “Lord of Heaven”, and permitting Chinese Catholics to continue venerating their ancestors). Were certain Confucian rituals compatible with Christianity? Ricci thought so, but the Pope thought otherwise, and in 1645, the Pope declared that any ritual that originated with Confucianism or Chinese culture was thereby contaminated and must be purged if a Chinese person would become a Catholic. Heartbroken, thousands of Chinese left the Faith, and due to this intransigence, the Church shrank to a miniscule part of the Chinese population.
            (Interestingly, in 1939 the Church re-opened the issue, and Pope Pius XII reversed the decision, allowing Chinese Catholics to participate in some rituals that honored their deceased ancestors and other cultural rituals. But by that time, China was not interested and his decree did not lead to renewed missionary work).
            So how can inculturation be practiced well? First, we must distinguish between what is essential and what is tangential to the Faith. The essentials cannot change. Morality, the Creed, the Scriptures – all of these things make up the Deposit of Faith which is the same in every culture. But there are other things that we associate with the Faith but which are not essential – for example, in tropical countries, most priests don’t wear black but light blue or white clerical shirts!
            This distinction is what caused the recent brouhaha about priestly celibacy. Some wanted to dispense with it entirely, seeing it as an obstacle to true inculturation. Others defended it, saying that while not part of the Deposit of Faith, it is essential for evangelization in the modern world. In his document on the Amazon, the Pope sidestepped the question.
            The other important task of inculturation is to identify those elements of culture which are compatible with Christianity, which are positive goods and serve as preparations for receiving the fullness of the Gospel. For example, Pope Francis praises the Amazon peoples for their strong family bonds and respect for the land, which can be used as preparation for the Gospel. But the key word is “preparation” – we seek to learn from other cultures only so that we can preach the fullness of the Good News with them. Then, the Good News can be incorporated into their culture, purifying it and transforming it. There are elements in every culture that need to be purified, including our own – and the Gospel has the healing power to do this!

Friday, February 28, 2020

Homily for First Sunday of Lent - March 1, 2020

Homily for March 1, 2020
First Sunday of Lent
On Temptation

            Temptation. All of us face it daily – but how to we deal with it well? Let’s look at our Scriptures today for that answer.
            First, did you notice the odd first sentence in the Gospel: “The Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted”? Why would the Holy Spirit want Jesus to be tempted? For that matter, why did God create the serpent in the first place, knowing that it would cause Adam and Eve to sin?
            Because love requires the possibility to not-love. God could have created a race of robots, who loved Him because they had no other choice, no freedom. But that would not give Him glory. He wanted to be loved for His sake, but that meant leaving open the choice to reject Him. This freedom was a terrible risk – a risk that has doomed humanity throughout the centuries – but God wants to be loved so much that He is willing to take that risk.
            When we were kids, most of us had that Aunt Mildred who, at family gatherings, our parents would force us to hug. “Go give Aunt Mildred a hug, now!” And we would do it, out of obedience to our parents. But how much more would it mean to give her a hug freely! That is the kind of love God desires – free, strong, holy. So the first thing we learn about temptation from the readings is that God allows it so that we can grow in love for Him.
            Secondly, each temptation started with an attack on our identity and God’s identity. The devil starts by challenging Jesus, “If You are the Son of God…” Eve is tempted by Satan questioning God’s goodness: “Did God really tell you not to eat of the fruit?” Then Satan goes on to attack her identity by saying, in essence, “If you eat the fruit you will become like God, because now you’re not!”, even though she was already created in God’s likeness!
            This happens with us as well. Temptations often start with lies about us or God. Lies such as, “God’s not really going to help you” or “You’re worthless” or “It’s not worth it to follow the Lord.” We’ve got to recognize these lies for what they are! St. Leo the Great said, “Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition.” Who are you? You are a child of God, an heir to Heaven, one of Christ’s redeemed! Remember who you are – and who you belong to – and you can destroy temptation immediately.
            Third, we see that temptation needs to be shut down immediately. This is the big difference between Eve and Jesus is that Eve engages the devil. The devil tempts, and she begins to sway. She looks at the fruit, sees how delicious it looks, begins to salivate and desire it. But Jesus doesn’t. The temptation presents itself, and bam! He shuts it down. He doesn’t ask the devil, “What kind of bread? Whole wheat? Raisin bread?” No, He shuts it down immediately.
            So often we play games with the temptation to see how close we can get before we fall into sin. But that is utterly foolish. Did you know that, on average, 41 people die each year taking selfies? They try to get closer, closer, closer to the edge of the cliff or the oncoming train, until they’ve passed the point of no return. And we are often like that with sin – “Oh, I’ll just have two drinks at the party,” “Oh, it’s fine if we hang out alone in her bedroom,” “Oh, I can read those atheistic books, they won’t harm my faith.” How many sins would be avoided if we just stopped the temptation at the outset?
            A fourth thing to learn from the readings is that we must stand on the Scriptures and the Teachings of the Church. How did Jesus respond to the temptations? He knew what God desired, and why – and He shot it back into the devil’s face. Many times in my temptations I have just needed to quote Scripture for the temptation to leave me alone. For example, if you are tempted to anger, read Scripture quotes about forgiveness. If you are tempted to lust, learn about the Church teachings on purity.
            Finally, we learn that temptations will not last forever. There is a great story from the life of St. Anthony the Abbot, a desert monk in the late fourth century. We read in his biography written by St. Athanasius that one day he sought to spend several days in prayer, so he went into an empty tomb to pray. As soon as he started, he was attacked with awful demons – lust, fear, terror, the burning desire to leave and return to his former life. Some of the demons took on the form of hideous animals who physically attacked him. After several days of fighting off all these temptations, exhausted and weak he cried out to God, “Where were you, Lord? Why did you not stop this suffering earlier?” God answered him, “Anthony, I was present at your side. But I waited, observing your fight. And since you have resisted so bravely, I will now always be at your side.”
            No temptation ever lasts forever. And how sweet it is when the angels come to minister to us after we have successfully overcome the temptation!
            So this is what our Scriptures teach us today about temptation. First, God allows it to make us holy, so we can choose to love Him despite many options to the contrary. Second, temptations usually make us question God or our relationship to Him, so we must stand fast on our identity as disciples. Third, we must never give way a bit – do not head down the road of temptation that ends in destruction! Fourth, we must stand on Scriptures and the teachings of the Church. Finally, we must have hope that no temptation will last forever.
            Eve was tempted, but did everything wrong – and the consequences were devastating for the human race. Jesus was tempted, and showed us how to deal with the temptations that every person faces. Let us follow His example, that this Lent may be a time of true repentance and victory over sin!

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Homily for Ash Wednesday - February 26, 2020

            In Jesus’ day, the word “hypocrite” didn’t really have any bad connotations. Actually, it just meant an actor in a play. Hypocrite literally means “one who is under a mask”, because actors in Greek plays would always wear masks to show which character they are playing.
            But Jesus draws a comparison between these actors and people who say one thing and do another. The person behind the mask doesn’t match up with what the rest of the world sees! The world sees a pious person praying, but the person is just doing it to seek attention. The world sees a generous giver, but their motivation is human praise. Thus, they are actors, hiding behind masks.
            Today, you and I will receive a “mask”. We will receive a visible, outward sign that will show to everyone in the world that we are Christian. But are we? Does our forehead say we are followers of Christ but our life say otherwise?
            These ashes are not just some empty custom or “culturally Catholic” thing. They are a tangible sign that we are repenting of our sins and sincerely seeking to love and serve God. Will these ashes become an outward sign of our inward repentance? Or will they just be the mask of a hypocrite?

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Value of Fasting

Bulletin Column – March 1, 2020

            Every Lent, I hear people tell me, “Father, I don’t like to give up something for Lent; I like to take on something extra.” That’s a great idea – but also one that misses part of the meaning of Lent.
            During Lent, the Church gives us three spiritual weapons: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (generosity to the poor). These weapons help us overcome the three temptations that we all face daily: prayer overcomes the temptations of the devil, fasting helps us discipline the weakness of the flesh, and almsgiving removes the temptation to worldly riches and possessions.
            So when people say they are “taking on” something rather than giving something up, they mean that they are practicing prayer or almsgiving (or, better yet, both).
            But the Church intends for us to engage all three weapons! It’s not an either-or but a both-and (or all-of-the-above!). So why is fasting so important, and how can we do it well?
            1. First, fasting helps us grow in self-mastery by strengthening our will. St. Paul tells us that “the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.” (Gal 5:17). We are engaged in a battle between our lower desires (those of the body) and what we know is truly good (relationship with the Lord). Because of original sin and the effect of concupiscence, our desires have become disordered. Now we all want to sleep in rather than attend Mass; we desire chocolate more than broccoli; we would rather watch Netflix than read Scripture.
            So, to overcome this concupiscence, we fast! Our will is like a muscle – when we exercise it, it grows stronger, so that our flesh does not rule over our spirit. If we can give up a chocolate bar, it becomes easier to give up gossip. If we can deny ourselves a second helping, we learn to deny ourselves a lustful indulgence. Fasting is the tool that can help us overcome stubborn sins!
            2. Fasting helps create a space for God. Any sort of ache in our life – boredom, loneliness, restlessness, painful memories, depression – can be an avenue for God to invade your life. But too often, we tried to avoid these aches by filling them with things: food, distraction, social media, etc. When we fast, we are taking away our usual coping mechanisms, the comforts we think we couldn’t live without, and we then invite God into that aching, painful place. He will come in a powerful way.
            3. Fasting helps us identify with Christ. Feeling the pain of an empty stomach helps us remember Christ’s pain upon the Cross. Feeling “cut off from the world” because we gave up social media helps us realize that Christ was rejected and alone in His Passion. When we feel pain or discomfort for the sake of Christ, we become more like Him.
            4. Fasting helps us grow in gratitude. Sometimes we take for granted the gift of eating whatever we want, taking hot showers, etc. But when we deny ourselves a physical pleasure, we realize how much it meant for us. The first dessert on Easter Sunday is so much sweeter because we had foregone it for the previous forty days.
            So what are some good ways to fast? A couple general suggestions:
            1. Be reasonable. Find something that will challenge you but not break you. One year I tried to give up listening to music for Lent – but I found that I was becoming so grouchy that it backfired! Make sure that your fast doesn’t make you grumpy or too tired or fainting with hunger. Don’t be afraid to modify your fast if you find that you took on too much (or too little!)
            2. Don’t compensate. If we are giving up desserts, that does NOT mean that we should compensate by eating more of the main dish than we should! If we are giving up social media, don’t compensate by watching an extra hour of television. The point is not to substitute one bad habit for another, but to create the space for God to act.
            3. The highest rule is charity. If someone gives up dessert for Lent but their friend made a batch of cookies specifically for them, going through great effort to demonstrate how much they cared, then the charitable thing to do is to take the cookie and eat it with gratitude. Fasting is never an end in itself – it is meant to make us more like Jesus.
            So, my friends, I pray that you will have a wonderful Lent – let us make use of all three weapons of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that the Church gives us!