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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Special Call to Prayer & Fasting

 Over the past few months we have seen the convergence of weather systems coming about with dramatic effects. Both hurricane Sandy and winter storm Nemo happened because a storm coming from the south merged into another coming from the west.

   I think that this phenomenon of meteorology is a perfect metaphor for what is going on in the Church,  The Church storm, however, is a good one, not a disaster.  This storm portends a record amount of grace and blessing rather then one of wind, rain and snow.

   What are the two storms?--the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the beginning of Lent. Lent, of course, is always a season in which we are called not only to prayer, but to fasting and almsgiving as well.  In the past I have often reminded people that fasting is not only abstaining from certain foods, but perhaps more importantly from bitterness, resentment, jealousy, etc.  When we do these things we open ourselves to God and are more inclined to show mercy and compassion to those most in need.
With the resignation of the Holy Father and the upcoming election of  new pope I believe that the Church is called to a time of retreat.  The fact that it overlaps with Lent heightens the sense of that.

   So why are we called to go on a retreat?  We are living in difficult times for the world and the Church. Besides the sex-abuse scandals there has been a great deal of questioning concerning how various issues were handled. There likewise have been attacks not only on the Church in various places, but on the very idea of belief in God at all. In the US and Europe church attendance and participation is declining not only due to mistakes by church leaders but because of increasing secularization.  All of this should tell us that we need to pray and we need to fast.  The prayer we need to do should spring from the realization that by our human resources alone we can't fix the problems.  The fasting I believe that we are called to do is a fast from ideology, both conservative and liberal, so that we can be open to the promptings of the Spirit not only to elect a new pope, but to move forward as Church.  It's not that there should be no disagreements or that we should bury our opinions, but rather that we need to put them on ice for a while so that we can stop imitating the dysfunctional anger and ranting that has affected our political system and deal with differences among us as brothers and sisters in Christ.  If we do that this Lent as we pray for the cardinals who will meet to elect the new pope I believe that a joyful Easter awaits us, not only on March 31, but in the days and weeks that follow.

   So let us pray and fast in the ways mentioned above, and also in this Year of Faith ask to grow not only in faith in God, but faith in the Church.  This last one can be a challenge.  So many say "I believe in God, but not in the Church."  That is understandable with some of the things that have gone on but let us realize that as Catholics we believe that the Church is the Body of Christ, the presence of Christ in the world. That presence is realized not only through the hierarchy but through every member. Sometimes our actions impede the ability of the light of Christ to shine forth, but let our Lenten fasting and prayer help us to clear away some of the things that make it hard to believe that we are indeed His Body in the world.

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