Thursday, February 5, 2009

Pope's Lenten Message

Good morning.

It's Thur (if you follow our Lady of Medj. that means to read a specific Bible reading from Matt. about serving two masters).  Tomorrow is (reminder) First Friday (yea!) and Sat is first Saturday :).

I'm sipping coffee and discovered we are out of when I am done, it's done :(. Need to get out to get more asap. (EMERGENCY! haaha)

Sharing this for those who didn't get to read it....usually I will NOT post big long things like this on this particular blog.  I focus only on short coffee conversations.

Pope's Lenten Message for 2009

Fasting Is a Great Help to Avoid Sin and All That Leads to It

Here is Benedict XVI's Lenten message for 2009, dated Dec. 11 and
released today. The theme of the letter is "He Fasted for Forty Days
and Forty Nights, and Afterward He Was Hungry."

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

At the beginning of Lent, which constitutes an itinerary of more
intense spiritual training, the Liturgy sets before us again three
penitential practices that are very dear to the biblical and Christian
tradition -- prayer, almsgiving, fasting -- to prepare us to better
celebrate Easter and thus experience God's power that, as we shall hear
in the Paschal Vigil, "dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores
lost innocence, brings mourners joy, casts out hatred, brings us peace
and humbles earthly pride" (Paschal Præconium). For this year's Lenten
Message, I wish to focus my reflections especially on the value and
meaning of fasting. Indeed, Lent recalls the forty days of our Lord's
fasting in the desert, which He undertook before entering into His
public ministry. We read in the Gospel: "Jesus was led up by the Spirit
into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty
days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry" (Mt 4,1-2). Like
Moses, who fasted before receiving the tablets of the Law (cf. Ex
34,28) and Elijah's fast before meeting the Lord on Mount Horeb (cf. 1
Kings 19,8), Jesus, too, through prayer and fasting, prepared Himself
for the mission that lay before Him, marked at the start by a serious
battle with the tempter.

We might wonder what value and meaning there is for us Christians in
depriving ourselves of something that in itself is good and useful for
our bodily sustenance. The Sacred Scriptures and the entire Christian
tradition teach that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that
leads to it. For this reason, the history of salvation is replete with
occasions that invite fasting. In the very first pages of Sacred
Scripture, the Lord commands man to abstain from partaking of the
prohibited fruit: "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but
of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in
the day that you eat of it you shall die" (Gn 2, 16-17). Commenting on
the divine injunction, Saint Basil observes that "fasting was ordained
in Paradise," and "the first commandment in this sense was delivered to
Adam." He thus concludes: "'You shall not eat' is a law of fasting and
abstinence" (cf. Sermo de jejunio: PG 31, 163, 98). Since all of us are
weighed down by sin and its consequences, fasting is proposed to us as
an instrument to restore friendship with God. Such was the case with
Ezra, who, in preparation for the journey from exile back to the
Promised Land, calls upon the assembled people to fast so that "we
might humble ourselves before our God" (8,21). The Almighty heard their
prayer and assured them of His favor and protection. In the same way,
the people of Nineveh, responding to Jonah's call to repentance,
proclaimed a fast, as a sign of their sincerity, saying: "Who knows,
God may yet repent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we perish
not?" (3,9). In this instance, too, God saw their works and spared them.

In the New Testament, Jesus brings to light the profound motive for
fasting, condemning the attitude of the Pharisees, who scrupulously
observed the prescriptions of the law, but whose hearts were far from
God. True fasting, as the divine Master repeats elsewhere, is rather to
do the will of the Heavenly Father, who "sees in secret, and will
reward you" (Mt 6,18). He Himself sets the example, answering Satan, at
the end of the forty days spent in the desert that "man shall not live
by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God"
(Mt 4,4). The true fast is thus directed to eating the "true food,"
which is to do the Father's will (cf. Jn 4,34). If, therefore, Adam
disobeyed the Lord's command "of the tree of the knowledge of good and
evil you shall not eat," the believer, through fasting, intends to
submit himself humbly to God, trusting in His goodness and mercy.

The practice of fasting is very present in the first Christian
community (cf. Acts 13,3; 14,22; 27,21; 2 Cor 6,5). The Church Fathers,
too, speak of the force of fasting to bridle sin, especially the lusts
of the "old Adam," and open in the heart of the believer a path to God.
Moreover, fasting is a practice that is encountered frequently and
recommended by the saints of every age. Saint Peter Chrysologus writes:
"Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So
if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition
to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear
to others, you open God's ear to yourself" (Sermo 43: PL 52, 320. 322).

In our own day, fasting seems to have lost something of its spiritual
meaning, and has taken on, in a culture characterized by the search for
material well-being, a therapeutic value for the care of one's body.
Fasting certainly bring benefits to physical well-being, but for
believers, it is, in the first place, a "therapy" to heal all that
prevents them from conformity to the will of God. In the Apostolic
Constitution Pænitemini of 1966, the Servant of God Paul VI saw the
need to present fasting within the call of every Christian to "no
longer live for himself, but for Him who loves him and gave himself for
him, he will also have to live for his brethren" (cf. Ch. I). Lent
could be a propitious time to present again the norms contained in the
Apostolic Constitution, so that the authentic and perennial
significance of this long held practice may be rediscovered, and thus
assist us to mortify our egoism and open our heart to love of God and
neighbor, the first and greatest Commandment of the new Law and
compendium of the entire Gospel (cf. Mt 22, 34-40).

The faithful practice of fasting contributes, moreover, to conferring
unity to the whole person, body and soul, helping to avoid sin and grow
in intimacy with the Lord. Saint Augustine, who knew all too well his
own negative impulses, defining them as "twisted and tangled
knottiness" (Confessions, II, 10.18), writes: "I will certainly impose
privation, but it is so that he will forgive me, to be pleasing in his
eyes, that I may enjoy his delightfulness" (Sermo 400, 3, 3: PL 40,
708). Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an
interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by His saving word.
Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the
deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the
hunger and thirst for God.

At the same time, fasting is an aid to open our eyes to the situation
in which so many of our brothers and sisters live. In his First Letter,
Saint John admonishes: "If anyone has the world's goods, and sees his
brother in need, yet shuts up his bowels of compassion from him -- how
does the love of God abide in him?" (3,17). Voluntary fasting enables
us to grow in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, who bends low and goes
to the help of his suffering brother (cf. Encyclical Deus caritas est,
15). By freely embracing an act of self-denial for the sake of another,
we make a statement that our brother or sister in need is not a
stranger. It is precisely to keep alive this welcoming and attentive
attitude towards our brothers and sisters that I encourage the parishes
and every other community to intensify in Lent the custom of private
and communal fasts, joined to the reading of the Word of God, prayer
and almsgiving. From the beginning, this has been the hallmark of the
Christian community, in which special collections were taken up (cf. 2
Cor 8-9; Rm 15, 25-27), the faithful being invited to give to the poor
what had been set aside from their fast (Didascalia Ap., V, 20,18).
This practice needs to be rediscovered and encouraged again in our day,
especially during the liturgical season of Lent.

From what I have said thus far, it seems abundantly clear that fasting
represents an important ascetical practice, a spiritual arm to do
battle against every possible disordered attachment to ourselves.
Freely chosen detachment from the pleasure of food and other material
goods helps the disciple of Christ to control the appetites of nature,
weakened by original sin, whose negative effects impact the entire
human person. Quite opportunely, an ancient hymn of the Lenten liturgy
exhorts: "Utamur ergo parcius, / verbis cibis et potibus, / somno,
iocis et arctius / perstemus in custodia" (Let us use sparingly words,
food and drink, sleep and amusements. May we be more alert in the
custody of our senses).

Dear brothers and sisters, it is good to see how the ultimate goal of
fasting is to help each one of us, as the Servant of God Pope John Paul
II wrote, to make the complete gift of self to God (cf. Encyclical
"Veritatis splendor," 21). May every family and Christian community use
well this time of Lent, therefore, in order to cast aside all that
distracts the spirit and grow in whatever nourishes the soul, moving it
to love of God and neighbor. I am thinking especially of a greater
commitment to prayer, lectio divina, recourse to the Sacrament of
Reconciliation and active participation in the Eucharist, especially
the Holy Sunday Mass. With this interior disposition, let us enter the
penitential spirit of Lent. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, "Causa nostrae
laetitiae," accompany and support us in the effort to free our heart
from slavery to sin, making it evermore a "living tabernacle of God."
With these wishes, while assuring every believer and ecclesial
community of my prayer for a fruitful Lenten journey, I cordially
impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 11 December 2008


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