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Ash Wednesday
February 14, 2018

     The eyes of the world these days are focused on PyeongChang and the Winter Olympics. I know mine are. And whether I’m watching the alpine skiers, the speed skaters, the snow boarders, or the figure skaters, I’m reminded again and again of what it took for those amazing young athletes to get to where they are: grueling hours, days, months, and years of practice; incredible discipline to perfect intricate techniques and daredevil moves; pain and agony, sweat and tears.

     As we begin Lent today, maybe we’d do well to think of it in terms of training for the Olympics. Lent is a time of self-denial, and who denies himself or herself more than an Olympics athlete?  Lent is a time for spiritual discipline.  Again, who is more disciplined than an Olympics competitor?  Lent is about dying and rising – dying to selfish ways and rising to a whole new life with Jesus.  Who has to die more to selfishness than Olympics athletes in training, and who rises more to the joy of new life than those winning athletes on the podium as they receive the coveted gold, silver or bronze?

     So, my friends, maybe you can think of Lent 2018 as your own personal Olympics. If you’re up for that, then I’ve got some great tips for you about training.  Actually, the tips are from Jesus, not me, and you heard him set them forth in today’s gospel reading.  They are prayer, fasting, and giving to the poor. If between now and Easter you buy into these, I can guarantee that you will grow closer to Jesus and that, come Easter, you’ll be standing on the podium to receive your medal. Let me say just a word about each of the three.
          PRAYER -- to quiet us down, and to put us in touch with the God who finds it difficult to speak to us when we are always busy, preoccupied with self, our engines racing at full speed.  Prayer - the kind of prayer that slows us down a bit so we can hear what it is God is trying to say to us in the midst of the busy whirlwind of our lives.  Prayer: public prayer like the Mass, and quiet, contemplative prayer, alone with God. Lent is the time for both. And if you haven’t been very faithful to Sunday Mass, what better time than Lent?

     Second, ALMSGIVING -- How better to practice the great commandment of the New Law:  "You shall love your neighbor as yourself"?  In letting go of things -- especially material things like money -- we find a new freedom from selfishness and at the same time we discover the face of God in the face of our needy sister or brother.  Rice Bowl….

     FASTING – We should think of our Lenten fasting as an opportunity to become aware of the forced fasting of others, a time to identify with the millions of poor and hungry throughout the world, many of them children, and many of whom die each day from hunger and malnutrition. Our fasting is modest indeed when compared with theirs.  Fasting and almsgiving touch on the fundamental human need for food and for the basic necessities of life. We who have so much - so very much - can afford to cater less to our own needs so that others may have at least something.

     And there are other kinds of fasting, too. Here are a few suggested by Pope Francis:

  • Fasting from hurting words by saying kind words

  •  Fasting from anger by being patient and understanding

  •  Fasting from pessimism by being filled with hope

  •  Fasting from worrying by trusting in God

  •  Fasting from words by being silent and listening

  •  Fasting from sadness by being grateful instead

  •  Fasting from selfishness by being compassionate to others

  • Fasting from grudges by being reconciled

     You get the idea.  Fasting can take more than one form.

            My friends, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving can be our Lenten Olympics. They’re not easy to do – no more than training for the Olympics is easy – but if we go about them with discipline and determination, we will be winners, each one of us, and Easter will bring us bronze, silver, and maybe even gold!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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